Fitzgerald: A Master of Love, Longing & Popular Girls



scott and his american girlBy Kirk Curnutt

In a 1922 letter to his agent, Harold Ober, F. Scott Fitzgerald expressed frustration that one of his most creative stories, “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz,” didn’t fetch as much money in the short-story marketplace as the tales of flapper-and-philosopher love he cranked out for the Saturday Evening Post: “I am rather discouraged that a cheap story like “The Popular Girl” written in one week while the baby [daughter Frances] was being born brings $1500.00 + a genuinely imaginative thing into which I put three weeks real enthusiasm [sic] like [“Diamond”] brings not a thing,” he grumbled.

His frustration is understandable. Today, “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz” is recognized as an inventive critique of the unstable monetary values of the 1920s, as close to sci-fi as the author of The Great Gatsby would come. Yet ninety years ago, as Fitzgerald’s recently digitized ledger reveals, it pulled in a whopping $300, barely enough to cover a bar tab. But just because “Diamond” stands as one of the Top Ten stories the author wrote doesn’t mean “The Popular Girl” is one of his ten worst. For most of the Twentieth Century, however, “cheap” is precisely how critics described the bulk of the 65 Post stories he produced between 1920 and 1937: they were mere entertainments written to finance “genuinely imaginative thing[s]” such as Gatsby and Tender Is the Night.

the camels backWe probably have Ernest Hemingway to thank for turning this idea into conventional wisdom. In the posthumously published A Moveable Feast, Hemingway took great pleasure in rubbing his rival’s nose in his reputation as a Post contributor, insisting Fitzgerald had confessed to dumbing down his work to appease its 2.7 million readers: “He had told me … he wrote what he thought were good stories, and which really were good stories for the Post, and then changed them for submission, knowing exactly how he must make the twists that made them into salable magazine stories.… He said it was whoring but that he had to do it as he made his money from the magazines to have money ahead to write decent books.”

To a certain extent, the reputation of Fitzgerald’s popular fiction has always reminded me of the reputation of the popular girls I went to high school with. For those of us who didn’t move the needle on the popularity meter, prom queens, cheerleaders, and student-council candidates were easy to deride as superficial and shallow. They were careerists and glad-handing phonies whose inner lives couldn’t possibly be as complex and conflicted as us overlooked, tortured souls. Conformity and insipidity had to be the currency by which they won friends and influenced people—how else to explain why profundists such as ourselves couldn’t entertain anybody’s eye? Yet if Molly Ringwald taught us nothing else in The Breakfast Club, it’s that popular girls have feelings, too, and those feelings hurt every bit as badly as ours when trampled. If Judd Nelson is man enough to learn that lesson, why can’t we literary critics who continue to assume that commercial fiction must equate to “cheap”?

When I reread the seven early Post stories collected in Gatsby Girls, I’m struck by how empathetic they are to their heroines’ romantic dreams and aspirations, as well as how fully aware they are of the limits of Jazz Age gender roles. These are plots that hinge on assuming disguises and creating spectacles to demonstrate that the excitement we demand of love is not only possible but sustainable.

off shore piratesIn “The Offshore Pirate,” a man presumed to be a bore reinvents himself as a pirate and hatches a cheeky kidnapping ruse to prove he’s no dullard. In “The Camel’s Back,” another man slips into a costume-shop camel suit to dupe his gal into marriage. And in the much-maligned “The Popular Girl,” a dashing beau plays dumb, allowing himself to be long-armed and toyed with so the deb of his dreams gains a measure of independence and resolve before he rescues her from financial ruin.

When the games and ruses work, the stories celebrate the mutuality we also expect of romance: the joke of “Head and Shoulders” is that Horace and Marcia are so compatible that they take on aspects of each other’s personality, reversing the roles of intellect and spirit in the relationship.

ice palace

First-time readers may be surprised to discover that these extravaganzas don’t always work. Wait—aren’t commercial stories obliged to end happily? Not in Fitzgerald’s world. In “Myra Meets His Family,” a debutante discovers that her flame hoodwinks her not out of ardor but of fear. He’s terrified she’s after his money. Insulted, Myra turns the tables on him in a way that teaches him to never again fall for the stereotype of the “husband hunter.” In “The Ice Palace,” a Southerner discovers that behind her Northern betrothed’s façade of gallantry are hardcore regional prejudices that will prove a deal-breaker. Even when the stories do end in matrimony, there’s recognition that not everything is automatically rosy. When Betty Medill agrees to marry Perry Parkhurst in “The Camel’s Back,” it’s not because she’s finally ready to jump the broom—it’s because the impatient Perry has contrived a booby trap that’s so fool-proof she has no other choice.

bernice bobs her hair2

Then there are stories that aren’t about love at all but about social customs, etiquette, and the perils of the social faux pas. “Bernice Bobs Her Hair” is a certified Fitzgerald classic because it wickedly captures his awareness of the way class customs shape character. At the end of the day, we may not remember that this story appeared in an era when Bible scholars pontificated against hairstyle revolutions and legislators actually tried to outlaw short hair on women; we delight instead in the revenge plot Fitzgerald contrives for his fish-out-of-water character and for the cheap shot her nemesis takes at Louisa May Alcott: “What modern girl could live like those inane females?” Marjorie rails against Little Women. To the emerging flappers of 1920, the March sisters were so your-mother’s-generation. And that’s also a charm of these stories: the dialogue is chockfull of spunk and verve. When Ardita Farnam in “Pirate” boasts that “[Men] tell me I’m the spirit of youth and beauty,” her captor asks how she responds to such compliments: “I agree quietly,” she smiles. You can almost feel young women across America stepping out of the dreary shadows of propriety to revel in such a coquettish strutting of stuff.

bernice bobs her hairFor all the vivacity and exuberance that marks these stories, they’re also streaked with trademark Fitzgerald melancholy. There’s something charmingly poignant about Sally Carrol Happer in “The Ice Palace” longing for a kiss that will make “all her smiles and tears … vanish in an ecstasy of eternal seconds.” Or of Yanci Bowman in “The Popular Girl” imagining the exciting life she would lead if only she lived in New York: “She adored New York with a great impersonal affection—adored it as only a Middle Western or Southern girl can. In its gaudy bazaars she felt her soul transported with turbulent delight, for to her eyes it held nothing ugly, nothing sordid, nothing plain.” Fitzgerald knew how to render his characters’ naiveté in a way that makes their dreams at once achingly palpable and unrealizable.

So what’s so “cheap” about “The Popular Girl” and her sisters in Gatsbyhood? Only the price of admission. These are stories that may have been written to charm the marketplace, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t rich and rewarding reads. They reverberate with beauty and joy and a desire to experience a word we don’t get to use much anymore: splendor.

(Kirk Curnutt is professor and chair of English at Troy University’s Montgomery Campus in Montgomery, Alabama, where he also serves as a director of the Alabama Book Festival. His thirteen books include two novels—Breathing Out the Ghost (2008) and Dixie Noir (2009)—and studies of Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson.)




Life of F. Scott Fitzgerald

gatsby slider

Life of f. scott fitzgerald timeline

  • September 24, 1896 FSF birthday
  • September, 1913 Enrolled at Princeton
  • 1917 Dropped out of Princeton, enlisted in U.S. Army
  • 1917 wrote The Romantic Egoist
  • 1918 Met Zelda in Alabama
  • 1918 Moved to New York to work at Barron Collier
  • 1919 Returned to St. Paul to revise The Romantic Egoist
  • February 21, 1920 Saturday Evening Post begins printing FSF’s stories
  • March 26, 1920 This Side of Paradise published
  • April 3, 1920 Married Zelda in NYC
  • October 26, 1921 Daughter born
  • 1922 The Beautiful and Damned published
  • April, 1924 Moved to Paris
  • 1924 Moved to Antibes
  • April 10, 1925 The Great Gatsby published
  • 1927 1st trip to Hollywood
  • 1930 Zelda hospitalized for the 1st time
  • January-April, 1934 Tender is the Night published in Scribners’ magazine
  • 1934 Tender is the Night published in book form
  • 1935 2nd trip to Hollywood
  • Contract with MGM
  • 1939 MGM contract terminated
  • 1940-1941 Pat Hobby stories published
  • December 21, 1940 Died in Hollywood apartment of Sheilah Graham
  • 1948 Zelda dies in fire at mental hospital

My Husband’s Deathbed Wish Came True On Christmas

Torso of waitress

My legs seemed to melt beneath me as I neared the booth to serve the friendly young couple. Sudden dizziness spun through my head but faded. I’d be okay once I got even busier. The rushing would stimulate me, as it usually did. That’s what another waitress, Patti, always said, too.

I set down the warm plates heaped with the sizzling fish, salad, and a roll, then felt another surge of dizziness.

“Oh, no!” A woman screamed as I fell into a fog of blackness.

I opened my eyes and saw a crowd of onlookers with worried faces. Someone was calling 911 on a cell phone. Again, I blacked out.

I came to in a wailing ambulance as a kind, young paramedic told me not to worry. “We’re taking care of you,” he promised.

The ambulance halted. Bright lights streamed over me as I was carried on a stretcher into the emergency room. Suddenly I longed to see Ben Samson, the handsome widower who was unusually kind and obviously cared for me. Sometimes I felt he cared for me more than my family, who were so busy and involved with their own lives.

Ben had often asked me to go out for dinner and dancing. We’d danced at our mutual friends’ wedding reception a few months earlier. Maybe someday we would go out together, but now I had to work hard, earn money, and glory in my holiday shopping plans. I had ideas for each grandchild on my list. Dating would have to take a backseat for a while.

My husband, Jeff, had insisted I start dating as soon as I could to go on with my life. “You’re too young to be alone now, honey. Just know I want you to find another man.” I felt a bit guilty despite Jeff’s request. I wanted to honor the good husband he had been and not pair up with someone else too soon.

My thoughts flew back to earlier that evening, when I’d gone to work. I needed to earn as much as possible. I missed the steady paycheck Jeff used to bring home from the Iron Works, but I missed my wonderful Jeff even more. But reality said I needed to pay my bills, so I didn’t give in to my tiredness as the night wore on.

The manager, Trish, stared at me when my hands shook as I picked up two plates. “Amy, let me call Patti to come in and replace you, okay? You look worn to a frazzle!”

“I’m fine!” I fibbed, feeling more worn out than in years.

But I had bills to pay and Christmas gifts to buy. As a fifty-four-year-old mother and grandmother, I had loved ones on my list that I wanted to see smile when they opened my presents. Giving gifts was important to me, a high point in my life, something I liked doing better than making new life plans for myself. I had enjoyed life with Jeff. Now it was time to give happiness to my children and grandchildren.

As I rushed around, I thought about my son Mike and his wife, Lorna. They had two active kids—Lisa, who was five, and Joseph, six. I loved driving the ten miles to their home in Crystal City. Their happiness with what I could give them was my life goal now. Everytime I earned extra tips and had my bills paid, I bought small presents for my family to give when I visited them. Giving was such a happy feeling.

Sure, I heard from some of the women I talked with at work or at coffee gatherings that giving gifts was not always a guarantee for family happiness. “I gave my son and his wife a new coffeemaker and she got upset. It wasn’t the brand she liked and she let me know about it every time I visited,” said Elaine.

Lois, Marla, Diana, and Tina mentioned that the children in their lives were often too fussy. So they gave money in a card instead of buying gifts that would be shunned.

I didn’t let what anyone said discourage me. I felt good giving gifts and nothing would make me stop shopping for them.

The only thing that was getting me down now was that this job was my extra one. My main waitress work was at the Lakeside Resort. My boss, Mr. Lewis, would frown on my overextending myself with this evening job on my day off from the resort. He wanted his workers to be rested and fresh. But Mr. Lewis wasn’t responsible for paying my bills or buying my loved ones gifts on birthdays or for Christmas!

My thoughts scattered as another wave of dizziness spun through me and I fell asleep or passed out from exhaustion on that high hospital bed.

When I came to, I was looking at Dr. Morgan’s craggy, sixty-plus-year-old face. He had been our family physician and was on-call that evening.

“Amy, I told you at your last checkup that you were overdoing it. You need more sleep and more time for fun—not just work. Remember the old saying that ‘all work and no play makes Jill a dull girl?’ Well, Jill is you, Amy. I want to know why you can’t make ends meet with one job. You no longer have Mike at home to support. Why do you need a second job when you’re at a stage in life when you need to relax and have some leisure time?”

His sincerity made me tell him something I didn’t tell many people; I admitted that I wanted to give my grandchildren special Christmas gifts. I told him about the electronic gifts, a porcelain collector doll, and a baby doll I was buying for my grandchildren. “I have a list of books and video films to buy for them, too, Dr. Morgan.”

“There’s no need for a grandmother to give up her personal life, to work herself to the bone so she can dote on grandchildren to the point where she ends up in the ER!” Dr. Morgan said emphatically. “You’re still young and attractive. Start dating again, and maybe even remarry!”

“But my life is Mike and his family. I’m that kind of woman and I can’t help it. I am the kind of woman who needs to create a homey atmosphere for those I love. I’m like that and I can’t change.”

“You need to take care of yourself, Amy. This December, you need to forget about Christmas.”

I gazed at the doctor’s stern but concerned expression and shrugged. I made no promises to give up on Christmas, so I stayed silent. He ordered me to rest awhile. He brought me a phone and ordered me to call Mike to come and take me to my home.

I obeyed that part of his order and phoned Mike, who sounded frantic with worry. “What’s wrong, Mom? You’re always so healthy and peppy. What happened?”

“Just exhausted. I haven’t been sleeping well.”

I didn’t admit my sleep had been interrupted by my long work hours. I was so physically uptight when I got home that sleep often eluded me. It was a secret I kept from my family. I needed to keep working to earn money and I knew I’d stop before I got sick.

Already, I knew I’d rest more. I’d learned from my trip to the ER. I wasn’t stupid. I planned to rest more—and that meant no dancing with Ben Samson until maybe next summer when I’d be caught up on rest.

Mike said he’d come and get me right away. “I want you to come home with us tonight, Mom.”

“No, I’ll rest better in my own bed, honey. Thanks for the offer, but I do like my own bed.”

He sighed. “Then I’ll sleep on your sofa tonight so I can be there for you. Lorna will understand and agree with my idea, too. I know it.”

I said okay, but I knew deep down that Lorna would not like it. She’d let me know early on that she now belonged to Mike and he belonged to her. “Our lives are our own, said Amy. My parents taught me to be up front with my beliefs. So I want you to know that we love you, but we have our own little family now. Please don’t tell Mike that we had this little talk.”

I agreed just to keep the peace between Mike and his wife. I thought of my neighbor Susan’s words: “A mother-in-law shouldn’t lead her life to please her married children or their spouses. I don’t. And I’ve been given some unwanted advice a few times, too.”

Susan had often frowned on the way her son and his wife spent too much money on every fad advertised on television. “The kids don’t need every gimmick on the market,” she’d said.

“That might have some truth to it,” I agreed, “but to see my grandchildren smile makes me feel such inner peace. It makes me happy and that’s my goal in life now that Jeff’s gone.”

“Suit yourself, Amy.” Susan shrugged, then offered me another piece of her tasty homemade cake.

Later, her words echoed in my mind as I pondered how Lorna indulged my grandchildren in whatever they begged for. Then guilt overwhelmed me. Was I doing the same? Still, I was giving Christmas gifts to create happy Christmas memories to show my love for them. My own past memories were not delightful. I’d longed for a certain doll for two years in a row and never got the beautiful blonde doll in the pink satin dress.

I felt torn inside but kept it a secret from my friends. I always smiled and said my Christmas had been great—like theirs had been.

As I lay on the bed waiting for Mike, I thought about how my son and his family took long weekends at resorts to get away from it all. Jeff and I hadn’t done that. We’d waited for someday, and that day had never arrived. So I was feeling fresh gladness giving loving gifts to my family. Somehow, it eased my grief and fulfilled me. It helped me more than finding romance with a new man would, I was sure.

And now I lay in the ER with Dr. Morgan’s words echoing in my brain: Forget about working so hard to shop for Christmas.

Then the curtain by my bed was pulled aside and I gazed at my tall blonde son whose blue eyes were shiny with tears. “Mom, what happened to you?”

“I got too tired. And my insurance will pay for this.”

“Mom, you’ve got to stop working at two jobs. I’ll do my best to help you if you need money.” He started to say more but he stopped. I knew he had no extra funds to help me. I had to work and lead my own life to fulfill my new goals for contentment.

A friendly nurse wheeled me to Mike’s van in the lighted hospital parking lot as the December wind blew. I decided to rest so I could enjoy the holidays. I’d find out about buying gifts on credit. My credit card was limited. I didn’t want to go over the maximum.

Mike settled in on my sofa bed overnight. It felt good to have him in the house again. I slept well and woke up feeling more rested. What a relief! I’d go to bed as soon as I got home from work each evening and catch up on my sleep.

Ben kept asking me to go dancing but there was no time—and I secretly knew I had no energy left for a new man, anyway.

I felt better each day and wrapped presents in my spare time. I wouldn’t be with Mike’s family when they opened their gifts. When Mike and Lorna had their first baby, she had told me birthdays and holidays would be their ‘family’ time. “I can’t help it if I seem selfish. I didn’t have family time when growing up, Amy. There was always something else going on.”

I would be invited to birthday and Christmas dinners at a separate time, though. I’d have loved to have seen their faces when they opened my gifts, but I’d heed Lorna’s wishes and do as she asked. It was their marriage and different from our family tradition. But that was what would be for now. Someday I would ask to be there on a holiday to see the grandchildren’s faces when they opened my gifts.

It was easier to work at my two jobs with ease after my rest. Ben Samson kept coming in to pay attention to me with his caring comments. “I want to take you dancing, Amy. You need to have some fun!”

“Someday, Ben, maybe,” I said. “For now, I’ve got bills to pay.”

“I understand about bills, but we all need a break for fun. You raised your son. Now it’s time for you to relax and enjoy some free time.” His dark eyes looked serious. “I worry about you wearing yourself out when you already did your child raising thing.”

Sometimes after he flirted and asked me to go dancing with him, I dreamed about him holding me close. And I’d wake up wishing it hadn’t been a dream.

Soon after that, he asked me to go to the Landing, a restaurant where there was a good dance band. “I know you were a terrific dancer in high school. No one forgets how to dance, right? So let’s go to the Landing and dance, Amy.”

I felt a twinge when he said the day he wanted me to go. I couldn’t say yes. It was the Sunday afternoon I had off from work and was invited to a pre-Christmas dinner at Mike and Lorna’s home. I couldn’t say no to my family. I’d been a mother too long for anything to interfere. Ben’s attentiveness would wait for another time, I told myself. He was a patient man.

Then I saw a new widow, Pam Taylor, flirting with Ben as he was leaving the restaurant to go dancing. What if he asks her? A jealous pang hit but melted when I knew I couldn’t give up being with my family for a Christmas gathering. Yet worry knotted in me. Pam was pretty and Ben smiled when she flirted with him.

Then Ben stopped showing up at the restaurant. I felt puzzled and worried that he was seeing Pam.

One late night after work I cried during a tearjerker romance movie on television. I longed to be held close and loved by another caring man. I even went so far as to look for Ben’s usual booth every time I was working, but he had vanished from my life. Why hadn’t I been more flirtatious in return?

I knew the answer: If I had to choose between Ben and Mike and his family, my maternal loyalty would have drawn me to my family. Was I being fair to them? Was I leaning on them too much?

Grandma had told me as a child that family closeness is a gift to be cherished.

As Christmas neared I kept busy, despite Ben’s absence. I trimmed the tree and baked Mike’s favorite fancy cut-out cookies for him and his family. I felt my pep lagging and ran out of wrapping paper while I still had gifts to wrap. So I found some leftover wall paper rolls to use for the rest of the gifts. It matched my kitchen walls, but the kids would get a smile out of it. I smiled, thinking of them clapping their hands in delight and saying, “Nana, you used wallpaper! Now our presents are like your walls!”

Christmas gift with tag

I ran out of ribbon, too, so just added a nametag on each. I sighed with relief when I finished the last gift. My grandchildren would have a pile of pretty packages with big ribbons to put under their big tree. They would never know how it felt to wake up on Christmas to find nothing under the tree. Buying for them was a way to fill the hole inside me from my bleak Christmases as a child and teen. And the wallpaper would be fun for them!

Three days before Christmas I wrote the last of my cards, delivered cookies to Susan and Ted next door, listened to taped carols, went to church, phoned my parents and promised to visit them in Nevada come summer. I must have sounded tired because Mom asked if I felt okay. I hadn’t told her about my ER trip and the doctor’s warning.

Mom sounded worried. “I know we didn’t have much money when you were growing up. But don’t work too hard, honey. Take a vacation and visit us before summer. I’d like to make hot soup for you and bake your favorite cinnamon rolls to go with morning coffee—the way you like breakfast.”

I thanked Mom. I missed her and Dad with a sudden fierceness and longed to visit them sooner. But I’d charged most of the gifts and needed to pay off my credit card bill before too much interest added on. I didn’t tell Mom. Why should I worry my parents?

“I’ll try to visit soon if I can swing the expense, Mom.”

“I hope so, Amy. I’d like to somehow make up for the hard times when you were a girl at home.”

I kept busy at the restaurants and delivering the cookies to Mike and Lorna’s home. Their trimmed tree was a glorious sight, with all the new trimmings in shimmering silver.

“Mike got a raise at the accounting office, so the new decorations were one way to celebrate,” Lorna said, beaming.

She offered me coffee with cookies. “They’re not homemade, but easier!” Lorna smiled.

“I brought you homemade cookies, Lorna,” I said.

Instead of the smile I expected, her expression told me she guessed I’d made the usual cut-out cookies she’d once said she disliked. Mike and the children liked them. I hugged her and asked her to greet Mike and the children for me when they got home.

As I drove home, I felt like attending the church concert. On an impulse, I decided to call Ben to see if he wanted to join me. It would be short notice, but I hadn’t seen him lately. I wouldn’t know if he’d like to go unless I asked.

I waved to Susan when I got out of my car in the driveway. She called to ask if I would be going to Mike’s for the gift opening on Christmas morning. I told her I’d go there later for dinner in the afternoon.

“You should be there for the gift opening, Amy. You’re the mother and grandmother, so why not?”

“I’m not pushy and it’s private family time. That’s how Lorna grew up, with only their immediate family there for the gift opening time. I understand—or intend to try!” I smiled to soften the tension growing inside me.

“Why don’t you go dancing with Ben sometime? I know he’s asked you to go.”

“Maybe I will,” I said, adding cheer to my tone.

However, worry gnawed at me. What if Ben had given up on me and found Pam to be good company?

Once inside, I decided not only to date Ben when he asked, but to be bold and call! Why not? I tried several times, but got no answer or machine to leave a message.

The trimmed tree at the church, the carols, and the nativity crèche gave me a family feeling. At home later, I quickly tuned on some Christmas television programs and vicariously enjoyed others’ lives on It’s A Wonderful Life. Then I went to bed, glad I hadn’t worked that night. I’d enjoyed a family feeling, even though I was alone.

But I wondered, Where’s Ben?

On Christmas morning, I made coffee, scrambled an egg, warmed a cinnamon roll in the microwave, and poured myself orange juice. I ate while “Joy To The World” wafted from the tape player. I basked in the memory of my first married Christmas, when Jeff and I had breakfast together in the tiny kitchen of our first apartment. Then we went back to bed for a while to make passionate love.

But that was another lifetime ago, I realized. I shook away the memories and anticipated seeing Mike, Lorna, and the children that afternoon. Then a sad streak hit me. Would I ever see Ben again? Well, I’d pushed him away, and it might have been best that way.

I glanced at the clock. It was time to go to Mike and Lorna’s home. I could hardly wait to see my grandchildren’s shining faces when they would rush to greet me and tell me how much they loved the gifts I’d given them!

I rang the doorbell an hour sooner than expected, but that wouldn’t bug them, I was sure. After all, it was Christmas. Everyone would be in a carefree, holiday spirit. I know I was! My drive over had been like riding on air.

When Lorna saw me at the door her mouth opened wide. “Oh, you’re early! We’re—we’re not ready yet, Amy.”

“That’s okay, Lorna. I can . . . well, blend in. Merry Christmas! And thanks for the wonderful sausage and cheese gift. My favorite kind!”

I leaned toward her and gave her a tight hug, although she stiffened. Her tight expression and cool attitude hurt me. Suddenly, my being pushed away from my family was too much. I was a person and I deserved a happy life. Jeff had told me that on his deathbed. And I would call Ben and tell him so—if I could still have Ben in my life.

Lorna must have seen my expression as I said, “I’ll leave now. Merry Christmas!”

I turned to go, but she stopped me by saying, “Listen, you’ve driven ten miles to get here, so you might as well come in.”

She pointed me to the family room, where the buzzing voices sounded. I stood in the doorway, gazed at the shimmering tree, and admired it aloud. Mike hurried over to hug me, as did my grandchildren, who then rushed right back to their new toys. I stood there, observing them as though they were on stage and I was in the audience.

“Sit down, sit down, Mom!” Mike said, pointing out a spot on the sofa he had cleared for me.

Happy family at christmas opening gifts together

I sat down and saw the gigantic pile of presents. There were games, toy trucks, doll carriages, a miniature keyboard, a little dinette set, a small beauty shop—to name some. The room was congested with crumpled paper and gifts. The gifts I had given must have been buried in the heap, so I wouldn’t ask if they’d liked them.

Everyone was chattering and keeping busy with different toys. I thanked Mike for the cheese assortment and he got me a cup of hot coffee to sip while we visited.

Then I saw it, peeking out from behind a pile of presents: the wallpaper-wrapped presents among the others I’d delivered to them earlier. Thinking they’d overlooked them, I walked over and pointed out what I had given them.

“You still have mine to open, Joseph,” I told my grandson.

He screwed up his little face. “You wrapped them in paper like your kitchen!”

“Joseph!” Mike scolded as Lorna walked into the room.

“Well, it’s not Christmas wrap, honey,” she said. “Can you blame a child if he’s got his own opinion?”

Stunned, I knew this was the end of my longing for family closeness on holidays. My family unity hope had been suddenly, most cruelly shattered. Now I could go on in life—a life of my own, with a new romance with Ben—if he still wanted me. My heart ached with worry that Pam had him now.

I would drive home to my peace and quiet. I would go out with Ben, if he was still available. I would take Susan’s suggestion to become bolder. I would wait to tell Mike and Lorna how I felt. It was Christmas, so I would just honor the day with patience . . . until I could change my life pattern of overindulging my son and his family. It was time to move to a new life—and romance!

I got up and walked to the door. Mike rushed to ask me to stay for dinner, but I’d lost my appetite. I knew I’d finally found my new pathway in life, and it wasn’t there, in that house. I needed time before we could discuss this, and Christmas wasn’t the day to do that.

I forced a smile as reality rushed through me like a river. “Mike, please don’t be concerned. I’ve got plans of my own today. Ben and I will spend time together.”

“Well, at least stay for when the children open your gifts, Mom.”

“No, it’s okay with me if they open them today or another time. I’ve got to leave now, Mike.” I took his right hand and squeezed it. “Merry Christmas to each of you! I’ll be happy, too, with my plans today.”

As I drove I hoped that Ben would listen to me and forgive me for putting him off so often after I’d told him I’d learned to pursue my own life.

Even if he was out of my life, I planned for the following Christmas. I would be willing to date and heed Jeff’s deathbed wish for me. I would socialize at a singles’ group, where everyone went to the movies, concerts, or dances together and didn’t necessarily pair off. I was weaning myself from being obsessed with making up for my poverty-stricken childhood by giving up happiness now.

As I entered my home again, with its cozy splendor and my renewed inner peace, I became even bolder. I phoned Ben. This time his wonderful, deep voice answered.

“Hi!” I said. “This is Amy Lukas. Merry Christmas, Ben.”

“Merry Christmas to you, Amy,” he said, gladness tingling in his tone. “I’ve been busy checking out a new job lately, so I haven’t been at the restaurant. I was sitting here having a frozen dinner for my Christmas meal. Not too bad, but not great, either. The restaurants in town are closed, so I can’t be choosy.”

“If you want to come over, I’ll scramble some eggs for you, make toast, and serve you some of the pumpkin pie I made. I’ve also got salad fixings, if you like, to go with two kinds of cheese with crackers as an alternative, Ben.”

“I don’t care what you serve, Amy. I’m so glad you’re including me in your Christmas.”

Romantic Senior Couple In Bathroom

We had a cozy time eating the holiday breakfast in the evening. Then we put on some tapes of romantic love songs, and Ben and I danced. We swayed to the soft melodies and I felt as though I was meant for his arms. He whispered, “I’ve never been happier, Amy. Merry Christmas, honey.”

That was last Christmas. This Christmas will be our wedding day—and I had to share the good news. I feel that Jeff will smile from heaven, knowing that I will no longer be widowed and I’ll be cherished and loved by another man.

Mike, Lorna, Lisa, and Joseph are happy that I no longer will be alone. The children made me a poster: happy marriage to nana.

Now I’ll have family love and my new romance to cherish!

Relationship Help: Why Do I Get So Upset with My Partner?

Couple after quarrel

Q: I need some relationship help. While I love my husband with all my heart, sometimes it’s just so frustrating being married to him. When I feel that he’s ignoring me, I get so upset, and he’s usually surprised by the intensity of my reaction. Why do I get so upset with him? ~Lynn, Carlsbad CA 

A: Thanks for the question, Lynn. Here are some thoughts that might help shed light on your experience: 

It is extremely distressing to feel as if your words and actions have no impact (or no longer matter) to your spouse/partner—to think that someone whom you love deeply is no longer engaged fully in the relationship or interested in what’s important to you can be extremely painful. 

When you feel like your spouse/partner is not being responsive to you (and to your needs), two outcomes become likely: 

1. Initially, you may “up the ante” in order to have some kind of impact on your spouse/partner– this might involve yelling, becoming more provocative, elevating your emotional responses, acting in ways that are uncharacteristic for you (in attachment literature these types of reactions are called “protest” behaviors—your protests are a reflection of losing something extremely important to you; this can be the love of your partner, the security of your relationship, or both). 

Is it fair to say that at some point most of us would react negatively (protest) if we perceived our spouse/partner to be unavailable and unresponsive to our needs? 

Black Male is Ignoring His Girlfriend While Playing Video Games

2. When you feel ignored for extended periods of time, your sense of despair can turn into feelings of hopelessness—you give up on trying to engage your spouse/partner and begin to retreat (this is a self-protective behavior—in essence, you’re cutting your loses). This may take the form of indifference, withdrawal behaviors, and disengaging from the relationship in general (and the responsibilities that are a part of the relationship). 

Typically a protest reaction isn’t random: Protest behaviors (getting really upset when your partner isn’t responding in predictable ways that make you feel secure in the relationship) occur in a particular context; and the triggering event is usually feeling anxious about losing the security of your relationship. 

Relationship Help: Let’s break down this reaction: 

An unresponsive/disengaged/uninterested partner => 

triggers increased anxiety and worry in the other partner, who then => 

attempts to reengage the unresponsive partner (for example, “We need to talk,” or “What’s wrong?”) => 

and if the other partner is still not responsive, protest behaviors are triggered. 

Your protest behaviors (whether your protest behaviors are perceived as nagging, pestering, yelling, or some kind of increased emotionality like anger) are in effect attempts to try and correct the problem—ideally it’s an attention-grabbing reaction that will let your spouse know that something is wrong that needs fixing. 

Think of protest behaviors as an alarm sounding in an effort to grab your partner’s attention to what needs to be addressed. 

Marital/relationship problems can arise when these temporary reactions (feeling one’s spouse/partner is unconcerned and unresponsive) are not addressed and become ingrained patterns. 

I hope this sheds some light on why you seem to get so upset with your spouse (or why we all get upset with our spouse/partner at times). Whenever we allow a loved one special access to our hearts, feeling ignored by this person is going to feel like a major deal. 

A Single Girl’s Guide To Rebounds

Couple embracing

So you’re going through a breakup. Yeah, it sucks, but there are actually a lot of great things that can come out of it. You’re able to devote yourself to your shoe collection; you may discover you’re really great at crocheting; you’re able to get all the puppies you want; nobody to stop you from buying that Moped you’ve always wanted. And, rebounds. It’s like being a kid in a candy store, really. So, here’s a sort of rundown on some of the most common rebound-types you may experience.

The You’ll-Do Rebound

We’ve all been here before. Whether it’s been five hours, five weeks, or five months–you get to a point after a breakup where anyone will do. The guy with the coffee-breath and Ray Bans, the bartender with the tattoos, that basketball player you sat behind in class your freshmen year of college.

The Level-Up Rebound

Happy Couple Enjoying the Party

Like Nicki Minaj and Beyonce, you were really feeling yourself last night. Hell yeah. You scored a major hottie, a level-up from your ex. Confidence booster for sure.

The Virtual Rebound

You’ve connected on Tinder. His bio is hilarious and you find yourself opening up your app just to see if he’s messaged you back. He’ll ask you how your day was and exchange crazy ex stories with you. He’s a great way to distract you from checking to see if your ex has posted anything new on Instagram. Yeah, don’t do that.

The Platonic Rebound

Maybe he’s a friend you’ve known for a while, or maybe someone you’ve just met. Suddenly, he’s becoming something like your best friend. You love spending time with him, he’s funny and brings out this carefree side to you, but there’s no feelings for him… yet.

The Is-It-Love Rebound

Couple Enjoying Night Out At Cocktail Bar

Oh, no. You’ve developed feelings for your rebound. Rebound Rule 101 and you broke it. But hey, you never know, it could be love.

The Rebound-Rebound

No, not your ex! Absolutely nothing good comes from trying to make your ex your rebound. Yes he knows how to please you, but that’s about all the good that will come from a walk down memory lane.

The May-As-Well Rebound

You know it’s time to get back in the swing of things. It’s not that your standards have lowered, but when Grandma says her new neighbor has a cute son, you’re having a hard time finding a reason why you shouldn’t go through with this setup.

From Never Liked It Anyway, the number one destination for all things break-ups and bounce-back! It’s the place to buy, sell and tell all things ex! Sell your breakup baggage, tell your story and join the community of rock stars bouncing back better than ever! )

I’m In Love With My Married Patient

Male Doctor Examining Female Patient In Emergency Room

Stephanie was seething. “If you think for even one minute that you’re going to put that thing in me, then you’ve got another thing coming, Randall Scott.”

I stopped dead in my tracks and made a vain attempt to hide the smirk tugging at the corners of my mouth. She was a sight, but even under extreme duress her emerald green eyes hadn’t lost their spark or challenge, intriguing me. I approached her gurney cautiously and held up the catheter in mock surrender. Her long, fiery hair lay tangled all around her with soft tendrils clinging to her sweaty forehead. Beads of perspiration formed along her temples and began a slow descent down the side of her freckled cheeks.

I stood next to the gurney looking down into her eyes and calmly stated, “You know you can’t undergo a Cesarean Section without a catheter.”

She started to protest, but again I held up my hand. “I could nick your bladder, Stephanie. Please don’t be unreasonable. As soon as the baby is born and you can get out of bed, I will have it removed . . . I promise.”

Tears formed in her eyes, enhancing the depth of their color even more. Seeing her like that tore me in two. I wanted to hold her and soothe her fears, but I knew I had to remain professional. The situation clearly outweighed any personal desires. The bottom line I had to force myself to remember was that I was still her doctor. Regardless, it didn’t stop me from wishing I could relinquish her care to another colleague.

So much had happened since we’d first met. I felt as though we had known each other forever. I couldn’t imagine not having her in my life. She had to be the one to act first. I’d laid all my cards out for her a month earlier. Now it was her turn to make the next move, and I vowed to accept whatever decision she would make.

Handing the catheter to the nurse, I took Stephanie’s hand. It was the most I could offer her at that moment. She squeezed it tightly as a contraction hit her. Once it subsided, the nurse placed the catheter and wheeled her into the operating room. A few minutes later I joined her once more.

Throughout the operation, I hummed softly in an effort to ease her anxiety. Slowly and calmly, I explained each step. Her only acknowledgment was an occasional nod. Never before had I been so acutely aware of the size and location of the incision, my patient’s anxiety, or my own abilities.

“All right, Stephanie, you’re going to feel a lot of pressure right now . . . here we go,” I recalled telling her.

A low grunt emerged from her throat, followed by the piercing wail of a newborn infant. I handed the newborn to Dr. Richardson, Stephanie’s pediatrician, announcing, “You’ve got a beautiful baby girl, Stephanie—shocking red hair and all!”

“Thank you, Randy . . . thank you so much.” She quietly sobbed in relief.

Her voice and words filled me with more satisfaction and happiness than I’d ever felt in my entire career. It wasn’t until Dr. Walsh, who was assisting, cleared his throat and brought me back to the present that I realized our level of intimacy was evident to everyone in the room.

I went to work removing the placenta and closing the wound. Occasionally I would glance up at Dr. Walsh, catching the disapproving scowl on his face. I was relieved when the procedure was finished and Stephanie was in recovery. My relief was to be short-lived, because my colleague wasted no time in interrogating me.

“I wasn’t aware that you and your patients are on a first-name basis.”

“Most of us are not,” I offered casually.

Dr. Walsh removed his surgical scrub cap and adjusted his glasses. I couldn’t help but think that the old man should leave the cap on. I’ve always detested the way some balding men grow the sides of their hair long, just so they can stretch it across the rest of their scalp. At least when he wore his cap, no one could tell the difference.

“So . . . Mrs. Adler is different?” he asked.

“Yes, we’re neighbors.” When Walsh continued to stare, I reluctantly continued. “She and her husband purchased the Victorian house, two houses over from mine, about a year ago. It’s customary on our block to welcome new neighbors to a barbecue. Introductions were made, and when she became pregnant, she and her husband chose me as her obstetrician.” I shrugged my shoulders with indifference, secretly hoping he would drop the subject.

Dr. Walsh seemed somewhat placated. “What does her husband do for a living?”

“He’s a police detective.”

“Ah. And where is Mr. Adler today? I’d like to meet him.”

That was exactly what I was afraid would happen. Averting my eyes, I continued to clean up. “He isn’t here today. In fact, he left her about seven months ago.”

“Perhaps I should speak with her.”

“No,” I nearly shouted. “I mean—that won’t be necessary, Ken. Things have been rather difficult for her, but they’re getting better. I think it’d be best if you didn’t mention her husband right now.”

“I see.” Clearly, he didn’t understand at all.

“Thank you.”

Dr. Walsh continued to change in silence, warily eyeing me. He must have come to the conclusion that it really wasn’t any of his business and dropped the issue altogether.

As soon as Stephanie was settled in her room, I went to join her. I stood in the doorway, watching her quietly for a moment before entering. The nurse was in the bathroom prepping her toiletries when Stephanie’s eyes caught mine.

I recalled when we first met at our neighborhood barbecue. She was standing next to the picnic table, spooning potato salad onto a plate when I arrived. As I picked up my own plate, Charlotte Taylor quickly made introductions.

When told I was a doctor, Stephanie chuckled. She said I looked more like a logger or a bouncer than a doctor because of my size and broad shoulders. She’d blushed after the admission. She was so beautiful, with her long hair flowing freely down her back, gently swaying in the breeze. She wore a soft rose print summer dress revealing long, shapely legs and soft, creamy skin.

I was instantly captivated. Then, like a bad dream, her husband approached, introduced himself and held out his hand. Quickly, I regained my composure. Within minutes I’d determined that I disliked the man immensely. He talked down to his wife, eyed all the other women openly, and was boring.

Stephanie’s eyes shifted back to the nurse as she returned to the room. The nurse brought me up to date on her vitals, and I nodded appropriately. Only after the nurse left did I pull up a chair next to the bed, took Steph’s hand in mine, and kiss it gently.

“You did fine in there,” I whispered, “and the baby will be moved into your room as soon as you recover from the anesthesia.”

She smiled. “How did you know I wanted the baby in my room?”

“I just knew.”

“Thank you.” Fresh tears pooled in her eyes once more. “She’s beautiful, isn’t she?”

“Just like her mom,” I agreed, brandishing a silly grin from ear to ear.

Always Together

She raised her hand and stroked my cheek. “I love it when you smile. It lights up your whole face and adds humor to your blue eyes.” She proceeded to run her fingers through my hair. “Your hair is getting long, I need to give it a trim.” Before I could reply, she giggled, “And it’s getting more silver.”

“You think so?”

“I’m afraid so. I think I’ve done this to you over the last few months. I haven’t exactly been a calming entity in your life.”

“That’s all right. I wouldn’t have traded these last few months for anything in the world. By the way, have you chosen a name for her?”


I stood up and squeezed her hand gently. Only once in passing did I ever mention I liked the name. “Tabitha. I think that’s a wonderful name.”

“I know.”

I walked to the foot of her bed to make a notation on her chart. “They’re waiting for me in the OR again, but I’ll be back in a couple of hours. If you need anything, ring the buzzer, all right?”

Stephanie smiled bravely, feigning calmness. “Randy?”


“How am I ever going to thank you?”

Emotions running as high as they were, I was moved beyond words. With great difficulty, I swallowed past a huge lump in my throat and murmured, “Love me forever.” Then I left the room.

The next few days passed by quickly, and soon Stephanie was preparing for her discharge. Tabitha was dressed in a delicate pink dress and a white knit sweater and bonnet when I arrived to sign her discharge orders.

“I really do wish you’d reconsider,” I admitted.

“I can’t. It wouldn’t be right, Randy—and you know it wouldn’t. Everyone in the neighborhood would be talking.”

“Yes, they would, but I really don’t care. All I care about is making sure you and Tabitha are cared for. You shouldn’t be going home with no one to help you care for a newborn. If you stayed with me, I’d be able to cook and clean for you.”

She looked up into my eyes. “Thank you, Randy, for everything. Tabitha and I will be fine, I promise. And if we do need anything, you’ll be the first one I call.”

I sighed heavily. “All right. You have my beeper number?”


“Who’s coming to pick you up?”

“I called a taxi.” She grimaced when she tried to tug on her sweater.

I helped her into it. Only then did I notice her braid in disarray. “Cancel the cab, Stephanie. I’ll give you a ride.”

I thought she’d protest, but instead she smiled and thanked me. When she hung up the phone, I turned her by the shoulders to face me. She looked up in anticipation, perhaps thinking I was going to kiss her. When I didn’t, she appeared somewhat dejected.

“Why don’t you let me fix your braid for you?” I offered.

She was temporarily stunned, then slowly grinned. That was the beautiful smile I’d come to adore.

“I wondered if you’d notice. I can’t lift my arms over my head to braid it properly.”

I chuckled. “I can see that.”

“How did you learn how to braid hair?”

“I’m fifteen years older than my little sister. Sometimes she’d stay with me at my place, and I’d have to braid her hair for her. It took some practice, but eventually I became quite good at it. She’s in college now, and if I’m guessing correctly, she’s probably learned how to braid it herself.”

Stephanie giggled, then turned around to hug me. I wished she was mine to hug forever.

We drove home in silence, apparently worrying about the same thing. She was the one to bring it up first. “Do you think he’ll call?”

“Yes . . . or worse. He may show up. She’s his daughter, too.”

“I was worried he’d show up at the hospital.”

“I was too. That’s one reason I consented to having Tabitha stay in your room so soon after surgery. I knew it would bring you peace of mind to know she was where you could see her at all times.”

She reached over and patted my hand. “Thank you.”

I looked over to find fresh tears running down her cheeks. I was at a loss for words.

I pulled into her driveway, pleased to find a strange car parked in the middle of it. I opened her car door and helped her out. Seeing her confused glance at the unfamiliar green Honda parked in her driveway, I explained, “I hired a housekeeper to come in for a few hours each day to help you out. I told her she was to take all orders from you, and you could terminate her at any point you felt ready.”

“Oh, Randy. I don’t know how to thank you. You just keep amazing me at every turn.”

I left once she was settled in. Respecting her need for privacy, I left her alone for the next couple of weeks, only paying her the occasional visit or phone call. Each time I found her cheerful and happy.

But I was shocked when I received the housekeeping agency’s bill, which stated that Stephanie had let Mrs. Emery go after only three weeks. Only three days had passed since I’d last seen Stephanie, and she hadn’t said a word about letting the housekeeper go. I was about to call her from my office when my secretary announced she was there to see me for her routine postpartum checkup.

“She’s here?” I asked in confusion. “Isn’t she scheduled two weeks from now?

“Yes, but her husband called and asked that we move it up, so I changed her appointment. I knew you’d want to see her.”

I wasn’t prepared for that news. “Her husband?”

“Yes, her husband. He’s with her. I was surprised, too.”

I sank back heavily into my chair, stunned. After digesting the information for a few minutes, I went to see the Adlers.

Stephanie sat quietly on the exam table in a johnny. With her head hung, she stared at her feet when I entered the room. Her husband stood across the room like a bulldog, with his arms folded across his chest and his feet slightly apart in a menacing stance.

I shut the door behind me. It didn’t take long for Gary to take the lead.

“Good morning, Dr. Scott. We’re here to find out how Stephanie’s doing.”

“You’re a bit early,” I said, avoiding his eyes. “I wasn’t expecting you for another two weeks.”

“Yes, but we’re anxious to have another child.”

I turned to him. “Mr. Adler, your wife has just undergone major surgery. She cannot conceive for a minimum of six months. The pressure of another fetus against the incision could make the uterus burst open, endangering the life of the baby as well as her own.”

Gary waved my words away as if they were a bothersome insect buzzing around his head. “I don’t think you realize the situation here.”

“Apparently, I don’t. Why don’t you explain?”

“Well, we didn’t want a girl—we wanted a boy. I won’t play games with you, Dr. Scott. I know you’re aware that I left my wife, but I’m back now. And I intend to correct the things she’s done wrong. I only left because I didn’t believe the child was mine. I’m sure you can understand . . . being a man and all.”

Though I fought for self-control, I wanted to pummel his face with my fists. I continued to watch Stephanie for some reaction, but she was void of all emotion, obviously deeply troubled.

Slowly, I picked up her chart. In mock reference I told him, “According to my records, you left your wife because you didn’t want any children. I also don’t see where any paternity testing has been ordered. Why are you convinced the baby is yours now?”

Gary’s face flamed with embarrassment. “The paternity testing will be done next week. I’ve already spoken to Dr. Richardson about it. We’re only here today to see about my wife’s condition, and her ability to produce a son.”

“Mr. Adler, I think it would be best if I spoke to your wife alone.”

“Really? Well, my wife has nothing to say in my absence—and I’m not leaving.”

I was fearful for Stephanie and didn’t want to create a situation that could put her in any further jeopardy, so I merely approached her gently. “Could you lie back, please?”

I called my nurse in and performed an exam. Stephanie openly wept throughout, apologizing and blaming it on postpartum depression. Her husband ordered her to knock it off, but clearly it was beyond her control.

Once finished, I announced she was healing well but that she still needed several weeks to fully heal. I reiterated firmly that she couldn’t conceive again for a minimum of six months. I was relieved to find no evidence of her having been raped.

Gary ignored the latter of my statements, inquiring, “What do you mean she isn’t finished healing? How long does that take?”

“It’ll be another four to six weeks before she can engage in relations.”

Annoyed, he paced the room, ordering his wife to dress. Stephanie never raised her eyes or looked in my direction. I made a notation in her chart regarding spousal abuse, and the minute they left I phoned in the report, despite Gary’s position on the police force.

The next few days crawled by in a haze. Stephanie never left my mind. She’d appeared so frail and scared that I couldn’t help but worry about her. Throughout the months we’d spent getting to know each other, she’d confided to me how happy she was since Gary had left. Her marriage had been horrible for quite some time; he was always cheating on her and openly bragging about his conquests to his buddies, even in front of her. He insulted her and resorted to threats if everything wasn’t done precisely his way.

I knew I wasn’t the only neighbor who watched out for her. Most of the neighborhood didn’t care for Gary’s boisterous ways. His flaring temperament didn’t sit well with the majority of us in our quiet little suburb. I must admit I was overjoyed when the Andersons, who live in the house between ours, befriended Stephanie, as well as the Taylors across the street. Those good people never failed to include Stephanie and me to any get-together, regardless how small.

I hadn’t intended to become so attached to her, but soon we were taking evening walks or sitting on her front porch and sipping drinks in the evening. Within just a few short months I knew I was in over my head. My love for her consumed me in a powerful yet helpless way, and being her doctor only complicated matters. I suggested at one point that perhaps I should turn her care over to a fellow colleague, but she adamantly refused. She insisted that our feelings for one another shouldn’t get in the way.

Technically, we were only friends. After all, she was a married woman. We certainly hadn’t broken any rules of propriety. For that very same reason I reluctantly agreed to stay on as her doctor.

A week after the incident in my office, I knew I needed to take a short vacation. Stephanie and Tabitha were all I could think about. I hadn’t been able to sleep or eat in days. I made several attempts to call, but each time Gary either answered and refused to let me speak to her or the phone would ring on and on. I telephoned the police station and was transferred so many times that I lost count.

Finally, a lieutenant came on the phone and told me that the complaint was under investigation. Despite my further questioning, he insisted that he couldn’t disclose any information. All I could do was to pray for their safety.

I hoped that a few days at my cabin at the lake would clear my head. Without a second thought, I packed and left that evening. Still, I was haunted by memories of Stephanie. Would I ever be free from her? I was tormented with recollections of her—like the day she told me she was pregnant and her husband had left her.

It was a gloomy, overcast day, and I’d been up all night dealing with a difficult birth. I had just arrived at my office when Stephanie appeared for an appointment. I should have recognized the name instantly on my schedule, but it didn’t connect until I saw her. There she sat in my private office, bravely facing a pregnancy alone. She announced that her husband had threatened her with an abortion or separation.

Apparently, he had a daughter with his first wife and rarely saw his child. He had never discussed with Stephanie his desire not to have children. She was left reeling when he made his proclamation. As a devout Catholic, she couldn’t bring herself to terminate the pregnancy. Consequently her husband left, but not without first making it clear that he’d be staying at his partner’s house . . . his female partner.

Many times I asked her if she intended to file for divorce. But she’d explain that her husband was the type of man who needed to make the first move or there would be hell to pay.

“In the meantime, I’ll just sit back and wait to see what he does,” she’d said. “Although Gary allowed me to work as a hairdresser, I was never allowed to use that money to contribute to the household expenses, so I have quite a bit in savings to fall back on. As long as I’m thrifty, I think I can manage financially for about a year. After that, I guess I’ll have to return to work. Regardless, I won’t file for divorce. Gary is going to have to be the one to act on that.”

I was uneasy with her approach. “Do you want him back?”

“No, I don’t ever want him to come back. At first I thought I missed him, but I really just missed the routine. I’ve never felt happier or more at peace.” After a long pause, she added in a whisper, “Besides, I think I’m in love with you.”

Her admission startled me, but once spoken, I was ecstatic. “I love you, too, Stephanie.”

The embrace that followed would stay in my mind forever. The child she carried would be raised as mine if she consented, but I knew I couldn’t broach that subject yet. I finally did, however, in her eighth month. She wept with joy in my arms, but she said she couldn’t make that decision yet. I understood and agreed to give her all the time she needed.

After a week of fishing, swimming, and canoeing at the lake, I began to relax. When I packed up to return home I knew what I had to do: Despite Gary’s attempts to keep me from Stephanie, I was determined to see her. He’d already spent two weeks at home and I knew his own vacation time was running out. He had to leave the house at some point, and I intended to be there the minute he did. If Stephanie wanted me out of her life, then she would have to tell me herself. I intuitively knew he was holding her prisoner. Regardless of my calls to the police station, no intervention had been done on Stephanie or Tabitha’s behalf.

As I drove home, I gave careful consideration to my approach. I had to make her realize that I’d do whatever it took to keep her and the baby safe, even if she didn’t want to pursue a relationship with me.

I turned onto our quiet street and was virtually thrown into a chaotic scene too unbelievable for words.

Just as I approached Stephanie’s house, I saw her bolting out the front door, carrying the baby like a rag doll with her. She was screaming hysterically as she ran across the front yard and into the street, in the direction of the Taylors’.

Charlotte Taylor, who was outside watering her flowers, stared in disbelief as Gary gave chase with a baseball bat in his hand. I screeched my Jeep to a halt in the middle of the street, bound from the seat, and ran after him.

Just before Gary reached Stephanie, I tackled him to the ground. Never before had I committed such an act of violence as I found myself beating his face with my fists, just as I had wished to do two weeks earlier. I rendered him nearly unconscious by the time Sam Taylor pulled me off him. Police sirens sounded in the distance. Charlotte had pulled Stephanie and Tabitha into the security of her home, locking the doors behind them.

When the police arrived, they immediately arrested Gary. The shock and disappointment on the their faces was apparent when they recognized one of their own. Regardless, they couldn’t deny Stephanie’s own blackened eyes and dislocated shoulder.

Her statement to the police made me want to brutalize Gary even more. Apparently, the fight started when Tabitha began crying and no one could settle her down. Gary was trying to get ready for a baseball game and was feeling harried. He suddenly declared, “I know how to shut the little brat up.”

He tried to pull the baby from Stephanie’s arms, but she refused to give him the baby. Her resistance infuriated him, and he punched her in the face. Even then she continued to clutch the baby to her breast like a life preserver. Gary violently grabbed at her arm repeatedly until he dislocated her shoulder. By some miracle of God, Stephanie managed to hold onto the baby. That was when Gary reached for his baseball bat. That split-second was all Stephanie needed; she leaped to her feet and ran for the door.

Stephanie and Tabitha were taken to the hospital; Gary was taken to jail. I stood in the middle of the street, not knowing what to do next. Sam clapped me on the shoulder and said, “Looks like it’s all over—for now.”

At home, I went over the events in my mind. Charlotte and Sam brought Stephanie and Tabitha home from the hospital. Later, in the early evening dusk, Stephanie appeared on my doorstep.

“May I come in?” she asked meekly. “I didn’t know if you’d ever speak to me again after my visit to your office.”

I opened the door fully for her. Tabitha, who was sleeping, stirred in her mother’s good arm. “May I take her?”

Gently, she placed the baby in my arms. I took her into my room and put her in the middle of the bed, where she could sleep quietly. I returned to the kitchen and joined Stephanie at the table.

She tried to cover her face with her hands as she cried, but her sling prevented her. I wrapped my arms around her.

“I never wanted him back, I swear!” she wailed.


“He showed up one day, out of the blue, and he threw the housekeeper out. He told me to stop lounging around, and he demanded to know who was paying for the services. When I told him it was you, he said he’d show you not to mess around where you didn’t belong. He didn’t want me—he just wanted to keep us apart.”

No matter how I tried to comfort her, she needed to continue. “I told him to get out. I’d changed my mind. I told him I wanted a divorce, but he said that if I tried he’d take Tabitha and I’d never see her again. He said . . . he said . . . ” She sobbed.

“None of that matters now, Stephanie.” I needed to know why everything had ended in such a mess. Why my heart had been ripped from my chest, when I was so sure I was on the brink of building a future with her and Tabitha.

As if reading my mind, she continued. “It does matter. He said that in his line of work, he knew how to disappear and never be found again—and that’s what he’d do if I didn’t take him back. Then he dropped the biggest bombshell: He said that he wanted a son immediately. He said that was the only way I could make up to him what I’d done to him by deceiving him with the first baby. I couldn’t believe it; I’d never deceived him, never. It was just an accident.”

“Hush, Stephanie. I know you didn’t.”

“He forced me to go to your office. He warned me to not say a word. I was so afraid, Randy, I didn’t know what to do. I love you so much. He has literally held me prisoner for the last two weeks. I’m not even allowed to use the phone. When you told him I still wasn’t healed, he was furious. He ranted all the way home about how his grandmother had given birth every year for fourteen years, and she’d had all boys. He couldn’t understand why I was incapable of giving birth to even one boy.”

The report of his cruelty infuriated me. I held her in my arms but realized my fists were clenched. I cursed myself for not doing more to protect her from Gary that day in my office. I should have known that reporting him to his commanding officer would accomplish nothing.

As I held her, I felt shame as well. How could I have doubted her love for me after all this time? I took her face in my hands and kissed her bruised lips tenderly.

“I promise you, Stephanie, that no one will ever harm you or Tabitha again.” She continued to weep in my arms as a horrible thought came to me. “Did he hurt you? I mean . . . ”

“No, he never raped me. He was too angry at both of us for not going through natural childbirth. If I’d been able to, he probably would have forced himself on me. I’m not sure why he even came back at all. I think it was more out of pressure from his peers than anything. I never cheated on him, Randy. It was all a lie. He had to have some reason for leaving me.

“Before I came over tonight, I called his first wife. She told me he accused her of adultery, and he actually filed for divorce the day their daughter was born. He was so angry over the sex of their child. I never even knew Gary had a daughter until after we married. Only then did he tell me, because the state had started garnishing his wages for child support.

“He told me that the child wasn’t really his. He said that was why he divorced her, and I was stupid enough to believe him. How could I have married such a monster? I keep asking myself how I could have been so blind to the real Gary. I’m a fool, Randy.”

“Stephanie, you’re an intelligent woman. What could you have done? Besides, would you have believed Gary’s first wife if she’d warned you? You told me yourself how smooth Gary was when you first met him. You told me he literally changed overnight after you married.”

She nodded in agreement. At that, she stopped questioning herself and wept silently in my arms. I held her throughout the night.

Now, a year later, we are blissfully happy as newlyweds. Stephanie’s divorce was difficult, to say the least. A lengthy trial allowed her lawyer to present evidence of Gary’s temper toward her and the baby. His first wife took the stand to tell her own story of his violence and abandonment over the birth of their daughter. The judge was clearly moved and only allowed Gary supervised visitation. It was further ordered that the house was to be sold and any profit was to be split equally. Child support was set, and Gary let out a cry of outrage.

A month later, he showed up at my office unexpectedly. He offered me the opportunity to adopt his daughter, stating he would do anything to get out of paying Stephanie any of his hard-earned money. We all returned to court and adoption papers were filed.

Now life is so much more fulfilling. At our annual summer neighborhood gathering, I realized just how truly thankful I am for the day Stephanie entered my life. My heart overflows with joy at the sight of her and our daughter. I was holding Tabitha when Stephanie came bouncing across the lawn with a grin stretched from ear to ear.

“Charlotte and Sam are going to take care of Tabitha for us while we’re away next month for your reunion,” she announced.

“Wonderful! Tabitha will be fine with them.”

I put the baby down so she could become acquainted with the Andersons’ new puppy. A large diesel engine truck coming down the road made us all look up. We watched as our new neighbors pulled into Stephanie’s old Victorian home with a large sold sign posted out front. The Greys would be a delight to the neighborhood. They already had two little girls and twins on the way. The neighborhood was coming alive once more with young children.

As soon as they parked the U-Haul, we called them over for hot dogs and hamburgers. They accepted immediately and more introductions were made.

Mature Friends Enjoying Outdoor Summer Barbeque In Garden

Later that night, after Tabitha was tucked into bed and the lights were out, Stephanie reminded me of a question she once asked me. “Do you remember when Tabitha was born and I asked you how I could ever repay you?”

I cradled her in my arms. “Yes, I do. I told you to love me forever.”

She grinned slyly up at me. “I will, you know.”

“I know.”

“I went to see a colleague of yours today,” she announced.

“You did? Who?”

“Dr. Walsh.”


“Because it’s against medical ethics for you to deliver your own child—and since you’ve already done that once, Dr. Walsh was only too willing to oblige me in delivering our second.”

I nearly jumped out of bed. “We’re going to have another baby?”

“Yes, we are.”

“Thank you . . . thank you so much,” I murmured in her ear.

“No need to thank me. You played a big part in it, too, you know.”

I kissed her deeply. “And you know, Steph . . . I don’t care if we have a house full of girls.”

“I already knew that.” She planted another passionate kiss on my lips. “I’ve always known . . . ”

My Lover Died In The Saddle (On Top of Me)


Couple in ecstasy

“I don’t feel good about this.”

My sexy lover placed a hot kiss on my mouth. Behind us was the cabin we were renting for the weekend, located hundreds of miles from civilization. We stood beside the Jeep we’d rented. “I told Anthony I’d be out of range so he wouldn’t try to call me.”

I’d told Anthony that I’d volunteered to chaperone a camping trip for a friend whose daughter was in the Girl Scouts. My friend really was camping with her daughter, but I wasn’t with them.

I was in the mountains with my virile, inventive lover. His kiss turned even more demanding, his hips grinding into mine.

“You may not feel good now,” he growled, “but you will later. . . . ”

If my husband had murmured something that cheeky and conceited, I would have laughed it off, knowing he’d never live up to such a promise. But now I shivered with anticipation, knowing from experience what I could look forward to.

He squeezed my waist. “Can you believe it?” His sexy brown eyes were bright with the eagerness of a teenager, although he was forty-eight. “We’ve got three days and two nights without a soul around. No phones, no television, and no interruptions.”

I smiled. He was just so vibrant and lustful. “No lumpy hotel beds, no uncomfortable backseats . . . ”

His grin was naughty as he continued the game of naming all the illicit places where we’d managed to make love. “No grass-stained clothes, no imbedded rocks in the skin . . . ”

I burst out laughing as I remembered one particular incident that had stayed with me for weeks. “No poison ivy!” It was a mystery that still puzzled my husband, how I’d gotten poison ivy when we lived in the city, surrounded by concrete and glass. For hours and hours I’d tried to think of a good explanation and kept turning up blank. Finally, I’d shrugged my shoulders and told my husband I didn’t have a clue.

Sometimes I felt ashamed, but I was too happy to stay down for long.

Anthony hadn’t made me feel that alive in several years. Deep in my heart, I knew our marriage was over, but I just couldn’t bring myself to officially end it. We had three kids—two in high school and one in junior high. I wanted to hang on, at least until they graduated.

The sad part was that Anthony didn’t seem to have a clue that our marriage was in trouble. I think that he believed it was normal not to make love for weeks on end, or to kiss or hug or just have a “moment” when we stared deeply into each other’s eyes.

So I sought out my lover whenever and wherever I could, for the fulfillment that I could only find in his arms.

“Let’s go inside and take a shower,” I suggested.

It had been two whole weeks since we’d last managed to see one another, and then only for a brief time. The cabin we’d rented was simply furnished, with a full-sized bed, a couch, and a tiny table with two chairs. There was also a small kitchen and a fireplace.

I was in the shower when I heard my lover call out, “Did you bring the handcuffs?”

A delicious shiver stole down my spine as I imagined the fun we were going to have with those cuffs. “Yes, I did!” I called back, deciding I’d go first. Handcuffing each other was only one of the dozens of fantasies we’d discussed but hadn’t tried.

Red Lace Underwear and Passion

“Baby, take all of me.”

He started singing a country ballad as I finished up in the shower and wrapped a towel around me.

“Your turn!” I told him as I hurried into the bedroom and shut the door. I wanted to get everything ready while he was in the shower and surprise him.

Racing around—because he never took long in the shower—I lit candles, turned back the bedcovers, and began to rub scented lotion all over my body. Then I combed my hair and slipped into a sexy red teddy. I laid the handcuffs on the bed.

I was ready.

When he came into the room and saw what I’d done, his brown eyes darkened. He flicked his wrist and the towel fell from his waist. Slowly, he advanced. I giggled and scrambled onto the bed, pretending to be alarmed. He caught my wrist, snagged the handcuffs, and anchored each wrist to the bed post. He almost spoiled it by asking, “They’re not too tight, are they?”

I shook my head, my heart racing. Despite my excitement, it was a little unnerving to be so completely at a man’s mercy. But I reminded myself that I trusted him. I watched his sultry expression. His face was flushed and a line of perspiration had formed above his lip. He was breathing hard, like I was.

When he put a hand to his chest and grimaced, I thought he was playing. “What’s wrong, baby?” I crooned teasingly. “Did I break your heart?”

But he didn’t answer. Instead, his grimace became a twisted mask of agony. His eyes went wide with shock. In a second, he tipped forward onto me, his body heavy.

“Hey, this isn’t funny!” I felt a twinge of fear. “I don’t like this game.”

I couldn’t feel him breathing, and I didn’t feel his heartbeat. The upper half of his muscular body was lying on the bottom half of mine. I wiggled my hips, refusing to panic. I still thought he was teasing me.

“I said it’s not funny. Get up, okay?”

Finally, fear got the upper hand. I bucked hard, knocking him from me and flipping him over onto his back. His head lolled over the side of the bed. His lifeless arm followed. He wasn’t moving; he wasn’t breathing.

Nobody can hold their breath that long, I thought. A scream was building in my throat. Oh, God. He’s had a heart attack! But how was that possible? He was only forty-eight years old. He worked out three times a week. He was a health nut. He didn’t smoke and he rarely drank.

This could not be happening.

After fifteen minutes of denying it, I was forced to realize the absolute horror of the situation: I was handcuffed to a bed in a cabin miles from anyone or anywhere, and my lover was dead or dying.

In a blind panic, I twisted my head around to study the bed and the handcuffs. I nearly fainted with relief as I realized that I could lift the handcuffs over the bedposts. It wasn’t as easy as it sounded, however, and by the time I managed to get one wrist freed, I felt as if my arms were detached from their sockets.

The moment I was free, I scrambled from the bed and found the duffle bag where I’d left the keys to the cuffs. My hands were shaking badly. I kept dropping the key, sobbing now as the horror of my plight sank in. My sexy teddy was drenched in sweat by the time I got the key in the lock and freed my wrists from the handcuffs. I spent another harrowing thirty seconds untangling my bracelet from the cuffs.

I stared down at the open bag at the array of sex toys I’d acquired in the past six months since the beginning of our affair. The sight of them made me feel like a pathetic idiot.

Forcing myself to be strong, I slowly approached the bed again. My lover’s lips had turned blue, his skin as white as the sheet on the bed. I started shaking and couldn’t stop. I had to stick my fist in my mouth to stifle the screams, although no one would have heard me.

Inch my inch, I reached my trembling free hand out to his chest. Pressed flat against his chest, I held my breath, waiting for some sign that he was still alive.


But I wasn’t a nurse or a doctor, I reminded myself. Maybe he was in a coma and I just didn’t know it. Maybe he wasn’t really dead. I remember reading somewhere that many people had been accidentally buried alive back in the days before modern medicine.

I had to get help, just in case there was some slim chance that he was still alive.

Gently, with tears streaming down my eyes, I lifted his head and used my body to push against him until I could lay his head on the bed. I don’t know why I felt so strongly about making him comfortable; maybe it was hysteria. Whatever it was, it helped me get dressed instead of crawling into a corner and staring at the wall, like I wanted to do. I hated leaving him, dead or not, but I knew I had no choice.

Outside the cabin, I ran into another obstacle: the Jeep we’d rented was a stick shift, and I’d never learned to drive a stick. Sobbing with frustration, I got inside, determined to give myself a crash course. How hard could it be?

I managed to get it in reverse, but the moment I let out the clutch, the Jeep lurched forward, then died. Five more times I tried—and failed. Finally, I lowered my head to the steering wheel and sobbed until my throat hurt and my eyes were nearly swollen shut.

Then I tried again. I had gone maybe ten yards in reverse, but it wasn’t far enough to be able to try driving forward. After a few moments, I put the Jeep in neutral, got out, and tried desperately to push it backward.

It was no use. The rutted path was too deep and my strength too puny. With a cry of rage, I slammed the Jeep door with enough force to remind me that I’d nearly dislocated my shoulder while getting out of those handcuffs. It was almost dark, so in a matter of moments I wouldn’t be able to see my hand in front of me.

The realization lessened the possibility of me striking out on foot after sunset. Defeated, I returned to the cabin and my dead lover. I sat on the couch in the ever-darkening living room until I was forced to light a lamp. Taking the lamp with me, I walked slowly into the bedroom. Had I really expected him to suddenly be alive again? He hadn’t moved, of course.

Although I was cold, I used the only blanket to cover him up before returning to the couch in the living room. I could have built a fire, but it seemed somehow wrong to enjoy even a simple thing like the warmth of the fire with my lover dead in the next room.

So I sat on the couch with the single lamp burning beside me, shivering with grief and horror and watching the shadows play on the wall. Sitting in the quiet gave me too much time to think. It didn’t take me long to convince myself that God was punishing me for my sins. I wasn’t overly religious, but I knew that what I had been doing was wrong and that sooner or later I would have to pay.

I just hadn’t expected it to be so soon. Finally, hours later, I drifted into an uneasy slumber.

I woke with a scream locked in my raw throat and the sun peeping through the window. I closed my eyes tightly, praying it had all been just a nightmare, that when I opened them again I would be home with my family and yes, my husband, and not in a cabin with the dead body of my lover.

Killed for money

But I wasn’t so fortunate. I wasn’t dreaming and I had to do something. The light of day hadn’t revealed any answers, other than the one I’d decided on the previous night: I was going to have to strike out on foot.

I moved like a robot, gathering my clothes, the sex toys, and anything else that could be even remotely connected to me. I hesitated over the body, reminding myself that I hadn’t touched him and that he’d just gotten out of the shower. Using the teddy, I wiped the bedposts and everything that I remembered touching, as if I were cleaning up after a murder.

I was fairly certain he’d died of a heart attack, but I didn’t see the point in confessing that I’d been there when it happened. What difference would it make? None that I could think of.

As a result, I left the cabin with everything that I’d brought, including my fingerprints. With my one suitcase and the bag full of sex toys, I started out along the dirt road leading away from the cabin. I walked about two miles before coming to another dirt road. This road was wider and looked well-used. I followed it for some miles before I reached a black top.

I don’t really know how many miles I walked in all before I reached a small frame house, but I had blisters on top of blisters, and I was so thirsty I could scarcely swallow. I hadn’t thought to bring water with me, although I knew there was bottled water in the cooler in the back of the Jeep.

My knock brought a middle-aged woman to the screen door. She eyed me with mild suspicion when she saw me.

I tried to swallow but my voice was a hoarse croak as I said, “Could I use your phone?”

She hesitated, nodded, and opened the screen door. “It’s in the kitchen.”

“I could use a drink of water, too. My car broke down.”

The woman gestured toward the old-fashioned wall phone. “If you’re looking for a towing service, the number’s on that magnet on the refrigerator. Might cost you a pretty penny for coming out this far, though.”

“Thanks.” I mentally calculated the cash in my purse. I could have taken my lover’s cash from his wallet, but I hadn’t thought that far ahead. As I dialed, the woman handed me a glass of water. I downed it without pausing, not caring if it dribbled down my chin.

Once my thirst was quenched, I asked the lady for her address, then called the towing service. I didn’t need a towing service, of course, but I didn’t want to make her suspicious by calling a cab. Once the towing service got there, I planned to explain to him that I’d been deserted by my friends. I’d offer to pay whatever rate he charged for towing if he took me into town.

It took about a half hour for the tow truck to arrive. When the horn blared I hastily thanked the lady and rushed outside. I got in on the passenger side and looked at the driver. He was young, perhaps late twenties, with bad teeth and wearing smelly overalls. But his demeanor was friendly, so I grasped at that hope and smiled at him.

“I have a confession to make,” I said. “I don’t really have a car for you to tow. My—I had a fight with some friends. They left me on the side of the road.”

The name tag stitched to his overalls read charlie. He spit a stream of brown tobacco juice through the open window before replying. “Wasn’t very nice of them, was it?”

I looked away. “No, it wasn’t. Will you take me into town? I’ll pay whatever it was you were going to charge to tow my car.” In my lap, I crossed my fingers, praying I had enough cash on me. I didn’t want to write a check, leaving a paper trail.

For a long moment, Charlie didn’t speak or move. Finally, to my relief, he put the truck in reverse and backed out of the driveway.

“It’ll cost you a fifty bucks,” he said. “Normally I’d charge a hundred, but I figure that wouldn’t be fair, with you being kicked out of the car and all.”

“Thank you.” My relief was so great, I felt faint. I had a hundred and fifty-seven dollars on me. If there was a bus running through whatever town we were going to, I thought I’d possibly have enough left to buy a ticket.

But before I left for home I had to find a pay phone and report my lover’s death. I knew my call would arouse suspicion, but I couldn’t leave him to rot there. It might take weeks for someone to find him. My plan was to tell them I was camping in the area and stumbled upon the cabin, giving them the directions.

It was late in the evening before I made it back to my hometown. I’d left my car in a parking garage several blocks from my house, so I was able to take a cab to my car, then drive home.

Along the way, I dumped my bag of sex toys into a dumpster, choking back fresh tears as it hit me hard that I would never see my lover again. My world turned gray and lifeless at the realization. Without the affair to look forward to, how could I go on living with Anthony?

The house was silent and empty when I got home. I knew that Anthony had taken the kids to the mall, just as he did every Friday night. What he had failed as a husband he excelled at as a father, always eager to be a part of their activities and their lives. Sometimes I wondered if he’d just gotten married so he could have kids.

I took a shower, then made myself a sandwich. It had been more than twelve hours since I’d left the cabin, and more than ten hours since I’d reported his death to the local police in that area. How long would it take for them to notify next of kin?

The phone rang, making me jump. I stared down at my half-eaten sandwich, my stomach rolling with sudden nausea. My legs felt like rubber as I got up to answer the call.

It was my mother, and she was hysterical. I gripped the phone so hard, my fingers went numb.

“I just got a call, Kathy,” she said, sobbing, “from the Mississippi state police. “They said—they said that Jack was dead!”

I closed my eyes, swallowing a sob. So they had found my lover—my mother’s husband.

My stepfather.

Mom went on, oblivious to my silence as she continued to alternate between sobbing and talking. “Kathy, what am I going to do? They said they found him in a rented cabin down in Mississippi. He was supposed to be at one of those salesmen conventions. . . . They think he died of a heart attack.”

“Is—is someone with you now?” I was amazed at how calm and rational I sounded.

“Yes, your sister was here when they called. She came over to borrow my steam cleaner.”

Good. That meant I didn’t have to rush right over. I was glad, because I had some thinking to do. “I’ll come over when Anthony gets home with the kids,” I told her before hanging up.

I stumbled to the kitchen table and sank into a chair, my eyes burning with bitter tears. Mom would never in a million years suspect me of having had an affair with her husband. Jack and I had talked about telling her when my kids got older, but we’d never come to a solid decision. I think we were waiting to see if the affair would burn itself out.

Ironically, I was the one who introduced Jack to my mother. I was a realtor, and Jack had just moved into town and was looking for a house to buy. After showing him several small houses, we went to dinner to discuss the possibilities. Jack was not only fun and engaging, he was a great conversationalist. The fact that he was handsome and fit was an added bonus, but I was married, so I kept the flirtation to a minimum. At the time I hadn’t thought about having an affair, although I knew our marriage was in trouble.

“Do you have any sisters?” Jack had asked me during dessert.

The teasing light in his eyes told me that he found me attractive. I admit that I was flattered.

“Yes, but she’s married.” I paused, thinking of my mother and how my sister and I had tried to get her to get out more to meet other people. My dad had been dead for five years, and we both knew that Mom was lonely. Impulsively, I said, “My mom’s a widow. Would you like to meet her?”

His eyes glistened. “Is she as sexy as you are?”

I laughed, trying to see Mom through Jack’s eyes. Mom was fifty three, but she looked forty-five. I didn’t know how old Jack was, but I did know that he was handsome and had to be at least forty-five.

“Yes, in fact, she is. She plays tennis and she’s a member of a health club.” My smile was wry as I added, “Most people think she’s my sister instead of my mother.”

“Then I’m game! Why don’t you have me over for dinner—and invite her, too? That way, it won’t be so awkward if we find out we’re not compatible.”

That dinner was a success. Mom and Jack talked nonstop and often had to be reminded there were other people in the room. I remember feeling a little envious, but I was happy that Mom had found someone like Jack. It turned out that he was seven years younger than her, but that didn’t seem to bother them.

Mom saw a lot of Jack over the next few months, and we had them over often to play cards or to have dinner, so I saw him a lot, too. I knew that I was growing increasingly fond of him, but I passed it off as infatuation. Jack was outgoing, whereas Anthony was quiet. Jack was courteous and sensitive, whereas Anthony didn’t seem to remember I existed half the time. Just being around Jack made me feel warm and beautiful.

When Mom told me that Jack had asked her to marry him, I realized that I felt more than infatuation for Jack. My response was spontaneous and alarming.

“But you can’t marry Jack!”

She had looked at me in surprise. “Why not?

“Well . . . because you haven’t known him for very long.” Even to my own ears, my excuse sounded lame. “I mean—are you sure?”

“Of course I’m sure. After being married to your father for thirty years, do you think I’d jump into something this serious without thinking it through? I don’t take marriage lightly, Kathy.”

Several days later, I managed to get Jack alone in the kitchen while Mom and Anthony checked the barbecue on the patio. “Jack, are you sure about this?”

He winked at me almost jauntily. “Yeah. If I can’t have you, I’ll take the next best thing.”

I’d believed he was joking at the time, although his words had made me blush. Later, after our affair began, Jack had confided that he truly had married my mother so that he could be close to me. He claimed he had fallen in love with me from the day we’d met.

Mom and Jack had a small wedding and honeymooned in Jamaica for two weeks. When they returned, Jack looked more handsome than ever, with his golden tan and even leaner form. He and Mom settled into a routine, and even I could see that they were more friends than lovers. They got along great, but the sexual spark was missing.

Two and a half years later, Jack and I were alone in our pool when he confessed to me that he and Mom were having problems. Anthony and Mom had gone to pick up my youngest daughter, Lindsey, from the movie theater. My oldest son and daughter were staying the night with friends.


Couple lounging on towels poolside

Jack told me that he loved my mother, but he wasn’t in love with her, and their sex life was almost nonexistent. I swam to the side of the pool and held on, staring at him with a shameful mixture of dismay and elation. Over the years, my infatuation with him had grown into something bordering on a secret obsession. The man made me quiver, and the only thing he had to do to accomplish that was to give me one of his incredibly hot smiles. I had also taken to fantasizing about Jack when Anthony and I made love—which was only occasionally.

As I was fumbling for something to say, Jack swam up to me and put an arm on either side of me, pinning me to the side of the pool. He looked at me with open desire, making my mouth go dry and my legs go weak. He kissed me then, and I let him. It was something I had fantasized about. He more than lived up to my fantasies.

Apparently, I wasn’t alone, because he lifted his head and whispered hoarsely, “I’ve been wanting to do that for a long time now.”

I stared at him as if mesmerized, fully aware that his lower body was pressed against mine in a way that told me exactly how he felt. Instead of reminding him that he was married to my mother, I found myself saying, “Me, too.” I did have the presence of mind to add weakly, “But we shouldn’t be doing this.”

“I know,” Jack sighed, “but I can’t help myself.”

With a groan, he kissed me again, his hand sliding from my waist to my breasts. I felt as if I were on fire.

“Meet me somewhere tomorrow,” he gasped then.

That’s how our affair started. We met the next day in a hotel outside the city. Jack told me how things were with Mom, and how much he cared about her. He didn’t want to hurt her, but he didn’t want to lose me.

In return, I told him how things were between Anthony and myself, how I didn’t want to ask for a divorce until my kids were out of school. The conversation lasted ten minutes, and then we were frantic to get each other undressed.

We made love three times before we left the hotel. I was exhausted but pleasantly sated for the first time in a long time. I should have felt guilty, but at the time I really believed it was only sexual and that it wouldn’t last long. I never intended for Mom or Anthony to find out, and I was certain Jack didn’t want them to know, either.

Only our attraction never faded. It just got hotter and hotter, until we were having trouble being in the same room together without scorching each other with our eyes. I learned to be an excellent actress, hiding my feelings from both my mother and Anthony. Of course it helped that they would never have thought something was going on between us. Mom joked about Jack being an excellent stepfather, and Anthony often commented that Jack was a perfect father-in-law.

Sneaking around turned out to be remarkably easy. At that point in my marriage, Anthony was taking me for granted to the point of stupidity. He thought we had a wonderful marriage, therefore he had no reason to become suspicious when I started doing “charity” work at the hospital—or any of the numerous excuses I made up to see my lover.

Jack being a salesmen made it easy for him to mess around. He was often away at conventions or going out of town to meet with junior salesmen, so his excuses were seldom questioned.

Now Jack was dead, and I felt as if I had died with him.

Later, when the family gathered at my mother’s to comfort her and help her with the arrangements, I was able to show my grief without arousing any suspicion. It wasn’t a secret that Jack and I had gotten along great. He’d been well-liked by everyone and would be sorely missed.

Mom tried to be strong, but I could see she was hurting inside. I realized that she’d truly loved Jack. For the first time, I felt a very real shame for what I’d done. If Jack and I hadn’t been having an affair, would he have died anyway? It was a question that I asked myself many times over the next few days.

When the police came to the house to inform us that an autopsy would be have to be performed before they could release the body, my mother became hysterical.

“Why?” she demanded, tears streaming down her face. She looked her age that day. “Didn’t you say that he died of a heart attack?”

“Yes, ma’am,” the investigator answered, looking ill at ease. “But we don’t think he was alone when he died, Mrs. Solten, so we have to make sure there wasn’t any foul play involved.”

Bad choice of words, I thought, quickly squeezing Mom’s shoulder for reassurance.

“What was he doing at that cabin anyway?” she asked me the moment the investigator left.

I knew she wasn’t really expecting me to answer, so I kept quiet.

“Could he—do you think he might have been having an affair?” Her expression was tragic, making me feel about two inches tall.

Thank God she would never know what I had done to her.

Swallowing hard, I said, “Jack loved you, Mom.” It wasn’t a lie, exactly, but he hadn’t loved her the way a man should love his wife.

She wiped her tears away with a clenched fist. “I know, and I loved him, too. But I can’t imagine what he could have been doing in that cabin! He was supposed to be at a convention in Tupelo.” Her face crumpled. “Why would he lie to me?”

It was ironic, I suppose, that I had experienced little guilt during my affair with Jack, yet now I was wallowing in it. Seeing how much my mother had truly loved him shed a different light on things. I was more determined than ever to hide my shameful secret.

Then Mom said something that caused my heart to pound.

“Maybe the investigation will uncover some clues.”

“In-investigation? They—they said they were going to do an autopsy.”

“Yes, they are, and they also told me on the phone that they’re going to ask around, see if anyone can tell us what he was doing at that cabin.”

“But . . . if he died of a heart attack, what difference does it make why he was there?”

“It makes a difference to me.” Mom’s eyes glowed with a fierce light. “If only for my peace of mind. If Jack was having an affair . . . ” She choked on a sob. “If he was, then I want to know about it. I’m not going to grieve for a man who was sleeping around.”

I went home, feeling worse than ever.

The funeral didn’t take place until four days later. As we filed past the coffin to pay our last respects I lingered, staring at Jack’s white, handsome face until his features began to blur. Impulsively, I leaned down and kissed his lips. I just couldn’t move forward until I had kissed him one last time.

When I straightened, I caught Mom staring at me. I quickly buried my nose in my handkerchief and moved on, praying that she would think my actions innocent. She knew how much I’d admired Jack; she just hadn’t known how much I’d loved him.

A week later I answered the door to find two “suits” waiting on the threshold. They introduced themselves as Detectives Maynard and Branch. My gut clenched as I invited them inside and shut the door. What did they want with me? Had they found out I was at the cabin?

They couldn’t have, I tried to reassure myself. I’d wiped the place clean and taken all my stuff with me.

Nervous and trying to hide my emotions, I followed the detectives into the living room. “Can I get either of you something cold to drink?”

They both shook their heads and remained standing. Detective Maynard was the first to speak. “We have some information about your stepfather, and we thought it would be best to come to you first.”

My hands began to tremble, so I thrust them behind my back. “You—you have some new information?”

“Yes,” Detective Branch said. He withdrew a plastic bag from his pocket and held it out to me.

Slowly I took it from him, staring down at the gold dolphin. I felt instantly sick to my stomach. The dolphin had come from the bracelet I always wore on my left wrist, given to me by my kids on Mother’s Day several years ago.

I wanted to hide my arm, deny that it was mine, but I knew it was too late. I looked at the detectives, my heart in my throat.

“How did you know who this belonged to?”

Detective Maynard nodded at my bracelet. “I was at the funeral, and I noticed there was one missing. We found this under the bed at the cabin.”

I realized that I must have lost it when I was trying to free myself from the bed posts. Shame filled me. I could feel their accusing eyes on me as I kept my head bowed.

“We also conducted a door-to-door investigation. Mrs. Freeman lives in the house closest to the cabin; she told us an interesting story about a woman who matches your description showing up on her doorstep, asking to use the phone. After talking to Charlie’s Towing Service, it wasn’t hard to put two and two together . . . and come to the conclusion that you were with Jack Solten when he died.”

Was there any use in denying it? One look at their stoic faces and I knew that I was truly caught.

My first thought was of my mother. Strange, probably, to worry more about her reaction than my husband’s. “You—you don’t have to tell her, do you?”

“That depends,” Detective Maynard said. “Will you tell us exactly what happened so that we can officially close this case?”

I sat down before my rubbery knees gave out. Quietly, I told them the truth, that Jack and I had been having an affair for six months. If they disapproved of my actions, they kept it to themselves well.

When I finished, I kept my head bowed, waiting for the verdict. What if they decided they couldn’t keep the information to themselves? What would I do?

“Thanks, Mrs. Griffith, for being honest.” The edge to his voice hinted that he was surprised. “I don’t see any need to make this public, do you, Branch?”

Branch hesitated. I held my breath and prayed.

Finally, he shook his head. “I guess not. Cause of death was ruled a heart attack.”

I was so grateful, I could have kissed their shiny shoes. After they left, I sat down and cried again, wishing I’d never met Jack in the first place. I’d been selfish and reckless, and there was no excuse for my actions. Finding out about our affair could have destroyed my mother—not to mention my husband, who believed I was happy.

Then and there I vowed to make it up to my mother, even if she never knew why. I also made a vow to talk to Anthony about my unhappiness. If there was any chance we could recover what we once had, I was willing to give it a try.

For my sake, and for Anthony’s and my children’s sake.

10 Ways To Make Him Beg For Sex!


I give free lessons to men.

The red wine had a lot to do with it.

If we hadn’t been polishing off the wine Sherry’s boss had given her for Christmas, I probably would never have ended up on “Live with Lola,” telling all. Not that I’m shy or anything, but I usually keep my private stuff to myself—especially when it comes to men.

Delinda, Sherry and I were kicking back at Sherry’s apartment that Friday night, watching a “Boy Toy” segment on “Live with Lola.” Brad Pitt, Ben Affleck, Tom Cruise—that’s the kind of guy who’d slink out from behind the deep blue curtains and hunker down on Lola’s tiger-striped sofa to look soulfully into her baby blues and divulge all. We loved it. Delinda and I held our glasses high and Sherry poured.

“Just a little for me,” I insisted. “You know how nuts I get on this stuff.”

“Marcie, we’re counting on it, honey,” Sherry said, filling my glass to the brim.

I sighed and settled back. One headache every so often wouldn’t kill me. Besides, I was safe: Delinda and Sherry were my best friends.


The show started and our chatter stopped. Lola made her entrance, moving like warm taffy in her pink stiletto slings. Her platinum hair caught the lights as she gave a coquettish wave to the audience. They went wild, lots of whistles and hoots.

“They just love her,” Delinda said.

“She’s our girl!” Sherry settled down on the floor.

Yep, that Lola was something, all right. Her pink silk shirt was unbuttoned just enough to reveal a tantalizing bit of cleavage. Turquoise tights hugged her shapely legs and what you could see of her firm, taut backside under that shirt. As the camera dallied on her, she slipped off her heart-shaped sunglasses and smiled, then sank onto the couch. She draped an arm across the back, her long pink fingernails tracing one of the tiger stripes.

“Today, as always, we’re going to tell all,” Lola purred. “Only difference is, today the men of your dreams are going to do the telling. I’m just going to sit back and enjoy it, if you know what I mean.” Her laugh was throaty and suggestive. The audience went wild.

“She’s something,” I said. “She takes on the world, with no apologies. Lola calls the shots, all right.”

“Here’s to Lola!” Sherry lifted her glass. “She’s got what we all want—sex appeal and freedom!”

Well, the parade of hot men began and they were to die for: biceps and devil-may-care smiles, thighs straining at snug jeans, hair that fell over mischievous eyes. They were devilish and dangerous, and that’s what we’d tuned in to see—eye candy. We weren’t at all disappointed.

Lola played them like a twelve-string guitar. She leaned forward with her questions, as if to catch every word of their response. How did they manage to keep their eyes on her face and not on her low cut-shirt? She batted those long lashes, smiled in adoration, and occasionally put a hand on her Boy Toy’s arm, giving just a gentle squeeze.

“Hmm. Wonder what his wife will think of that,” I murmured, holding out my glass as Sherry opened the second bottle of wine.

Lola was brash and beautiful, sexy and secure. At least, that’s what I thought back then.

The hour went too fast, and we were glued to the screen until the very end.

“Wasn’t that something?” Lola asked her audience as the eye candy left the set. She fanned herself with one hand as if to get her temperature back to normal. Then she leaned toward the camera and cocked an eyebrow.

“Okay, ladies, these fellows are sex symbols, no doubt about it. But I think a lot of you out there have your own opinions about what’s hot and what’s not. We want you to call in and tell us some of your own ‘rules’. Throw out the book! Be crazy. We’re looking for ballsy women who can speak out.”

A phone number flashed across the screen. I yawned, fighting the wine to keep awake. Maybe Sherry would make coffee.

“I’d start with first dates,” Delinda said, giggling, obviously feeling a little happy herself. “If you’re hitting it off and he tries to kiss you, it should be wet and warm, not the pursed lip, grandpa kiss!”

“You’ve got a point,” I mumbled sleepily.

“On that first date, you have to watch body language,” Sherry pointed out, always the more analytical one. “If he talks about his ex and starts to crouch just a little as if he’s protecting himself, then he’s not over her.”

“Run for the hills!” Delinda chimed in.

“Agreed.” I curled up on the sofa. It was hard getting my words out with my tongue so thick.

“And just what would your rule be?” Sherry needled me. She knew I was getting stupid and she loved it when I let my guard down.

I held up one finger. “Never go to bed with a guy on the first date.”

Delinda and Sherry burst into wild laughter. “Right,” said Sherry. “Unless he’s Shane McCullough.”

“Ouch! That hurts. That really hurts,” I admitted. “Especially when he never called again.” It still made me sad to remember Shane, the one time I’d broken my own rule for a guy who’d forgotten my telephone number the very next day.

“And then, the size of their feet.” I felt a sudden surge of energy, waved one hand in the air and knocked over a vase of artificial daisies on Sherry’s table. “Absolutely immaterial, my dear Watson. It’s the size of their hands that counts.”

“Really?” Sherry continued to encourage me. “What other pearls of wisdom do you have, Marcie Hansen?”

“Take your time . . . and time is on your side.” I launched into a spirited, if slightly soggy, version of the Stones’ classic song.

“And is there any advice you would give if you were on ‘Live, With Lola!’?” Sherry asked.

“Stop yelling!” I held my head. “Sure. Why not? Always watch how a man eats. You’ll know just how good he is in the sack.” That last word came out sounding like “shack.”

It was at about this point that I noticed Sherry was holding a phone. Her face brightened.

“You do? Hey, great!” she said into the phone. “She’ll be there. Taping in a week. All right!”

At least I thought that’s what she said. It was so warm in that room that I fell asleep.

When I woke up the next day, Sherry’s cat was licking my hand and I was still sprawled out on the sofa. My mouth tasted nasty and my head throbbed as I struggled to sit up. Since the blinds weren’t drawn I shut my eyes against the bright sunlight streaming in through the window. Sherry was singing in the kitchen.

I groaned.

“Time to rise and shine!’ She appeared in the doorway holding a steaming mug of coffee. My stomach turned and I held up one hand in protest.

“Poor baby.” She sat next to me and wrapped my fingers around the mug. “Here you go. This’ll get you going.”

“What happened?”

“Well, let’s put it this way: We finished the wine!” She laughed.

My jeans and sweater felt grubby. I needed a shower and a shampoo. Toothpaste wouldn’t have hurt either. I checked my watch.

“Thank goodness I’m not scheduled today. This is the last time I help you two finish off anything,” I moaned. “I feel awful. Did I do anything stupid last night?”

“Well, not stupid. Not really. But you did volunteer for ‘Live, with Lola!’ ”

“I did what?”

Sherry looked sheepish. “Well, we kind of helped you, but you’ll be a great spokeswoman, Marcie! Don’t you see? You can be the voice of experience, helping other women to avoid the common pitfalls of being single.”

“Or I could make a major fool out of myself.”

“Marcie, you’ve dated more than any of us. We always said you should write a book. This is your chance.”

“My chance for what? To become a laughingstock?” I set the mug on the coffee table and dropped my head into my hands.

Sherry was on her feet now, her hands on her hips. “To let men know that they don’t really call the shots and to educate them about the woman’s point of view,”

“Michael is going to love this.” I could just picture the shocked expression on my boyfriend’s face when I told him that I was going to appear on “Live, with Lola!” Michael thought Lola was an exhibitionist and a tramp.

So that’s how it started. The taping was scheduled for the following week. Although the whole thing made me very nervous, I admit that after I thought about it, I was kind of excited. Me—on “Live, with Lola!”

When I told Michael about the upcoming segment, just as I’d expected, he was anything but supportive of me.

“You’re kidding, right?” he asked.

I played with my fork. It was Saturday night and we were in my favorite Italian restaurant for dinner before going to a movie. “Of course I’m not kidding. I think it will be interesting. Educational.”

“She’s a whore.” Michael pushed his wire-rimmed glasses up with one finger and brushed some crumbs of bread off the red tablecloth with his other hand.

“She just does her own thing. What’s wrong with that? Lola doesn’t care what anyone thinks.”

“She’s in it for the money, Marcie. Wake up.” He wound his spaghetti around his fork with precision.

My blood began to boil. “She’s the voice of all of us. She’s liberated.”

“She’s a moron.”

I watched him fold his napkin and thought, Yep—this is why when the lights go off, I don’t get turned on. Sex is way too messy for this man.

Well, it’s a good thing we were seeing a movie that night and didn’t have to talk to each other. It was an action flick and Michael seemed into it. I was seething. I think he got the message. When we got back to my place I quietly said I wasn’t feeling well and he gave a me peck on the cheek and disappeared down the hallway.

Twice that following week Sherry, Delinda, and I met to grab a bite after work. I jotted down notes as they listed their hot issues and pet peeves. My stomach was doing a little dance that was somewhere between excitement and terror. Could I really talk about all this stuff on television?

“Michael’s not exactly thrilled about my upcoming television debut. Men just can’t handle us taking matters into our own hands,” I told Sherry one evening when we were checking out the sale racks at the mall. “They think they have to have all the answers, that they’re in charge. How could I have thought this man might be the father of my children?”

Sherry gave me a blank look. “You did?”

“Don’t we all? Don’t we hope that every date we have will turn out to be Mr. Right?”

Shrugging, she grabbed two sweaters and followed me to the fitting room. “Yeah, but Michael? Didn’t you tell me he weighs his food?”

“All right, so he’s an engineer. They’re . . . oh . . . organized. Methodical.”


“Yeah. That, too. So maybe he is a little anal.” Every negative thought I’d ever had about Michael now came back to haunt me.

Well, there were reasons for dating him. He was attractive and had a good job. For some reason, after our Saturday night dates—after which he usually spent the night—I often ended up humming Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got to Do With It.” Even though Michael didn’t put a helluva lot into it, I still made sure I got something out of it. I had a stressful job as a nurse in an orthopedic unit and I needed some relaxation. Having his strong arms around me felt good.

But maybe I was just kidding myself about the “happily ever after bit.” Maybe all women do that at one point or another.

The days before the show passed quickly. There were moments of total panic when I really thought of calling the producers of “Live, with Lola!” and giving them some excuse as to why I couldn’t be on the show. I was having doubts about it. Even though I’d be representing Sherry’s and Delinda’s views, did I really want to be the one who “told all?”

Sure, I’d been single for thirty-two years and I’d been lucky. I’d dated a lot. But I hadn’t found the man of my dreams, not by a long shot. Although I was a nurse, I avoided dating the docs. They had busy lives, took calls at night, and most of them were married. An affair with a married man had never made sense to me. You always take a chance with any single guy that he might break your heart. Why go looking for trouble with a married man?

I’d been involved with men who still loved their ex wife or ex girlfriend, and I found out that you really can’t change them. You’re better off moving on. Then there are guys with small children who take up more time than I was willing to give. Besides, I wanted to have my own family someday.

So I’d smiled through many dinners and cocktail parties and sat through many plays and concerts with a lot of really nice guys who turned out to be Mr. Wrong.

Casual sex had never been my thing. There’s too much to worry about nowadays. As a nurse, even though my current field was orthopedics, I was well aware of all of the sexually transmitted diseases out there. I wasn’t about to take that kind of risk. The joke “Herpes is forever” isn’t funny in my book.

Then there are the far more serious viruses—like AIDS or all the strains of hepatitis. One of our doctors contracted hepatitis C during surgery. Even though we wore goggles and gloves, somehow he’d gotten it. That was the end of his career and the only bright spot was that he had disability insurance. What would his future be? Maybe a liver transplant somewhere down the road. But for a guy who loved to ski and run, it was pretty much over. He could look forward to increasing fatigue and exhaustion.

He picked up hepatitis C in the OR, but it would be a lot easier to get it from unprotected sex. So many people didn’t even know about it.

So there are limits, rules, and consequences for not knowing the rules. It sure isn’t easy. In fact, being single is a minefield if you’re sexually active.

For what reason did I want to go on television and talk about it? Well, as Sherry and Delinda said, someone had to do it. I told myself I was helping younger women avoid the mistakes I’d made. And, boy, I’d made plenty, but I’d tried to limit my losses.

Meanwhile, the television station had begun to promote the segment. The whole world seemed to know that I was going to be on the show. When I’d dash through the ER on my way to the fifth floor orthopedic unit, even the orderlies would call out, “Whoo, whooo! Marcie’s a star! She’s going to tell all!”

I’d duck my head and punch the button for the elevator. Well, I doubted I’d be Lola’s only guest—and that was a relief. Hopefully the women on the show would band together and offer our opinions as a group.

“Hey, I hear I’m working with a celebrity,” Dr. Nash commented that Monday.

“News sure travels fast around here,” I said. I’d worked with Dr. Nash for over five years and liked his good-natured kidding. “Yep, well, I guess somebody’s got to keep you guys in line.”

“My wife watches that show. I’m not knocking it. It’s just a little . . . controversial.” He began making notations on the chart and I hustled off to answer a patient’s call light.

Controversial. What did that mean? Probably that guys just didn’t want to hear what we had to say. My appearance was beginning to feel like a noble cause.

I’d arranged to take the day of the taping off. At one-thirty sharp, there I was in the Green Room, which was, for all intents and purposes, a holding tank. Delinda and Sherry sat on either side, trying to distract me. I took deep breaths and tried to envision cool, calm pools of water, but to no avail.

A coffee pot perked invitingly on a side cart, along with hot water for tea. There was no way I was going to risk having to go the bathroom in the middle of the show. I licked my lips and carefully fluffed my hair.

“You look terrific,” Sherry said.

I was wearing a matching purple sweater set and my new black pants. The fact that I worked out three times a week helped me look good in tight pants. I’d picked up my boots, which had a slight heel, on a shopping spree, and they made my legs look extra long.

“Oh, why am I doing this?” I groaned, watching the time tick closer to showtime. “Where are the other women?”

Delinda shot Sherry a look.

“What?” I asked. “What’s up?”

“Marcie, this is just you and some—”

Sherry never got to finish her sentence. The door opened and the three of us whirled around.

His jeans were slung low on his hips, a nice contrast to the broad shoulders that filled out his forest green sweater. As he came through the door he raked one hand through ragged hair that needed a trim. He stripped off a pair of sunglasses and hung them from the front of his sweater.

“I didn’t know this was Boy Toy day, too,” I murmured. Sherry and Delinda looked stricken and gave each other a guilty look. Suddenly I got it. “No. Oh, no—”

The newcomer zeroed in on us. “So, which one of you is the girl?”

“What ‘girl’?” I asked with a touch of sarcasm.

He folded his arms across his chest and bowed slightly. “Sorry. Woman. Which one of you is the woman?” The word “woman” definitely had two syllables.

I crossed my arms and my chin went up. “I am.”

He strolled to the coffee pot and regarded me from gray-green eyes as he poured himself a cup. “You’re the woman who’s going to talk to Lola and me about the boy-girl thing.” He held up a hand. “Sorry, sorry. I mean the male-female thing. Relationships. Whatever—oh, you know.”

I was steaming and this guy was turning up the heat. I shifted my gears fast, going from a one-of-the-girls discussion group mood into an adversarial stance. This guy made it easy.

Just then a woman in a floor-length flowered skirt and a peasant blouse swept in, holding a clipboard. She grabbed a pencil from behind her ear, checked her clipboard, and looked at the three of us expectantly. “Marcie?”

“That’s me.” I raised my hand and then quickly buried it under my arm, feeling like a schoolgirl.

“Curt Sandler?”

“That would be me.” He waved his coffee cup at her, drained it, then tossed the cup into the waste can.

She smiled. “Terrific! You both look great. Now, if you’ll just follow me . . . ”

In the distance we could hear Lola’s theme song playing. The audience roared. My stomach plummeted but my shoulders squared. Curt was already out the door, following the assistant producer.

“Well, let the games begin,” I murmured to Sherry and Delinda as I passed them.

“You go, girl!” Sherry hissed, giving me a thumbs-up. “Do us proud.”

I stood next to Curt in the wings. We could hear Lola’s voice, husky and suggestive, saying. “Don’t you wonder what goes on in the single woman’s mind today?” A roar went up. “Sure, we all do, don’t we?” More cheers and some foot stomping. “Well, from the many callers we’ve chosen a bright young woman whose experience and wisdom set her apart . . . ”

And just who was Lola talking about? I wondered. Was that me? Panic overcame through me. Just then the assistant opened the curtain and gave me a push. Stiff with fear, I made it across the stage, my smile stretched from cheek to cheek while the crowd welcomed me with applause and whistles. I climbed the steps to the tiger-striped sofa, shook Lola’s hand, and sat down.

A heavy wave of perfume sent my stomach tumbling. Up close, Lola’s makeup was heavy. Her lips were sharply penciled in and mascara clotted on her lashes.

“Welcome, Marcie,” she purred, smiling at the camera instead of at me. “We’re so glad you could come. And now . . . ”

With that, she turned and Curt shouldered his way through the curtain and bounded up the steps. He shook Lola’s hand but she pulled him toward her, planting a kiss right on his cheek. If he was surprised, he recovered pretty quickly. This was a guy who never seemed to have a nervous moment.

In a flash, I saw how it would be. This was going to be a pitched battle between two opponents the producers thought they’d chosen carefully, except they didn’t know that the woman they’d heard that night had been drunk out of her mind.

Nevertheless, I’d just make the best of it. I smiled at Curt, whom Lola had angled between us.  The lights were hot and blinding. Maybe that was a blessing. I really couldn’t see the people in the audience, just hear them. They were restless and raring to go.

“Now, Marcie.” Lola leaned toward me and her little teeth looked very sharp, like a Chihuahua’s. “Just what would you say is the biggest challenge in the singles’ dating scene today?”

I took a deep breath. “Well, Lola, I think we all want to meet quality people. Men who have some depth to them . . . ”

Lola held up her hands. “Oh, but there are so many. Where does one start?”

Was that a smirk on Curt’s face? I went on. “Lots of places. The personal ads. The Internet. Your friends.”

Lola nodded as if I’d just said something profound. “Interesting. What about work?”


“Dating men you work with can have professional complications.”

“Oh, I see.” Then she turned to Curt. “How about you, Curt? Where do you go when you want to meet that special someone?”

He leaned back and chuckled, his voice throaty and confident. The hair rose on the back of my neck. “Never a problem, Lola.”

Hah! Right, I thought. He probably picks up any hoochie he can charm off a bar stool!

“I’ll bet that’s not hard for you, is it?” Lola rested a hand on his arm.

Now suddenly it was being made to look like I had to beat the bushes for my dates, but women just fell into Curt’s lap. I felt perspiration trickle down between my shoulder blades.

“And when you’re on that date?” Lola’s penciled brows lifted. She swiveled over to me, almost with regret. Clearly she’d rather spend the hour focusing on Curt. “What is the major—?” She held up both hands as if she were forming a ball of pie dough. “—The major problem that keeps men and woman from truly coming together? Keeps them from understanding each other?”

I was thinking that one over when Curt jumped right in. “Women practically want a ring on the first date. They want to know how much money you’ve got in the bank and if you’re playing the field or looking for a serious relationship, because they sure are.”

I crossed my legs and sat back. Curt’s eyes shifted to my legs. “You know, Lola, I think the biggest problem with men is that they want intimacy on the first date,” I said as innocently as possible. “No prelude. They want to know on the first date just how sexual you’re prepared to be—and how soon.”

Curt cut in, his eyes flashing. “Hey, come on, Marcie. We like a little warmth, that’s all.”

“Oh, I don’t think so, Curt! I think men want more than ‘warmth’. They want to know right off the bat just how much you like sex and how much of it they can get from you without any commitment.”

Was that an incriminating blush working its way up Curt’s neck?

Lola was beaming. “What about that, Curt?”

He shook his head, giving me an almost pitying look. “Well, I don’t know who Marcie’s been dating, but I don’t know any guys who are insensitive enough to demand sex on the first date.”

My laugh was more of a bark. “Did I say that? I think I said that men want to know when and how much they’re going to get.”

Lola gasped. “You certainly don’t mince words, Marcie. Isn’t she great, folks?”

The crowd roared and the blood rushed to my head.

“I think Marcie may have misunderstood me,” Curt said, his good-natured smile tightening. “While men may certainly find a woman desirable, they aren’t coarse enough to think they’ll go to bed with her on the first date. I think most men want to get to know a woman first. Find out if she has any, well—depth, as Marcie so aptly put it.”

Well, he’d caught me off guard. He almost sounded sincere.

“And how long would that ‘getting to know each other’ period take?” Lola asked.

Curt and I regarded each other as if we were about to start bidding at a poker table.

“Six dates,” I said with certainty.

Curt laughed. “Oh, sure, make a guy wait that long.” The crowed roared again.

I tossed my head impatiently. “I think that by that time a couple knows if they want to explore their relationship further.”

“Well, men don’t necessarily like to have sex with every woman they go out with,” he said defensively. “We have scruples. We have standards. Hey—any guys out there? Would you agree?”

A male chorus went up. I tensed, sputtering, “Not every man has those standards.”

“Well, I suppose you never become intimate with a man just to have some company, just to make it though the night? Women never do that, do they?”

“Of course we do!” I blurted out before I could think. “But usually there’s some kind of exclusivity. Definitely that’s within a monogamous relationship.” What had I said? I cleared my throat to gather my thoughts.

Right then, I knew that it was over between Michael and me. I also knew it didn’t matter. Every woman in the room was applauding. Curt looked a little surprised and then he smiled slowly. By this time Lola had become a silent observer.

“Now, let me get this straight,” Curt said, leaning forward, his arm behind me on the sofa. “So you’d go out with a man who pleased you sexually if there was little hope of a future together, just to satisfy your physical needs?”

“Definitely.” Okay, maybe I was just making a point at the time. His grin widened. I found myself digging in my heels. “As long as the sex is safe. I don’t see any problem with that. And as long as the sex is consensual.”

“Safe sex.” He seemed to be turning the words over his mind as if it were a new philosophical concept.

Briefly I went though some basic facts about sexually transmitted diseases and the dangers they present. It was crisp and short, but by the time I finished Curt was nodding in silence. He didn’t seem at all defensive or dismissive, which a lot of guys would be. No smart comments from him. It didn’t seem as if any of that stuff was new to him.

But Lola was sitting up and taking notice. “Well, ah, Marcie, that’s . . . very interesting. Sounds as if we have a subject for another show, wouldn’t you say?”

I nodded. “Might be a good idea.”

Curt was regarding me silently, like a fencer who was planning his next lunge. But Lola wanted to get back on track. She wanted more bloodletting.

“But today,” Lola continued, “I think the audience would really like to know how you discover if your partner is appropriate for you. How you know you’re compatible.”

“I have all kinds of criteria,” Curt said quickly.

“And I’d just love to hear them!” I shot back.

Each comment seemed to draw us closer together until we were almost nose-to-nose. The musky smell of his cologne, released by the hot lights, teased my senses. But a strange antiseptic smell was laced under that cologne, almost reminiscent of the hospital. Lola was sinking back into the sofa again, nodding as Curt began ticking off his requisites on his fingers.

“She has to be sensitive, kind to animals, her grandmother, and her kid sister. She has to know what to wear in the house and make it minimal, and how to dress on the street—with style.” He was really on a roll and his list surprised me.

Kind to her grandmother?

My turn. “He has to know that a card can say a lot more than a call and that flowers sent to work go a long way.”

Curt just kept coming. “She has to know that a home-cooked meal is a lot better than a French restaurant.”

Lola looked at me and I was ready. “He has to know that fixing a broken screen door can be the sexiest foreplay in the world.” Women applauded wildly.

But the men cheered Curt on and he was ready. “She has to understand that a home-cooked meal is as inviting as perfume—which should be, by the way, understated and subtle.”

Lola blushed. Suddenly she didn’t seem to be there anymore.

Go, Marcie!” The women in the audience began to chant.

All the ideas Sherry and Delinda and I had talked about came spilling out. “And I never want kitchen appliances for presents, either,” I said, jutting out my chin in a challenge.

“What do you think jewelry stores are for?” Curt shot back with disgust. “How’s this? She has to realize that time with the guys is important and that we all need it.”

“Of course, I agree. And he has to appreciate my friends and know that I might want to take off for a fun weekend with them once in a while.”

By this time Curt’s face was flushed. “She has to know that a black lace negligee is lot nicer to sleep next to than flannel pajamas.” The men howled like alley cats.

“Oh, without a doubt. And he has to borrow my Victoria’s Secret catalogues once in a while so that a surprise package might appear at my door.”

“Agreed!” Curt leaned even closer until I could see the pupils in his green eyes. “She has to wear whatever I give her and not whine about the color not being right. I’ve taken trouble to pick this stuff out.”

Whine! Men should talk about whining . . . ”

The remarks kept flying fast and thick. When they took commercial breaks Curt and I just rolled right on. The audience encouraged us, and so did Lola. Funny thing was, as we went along it seemed as if we were finding common ground instead of differences. I was wishing Michael and the other men I’d dated had held some of these views. I would have been glad to wear black lace for a guy who came through the door with fresh flowers or dark chocolates—and not just the TV Guide.

By the end of the hour I felt as if I’d run a marathon. The hair around my face was curled in damp tendrils and I was trembling slightly for some reason. Curt looked as if he’d been running right beside me.

Suddenly the closing theme music was playing. Lola was saying good night and the lights came up in the audience and everyone was filing toward the exits. Lola stood up, stretched, and kicked off her heels.

“Damn things are killing my feet.” Her sexy accent had vanished. “Well, I want to thank both of you. Great show. Our ratings should be terrific. Too bad this isn’t sweeps week.”

Then she was gone and Curt and I were left on the sofa. He was regarding me with an unreadable smile.

“Well,” I began, searching for the right words. “This was really very . . . interesting.”

He nodded and his green eyes softened into warm hazel. “I enjoyed meeting you, Marcie. You’ve been, ah . . . educational. And you’re a good sport.”

“Right.” Avoiding his eyes, I swung to my feet and fumbled until I found the opening in the curtain. Delinda and Sherry were standing outside the Green room, beaming.

“What was that all about?” Sherry laughed as she steered me out the door. “I wasn’t sure if you two were going to kill each other or end up in a passionate clinch right there in front of millions of viewers!”

“You’ve got to be kidding! I just said what I felt.” But the truth was, I’d found Curt intriguing. He’d told me things in front of millions of viewers that I’d been wondering about for years.

“You know, Lola really isn’t very pretty,” I mumbled as they bundled me into the back seat of Delinda’s coupe. “She wears too much makeup. It’s all for show.” Then I groaned. “Do you think Michael will ever speak to me again?”

“Nope,” Sherry said.

“That’s good,” I said with relief.

Although I would have liked to stay home in my apartment for the rest of my life, I couldn’t. The next day I drove to the hospital and trudged onto the floor.

I was checking over the charts when Dr. Nash came up behind me.

“I saw the show,” he said.

My shoulders tightened. “You did, huh?” I tensed myself for the kidding that would follow. Had I made an idiot out of myself?

“Yeah, my wife and I agreed that the single world sure is complicated nowadays.” Then he paused. “And you did a lot of people a favor by warning them about the more unpleasant side of sex, the STDs. That was pretty brave, Marcie.”

“You thought so?”

Then he smiled. “And I think you gave old Curt a run for his money.”

Hmm, so it was “old Curt” now, was it? The brotherhood of men.

Other nurses had come up behind him and they broke into applause.

“I think I’m being paged,” I said, hurrying away.

That afternoon there was a new doctor orientation, so I gathered my folders and the laptop and headed for the conference room. While I was setting up the projector the new hires entered the room and sat down behind me. I adjusted the focus, snapped off the lights, and turned.

And there he was. Curt.

“You!” I was unable to hide my surprise. “Curt—”

“Yes. Curt Sandler. ER.” He smiled, leaning forward as if to read my nametag. “Nice to meet you, uh, Marcie.”

The other docs smiled. Were they aware that the two of us had “told all” on television? Even in his white lab coat with his name crisply embroidered on the pocket, Curt still had a disheveled look about him. But then, many ER docs are on the wild side. Their high adrenaline work almost demands it.

Somehow, I made it through that hour. At the end I handed each of them a packet with the necessary paperwork and badges. The other two physicians left, but Curt stayed behind. I thought back to the antiseptic smell I’d detected on him during the show.

“You sure fooled me, Dr. Sandler.”

“Some of the guys who recruited me to come here thought it would be a good way for me to get introduced to the city.” He grinned. “Although I admit, they persuaded me to call after we’d had a few beers one night.”

Hmm. See, women would never do that.” I chuckled mysteriously.

“I know you have rules, but I’m hoping you’ll break one, Marcie. You are, ‘a woman with depth and substance,’ as we described on the show, and I’d like to learn more about you. And not in front of a howling crowd, either. How about dinner some night this week? I promise I’ll help you work through any ‘professional complications.’ ”

“Well . . . ”

Oh, I was really torn. Sure, the whole experience on “Live, with Lola!” had been embarrassing, but the truth was I liked him. I never dated the guys at work, but the fluttering in my stomach told me just how attracted to him I was. You could have cut the chemistry with a scalpel.

“Sure,” I said, admiring his lack of pretension, and most of all, his refreshing honesty.

Which brings me to another one of my rules—and that’s flexibility. If you’re single, you’ve got to be flexible. Be willing to break one of your rules now and then and follow your heart.

Curt and I both know the rules and seem independent and honest enough to respect each other’s views and negotiate our differences. That’s probably what it really takes in the singles’ world. That . . . and a little black lace now and then!


I Can’t Say No To My Ex-Husband


As I sat at the cluttered dressing table putting the final touches on my makeup for my date with Erroll, I prayed that Harry wouldn’t call—not tonight. I didn’t know what I would say if he did; I was running out of excuses. I yelled for Emily, my middle daughter, to set up the ironing board and plug in the iron. Late as usual, I grabbed a skirt and blouse out of the laundry basket and was headed down the stairs when the phone rang.

“Hi, babe,” Harry, my ex-husband, said in his sexiest voice. “What’s going on?”

My brain was racing “I’m just getting ready to leave, Harry. I’m going to the movies with Colette.” Lying was becoming too easy for me these days.

“Oh, really?” He didn’t mean it as a question, I knew. “Got a hot date, huh, D.J.?”

“Come on, don’t do this.” My voice sounded whiney to my own ears. “You know I don’t have a hot date. I just wanted to get out and I haven’t seen her for a while.”

“Don’t worry. I understand perfectly.” Then the line went dead.

I gritted my teeth. I’m not going to let him get to me tonight, I thought, and went downstairs to iron my clothes in the kitchen.

As the iron glided over the fabric, I thought of the tightrope I’d been walking on with my ex-husband since that day in court over a year ago. Why am I still torturing myself? I thought I hadn’t done anything wrong by divorcing Harry. The marriage had become unbearable. Neither one of us was happy and it would have ended sooner or later. Then why. do I feel so guilty? I thought for the thousandth time.

Harry and I had been married eleven years. He was right out of the Navy and I was one year out of high school with a typing job. It was hard for me to say no to him then, too, so we started sleeping together on our third date. The marriage had started out badly because I was pregnant. Harry used that against me for years, trying to make me feel like he’d done me a favor by marrying me.

He beat me down in other ways, too.

Oh, he never hit me; no, it was always more subtle than that. He belittled me constantly, whether alone or in front of other people. Nothing I did was good enough; I couldn’t cook, clean house, or take care of our three daughters to suit him. It didn’t help that I had a “Super Mom” for a mother-in-law. I couldn’t have lived up to her example for anything. That woman could work a full-time job, bake eclairs, turn out gourmet dinner, change the oil in her car, and landscape her backyard, all in one day!

The only thing Harry didn’t complain about was our sex life. That had always been good. That was what got me hooked up with him in the first place! I never understood how two people who fought so much during the day, could get along so well in bed. When he touched me, I forgot all the bad feelings—for a while–but they always came hack in the morning.

When we’d been married for about nine years and the girls were in school all day, I decided to go back to school, too. He had a fit about that.

“Who do you think you are, some fancy women’s libber?” he had screamed at me. “You’re just looking for an excuse to avoid doing your housework. I’d stuck to my guns, though, and managed to squeeze in a couple of classes a week. He finally gave up yelling about school and complained more loudly about my lack of housekeeping abilities. Now he had real ammunition; I was “never home.” The truth was, I was not a very good housekeeper, I tried, really I did, but clutter just never bothered me like it did Harry. I could never find anything; he always knew just where to look for an item. He would go in the kitchen on Sunday morning and cook a huge breakfast, and clean up everything as he went along. I couldn’t make a tuna sandwich without leaving the kitchen looking like a disaster area.

He was just as rough on our daughters as he was on me: They were “sissies” and didn’t like fishing or helping him work in the garage. Of course, it was also my fault that we’d had all girls. He didn’t know much about, biology either, or he would have had to take responsibility for that himself!

I finally decided that Harry just didn’t like women, small or grown. His overbearing attitude and sullenness finally wore me down, and I asked him for a trial separation. He was angry, but he finally found an apartment nearby and moved out of the house. I knew I wanted out of the marriage, but it was easier if Harry thought it was a temporary split.

Easier became my guideline. It had been easier to stay with Harry than leave him. It was easier to slide out of the marriage with a separation. And it became easier to lie to him after I met Erroll, then to tell him the truth and end the charade.

The doorbell brought me back to the ironing board, My oldest, Katie, let Erroll in and he peeked his head around the corner into the kitchen.

“Late, as usual,” he said pleasantly. Erroll never got ruffled at my tardiness.

“At least I’m ironing something to wear for you. I could have worn it wrinkled,” I said playfully as I kissed him. “Honest, I’m just about there. I’ll throw this on and we’re off.”

“You can throw something on and look better than most women do after hours of preparation,” he said in my ear.

I felt myself blushing at his compliment. I wasn’t used to having nice things said about my appearance. I knew I was okay looking, but Harry had never gone out of his way to make me feel attractive—except in bed.

Later, as I sat across from Erroll in the small Italian restaurant we had come to call our place, I looked at him over the rim of my wine glass. He was just the opposite of Harry. It was like comparing water to fire; both had good and bad points, but somehow I found it was more peasant  to float with Erroll’s personality than be burned by Harry’s.

“You’re quiet tonight, D.J. Is anything wrong?” Erroll asked after a while. He reached across the table and took my hand.

“Everything’s great, I answered. “I was just thinking how, lucky I are to have met you. If I hadn’t signed up for that art class, I wouldn’t be here with you now.”

Erroll was one of the new teachers at the junior college where I was taking classes. Our first date had been a picnic at a park doing sketches of trees. He tried to tell me I could do anything I set my mind to, and do it well. He had told me I was talented and only needed a little guidance, but I found it difficult to believe I was talented at anything. He kept reassuring me and he hadn’t given up on me—yet.

“I’m the lucky one. I found my love and a student who makes me look like a good teacher, all rolled up into one.” He gazed solemnly at me. “Your eyes glow gold in the candlelight, D.J. I think I’ve struck it rich!”

With a man this good to care for me, how could I be so stupid as to keep Harry hanging around in my life? I was totally confused by my own behavior. I knew this relationship was getting serious, and I’d better make up my mind to do something about Harry, or I would lose Erroll. He didn’t know I was still seeing my ex-husband.

Seeing! That wasn’t quite how my relationship with Harry should be described. I was sleeping with him!

As I sipped my coffee after dinner, I remembered that first day in court. The room was huge and attorneys with briefcases milled about, waiting for their turn to take care of business. Business was what it was, too. The questions, were all about finances, support, assets, property, and back accounts. No one brought up feelings. Divorce is so matter-of-fact these days, I thought as I waited for my attorney to call me to the stand. I was sick to my stomach, and as I looked across the room at Harry, I could see he felt pretty much the same way.

Out in the hall after it was over, my attorney congratulated me on a “job well done,” and left me standing there. Harry walked slowly toward me. I expected the worst. “Want to have a cup of coffee?” he asked.

“Are you serious?” I asked back. “I figured you’d never speak to me again.”

“D.J., I don’t want this, this separation as you call it. But hating you isn’t going to bring you back to me,”

Tears stung my eyes. I didn’t know if I could handle this. Harry had never been this reasonable, or looked this beaten in our entire marriage. He actually sounded gentle and caring.

Later in the coffee shop, we talked about the day.

“I don’t think I’ve ever experienced anything that cold and unfeeling in my life;” I said. “Well, maybe some of our arguments:..”

“Come on, babe, let’s forget the fights. I’ve been thinking about us a lot since I moved out. I guess I mightn’t been kind of rough on you, Maybe some of the problems were my fault.”

Kind of rough! For Harry, that was almost an apology! He must really be feeling down, I thought. Or is it just another game?

“How about dinner? Maybe we could talk about things.” Harry was being positively sweet. “You’ve never seen my apartment. I could whip up one of my delicious bachelor specials. I’ve become a pretty good cook the last several months.”

“I don’t know…” I began.

“Look, D.J., I just want to be alone with you so we can talk. When I come to the house, the girls are there and it makes it hard. Just come for dinner. Please?”

How could I say no to an invitation like that? He seemed so sincere, I couldn’t find it in my heart to turn him down. “I’ll be over around seven, okay?”

I drove my own car so I could leave when I wanted to. As I stood at his door, I had such butterflies in my stomach I almost ran away. I thought he must have heard my heart pounding, but I guess I actually knocked on his door.

“Hi. Welcome to bachelor heaven,” he said as he let me in and took my coat. He was really rubbing in the bachelor thing. The room was lit by candles, and a bottle of wine was chilling in an ice bucket. I didn’t even own an ice bucket! Something was cooking–it smelled good–and there were chips and dip on the coffee table. At least I can outdo him on the hors-d’oeuvres! I found myself thinking.

Harry poured me a glass of wine and pulled me down on the couch next to him. “I’ve missed you,” he said quietly. We sat sipping our wine and made small talk about the girls’ school activities and the day’s events, then he refilled my glass. I was starting to feel more relaxed. After all, this was just my husband, the same old Harry, I told myself. What was there to be ner­vous about? Then he reached over and took the glass from my hand, and his hand brushed mine. I felt like he’d set a match to me. He set my glass on the table and kissed me very slowly. Within minutes we were tearing at each other’s clothes and I was in his arms on the floor. Nothing had changed.

Young romantic couple hugging and kissing

“I sure can’t keep your attention tonight, can I?” Erroll was waving his hand in front of my face.

I came back to the present with a start. “I’m so sorry. I guess my mind just wandered. Please forgive me.” How could I be here with the man I loved and be thinking about sex with my ex-husband? I was filled with guilt at my thoughts.

“D.J., I want to ask you a question. You know I love you, don’t you?” Erroll looked serious. “I want to marry you and take care of you and the girls. I want to be with you forever. Will you marry me? Soon?”

I knew I wanted to be with Erroll. But how could I say yes to him with Harry hovering over me like a cloud? I thought. That night in his apartment had been only the first of many like it I would swear I wouldn’t see him anymore. Then he’d call, and I’d weaken. It was as if he had a spell over me. Once, after a date with Erroll, Harry had called and I’d gone over to his apartment and gone to bed with him. Of course, I’d hated myself later, but I also rationalized that at least I hadn’t slept with them both on the same night! No, I couldn’t promise to marry Erroll while I was living this double life.

“Erroll, I love you, too, and I do want to marry you. I just have to. . .talk to the girls about it. Give me a little time, please, darling?” I held onto his hands tightly over the table. I hoped he’d give me enough time to break it to my daughters. . .and to break it off with their father?

In the car, Erroll kissed me tenderly.  I won’t rush you, D.J, I know your marriage was a bad experience. Give me your answer when you can. I want you to be sure. Just remember, I love you.”        ,

I kissed him back. With all my heart I knew he was the right man for me. This sick tie to Harry had to be broken, or I would never have any peace in my life.

Harry had been treating our separation like a temporary situation, and that was my fault. If I had been honest with him from the beginning, the tie would have been broken and I would be free to get on with my life. I had to find the strength to do what I should have done when we first separated—end the relationship completely.

When we got home that night, Erroll walked me to the door and kissed me gently. He told me again that he loved me.

As I was hugging him, I looked over his shoulder and saw a car drive by the house very slowly. It was Harry! A ripple of cold fear went down my spine; Harry had caught me in my lie. At the same time, a feeling of relief hit me because I knew the game playing was over. It would be unpleasant, but then again it would be easier this way. . again. I wouldn’t have to struggle to find the courage to tell Harry the truth; he’d found out on his own.

I got ready for bed with a feeling of dread. At the very least, I expected a nasty phone call. It didn’t come. Finally I drifted off into a restless sleep.

I don’t know what awoke me. I thought I heard something, but when I strained to listen, there wasn’t a sound. I opened my eyes, trying to see in the dark. Gradually a form took shape at the foot of the bed. My breathing became ragged and I felt suddenly ill as I tried to remember if there was anything nearby I could use to defend myself.

“You’re mine, D.J.,” a voice said. It was Harry! I reached for the lamp.

“Don’t!” he said. “I want to be here in the dark with you.” He walked around the bed and sat down on the edge, leaning down over me.

“What are you doing here?” I asked. “How did you get in? You gave me your house key:” My thoughts were going in circles. Of course he hadn’t given me his house key. He’d expected to be coming back here to live. “What do you want?” I was too frightened to move.

“I told you, DJ. You’re mine. That guy I saw you with tonight can’t have you. He can’t make you feel like I do. . .You know it and I know it.” He pulled the blankets down to the foot of the bed, then very slow­ly peeled my nightgown up over my body and threw it on the floor. He kissed me then, very gently, beginning at my ear and then more roughly as he worked his way down. The familiar ripples of desire washed over me and all my good intentions went up in smoke with the fire Harry set in me that night.


When I woke up the next morning he was gone. I thought it might have been a dream, but then I saw the nightgown on the floor, and felt the familiar pang of remorse. I felt like an adulteress, caught up in some web of lust, cheating on the man I loved. All I wanted to do was marry Erroll and forget Harry forever. Why can’t I find the strength to do it? I prayed.

When I got home from work the next evening, Katie told me Erroll had called, and said he’d call back. I asked her to tell him I had to work late. I needed time to think, time to work through some of this guilt and confusion before I talked with him. I had sunk so low. I was even having my daughter lie for me.

I avoided Erroll’s calls for several days.

Then one evening he was waiting for me in his car in front of the office where I worked. I could hardly avoid him.

“Well, hello, stranger.” he called. “Fancy running into you here.”

I smiled nervously. I hoped he wasn’t here to pressure me about an answer to his proposal. “Hi. I’m sorry I haven’t been able to see you for a while. We’ve really been busy at the office, and I’ve been beat.”

“I guess so. You weren’t in class the other night, and it’s not like you to miss a class. Want to grab a bite to eat?” he asked.

I couldn’t think of an excuse, I agreed. “Let me call my neighbor to check in on the girls, okay?”

At the restaurant, Erroll looked into my eyes. “What’s going on, D.J.? I know you’ve been avoiding me. Did I freak you out by asking you to marry me? If I’ve scared you off—”

“No, no, that’s not it,” I interrupted. -

“I love you! It’s just so soon after Harry, and I wasn’t quite prepared. I want to marry you, Erroll, I really do. I’m just confusted about some things. It’s hard to talk about it.” My hands were shaking. “Can’t you give me a little more tilme to work things out in my head?”

“Sure,” he said quietly.

We finished our meal in silence and then Erroll took me home. At the door he held me at arm’s length. “D.J., if you’re not ready, I’ll understand. I just thought marriage was the natural thing to do when two people love each other. We can keep things the way they are, if you like.”

I’d better do something, I thought or I’m going  to lose the best thins that’s happened to me in a long time. -loud said, “I know in my heart this marriage is right for us. I won’t make you wait much longer, I promise.” I kissed Erroll good night and went into the house.

The next evening Harry called. Some friends of his whom I hadn’t met were having a small party, and he wanted his “lady”, there with him. I decided his was my chance to break it off. Since we wouldn’t be alone, there was no chance of my hor­mones taking over when my head could he in control! I told Harry I’d meet him at the party, and got the address. He didn’t argue, since he knew that was the only way I would go out with him at all.

It was a mixed group of people he worked with, a couple of fishing buddies and their wives, and a bartender he’d become friendly with. The men all con­gregated in the living room to talk about sports, while the women typically stayed in the kitchen and gossiped about their kids and men. When the hostess served the food, the groups melted together, and each woman planted herself next to he man to make sure his plate and glass were full. Harry patted the arm of his chair, motioning for me to sit there. It all was starting to feel very-familiar—and very uncomfortable. The bartender finally asked Harry where he’d found “that pretty little thing. ”

Harry put the arm that wasn’t holding his plate around me and smiled a broad smile. “This pretty little thing is my ex-wife.” Then he paused. “And if she plays her cards right, I’m going to marry her again.”

Everyone in the room whooped and cheered at Harry’s announcement. He put  his plate down and gave me a big kiss in front of the whole crowd, and whispered in my ear, “We’ll celebrate later, babe over at my place.”

I felt the blood drain from my face. Marry Harry again? I’d rather eat nails! A that moment reality set in with a vengeance. I’d been playing with Harry and Erroll’s lives, as well as my own. I had let Harry make love to me because I was afraid to let go, and I guess he made me feel desireable after all those years of self-doubt.

I took Harry into the hall, and told him I had to leave. The shocked look on his face turned to anger when I explained how I felt and told him I was in love with someone else.

“I’m going to marry him, Harry, and I don’t want you to call me anymore. I’m sorry if I’ve led you on, but it won’t happen again. My attorney will contact you about arrangements for seeing the girls. I don’t want to have to see you anymore. Oh, I’m also changing the locks!” I meant every word!

I drove from the party straight to Erroll’s apartment. When he answered the door, I threw my arms around him and kissed him hard. When he recovered from his surprise, he kissed me back, then pulled me inside looking t me with a question in his eye I couldn’t wait to answer.

“If it’s not too late, I’d like to formally accept, with honor, your proposal of marriage. And I want you to know that I am sure, very sure, that I want to be your wife!”

Erroll held me to him tightly, and I knew it wasn’t too late. In fact, I was just in time to get a new start on a wonderful life, with a wonderful man.

Candy Cane Twist

candy cane tie

I glared at Pop, secretly wanting to throttle the old man. He sat cozied in his battered brown leather recliner, his arm extended my way with a twenty-dollar bill crumpied in his wrinkled fingers. Jones, his poodle pal, danced at my feet for attention.

“Please, Lori,” my grandfather said, “go to Kline’s and buy the lacey candy canes.  Kline’s is the only department store that carries them.” Then he added the clincher, the one that would grab even the Grinch’s heart, “It’s for your grandmother. For Christmas.”

Now why did he have to go and use that line? He knew I hated—with a capital “H”—going to any store. I especially detested Kline’s. “She likes Hershey chocolate, too, the dark kind with almonds. All the grocery stores stock it.”

“No, only her favorite will do.” He flapped the bill in my direction again, causing Jones to snap at it.

Gosh, he was so stubborn.

Every holiday season, Kline’s imported a unique candy cane from Italy. The box, constructed of a high-quality cardstock, was lined in ivory satin. In each partition rested a crinkly cellophane-wrapped twisted white stick, the edges banded in orange, yellow, or green. Orders were not available through the Internet, which I knew for a fact because I’d checked two years ago. Nowadays, one box of twelve would probably cost every bit of the twenty Pop had flashed.

It was almost a rite of passage—and a privilege—to get one of these special candy canes. As a child, my eyes had gleamed with delight when my grandmother gave me a stick rimmed with the orange stripe. Carefully, I tore it open and proceeded to lick one-two-three. . . four-five-six times. Instead of the traditional peppermint, a sharp tang of citrus sparked my taste buds.

“I have to have these in case. . .” His fist gently tapped his breast­bone in the frightening potential heart attack manner. “Well, you know.”

Pop did not play fair. In my gut, I knew he’d faked for drama. Considering his age, however, the possibility existed, causing a small slice of my ticker to worry.

I really had no choice. He’d bug and bug me to run his errand until I caved.

I shifted my weight a bit more, staring at the bill waving over Jones’s head. Pop had no idea what he’d asked me to do. I had good reason not to go to Kline’s, only he didn’t know why.

I snatched the twenty from his hand. “Fine. But this is the last time.”

He chuckled, “I think you say that every year.”

“I mean it. I’m never setting foot  in that place again.”

He leveled his “wise eye” look on me. “Grow up. You’re twenty-six for chrissakes. I’d been married five years at your age.”

I countered with the same ol’ argument. “Unlike my peers, Pop, I want to be married for a lifetime. Not try on marriage and then toss it away like an old sock if I don’t like the fit.”

“You’re getting a little long in the tooth.”


“And if I might suggest. . .” Blowing a huff up my face, I shifted my fists to my hips. “What?”

“Put on that pretty dress you wore for your sister’s birthday party. Its lines hugged your curves.”

Pop’s words stung my heart, probably more than he realized. I glanced at my current attire. So work boots and jeans weren’t the most attractive things to wear when shopping at Kline’s. They were practical for my job and I’d been raised on practicality—by him.

I brushed my eye to stave forming tears. “In my wildest dreams I never thought grandparents looked at their offspring that way.”

“I’m not blind, just old. All I’m suggestin’ is you wear the dress and high heels. It flatters your figure. You never know who you might run into. . .”

Like I wanted that to happen. My goal was to avoid seeing anyone I knew.

Then he hammered the final nail in the coffin. “And while you’re there, why don’t you get a haircut? Your long horsetail reminds me of pioneer women. Short and sassy with some of what you gals call highlights would be pretty. Your mom told me Kline’s Spring Water Salon is the best.”

“And the most expensive. . .”

“I’ll pay for the cut. Add a manicure and pedicure, too.” He dug out his mended-with-duct-tape wallet and removed the rarely used credit card. “Use this. Think of it as an early Christmas present.”

If my own grandfather thought I had the “uglies,” did others think the same thing? I pocketed the proffered card. “Fine.”

Leaving before he could criticize something else was a good plan, to hurry to my car and hide my watery eyes in private. Before I could turn away, he snagged my hand and pulled me to his side. “Are you mad at me, sweet pea?”

His tender question melted my bones. I could never stay angry with him. He really was the best grand­father ever. This man had taken me to the zoo. He showed me how to grill steaks like a pro, manhandle fishing gear, and shoot a gun.

Who could be angry at their hero?

“No, Pop. I’m not mad at you. I-I do need a makeover.” With a sniff, I poked his bony shoulder. “Thanks for caring.”

“Good.” His papery buzz on my knuckles said it all. “Now go.”

Once in my battered Wrangler, I let out a long sigh that reached my toes. I chewed on a cuticle and stole a peek in the side view mirror. I hated to admit it, but Pop was right—I needed a huge intervention, a miraculous transformation, Cinderella’s fairy godmother. How could I let myself look like this? I hit the gas.

First stop: my apartment where I picked up the long-sleeved sheath in heather gray wool, black heels, and matching clutch. I also phoned the Spring Water Salon, who said, “Yes, they had plenty of time to squeeze me in.” Since Pop had offered to pay, I scheduled a three-hour appointment for cut, color, mani and pedicure, plus a few other items. Before I could talk myself out of it, I hopped in the car and zoomed downtown.

Kline’s Department Store had been established in the horse and buggy days when Somerville was a tiny blot in the road. As the years passed, the store expanded to the current location of an entire city block, a classic building of marble and granite with award-winning displays featuring the latest in designer fashion.

Everyone loved Kline’s except for me. Once upon a time, I loved the store; now, I dreaded going and rarely entered even to this day.

When I reached the front entrance, I frowned at the glass door, making successive “whoosh­ing” sounds as it rotated by. What were the odds I’d see Jimmy? I didn’t want to—I surveyed my work jeans and long-sleeved top—especially garbed like this.

Jimmy Kline and I had grown up together in the playpens. His mother and mine were best friends. They’d taught Sunday school, manned the PTA, and served on the library board together. If I wasn’t at his house, he was at mine, resulting in a tight heart-bonding confidence. He pinkie swore never to tell anyone about my shy nature. About my passion for reading Nancy Drew. My secret hideout. My fondness for Mr. Bubble bubblebaths. How big roaches scared the bejeebers outta me.

I promised not to divulge how he thought ketchup should be classified a vegetable, loved Disney’s The Little Mermaid, and slept with his gray cat, Romper.

I was at my best with him.

About age fourteen, I couldn’t figure out why he no longer joked as he always had. Instead, he stared at me in a funny way that bewildered me. No raving beauty had bird legs and lanky arms like mine. Or lack of a chest. Or hair fastened into a bouncy ponytail.

About the same time, I’d noticed changes in him. Overnight, man hair had sprouted on his limbs and a muscular physique developed. His height skyrocketed past six feet, his jaw squared, and he smelled divine.

At sixteen, he’d done the most unexpected thing—asked me on a date. After the movie, we stopped at Coffee Café drive-through because he knew how much I adored iced frappacinos. After he parked the car at Flag Pole Hill, he stared deep into my eyes. We had a man-to-woman link that penetrated body and soul, the kind I’d read about in the romance books I’d pilfered from my grandmother.


With intense desperation, I wanted him and willed him to kiss me. Kiss me, kiss me. As I stared into his grass-green irises, his pupils blackened. His hands circled my biceps and he tugged me to his chest. I raised my chin and his mouth clumsily found mine. While exploring each other, our embrace tightened. His tongue darted between my parted lips. He tasted of coffee. My hand clutched his hair. A groan, the kind I’d never experienced before, trilled out my core.

He murmured a hoarse, “I love you,” as his hand kneaded my breast.

Instantly, I snapped out of the moment and stiffened. According to Mom, Grammy, and everyone who was anyone, touching female body parts was taboo. Confused, I shoved him away and demanded, “Take me home.” The sting of his frown hit my face. Red rushed up my neck and out the ends of my hard-to-curl hair. “Now.”

Once we reached my house, I’d flung myself out of the hand-me-down Camry and raced up the walk to the breezeway. The backdoor slammed behind me. Taking the stairs like a madwoman, I burst into my room, flattening my body against the closed door. My heart thump-thumped a wild tom-tom, tom-tom.

What had happened? Why had he done that?

“Lori? Are you okay?” Mom asked. The knob shifted against my backside. “How’s Jimmy?”

I’d pressed my hand to my forehead in a fashion worthy of celestial royalty. “Fine, Mom. Going to bed.”

“Okay, sweet pea. See you in the morning.”

Coming to terms with feelings was never easy. Thank goodness I’d had another whole day to prepare for when I’d encounter him at school on Monday morning. I’d gone with the best preventative: Avoidance.

He’d received the message. By the end of the week, the only acknowledgement he’d show was a cold nod when forced to admit my presence.

I’d been so immature. Deep with­in, I knew we should have dis­cussed what had happened. But the shy me couldn’t. I’d let my immaturity fester into a hard pit. And to this day I still dodged him. Our lives had taken different paths, we enrolled in different colleges, took different jobs. Via Mom’s gossip, I heard he’d joined the Kline’s sales team, starting as a department manager. I’d found refuge with plants at a local organic nursery, a passion I’d inherited from Grammy who’d grow an amazing vegetable garden every summer. Now standing outside the imposing building, I rubbed my palms on my grubby jeans. The phrase “can’t get a man looking like that” bounced through my mind. I gave myself one final pep talk before stepping indoors.

What were the chances Jimmy could be vacationing in Antarctica?

I walked down an aisle adjacent to the women’s section, over to the elevator. The gold and bronze in the holiday decorations brought an additional beauty to the already attractive business. The sparkles and spangles of the party clothes and accessories caught my eye and more than a small part of me longed for an occasion to wear something so stunning. When passing the sales associates, however, their stares of “would you look at her” bored into the back of my head.

It took all the guts I possessed to continue on.

On the fourth floor, I entered the cool serenity of the seafoam green and ocean blue decor of Spring Water, the store’s salon. Plunking Pop’s credit card on the white marble counter and hoping-praying-hoping it would go through, I informed the uniformed attendant, “I’m Lori Davis, here for my overhaul.”

She glanced up from the appointment book and scanned me up and down, from my rowdy hair to my dusty boots. Her frown said it all: Needs major help. Chirping “Follow me, please,” off we went to the dressing room.

Professional beautician is serving customer at beauty salon

Several hours later, I ogled myself in the mirror. Who was this woman? Swishing my hair from side to side, I approved of how the new cut brushed my shoulders. Light refracted off the golden high­lights. My brows had been de-bushed. My nails buffed to a high gloss. Shimmery holly berry coated my toenails. The dress skimmed down my “curves” and the heels boosted my height to almost six feet.

Not bad. I struck a model-worthy pose in front of the dressing room mirror. Not bad at all. Pop had gotten his wish.

I straightened my shoulders and admired again. From deep within, a new “me” emerged. Confidence and beauty became my companions. I snagged the cute clutch and exited the salon with a friendly wave and smile.

Wrapped in my euphoria, I didn’t pay a smidgen of attention to where I was going. I rounded a column on the first floor and slammed into a solid mass. Before apologizing, a piney scent enveloped my senses. Power radiated from the grasp of the arms that had caught me. As my vision cleared, embarrassment coursed through my whole being.

Jimmy. My rescuer just had to be Jimmy.

Did he have to look so handsome in a navy suit? The cut of his coat made his shoulders broader and the pants elongated his legs. The shirt’s French cuffs spoke exquisite elegance. His dark brown hair had been shorn short, reminiscent of a popular news anchor.

Suddenly aware of new thoughts about him, I tried to shrug away. “I’m sorry.”

“I’m not.” Releasing me, his deep voice caressed my body. “You look. . . incredible, Lori. Absolutely adorable.”

His words left me speechless. I managed to quip, “Y-you certainly know how to flatter a girl. Now, please, excuse me.”

His oxfords click-clicked on the marble floor when he followed me. “Can I help?”

“No, just going to uh. . .” Something like putty stuck in my throat. I pointed toward the escalators.

He caught up with me. “What for?”

“An errand for Pop.”

“Is he okay?”

“H-he’s fine.” I stopped by the escalators where Kline’s traditionally set up their seasonal division. Here, one could purchase the finest chocolates, the most fragrant candles, holiday decorations, gourmet cookies, delicious fruit­cakes, top-of-the-line greeting cards and gift-wrap, et cetera.

I moved closer to an empty round fixture. A laminated sign posted on top said, “Our candy canes are not available at this time. Please check with us in one week. We apologize for any inconvenience.”

Jimmy brushed against my side, sending shockwaves through my limbs. I prayed he couldn’t hear my heartbeat’s loud wildwood drumming. His palm smacked his brow. “I’m so sorry, Lori, I should have remembered your grandfather always buys your grandmother a box. How can I fix this?”

I swiveled to face him. Crossing my arms, I leveled the evil eye his way. “You can explain to Pop.”

“I’d rather face a firing squad.”

“Now you know how I feel.” I slapped my purse against my thigh. “Rats. Now what am I going to do?”

Gently, his fingers circled my wrist. “It’s not your fault. I’ll tell him we had to throw away the entire order. A new one’s coming, but you know how that goes. From Italy. . .”

“Can’t they be Fed Ex-ed?”

“Others have the same problem. We’re on a waiting list. When they come in, I’ll set a box aside.”

Why did he have to touch me? Shaking my arm from his clasp, I mumbled “rats” again, but really wanted to spew something more profane. As I started to walk away, my right heel skated on the marble. The next thing I knew, I was lying flat on my flipside, staring at the fancifully plastered ceiling.

” Lori!” He dropped to his knees. “Are you okay? Did you hurt your head? I’m phoning Fire and Rescue.”

A throng of concerned customers circled us. I rubbed my hand over my eyes and into my hair. How mortifying. This was what happened, folks, when Lori Davis glams up. “No, don’t.”

“Can you sit up?” He slid his hands under my arms and shifted me into a seated position. Squatting behind me, he let my body relax into his. “Better?”

His breath brushed my ear. Ruffles of sensations fluttered by like butterflies and caused me to tilt sideways.

He removed his cell phone from his breast pocket. “You’re about to pass out. I’m phoning the fire department.”

“I’m not jittery from the fall.” “Convince me otherwise.”

“Stop being a moron and help me up.”

He stood, supporting me as I shifted my legs under my body and slowly rose upwards. I finally moved when all my bits and pieces felt normal.

Like they would ever be normal with him hovering over me.

I smoothed my palms over my dress, then shakily finger-combed flyaways behind my ear. “I think I’ll make it.”

His fingers pushed through my fine strands to the back of my head. “You have a large bump here.”

I knocked his arm aside. “Would you quit? I feel stupid enough. People are staring. I want to go home.”

He shook a no-no-no. “I’ll drive you.”

“I can drive—”

“It’s me or the fire department, sweet pea.”

I knew the stern obstinate look in his green eyes way too well. He meant every word. I capitulated, “Fine. And don’t call me sweet pea.”

He passed me my handbag and then looped his arm around my waist. My forehead fevered from his nearness. If only I could get home before shattering into a million pieces.

I found myself escorted to the employee entrance. Before exiting, he informed the security guard of his whereabouts. “I can be reached by my cell phone if need be.”

The guard gave a mock salute and a deliberate wink. “Yes, sir.”

Once outside, the security lights stung my eyes. That didn’t escape his observation either. “I’ll get my car and come back for you.”

“No,” I said and squeezed my eyes shut briefly. “I can do this.”

He tucked me in his gray Grand Cherokee. In my mind, he still drove the family Camry, like he had the night he kissed me.

Kiss me. Kiss me.

To blot the thought, I stared at the dancing fairy lights decorating the trees planted in the parking lot.

Kiss me.

“Are you all right? You’re frowning.” “Would you stop? How many times do I have to tell you I’m fine?” Fortunately, my place was only a fifteen-minute drive. He stopped in front of my town home. “Here you go.”

I squinted at him—the throbbing had intensified. “How did you know where I live?”

He shrugged. “Maybe I overheard your mom tell my mom.” He exited the Jeep and circled to the passenger side. He made sure I sustained good balance before assisting me to my front entry.

“I’m okay now, honest,” I said. “Humor me.”

“Why are you being so nice?”

“Lori, we used to be best friends. I regret whatever changed that.”

I had regrets, too, only now I wanted more than just “best friends.”

Taking my key, he unlocked the door. Inside, I plopped on the couch. He tenderly removed my shoes, propped my feet on a cushion, and set a pillow along my lower spine. When I shivered, he placed a wool blanket Grammy had knitted on top of my legs. Once nicely folded in, he sat next to me, running his hand the length of my leg, pausing to baby-massage my calf. “Better?”

Despite the rub feeling oh-so good, his touch caused a peculiar awareness in my tummy. I swallowed, “Yes. You can go.”

“I’m not leaving.”

“Look, you fulfilled your Boy Scout obligation. It’s hectic at Kline’s. You’re needed there.”

“The store will manage just fine without me. In fact. . .” he studied his watch, “it closes in five minutes and I’ll be officially off the clock.

“I’m staying all night to make sure you don’t have a concussion.”

I tilted forward. “Read my lips: I. Don’t. Have. A. Concussion.”

Gently, he pushed my body against the pillow. “You didn’t hear the crack when your head bounced. Sounded just like a watermelon landing on concrete.”

“You’re lying. There wasn’t any blood.”

“Please, Lori. I’ll feel better staying and maybe we can talk, like we used to in the old days.”

I humpfed.

“I’m not leaving.”

Irritated, my eyes slanted to him. He was too big to wrestle with anyway. I swung my legs over the side of the couch and levered myself up. “Fine.”-

“I’ll get whatever you need.”

“No way, Jose. I’m putting on my pajamas, unless you think you can wear them for me.”

“Yeah, that’s not happening.” His body softened. “I’m coming after you if you take more than fifteen minutes.”

“Deal.” I went to the bathroom, washed my face, brushed my teeth, and put on my comfy men’s pajamas, a gift for Pop that didn’t fit him. Snagging a bottle of pain reliever, I returned to the living room.

His eyebrow quirked when he saw my get-up. “Perfect timing. One more minute—”

“Yadayadayada.” I jiggled the bottle. “A drink, please.”

To compensate for the sound of water flowing from the faucet, he said in a louder voice, “I looked at these town homes a while ago. I like the homey ambiance you created by mixing vintage stuff with modern pieces.” Returning, he passed me a glass. “I should hire you to decorate my place.”

“I had fun pulling the room together.” I tossed down two ibuprofen with a long swallow. “TV? Movie?”

His glance went from the flat screen retrofitted in an old armoire to a longing gaze on the fridge. “Actually, I’m hungry—”

“‘I’m hungry. I’m starving. Wasn’t that your infamous saying?”

“Hey, I was a growing boy and needed sustenance.” His laugh sounded lighthearted. Passing six feet, I’d say he’d grown enough. “Can I make something for us to eat?”

I pointed to the kitchen. “Go for it.”

He took a step forward, then relaxed. “What about you?”

“Microwave a mug of water. Stir in a packet of hot chocolate mix which you’ll find on a pantry shelf.”



“And don’t forget the whipped cream. It’s in the fridge.” As I watched him work, I realized our dumb teenage kiss had spoiled everything. A cavernous hole had replaced our former camaraderie. I wanted our friendship back. I wanted more than our friendship back. But how?

He returned with a plate piled with fruit, cheese, and crackers, a box of chocolate Snickerdoodles, and my requested drink, which he set on the coffee table in front of me. Seeing and smelling the food brought hunger pangs. I took the napkin he passed and helped myself. We talked as the light outside faded to deep black, as if the gap in our friendship had never happened.

At some point, I began to yawn incessantly. I’d convinced him I didn’t feel that way because of a massive head injury and stumbled to bed.

I woke the next morning to bright sunshine and remembered Jimmy sleeping on the couch. Shuffling into the great room, I saw his suit and shirt draped over the upholstered plaid chair. His shoes set next to the hearth. A blanket twisted around his waist. He only wore Batman boxers—my favorite superhero.

Tiptoeing closer, it took major will power not to touch him, to run my fingers the span of his spine.. .

“Good morning,” he twisted up and scrubbed his eyes toddler style, flashing his impressive six-pack. I jumped aside. “How are you feeling?”

I pushed my hands through my hair to gingerly feel the bump. “Looks like I’ll survive.”

He checked his Swiss Army watch which he’d placed on the coffee table. “I’m late.”

Grabbing his pants, he shoved one leg in, then the other. He jammed his arms in the shirt­sleeves, looped the tie around his neck and hooked the coat with a finger.

Standing like a dummy with my mouth wide, I watched as the door shut behind him.

Before I could move, it flung open. He raced to my side and wrapped his arms around me. I settled my face into his neck and rubbed my mouth into the caressable skin. He felt soft and warm. The rasp of his beard scraped across my cheek. He pressed a kiss on my temple.

He settled and grinned. “I’ll check on you later,” snapped my pajama pant’s elastic band, the same way he’d done my athletic shorts when we were kids, and disappeared.

I said to the empty space, “Please.”

But his phone call never came, which made my emotions jump from frustration to anger to whatever. When the darn thing did ring a few days later, it was Pop. Wishing for understanding, I hit the connect

“Where’s your grandmother’s gift? Did you forget?” he blasted. “No, sir. The store’s out.”

“What do you mean out?” His voice reached a chilling high octave.

“Settle down—”

“Look here, young lady, don’t tell me to settle down. I’m your grandfather. Explain yourself.”

“I would if you wouldn’t interrupt. They had to trash the shipment because it came in crushed. They’re expecting another order soon, but it does come from Italy, so. . .”

“I see. That is a problem.”

“Jimmy said—”

“Jimmy? You saw him?”

“He helped me.”

“Did you get a haircut and your nails done?”

“I’m a raving beauty, Pop.”

“Good. I knew she was buried underneath all that hair and grime.”

I rolled my eyes, silently acknowledging how right he’d been. “I’ll check in with Jimmy, okay?”

“Don’t have much choice, do we?”

When I called and asked for “Mr. Kline,” a perky voice said, “He’s unavailable at the moment. Can I take a message?”

“Would you ask him to phone Lori Davis?” I repeated my number.

Within the hour, I heard back. “I’m sorry, Lori, I wasn’t available. I’ve been putting out fires all day long, every day.”

“I understand. That time of year. Changing the subject, I told Pop about the candy and. . .Tum da tum turn.”

He groaned. “He’s pissed.”

“An understatement.”

“I wish I had better news. Why don’t I get an update from the buyer and fill you in over dinner?”

Dinner with Mr. Handsome Man? I liked that idea. “Does six o’clock work for you?”

“Perfect. Come to the fifth floor.”

Only after I clicked off did I grasp the real dilemma: What to wear? I couldn’t go see him in my usual jeans and shirt. And he’d already seen me in my best dress.

After rummaging through my inadequate wardrobe, I found a black pleated skirt smashed in the closet corner and a white silky blouse my sister had given me for my birthday. I draped a gold pashmina across my shoulders and transferred handbag stuff to a sparkly tote. A simple refresher of eyeliner and mascara I’d purchased at the salon made my eyes appear bigger and sexier. That wasn’t so bad, I thought while blotting my lipstick.

At the store, I stepped into the elevator at quarter to five and hit the button for the fifth floor. When the door slid open, the receptionist gave me a broad smile. “Lori Davis? Mr. Kline is expecting you. I’ll let him know you’re here.” She turned a corner behind a half wall.

I tapped my shoe while waiting. She sure was taking a long time. Couldn’t she just have buzzed him?

A delicious foodie scent drifted from the same direction she’d gone. Something like…garlic and tomato—somebody’s dinner. Boy, it smelled terrific, too. I’d probably get a burger on the run at the food court with Jimmy. Where was he anyway?

The receptionist returned. “Please, follow me.”

We walked down a beige carpeted hallway. Name plates had been mounted to the left of frosted glass doors we passed. When we reached Jimmy’s, I paused to touch the letters spelling “Store Manager.” He had to be pleased with his accomplishments.

The receptionist opened the door. “Enjoy.”

I looked at her retreating backside. Enjoy what?

“Lori, thanks for meeting me here.” Jimmy took my arm and led me in his office. The Italian aroma was definitely stronger here. “I hope you don’t mind; instead of going out, I ordered in from the Italian Bistro—lasagna, garlic bread, Caesar salad, and for dessert, limoncello gelato.”

I searched for words. To dine with him was overwhelming enough, but to remember my favorites? This went beyond any expectations. In the end, I stammered, “How d-divine.”

He led me to an adjoining room where a conference table had been dressed with a white damask tablecloth, china, and silver. I studied the spread. “Expecting a small army?”

“I’m hungry—”

“I know, I know. ‘I’m hungry, I’m starving,” I said

We laughed. Throughout dinner, we discussed the weather, holiday shows, friends we had in common. Slowly, but surely, our friendship was returning.

From a small fridge, he removed two small bowls. “Here’s temptation.”

The gelato. Even though I was stuffed, nothing would stop me from scarfing it down. In between bites of the delicious concoction, I brought the conversation to the real business. “So what’s the latest on the candy canes? I’ve got to get some before Pop detonates.”

His head shook a negative. “Not good news.”

With a sigh, I returned my napkin to my lap. “This is bad.”

“They’ll probably come at the last minute, like on Christmas Eve.”

“I guess that’s better than not at all. Hopefully, Pop can check his temper `til then.”

A glance at my cell phone told me we’d gone way past a quick dinner for someone whose busiest season was upon them, and I stood. “I should go. You have a business to run.” I picked up my shawl and handbag and faced him, “Thank you for the lovely meal.”

“We’ll do it again.” He buzzed my lips and I left.

Jimmy kissed me. Stunned, I wandered down the hall to the elevator. I placed a finger on the moist spot, reliving the moment. He kissed me. Kissed me.

Reality hit as the elevator descended. I’d seen him do the same thing to lots of other friends and family. His kiss was no big deal.


A couple of weeks later, I said to Pop, “Running to Kline’s every other day isn’t my only priority. I have my own life, you know.”

“I understand.” His exhale was long and drawn out. “I hate to see your grandmother disappointed. Are you coming on Christmas Eve?”

“Have I ever missed?” With a grin, I hugged him good-bye and scrubbed Jones’s ears.

At Kline’s, I wound my way through the women’s designer clothing, pausing to fiddle with the Swarovski buttons glittering on an ivory angora sweater. It was absolutely dazzling and way out of my price range.

From there, I moseyed to the lingerie department. An incredible crimson satin nightgown reduced seventy-five percent tempted me like a siren. Pressing a finger to my lower lip, I considered. The holidays were a time for something playful to wear instead of the practical men’s pajamas I usually favored. I could celebrate the new “me” with it, too. I cheerfully offered my debit card to the sales associate who remarked on the “excellent buy.”


When I reached the holiday section, I found the same sign saying the delicacy “wasn’t available.” I gave a stomp and a snort. From behind me came, “You acted just like a two-year-old.”

I swiveled about to grin at Jimmy, dropping my handbag on top of the gown in the shopping bag to conceal it. His eyes crinkled in a smile. “You would too if your grandfather was the monkey on your shoulders.”

“Sorry. The offer stands to phone him.”

“Nah. It is what it is. He’ll survive.”

The store’s paging system broadcasted “Mr. Kline to Housewares.”

“Guess you have to go.” I stuck out my hand for a shake.

He seized mine and hauled me close. His free arm circled my waist. We stood there for a moment; me lost beyond infinity while staring deeply into his emerald eyes. His clasp and his rough breath told me the feeling was mutual. An “excuse me” from a customer threading alongside us prompted me to withdraw, albeit reluctantly, from his embrace.

“What are you doing tomorrow night?” he asked.

I lifted a shoulder, “Annual holiday dinner with the extended family. A date—”

His eyebrow lifted. “Date?”

“Not that kind.” I giggled. “My traditional date with White Christmas.”

“You still watch that movie?” “Every single year and sing all the songs.”

“I remember your screeching  rendition of ‘Sisters’.”

I raised a finger, “Don’t forget the classic ‘White Christmas’.”

“How could I? I remember everything thing about you. Lori—”

Once more the system requested “Mr. Kline to Housewares.”

“Gotta go.” He raced to the escalator, and then faced me and waved. “Happy holidays, sweet pea. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Already missing him, I called out “Happy Holidays” and headed for the exit.

Tomorrow? I paused. Had I missed something? What’s happening tomorrow?

I burst through my grandparents’ front door loaded with paper-wrapped gifts, my much-requested Cranberry Crunch dessert, and a container of homemade whipped cream.

In the kitchen, Grammy relieved me of the warm Pyrex dish. She set the dessert on the counter while I stowed the topping in the fridge. “I don’t know what to do, Lori. Your grandfather’s in a tizzy. He’s been acting oddly for…” she paused, scrunching her brow, “six weeks.”

Weird. About the time he’d started bugging me to run his errand. I hugged her. “Maybe I should talk to him.”


I found Pop lodged in his recliner with Jones in his lap, using the remote to tune the stereo to holiday classics. I pecked his temple. “Hey, old man, that’s my favorite song.”

“I like ‘White Christmas, too. Unlike the movie, we’ve never had snow in Somerville on Christmas Eve. That would be a miracle.” In an uncharacteristic low voice, he asked, “Still no candy?”

My tone matched his. “Sorry. Maybe Grammy will be happy not to have the calories.” I straightened. “Be right back. I’m stashing my coat in the closet. Coming, Jones?”

Jones scampered behind me to the hall closet, which I found had been crammed full of everybody else’s outer garments. I proceeded to the spare bedroom and its closet. As I rummaged for a free hanger, a light object bonked me on my chest and landed by my feet. Picking it up, I glanced at the container, a white one stamped in gold lettering: “Made exclusively for Kline’s Department Store.”

Now why would a box of Grammy’s candy be in a closet?

It had to be an old package. Before I could open it and steal a piece, Jones pulled on an ancient blanket that appeared to conceal something underneath. Thinking of all the possibilities, I grinned. The pup gave a final yank, jarring loose an avalanche that crashed to the floor.

More white boxes. I picked up one, and then glanced to the top shelves to discover more stashed there, probably sixty in all. What the—

“I can explain,” Pop said.

I whirled around. “Has Grammy saved the candy all these years?”

“No,” he shifted from one foot to the other. “I bought them.”

“You bought. . .Why?” Then the truth found me. “Y-you bought Kline’s entire order?”

“I only wanted to help.”

“How. . .” But before the question was out of my mouth, my sixth sense smacked me sideways. Pop had played matchmaker. The insistent makeover, the clothing, the tizzy fit, constantly sending me to Kline’s to buy Grammy’s gift—all tricks to push Jimmy and me together.

This time his meddling had gone too far.

Anger, a howling whipped up like a much dreaded, terrifying Texas thunderstorm, consumed me. “How dare you? How dare you interfere in my life? Do you know how much you’ve humiliated me? You’re my grandfather. You’re supposed to love me as I am. I didn’t need you to fix me up with Jimmy. I can find my own man, in my own way, in my own time.”

A hush enveloped the living room where the clan had gathered nearby. In an uncharacteristic fit, I threw the boxes on the ground, the shattering of the expensive treats sounded peculiarly satisfying. Jerking my coat off the hanger, I stepped over Jones and past Pop.

“Lori, don’t leave,” he implored. “Let me explain.”

I paused. Some brainless relative snickered which ratcheted my fury even higher. I flung open the front door and bolted for my car. The last image I had in my rearview mirror was my grandfather standing on the stoop, regret painting his face.

Once home, I threw my coat and handbag on the sofa. I gulped for air while I tore off my clothes. How could my grandfather hurt me this way? And how could Jimmy even consider being a part of his wacky plan?

My gaze fell on the beautiful red gown lying across the end of the bed. I snorted. What had I been thinking when purchasing it? I wasn’t a spectacular “new me.” I was plain ol’ Lori, regardless of Pop’s efforts to change me.

Still, the gown sent its message. Oh, why not? I don’t need a man to wear this for, I thought as I put it on.

Returning to the living room, I turned on the Christmas tree lights and punched the DVD player to start my movie. While that set up, I microwaved a bag of popcorn and opened a Coke. No diet for me tonight. I’d drown my sorrows in sugar.

After I stuffed a hot fistful of popcorn in my mouth, the doorbell rang. I hoped it wasn’t Pop begging me to return to the party. I needed time and space to figure out the whole situation.

Setting the bowl aside, I stomped to the foyer, ready to lay twenty-six years of wrath on my grandfather. But no one stood on the front porch. When I ducked inside, something sitting on the top step caught my eye. Snatching up the way-too familiar box of candy canes, which I knew I’d never, ever want to see again, I tossed it to the curb, again being rewarded with the crunch.

As soon as I slammed the door shut, the bell chimed a second time. “Now what?”

Another Kline’s gift bag, larger this time and festooned with an elaborate gold ribbon and a spray of evergreen, sat on the step. This one was too pretty to ignore, I rationalized, and untied the bow. Pushing aside the tissue, I uncovered the angora sweater I’d admired.

A gasp escaped my lips. It was more beautiful than I’d remembered. The buttons flashed in the lamplight. The delicate fabric called me to gently stroke it with my fingers.

Who? I jerked upright and searched the darkness.

Sanity returned. It didn’t matter. My anger couldn’t be soothed with gifts of bribery. I quickly laid the wrappings  on top of the sweater and returned the  bag to the step. Maybe the threatening snow wouldn’t fall and ruin it.

I dumped myself on the couch and propped the popcorn bowl on my tummy. Shoving a fistful of kernels in my mouth, I reached for the remote. The ding-dong sounded for a third time. I chewed, then shouted, “Go away.”

It sang again. And again. This was infuriating. “Whatever happened to `Peace on Earth, goodwill toward men?’ Why can’t I be left alone in my misery?” I clomped to the door and yanked it open. There stood Mr. Co-conspirator, smiling at me.

I fixed my madder-than-hell eye on Jimmy and tried my best to close the door, but his cowboy-booted foot jammed against the frame thwarted me.

His inspection went from my newly cut hair to my manicured toes. He fingered an all-too skinny strap, which chose that instant to slither off my shoulder in a wanton move. “Nice nightie.”

At that moment, I comprehended a satin gown was way too revealing for visitors.

“Expecting somebody?”

Shoot. I didn’t want him to see me like this. I didn’t want him to touch me like that. And the devilish glint in his eyes might be. . .scandalous. When the cold penetrated my half-naked body, I shivered. “I’m busy. Hit the road, Jack.”

“I need to explain.”

“Oh, I’m pretty sure I got the whole story. Good-bye.” If I didn’t get inside soon, I’d have double pneumonia in the morning. I attempted to close the door again, but he had bigger muscles than me.

“Lori, come on. It’s freezing, getting darker, and might snow.” He lifted his face to the sky. “Let’s discuss this inside, please.”

What the heck. The sooner he had his say, the sooner he’d leave and the sooner I could start my movie. Returning to the living room, I crossed my arms over my chest and wished for a robe to cover my near nudity. He shut the door and followed me. “I have big plans for tonight, so scram-oose.”

“I think you’re trying to get rid of me.”

“You’d be correct.”

His head tilted to his left as his eyes surveyed my preparations.

“Your holiday tradition?”


He circled to the coffee table and grabbed the popcorn bowl. “Fine. This won’t take long.”

“Help yourself,” I said sarcastically. “I’m hungry-I’m starving. Whatever.”

“Boy, you’re sassy tonight.”

Plopping on the couch, he munched on a few handfuls. “A couple of months ago, I ran into your grandfather at the gas station. When I asked about you, he wondered why we’d never dated. I told him I tried in high school, but when I kissed you, you acted like I’d been infected with the Black Plague.”

“You touched the no-fly zone, remember?”

“That? It was an accident.”

“I think not.” My cheeks grew hot. Had I been mistaken all these years? Why hadn’t he said something then? “Are you finished?”

“Just beginning. Your grandfather said he wanted to think. A few days later, he presented this plan. I went along because…Well, because…”

This was taking forever. At this rate, I’d be celebrating Valentine Hell before I’d see my show. I rolled my hand, “Because. ..”

“I’d always hoped we could get together.” Rising, he set aside the bowl. His hand swiped over his short hair as he paced. “I’m just going to say it—”

Sick and tired of his fussing around, my fists went to my hips. “You two deceived me. Embarrassed me. You’re—”

“I love you.”

“…done.” Then I comprehended the words he’d just spoken. My chin nearly smacked the floor. “Tell me you didn’t say what I think you just said.”

“I love you. I’ve always loved you. I’ve always been at my best with you—my heart, my soul, my friend.” He dug a small ring box out of his jacket pock­et. “This is for you.”

Jimmy loved me. Delight bloomed in my heart. I took the box, briefly closing my eyes. He loved me-loved me-loved me.

Lifting the lid of the white leather box embossed with gold edging, I gasped. Nestled in the satin fold sat a two carat, emerald-cut diamond ring, with identical round sapphires on either side. It resembled the moon and the stars.

I was flabbergasted. Finally, I squawked, “J-Jimmy?”

He took the box from me. “When I talked to your pop, I realized I had to go with his plan because I really and truly wanted you to fall madly in love and marry me. There’s never been another woman for this man.”


Dropping to one knee, he extended the hand holding the ring toward me. “To have you in my life, it seems, you fulfill my hopes and dreams. To have you in my life, it’s true; there is no one, but you. To have you in my life, my dear, means no grief or pain. I will love you each morning again and again.”

This time, Jimmy managed to seriously astound me. He hated poetry.

“Hey, I’m hurting down here.”

“Kinda cheesy, don’t you think?” I snickered, thinking he should be in punishment a tad longer. “Hallmark won’t be contacting you anytime soon.”

“Just a little something I’ve been working on for a while.” He wiggled his hand. “Will you, Lori? Will you marry me?”

My heart soared to the summit of Mt. Everest. The rush of blood surging through my body brought trembles to my limbs. All our past, present, and future crashed through my thoughts.

Sometimes life takes us in the most circuitous routes.

My gaze met his. There, I found home, everything I’d been wanting and waiting for all these years. So keeping with his tone, I said, “I’ll love you all my life, my dear, forever, for always, year after year. Yes, Jimmy, I’ll marry you.”

Rising, he wrapped his arms around my shoulders. We embraced for what seemed like an eternity, holding, sensing, feeling, taking each other in. He took my left hand and slid the circle on my ring finger. Winks and twinkles flashed in the tree lights. Lacing his hands with mine, our foreheads met.

A slight movement beyond the window caught my eye. “It’s snowing! On Christmas Eve! It’s a miracle. I’ve got to call Pop.”

Turning, he laid his arm across my shoulders and squeezed. “Like your favorite movie, sweet pea. You got a happily-ever-after.”

“All thanks to candy canes and a meddling grandparent.”

“Let’s make holiday traditions of our own.”

I moved my arms about his neck. His kiss left me breathless. “I like that proposal, too.”