Liz Cooper rushed around her apartment collecting everything she should have assembled last night: towels, sunscreen, hat, glasses. She thought she’d have more time this morning. And she would have, if she hadn’t hit the snooze alarm so many times that it shut off for good.
Today she was seeing Kathleen, her best friend since first grade, who had the nerve to marry a great guy who swept her out of Orange County and all the way north to Seattle. While her great guy sweltered at a convention in Atlanta, Kath had taken a bungalow for a week at Huntington Beach. Liz planned to spend all day Saturday with Kath and her three kids. Or what was left of Saturday, after the 30-mile drive to the beach.
Liz glanced around her apartment and quickly confirmed that she was ready to leave. As she slid her half-read novel into the outside pocket of her tote, the phone rang. She grabbed it on the second ring.
“Oh, Liz, you haven’t left yet.” Kath sounded harried. But with three kids under age nine, she always sounded that way.
“Sorry, I’m running late. I’ll be there.”
“No, this is great. My brother called and I need you to pick him up.”
“Pick him up?”
“Oh, didn’t I tell you he’s coming to the beach with us today? The kids haven’t seen Uncle Joey in, like, forever.”
“Joey’s coming with us?” She remembered Kathleen’s bratty brother. The thing about kid brothers was that there was no reason to let them live. When Joey wasn’t releasing captured reptiles into Kath’s bedroom while they played, he was invading Barbie and Ken’s wedding with his army of Imperial Storm Troopers.
“Look, if you want to make this just family . . .”
“Don’t be silly. The kids want to see you and they want to see Joey. You haven’t seen him in years! This’ll be fun!” Kath gushed.
Liz doubted she’d find Joey all that fun, but for Kath and the kids’ sake, she agreed to pick him up. She wrote down the directions to his place, packed her gear and took off.
Before she reached Joey’s address, she saw a tall guy in trunks and T-shirt, dark glasses and carrying a gym bag, standing halfway into her lane. Kath must have told him about her car, because he waved her over with a “Hey, Liz!”
This couldn’t be little Joey. How long since she’d seen him? Seven years, at least. The brat had grown over six feet tall, with muscles filling out those scrawny little arms. The perpetually shaggy dark hair was cut somewhere between military short and businessman sleek. She guessed those three years in the Army did him good. But he’s still Kath’s kid brother, and she had a long memory for his disruptive antics.
“Thanks for the lift.” He tossed the gym bag into the back and folded himself into the passenger seat.
Liz answered noncommittally and headed for the freeway.
They were only 30 miles from the beach, but there was no easy route. The freeway gave way to surface streets, and apparently everyone else was driving to the coast today. She kept the radio turned up just loud enough so that they didn’t have to talk much. But after yet another driver cut in front and forced her to brake quickly, Liz let out a colorful description of what that driver could do to himself.
“Hey, relax, Liz,” Joey said. “We don’t have a deadline.”
“I”ve been running late all day.”
“What do you mean?’
Joey laughed. “You were always late. Late to school, late to graduation, late to your own wedding.”
Liz glared at him.
“Oh, I guess that’s something we can’t talk about.” He nonchalantly glanced out the window.
“My wedding? I should have been even later and missed it altogether. Talk about mismatched couples.”
“So it’s over?”
“It’s definitely over. Three years now.”
Joey turned his gaze back to the road. The radio was almost loud enough mask his quick “Good.”
The traffic cleared and Liz hit the gas. The car lurched forward then rattled to a stop as the engine died. She turned the key, and the engine rolled over and over, but didn’t catch.
“Damn.” The honking began a few cars back.
“I think it’s dead,” Liz muttered.
Joey opened his door and hopped out. The honking intensified. “Let’s get off this road.”
With him pushing and her steering, they rolled the lifeless car out of traffic. It glided to a stop on a side street, right in front of an auto shop that looked the least greasy of several lining the road. Liz popped the hood and looked over the engine compartment. She’d hoped she’d find a loose wire or a big switch that said “flip me,” but no such luck.
Liz backed away from the car and crashed into Joey. She whirled around to apologize and found herself just inches away from the guy. He took off his dark glasses and his eyes were oh-so-green. Green like nothing she’d seen in nature. Green like the bottles that hold the most premium beer available. Green and full of mischief, the good kind. The fun and sexy kind. He smiled and ohmigod! he still has dimples. They look so different on his all-grown-up face. So kissable.
Before she could say or do anything that would embarrass her for life, a mechanic came out from the repair shop to see if they needed help. Liz explained the car’s symptoms, got an estimate and handed over the key. The mechanic directed them to a waiting room filled with mismatched plastic chairs, vending machines and a coffeemaker that smelled like it had been heating the same inch of tar-like brew for hours. Joey headed to the soda machine with a handful of change. Liz plopped into a chair and worked to banish her earlier thoughts. Yeah, Joey’s cute, but he’s Kath’s kid brother, and the thing about kid brothers was that they were put on this earth to annoy older sisters and their friends, no matter how hunky they grew up.
Joey handed her a diet soda and took the chair next to her. He popped the tab on his root beer and kept his gaze on her as he drank down the can in one gulp.
Liz popped open her soda. “Sorry. I should have told you the car’s a piece of crap. My alumni association wants my license-plate frame back.”
Joey just smiled.
What does that mean? Liz wondered. She took a deep breath to keep from babbling, as she knew she would given the chance.
“I’ll put in a word for you. I belong to the same alumni association.”
“What do you think I’ve been doing since I got out of the Army?”
Come to think of it, she did remember Kath saying something about Joey going to their alma mater. “What”s your degree?”
“Oh, that’s useful.”
He chucked and hook-shot his empty can into the recycling bin. “Actually, I just got accepted at the sheriff’s academy.”
Liz pictured him in a tan uniform and a shiny badge. A very nice image, indeed. She smiled. “Who could resist a man in uniform?”
Joey leaned closer. “I hope you can’t.” And he kissed her.
Liz started to resist, to explain all the reasons why they shouldn’t do this. And there must be a million reasons why they shouldn’t do this. Starting with …uh… Liz ignored all the objections that popped into her head and kissed him back. They could wait.
Joey eased out of the kiss and pressed his forehead against hers. “Nice.”
“You know,”she said, “I’m old enough to be your …”
“…Older sister. So? You’re not 30 yet, and it’s not like 25 is so young for me. Sounds just about right.
Liz grinned. He was right. The thing about kid brothers is that they grow up.
Before we announce the two runners up and the winner, the Orange County Chapter of RWA would like to thank Mary-Theresa Hussey, Executive Editor for Silhouette, for agreeing to judge this contest! Mary-Theresa is always gracious and generous with her time, expertise and talent to help out our chapter, which is why the Orange County Chapter of RWA awarded her the very first Helping Hand Award.
Thank you, Mary-Theresa Hussey!
And now it’s time to announce the two runners up and the winner. Starting with the runners up first…
The 2nd Runner Up is…
MR. PERFECT by Dana Diamond!
The 1st Runner up is…
ROMANCE HEROES; ALWAYS THERE WHEN YOU NEED THEM by Michelle Thorne!
And now the winner is…
FAIRY TALES DO COME TRUE by Gillian Doyle!
Thank you all for submitting and reading the blogs, and for making the 25 Days of Romance a success! FAIRY TALES DO COME TRUE by Gillian Doyle will be recorded as a pod cast and the link to that will be posted on the OCC/RWA website by Saturday, March 25th.
A Slice of Orange is closing the 25 Days of Romance Contest by bringing you a Bonus Blog from Maureen Child. We plan to announce the winner of the contest on March 6th. Thank you all!
On Valentine’s Day, my daughter Sarah called on her drive home from work. We usually get a lot of chatting done while she’s stuck on the freeway and that day was no different. Of course, the conversation turned to Valentine’s Day and she asked me if her father had given me the box of See’s Bordeaux that has become tradition in our house. When I assured her he had, she said, “Your sweetheart always comes through, doesn’t he?”
It wasn’t until much later that I realized how true her statement really was.
Mark and I were married when we were kids (although we were not twelve as Sarah insists) and we’ve been married a long time. We sort of grew up together and I can honestly say that even when he makes me nuts, I’m still nuts about him.
Nothing shakes Mark. Where I’m volatile and explosive, he’s steady and quiet (not that he gets much chance to talk around me). He’s the patient one and I’m the one most likely to erupt like some long dormant volcano suddenly springing to life when everyone least expects it. We were a team when the kids were little and now that they’re grown we’re still a team. The team we were when we first started out. And it’s even more fun this time.
Mark is the rock in my world. I’ve always been able to count on him. When my car breaks down in the worst possible place at the worst possible time, I know I can call him and he’l ride to the rescue. When I’m feeling like the world is crashing down around me, he makes me laugh like no one else ever has. When I’m on deadline, he listens to me whine. When I’m obsessing about a new book, he never asks what I’m doing as I stare blankly into space.
And back when I was sure I’d never sell a book, Mark always believed in me.
Romance isn’t just the stuff we write books about’the first flush of love, the excitement charging the air. It’s also about being there for someone every day. It’s about laughing together over jokes no one else will ever understand. It’s about holding hands in the movies and dancing in the kitchen.
It’s about always coming through.
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.”
I’ve always had a good track record among my friends for dating losers. I spent all of my teens and 20’s perfecting this gift. Every guy I dated was potentially Mr. Right and I would try the idea of “forever” on to see how it fit, which it never did.
Finally, the day came when I turned 35. I’d broken up with the last Mr. Right and was moaning about the years that I’d wasted. 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. 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 date—whichever came first.
I threw myself into Speed Dating, often having as many as four “first dates” in one week (completely exhausting, I don’t recommend it). I was excited that these men shared so many desirable characteristics in a first date, 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 wasn’t the case, just hadn’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, I’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 dating chatter. I had forgotten completely about the pact to date only by Committee when my girlfriend, who’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. “Hi, I’m her girlfriend Mary. How are you?” And she proceeded to pepper the man with questions.
What do you do? Oh, a Computer Guy! Uh-huh. Great! Jen works in computers!
Where do you live? Oh, Newport Beach, close by! Great!
How old are you? Forty-four? (She gave him a suspicious stare.)
Have you ever been married?
Really, 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 she’s got a grip like a pit bull.)
How do you feel about pets? Oh, you’re afraid of dogs? Well, cause she has a dog, but Hoshi’s a really nice dog. She really likes men, Hoshi, not Jen. Well, I mean Jen likes men too. Anyway, you guys will do great!
What kind of dog? An Akita.
And on it went. Newport Steve stood up to the Inquisition, 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 couldn’t figure out how he “just knew.”
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.
“What did you wish for on your birthday?” I asked, referring to the birthday he had right before we met.
He looked in my eyes for a moment before he answered. “I wished for you,” he said. “I’m pretty sure your mom heard me from Heaven and pulled a few strings.”
I started crying, right there in the middle of the restaurant, and I felt my mother’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. Maybe, practice trials to help me truly appreciate the man that my mom “picked out.” Evidently, she’d been on the Committee the whole time.
Newport Steve is now My Steve, and I can’t imagine my life without him.
Jen Crooks writes women’s fiction, chick lit and short stories as Jenny Hansen. She has been a member of OCC since 2001 and has served on OCC’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.
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