Never ever take yourself too seriously
Pressing send, Peggy sent her latest draft to her editor and felt the familiar separation anxiety. Elated that she had completed her manuscript, scared that it wouldn’t be liked or nobody would want to read it. After her husband Jeffery passed away almost Three years ago Peggy had given up the travel agency that they had owned, it just seemed like it was too much work and just didn’t seem to be worth while with Jeffery gone.
She started writing travel articles and a couple of travel books. She was glad to find something that she loved that she could also make a living doing. Her grandmother had left her a small house in Idaho Springs Colorado, which she used as a “Home base” from her travels. Peggy remembered spending summers with her grandmother here when she was growing up. She had always loved the small town feel of the Idaho Springs with the closeness of the skiing and just a short drive to everything to do in Denver.
Sitting back in her desk chair, she missed Jeffery more at times like this. Had he been here they would have both gotten dressed to the nines and driven to Denver for a celebration. Looking at the clock she decided to rethink that idea. It just didn’t seem worth the effort of all that work to celebrate on her own. If she started now she wouldn’t be back until the wee hours of the morning. Working most of the day had left her emotionally spent, getting enough energy to do a really big night on the town was beyond her.
The grumbling in her stomach made her realize that even if she didn’t do the whole heels and hairdo thing she needed to make some kind of move for food. Checking the refrigerator and cabinet she was faced with the decision either go to the store and cook or go to Ron’s Place. Ron’s was a local hang out and she enjoyed going even if it was in jeans and a sweat shirt. Still running with the feeling of completing her latest project she decided a little celebration at the restaurant would be well warranted.
Walking into the restaurant she felt warm and welcome. Noticing that Todd was tending bar she walked up and shifted her slight frame onto the elevated bar stool. Seeing her struggle Todd made her feel even smaller by asking “Are you sure you are old enough to be in here young lady?” Todd’s greeting made her smile, he liked her smile. Most everybody who came here was a friend. Being in Idaho Springs, most of the year around residence knew each other. Everybody knew that Ron’s restaurant/bar was a friendly place to be.
She enjoyed talking to Todd even indulging in a light flirting now and again. Laughing she answered back “Several times over! Are these things getting taller?” Seeing her struggle to get on the bar stool, he decided that he might just tease her a little. “Same as always, maybe you are getting shorter?” the laugh in his voice meant he knew Peggy would take it with good humor.
“I am feeling very tall this evening!” came a reply that sparkled with joy and enthusiasm. “I just sent off my latest project to the editors. I am here to celebrate! Open the Champagne! Make it a good year!”
Suddenly the light in Todd’s eyes became very thoughtful Not sure why he hadn’t thought of it before, She could help. She was a writer and his professor said his writing style was too dry too technical. “Well, I am not sure about the Champagne. You may have to settle for beer.” as Todd wondered how to phrase the next question, he at least tied to make her feel better by saying “But I can put it in a fluted glass?”
“Fine, fine but make sure it is a good year!” Trying to settle into the stool Peggy didn’t seem to notice Todd chewing his bottom lip in deep contemplation. He was wondering how to ask, he didn’t like having to ask for help, but this was the most important thing in his life. Digging around in the store-room he found a box containing special glassware. He thought that maybe if he joked with Peggy a little she might be more inclined to help him.
When he came back he had been as good as his word. “Golden, Colorado bottled 2015. Best in the house!” he set down a glass of beer in a Fluted glass.
Peggy gave a rather overly dramatic sigh. “Well if that is the best you can do” Lifting the glass, Peggy said “A toast to my latest project, I just hope someone wants to read it!” Giggling she lifted the beer to her lips and took a big gulp. “At least the bubbles don’t tickle my nose! Now for dinner – steak, yes, a steak a big thick one! I will have it here, so you can keep me company?” The last was a kind of question more than a statement.
He thought that the glass was the right touch. He liked to make Peggy smile. Todd looked around noticed that the place was fairly quiet. “I may just join you, if you don’t mind?” She didn’t notice the look in his eyes, but she did notice the smile. “I am glad of the company, I will even buy you a beer!” Peggy was glad now that she hadn’t gone into Denver for her celebration.
She and Todd had flirted off and on for a while. A couple of months ago when his boss Ron Shurtz had gotten married Peggy was Todd’s escort, you really couldn’t call it a date. They had both been invited and by going together they insured that they would have someone to dance with. Peggy liked Todd, but it just seemed that it never seemed to work out for the two of them. Either Peggy was busy traveling and writing or Todd was involved with his schooling.
Todd was studying at the Colorado School of Mines Bridge to the Doctorate program. To get his degree in Mining Engineering: With the ultimate goal of earning a PhD and entering the Professorship. He had entered into military with a B.S. degree in geophysical engineering he got his Masters in the military but after 20 years, he had retired as Lieutenant Colonial in order to get his doctoral degree with out Having TDY’s send him to some far off country because someone thought they had found Painite – Worlds rarest mineral. Only after months of temporary duty to find that it was worthless rose quartz or having courses interrupted by military duties. He will become a civilian Professor of Mining Engineering.
Todd looked at her rather sheepishly. He decided that it was now or never. The Air Force wasn’t big on whimpy guys. He made his decision and now it was full steam ahead “Actually, I have a favor to ask you, so maybe I should be buying.” It was on the tip of her tongue to say something funny but once she got a look at Todd’s face she decided better of it, he seemed to be genuinely in need of something.
Peggy knew that while Todd wasn’t given to being serious about many things. His look spoke volumes! “OK, well do I need to eat first or is the favor that will spoil my appetite?” She wished she hadn’t been so flippant, Todd looked really upset.
He began to rethink his plan. “It has definitely spoiled mine.” Was something Peggy never thought she would have heard from Todd. He always seemed so happy and lighthearted. So what came next was somewhat of a shock to Peggy. Still not sure about opening his academic life to her. “I failed a class.” It was a flat statement that in its self was enough to grab her attention. She knew how much Todd’s school meant to him. He was working at the bar because it gave him scheduling freedom and a closeness to the school.
“I am sorry to hear that, is there someway I can help?” at this point a smile hovered around Todd’s eyes. “I am not cheating for you.” As the words came out of her mouth she wished she hadn’t said it.
OK, that is it I am not asking, was the immediate response in his brain to her even THINKING that he would be cheating. Todd looked like she had just kicked his dog or run over his grandmother. “I would never even think of that!”
“Ok, sorry I mentioned it.” Trying to put the smile back in his face she said. “so what is this favor that has you looking like you have lost your last friend.”
“Well, like I said I failed a class.” Looking like he still wasn’t sure about asking her, he continued on slowly. “I have to retake a class next term and I was hoping maybe you could help me.”
Peggy was a little confused at this point. “Of course I will do what ever I can, but I don’t know too much about science, rocks, do dad’s and such.” She knew that the courses he was taking were very technical. Thinking that he must be mistaken in who he was asking she asked.”what in the world could I help you with?”
“Writing.” One word but it was spoken like it had the weight of the world behind it. “I have all the information, all the facts, all the important stuff.”
Now it was her turn to look like a kicked puppy. “To me writing is the important stuff!” If she didn’t know better she would have said he was blushing underneath his somewhat stubbly smile.
“Well, the school seems to think so too. I know that writing and presenting a thesis is hard but I have to pass the writing class in order to even start it.” He was running his hand through his hair and trying to look apologetic.
“Ok, so what can I help you with?” Thinking he might be asking for help writing a paper or two his words rather took the wind out of her sails.
“I need a tutor. Nothing too elaborate, just help me write something someone would like to read. The teacher tells me everything is too dry and technical.”
“Aren’t they suppose to be?” Peggy supposing that technical papers needed to be technical. Peggy couldn’t help thinking that maybe someone from his school would be better suited. “Don’t you think that writing would be better taught by someone who understands what you are writing about?”
“No, that is what I am trying to get away from. Too much technical stuff. I need something more interesting, more fluffy.” He looked like he felt he had just paid her a compliment.
“Great I have gone from unimportant to fluffy! Are you sure you really need MY help?” By this time the steaks were up and Todd went to get them from the kitchen. While he was gone Peggy sat pondered what he had asked, she still wasn’t sure she was the right person for the job he was talking about.
Todd came back to the bar with two big steaks and baked potatoes. He sat hers down and Peggy noticed that he had piled mushrooms on top of the steak. “MMMM Bribery by mushroom! This must be very important to you.” Peggy breathed in the smell of the dish in front of her.
“The most important thing in the world.” was his reply, as she looked into his eyes she could see that he meant it.
Knowing that it really did mean the world to him she started wondering how it might work. “So what are you thinking, time wise that is?” the words escaped just before a big fork full of mushrooms and steak made it into her mouth.
“I have two weeks before terms starts. I was hoping to get a little head start in that time and once terms starts, maybe 2 nights a week?” He could see that she was weakening and was hoping that the time demand wouldn’t be too much to ask. “I can pay for tutoring fees.” Not that he thought that would sway her one way or the other he just wanted her to know that he was serious about needing the help. Spending time with Peggy was just a bonus as far as Todd was concerned. He had always liked her but time was the one thing they never seemed to have enough of together. The silence that followed found both of them thinking just how this could work out.
“I am just not sure, I have a trip to Mexico next week and a couple of articles due in the meantime.” By this time Peggy knew she would be happy to help him but just working out the time would be a strain.
“OK, well how about if while you were gone we could communicate by computer?” This time it was his fork that ended the sentence. After a short silence of chewing and thinking he ventured “I know you have a really great computer and I have a laptop that will handle most anything.”
Wondering why she hadn’t thought of it before Peggy answered in an almost shocked manner “Right, we live in the computer age! We don’t have to be in the same place. Why didn’t I think of it before?”
“Food deprivation, and a shortage of beer.” was Todd’s analytical answer and he jumped up to refill her fluted glass with beer and wait on a couple that had just come in and sat at the bar. When he sat once more at her side he asked “So it’s a deal? I have a budget of 40 dollars an hour for a tutor. Anything over that you will have to take out in steaks and beers!” She was glad to once again see him in good humor.
“Just steaks and beers? What else you got to trade?” Matching his flippant tone. She should have kept her mouth shut for the next thing out of his mouth shocked her almost as much as hearing that he had failed his class. He grabbed her hand turned it over and kissed the inside of her wrist.
“Are you sure you really want to know?” came an answer that had Peggy blushing like a school girl.
”None of that now, teachers pet is not an open position at this time! No wonder you get such good grades. All of your teachers must be women!” Todd’s laughter had the entire place looking at them, seeing Todd was still holding her hand. Slowly she extracted her hand and managed a slight giggle. What was she getting herself into? In order to restore some semblance of order she said. “So when do we want to start?” hoping that the embarrassment didn’t show on her face.
“How about tomorrow? You said you had just finished your project and I don’t have to be in here until tomorrow afternoon around 4 so how about noonish?” He was as friendly as ever again.
“How about 1 o’clock I have an appointment in Denver tomorrow to get my hair done.” Thinking that her appointment was at ten and she should have plenty of time to make it back by one.
“What ever you say teach! Thirteen hundred it is!” As he headed back to behind the bar, his steak gone and Peggy just finishing up hers. Todd’s offer of “I’ll get the check for this one.” made Peggy smile as she waved a thank you to Todd and went to chat with other friends she saw.
Walking home later Peggy wondered about what Todd and mentioned and how it made her blush. It had been a long time since Jeffery had passed away. Sometimes she wondered if maybe it was time to move on with her life. Well, she decided only time will tell. She stood on the bridge over the creek, that held the high mountain run-off, and remembered when she was young writing a poem about it “There will never be a diamond so bright as a moonlight river in its flight.” Thinking back to the time she wrote it in school she never had an inkling that she would someday make a living out of writing, and maybe help a friend.
Walking home after dark in Idaho Springs really held no fear for her, she had walked these same streets most of her life. First as a youngster visiting her grandmother and then as a widow in a new home. Wondering what would be next, old maid schoolteacher? The idea held little fear for her, she sometimes thought that the best of her life died with Jeffery. Even traveling wasn’t as much fun as it was when she had traveled with Jeffery. She was deep in thought, her mind racing with how she would fulfill the task she had set for herself. The deep soulful sigh that escaped her lips went unheard by anyone except the stray cat in the street leading up to her home.
Her mind still racing with ideas of how to make a writer out of a scientist, she drove to her nephew’s salon in Cherry Creek, just outside of Denver. She passed the salon before she realized it. By the time she had driven around the block her nephew, Johnny, was standing out front waiting for her.
He smiled and waved. “I wondered if I was going to have to chase you down. Did you forget where I am?” his bright smile took any sting out of the words.
Peggy laughed a little and said “I just had other things on my mind and drove right past. Glad to know that you were keeping an eye out for me.” After a huge hug they walked arm in arm back into the salon.
“What were you thinking about? Far off faces in far off places?” Working in the travel industry she knew what he was talking about.
“Not this time. A familiar face in a very familiar place.” wondering why she was spending so much time thinking about this.
Johnny brought her back to the present with a question that rather took her by surprise. “So, what is his name? Anybody I know?” the look in his eye spoke volumes.
“Nothing like that!” trying to squelch Johnny from thinking anything unseemly. “You know what Aunt Shirley says. Men our age are only looking for nurses or purses!” hoping to lighten up the conversation.
“Great Aunt Shirley is pushing 80! You are nowhere near that old.” then a more sober light came to his eyes. “It has been almost 3 years. Uncle Jeffrey wouldn’t want you to curl up and die with him. He will be waiting at those pearly gates don’t you want to have something to talk about?” She wouldn’t have taken that from anybody but the family that she loved dearly.
“You know I am just not ready for anything like that. I do have to admit that some days I feel almost as old as Aunt Shirley, but I have taken on a new project.” Trying to sit up straight in the salon chair, thinking about what she wanted done with her unruly locks.
“Where this time, Morocco, Paris, outer Mongolia, inner Mongolia?” Being use to his Aunt’s travels he was sure her writing was taking her some exotic place again.
“You won’t believe it, but this time it is Idaho Springs.” she waited for a moment to see what he would say next.
“Oh, very exotic.” as he draped her with a cape.
“As a teacher.” the look in his face was priceless.
“Teacher?” he almost squeaked.
”Don’t look so shocked, I have been known to put together a sentence or two in the right order.” she was sure that his shock was due to the fact that she traveled so much.
“Ok, well where are you planning on teaching? I am assuming that you will be teaching writing?” His composure had returned and he was once again the professional that everyone knew.
“Yes, but not where but who. Todd, the friend I went to the wedding with, he has failed a writing course and wanted me to tutor him. But I am just not sure how to teach writing.” fluffing out the cape Johnny had put around her, looking up she saw Johnny looking at her a little too sharply.
“That is the guy you went to the wedding with just a few months ago? And now you are tutoring him? Doesn’t sound like nurses or purses to me.” An exaggerated wink made her giggle.
“You are a hopeless romantic.” trying to change the subject.
“Nope a hopeful one for you, Aunt Peggy, I am a hopeful romantic!” he leaned forward over the back of the chair he gave her a hug, standing up he said “Now, what are we going to do with your hair?”
Glad of a change of topic she decided to dive into hairdos.”I am off to Mexico so I need something easy to take care of and a few streaks to give it a lighter color.”
“Short and sassy it is then! No buns for this teacher!” with both of their moods lightened they concentrated on Peggy’s hair.
Pulling up to her house about ten minutes after one o’clock Peggy found Todd sitting on her front step. Johnny had insisted on giving her a manicure and a pedicure to start off her new undertaking.
Jumping out of the car she started apologizing right away, because she knew how tight his schedule was. “I am so sorry, my nephew was running a little late. Then the traffic was really heavier than I calculated it would be.” Grabbing her keys she ran up the steps to unlock the door.
With his usual good humor he looked her up and down and said “It was well worth the wait! You look great!”
It had been so long since she had received a compliment, she immediately smoothed her hair and tried to stop the blush that was creeping up from her neck to her hair-line. “He is really good at hair. My Nephew has been doing it for a while.” Even when Jeffrey was alive he very rarely even noticed if she had her hair done. She found it rather disconcerting that Todd had mentioned it.
“I can’t believe it! You are blushing!” he was laughing at her.
“I am not blushing, I am just a little flustered from rushing.” She really wished she could stop blushing. “Now if you are ready we need to start class.” Putting on her best teacher face she really hoped that he would just let it go.
“OK, no more teasing. Just working, where do we start?” he had come with his laptop and a book that looked bigger and thicker than his laptop.
“Well, let me see the book that you have there.” Trying to pick up the book she saw that it was indeed a technical book.
“That is just a book I thought I would study this evening if the bar was quite.” He picked up the book that she was fumbling with.
“I have been thinking that what you want is something between poetry and a technical manual, right?” Having tossed this idea about this for most of the morning she decided that maybe starting with some of the things that she had written for a travel brochure might be a good place to start.
“What ever you say.” he had found a seat at her kitchen table and she decided that this would be as good a place to start as any.
She went to the bookcase where she kept her articles, brochures and books. “This is what I write, notice that the style is upbeat, exciting and hopefully something you want to read. Which would in turn hopefully make you want to go to or do things that I write about.” As she handed him some pamphlets. “Do you want some coffee or tea while you read?”
“Coffee would be great.” He took the bundle from her and sat about sorting them into neat stacked piles, Peggy assumed it was from his military training. One pile of Hawaii, one pile for Mexico and still another for Europe.
While making coffee she saw him read first one brochure from Hawaii move on to Europe and finally Mexico. Wondering why he had done them in that order she came in with a couple of cups of coffee and some cookies on a tray. “I don’t even know if you take cream or sugar.”
He looked up and grinned “I like my coffee like I like my women.” not knowing what to say to that she just put the cup in front of him and lifted an eyebrow questioningly. “Plain and unadorned” came a reply that was more laughter than answer.
“Well, after spending the day in the beauty salon, I know I am safe!”
“Ah, but tastes can change!” as he lifted the coffee to his lips his eyes were on hers.
“Well, don’t let it change until after we get you thru this class.” thinking that she needed to keep him in line at least that long.
“No promises, but I will try.” sitting his cup down he asked her “You really wrote all of these? They are really good, makes me almost want to travel again.”
“Just almost? I am slipping, they are supposed to inspire you to want to run and jump on the first means of transport available.” Thinking it funny that he had traveled all over the world in the military but he had little or no interest in traveling again.
“My travels were a little different, the places I went to and the things I saw wouldn’t make a travel brochure. More like a horror story.” Again the laughter in his eyes was eclipsed by shadows and almost fear. “People wouldn’t want to travel where I have gone, actually they try to get out with every fiber of their being.”
“I never thought of it that way, to me travel has always been for fun or profit.” wanting the light to come back to his eyes she tried to think of some way to switch the topic.
“Most of the profit I saw was for the already wealthy. But this isn’t getting me any closer to passing my class. Let’s talk about something else.” A weak smile tried to play across his face but somehow faded quickly.
“OK, lets start something simple. What about the steak we had last night.” Not wanted to dismiss his conversation but not exactly sure where to go with it, she decided to do as he asked and talk about something else. “write down what you felt about the meal.”
He looked grateful for the change of topic. He broke out his laptop and started typing. A few seconds later he turned it to her and said “Here you go!”
Taking the laptop she looked at what he had written. Reading aloud “A 12 ounce t-bone steak, grilled with baked potato, sour cream, butter. Served with beer, in a fluted glass.”
Wondering how shewas going to tell him that his writing stinks. She decided instead to ask him “Is this something you would like to eat?”
“Of course, we ate it didn’t we? I even remembered the fluted glasses!” Looking genuinely like he had done what she had asked.
“Let me show you how I would have written it and then you can tell me if you see any difference.” Taking the laptop she typed away for a few minutes then returned the computer to him and asked him to read it aloud.
“A tender juicy t-bone steak grilled to perfection. Medium rare with a peppery crust smothered with a mound of homegrown mushroom sautéed with a delicate wine reduction sauce. Grilled over a mesquite flame lovingly kissing the meat giving it a taste that can only be truly savored in the great outdoors of the Colorado Rockies. Highlighting the meal was a mouth-watering fluffy golden russet potato dripping with real butter topped with chives accompanied by a side of sour cream. Accented by a local golden beer, served in an exquisite crystal flute glass, allowing you to see and experience every bubble down to the very last delicious drop.” He sat looking at what she written.
“Do yo see a difference? Now which steak would you like to eat?” Thinking that she had made her point, hoping that he would understand the differences.
“Eat it, I think I want to make love to it!” He sat still staring at the laptop.
“Well, let’s settle for eating it. Do you see the differences? Yours is descriptive yes, but you want more than just the dimensions of the steak. More than just a clinical exam of the dinner. You want people to feel, smell, even taste everything.” Seeing the look on his face she knew that somewhere she had gotten something into his mind.
“I am a little confused. You want people to experience the things you write about. If you write like they have already experienced it why would they want to go themselves, they could just read it and already have experienced it.” The look on his face told her he really thought he was right, he thought he was making sense.
“Scientist please leave the room, I am talking to a human being. I understand that the scientist in you wants to rationally explain it. Sometimes you have to FEEL what you want to convey to your reader.” Feeling like she was bashing her head against a brick wall and definitely feeling like she was fighting a loosing battle, at least for this session. “You know I would think that working behind the bar at Ron’s you would understand about feelings, everybody seems to talk to you about their feelings.”
“Talking about others feelings is no big deal.” He dismissed it like it was routine to talk about others feelings but have no link to them.
“You need to connect to feelings, yours definitely, your readers – only if you want to pass your class.” Not sure when they had switched from writing to feelings, but it seemed that the way to get him to write with more feelings was to prove to him that he had them. “Do you understand were we are going with this?” Wondering why he seemed to shrink from the idea of writing about feelings.
“So, you want me to write poetry?” Looking like she had asked him to cut off his right arm.
“No, I just want you to write with feeling. People relate to feelings, and if they can relate to your writing you might just pass your class.” Trying to remind him of why he was trying to write.
“I feel like you are a therapist. Talking about feelings and such.” she could see that he was uncomfortable talking like this.
“If I were you wouldn’t be getting off with $40.00 and hour.” Mentioning money brought him back to a fun-loving fellow once again.
“I remember that I was wondering how you wanted paid? Cash, Check, Visa, Mastercard, American Express?” Looking at his watch he noticed that he had to be to work in less than half of an hour. “Oh, got to run. I am on duty in just a little bit.”
“Just let me tell you what your assignment is going to be. When are we meeting next?” She was a little taken aback, had it been over two hours already? He had already stood up and started shoving his laptop into his backpack.
“How about you tell me the assignment and I will tell you how long I think it will take?” He stood looking at her with his hands on his hips.
“Right, how about describing a sunset?” Thinking that might be a safe subject. “How long do you think that might take?”
“The way you want me to describe it, probably forever. How about 3 days? That would make it Thursday? Is that good for you?” He was glancing at his watch again. Peggy knew he was in a hurry and it didn’t help that she had been late starting the session.
“That would be fine. Same time?” he was already making his way to the front door of her home, but with the last question he stopped short of the door. “Better make it later. I am working in the early afternoon.” he waved his hand and was gone.
She decided that it was a good thing that Todd didn’t want to make a living at writing. Peggy sat down at the kitchen table and wondered what she had gotten herself into. Three days to write about a sunset? At that rate she would never make enough on writing to feed herself. Thinking about writing she had better open her email and check to see if her editor had gotten her project from last night. Opening her email she found that indeed they had received it and returned it with requests for revisions.
Maybe it was a good thing it would take Todd three days, it looked like she had some work of her own to finish. After Todd left Peggy gathered up the brochures in order to put them back in her portfolio. As she picked up the stack the brochure for Mexico fell onto the table top. These brochures were written from the viewpoint of a couple traveling together, happy, loving, together. Peggy thought that maybe this was why she was not looking forward this trip and brochure project. Writing from a single woman’s view of traveling to Mexico, made her feel somehow vacant, incomplete. The other articles she had written since Jeffrey had passed were all from other places, Europe, Hawaii, Alaska. But Mexico was “their place”. The place they had gotten married. They had just purchased the travel agency and couldn’t afford much in the way of a honeymoon but Mexico seemed just right, close and not too expensive, after all it was going to be a simple ceremony. Johnny said he would come and be a witness and Karl, who then was a friend and later became her editor had come along as well. That is where they started that silly ritual of unpacking and both laying on the bed together – to see if they fit.
She remembered that first room. The bright sunshine reflecting off of the whitewashed walls, filling the room, the heady smell of the flowers on their veranda, the scent of the salty ocean washing over the beach outside the french doors, the feel of the moisture in the air. It seemed that all of her senses had come alive.
They had looked at the bed in the room, and it didn’t look like it would be big enough for both of them, they found that if they laid really close they could just make it. She thought about the laughing that had led to kissing and how they had made love in the bed that was just big enough for the two of them. Just the memory of being held in Jeffrey’s arms, feeling his chest against her, remembering laying close together after they made love looking out the window. Peggy began to ache with the loss all over again
Thursday morning dawned cloudy and rather drizzly. Peggy had always loved the English way of describing this kind of weather, they just called it a “Nice soft day”. Looking out seeing that it was indeed a very soft day she grabbed her umbrella and decided to walk the short distance to the store.
Todd was coming over later for his writing lesson. Thinking that maybe since their first lesson had been about food that cooking him dinner and having him describe it might be a good follow-up lesson. She rather liked the idea of having someone else to cook for, it is boring cooking for one so she usually had a lot of frozen dinners. Tonight however, she was thinking of pasta prima vera or maybe something more homey like chili or stew since it seemed to be rather cold out.
She decided to see what took her fancy at the store. Looking over the meat case, she heard a familiar voice at her shoulder. “What’s cooking?” She turned to see her friend Denise from the post office.
“I am trying to decide that very thing.” She and Denise had known one another for what seemed like forever. When Peggy was little and came up to see her grandmother, Denise and her family had lived just down the street. “I am tutoring Todd in writing and decided that I would cook some dinner for us but I am not sure what it will be.” The minute she said it she was wondering if Todd would be upset if anybody knew he was getting help with his school work. “Oh, maybe I shouldn’t have said that, please don’t tell anybody and don’t tell Todd I told you!”
Laughing Denise said “If it helps get him through school, tutor away!” Denise knew how hard Todd was trying to get his degree. “But if you don’t want it around I won’t say a word.” Knowing that Denise would be as good as her word Tina was very relieved.
“Now if I just knew what to feed him.” Still looking into the meat case. Peggy was just about to give up.
“Why not chili? Throw on some corn bread and you have a rocky mountain special!” With a look over her shoulder to the outside she finished with, “And it is a great day for it.”
Peggy shrugged “Works for me! That way if class gets to long it can simmer for a while.”
Denise just couldn’t let the simmering comment go without saying something. “Anything else simmering? I know I am a busy body but you and Todd do seem to make a really cute couple.” If it had been anybody else Peggy would have been insulted.
“No, I am just helping him. He is too busy and I am just too old for anything like that.” Thinking back to the other night when she imagined her self as an old maid schoolteacher, she was sure that stage of life was over for her.
“You know Tina said just the same thing to me about a year ago. Look what happened to her and Ron. The newlyweds are as happy as can be!” Denise’s eye brow was raised in a questioning manner.
Peggy looked at her friend with eyes full of laughter.”You are such a romantic!”
“Well, I sure hope so! If you don’t have romance in your life what have you got?” Denise quickly wished she hadn’t said that. The conversation went from light-hearted laughter to very somber.
“Memories.” was the one word answer her friend gave her. Knowing that Denise wished she hadn’t said anything she continued on. “Which for me are just fine.”
Denise looked like she wished the floor would open up and swallow her up. “I didn’t mean that, I am so sorry.”
Peggy walked up to her and gave her a hug. “Don’t worry I still love you!” trying to regain the mood.
“I am really glad for that, James always says my mouth will get me into trouble someday.” Denise tried to smile.
“Now I just need that recipe for the cornbread you made for the pot luck a couple of weeks ago and I will be set.” Peggy looked at her cart and checked to see that she had all the ingredients for her chili.
Grateful that her friend really wasn’t angry with her Denise looked at her watch.”I have to make it back to work but I can email it to you from there?”
“Fine just tell me the ingredients, I don’t want to have to make another trip to the store.” Arm and arm they walked quickly thru the store getting everything she needed.
As Peggy walked into the house she saw the answering machine light flashing. Thinking that if it was Todd trying to cancel his class for tonight she was going to punch him. The voice she heard was male but not Todd, it was Johnny. “Hey, Aunt Peggy I just thought I would call and see how you are doing? Give me a call later and let me know you are alright.” That was a rather odd message but she decided to put the groceries away and then give him a call. Before she could finish the groceries the phone rang again, letting the machine get it while she was in the kitchen, she heard her mother’s voice. Same concerned tone same concerned question.
“Peggy dear it is just Mom, I thought I would call and see how you are doing. Give me a call and let me know you are alright.” by the she got to the phone her mother had hung up. Why was everybody so concerned that she was alright?
The realization hit her like a ton of bricks, it was today. Eight years ago today. Looking at her computer screen she saw the date. Feeling like she was going to faint she sat down on the floor. How could she have forgotten for even one minute let alone almost and entire day. Eight years ago today she and Jeffrey had gotten married. It was their anniversary. With the memory of the anniversary came the horrible memories of France. She woke up and Jeffrey hadn’t. Memories of the happiest day of her life only brought the horrible memories of the death of her husband, her companion, her lover. The memories filled her with a swiftness that was unbearable. Traveling had been their lives.
When they had gone to bed after the wine tasting in France, Jeffrey had complained a little about heart burn. Neither of them thought much about it, they had both been eating and drinking things that they didn’t usually consume. Assuming that he had eaten something that didn’t agree with him, he took some anti-acids and they both went to bed. Waking up the next morning Peggy assumed that he would be better and they would continue the trip.
After the doctor came and declared it to be a heart attack, things went from bad to worse. The American Ambassador tried to help, but to Peggy’s shocked and frayed nerves the American Embassy didn’t do much. Facing the fact that in order to have Jeffrey transported home for burial was so involved, she had him cremated in France. After that everything seemed to just become a blur, she never even remembered coming home her self. The funeral that they had for Jeffrey, she only remembers from pictures. Her Father and Mother were the ones who shouldered the weight of planning a funeral and trying to get their daughter home. Jeffrey was an only child and both of his parents were gone. With all that grief and pain only three years later she forgotten their wedding anniversary.
Not knowing how long she sat there the next thing she heard was a knock at the door and Todd coming in. Oh, God she had forgotten that Todd was even supposed to be there. He came in and saw her on the floor, thinking something was wrong he ran over to help her up.
In that split second that it took for him to bolt from the door to where Peggy sat on the floor, he had offered up a prayer “PLEASE GOD, let her be alright!” He has seen way too much death in his life. The idea that made his heart skip a beat was that with all that the prayer this time came with a realization. He couldn’t think of life with out her. PLEASE GOD don’t let it be too late! The second prayer seemed to snap him out of his daze and focus on Peggy, Thinking that it was just concern for his friend. That idea was shoved to the back of his mind while trying to find out what was wrong. “Peggy, Peggy are you OK?” His voice sounded almost frantic. Turning on some lights he looked around like he thought there might be blood or something around. Blood he could deal with he had seen much more than just blood. “Should I call the paramedics? What happened?” He was sure that she must have hit her head or something because she wasn’t making any sense.
“No, I am fine just go.” Just then the phone rang again. Picking it up Peggy heard her Mom on the other end. “Fine, fine I am fine. Um, but there won’t be any class tonight, you have to go now.” Even to herself she didn’t sound alright but Todd just had to go, she needed to be alone. Obeying the words he decided maybe she was OK for a minute or so. Or maybe it was him that needed just a little time alone. He couldn’t understand how this could just happen. You hear all the time about love at first sight, but LOVE after all? Had it been growing all this time? He had known Peggy since he arrived in Idaho Spring. He decided that part would have to wait. She need him, NOW. She was obviously suffering from shock. As a soldier and bartender he knew that she needed something that would help her snap out of it. He kept a bottle of Scotch for his boss behind the bar, right now Peggy needed it. So tossing a nod at the other bartender, he got the bottle and a couple of classes. His friend said “Hey, did you pay for that?” knowing that he was joking Todd just said “Bill it to the wind and let the rain settle it!”
“Hi, Mom, yes I am OK, I know eight years ago today.” Hearing her Mom’s caring voice started the tears flowing. Looking around she saw that Todd had indeed gone, although she was grateful she also felt a little deserted. Not sure why she should feel hurt, after all she told him to go hadn’t she? Peggy heard her Mother on the other end of the line again.
“You really shouldn’t be alone tonight why don’t you call a friend and have them come stay with you?” Obviously her mom heard the tears in her voice “Or you could come down here and stay for a few days. We haven’t seen you an a while.”
Wiping the tears Peggy tried to sound normal.”No, Mom I will be OK. It just hit me kind of hard is all, I will be fine in a few minutes.” Hearing something in the background Peggy turned around and looked into Todd’s eyes as he came back in the house with something in a bottle and a couple of glasses. He returned to Peggy he heard a little of the conversation she had with her Mother “And I have a friend here now, I will be fine.” Her Mom still talking on the other end as Peggy tried to hang up the phone when Todd took the receiver and spoke to her Mom.
“Hello, Yes, Ma-am I am here with Peggy she seems a little shaken but I will stay for a while and make sure she is OK.” Peggy heard her mom making sounds that didn’t sound like words but the phone this time made it to its cradle and the line went dead. Wondering if it was his military training that made him so good with a crisis. At least he got her Mom off the phone. Looking into Peggy’s tear-stained eyes he walked over and gave her a big hug, picking her up and setting her on the couch. “Now stay there for just a minute and I will be right back. He walked over to where he had left the bottle and glasses. “I want you to sip this. It will make you feel better.”
“I don’t want a drink.” Feeling rather like a child that is being told to take her medicine, Peggy suddenly felt very foolish. The smile that crossed his face was a little laughter and a lot of concern. “Alright, but just this one.”
“Now that’s a girl, don’t make me take you across my knee and spank you!” He did admit that that prospect had it’s merits too. His laughter filled the room. Peggy looked just like a little lost child at the moment. He sat down and poured a small glass for her and one for himself. Lifting his for a toast “To life!” clinking her glass to his she responded the same but in a much weaker voice. “Want to tell me what brought all of this about?”
Looking from the liquid that remained in her glass Peggy looked at him, thinking that she wasn’t sure if she wanted to or not. He wanted to hug and kiss away anything that was bothering her. But he knew that this was neither the time or the place. He really wanted to know what had brought about this episode of shock.
Her comment was a little hesitant, she wasn’t sure how much to share with him. “I am not sure.” What if she started blubbering like a child again. Not sure if she could handle telling anybody, because if she did it would make it real all over again.
“We can do this the easy way or the hard way.” the words sounded tough but the look in his eyes was anything but.
“What if I start to cry again?” Just asking the question almost started the water works flowing.
He could tell that tears were eminent.
Getting up off the couch he went to the bathroom and returned with two boxes of tissues. “If we need more than this I will break out the oars.”
Peggy was beginning to think that she could tell him everything even to the point of forgetting the day. “Let’s start off with, well you know I am a widow, right?”
Nodding his head he handed her the first tissue. “So far, so good. Yes, I know you are a widow.”
“Eight years ago today was our wedding day.” waiting for the tears to start, which they did. “I woke up this morning and forgot what day it was, when it finally hit me I felt terrible about forgetting, and then all the memories started.” Peggy reached out her hand and another tissue was placed in it. “What kind of person am I that I would forget?” Holding up his glass again he put the glass in her hand and they both took another sip.
OK, now it made a little more sense. But he found he was really interested in her marriage, her past and maybe her future. He looked away, She was way too vulnerable at the moment. to see the emotion that he was sure would be in his eyes. Once he had gotten his feeling under control again he poured another drink for both of them he looked at her and took her face in both of his huge hands. Staring into her eyes he said “A human one. You are not forgetting your husband or your life together, what you did was forget your wedding anniversary. Most of the men in the world have forgotten it at one time or another!! Your mind has just filled with other things, your life now, your work, your family and friends” He wanted to take her in his arms and kiss all of her pain away.
Feeling the warmth of his hands against her face, staring into his eyes made the tears some how stop falling. “Thank you.” was all that she could think of to say. Not sure why but she didn’t want him to move his hands they were so strong and warm. She felt as if she could sit like this forever.
“So, tell me about your husband, just one thing that you remember. Did he snore? Was he a handyman around the house?” His voice broke into her racing mind. Finding that he really did want to know about her husband.
She removed her cheeks from his hands reluctantly, they felt so strong and reassuring “You know I am not sure that I should be tell you all about me.” Feeling that her cheeks were growing pink from something, she decided it must be the drink. “I don’t know that much about you other than you were in the military.” Trying to keep it lighthearted she thought about making it a more like a game. “So lets trade information. One for one? OK?” She wasn’t sure if it was the emotionally release or the drink but she was feeling much better.
“Nothing really to tell, but sure, what do you want to know?” he had let her go and moved a little further down the sofa, arms length would be a good thing right now he decided . Holding up his glass he asked “Who first?”
“You first, you already know I am a widow. Have you ever been married?” Wondering why she didn’t know that about him already, his answer shocked her.
“Yes, married and divorced.” The flatness of his tone didn’t detour her next question.
“What happened?” blurted out of her mouth before she even realized it. The idea of him being married and not knowing it made her feel rather like she was talking to a stranger.
“Nope, my turn. Where did you meet your husband.” Todd wasn’t sure he liked where these questions were headed but he found that he really wanted her to know about his life.
“I was in college and went to a travel agency to get some brochures, mostly to dream on. Jeffrey was there and asked me to coffee to talk about travel and we just kind of hit it off.” remembering almost made the tears start again. Todd held up the tissue box, she shook her head, no. For the last three years she had been holding onto the sadness and loneliness.
“Your turn, where did you meet your wife.” Peggy didn’t know why the word hurt so much.
Todd was certainly old enough to have had a wife or two? “Or was it wives?” Lifting her glass she motioned that he should do the same.
“No, just one was enough thank you. We were in college also. She was the Sorority queen and I was the campus nerd. I followed her around like a lost puppy. I fell hard and she took pity on me. We were married when I enlisted I guess she fell in love with the uniform.” The memories filled his eyes too, this time it was Peggy who held up the tissue box. Todd just laughed. “No, my tears have long since gone.” The memories that he had long since ceased to cause him pain. He knew that the opposite of love wasn’t hate it was indifference. His college crush had passed into indifference long ago. “Next question. Where did you honeymoon?”
It was Peggy’s turn to shock Todd. “We couldn’t afford a lot at the time. We actually got married in Mexico, so I guess that would be considered a honeymoon – three days anyway. Right before we got married we were trying to buy a travel agency of our own” Remembering the days of scrimping and saving for a business made a smile cross her face. Working long hours and coming home to spend what little time they had dreaming of the day when they would be traveling themselves and not for arranging it for someone else.
“I would have imagined you would have had a world cruise or something. I guess that is what I get for thinking.” Filling up both glasses again he asked “Next question?” He could see the emotions crossing her face. Maybe this wasn’t such a bad idea after all. But keeping his distance was an even better idea – for now.
“What happened to your marriage?” Thinking that the drink was making her rather bold, but she really wanted to know.
“Wow you might want to hold back a little with the questions, or maybe just on the drink.” He took a minute to determine if he was going to answer. “I told you she fell in love with the uniform, what she wasn’t in love with was the long nights alone. About 2 years after we got married, we had only been living together about 6 months in that time. I got THE letter. Not all Dear John letters start with Dear John but they pretty much end the same way – goodbye!” Lifting his drink he finished it. The memories of that time made him sure that if he stated his feelings for Peggy right now, she might just do something they would both hate in the morning.
“I am sorry.” Wondering why she hadn’t know about his wife before she kind of understood it a little better now. Maybe this game had been a bad idea after all.
“I was too at the time. But things move on, last I heard she had three kids and is married to a plumber in California.” The lightheartedness was returning to his speech.
“She doesn’t know what a guy she let get away!” Peggy was feeling much better now, maybe a little too good. “What is that stuff we have been drinking?” holding up her half full glass. The words he spoke hung in Peggy’s mind…But things move on. Why did that seem to echo in the room?
“We have been sipping Scotch, you don’t drink it you sip it, it’s good for your nerves. And I think you have had enough, when was the last time you ate anything?” He could tell that she was feeling better but he really didn’t feel like leaving her alone. Her mind may be on the mend but her body was in need of sustenance.
“Food, goodness, I was going to cook for you this evening as a follow-up to our writing exercise tonight.” She got up off the couch and headed for the kitchen. Wondering if Chili was even possible at this time of night. Cornbread was definitely out.
“It is too late to start cooking now. How about I scramble us some eggs and bacon? Do you have those?” Rising from the couch himself he followed her.
“Of course I have those, but I can cook them.” thinking that having someone cook for her would be nice she hoped he would volunteer again.
He did “No, I can cook them. I have a special touch with eggs. How do you like them scrambled, scrambled or I can even do scrambled?”
“Mmm, how about scrambled? What else do you need? Mind if I watch, I might need some pointers on cooking.” Not sure why but she liked seeing him move around her kitchen. Once he started cooking the smell filled the whole house. Just before the eggs were done he asked her to pop some toast in. Sitting down at the table they had a banquet fit for a king. Bacon, scrambled eggs, toast and coffee.
Turning the tables on her he asked. “So Mrs Writer how would you describe this food?” he could tell by the way it was disappearing from her plate she had been very hungry. He liked a woman that ate and not just picked at food.
“Heavenly!” She answered between bites. “I want to thank you so much for coming back this evening. I don’t know what I would have done with out your help.” The reality of her words made her blush again. By just being there he had made her feel so much better.
“That is my motto ‘saving the world, one damsel in distress at a time.” Even though he was laughing Peggy felt rather unsettled, she really didn’t like the though of him saving other damsels in distress.
Taking the dishes to the sink she was going to leave them till the morning. Todd filled the sink with water and started washing, handing her a towel said. “You can dry.” His military training was showing, never put off what needs to be done. The only sound to fill the house for a while was the clank of dishes and the splashing of soapy water. Peggy felt the sound made it feel more like a home.
Wondering if her Grandmother and Grandfather ever did dishes like this in this house. Knowing her Grandfather, she doubted it. Once the dishes were done, Todd looked around and said “I had better be off, we don’t want people to talk.” hitting on the one down side about living in a small town. He knew she was feeling better. He wanted some time to think about this new revelation in his life. It had been so long since he has done anything other than work or study. Part of his brain was saying that it was just the “Damsel in Distress” that made him think of Peggy as anything other than a friend.
“I don’t want to ruin your reputation!” She quipped.
“What reputation? I don’t have one, all I do is work. So maybe it might be good for me to have a reputation.” His voice let her know he was teasing.
“Talking about people talking, well that sounded better in my head, but anyway. I need to ask you about something. I don’t know if you care but I was talking to Denise at the store, and I happened to mention that I was tutoring you. I know that Denise will keep it quite but I don’t know if anybody else heard us talking. So if you don’t want it known, it might be a little late.” trying to gauge his reaction. He didn’t seem to mind.
“I don’t care. It isn’t as if I am ashamed about going to school. I am a little sorry about failing a class, but very happy that I have such a good and knowledgeable friend to help me.” raising her hand he kissed the back of it. “by the way, we need to reschedule our class from this evening. Not that I am complaining, I didn’t get my assignment done. I was hoping to get a little more help with it.” looking a little like a little boy who got caught with his hand in the cookie jar.
“How about tomorrow? Or maybe Saturday? I am headed to my parents on Sunday and then Mexico. The next week.” Knowing that he was trying to get as much work in before term starts again.
“I am busy – the restaurant and the bar are very busy on the weekends.” Still holding her hand he lifted it and held it between both of his and brought it to his lips again but his time there was no kiss he held her hand and was thinking. “I am off Monday and Tuesday, what is your schedule like for those two days?” He liked holding her hand it felt so small and soft. His thumb was running over the back of her hand that he had just kissed, maybe he was rubbing the kiss in so she didn’t forget it.
“Free as a bird. We can start about noon? Monday? That will give you some time to sleep in on your day off. Then you be nice and fresh for our writing, with lots of feeling!” laughing at him just a little bit. At that moment she was very glad that they were friends and could laugh at one another.
Walking him to the door it seemed only natural to hold out her cheek for a friendly kiss. He knew that the kiss she was expecting was a light and friendly peck on the cheek. The kiss that came was one that he just couldn’t seem to suppress. He knew that his kiss seemed to take over his entire body. He wanted to hold her close and not let go. Peggy didn’t know when the friendly little kiss became more, but it did. The fire that started in her stomach was making its way down her legs and cursing along her veins. This feeling had long laid dormant she had almost forgotten what it was like to be held and kissed.
Todd thought that he might just be able to keep the kiss friendly but as she turned her lips to meet Todd’s willing and waiting lips. His kiss grew deeper and when he decided that this wasn’t what he wanted. He wanted her but he had to make sure it was him, not the drink and not the day, he didn’t want her to have any regrets. The gentle kiss grew in pressure until she felt her lips parting, her breath becoming ragged. She arched her back to bring her body even closer to his.
Reaching her hands up to hold Todd’s face tightly pulling it closer and closer to hers. His lips answered with a pressure she couldn’t deny. The kiss started as a little spark, ignited a wildfire that had her body responding so quickly Peggy didn’t have time to offer any resistance. His arms reached around pulling her close molding her body to his, holding her close enough that she could feel the heat from his body radiating thru his clothes. Feeling her pulse rate quicken the fire that she felt in her very being seemed to be generating an answering fire in Todd. She stepped back so quickly that she almost fell over the door jam. She was so shocked and startled she blurted out “I am so sorry, I didn’t mean that to happen! It must have been the drink.” Her body already missing the warmth and support of his. Grabbing the doorway trying to hold her self up. She was trying to make it back into the house.
He knew that the time was not right. He knew he wanted her and that kiss proved that she wanted him “It am not sorry. It was a great kiss. For someone who writes with feeling, you seem to be having a writer’s block actually having feelings.” He really wished he hadn’t spoken. “It’s OK, don’t worry I won’t tell anybody.” He was trying to use humor, to make sure that she was alright. He stood there feeling almost incomplete, missing the feel of her body pressed to his. His lips tasted of her toast with grape jelly and coffee. But he knew that she was vulnerable and didn’t press the issue.
Her emotions were so raw that she didn’t appreciate his humor. “It’s not funny! I am a married woman!” The words hung in the air between them like an atomic bomb.
He had thought that this was something that they needed to work out. Now he knew that the war was over. He turned on his heel and left her standing under her porch light.
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