A Slice of Orange


The Proof is in my iPod

February 14, 2006 by in category Archives tagged as

By Michele Cwiertny

December 1, 1988. I’d bolted upright in my bed before the alarm shrieked and knew, just knew, that on December 1st my life was going to change. I had no reason to assume that day would be any different than the rest. And I can’t explain how I’d come to this conclusion. I just did.

Giddiness carried me through the school day.

Everywhere I turned–in the halls, in the quad, in the gym, by the lockers–I hoped to discover who, or even what, would rock my world enough to waken me before my bedside alarm startled me to consciousness. Believe me, not just anything or anyone could accomplish such a feat. Seriously.

But I tucked myself into bed that night, confused and defeated. Nothing had changed.

Closing my eyes, I decided to forget the whole thing. I’d been acting ridiculous and merely chocked it up to an over-active imagination. Life was the same as ever. And I just wanted to make it through my senior year, relatively unscathed.

So, I did just that.

The following year, I’d just taken a retail job at a mall. My second day on the job, in walks this guy about six feet tall and around twenty-years-old. His hair: dark and spiky. His eyes: hazel. His fingers: long and slender. He wore all black and carried a portfolio. An artist.

Oh, man. An artist. I was hooked.

As I stood behind the cash-wrap, staring at him, he flicked a glance at me and smiled.

All I could do was pray I was returning his smile.

Without stopping, he proceeded through the store and into the back room. A co-worker. Woo-Hoo!

Each time we spoke over the next few days, we became closer. Soon, I found I looked forward to going to work at the mall–even the day after Thanksgiving!–just so I could get to know him better.

He was different than any other guy I’d met. He made me laugh.

About a week and a half later, I woke up before dawn and resolved that was the day to make my move. Our store’s holiday party would be coming up soon and I wanted to go with him, but I had to act quickly because two other girls from work made it perfectly clear they wanted to go out with him, too. And I was the newcomer.

Definitely a monumental decision for me, as I’d never had the courage or confidence to ask a guy on a date–shyness had nearly crippled me in high school.

That evening, I was at the register, and even through the crush of holiday shoppers, I knew the moment he entered the store.

He came straight over to me and waited while I finished helping a customer.

Then he stepped up to the glass counter, and said, “Here. I have something for you.”

A cassette. He was giving me something? I didn’t know what to say, except, “Thanks.”

“It’s a mix of songs I like. Thought you would, too.”

A mixed tape meant a guy really liked you, right? A familiar giddiness built inside me as I studied the cassette. For Michele was scrawled across the top. Even spelled my name right.

I swallowed back my excitement, and this time, I didn’t even need to summon the courage to lean in closer to him. “Do you want to go to the Christmas party with me?”

He flashed me a smile. “Yeah, I do.”

Just then, a customer barreled toward us and dumped her purchases next to the register. She pulled open her checkbook and asked, “Do you know the date?”

“It’s December 1st,” I answered, too happy to care that she’d interrupted such an important moment.

And that was when it hit me. December 1st. The day my life was going to change.

As I rang up the woman’s purchase, I sent him a sidelong glance.

He stood off to the side and waited for me.

And this time, I know I smiled.

Okay, so my life-changing moment happened a year later. I just needed to be patient.

This past December 1st, he walked into our house after work, concealing something behind his back.

“Here. I have something for you,” he said.

When I held out my hand, he presented me with an iPod. “I filled it with your favorite songs.”

Reminding me all over again why I love him.

So when friends ask me whether my husband and I still feel the romance, even after thirteen years of marriage, I grin.

“Oh, yeah,” I tell them. “The proof is in my iPod.”

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Michele Cwiertny

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February 13, 2006 by in category Archives tagged as

By Mary Castillo

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.

Mary Castillo
Author of HOT TAMARA, Cosmo’s Red Hot Read April 05
and coming in March 06, IN BETWEEN MEN
Please visit http://www.marycastillo.com/ or http://www.marycastillo.blogspot.com/

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I Married Mr. Perfect

February 12, 2006 by in category Archives tagged as

By Dana Diamond

I married Mr. Perfect.

Trust me, I hate me too. I mean, as I write this, he’s bringing me homemade hash browns and scrambled cheddar-eggs in bed. And he doesn’t even know I’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 he’s ever done for me. But he’s done so damn many romantic things, they all blend.

It’s not that I’m spoiled, well, maybe I am a little, but really, it’s how do you decide which is the most exquisite rose from a perfect bouquet? They’re all so magnificent, I couldn’t possibly choose.

And, I guess, when you get down to it, the most romantic thing he ever did for me wasn’t the gorgeous European rose arrangements he had delivered so often that the florist knew me by name. It wasn’t the way he surprised me by proposing with my grandmother’s wedding band in the jewelry box that snapped opened with a press of a button like I’d dreamed of being proposed to with since childhood. It’s not the way he holds my hair and gets me water when I’m sick. And it’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. It’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, he’d become such a good friend, I never wanted to “go there” with him and ruin a great friendship. I know, total “duh!”, but I was young and dumb. I’m human.

So one day, my brother says to me, “You’re gonna marry him.”

And I’m like, “You’re on crack. I can’t marry him. He’s my buddy.”

“I’m tellin’ you. He’s gonna wear you down.”

My brother’s not exactly the kinda guy to pay too close attention to relationships and girly things, but he’d said it with such utter conviction that I couldn’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 fun…while football was on!

So when I think of romance, it’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 mom’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.

Don’t get me wrong. They were fun and wonderful and they had their place. But it’s the guy who isn’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 to…my Mr. Perfect-For-Me.

That’s what I want for the little girls in my life. When they grow up, I hope they too will marry Mr. Perfect.

Dana Diamond

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My Ultimate Hero

February 11, 2006 by in category Archives tagged as

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 I’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 he’s been by my side supporting me when I’m down, laughing with me when I’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 he’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.

There’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. Plus—put this image in your mind—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, you’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 don’t realize it. He said, “You 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 I’ve ever seen.”

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?

Sandy Brown
Ways & Means Director, 2006

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Everything I Know About Love…

February 10, 2006 by in category Archives tagged as

By Louise Knott Ahern

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 over… 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 “Hank” 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 – 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 grandchild’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 “went the way of the rug.”

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.

“Now you can be a pilot,” 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 wasn’t until after I discovered the letter in Grandma’s dresser drawer – neatly creased inside a yellowed envelope along with a single dog-tag – 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 don’t know where for sure but it looks like Shepherd Field… Don’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 didn’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.

“Oh my Hank, my Hank,” she sobbed.

Before my eyes, she was transformed. She wasn’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 I’ll read and go to sleep.
Forever Yours,

Today, I hang onto Grandpa’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. She’s the author of “Opting Out: A Career Woman’s Guide to Going Home Without Going Crazy,” a blog for mothers at www.optoutguide.blogspot.com. She is also a contributor to The Writer’s Vibe (www.thewritersvibe.typepad.com), a blog for professional writers.

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