McKenzie Free

One woman's quest for greater understanding through freedom of self expression.

Archive for the category “Short Stories”

The Affair

He was forty and growing restless in his marriage. She was twenty-eight. Beautiful and vibrant in a way that only those who live life fully can be. They met completely by accident. This may be difficult for some to even imagine in our current world of online profiles, emails and texting, but at one time people used to bump into each other in public and strike up random, friendly conversations with one another.

She dropped a package on the street while trying to open the door to the book store with her elbow. He picked up her package and got the door for her. Neither were there for the books as it turned out, but rather for the coffee shop in the rear as a respite from the crowds of holiday shoppers. They chatted as they stood in line waiting to order. As it turned out, once they got their drinks there was only one table left available and they sat down and shared a warm beverage together.

He did not lie or act coy about the fact of his wife and children. In fact, he spoke of them lovingly and with pride. Oddly, this made him more attractive to her. She knew it was wrong to feel the tug of emotion while they spoke. She forced herself not to reach across the table and touch his hand as she so wanted to do.

He knew it was wrong to ask her to join him for dinner. He rationalized it in his mind that it was only a meal. She rationalized it the same way when she smiled and said “yes”.  This is how it began. Neither one wanting to investigate their behavior more fully. To do so would surely have meant they would have walked away from each other and remained strangers.

He thought, at first, that he could compartmentalize his life. That she would simply be a bit of enjoyment that he carved out for himself. She would not impact the rest of his life. But, as it turned out, she was not a woman who could be kept in a box. She was too full of life and his need to speak with her and be with her would not contain itself to a few hours a week.

She had a very full life before she met him. With him in her life her schedule began to overflow. If you had asked her prior to meeting him if she would ever consider seeing a married man she would have been insulted and answered a resounding “of course NOT”. Now here she was, making up last minute excuses why she couldn’t make her usual volunteer night at the hospital or meet her best friend for drinks or dinner so she could accommodate him when he could get away.

She told no one. Not her sister, her best friend, not even her hairdresser. The volunteer organizations thought her work responsibilities had increased, her friends thought she was volunteering more and should take more time for herself, her staff was grateful that she seemed to be finding a better balance between work and the rest of her life. Only she was aware of the reality of her situation.

He was amazed at how well his business continued to run without his complete focus on it twenty-four seven. Perhaps he could have gotten away in prior years to take his family on those vacations he had assured them were impossible? His wife was beginning to pressure him to spend more time at home and he began to slowly realize that there was no way this could not affect his marriage and his family.

After almost a year of seeing each other they had finally admitted to themselves and each other that this was about more than the convenience of lust. They had strong and caring feelings for each other. Feelings that came with as much pain as joy.   As he began to realize the effect the affair was having on his family, she began to realize she did not want to celebrate another Christmas in a hotel room a week after ringing in the New Year alone.

This is why tonight, almost a year since their first meeting, she found herself sitting alone in the coffee shop where they first met waiting to see if he would join her. If he showed up, this meant he had told his wife about her and had chosen a new life with her. If not, the crazy, titillating roller coaster ride of the last year had reached its end.

She did not know which life he would choose. She was well aware of the schism the affair had caused in his emotions and his life. She also believed his love for his wife was still very real. Part of her hoped that he would choose to remain with his family thereby proving to be the man she thought he was on the day they met. No part of her wanted to be the person that caused upheaval and pain for others. The other part of her, the selfish part, the part that found such happiness in his presence, was holding her breath and hoping to catch sight of him walking down the aisle of books toward their table.

As she sat and waited she realized that no matter what his decision her life would be irrevocably changed after tonight.

The Rain

She walked down the cobble stone street toward the café. She wanted to put down her umbrella and feel the rain on her face but she knew it would draw the odd looks from passersby and that Rafael would be concerned about her wet hair and clothing when she arrived. She missed her home town so much. It rained a great deal in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. There was precipitation of some kind more than half the year. Most people walked about without umbrellas and never let the wet climate slow them down.

She knew that for most people living in Paris was something they dreamed about their entire lives but it was never her dream.   She was tired of feeling guilty about being a small town girl who preferred her small town. She missed the rain, the wind, the coastline, the comfort of everyone in town knowing who she and her family were. As a child everyone in town watched out for you. There were no secrets. Nothing you did went unnoticed or unreported to your parents. Many found it stifling and couldn’t wait to get out of town after High School graduation. She found it comforting and she missed the town and its people terribly that first year away at college.

That was where she met Rafael. She was drawn to his good looks, strong ethics, and his thirst to make social justice a reality for everyone around the world. He was a leader of people. That was evident from the first time she saw him speaking at a rally outside the student union. He asked for her support…and he got it. He asked for a date…and he got that too. From that first date on the two of them were never very far apart. They were known at college as the couple who was trying to change the world…and the ones who just might succeed.

She was not comfortable here in Paris. She could speak French fluently now, and she didn’t dislike Paris in any way, she just longed for something simpler. She hadn’t felt at home in Sao Paulo or Amsterdam either, not even by the end of their five year stints there.

Today she would tell him. Today she would be completely honest and let him know that she had to go home. That she couldn’t spend her life away from the rain and the sea and her familiar surroundings any longer. She would tell him she could not take on another assignment to another foreign city. She had to go home.

As she drew closer to the café she could see him sitting near the window waiting for her. He had already ordered the fizzy water he knew she would want. He would wait until she sat down to order any further. Even though he knew her well enough to know exactly what she would want to eat he never presumed and always waited for her. He was studying papers in front of him, always working, always thinking of what his next step would be, how he could best make a difference.

He looked up and his face lit up as it did whenever he saw her even after all these years. He smiled and waved at her, appearing excited to see her, even though she’d kissed him good-bye at the front door just a few hours ago. He stood when she entered and leaned down to kiss her cheeks. And then she looked into those eyes again and knew…she would not tell him. She would never tell him. She would stay by his side for the next tour and be content with an annual visit to her home town each year. They sat and ate and talked of many things but not of America or homesickness.

When they said good-bye outside and turned their backs to each other to walk back to their offices it was still raining. Just a slow drizzle now. He opened his umbrella as he left but she did not open hers. Rather she walked with her face turned up toward the clouds feeling the water on her face and remembering the cool Oregon rain.

The missing muse….

I thought my muse had deserted me.  For over a year I haven’t put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, other than at my day job.  Then this morning I woke up and this…

 

It was years before she realized it was the marriage, not the divorce, that broke her.  Every time she acquiesced to one of his demands she had lost a bit of who she might have been.  Not taking writing class or going out with her friends anymore because he wanted her home in the evenings. The promotions she passed up, the relationships she let slip away, because it would take too much time away from their life together.   Always having sex in the same position while he whispered strange, ugly comments in her ear.  His odd attraction to granny panties.  Victoria Secret had been lost on him.  He preferred full coverage briefs that made her feel like someone’s pasta making grandmother.

She told herself it was okay, normal, even good.  She told herself she was happy.  She took care of him and their home as a good wife should until one day after 25 years he walked into the kitchen and told her over his morning coffee that he was moving to California with the firm’s young receptionist.

And now, here she stood just a few years later, on the brink of something new.  She felt as though she was beginning to travel down an unmarked path similar to the one that park rangers always discouraged hikers from following.  “Stay on the marked trail”, was the advice she’d always followed. Until today.  Today she was about to leap into an unknown forest of possibilities.

 

TRANSFORMATION

DISCLAIMER:  This is not my typical post.  It is X-rated and should not be read by the faint of heart (or by any of my friends and loved ones who might hold it against me).   I am not responsible for where my muse takes me.  I saw a beautiful woman on the street who looked homeless.  My mind drifted to how she might have ended up that way.  The idea came to me fully formed and I wanted to try a new genre.  This is the result.

*********************************

Mattie sat gazing in the mirror stopped in mid stroke while putting her eye liner on.  In that split second she flashed back to the exact moment when her life had changed.  It was a Monday morning in April and she and Timothy were having yet another fight.  She couldn’t remember what started it but she did remember that was the morning she finally said what she’d been trying to say for months.  “You don’t desire me anymore.  I need you to want me, not just as a social partner, but as a woman.”

Timothy looked at her enraged and yelled, “If I’m not man enough for you, Martha, why don’t you go find someone who is!”  He walked out slamming the door behind him and left her standing in the entry way with her mouth agape.  Moments later she heard his car peel out of the driveway and hoped he’d slow down for the light at Midway.

She drove to the club in a thoughtful mood.  She pulled up front and handed her keys to Jimmy who was deferential as always.  “Good Morning Mrs. Medford.  Have a good workout.”

The Olympic-size pool was always empty this early in the morning and she drove herself to swim faster and faster trying hard to tire herself out physically so her body wouldn’t ask for anything more of her.

Afterward she dressed and waited patiently for Jimmy to bring her car around.  She got in and drove to her volunteer job at the city museum.  It was a small museum, not busy at the best of times, but the city was proud of its history and of housing the bell from its first church built in 1810.  No one worked with her on Mondays, the slowest day of the week at the museum, and today was especially quiet.

With no museum visitors to occupy her mind she sat in the front office contemplating what Timothy had screamed as he left that morning and browsing online for a dress to wear to the country club annual dance.  On the right of the screen an advertisement caught her eye.  “Are you lonely?  Are you wishing you had a man who truly desires you?  Join thousands of other women like yourself whose lives have changed for the better.  Click here to learn more.”  What could it hurt, she told herself, to just take a look?

They wanted her to sign up and she chose the user name JustLookin and put minimal information in her profile.  She was just clicking through looking at the hundreds of different men of varying ages and types when a “chat” request popped up on her screen.

CoulditB_U?:     Want to chat for a bit?

She looked at the box on the screen.  CoulditB_U? hadn’t posted a picture but it said 32, 6’2”, physically fit.  Why would a 32 year old man want to chat with her?  She’d listed her correct birthday which made her 45 next February.  But, what could it hurt to just chat?

JustLookin:         Hi.

CoulditB_U?:     Rod here.   Are you enjoying your day?

JustLookin:         It’s going okay.

CoulditB_U?:     Just okay?  Are you bored?

JustLookin:         Not bored, really, more in a thoughtful mood.

CoulditB_U?:     What are you thinking about?

JustLookin:         I’d rather not say

CoulditB_U?:     Want me to tell you what I’m thinking about today?

JustLookin:         Sure.

CoulditB_U?:     I’m thinking I’d like to meet a woman who’d like to chat a while and see if we have anything at all we could offer each other.  What are you looking for?

JustLookin:         I’m not looking for anything, really, I’m married actually.

CoulditB_U?:     Happily married?

The screen blinked his question at her.  Happily married?  Happily married?  For some reason, maybe the anonymity of the computer chat, she replied honestly:

JustLookin:         Not lately.

CoulditB_U?:     Let me guess.  Your husband doesn’t make love to you like he did when you were first married, right?

JustLookin:         My husband doesn’t make love to me at all.

CoulditB_U?:     And I’ll bet you’re still an attractive woman.

JustLookin:         I try very hard to take care of myself.

CoulditB_U?:     Why don’t you give me your email address and I’ll send you a picture of me so you’ll know who you’re talking to and you can send me one of you?

JustLookin:         I can’t do that.  I’ve got to go now.  Bye.

CoulditB_U?:     Send me your picture if you change your mind.  After all, we’re just talking.    Coulditbu@gmail.com.  I’d love to hear from you.

That night Tim and she had sat quietly through dinner.  It seemed even the pretense of talking about their day was too much trouble any more.  After dinner Tim went into the library and she could hear the television probably tuned in to the History channel.

She went in her small office off the kitchen to pay some bills online.  At least that’s what she told herself she was there for.  She found herself looking through her laptop for a photo of her alone, without Tim or one of their friends in it with her.  She found a photo of her at their pool party last summer in a short aqua shift that she thought showed off her long legs and her great tan.  Her long blonde hair was piled high on her head and small wisps of curls fell down around her face framing her deep blue eyes.  On a lark she logged in to her email account and sent the picture off to CoulditB_U?.  Then she went upstairs and read until she fell asleep.

The next morning she lay in bed with no reason to get up.  Normally she scheduled activities so that she was always busy but this morning her tennis and lunch date had cancelled saying she was sick.  So she simply lay in bed thinking about how when Timothy and she were first married how he’d rush home after work just to be with her.  She heard the ping of her phone on the bedside table telling her she had mail and she reached across to grab it and check her email.

From:  CoulditB_U?: 

I don’t know how I knew you would be a beautiful woman, but I just knew.  You’re stunning.  My photo’s attached.  Please say you’ll meet me for coffee today?  Starbucks on 5th Street?  11:00am?  I’ll wait for you.  You won’t regret it.

She clicked on the attachment link and his photo was displayed on the screen.  He was handsome, with a quirky smile, dark tussled hair and brown eyes.

She got up and went into the bathroom and started the shower.  The entire time she spent getting ready, choosing her clothing with care, taking extra time on her hair and make-up, she told herself she was not going to meet him.  When she was done she went into the garage, got into her car, and drove to 5th street.

He was sitting at a small table in the rear and when she entered.  He got up smiling and greeted her.  He pulled the chair out for her to sit down and got her the latte she requested.  They sat and talked, smiling and flirting, him gently brushing his hand against hers, briefly touching her arm or her thigh sending ripples of electricity through her.

And then he asked her, straight forward and simple, “Come home with me?”  It was as though she was in a trance, or a dream, as she replied, “Yes.”

She followed him to a small bungalow on the east side of town.  Once there, they didn’t talk.  He closed the door behind her and immediately began kissing her.  She realized she craved his touch and pulled him tightly to her.  He whispered in her ear telling her how beautiful she was and how much he wanted to please her.  Almost before she knew what was happening she found herself leaning against the wall with her skirt hiked up to her waist and a man she barely knew kneeling before her gently removing her panties and using his tongue on her clitoris.   She had never done anything like this in her life. The only time she’d ever had sex was with men she was in a serious relationship with.  It was exhilarating.

After the first time they met once a week.  He would text her every day between meetings telling her in very specific detail what he wanted to do to her the next time they were together.  He begged her to write back and say what she wanted.  The first time, she was embarrassed to write anything so seemingly crude, but she did it and realized as she wrote the words how hot it was making her.  As time passed the texting became as exciting as her time with him.  She seemed to be in a state of heightened sexual awareness and spent hours each day aroused to the point of distraction. She would open her messages and read his words: “I need to see my hard cock disappear into some part of you.  I don’t care where.  Everything is good.”  Immediately she would feel herself getting wet in anticipation of their meeting.

Each time she thought she’d gone beyond anything she could ever bring herself to do with a man; Rod would ask for just a little bit more. Things she had heard about but would never have shared with her husband or any other lover.  Things that previously she had thought strange, had believed only perverts would ever think about, she did for him.  She seemed unable to deny him anything he wanted from her.

She was desperate to have more time with him and began cancelling dates with her friends at the club.    After a couple of months passed she stopped volunteering at the museum.  Timothy asked her why she wasn’t getting out more often and she said something vague about not feeling well.  They had stopped fighting.  As soon as she had stopped asking him for more of his time and attention things quickly went back to the way they had been between them, polite conversation, retiring to separate rooms after dinner.  She’d be asleep each night before he ever came upstairs to bed.

At the end of three months she’d lost ten pounds and they were seeing each other whenever she could get away.  She began to take more chances, staying longer at the bungalow than she should, twice getting back barely in time to take a shower before Timothy arrived home from work.  She’d had to order Chinese and make some lame excuse about having to run a lot of errands that day.

Rod began asking her if he could come to her house.  He told her what a rush it would be for him to make love to her in her own bed.  How much hotter it would be.  How much harder it would make him.  After a few weeks she had succumbed and let him come over.  She was completely addicted to being naked with him and she found she was incapable of saying no to him.  She didn’t think it possible but the increased risk of being caught heightened the pleasure for her.

That afternoon Rod lay on her bed and she was sitting on top of him with his young, hard cock deep inside of her lost in riding the waves of pleasure as they rippled through her.

“OH My God, Martha!  Get off him! Get him out!  Get him the fuck out of my house!”

She stopped; stunned.  Rod had pushed her off of him; jumped up, grabbed his clothes and run out past Timothy without looking back.  It was the last time she had ever seen him.  She’d tried to reach him texting and emailing incessantly the next day but he no longer answered.  When she went to the bungalow there was no sign anyone had ever lived there.

The stipulation of their pre-nuptial agreement was that if she was ever unfaithful she would get nothing, leaving the marriage with exactly what she’d brought in to it.  Timothy had thrown her out that same day.  He had let her keep the BMW and her clothes but he’d only given her 24 hours to get out of the house.

After 19 years of marriage she was no longer Mrs. Timothy Medford.  She wasn’t welcome at the country club.  The women with whom she had played tennis and cards, had volunteered and lunched with no longer took her calls.   She had no friends, no income, and no marketable skills.  She’d given up the life she knew to feel the excitement of a stranger’s touch.

Max stuck his head inside the curtain and spat out, “Pick it up Mattie, there’s a big crowd out there.  And for God’s sake shake some tit tonight.  These guys didn’t come down here to see St Theresa.”

Max’s barking snapped Mattie out of her reverie and she finished applying her eyeliner;  lined and polished her lips.  She stood up tall to her full 5’8” (6 feet with these heels on), pulled back the curtain, held her head high and walked slowly toward the stage entrance.

 

Friends for Life

From the outside Meredith Blaine looked like a woman who had a full life.  She had experienced things that most people never would.  She’d traveled the world; met many famous, and some infamous, people, drove alone across America, skied the Italian Alps, rode an elephant in India, a camel in Israel, and a horse across the plains of Australia.

It was years before she realized that not everyone felt things with the same level of passionate intensity that she did.  When she loved someone she loved them to the point of aching.  She bonded immediately and would do anything for those she cared about.  She never played games.  She was honest to a fault.  When she cared for someone she let them know.  When they walked away she felt a pain that was indescribable.

She woke each day hopeful that she would meet a man who would understand and cherish her.  She met many men – she married two of them — she entertained them, they talked, they walked, they danced, they shared meals, they shared history, they shared stories, they shared sex – but always, for one reason or another, it ended.

There were professional men, educated men, simple men, working stiffs, artists; it didn’t seem to matter what their background was, where they came from, what they did for a living.  Apparently men never felt for her the type of love that caused them to feel a lasting connection.  She studied the women she knew who seemed to have wonderful relationships and simply could not understand what it was that she was lacking.  She could attract a man, she attracted plenty of men, but none of them seemed to have staying power.  Men were drawn to her for her outgoing personality and passion for life and then immediately upon getting her began the mission to change her.

Her latest heartbreak had been over a year ago and she still thought of him almost daily.  She had been attracted to him from the moment they met.  She was tapping her foot impatiently waiting for her carry out order at Louis’ and he started a conversation with her, finally suggesting they eat there rather than taking their orders back to their empty apartments.   They had gotten to know each other slowly and when he finally asked to make love to her she had wanted nothing more.  The courtship had lasted longer than the actual relationship.  Her time with Charles was over almost before it began for reasons she still couldn’t understand.

Meredith sat alone in her doorman apartment on the upper west side of Manhattan and wondered why she bothered any more.  What exactly was the point of getting up each morning and continuing on when every day was the same as the day before?  She got up, made herself beautiful, went into the office and managed all the issues that came up with intelligence and finesse and then came home to her stunningly decorated but very empty apartment.  She laughed sometimes thinking that most people would be shocked to know that Meredith Blaine spent most nights alone ordering in from the many fine restaurants in her neighborhood and watching reruns of NCIS on TV.

This particular night she felt empty and tired beyond anything a good night’s sleep could help her recover from.  She got up from her favorite chair and went to the medicine chest to get the sleeping pills her doctor had given her at her last visit.  She stared at the prescription bottle for a long time and then she sat down at her antique desk and began to write her good-bye.

September 7, 2010

Dear Eleanor,

I write to you because I know you’ll be the one who finds me.  You will be the one who finally wonders where I’ve been, what I’ve been up to, and worries enough about me to come find out.  After calling, texting and emailing me for a couple of days without a response you’ll spend at least an hour looking everywhere for the key I gave you last year (finally finding it in the basket on your dresser) and you’ll let yourself in and find my body.  I hope it’s not too gruesome for you.  I tried to make myself as presentable as possible.  I don’t know if that will make it easier for you, or worse.

I know you won’t understand.  You of all people, the one who has always been content with her life just the way it turned out, won’t be able to understand how achingly empty my life has become.  I will try and write something here that will help you understand.

I know it’s not politically correct to say all you want is a man who cherishes you and your life will be complete but, let’s face it, I’ve already got everything else and truly that is the one thing I’ve always wanted and that has always eluded me.  All the education, world travel and wild experiences in the world can’t top the look I see in Jim’s eyes when he’s watching you from across the room.  He truly thinks you are the most wonderful woman in the world and you can tell he still feels like the luckiest man on earth that you agreed to share your life with him. 

No man has ever felt that for me.  Do you know how it feels to have been married twice,  and to never have a man buy you a ring or ask you the question?  As you well know, both my husband’s had to be pushed, pulled and prodded down the aisle.  And neither of them, nor any man since, has ever looked at me with the love struck joy in his eyes that Jim has when he gazes at you.

So two marriages, an incredible career, and no children later…what has it all gotten me?–empty nights and emptier days.  My world is filled with activities but I’ve apparently failed miserably at the most meaningful part of life, human relationships.

The phone rang and Meredith wondered out loud if she should answer it.  “It may be an emergency”, she thought as she picked up the phone.

Dottie dialed her friend Meredith’s number hoping she would be home.  She just had to tell her the good news.  Her daughter, Laura, had just been chosen for the lead in an off Broadway musical.  Laura knew it was mostly Meredith who had given her daughter the courage to be herself and go for her dream.  She was always there for the kids one hundred percent and she had an enormous impact on the young woman Laura had become.  Thinking back, she didn’t know how she would have gotten through being a working Mom with three kids under the age of five if Meredith hadn’t stepped in to help and be there for them.

“Hi Mer, How are you?  I just had to call and tell you Laura got the part!”

“That’s wonderful, Dottie, is she over the moon?”

“That’s putting it mildly.  She started memorizing her lines the moment they called.  She really feels like this could be the beginning of something for her but she also keeps reminding me what you told her, success is doing what you love every day.  Wait, here she is, I know she’ll want to talk to you.”

“Hi Mama Mer, did Mom tell you?”

“Yes, sweetie, she did.  I’m so happy for you.  I know it’s what you wanted.  Have you met the rest of the cast?”

“Not everyone, but remember that gorgeous man we saw in “Grease” at the Playhouse last year?  He’ll be playing opposite me.  It could prove to be very interesting!”

“You have fun sweetie.  I know it will be a lot of work and many late nights, but just remember to have fun and enjoy yourself along the way.”

“I will Mama Mer.  Every day I remember how you told me to be true to myself and do what makes me feel good in my soul.  If I hadn’t done that all these years I wouldn’t be here now.  Thanks for always being there.  I’m going to be certain you have tickets with Mom and Dad for opening night.  You’ll come won’t you?”

“You know I’ll be there if I can.  Tell your Mom good-bye for me sweetheart.  I love you.”

“Love you too Mama Mer.  Bye.”

Well, you’ll know by now that Laura got the part.  Was there ever any question?  How that enormous voice comes out of that tiny girl I’ll never know.  No one hearing her on stage would ever believe there once was a question about whether or not the child would have a normal lung capacity.  That’s one of the things I did right with my life is help out Dottie when she needed help with those babies.  She always thought I was doing her a favor, but you and I know it was the other way around.  I loved mothering those kids.  But they’re all older now and they’ll b e fine on their own.  My work there is done and I rarely see or hear from them now that they’ve been launched into lives of their own.

I know you can’t imagine what it’s even like to be alone every day.  You have Jim and the kids and your house is always bursting at the seams with visitors from all over the world taking advantage of your wonderful hospitality. 

You’ve been a good friend, Eleanor; a lasting friend who has always been there for me.  I thank you for that. I feel badly leaving you this last difficult task to handle for me.

Meredith heard someone knocking on her apartment door.  It must be Carlos, her doorman, because no one else could have gotten by him and up to her floor without being announced.  He knew she was in her apartment so she’d better answer.  She didn’t want him worrying what was wrong and using his key.

Carlos knocked on Ms. Meredith’s door.  He wouldn’t do this for the other tenants, he thought to himself, but Ms. Meredith wasn’t just any tenant.  She treated all of the staff like real people, always asking him about his wife and family, remembering him on holidays and special occasions, not acting as if he was less because of his job.   He had just signed for an international special delivery for her.  The protocol would be to phone and let her know it was there and then leave it on the desk for her to sign for it when she had time to pick it up.  That’s exactly how he’d handle it for anyone else in the building but he thought international special delivery might be really important and Ms. Meredith looked like she needed something to cheer her up when she came in tonight.

“Hello Carlos.  What are you doing up here?”

“Hi Ms. Meredith.  This came in for you just moments ago.  I thought it might be important and I wanted to get it to you.”

“Thanks Carlos.  You know you didn’t have to do that.  I would have gotten it next time I was down.”

“I wanted to.  You’re always good to all of us and I thought you deserved special treatment for a special delivery.”

“Thanks Carlos.  You have a good evening.  Tell Maria I left her some bulbs for the roof garden in the back office.

“Okay, Ms. Meredith.  I’ll let her know.  You have a blessed evening.”

Meredith opened the Express envelope and immediately knew who it was from simply by the beautiful handwriting on the interior envelope.  It was obviously an invitation from Martina and Joaquin.  Martina’s hand writing was exquisite, always had been, even though she’d had no formal education.

Please join us to celebrate the publication

 of Joaquin Aguirre’s first novel:

Evenings in the Vineyard

Saturday, November 13, 2010, 7pm

Aguirre Vineyard

San Rafael, Mendoza, Argentina

Inside the invitation was a hand written letter.

Dear Meredith,

You know how upset I was when Joaquin decided to turn over management of the vineyard to Benjamin to spend his time entirely on his creative pursuits.  I was angry at you for a long time for advising him to follow his heart.  I was worried that Benjamin would fail, that Joaquin would fail, and that we’d end up with nothing. Now here it is two years later and both have been successful in their pursuits and none of us have ever been happier.

You must join us for the celebration.  Joaquin listened to you when you told him to do what would feed his soul and the rest would take care of itself.  It’s because of you that he gave himself the time to write the most beautiful and provocative work I have ever read.  (Okay, I admit to being a bit prejudiced.)  It’s a wonderful book.  I know you will love it.  I will let you in on a little secret.  It’s dedicated to you!

So come visit us, my friend.  We love you and can’t wait to celebrate with you.

          Love always,

                   Martina

Meredith had met Martina and Joaquin over ten years ago on a trip to Argentina and they had hit it off immediately.  Two years ago during a visit Joaquin had admitted to her how unhappy he had become.  He told her that the Vineyard, although a part of his family for generations, was not really what made him happy.  They had sat up long after Martina had gone to bed and talked about art and writing and the things that made their hearts swell.  She had told him to feed his soul and the rest would work out.  Thinking about it now, where did she get off telling anyone that?  Had her life worked itself out?

Meredith sat back down at her desk and picked up her pen.

I can’t tell you how many nights I’ve sat alone in this apartment with only the television to keep me company.  Tonight, I came home believing it would be another one of those too quiet evenings but I’ve already had several interruptions.  Sometimes I feel as though I’ve read everything there is to read, traveled everywhere there is to travel, seen everything there is to see, and yet something is missing. 

Listen, when it comes to the obituary…just list Marina as my surviving sister….leave the rest of them out of it completely.  If they couldn’t be close to me in life…they don’t need to be recognized in death.  Do whatever you want about a memorial service.  You know I have never understood why people care what happens after their death.  It is truly the height of self centeredness to try and control things after you’re dead.

The house phone? Carlos must have forgotten something.

—————–

“Thanks for letting me use the house phone, Carlos” Eleanor said.  Eleanor knew Meredith wouldn’t ignore the house phone.   She needed to get through to her and she was fairly certain tomorrow might be too late.

She noticed that Meredith had become more and more withdrawn and quiet lately.  She knew Meredith was saddened that her love life had never gelled but she was such a fabulous friend to so many.  Meredith had been a part of her life for as long as she could remember.  She had changed Eleanor’s life for the better the first day they met.  It was freshman year and Eleanor blushed just thinking about what a techie dork she’d been back then.  Lost and confused on her first day of classes Meredith had helped her find English Lit and then later helped her understand English Lit.

Since then they’d been through everything together from childbirth to planning Eleanor’s mother’s funeral.  She couldn’t imagine her life without Meredith in it.

“Carlos, did you forget something?” Meredith asked as she picked up the phone.

“It’s me, Mer.”

“El, what are you doing?”

“I’m downstairs, can I come up?”

“Well…um…yeah… of course…come on up.”

As Eleanor got in the elevator she found herself thinking back to that day at the campus coffee shop when Meredith decided she’d had enough of Eleanor and Jimmy smiling shyly across the room at each other and got up and invited him to their table.   After that day, it was the three of them against the world.  They got through everything together: finals, Jimmy’s parents’ divorce, graduation and the search for what to do next.  They’d been through a lot and Meredith was still the only one who could make Jimmy smile when he was in his lowest funk.

Eleanor knocked on Meredith’s door.

—————–

“Hey, Meredith, sorry to just pop in but it’s an emergency.  They just hung Jimmy’s last painting at the new gallery and he’s a wreck.  I got him settled down and left him at Louis’ with a drink.  Can you please come out and work your magic on him?”

“’Well El, I had planned to get a lot of writing done tonight.”

“Come on, Meredith, you know you’re the only one he’ll listen to.”

“Okay, okay, let me get my wrap”

As they stepped out on to West 86th Street Meredith took a deep breath and took in the streets of New York in early fall.  She’d always loved this neighborhood with its wonderful, bustling, busy, streets.

As they walked toward Columbus Avenue to make their way to Louis’, Eleanor linked her arm through Meredith’s and spoke.  “Do you want to tell me what’s got you so down lately.”

“I’m fine, Eleanor, really.”

“No, you’re not fine.  I’ve known you for 30 years and loved you for every day of it.  Do you really think I don’t know you well enough to know when the world has you down?  You’re an amazing woman, Meredith, and a woman I can’t imagine not having in my life.  You give so many people so much of yourself.   You normally take on the world with an energy that’s frightening to behold.  You’ve been withdrawn and quiet for weeks.   You haven’t stopped in to see us at home or at Louis’.  Something is terribly wrong.  If you don’t want to tell me about it, that’s fine,  but I’m not letting you out of my site until you can ensure me everything’s okay.“

She looked over at Meredith and saw the tears quietly streaming down her face.  She stopped and wiped them off and hugged Meredith close to her for several long seconds before opening the door to Louis’.  They stepped into Louis’ Place and he greeted them with open arms, planting a kiss of each of Meredith’s cheeks as was his custom.

“My favorite customer returns!  I haven’t seen you for weeks and Jimmy tells me you haven’t been yourself.  I am fixing you something very special tonight of my own creation.  It will make your taste buds burst with joy and make you happy to be alive.  Sit…sit…   Marie!  Bring my guests some fresh, hot bread.”

Jimmy smiled up at her.  “It’s an intervention.  What did you expect?  We love you Babe.  Sit and sink your teeth into these delicious crusty calories.  If my gorgeous face and Louis’ food and hospitality can’t make you feel better then there really is no hope.”

Meredith smiled in spite of herself and sat down between Jimmy and Eleanor.

“Pass the butter,” she said as she grabbed a hot crusty roll out of the bread basket.   “This is no evening to worry about saturated fats.  I love you two, do you know that?  Thank you so much for watching out for me.  Quite a few of my friends have checked in this evening.  It’s hard to believe with so many who obviously love me I was feeling isolated and alone. ”

“You never have to be alone as long as El and I are still kicking, you know that Mer.”  Louis chose that moment to sit a platter featuring a scrumptious, roasted Poulet de Bresse on the table.  There was a group “Mmmmmm……” as they began to dig in and share one of the simplest joys in life.

—————–

Meredith let herself in to her apartment and dropped her wrap on the chair by the door.   She looked over at the clock on the mantel to see it was close to 2am.  They had sat at Louis’ for hours, just like the old days, talking, laughing and simply enjoying the closeness the three of them shared.

She walked over to her desk and looked down at the letter she’d been working on when El had called.  She sighed, picked it up and ripped it in half once and then again and tossed it into her waste basket followed by the pill bottle.

Tomorrow was another day.

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