When we’re young and blessed with a happy home, it’s easy to think that life is nice and orderly. We neatly progress through school and friends and that special boy, to college or a job, then into marriage and children. Of course, you hear about “the thorns on the rose,” about “the rocks on the garden path,” but you don’t really understand what it’s all about until you prick yourself on one of those thorns or stumble over one of those rocks.
My name is Beth, and for a while I thought I had it all together. I was told I was pretty, with my thick hair and long, coltish legs, and I had enough smarts to do a few years of college and get a nice job in a small printing company. I lived in the most wonderful place in the world—a small coastal resort town in Southern California, with sandy beaches and palm trees and buildings of white stucco and red-tiled roofs. I grew up there and even went to college there, so I was surrounded by friends and family.
Life was sweet; how could it possibly be anything else? And the place where I lived had magic.
I remember so clearly that late afternoon Dad took me and my older sister, Cathy, to the park on the bluffs overlooking the ocean. He said we were going to try once more to see the miraculous “green flash” just as the top rim of the sun dropped below the sea. We’d been there before, always in winter after a cleansing rain when the air sparkled and you could see forever. We grumped and grumbled at Daddy’s silliness, but this time it happened. We stood and watched the sun go down, and this time, just for an instant, there was a brilliant green flash. Something happened to me then, and that’s when I decided this place had magic and that I would never leave.
I only saw the green flash a few times over the years as I was growing up because it was rare and unpredictable. When I was settled in my job at the printers and started dating Kenny, I told him about the green flash. We tried one whole winter to see it but never had any luck. He told me I was crazy.
We were sitting cross-legged on the bluffs one evening after the sun had set unspectacularly. Kenny’s arm was around me.
“I think you’re putting me on, Beth,” he said. “I think this is your version of `Come up to my place and see my etchings.’ It’s not very private,” he said, looking around, “but there aren’t any people here.”
“Oh, honestly, Kenny!” I laughed and socked his knee.
He pressed me down in the deep-green weeds. “Now that you’ve got me here, what are you going to do with me?”
The teasing slid from his voice as our gaze locked, and he slowly lowered himself to take my lips. Kenny was my kind of guy—full of energy, funny as a barrelful of monkeys.
He was good looking, with his light, curly hair, even though he wore glasses because he was as blind as a bat. We’d talked about a future together, but because I was only twenty-two and he was only twenty-three, we didn’t get too serious about it.
But suddenly our kiss was turning serious. The darkening sky, the cool air drifting around us, the sound of the surf, the deepening kiss, the pressure of his body on mine—all of it sent sudden feelings of desire shimmering through me.
I’d had a brief affair when I was seventeen. After that I’d decided that I wasn’t going to have any more until I was serious about someone. I’d put off Kenny a few times, but this time I found I couldn’t. Maybe I was caught up in the magic. When he disentangled himself from our kiss and said, “Why don’t you come to my place and see my etchings?” I caught my breath and murmured okay.
In his apartment we undressed in the dark and slipped under the sheets. He pulled me close for a long kiss, and then his lips left mine and trailed down my throat and beyond.
I felt the cold, hard frames of his glasses. “For Pete’s sake, Kenny, take off the glasses.”
“Then I can’t see,” he protested.
“You don’t have to see anything anymore,” I murmured.
I pulled off his glasses and put them on the bedside stand. Our caresses grew more ardent until we were consumed by the intensity of our feelings. Afterward we dozed a while; then I felt Kenny moving around.
“What is it?”
“I’ve got to get up. I can’t find my darned glasses.”
I reached over and turned on the light. Kenny groped for his glasses and put them on.
He turned to look at me. “Oh!” he said, pretending to be startled. “It’s you!”
“You clown!” I laughed.
We went out for hamburgers. When Kenny reached across the table and took my hand, there was a new look in his eyes, a new feeling between us. Over the next several months Kenny and I continued dating, made love occasionally, and talked no more than we ever had about the future. Ours was a comfortable relationship—no fireworks, but lots of good feeling. I sometimes thought about how it would be to be married to Kenny, with our own little apartment somewhere in town. I took pleasure in thinking about it.
We continued at our jobs—Kenny wrote copy for an advertising agency, and I worked the front desk at the print shop, helping customers select paper stock, place their orders, and sometimes select artwork and typefaces if their projects weren’t camera ready. I enjoyed my job, and I met a lot of nice people. And that’s how I met Lewis King. He came into the shop one day with a huge print order. He apparently worked in one of those business complexes up the coast a few miles where the resort quality of our town gave way to our smokeless industry—think tanks, computers, research, and design. His company was opening a new building and was sending out brochures announcing the event.
He laid the camera-ready art in front of me along with the artist’s rendering of the brochure. “I need a price quote,” he said. “Eight by eleven inches, eight pages, saddle stitched, four color, quantity ten thousand.”
I made notes as he talked; then I said, “Have you selected the stock?”
“What have you got?”
I brought out our sample books, and as he went through them, I watched him. He was dark and good looking, with a certain self-assurance that gave him maturity. I couldn’t see him clowning around like Kenny, yet that gave him an appeal that was new to me. I found myself wondering what it would be like to have a date with him, to get to know him, to have those strong, lean hands holding mine. He must have felt me looking at him because he glanced up suddenly. We looked at each other a moment. He smiled then returned his eyes to the sample.
A half hour later the paper and cover stock were selected, my notes completed, and his business card, saying he was Assistant Manager of Promotion and Merchandising, was in my hand. I told him I’d call him the next day with a quote.
“And what’s your name?” he said.
“Thank you, Beth. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”
As my company, Mercury Printing, worked on the job, Lewis King came by from time to time. He had to get the second set of proofs and bring it back with an “okay.” Each time he came in, we talked a little more. He found out I was a native, and I found out he’d moved here three years ago from a town in New England. When the job was finished and delivered, I felt a twinge of regret that my acquaintance with Lewis King was at an end.
I’d forgotten about him by the time spring rolled around and the blazing April sun was pulling us to the beaches. I went Saturdays and Sundays, alone or with Kenny when he felt like it. It wasn’t just to work on my tan. I really loved the ocean, the smell of it, the cool breezes that flowed in from it, the shorebirds and the cries of the gulls, the warm, soft sand to lie on. On one section of Palmer Beach there were some volleyball nets with balls available. Those ten courts were busy from dawn to dusk all through the summer and into fall. One day, or both days, I’d join in a game for a while.
One Saturday afternoon Kenny and I were in a fighting-good game when a new couple wandered in and took up positions. I let the ball whiz right by my head when I realized it was Lewis King.
“Hey, Beth!” Kenny called. “Get your act together.”
I saw Lewis look at me, but I couldn’t tell if he recognized me. He was surprisingly broad-shouldered and muscled. I suddenly threw myself into the game with a frenzy of energy—setting up shots, making dives for low balls, slamming them over the net when I had the chance. There was a lot of yelling and shouting. I jumped high to slam a shot, hit it wrong, saw it heading for the sidelines, and dived after it. Lewis dived after it on the other side, and we collided out of bounds in the sand. I fell flat. He sprawled over me, and we ended up face to face.
He smiled at me. “Hi.”
“Hi,” I said.
We didn’t move. We just lay there, smiling at each other. From the corner of my eye I saw two other people jump into the game to take our places.
“I’ve never said this to a girl before, but you have the most beautiful eyes.”
“So do you.”
“Will you have dinner with me tonight?”
“Are you married?”
He laughed. “No.”
“I just don’t like any dangling details.”
“Where would you like to go?” he asked.
“I hate Mexican.”
“We’ll never get along.”
He gave me a long look. “Oh, I think we will. How about country French?”
“I’ll meet you. Seven-thirty. Okay?”
“Okay, Beth Langer.” He rolled over and stood up, hands on hips, watching the game. In a few minutes he was back in.
I swung my leg around and sat up. I’d never had an encounter quite like that; I’d never met anyone quite like Lewis. I just sat there watching him, and in fifteen minutes Kenny sank down beside me, breathing hard.
“You play a mean game,” I said. “That sand is surprisingly hard when you land on your ribs.”
“Who’s the guy?” Kenny asked.
“Lewis King. He brought a job into the print shop.” I picked up a fistful of sand and dribbled it through my fingers. “I’m going to have dinner with him tonight. Do you mind?”
Kenny kept his eyes on the game. “I don’t own you, Beth. You’re young, and life is full of so many things.”
I grinned and kissed his cheek. “Odd and interesting things—like you.”
He undid the band that held his glasses on and rubbed them against his trunks. “Don’t you forget it,” he said.
I showered and dressed in a full-skirted blue cotton dress, with spaghetti straps and heeled sandals and walked the six blocks to the restaurant. I was eager for my date with Lewis, but at the same time I felt a twinge of nervousness in my stomach.
Lewis was definitely not comfortable as an old shoe—like Kenny. Maybe he would be when I got to know him, but maybe he would never be. On the surface he seemed like an ordinary working guy, but there were intriguing hints of a lot going on under that surface.
He was waiting for me at a small table in the long, narrow restaurant, and he rose when I seated myself. Good old-fashioned manners. I liked that.
“I’ve ordered an aperitif. Is that all right?” he said, gesturing toward the glasses of sweet red wine.
“Elegant,” I said.
“And the specialty tonight is the wine-simmered stew.”
“Also elegant,” I said.
“You’re easy to please.”
“Don’t count on it,” I said, smiling.
Over delicious bitefuls of savory stew, we got acquainted. Lewis’ parents were divorced, his two younger sisters already married. He’d done a stint in the Army; then he went to business college. He was working himself up to a position on the corporate ladder, so he could live with comfort and security.
“I always felt that one of the reasons for my parents’ divorce was all the financial uncertainty and stress. Dad was a laborer who was in and out of work. Theirs turned from a loving marriage into a hurtful and hostile one. I’m not going to let that happen to my marriage.”
“That’s very commendable,” I said.
He cocked an eyebrow at me. “Damned by faint praise. Does that make me sound like a bore?”
I smiled. “I think a bore is about the last thing you’d be. Your attitude about a secure job just seems like good common sense. I’ve just never thought about it much.”
“You should. Don’t just dribble away your days between the print-shop job and beach volleyball.” He took a sip of wine. “On the other hand, maybe you’ve got a guy all picked out and know what the future holds.”
I thought of Kenny and his job as an advertising copywriter. I knew one day he could work up to the position of account executive, which paid a lot of money. I just didn’t know if Kenny had that kind of ambition. In fact, there were a lot of things about him I didn’t really know, because we’d been content to live just in the here and now.
At my silence, Lewis asked, “Do you have a guy? Are you engaged?”
I shrugged and smiled. “Not really.”
“Then I wouldn’t be out of line if I asked you for another date?”
“But you haven’t finished this one,” I teased. “How do you know it’s going to be good to the very end?”
“I know,” he said simply. And then he began asking all kinds of questions about me.
Lewis and I dated frequently after that. And of course I went out with Kenny. Each knew about the other, but it wasn’t long before Kenny stopped inviting me to his apartment for an intimate evening. I don’t think Lewis’ presence in my life hurt him. It was just that he was biding his time—either giving me my head, or because he wasn’t ready yet to make any heavy commitments or demands either on himself or on me.
Lewis, on the other hand, seemed to be getting serious. He asked probing questions of me, trying to discover what I believed in, how I thought. I sometimes had to stop and think before answering because I’d never troubled myself about verbalizing certain attitudes and feelings. He was becoming an interesting, exciting experience for me because he was making me begin to look at myself in a slightly different way.
He bought me little gifts, and he asked to meet my family, which he did on a long, lazy Sunday afternoon. He made me happy to be with him, eager for each new date, eager for his good-night kisses which always sent my heart racing.
We went to see a touring musical-comedy company one night, and when he brought me home from the theater, he asked to come in. I hesitated and then said, “Sure.”
We climbed the steps to my apartment, and when we were inside the door, I said, “Would you like a cup of coffee?”
He agreed and then proceeded to take a careful look around my apartment. I watched him with amusement from the kitchen. By now I was used to Lewis’ very thorough, exploring ways. I had a couple of bullfight posters on the walls, canvas sling chairs, glass brick-and-board bookcases, colorful scattered cushions on the floor, and lots of potted plants.
When I came into the living room with the steaming mugs of coffee, I smiled. “And what does my apartment tell you about me?”
He took his mug and eased warily into a sling chair. “Well, let’s see. Impermanence, a desire to express yourself, a liking for fads, and a small income. And it tells me what I already know.”
“You’re a person in transit, Beth. You’re coming from one life—school and family—and haven’t yet moved into the other—marriage and children.”
I laughed. “I’ll tell you something, Dr. Psychologist. I know all that. It’s called being single and loving it. Those wonderful few years a person treasures to be herself–job, dating, independence, fun–between the grind of being a teenager with parents who don’t understand, and being a married person with a demanding husband and squalling kids.”
Lewis laughed, and then he turned serious. “Are you dedicated to the life you’re living now? Or are you just waiting to meet the right guy?”
I shrugged and took a sip of coffee. “Both, I guess. I mean, I don’t have any dates or time limits cast in cement. What happens happens.”
I wasn’t sure how Lewis would interpret “close,” but from his next words, I was pretty sure he understood my relationship with Kenny.
“What about Kenny?”
I looked at him. He had a habit of asking unsettling questions, questions that forced me to think, to have attitudes, to come to conclusions. “Kenny is a dear friend. A very close friend. I think the world of him.”
“Are you in love with him?”
I hesitated. “I don’t know.”
He gave a surprised chuckle, “You don’t know?”
I set down my coffee mug. He was making me feel the tiniest bit uncomfortable. “I have a kind of love for him. I always will. If we’re talking about the grand passion, then I don’t know. I don’t know if I even believe in the grand passion outside of romantic fiction. Besides,” I hurried on, “why are we talking about Kenny?”
“We’re not. We’re talking about you.”
His eyes held mine and grew dark and intense. Slowly he put his coffee mug down on the floor beside him. When he spoke, his voice was husky. “These are the awkwardest chairs I have ever sat in. I want to touch you, to hold you, and I can hardly get myself out of this chair!”
I started to laugh, but there was something about his look, his voice, that caught at my heart. I watched him struggle out of the chair, and then he was holding his hand out to me, helping me out of my chair and pulling me close.
He held me tight, and then his lips found mine for a long and thorough kiss. I felt the excitement hit the pit of my stomach, and it stayed there. Slowly we sank down onto the cushions. He cradled me in his arms, planted little kisses across my cheeks and throat, and took my lips again as his hand strayed down to caress me. Desire was streaming through my body, a sensation I’d never experienced before, a sensation that grew and mounted until I was moaning against his lips.
He pulled away finally, and his voice was ragged, “I want you, Beth. I love you. But I think you’d better decide what you feel about Kenny before this goes any further.”
I could see that the effort to stop himself had cost him. It cost me. At that moment I wanted him more than I’d ever wanted any man in my life. I whispered,
“Lewis. . . .”
He sat up. “I’ll be right here when you decide.”
I walked him to the door and kissed him good night. Then I went and took a long, cool shower and stood under the stinging spray, thinking about Lewis. I wanted him; he’d made me discover that in no uncertain terms. But beyond that, he was the most interesting, unusual person I’d ever met. He kept me entertained, he kept me on my toes, he seemed to expect things from me. And because he did, I found myself rising to his expectations. He made me feel good about myself, and I figured if that wasn’t love, then I didn’t know what was.
I turned off the shower, toweled myself dry, and thought of Kenny. He was such a dear guy. And fun. But right at that moment the idea of spending my whole life with him paled beside the idea of spending my whole life with Lewis. As I turned off the light and slipped between the covers, I mused on the fact that Lewis hadn’t proposed. He was making me think. He was making me come to a few conclusions about myself.
The next time I saw Kenny was at the beach for volleyball. After a hard, rousing game that we lost, we sat on the sidelines, catching our breath. He made things easy for me.
He said, without looking at me, “You have something to tell me.”
I dug my fingers into the warm sand.
“What I have to tell you is that you are the nicest, most fun guy I have ever known.”
“And. . . .”
“And”–I took a deep breath—”Lewis and I are getting serious.”
“Has he proposed?”
“I think he’s waiting for me to tie up any loose ends.”
“And I’m a loose end.”
I smiled at him. “Sort of. You’ve got a piece of me dangling out there. I have to make some decisions, come to some conclusions.”
He straightened his glasses to peer at me.
“That doesn’t sound like Beth talking.”
“I know. He’s making a new person out of me.”
“Well,” he said. “I sort of liked you the way you were. I hope you like your new self.”
“He’s good for me, Kenny,” I answered. “He’s making me reach and grow.”
“He sounds like fertilizer.”
We laughed, and then he added, “Good luck, kid.”
On Wednesday night Lewis and I went out to dinner. The talk was light, but I let him know in a roundabout way that I’d spoken to Kenny. Afterward he took me to his apartment.
His digs suggested that Lewis made a nice salary. The rooms were spacious, the furniture solid, the carpeting and drapes plush. He fixed us a nightcap, and we sat on the deep sofa. We talked about intimate, personal things, little joys and traumas in our childhoods, first loves, embarrassing moments, visions of the future. He listened to me as though every word were terribly important. Maybe it was, because after a while he caught my hand and held it tight.
“You’re a wonderful girl, Beth.” He smiled. “You’re just a few degrees off of true. You never do or say quite what’s expected. You’re a constant delight. And I love you very much.”
I smiled back at him, but my lips trembled slightly. “When I’m with you I—I feel like such a child sometimes. . . .”
“That’s your wonderful spontaneity. Don’t ever lose it.”
“And I want to be a woman for you.”
“You are, Beth,” he said huskily, slipping one hand around my shoulder, the other hand sliding down to my hip to hitch me close. “All woman.”
“Oh, Lewis. . . .”
He kissed me deeply and passionately, and I returned his kiss with all the urgency and desire that his touch inspired. We moved into the bedroom, touching and kissing as we went. We helped each other undress, and in a moment we were on the bed, caressing and exploring almost frantically, as though we’d restrained ourselves forever until this moment. He stirred feelings in me I’d never experienced, inspired responses and caresses I’d never offered. When we were done, I clung to him fiercely. And after it was over, I knew I was a different person, a new Beth. Lewis’ woman.
I coasted through the rest of summer, then into fall and early winter, with the first rains of the season clearing the air, greening up the countryside. Lewis and I made plans to marry. We discussed when to have children and how many, how long I would continue to work, and where we’d take our vacations. We also started house hunting.
In October we flew back to New England, so I could meet his folks and see where he had been raised. His parents were dear, but a bit straight-laced. They weren’t as easygoing and casual as I was used to in my folks. The large city was mostly pretty, but it had an odd, pinched look to it. It was as if it were more accustomed to fighting off the cold than welcoming the sun. The people were remote, preoccupied. The shore was rocky, with beaches of coarse pebbles rather than the gleaming white sands of Southern California. The things that made me catch my breath were the autumn colors. Trees wearing reds, browns, yellows, and golds.
“It’s another world,” I said to Lewis.
It was a new world, a totally different world to me. But I was relieved and happy to get back to Southern California.
“You may have those wonderful colors and all those distinctive changes of seasons that you Easterners claim we don’t have out here. But we’ve got something you haven’t.”
We were walking along the beach after work, hand in hand.
“What’s that?” he said.
“We have the green flash.”
He chuckled. “The what?”
I explained what happened just as the tip of the sun disappeared into the ocean on a clear winter’s eve. “It has something to do with the earth’s atmosphere breaking down the spectrum of light so that only the green is visible. But it’s just for an instant.”
It didn’t happen that night, nor the next night. But eventually Lewis saw it.
“Unusual! Even fascinating!” he said. “But other than that. . . . Why is it so important to you?”
“It’s magic, Lewis. That’s what I decided years ago. It’s this place. And why I’ll never leave it”
He laughed and put his arm around me. “Like I said. You’re just a few degrees off of true. Of all the reasons not to leave a place, that’s the craziest!”
“It’s symbolic,” I said, mustering as much dignity as I could.
The green flash and its magic would have kept its proper place as just a tiny fragment of my life, and the place where I lived and loved, if something hadn’t happened. Lewis and I had narrowed down our choice of homes to two. I was in a sweet agony of indecision when he took me out to dinner one night, “As a special celebration.”
“What’s happened?” I asked as we unfolded our napkins into our laps in the little French country restaurant where we’d had our first date.
“The break of a lifetime, that’s all,” he said, smiling.
I could tell he was trying to contain his excitement. “So are you going to share, or do I have to guess?”
“It’s something I expected to happen, but not for years and years,” he said.
The waiter appeared and poured our wine. When he’d gone, Lewis raised his glass. “To my promotion. I’m no longer Assistant Manager of Promotion and Advertising. I’m now Manager of Promotion and Advertising.”
“Oh, Lewis, that’s fantastic! It must have happened so fast. You never even mentioned it.
We touched glasses and drank.
“I thought your boss was there for life. You made it sound that way,” I said, digging for details.
“Yes, he is,” Lewis replied. “Old Henry has carved out a niche for himself and knows how to protect it.”
“So?” I frowned. “How—”
“I’ve had some applications out around the country. I even have myself listed with a well-known headhunter organization.”
“A group that specializes in putting together the right person with the right job.”
Slowly I put down my glass of wine. “You never mentioned this to me.”
“It’s always been an on-going thing with me, Beth. I guess I just didn’t think it was important. I’ve turned down a lot of offers because I knew the jobs weren’t going anywhere. I really didn’t expect this. I was as surprised as you when things worked out with this company in the East.”
“The East?” I echoed faintly.
Big cruets of steaming stew were set before us, but I just kept staring at Lewis.
“I know this is all kind of sudden, Beth. But life is full of surprises. And this is a good surprise. In fact, it’s the chance of a lifetime.” He picked up his fork and took a hearty bite of stew. “It’s a research and development company that has a couple of enormous contracts with the government. I’ll have six people under me and a healthy budget. Come on, eat up. It’s delicious.”
I picked up my fork and took a small bite. I couldn’t swallow it. “Where in the East?” I managed to ask.
“Boston. Near the folks. Isn’t that great?”
I put down my fork. “Lewis,” I said in a low voice. “You’re usually not so insensitive.”
He looked at me, a forkful of meat halfway to his mouth; then he sighed and put it back into the bowl.
“I was concerned about telling you. I thought maybe if I was all eager and excited, you might catch some of it.” He reached out and covered my hand with his. “Beth, I know how attached you are to this town, and I know you’ll feel disappointed, for a while. But we’ve got a lifetime together. Things happen. Things change. There’s just no escaping it.”
I pulled my hand out from under his. “I—I guess I’m in shock.”
“Yes, I know. But you’ll get over it. You saw how beautiful New Englandis in the fall. Well, it’s just as pretty in the winter and the spring. It’ll be a new adventure for you. Look at it that way.”
I tried on a smile to reassure him, but the queasiness in my stomach wouldn’t go away.
It didn’t go away for a week. My life, my dreams, my family, and my friends were in this wonderful coastal town where I was born. I was a Californian through and through—lean and laid-back, days in the sun, energetic play, casual dress, loving the wide, open spaces, sleeping with the windows open year-round. I just couldn’t see myself zapped out by an air conditioner in summer or huddled by a heater in winter. I couldn’t imagine not being able to call my folks or my sisters anytime I wanted to for a good gossip.
I went to my job, went to lunch with people at work, and stuffed myself on Mexican food, went early to the beach on Saturdays and Sundays. It was December now, and the steel poles stuck in the sand to hold the volleyball nets stood empty and abandoned.
I swung on one of the poles, ignoring the goose bumps that rose everywhere but under my bikini. The sun was bright, but the summer heat was gone. Will I soon be bundled in wool slacks, and mackinaw, walking the pebbled beaches of New England? The thought actually brought tears to my eyes.
I saw Lewis as often as he was free—dinners, movies, parties at friends’ houses.
The house hunting had stopped abruptly. But there was a tension between us. We talked just as much about our future together, and I tried to force myself to be flexible, to assimilate the idea of a totally new lifestyle. But I confess there were nights when I cried myself to sleep.
Lewis went home for Christmas. He begged me to come with him, to experience for the first time a truly white Christmas, with sleigh rides and snowball fights and mugs of spiced wine by the fire while the snow hissed outside.
“Come on, Beth. You’ll love it. Christmas is such a special time with my family. Lots of relatives and friends and good camaraderie, evening services, and singing carols in the snow. . . .”
But I refused. I had a panicky feeling that it would be my last Christmas in California, and I didn’t want to miss it.
Lewis studied me. “For someone who says she’s in love, you’re making an awfully big deal about where you love. I thought you’d be over the surprise by now, Beth. I thought you’d be able to look beyond—to our love, our life together, our children, our goals. . . .”
“Why can’t you just keep the job you have?” I pleaded. “It would make everything so simple.”
“Okay, so what if I do? Then suppose in two years the company folds and I have to take a job in another city?”
I looked at him without answering. “That’s life, Beth. We have to go where life takes us.”
I still couldn’t answer. I guess a part of me knew he was right, but I didn’t want to face it.
“I’d like to think that you love me more than some lousy town!”
It was the first time I’d seen Lewis angry.
“I feel cheated!” I burst out. “It’s like you tricked me! Here I thought you were all settled in a good job with a good future right here in this town. You seemed happy, ready to settle down. Find a native girl, woo her, wed her, and give her babies. And that was fine with me! Now, all of a sudden, you want to steal me away to some foreign country. That’s how I feel!” I cried.” Am I wrong, Lewis? Am I the one being unfair, or are you the one being unfair?”
“I had no idea geography was so important to you,” he answered heatedly. “Maybe you’re crazier than I thought! Well, you can just go ahead and find yourself a beach boy and stay here in the relentless California sun if that’s the only thing that matters to you. But I’ll tell you something, Beth—I want a woman who has her priorities straight, one who puts love, husband, and family first, and then such things as where she lives and the pattern of the wallpaper second! In other words, a woman, Beth!”
His words stung. He turned and stormed out of my apartment without giving me a chance to answer—maybe he didn’t want to give me a chance to say something we’d both regret.
I felt miserable over the holidays instead of happy and cheerful and full of nostalgia for all my wonderful family Christmases. The glow was gone, and somehow I blamed Lewis for putting a drop of reality into my world like a sting of iodine.
I ran into Kenny while I was Christmas shopping one evening.
“Hi,” he said, grinning from ear to ear. His eyes seemed to sparkle even through his heavy glasses. “Thought you’d be married by now. Or maybe you are?”
“Back East for Christmas with his folks.”
Kenny frowned. “You weren’t invited?”
The packages were growing heavy in my arms. I said impulsively, “Buy me Mexican and let’s rest.”
We went to La Castilla and ordered margaritas and nachos.
“Heaven,” I said as I began to relax.
“You didn’t answer my question.”
“I was invited. I just didn’t want to go.” Kenny kept his eyes on me, and I gradually told him about Lewis’ “chance of a lifetime” that had suddenly put a new light on everything.
“Well, well,” he said when I’d finished. “I can’t say I’d want to live in New England—sticky summers, freezing winters. . . .”
“No green flash,” he echoed. “But then, I’m not in love.”
I looked at him carefully. “I guess I’m glad to hear that.”
“Beth.” He smiled impishly. “If you’d stayed my girl, I would’ve been true blue to you, year after year. You’re the closest thing to wonderful that I’ve ever known. But I’m not ready for mortgages and insurance policies and taking out the trash and having stupid arguments and eating when and what is put in front of me. I like my space. I thought you were that way, too. But I was wrong.”
“No, you weren’t.”
“Yes, I was,” he countered. “You may have been a California girl, Beth, but you’re all grown-up now. You want something more. You want the substance and solidity of a home and family. It’s why you revel in your family. Only, you’ve got to make your own family now—you can’t hold on to the coattails of your parents and your childhood memories forever.”
I looked at him. I’d never heard Kenny make such a long speech, such an insightful speech in my life. “Where’d you get all that?” I said flippantly.
“I read a lot. Why do you think I wear such thick glasses?”
“Eye trouble from childhood measles, you told me.”
“Did I say that?”
I laughed. It was so good to be with Kenny. But later I thought of his words, and they sobered me. He was right. I had to make my own life. I had to take what was important to me and build from there. No one’s life is perfect—that’s fairy-tale stuff. And what was important to me was Lewis. He was bright and tender, hardworking and exciting. He made me feel like an important person, and he was a passionate lover, too.
What difference did it make that I would move a continent away to live in a different climate among strangers? Strangers would soon be friends. But most importantly, there would be Lewis. It occurred to me that love was a little like the green flash—rare and unpredictable. I was lucky to have Lewis, and I was a fool to let him go.
I knew that Lewis was arriving home on the twenty-eighth. It was a Sunday, and he had to go to work on Monday. I stayed in my apartment all day hoping he would call. I paced, I stared at the phone, I chewed my fingernails. But the phone remained stubbornly silent. I wondered in a kind of agony if he’d written me off as a silly little girl who put place above person. Cute in her own way, but obviously not the right stuff. Finally, at ten o’clock, I couldn’t stand it any longer. I picked up the receiver and dialed his number. He picked it up on the third ring.
“I can’t think of anything clever to say,” I said. My mouth was dry, and I had to lick my lips. “I’m not going to ask you if you had a nice holiday. I’m not even going to ask you when you arrived home. I just—I just want to say that I want to see you. If—if you’re still interested.”
There was a pause. I felt my heart sink. Then he spoke. “I’ll be right over.” In twenty minutes he knocked, and I opened the door. We stood looking at each other.
“I had a lousy holiday,” he said. “How was yours?”
We kept looking at each other until I said, “Why don’t you come in instead of standing there on the stoop?”
In the center of the living room he turned to look at me. “I’m still going to take the new job, Beth.”
“I expect you to.”
“I—” I licked my lips again. “I’ve decided that the pattern of the wallpaper and things like that aren’t really so important, after all.”
“Oh?” He took a step toward me and waited.
“I guess I am a little bit off true, Lewis. But I love you, more than anything. Do you understand? I don’t care where your work takes you—Toledo,Tasmania,Timbuktu. I’ll be with you. If—if you still want me.”
Slowly a grin took over his face. “That’s my woman talking!”
In the next instant we were in each other’s arms. We kissed deep and long.
“I love you,” he murmured against my lips.
“I guess I had to do a little growing up,” I murmured back. “This town is my past. You are my future. I know that now.”
In January Lewis and I were married in a sunny garden wedding. Then we flew back to Boston, arriving in a blizzard. We settled in with his folks while he started work at his new job and we hunted for an apartment. We decided to wait a year before buying a house—just to make sure things worked out okay with his job and with my move to a “foreign” place and the resulting “cultural shock.”
I grew to love New England just as Lewis had predicted I would. I missed the sun and the surf and beach volleyball, but they kind of faded in my mind as I got involved with my husband, with house hunting, with settling into our new home at last, with the care and feeding of our first arrival, Sheila.
I’m deliciously happy now. And the green flash? I see it sometimes, in my mind’s eye. I sort of carry it with me, you might say. And that is exactly what happiness is all about. Happiness doesn’t depend on the where and the what and the how. Happiness is something you carry within you. And I’m glad I learned that—just in time.
Copyright © 1990, 2012 by BroadLit