By Sandra Paul
“I have a great idea!” I told my husband enthusiastically. “Why don’t we put mirrored closet doors in our bedroom? It will not only give the room more depth, it will bring in more light!”
“Why don’t we just buy another lamp?” he replied dryly. “It would be easier.”
Obviously, he didn’t share my enthusiasm. Possibly because I’d been coming up with “great” ideas to improve our fixer-upper ever since we’d bought it two years earlier. Since then, my husband had spent nearly every weekend replacing windows, repairing walls, re-roofing, hanging siding, ripping out carpets, nailing down floors, fixing plumbing, laying bricks, cementing, yanking out tree stumps, laying a lawn, drywalling, plastering, and painting.
All of which he now reminded me of in unnecessarily specific detail.
“But the bedroom is a special project,” I reminded him in turn. “I envision it as our personal, private haven where we can relax. A getaway from the kids, pets–and endless chores.”
I think it was the chore bit that got him. At any rate, he didn’t argue further but put in the mirrored doors for me the following Saturday. When he finished, I stood in the doorway of our newly redecorated room, admiring how the lamplight bounced from the softly glowing burgundy walls to the gleaming mirrored doors and back again. I was totally thrilled with the result of my latest great idea. . . until the next morning.
While lying on my side, I opened my eyes–and stared in horror at the image before me. Less than four feet away was my own reflection, revealed in unforgiving detail in the harsh morning light. My once blonde hair looked dull and lifeless. My eyes were red and swollen almost shut. My skin was puffy and blotchy.
Involuntarily, I made a sound between a horrified gasp and a moan that caused my husband to sit bolt upright next to me.
“What is it? Are you hurt?” he demanded, leaning over me. He tugged down the sheet I’d lifted to cover my face.
“No, it’s those mirrors!” I blurted without thinking. “I look so awful. And now I’m going to have to face that fact, every single morning when I wake up!”
His green eyes widened with surprise, and then narrowed on my face. He stared at me as if he’d never seen me before.
Which was so not true. I’d first met those green eyes when we were in high school. We’d now been married over 20 years, and during those years, we’d spent less than twenty nights apart. I’d studied his expression countless times during countless days, hours and seconds. There was no face on earth including my children’s, I suddenly realized, who I gazed at more often than his. And if that was true for me, then it had to be true for him as well.
Shuddering at the thought, I jumped out of bed as he started to say something, wishing I hadn’t called my looks–or lack thereof–to his attention. I kept busy all day, avoiding mirrors, avoiding my husband’s gaze. And I went to bed that night, determined to forget the whole thing.
But when I awoke the next morning, I was lying on my side again. And I knew, without even opening my eyes, that I was facing those darn mirrored doors. It doesn’t matter; just don’t look, I told myself. I took a deep breath, and resolutely opened my eyes.
My gaze locked; I stared at the doors in amazement. Then my eyes grew misty. But that didn’t matter, because what I saw is forever imprinted on my mind and heart.
Sheets of notebook paper covered the glass. On them my husband had written, “You are beautiful. And I love you.”
By Jen Crooks
Iâ€™ve always had a good track record among my friends for dating losers. I spent all of my teens and 20â€™s perfecting this gift. Every guy I dated was potentially Mr. Right and I would try the idea of â€œforeverâ€ on to see how it fit, which it never did.
Finally, the day came when I turned 35. Iâ€™d broken up with the last Mr. Right and was moaning about the years that Iâ€™d wasted â€“ was I going to ever get married, ever have children, ever belong in a partnership with someone? The prospects were looking dim.
Obviously, with a Romance Record like mine, I have very patient girlfriends. When I bemoaned the wasteland of my love life and the biological clock that was hurtling me with G-force toward menopause, my three best and most patient girlfriends listened to my tale of woe.
Every one of them said the same thing to me: I needed a better system in my quest for Mr. Right. I needed to let someone who knew better (they all three mentioned that they were happily married) be pivotal in the decision making process. In short, I needed to date by committee.
My current plan was Speed Dating. Each agreed that I needed to continue with that plan â€“ I got to meet maximum numbers of men (10-15 in an evening) with minimum effort (I just had to sit and talk to them each for 3-5 minutes).
The Dating Committee encouraged me to date as many of these prospects as possible with one single caveat: at least one person on the Committee had to meet them before 1) any significant physical contact, defined as anything past a good-night kiss outside the vehicle I was driving home or 2) by the third dateâ€¦whichever came first.
I threw myself into Speed Dating â€“ often having as many as four â€œfirst datesâ€ in one week (completely exhausting â€“ I donâ€™t recommend it). I was excited that these men shared so many desirable characteristics in a first date â€“ most had jobs, their real hair and wanted to meet women. However, not a single one of them tempted me to either get to the significant physical contact or go on the third date.
My friends began to suspect that Secret Dating was occurring. I assured them this wasnâ€™t the caseâ€¦I just hadnâ€™t found anyone worthy of putting before the Committee yet from Speed Dating. I began to look around at Rapid Dating and Pre-Dating, to beef up my pool of prospects.
Then my mother died suddenly and my 35 year-old world got a reality check. I did all the tasks that accompany death, and I grieved. I stopped dating completely â€“ Iâ€™d decided that life was too short to spend on losers. My patient girlfriends dragged me back into life, ignoring my bitter protests, and one night one of them coerced me out on the town.
We went to a place in Newport Beach. I danced and danced with my girlfriend and her husband and had a lovely time. In the middle of this evening, I met a man. We danced. He bought me a drink. We were beginning to engage in the usual inconsequential â€œdating chatter.â€ I had forgotten completely about the pact to date only by Committee when my girlfriend, whoâ€™d downed enough Vodka Tonics to be entertaining, zoomed up to exercise her Committee Rights.
She stopped in front of the guy who came to be known as Newport Steve and held out her hand in introduction. â€œHi, Iâ€™m her girlfriend Mary. How are you?â€ And she proceeded to pepper the man with questions.
â€œWhat do you do? Oh, a Computer Guy! Uh-huh. Great! Jen works in computers!
Where do you live? Oh, Newport Beachâ€¦close byâ€¦Great!
How old are you? Forty-four? (She gave him a suspicious stare.)
Have you ever been married?
Reallyâ€¦did you have any kids? No? Well do you want to have kids?
(I tried to slink off right about this time but my girlfriend trains dogs for a living and sheâ€™s got a grip like a pit bull.)
How do you feel about pets? Oh, youâ€™re afraid of dogs? Well, cause she has a dog, but Hoshiâ€™s a really nice dog. She really likes men â€“ Hoshi, not Jenâ€¦well, I mean Jen likes men too. Anyway, you guys will do great!
What kind of dog? An Akita.â€
And on it went. Newport Steve stood up to the Inquisiton â€“ answering her questions without stammering or stuttering. He joined us and at the end of the evening we traded information on cocktail napkins. Less than a week later we went out.
Bit by bit we fell in love, though I kept struggling against the feeling, thinking about my other Mr. Rights. Steve was always relaxed and so certain that we were meant to be together and I couldnâ€™t figure out how he â€œjust knew.â€
A few months after we met, I had my 36th birthday and he took me out to a wonderful dinner. He gave me beautiful jewelry and watched me blow out my candle. I made the wish to keep him always while he smiled at me from across the table.
â€œWhat did you wish for on your birthday?â€ I asked, referring to the birthday he had right before we met.
He looked in my eyes for a moment before he answered. â€œI wished for you,â€ he said. â€œIâ€™m pretty sure your mom heard me from Heaven and pulled a few strings.â€
I started crying, right there in the middle of the restaurant, and I felt my motherâ€™s spirit. I could hear her voice in my head, telling me to quit worrying and relax. I realized in one of those stunning moments of clarity that my former boyfriends were all Mr. Maybesâ€¦practice trials to help me truly appreciate the man that my mom â€œpicked out.â€ Evidently, sheâ€™d been on the Committee the whole time.
Newport Steve is now My Steve, and I canâ€™t imagine my life without him.
Jen Crooks writes womenâ€™s fiction, chick lit and short stories as Jenny Hansen. She has been a member of OCC since 2001 and has served on OCCâ€™s Board of Directors as Newsletter Editor, Membership Director and Program Director. She is currently the Contest Coordinator for the 2006 Orange Rose Contest for Unpublished Writers.
By Marianne Donley
I was the only stayâ€“atâ€“home mom within an eight-mile radius. My house sported cases of Skippy peanut butter, a whole fridge of milk, a cookie jar filled with crumbs no matter how often I baked, homemade playâ€“dough in six different colors and flavors, and a ripe infestation of little boys.
They all dressed alike, these boys. Sweaty baseball caps covering a head of hair rarely touched by comb or shampoo. Striped shirts stained with purple jelly and tuna fish. Jeans worn for so many days that they could stand alone. Mismatched soccer socks and tennis shoes held together with spit and a prayer. Two of them, David and Kevin, belonged to me. But the rest somehow tunneled in after dark looking for food, help with homework, a mean game of Uno, or someone to be grossed out by their Garbage Pail Kids Cards.
Since I was the only stayâ€“atâ€“home mom, I was, by default, also room mother. This year I volunteered for Kevinâ€™s fourth grade class. His teacher, Mr. Sullivan, earned high boy-approval points after he got annoyed with all the little girls bringing Cabbage Patch dolls to class. He tried warning the girls, calling their parents, and assigning detention. Nothing worked. Every girl in class lugged their dolls along. Finally, he arrested the dolls, convicted them, and then hanged them from the ceiling with a noose around their soft little dolly necks. The dead dolls and their nooses, clearly visible though the classroom windows, caused a minor school controversy. Parents protested. The principal ignored it. The boys cheered. The girls learned to leave their dolls a home where they belonged.
My infestation of boys assured me that Mr. Sullivan would never approve a Valentineâ€™s Day party, even though Valentineâ€™s Day fell on a Friday that year. Mr. Sullivan was way cool. Valentineâ€™s were girly and pink and had cooties and no way Mr. Sullivan would want a part of all that.
But there were rules:
1. Everyone in class had to bring Valentines.
2. Homemade ones were nicer that store bought ones.
3. Everyone got a Valentine. No exceptions. No complaining.
I typed up a list of all the students in the class and made sure everyone got the list. A few days before the party, Mr. Sullivan taught an art class that featured paper folding and cutting to make hearts (and the mathematics of symmetry happened for free). I helped with the glue and the glitter and the math. Students also decorated shoe boxes with slits cut into the top to receive their cards. At the end of the lesson, the kids were invited to take home extra supplies if they wanted to make their own Valentines. A very neat way, I thought, to let students who couldnâ€™t afford the material accept help without embarrassment.
My infestation of boys complained about Valentineâ€™s Day to me every chance they got.
â€œDo we have to give Brandy and Tiffany a Valentine?â€
â€œBut theyâ€™re really gross.â€
â€œDo you have to make all the cookies heart shaped?â€
â€œWill the punch be pink?â€
â€œIt will be now.â€
â€œAh, man. Canâ€™t we have Dirt with Worms like we did for Halloween?â€
â€œCan we play Headsâ€“ up Sevenâ€“up?
The Valentineâ€™s party went off without a hitch. The boys gobbled up the heart cookies even with the pink icing and pinker sprinkles. They laughed over the sayings on the Sweetheart candies. They didnâ€™t complain too much when a girl won Heads-up Sevenâ€“ up.
Finally, they opened the boxes with all the Valentines. Everyone had a huge pile, even Mr. Sullivan. Girls giggled and carefully tore the ends of the envelopes noting who signed each one. Boys ripped them apart looking for more candy. In the midst of this chaos, Freddie Farkis stood up and shouted, â€œNo fair. No one gave, Mrs. Donley a Valentine.â€
The noise level dropped to near silence. I heard the clock ticking, a piece of paper rustling and the sharp inhale from Mr. Sullivan.
Every child in that room stared at the teacher. His eyes were wide with panic. His mouth opened and closed in rapid succession as if he were a fish gasping for water. A sudden flush spread up the side of his neck and colored the tips of his ears hot pink.
Either Brandy or Tiffany sobbed, â€œWe broke the rule. We broke the rules.â€
â€œMoms donâ€™t need Valentines,â€ I said.
â€œYes, they do. Everyone needs a Valentine.â€ Freddie turned to Mr. Sullivan. â€œYou said everyone needs a Valentine.â€
â€œDonâ€™t worry, Freddie. Mr. Donley will get me a Valentine.â€ I glance around the room. The girls seemed happy with that solution and smiled at me. Mr. Sullivan cleared his throat a few times and nodded his head as if he, himself, had arranged for Mr. Donley to give me a Valentine. The infestation of boys was not happy. They all folded their arms across their chests. They ignored their candy and cookies.
Freddieâ€™s eyes narrowed, and I knew he would try to argue some more when the bell rang signaling the end of school. Mr. Sullivan snapped out of his panic and clapped his hand. â€œLetâ€™s get this room cleaned up. Itâ€™s time to go home.â€
Students packed their backpack with their holiday loot and dribbled out of the room in groups of two or three.
I stayed after to help.
â€œThat was embarrassing,â€ Mr. Sullivan said when the last child left the room. He picked up chairs and placed them on the desks so the janitors could clean the room. â€œI am so sorry.â€
â€œI typed up the list. It never occurred to me to put my name on it.â€ I dumped cookie crumbs into the trash can and emptied cups of punch into the sink.
â€œIâ€™m going to have to figure out something for Monday.â€ He turned off the lights and picked up his briefcase and keys.
â€œDonâ€™t worry about it. Theyâ€™ll have forgotten all about it by the time they get to the crosswalk.â€ I stashed my supplies in my box, picked up my purse and headed to the kindergarten room to collect my daughter.
My daughter, Stephanie, her buddies Christian and Jan, Christianâ€™s mom who worked swing shift at the phone company, were waiting for me by the kindergarten door. â€œThose hoodlum boys didnâ€™t wait for us,â€ Jan said as we started walking home. â€œThey ran out of here like rats off a sinking ship. Whatâ€™s up?â€
â€œSugar high,â€ I suggested as I looked around for my own sons. â€œYour brothers didnâ€™t wait?â€ I asked Stephanie.
â€œThey went to Freddieâ€™s,â€ she said. â€œI told them they better wait. Are they going to get in trouble?â€
Before I could answer both David and Kevin ran up. â€œCan we go to Freddieâ€™s?â€ They asked in unison.
â€œWill his mom or dad be home?â€ I asked.
They looked at each other, shrugged, kicked the ground and with great care did not look at me.
â€œNo parents. No way.â€
â€œPlease. Pretty, please. With sugar on top.â€
â€œSorry, guys. When we get home, you can call Freddie and find out when his folks will be home. You can go over then.â€
â€œHis sisterâ€™s there. She goes to junior high.â€
â€œNot happening,â€ I said.
They grumbled as we walked down C Street. They argued as we turned on Sycamore Ave. They tried bribery all the way down Alfredo Street and into our driveway.
Where we were greeted by the entire infestation of boys. They were hanging in the tree. Lounging on the front poach. Rolling in the grass.
Freddie stood in the middle of the herd, a grubby brown paper bag in one hand and the handle bars of his bike in the other.
â€œHere,â€ he said thrusting the paper bag into my hands.
â€œWhat is it?â€ I asked.
â€œWe traded. We traded our Valentines with my sister.â€ Freddie didnâ€™t look at me as I opened the bag. Inside I found one of those small bottles halfâ€“filled with turquoise blowing bubble solution. The bottle was strung on a long black string making a necklace.
â€œItâ€™s your Valentine,â€ he said as he got on his bike. â€œEveryone gets a Valentine.â€
He rode off before I could get the necklace around my neck. But the other boys watched as I unscrewed the slightly tarnished cap and blew bubbles all over my front yard.
â€œThank you, Freddie,â€ I yelled to the quickly disappearing little boy. â€œThis is the best Valentine Iâ€™ve ever received.â€
Iâ€™ve been wearing that necklace every Valentineâ€™s Day for twenty years.
OCC/RWA Web Editor
By Brandy Stewart
I remember the exact moment I asked God for a hero. It was 1998 and I was lying in bed watching a handsome, charming and extremely well-endowed marine put his pants on. Itâ€™s not that he wasnâ€™t fun- he was. He was a great guy, and I loved him in a way, but it wasnâ€™t THE way. I knew it wasnâ€™t THE way, because I had him believing I loved hockey, g-strings and sex in hallways. He thought I slept in full makeup, and needed only three hours of sleep a night. This was not the stuff of deep, romantic connection.
I didnâ€™t trust him with my true self: the girl who prefers books to hockey, sex in beds and grannie underpants that donâ€™t ride up. The girl with blackheads and flat hair. Both girls kissed the marine goodbye and stared at the ceiling.
â€œGod, I need a hero. Someone who gets me. Someone who not only gets me, but loves the real me, dark roots and all.â€ I finished with a promise: â€œI swear, no more men until he shows up.â€ With that heavy pronouncement, I got up out of bed and put my clothes on. It was two oâ€™clock on a Thursday, after all.
Fortunately God knows me well, and didnâ€™t test my resolve by making me wait too long. Two weeks later, after an awful day at work, I forced myself to attend a happy hour event sponsored by my alma mater. The bar was in the back of a Mexican restaurant, and my classmates were mingling at a bunch of tables crowded beneath a gaudy yellow chandelier.
The president of the local alumni chapter stood up to welcome me. Out of habit, I checked him out: younger than me, dark hair, well-dressed. I said something witty and charmingâ€¦
Of course I didnâ€™t. In a world-weary voice I said, â€œI need a drink.â€ Good host that he was, he smiled, and got me a drink. He had long fingers, like a musician. Dark hair, dark eyes, and the worldâ€™s longest eyelashes. Rolled-up sleeves bared strong forearms dusted with straight black hair. I remember wondering if he had it all over, or just on his forearms. But I tried not to pay too much attention because Iâ€™d sworn off men, remember?
So I had another margarita- on the rocks with salt, lots of salt, thank you very much- and left an hour later like a good girl. As I was leaving, Mr. President promised to call me early the following week to play volleyball, a mutual interest. I couldnâ€™t make it, and we settled on my joining him at his next wine club event. â€œGuy friend,â€ I told myself. I couldnâ€™t bear to hope that he could be special. If he didnâ€™t pull down his pants in my living room or try to perform mouth to mouth in the first fifteen minutes of our date, he would be cautiously promoted to guy friend.
Well, he didnâ€™t commit either faux pas, but he did pull out a secret weapon at the end of our date. Poleaxed, flummoxed, a bowlful of jelly, that was me. He sideswiped me with something I was absolutely, positively, powerless to resist. I was Wonder Woman and he had myâ€¦ No, wait. Wonder Woman had no weaknesses.
I was Superman and he had my kryptonite. Actually, I was Tense Career Woman, and he had magic hands. Just before he walked out my door after our date, he moved in close behind me, put his hands on my shoulders and started to rub. And rub, and ease, and persuade every inch of tension to leave my body.
I swayed dangerously on my feet, and he caught me. He could have done just about anything at that moment and been forgiven for the gift of relaxation I didnâ€™t even know I needed. But do you know what he did? He left. I was draped in my doorway, nerve endings a-tingling, and vulnerable to seduction. But he left, and I was intrigued. And you know what?
Six years and two beautiful sons later, he still soothes me. Iâ€™m no longer Tense Career Woman, but sleep-deprived mommy of two, and the man still has the magic that keeps me his happy slave. His presence calms me, the scent of his skin clears my mind and his body is sanctuary from the rest of lifeâ€™s busy pace.
I know its love, the real thing, because I can trust him to accept me in all of my various forms. The two hundred pound pregnant woman didnâ€™t faze him. He has dodged â€˜Banshee-Meâ€™ in the throes of PMS; he listens patiently when I tell him how I reamed a sales clerk at the store when Iâ€™m sure heâ€™d rather be watching ice hockey on television. Iâ€™m not a bad wife, either. Heck, I offer sexual favors for household chores completed. I do my part.
Mr. President is now Mr. Husband, and he doesnâ€™t mind the granny underwear, as long as I pull out the good stuff on occasion too. He sees ME, the real me: the good, the bad, and the oh-so-ugly. And sometimes I donâ€™t believe him, but he says he loves all of those girls. What a miracle.
I thank God for him every day.