Thursday, July 23, 2015

Summertime and the Short Stories Come Easy...by Margo Hoornstra


 
 
Thanks for coming back to read Part Two of my current short story offering. Hope your summer is going a lot like mine. Busy, but fun. And for the next few minutes at least...Easy. 
 
Can't Stop Love: Or Can You?
Part Two

Can passion last forever in a marriage? If so, is passion alone enough? Don’t happiness and contentment just naturally follow?
 
 

Married for over twenty years, Jenna Marsh finds herself seeking the answers to those questions. Especially when her husband is more consumed with his job than he is interested in her. Add in a new and very alluring boss, who makes it clear work takes second place in his life, compared to beautiful women like her.

Jenna wasn’t aware she remained seated on the couch, and had yet to hang up the phone. Until the series of high pitched beeps let her know. Only then did she realize she hadn’t moved a muscle since Steve said good-bye. Except to grab a pillow off the couch she hugged tightly with her free hand. That she realized when she had to pull her arm out from beneath it to check her watch. Just barely 4:30, only two hours before she had to leave for the restaurant.

“Like he said.” It helped to talk out loud as she replaced the receiver in the cradle. “Dinner is a reward for having me work overtime, a nice gesture on his part, nothing more.”

Then why did her hands tremble, her stomach churn and her mind advise her to stay home like the dutiful, and faithful, wife she so wanted to be?

With the conscious decision to shake off the unwanted feelings, not to mention to ignore her own advice, she set the pillow aside and headed for the bedroom.

This is a nice gesture on his part, nothing more. Nothing more. Nothing more.

The latter phrase quickly became her mantra as she stepped into the shower for a second time that day.

Steve mentioned he had some sales statistics to talk to her about just before she left the office on Friday. Maybe he didn’t want to, or couldn’t, wait to share them with her until Monday. It was business.

“It was business.” The taps spun off, she stepped out of the tub and suddenly recalled every word of her conversation with Mark just before he’d left for the hospital. Left her alone, again.

‘You know I miss you, Jen. But, if I don’t take the extra shifts when I’m asked, it could hurt my chances to go where I want for my fellowship.’

She had closed her eyes, anger and disappointment vying to become her primary emotion. Then the decision about how she should feel was no longer hers to make, when simple sadness moved front and center to take over. She shook off any remnants of sadness now. Being virtually abandoned by Mark justified what she was about to do. Did it?

The wrestling with her sense of right and wrong continued as she dried and pinned up her hair. Then she tried on, and discarded, six outfits before settling on a light blue sweater with three-quarter length sleeves and black satin dress pants. An outfit which would never be suitable attire for the office. Yet clothes, for some insane reason, she wanted Steve to see her wearing.

Her conscience still bothered her, a little, as she applied make up and touched up the pink polish on her nails. Similar arguments and possible repercussions persisted to dart around in her mind. Then she noticed one of Mark’s undershirts wadded up in the corner as she walked out of the bedroom, and her conscience smoothed right out again.

A man his age should know enough to pick up after himself. The offending garment snatched up, she stalked to the bathroom door to heave it into the hamper. She didn’t even bother to tuck the entire thing inside. Only watched one sleeve dangle down the side when her aim proved to be just a little bit off.

I have no time to deal with that now. Her chin rose. Having been invited out for the evening.

When she caught a glimpse of herself as she passed the antique mirror at the end of the hall, she stopped short. Her long hair was piled on top of her head with wisps of ringlets framing her face. Full lips in a deep berry tone pouted back at her set off by brightly colored cheeks. She stared at the alien face, then turned on her heel and headed back to the bedroom, pulling the clasps from her hair as she went. She slapped the handful of pins down on the dresser and, bent at the waist, furiously brushed her hair out. Now and then a stray fastener would flick softly to the floor to remind her of how silly she had been to dress up so much.

Standing straight, she shook her head as the soft tresses fell into place around her shoulders. Hands raised, she smoothed her hair into a low ponytail clamped into place with a wide barrette, then blotted grim lips and rubbed unusually damp palms over her cheeks.

This is business. She adjusted the pricey designer purse on her shoulder—an extravagance Mark had insisted on for her last birthday—and headed downstairs.

A quick scan of the front yard showed nothing, and no one, stood between Jenna and her red convertible parked in the driveway. With one last glance around as she opened the front door, she squared her shoulders and stepped out onto the porch.

“You look nice.”

The comment brought her to an abrupt halt. She spun a startled gaze to her right, directly into the curious gaze of Connie, the woman who lived on the other side of their duplex. She couldn’t stop the flush of guilt from climbing up her neck and across her cheeks. The woman was nice enough as neighbors go, but with a nosey streak which bordered on intrusive.

“Has Sophie made any signs of having those puppies yet?” Jenna knew Connie awaited an explanation of where she was headed, but wasn’t about to give one out. She was also sure Connie fully expected her to stop for a minute and chat. She wasn’t about to do that either as she kept walking. For all anyone knew, she was on the way to a movie. Alone.

“Not yet. The vet said it could be any time now.” Connie had to raise her voice as Jenna quickly moved out of earshot.

Then something, maybe the urgency in her elevated tone, struck a chord and caused her to stall in a hasty retreat. “Let me know when she does and I’ll help if I can. Mark too.” She offered that last on impulse. If he ever stays home long enough. “I’m sure you’ll both be fine when the time comes.” Mouth tight, she ducked into the safety of her car.

I forgot to get gas. The thought struck her before she started the engine. The needle of the gas gauge had teetered on E as she drove home from work the day before, but then decided to wait and fill the car the next morning on her customary trip to the grocery store. Then when she didn’t go to the store as planned… She reeled out the driver side seatbelt she clicked into place around her. Steve’s call, along with his dinner invitation, had made her forget . . . everything.

Another quick wristwatch check showed she had only twenty minutes to get to The Deacon and the restaurant was at least that far away in miles. I’ll just have to be late. It was a given Steve would tease her about her tardiness when she got there. Much as he did the one time she slid into work late, but only a few minutes after eight, and apologized profusely to her boss who simply smiled and shrugged. ‘As long as you get your work done, don’t sweat the details.’

It was another given Steve would arrive at the restaurant before her. The man was always so together and confident, with his suits impeccably creased, his shirts neatly pressed.

She thought of Mark’s permanent press sport shirts she had washed recently. They were neither impeccably creased, nor even neatly pressed, but they were clean, and when he pulled one off the hanger to put on, he’d roll up the sleeves and never complain.

The engine sputtered then settled into a reassuring hum the moment Jenna turned the key. She watched the gas gauge needle climb, finally coming to rest above the full mark. That was when she remembered something else. Mark had gone to the store to pick up milk right after he got home, because she had forgotten they were out. He must have driven her car and taken care of her need for gas.

Images of Mark took over her mind as she put the car in gear and maneuvered toward the highway. His ever youthful face, sandy brown hair and matching brown eyes. Eyes that glistened with love whenever they looked her way. Ready smile for her there too. No matter what.

Lost in those precious recollections as she traveled down the interstate, she glanced up just in time to see the sign for the exit she was supposed to take as she whizzed by it. Darn! Now she’d have to double back and be even later than she already was. Steve had probably moved beyond being mildly amused and was fast approaching slightly annoyed.

Trying to not think about what a scatter brain she’d become, she pulled into the restaurant parking lot, and hit the front door on what amounted to a dead run. Once inside, she had to make herself stop in the ladies’ room long enough to regain some semblance of composure. Powder the shine off her nose. Check her teeth for errant lipstick smudges.

A huffy looking maître d led her toward a far back corner after she explained who it was she was meeting. She caught sight of Steve sitting there long before they arrived at the table. He happened to be engrossed in conversation with the waitress—a twenty something cutie with a sweet smile and knock out body—and Jenna took advantage of a chance to study his profile. As the term Greek god came to mind, her stomach, then her heart, twisted. The waitress laughed at whatever he’d just said and reached her hand out to pat his shoulder. His hand was quick to cover hers as she did so. A flirtatious exchange of smiles came next as she turned to walk away. For now.

Eyes front with slightly turned up lips lingering, Steve stood up as Jenna approached. His smile broadened as his gaze took her in. Complete with a long, approving inspection.

Her pulse rate surged in response. Business. It was business.

She silently repeated what had become her latest mantra as she cast what she hoped to be a warm smile of her own his way. Then, as she continued to study his handsome face, something odd happened.

“I can’t stay.” She heard herself apologize as he came around to pull out her chair.

Eyes wide, head cocked to one side, that killer smile dimmed. “You what?”

“My neighbor’s spaniel is having puppies and I promised I’d help her.” She winced inside at the half truth, but hurried on. “If you’ll give me those figures, I’ll have the graph ready for you on Monday morning.”

Startled to say the least, Steve recovered quickly, charm poured from everywhere, and then some. “You know.” He brought out another smile as he spoke. His dark eyes held her gaze, but only for a moment. “It’s the darnedest thing. I walked right out of the house without the papers. I thought my briefcase was in the car, but it wasn’t.” He shrugged broad shoulders. “Are you sure you can’t stay for dinner anyway?” The cleft in his chin deepened.

She met his gaze. “Well, the puppies and all.”

“Yeah, sure, the puppies.”

He mumbled something that resembled ‘maybe some other time’ but she had already turned to leave.

A long hot bath combined with a few hours lost in a good book helped Jenna unwind when she got home. It would take a bit longer to forget what she’d almost done.

Sunday morning, she awoke to the sound of Mark’s car pulling into the driveway. Scrambling out of bed, she met him at the door and threw grateful arms around his neck as soon as he walked in. He didn’t say a word, didn’t ask why, just pulled her close and held her tight until she was ready to let go.

“I missed you so much.” She buried her face in his shoulder.

“Hey.” As he held her at arm’s length, a comforting brightness lit familiar eyes. “I was only gone for one night.”

“I know.” She returned the evidence of love shining from his gaze ten-fold. “But it seemed so much longer.”

“It’s good to be home.” Gathering her to him again, his chin rested on top of the sleep tousled hair he’d just brushed with a kiss.

Jenna closed her eyes, all warm and safe and very, very loved. “You must be starving.” She pulled away, remembering he’d just finished working an all night shift. “What would you like for breakfast?”

“Whatever’s easiest.”

Whatever you want. “I can think of something.”

“You always do.” He yawned then stretched both arms over his head, then brought them down and around her. Looking her in the eye, he smiled. “One of the many reasons I love you so much. You take such very good care of me.”

“The same thing you do for me.” She smiled back as he paused to hold her for a moment. Hold her very, very tight.

Later, after he’d rested, she’d tell him about her promise to Connie. One she knew he would readily agree to. Then she’d make some excuse about how her new job just wasn’t working out and how she needed to find another. She had no doubt Mark would agree to that too. No questions asked.

“But first I need to change my clothes.” He let her go then took off his scrub top he tossed over the chair.

“I love you, Mark.” Jenna’s smile remained as she watched him make his way down the hall to the bathroom.

I love you.

That's all I have for now. My days to blog here are the 11th and 23rd. For more about me and my stories, both long and short, please visit my WEBSITE

21 comments:

Jannine Gallant said...

Nice ending. A great way to start my morning!

Margo Hoornstra said...

Thanks, Jannine. Glad I could bring it to you.

Rohn Federbush said...

I stayed for every loving word. Good job.

Rohn Federbush said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Melissa Keir said...

Wonderful post. I can sympathize with the heroine. It's tough when you are married, feeling taken advantage of is common. You forget the passion because of all the little things, jobs, house, etc.

Diane Burton said...

Very nice, Margo. Glad she saw Mark's redeeming qualities in the nick of time.

Alicia Dean said...

Somehow, I missed the first part and had to go back and read. I'm so glad I did. Loved this story. Great job with showing what the heroine was going through and how it came to be rectified. Loved it!

Margo Hoornstra said...

Thanks, Rohn. Nice to have you here.

Margo Hoornstra said...

So true, Melissa. Been there and done that, like so many others.

Margo Hoornstra said...

Thanks, Diane. I'm thinking she knew about Mark's good side all along.

Margo Hoornstra said...

Nice to hear, Ally. Life sure is busy. Glad you had a chance to catch up.

Leah St. James said...

Loved the story, Margo. Made me feel all warm and gooey...in a good way, I mean. :-) I love happy endings!

Margo Hoornstra said...

Warm and gooey is fine, Leah. I'm all about the HEAs too.

Rolynn Anderson said...

She's my kind of person. A smidgeon of fantasy followed by reality. We can all dream, but in the end, we stay at the helm and keep our course.

MJ Schiller said...

Loved this! I especially liked the end where he just threw his scrub over a chair, something that annoyed her at the beginning, but you know is one of those sweet, though irritating, little quirks she now realizes he has. Nicely done!

Jolana Malkston said...

I missed part one just like Alicia. I get so much email that occasionally I unintentionally overlook messages. I also went back to read part one. I enjoyed both parts very much. :)

You wrote a touching love story for today, for the kind of challenging relationships that many young and also forty-something professionals have. You managed to capture the wife's emotions very believably when you depict the disappointment and temptation she faces but finds the strength and devotion to overcome for the heartwarming HEA. Nicely done.

Susan Coryell said...

As a veteran of 50 years of marriage, I had to applaud your lovely story. There are many, many of us long-marrieds who still love with passion and feel concern when it comes to our spouses. Thanks for posting!

Margo Hoornstra said...

Well said, Rolynn, well said.

Margo Hoornstra said...

Thanks, MJ. They sure can drive us crazy, can't they? In a good way, sort of.

Margo Hoornstra said...

Oh, Jolana, so sweet of you to say so. It is true. Temptation will always be out there, right, wrong or otherwise, I guess.

Margo Hoornstra said...

We're catching up at 47 years and counting, Susan. Love wins out.