My husband doesn’t always say the right thing. Not that long ago when our Little Dude was sleeping four hours a night, he asked why we didn’t have clean towels. He sometimes makes honking sounds while I’m changing my shirt, or sings commercial ditties so that they’re about … well, potty humor.
Lucky for him, when he says the right thing, he really does it right.
This month, four years ago, I completed my first draft of Hot Tamara. Back then it had the very serious title of, “Her Mother’s Daughter.” Anyway, this was the first story of mine that I feared would get me into trouble with my family, my friends, and my then, brand new husband. It was so honest that I even considered holding onto it until certain people died.
But I let him read it because he had read everything of mine; from that awfully cliched screenplay I wrote in my senior year of college, up to the paranormal romance about a recovering alcoholic who could see ghosts. Even though he loved me and showered me with affection, he was no nonsense when it came to improving my writing … but in a nice way, of course.
So when I announced that it ready for him to read, he went for his red pen and took a seat at our dining room table. I handed him the manuscript and then disappeared into my office to await the verdict. I lasted three minutes.
When I ventured out, he was holding his head with both hands. The red pen lay neglected to the side. “What do you think?” I asked hesitantly.
I’ll never forget his face when he looked up from the manuscript. Tears were in his eyes and he said to me in an unsteady voice, “You did it, babe. This is going to be the one that’ll sell.”
For a year and a half during which this story went through several revisions, and was then rejected 17 times, he never lost that conviction. Those words sustained me back then, and right now, as I valiantly strive to meet my Feb. 15th deadline, I hear his voice when I worry my brain is no longer capable of original, much less coherent thought. So if I’m ever lucky enough to be honored with a Rita, I hope my words to him will show the depth of my gratitude for that one moment.
By Dana Diamond
I married Mr. Perfect.
Trust me, I hate me too. I mean, as I write this, heâ€™s bringing me homemade hash browns and scrambled cheddar-eggs in bed. And he doesnâ€™t even know Iâ€™m writing this! He did it Just Because!
But this is supposed to be about romance so I was wracking my brain trying to think of the most romantic thing heâ€™s ever done for me. But heâ€™s done so damn many romantic things, they all blend.
Itâ€™s not that Iâ€™m spoiled, well, maybe I am a little, but really, itâ€™s how do you decide which is the most exquisite rose from a perfect bouquet? Theyâ€™re all so magnificent, I couldnâ€™t possibly choose.
And, I guess, when you get down to it, the most romantic thing he ever did for me wasnâ€™t the gorgeous European rose arrangements he had delivered so often that the florist knew me by name. It wasnâ€™t the way he surprised me by proposing with my grandmotherâ€™s wedding band in the jewelry box that snapped opened with a press of a button like Iâ€™d dreamed of being proposed to with since childhood. Itâ€™s not the way he holds my hair and gets me water when Iâ€™m sick. And itâ€™s not the love notes he leaves on my pillow Just Because.
It was the way he wore me down.
See, he knew we were perfect for each other long before I did. Itâ€™s a long drawn-out story, but suffice it to say I was otherwise engaged when we met. And by the time we were both single, heâ€™d become such a good friend, I never wanted to â€œgo thereâ€ with him and ruin a great friendship. I know, total â€œduh!â€, but I was young and dumb. Iâ€™m human.
So one day, my brother says to me, â€œYouâ€™re gonna marry him.â€
And Iâ€™m like, â€œYouâ€™re on crack. I canâ€™t marry him. Heâ€™s my buddy.â€
â€œIâ€™m tellinâ€™ you. Heâ€™s gonna wear you down.â€
My brotherâ€™s not exactly the kinda guy to pay too close attention to relationships and girly things, but heâ€™d said it with such utter conviction that I couldnâ€™t forget it. Frankly, it creeped me out.
But he was right. Actually, now I cringe at the hell I put my husband through, poor baby. He listened on the phone when I excitedly told him about my engagement to another, he went to a surprise party for me that another boyfriend threw, he waited, he dated, he baked cookies with my two year old niece and told me it was funâ€¦while football was on!
So when I think of romance, itâ€™s not Mr. Gorgeous who looked hot on my arm or Mr. Gorgeous-Body who looked hot in the sack, or Mr. Bad-Ass who when my momâ€™s best friend found out I was dating him, she gasped, or Mr. East-Coast-Prep who took me great places and chauffered me around in his Porsche or Mr. Card-Carrying-Member-of-Mensa who was cerebrally sexy.
Donâ€™t get me wrong. They were fun and wonderful and they had their place. But itâ€™s the guy who isnâ€™t any one of those things, but is a little of all of them and more who gave me the romance I needed. It was sweet Mr. I-Will-Cherish-The-Hell-Out-Of-You-Until-My-Dying-Day that I wanted to come home toâ€¦my Mr. Perfect-For-Me.
Thatâ€™s what I want for the little girls in my life. When they grow up, I hope they too will marry Mr. Perfect.
By Sandy Brown
My husband, Bob, is my ultimate hero. When I tell him this he acts embarrassed, but I can see the slight puffing up of his chest. Whenever Iâ€™m writing and need to figure out how my hero should react to a given situation, all I have to do is think of Bob. For thirty-three years heâ€™s been by my side supporting me when Iâ€™m down, laughing with me when Iâ€™m up.
Bob will be the first to admit that he was not blessed with a silver tongue, but there are occasions when he manages, seemingly without his knowledge, to say something that simply melts me. Looking back over the years I can think of many incidents when heâ€™s shown his love for me through word or deed. One time sticks out in my mind, though, because of its poignancy and timing.
A few years ago, I was diagnosed with three aneurysms on the carotid arteries in my head. Any surgery is frightening, but knowing they are going to drill through your skull and move your brain around to reach the aneurysms is completely terrifying.
Thereâ€™s something about having three brain surgeries within five months that defines your life afterwards. Everything is divided into pre-aneurysms and post-aneurysms.
I have to tell you by the end of that five month time span I was pretty well worn out. The length of the recovery period and the exhaustion factor is unbelievable. Plusâ€”put this image in your mindâ€”my hair was shaved in a two-inch swath on both sides of my head from the center of my forehead down to the tops of my ears. I certainly did not look like our typical heroine. Unless, of course, youâ€™re writing Goth! The half-shaved look might fit into that frame.
Bob sat by my bed in the hospital everyday, all day. Each time I opened my eyes there he was letting me know by the strength of his presence that everything was okay.
One day after I came home I must have been feeling blue, because I remember Bob looking at me with that expression of tender love men can get when they donâ€™t realize it. He said, â€œYou know, honey, I thought I was losing you. But, every time you opened your eyes in the hospital and saw me, you always smiled. That was the most beautiful sight Iâ€™ve ever seen.â€
Wow! It gives me goose bumps just retelling my story! Is it any wonder that I love to write Romance when I live every day of my life with Bob, my ultimate hero?
Ways & Means Director, 2006
Everything I know about love, I learned from a letter my grandpa wrote to my grandma during World War II.
Well, today is VE Day. I am glad that much is overâ€¦ There is no celebrating here. We had a parade and several speeches today, but no shouting. Everyone is restricted to the post until things quiet down. I think everyone should wait and celebrate when the whole thing is done…
Henry â€œHankâ€ Shellenbarger was a big John Wayne of a man. A bomber pilot, the Army recruited him to teach others how to fly. Helen Mary Shellenbarger was a teacher â€“ a college-educated woman far ahead of her time.
As I knew them, they were always old, always wise. Grandpa could take one look at the sky and tell you if it was going to snow that night. He could build or fix anything, including our first house. Grandma kept a stash of every grandchildâ€™s favorite treat in her pantry. She had a saying for every situation, a collection of old colloquialisms she picked up in her youth. Most of the time, I had no idea what they meant, like when something got lost, it â€œwent the way of the rug.â€
When I got old enough to understand, I would beg Grandpa to tell me about the war. Was he a hero? Did he ever get hurt? Could I be a pilot, too? One day he answered with his silence. He got out of his well-worn rocking chair and went into his bedroom. A moment later, he came out, his hand closed tightly. He told me to hold out my hand, and I obeyed. In it, he placed a tarnished set of Army Air Corps wings.
â€œNow you can be a pilot,â€ he said.
It never occurred to me to ask Grandma about the war until college. I interviewed her for a history class term paper, and being a natural writer, I used her answers to craft a creative narrative of a woman struggling on the home front.
It wasnâ€™t until after I discovered the letter in Grandmaâ€™s dresser drawer â€“ neatly creased inside a yellowed envelope along with a single dog-tag â€“ that I realized I had asked both of them all the wrong questions.
They are moving the whole engineering training school to some other field. We donâ€™t know where for sure but it looks like Shepherd Fieldâ€¦ Donâ€™t worry. I will still be in the same program, just in a different place.
Grandpa died in June 1997. The day he passed, the entire family gathered at their home in the small farming town where I grew up. One by one, we filed into the bedroom, where he lay in a hospice bed, to say good-bye. And one by one, we all cried. But not Grandma. Not that day.
She didnâ€™t cry in front of us until she viewed him for the first time in his casket. I hung back and watched as Grandma moved toward the front of the room. She stared for a moment and then reached out her hand. She placed hers over his. And then she began to cry.
â€œOh my Hank, my Hank,â€ she sobbed.
Before my eyes, she was transformed. She wasnâ€™t my grandma anymore, and he was no longer my grandpa. Instead, I saw them as they were fifty years earlier, a young couple passionately in love. A young couple about to be separated by war and distance.
I miss you and love you very much, sweetheart. I am glad we are going to have the baby. I guess Iâ€™ll read and go to sleep.
Today, I hang onto Grandpaâ€™s wings and the letter. Grandma hangs on to his heart.
Louise Knott Ahern is a freelance journalist and public relations coach who writes contemporary romances. Sheâ€™s the author of â€œOpting Out: A Career Womanâ€™s Guide to Going Home Without Going Crazy,â€ a blog for mothers at www.optoutguide.blogspot.com. She is also a contributor to The Writerâ€™s Vibe (www.thewritersvibe.typepad.com), a blog for professional writers.
By Gillian Doyle
Rubye Freeman looked more like Cinderella’s fairy godmother than the mailroom lady at a factory. Sweet-faced, gray-haired, rolly-polly Rubye may not have worn a long blue gown or waved a magical wand, but the mischievous twinkle in her eyes should have given me a clue.
One summer break from college, I took a job at a temp agency, filling in for a sick clerk in that same mailroom. My first day, I looked up from sorting mail to see a man filling the doorway with his broad shoulders. As he entered the room, his russet-blond hair brushed the top of the door despite his slight bow to clear it. My hands stilled. My mouth went dry. His thick wavy hair curled over the white collar of his oxford shirt. Unlike the other executives in traditional dark business suits, he wore a buckskin suede jacket with the required necktie and dark slacks. No brown wingtips for him, though. Only cowboy boots make that distinctive heel strike on the hardwood floor in the slow stride of Gary Cooper in High Noon.
But did he notice me? Hardly. This young executive was out of my league.
Little did I realize that Rubye thought otherwise. She had a soft spot for Donald, as she called him even though he was Don to everyone else. He had started as her assistant a few years earlier, and he still liked to stop by the mailroom to see if there was anything she needed. When he came around, he charmed her with the quiet impeccable manners of a real gentleman. With that slow half-smile, he was her soft-spoken knight-in-shining-armor, running errands for her on his lunch hour, lifting boxes too heavy for her to manage, stocking the higher shelves in the supply room, dropping by after he’d clocked out so he could help her finish her own work.
I struggled between mute gawking (when he wasn’t looking) and joking with him as if he was just another friend of my brothers. Growing up a tomboy, I was more comfortable as the gal-pal to all the guys. I was far from being a statuesque brunette capable of winning the affections of Mr. Marlboro Man in the Mailroom.
After a few days, the regular clerk was ready to return to work and I moved on to another temp job. A month later, I was called back, specifically requested by Rubye. I was not only flattered– I truly enjoyed working for her– but I was also looking forward to another opportunity to secretly fantasize about that tall urban cowboy.
But that seemed to be as far as it would ever go….pure fantasy. Oh, I had a few hopeful moments, like when he stuck his head into the mailroom at lunch time and asked if I wanted a bite to eat. Was he asking me out? No, he and another guy were going to pick up burgers and would bring one back for me if I was hungry. Oh geez…he was only offering to feed the hired help. Or, as he liked to refer to me “Rent-a-Girl”.
One afternoon Rubye asked me to retrieve a five-gallon jug of Sparkletts from the warehouse. I was in a dress and high heels and had no idea where to find the warehouse. No problem, she assured me. She had asked Donald to drive me. Minutes later, I followed him out of the air-conditioned building and into blistering July heat where the bright Southern California sun bubbled the black asphalt parking lot. I stopped dead in my tracks when he escorted me to a brand-spanking-new blue fastback Mustang Mach I. Oh, Lordy…(Should I mention that I was a sucker for guys with hot cars? Shameless, I know. But to be fair, I had fallen hard before I knew about his car, okay?)
Still, the feeling did not appear to be mutual. Oh, he did take me out to lunch eventually…at Jack In The Box. I joked about being a cheap date, even though I knew it wasn’t a real date. Feeding the Rent-A-Girl, remember? I must’ve bruised his gentlemanly ego because he invited me to lunch again. This time it was a local bar that served lunch for the workers at the surrounding industries. (Hey, what did you expect, a five-star restaurant nestled among the factories?) Unfortunately, when he ordered a drink, I had to admit I was not yet twenty-one. I was sure that my admission of being underage had slammed the door on any potential romance with this older guy.
My last day on the job was Friday the Thirteenth. As (bad) luck would have it, there was no invitation to lunch. So I spent my free hour driving to the bank to deposit my paycheck. On the way back, a car ran a red light. I don’t know how he missed me by mere inches. Back in the mailroom, I was shaky but lucky to be alive. If only I could have a bit of that same luck in regard to a certain cowboy, I thought to myself.
With only an hour left till the whistle blew, Rubye came out of her office to say goodbye. Patting my hand, she said, “I left my appointment calendar open on my desk. I want you to write your name and phone number on today’s date.”
I assumed she wanted my number for future temp jobs. She’d already said as much. But she added, “If Donald doesn’t ask you out by the end of work today, I’m going to tell him on Monday to check my calendar for his mileage. I keep track of his errands so he is compensated for the gas. And it’s about time for him to do that again.”
I felt my face burn with embarrassment. “He doesn’t even like me.”
She only smiled with that mischievous twinkle in her eyes. “Let me take care of that.”
But Rubye didn’t have to send Donald to her calendar on Monday. As I gathered my things and prepared to leave, I heard the distinctive sound of his boot heels. I turned and found myself staring at the center of his broad chest. I craned my neck to look up at him. Lord almighty he was a tall drink of water.
With that sexy half-smile lifting one corner of his mouth, he gave a casual shrug. I honestly thought he was about to give me one of those Hollywood lines like, “It was nice knowin’ ya, kid.”
Instead, he said, “There’s a John Denver concert this Sunday….”
Many years later, a package arrived in the mail with a postmark from Washington state where Rubye had moved to live next door to her only daughter and family. Inside was a bundle of letters tied with a blue ribbon, accompanied by a note. Rubye had passed away in her sleep, her daughter wrote. Among her things were my cards and letters sent over the years. Her daughter told me that Rubye had cherished them. As my tears fell unchecked, I reverently untied the ribbon and went through each and every card, the invitation to our wedding that Rubye had attended, the birth announcements of our baby girl, then our baby boy, their photos from each year of school, the graduation announcements.
Near or far, Rubye had watched over Don and me and our little family throughout the years, our real-life fairy godmother…Always and forever.
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