Saturday, June 13, 2015

A Camping Trip to Remember: Just Like Jurassic Park


GOING CAMPING
THIRTY-ONE 

To read the beginning of this chapter, please CLICK HERE.


Days and weeks passed. I missed Mark more than I’d imagined; I’d go to sleep thinking about him, and wake up wondering if I’d ever feel his arms around me again. When I thought I couldn't bear the heartache any more, he called.
    “Gina, I want to be with you and the kids. It’s where I belong.”
    I plopped down on my bed, flustered. “But you can’t have a baby with me,” I said. "That's not something you just get over."
    He didn’t respond, and the silence dragged out until I continued. “You’re a single guy who has never had kids, never been married. Why would you want to be with an emotionally-damaged woman who has four kids?”
    “Gina—"
    “Listen, Mark.” I held the phone close, then leaned back into a pillow and closed my eyes. “I wouldn’t choose this situation. Why should you?”
    “I’m not choosing the situation.... I’m choosing you.”
    My heart fluttered.
    “I know we might not get back together, but can we at least try something?” he asked.
    Part of me wanted to just say ‘no.’ We’d already tried and it hadn’t work. But then I was too curious. “Like what?”
    “I want you and the kids to come camping with me. For a weekend. We can see how it goes with all of us together.”
    It did sound fun. And the kids had wanted to go camping. “Okay. We'll leave Friday?” I asked and he quickly agreed.
    So we went camping. The kids had the best time paying Boochie Ball. We all took a hike together. Mark and I set up two tents with more ease than I’d expected. It wasn’t until the kids were “trying” to go to sleep at night that things went awry.
    My eldest girls slept in one tent while Mark and I slept in a separate one with my two youngest kids. I didn’t snuggle with Mark—worried about getting even more attached if he decided this was too much commitment for him. Instead I slept in the middle of him and my youngest kids.
    It was pitch-black, when something scurried near the tent. I immediately pulled my sleeping bag up to my face, eyes darting, and made sure that Mark and the little ones were okay.
    The scurrying continued. And I had just snuggled back into my sleeping bag and closed my eyes, when a hellacious growl vibrated through the air. My older daughters began frantically talking in the tent next to ours. “Holy… Did you HEAR THAT?”
    The growl rumbled again, closer. Then the most terrifying sound of all filled the air—the sound of an animal in the throes of death. I shook Mark, but he rolled over—grabbing my sleeping bag—and snoring loudly.
    “Shit!” I whispered, terrified.
    “Mom,” my oldest daughter screamed. Then, because they’ve never seen Jurassic Park, my oldest daughters turned on a flashlight that was so bright I could see it wavering back and forth even from inside of my tent. “Shut up,” I screamed, an oxy-moron. But seriously—they were about to lure the beast right to their tent! Didn't they know light attracts danger!
    Their high-pitched screamed filled the air as the flashlight continued shining here and there and freakin' everywhere. I unzipped the tent, and had just managed to fumble into theirs when they both rushed at me, nearly knocking me off my feet.
    I snatched the flashlight, quickly brought them over to the big tent and told them to HUSH UP or we’d become bear food!

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    They ended up snuggling into my sleeping bag and I squished next to Mark who had finally woken up.
    “What’s going on?!” he asked, big-eyed, gorgeous and COMPLETELY oblivious.
    “An. Animal. Died!” one of my daughter’s said ominously. "I heard it."
    “And there’s food all over the ground by our tents!” my other daughter said.
    “Well, I didn’t hear anything,” Mark said—since he’d practically just woken from a life-threatening coma.
    “We’re scared,” my daughters both said.
    “Shhhhh! Don’t wake the little ones up. Just go to sleep,” I whispered—a bit terrified myself. “We’re all here together.”
    “And you guys were probably just having a dream," Mark said.
    If that was a dream—we’d ALL had it!
    Mark turned, lying sideways because there were six of us now in the tent.
    I fell asleep, freezing cold and dreaming about bears. When I woke up, it was still the middle of the night; Mark no longer slept beside me, and a fire flickered and popped outside of the tent.
    I covered my kids up, then went outside. Mark slept, balancing oddly between two camp chairs he’d pulled together. I couldn’t help looking around—food was everywhere—we’d been ransacked for sure, probably by an army of squirrels! The marshmallow bag had tiny holes in it. Hot dogs were strewn about in little pieces. Toilet paper was clumped in messy wet piles all around camp. Wow—those animals had had quite a party.
    And there rested Mark amidst the midnight mess. His hat covered quite a bit of his face, but I could see just enough in the firelight. He was such a handsome man, with those dark features and strong build. I studied his face after a moment and realized how truly kind he looked, just as he was when awake. He shivered in his sleep, only using a thin blanket since he’d left his sleeping bag in the tent with the kids.
    I peered back at the tent; those kids were having the experience of a lifetime and so was I. As my thoughts turned back to Mark, I couldn’t help it anymore, I curled up into his lap to warm him up. He instinctively wrapped his arms around me, and I fell asleep next to the fire, snuggle with the man I loved, in the middle of the woods where a bunch of animals had just eaten our food.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Eulogy: How You Changed My Life

Chapter Thirty continued...

To read the beginning of this chapter, please CLICK HERE.

Dear Mark,
    I don’t know how to explain everything that’s inside of my heart right now; it’s breaking at the thought of never seeing you again. I’ll miss so many things about you, like your laugh, your smile, or how you look when you know you’ve done something awesome and you want me to notice.
    I’ll miss your deep voice, and all the sweet things you used to say to me, once upon a time when I was your girl.
    I feel bad that I never told you how very much you impacted my life and changed some of my views.
    You see, you’re one of the most genuinely good people I’ve ever met in my life. To think of all the times you selflessly gave to me and my children... I remember when I told you that my ex-husband wasn’t able to spend much time with my kids because of his job. You rushed to your house, and showed up at mine with a faded book. “Can I give this to your son?” you’d asked.
    “Sure,” I said. And even though you didn’t know it, I stood outside of the door, listening as you gave him the book.
    “This book is for one of the most awesome boys in the universe!" you said. "I’ve had it for years, just waiting to give it to someone—then I met you and I knew this book was destined to be yours!”
    My son squealed, so excited.  And even after things weren’t perfect with us anymore, he kept that book on his dresser as a reminder that someone knew he was special—and that made him realize his potential too.
    “How long have you had that book?” I asked you later.
    “Six years,” you said. “I’d planned on giving it to my son someday. That’s why I gave it to your boy.”
    I cried after you left because your words meant so much. You’d touched our hearts that night, in a way I’ll never be able to explain. You'd accepted everything about us, and loved us for it all.
    I remember another time, I called you when my life had completely spiraled out of control. “My ex-boyfriend said the most terrible things about me. My kids aren’t home to distract me. I’m all alone and I feel worthless. I just don’t see the point,” I said. “I’m so sad today…I make everyone miserable just by being around.” I paused before deciding to tell him the truth. “Part of me just wishes I could stop breathing.”
    “Gina! Don’t say that.”
    “But it’s true!” I sobbed, desperate.
    “Tell me everything. I want to hear all of it.” You kept me on the phone; I had no idea that you’d jumped into your truck, and been driving over to my house all the while.
    “Get some cute clothes on—we’re going to coffee.”
    But I wouldn’t get dressed, so you dragged me out of the house in my pajamas. I couldn’t bear to drink all of my coffee, but you didn’t judge me. Instead you drove around with me for hours. When my eyes were too tired to stay open, I fell asleep on your shoulder and woke up to you bringing me into the house and tucking me into my bed. You smoothed the hair from my face and told me the sweetest things until I fell asleep again.  The next day, I opened my eyes and you were still there, dozing off, waiting to make sure that I was okay. And I truly was because you’d helped me through.
    I’m not exactly sure what day or hour I fell in love with you, but I do remember the moonlight. I looked into your eyes and fell hard. And that love hasn’t been some whimsical romance, or a fleeting feeling, it’s the strongest kind of love, when you have a friend--a companion--an equal--who you’d do anything for and it would be worth any sacrifice. Someone who’s worth spending your life with, or giving your life for. I’ve never had someone treat me with such kindness. I’ve never had a man swoop into my life like this and revolutionize how my children feel about themselves and their worth.
    I remember watching you do homework with my daughters, telling them to try again because they’d get it for sure the next time. “You’re so smart,” you told my oldest.
    “Not everyone thinks so,” she said.
    “Well, I can tell when people are intelligent and YOU definitely are.”  You worked with her every night when you came over to visit us after work and her grades went up after that.
    I’ll never forget when you held me for hours, both of us whispering our unending love, me thinking that was Heaven as your fingers traced my skin and I felt your breath on my neck.
    But you already know all of these stories. And there are so many more… I just wanted you to know that every moment I spent with you mattered.
    Knowing you has been life-changing. In the end we had different goals. I wished you’d meet a beautiful girl who could have your darling baby, and love, and everything you deserve. I’d smile, knowing what a good father you’d be. And Mark, even though I couldn't give you a biological child, I’d be so thankful you got your dream. 

    I guess I just want you to know that I’ll always appreciate what you did for me and my four children; I cherish those memories. And because of the impression you made on my life, I will never be the same.


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I folded the paper up, stuck it in the mason jar, and watched as Mark finished the letter he’d just written for the time capsule as well.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

HAVE YOU EVER BURIED THE HATCHET?

Bury the Hatchet
Chapter Thirty

If you want to read this from the very beginning, please CLICK THIS.
Based on a true story

    The great thing about time apart is that you find out how much you miss—or don’t miss—someone.
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    The time spent away from Mark was excruciating, albeit for the best. After all, when it comes to big issues, like having children, if you don’t agree, it’ll never work out.
    Mark pulled up to my house around 9am the next day. His lips hung in a frown. “This whole thing sucks,” he said. “You really think we should quit dating over this?”
    I nodded.
    “But we could keep dating; and not worry about things that aren’t affecting us right now.”
    “And all the while, I’ll grow closer and closer to you; by that time it’ll nearly kill me to let go.” I couldn’t look into his face. I turned away slightly. “It’s best to say ‘goodbye’ now. Unless you want to stay friends?” I hoped he’d say ‘yes’--with everything in me. 
Instead Mark shook his head. “Gina, that would be too hard, watching you date other people, knowing we’d never be together again….”
    I completely understood--this was a cut-and-dry break-up. "Okay," I said. "But just do one last thing with me?”
    “What?” he asked. "You want to go to the place we swung in the hammock?"
    “Yes! But first, you wanna go to The Dollar Store with me?”
    “Ummmm…. What?”
    “You heard me.”
    So we drove to The Dollar Store, and the whole while I felt Mark’s mood changing from completely sad to curious.
    “I wanted to come here because I'd like to make a time capsule with you!” I said.
    “Seriously?”
    “Yep. If we bury it today, we can meet in five years and go dig it up together. Then I can hear about your life.” And his kids. “And how happy you are.” And his beautiful fertile wife-of-the-future. “It’ll be good.”
    “Five years?! That’s way too long. How about six months?”
    “You can’t bury a time capsule for six months. That’s silly. Time capsules have to stay buried for at least a year.”
    His eyebrows raised quizzically. “Okay. A year.”
    “That doesn’t seem like very long”—for him to find a wife and have babies, and see how good it was that we were breaking up—“but I guess it’ll work."
    “What does all of this have to do with The Dollar Store?” he asked.
    “I’ll get a mason jar, two notebooks, and pens. We can write stuff to each other. But I also thought it would be fun to buy a dollar item that reminds us of each other. Imagine how cool it'll be to dig everything up next year!”
    He laughed in spite of the situation, then sounding robotic, said in the monotone, “Who kn-ew brea-king up could b-e so fun.”
    I slapped him on the back. “I’m gonna find something that reminds me of you. Don’t be cheating and trying to snoop on me!" I smirked. "Meet you at the truck in fifteen minutes? Oh and don’t forget, whatever you’re getting needs to be able to fit in the mason jar.”
     I looked everywhere throughout the store. I could buy some soap—‘cause he smelled nice. Or some gum—‘cause he’s refreshing. I went from aisle to aisle thinking about how each freakin’ item could remind me of something good about Mark. At one point tears filled my eyes momentarily before I shook them off, remembering if I had to say goodbye to this man, I would do it with dignity—and it’d be hella fun. Maybe then Mark would look back and remember--even this moment--fondly.
    It wasn’t until the last couple minutes that I finally found the simplest thing that still had profound meaning: a candle.
Mark already waited in the truck. I handed him the mason jar and he quickly shoved in the item he’d purchased, still wrapped, into the sack. I set mine in as well.  “What did you buy?” he asked.
    “I can’t tell you yet." I giggled. The mood had lightened up so much. We were both starting to have a little fun, and I was excited to bury the thing. “can we still go to where we swung in the hammock together? That's where I'd like to bury this.”
    “Okay. We’ll hike in. It’ll take some time though.”
    “As long as I’m back before the kids get out of school, then I have time.”
    “We’ll make it work.”
    So we spent the first half of the morning hiking to the same area we’d visited before. After arriving, Mark sat down on a rock and gazed at me. “Now what?”
    I pulled the two notepads and pens from my pack. “I want both of us to write where we want to be next year—even if it sounds outrageous or we know it would never happen.”
    “Like winning the lottery?”
    “Exactly! Whatever comes to mind.”
    He ripped a tiny piece of paper from her notepad and quickly wrote, then stuck it in the jar.
    “That was fast. Apparently you know what you want.”
    “Maybe.” He looked away.
    I thought for a moment and wrote the first thing that came to my mind. 
    –Next year, I wish I could be engaged to Mark, and that I could have a job at a hospital—
    It would never happen—let alone within a year—and I had no idea what he’d think about it next year, but I was being honest if anything else.
    “Should we also write a note saying why the dollar store thing reminded us of each other?”
    “Sure,” he said.
    We each ended up writing on another small piece of paper. I wrote something about how candles are illuminating and bright. How when burning they provide inspiration. How Mark seemed to make life better, clearer, brighter while in my life.
    After stuffing the wadded papers into the mason jar, we both just sat side-by-side for a long time gazing at the nature around us. Wind rushed past our faces over and over. I remembered his words from the last time we’d been there:“I always want to be in your life. To be your guy, the one person you'll lean on throughout life. But...I have always wanted to have a kid, just one."    Life with me was a dead-end of his biggest dream.

    I finally moved near him. “I wonder… Where do you want your life to be in a year?”
    He laughed mischievously. “You’ll find out, when we dig this up—in a year. Maybe we should wait five years!”
     I gave him the stink-eye.
    “Should we put anything else in here?” he asked.
    “Heck yes. We haven’t put the most important part in.”
    “What's that?”
    “Well…”—this would sound weird—“I figure since we’re breaking up, I want to tell you how much our time together has meant to me. I heard of a couple who did this exercise in counseling and it was really neat; they imagined that their significant other had died, then they wrote them a letter saying everything they’d wanted to say, but never had.”
    He looked like he’d swallowed a live bullfrog—whole. “Oh, wow,” he croaked.
    “Yep.” I tapped his notebook. “So, imagine I’m dead, baby. Let’s do this.”
    He flipped to a new page in his notebook, and said, "YOU are a character!" That's when both of us started writing.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

A Beginning Without an End

Chapter Twenty-nine
A Beginning Without an End

To read this from the start, please CLICK HERE.
Based on a true story


Breaking up with someone can show you one of two things: how much you need them, or how much you don’t.
    The next morning after Mark and I decided to take a break, I didn’t want to get out of bed. Intense pressure weighed onto my chest, pushing down, making me cry and ache from lack of breath. I didn’t quite know how to deal with this since I’d never known that a mental issue—like a breakup—could affect me like this.   
    After fighting to drag myself from bed, I donned my best smile and got my children off to school and daycare. Some computer-work needed to be finished for the airline; I could barely concentrate. That’s when my mom called.
    “Gina, are you okay?”
    “No. Mark wants to have kids.”
    “Oh, Gina! You can’t have more kids. You know what the doctors said. Mark is great, but your body can't handle any more pregnancies.”
    “I know…. That’s why we’re taking a break--probably for good. He’s thinking about things. It was my idea; I want him to realize that we’ll never work out if he wants a baby. It breaks my heart.”
    She sighed into the phone. I wondered how hard it would be to see one of my own daugthers go through heartbreak after heartbreak. I really felt bad for my mom. “I don’t know what to say," she finally stated, "other than that you’re so strong. You’ll make it through this too. If it's meant to be, it'll be.”
    “I’ve gone through so much, Mom. But to lose him--after finally knowing what it’s like to be with someone who fits me so well, and is kind, and generous, and loves the kids—" Then I was sobbing, uncontrollably.
    After we hung up, that’s when I felt compelled to write our story, Mark. To tell you all of the details, how I fell in love with you, from my stupid job as a security guard, from our little talks and our friendship, to our first kiss in that rocky cave.  I know we might not work out, I know, but I wanted you to realize how much I care, so I can always have these memories to hold dear. And maybe if I write everything down, you won't forget me either.
    I’ve typed, so many chapters that they’ve almost filled an entire book. Not because it's something that makes me rich, or comfortable…it’s just something I've done to cope. And this is the first time I’ve found myself writing a story that I don’t really know the ending to. Most authors, plan the end first so they’ll know where to start. But I couldn’t plot “our” story out, not this time. And I’m hanging on, wondering if you’ll ever even read this….

    
    I thought about all of this for what seemed like an eternity.
    We didn't talk for several days that week, until you finally called me....

    "Gina, I'd like to meet with you, just to talk about how both of us are feeling. It seems only right, to meet in person."
    "Okay," I said, trying to keep my voice from sounding sad. "Can we go where you hung that hammock a few weeks ago?"
    "Sure. That's all right with me."
    And so we decided to meet the following day.
   

Please CLICK HERE to read more.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Do you think absence makes the heart grow fonder?

If you'd like to read this from the start, click HERE
This is fictional, based on true events....  
 
TIME APART

TWENTY-EIGHT


I woke up the next morning to the sound of an incoming text message.
    

Sorry. It's been a busy night. I hope you're well.
    
    It was the most impersonal message I could have imagined, coming from Mark--and that hurt.
    I slammed my phone on the bedside table, rolled out of bed and got ready for the day.    My kids were darling at breakfast, albeit giggling, screaming, jabbering, and only intermittently being quiet. The kids were so precious though; I could hardly keep myself from gazing at them fondly as they stuffed their little chipmunk faces with cereal and kid-flavored oatmeals.   

     "All right, guys. Time for school." I huddled them all together, made sure their backpacks had been zipped, their hair was done, and they looked totally ready. I couldn't help being a bit nostalgic, peering into their growing faces, and thinking how much change all of us had gone through the previous years. But here we were, making it through, and still together.   
    After bringing the kids to school and finishing some of my work projects, I looked at my phone; Mark hadn't sent any messages. It was time for me to solve this whole situation. 
    Before I could really think about his full reaction, or the fact that he'd been working the graveyard, I quickly called him.
    "Hello?" he asked in a groggy, I've-been-sleeping voice.
    "We need to talk," I stated. "How's this afternoon? You aren't working tonight."
    "Oh, this afternoon is good...." he said.
    "I'll head over to your house later."
    His voice seemed a bit more alert. "You okay?"
    "I'm okay. But we really need to talk. I've gotta go, okay?"
    "See you soon," he said, then I hung up. And I'm not quite sure why, but I pulled my hair up into the world's messiest bun, put on some crappy clothes, and got ready to see Mark.
    When I pulled up to his house later that day, he was already waiting outside, lackadaisically leaning against his red truck.
    "The kids are at school and daycare?" he asked. I nodded. "You really want to talk about something, huh? You made me nervous."
    "There's just a lot going on. You know, I went and talked with The Schmuck. I wanted to talk with you about it, but I couldn't really get through to you--you must have been busy?"
    "I really was."
    The statement seemed a bit dishonest. "Anyway, that's beside the point. I need to talk with you now. Meeting with The Schmuck made me realize that sometimes you can date someone and it'll just never work out. It was actually good to see him."
    "Do you ever miss him?" Mark asked, looking so incredibly vulnerable that it broke my heart.
   "Sometimes," I said. "We had fun together, but I don't miss him in the way you might expect. I miss him because somehow through all of his lies and through all of the bullshit, I thought we were friends. It made me think about you...and what we have. I love you, Mark. Really, really, love you, through thick and thin. I think I'll love you for the rest of my life. But I'm not good for you, and I need to let you go."
    "What?! Where is this coming from?"
    "You want to have biological kids. MY baby factory is out of business. I have nightmares about having another child." And it was true. I'd had a recent dream that I had a baby and subsequently died of pure stress.
    "There's no chance that you'll change your mind?" He reached out and held my hand so tenderly. "You're the first girl I've been able to see a future with. The only girl I'd want to have a kid with."
    "I can't offer you the full package, Mark. I think it's been bothering me for months. You deserve someone who can give you everything, a blank slate, a biological family, a lifetime of happiness. All I can offer you is a pre-made family; my kids, myself, and our love. If you want biological kids, we won't ever be enough."
    "But, Gina. You guys are enough. You're more than I ever could've hoped for...." He gazed down at me, so filled with emotion. "You've shown me what it could be like to be a father...and maybe even a husband someday. I've learned so much from you. And I always want to be in your life. To be your guy, the one person you'll lean on throughout life. But...I have always wanted to have a kid, just one." He sighed, deeply. "I'd give up that dream, just to be with you."
    I bit my lip hard, to keep it from quivering as I listened to his words. He wasn't making this easy at all. "You know the worst thing about seeing The Schmuck?" I asked.
    "What?" he asked.
    "It made me realize how I always pick douche bags. I usually go for the bad boys, who could care less about me. But you're nothing like those guys. You're good and kind. You've made me realize that I'm worth a whole lot more than I thought. It's okay to be treated well and to expect being treated that way. You've given me such a gift...." 

    My eyes watched some of the cars driving down his street, and the whole time Mark followed my gaze. "But it's not in the cards for us," I finally said, struggling to keep my voice steady. He kept looking at me with those amazing eyes, and I couldn't help remembering how good he'd been to me and how nice it'd felt being wrapped in his arms, without facing the truth of the situation. "I've realized," my words came out slowly, "how much I care about you. But if we stay together longer this will just get harder and harder. We'll keep coming up against the same issue whether it's on the surface or not. We can't be together. I'm done having children and you haven't even had one yet."
    "If we break up will you even want to talk to me?" he asked.
    "Of course I do." And I understood something then, that I hadn't wanted to admit to myself before. "You are, without a doubt, my best friend. I don't know what I'd do if I couldn't at least talk with you."
    "How about we both just think about things?" he asked. "We won't break up; just give this time. I need to think about everything you're saying."
    "Maybe we can talk in a couple of weeks and just see how things are going?" I asked, "It could be good."
    "All right," he said. Then I gave him the world's longest hug, before getting into my minivan, and driving away to pick up my kids. I cried the entire drive, having no idea what the future would hold.

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CLICK HERE to read more.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

One Man's Heaven is Another Man's Nightmare

MARK'S UNCERTAINTY 
CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN continued

To read this story from the beginning, please go HERE
This is a work of fiction based on a true story....   

I'd fallen asleep, and found myself once again in the same terrible nightmare I'd had several times before....

   The landlord limped, leading me and my four children up the cracked steps of a rickety mansion. "Isn't it beautifully aged?" he croaked, showing us room upon room. It was awfully foreboding with peeling wallpapers and furniture that must have been over one-hundred years old. The place reeked with a musty, unkempt odor, yet I ended up renting the house.
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    The children and I had grand parties there, with friends, family, and various acquaintances. No one ever commented on the smell, or the corroded house and furniture. Instead, everyone seemed impressed--even jealous. And as we sat in the front room, I'd always crawl with nerves: Hoping no one knew my secret. Desperately laughing at ill-humored jokes. Coaxing noxious words from previously dying conversations. Wishing anything would keep their minds from what lay hiding behind the couch--in that same living room--where everyone cajoled for hours, in MY wretched house.
     And when everything was quiet. When my treasured guests had finally left. When my children rested fast asleep in their beds on the second floor, that's when I would creep down the creaking stairs, round the bend, to the couch where moments before, everyone had sat, thinking I led a charmed life.
    The couch was quite Victorian, wooden, old, and impossibly heavy. I grew so eager to move the velvety piece, no amount of weight could stop my ambition. I shoved with all of my might, then after little reward, the couch suddenly slid, and purpose filled my movements. After all, this was no ordinary house. This was no ordinary dream. And what the couch concealed was far more than one would expect. There, inches above the floor gaped a barrel-sized hole. It led completely through the wall, muddy with jagged roots spiraling down, down as if an enormous jack rabbit had dug it himself. Except this burrow was far more sinister than any jack's dwelling. I had traversed its walls many times before. I looked around making sure none of my children were awake, then crawled down into the depths.
    My legs slid several times, becoming filthy, caked with spider webs, dirt, and rat droppings. Yet still I trekked forward knowing that this tunnel--twisting from the bottom of my rented house--hid all of the terrible secrets of my life. No one knew what my romantic relationships had really been like. No one understood the depths that my insecurities rooted from. But here they were, for me to inspect and paw over within the safety of my own nightmare. And as much as I might have wanted to wake up from the most horrid memories of my own life, I couldn't. I saw The Schmuck, telling me he'd been with his wife the same day he'd been with me. I watched myself cowering in the corner instead of standing up in the most trying times of my life. I inspected the skeletons of a past where I could have done more, tried harder, stood stronger. And when I had sufficiently wallowed, it was time to crawl up through the hellacious catacombs, wandering blindly forward, always up, toward the hole in the wall, hidden close, where everyone I held dear would often visit and obliviously sit, as I hoped they would never find out what terrors were hiding under my own home.
    So I would burst from the hole, hair flying, nails coated with mud. And my eyes would dart around, a coward, hoping no one--especially my children--had seen me. And once my fears were eased by my own loneliness, I would shove the couch back against the wall, run up the faded stairs, and take a shower. Only after feeling sufficiently clean, would I kiss each of my sleeping children, and then go to sleep myself, the whole time wondering if anyone else truly knew what rested inside of my heart.

That was the end of my dream....   

CLICK HERE to read more or this story.

I Think I've Lost Him Forever

MARK'S UNCERTAINTY 
CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN

To read this story from the beginning, please go HERE
This is a work of fiction based on a true story....   

I wanted to talk with Mark, but he only sent short replies in response to my texts. I assumed he was upset with me for meeting with The Schmuck, or worse that he'd be rid of me forever--although he'd seemed supportive of my seeking closure in the past.
    That night, I took my kids to get ice cream at a little diner.
The five of us took turns saying how each of our days had gone. My children smiled into their ice creams, and I kept realizing that I was missing the biggest joys of my life by focusing so much on men and tumultuous relationships.
    "How was your day?" my oldest daughter asked me.
    "Different," I admitted. And always being honest with my children, I added, "I went and saw The Schmuck."
    My oldest daughters both nearly dropped their spoons into their desserts. All of my kids stared with big marbled eyes.
    "Why? Why did you see him?" my son--who's only six--whispered.
    "He wouldn't let go until I said goodbye. I think I needed to say goodbye too. Have you ever known someone so well, that if they just suddenly left, you wish you could tell them goodbye."

    "Like my teacher..." My son nodded. "I'd say goodbye to her if she needed to leave."
    My oldest daughter turned red. "Mama, I'll only say this once, but if you ever get back together with that jerk, I'll move in with Daddy."
    "What? Why?"
    "Because you deserve better. You deserve someone like... Someone like Mark."
    We ate our ice creams in silence after that, all of us thinking about what had been said. Me wanting to say that Mark practically hated me, that he wasn't really responding to my texts, that maybe I'd gone too far.
    Street lamps twinkled around us as we drove home. We read a chapter in "The Wizard of Oz," the part where Dorothy and her band of friends finally make it to the wizard only to find out they must first defeat a witch before their dreams can come true. I shut the book and wondered what I must do to achieve my dreams....
I sent Mark one more text before going to sleep, but he didn't respond again.

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    That night I struggled falling asleep, tossing and turning, staring at the screen of my phone, hoping for a response. When I finally fell asleep, I had a terrible nightmare, something I dreamed several times in previous years, something that was far more symbolic than I'd ever realized before.

To be continued HERE: One Man's Heaven is Another Man's Nightmare

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

How do you tell an ex goodbye forever?

GOODBYE SCHMUCK
CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

To read this story from the beginning, please go HERE
This is a work of fiction based on a true story....   

Mark drove me home; I worked a few hours then went to bed. Nightmares plagued my sleep because I knew the following day I'd see The Schmuck. But the hours marched on regardless and soon it was time to meet with my ex. 
    I felt more terrified than I wanted to admit. I couldn't quite tell what drew me there or why I'd meet with a man who had treated me so poorly. I kept wondering if he would meet me or if it would really be his wife waiting maliciously. My thoughts whirred as I told myself this was solely so he'd leave me alone. But part of me wondered if I just wanted to see him one last time.... Understand why I still thought about him. See what he looked like in person again and if things felt different than they did when I was around Mark.
    But as I pulled into the canyon, where we were supposed to meet, I noticed his truck already parked, and him standing next to the driver's side door.  So his wife hadn't come, with her beautiful blonde hair and perfect new clothes. It was actually him, eager to see if I had feelings for him and if I didn't, to finally tell him goodbye.
    Our eyes met and we said a quick hello, then without missing a beat we walked side-by-side up the canyon like we had so many times before.
    It was a warm day and the foliage around us rustled in the wind, absolutely breathtaking. But I couldn't focus much on the scenery because I was in such turmoil.
    "How have you been?" he asked.
    "Fine," I said but then caught his eyes again and couldn't help but become a mess of tears.
    "You're not okay," he said. "Gina, please let me be here for you. I know things are so confusing, but I'm still here for you."
    I backed away--sad and confused.
    "I really thought that I could do this," I gasped out the words, "but I can't. I can't stand here and pretend that everything's all right. I can't act like what you did didn't hurt me."
    He just stared, unblinkingly.
    "I'm sorry if I ever failed you in the past. I really felt like I was good for you and I tried to be, but in the end I wasn't good enough, not really. Sometimes I feel like I'm not good enough for anybody."
    "But you are. You're different than any girl I've ever known."
    I scoffed. Is that why he'd dated me while he was still living with his wife? "I'm hot-n-cold and feisty and full of so much fight. I think underneath I'm 100% piss and vinegar. Which sometimes might be fun, but not mostly... I can be a pain, a nag. Sometimes I might have kept you happy, but that was never truly my responsibility--that was your wife's right. Maybe we were never meant to be together. Maybe it was just one of those times that you look back and remember fondly. I don't know, but seeing you again makes me really sad."

    He sat down on a log along the pathway, soaking up my words and slowly popping his knuckles, obviously deep in thought.
    "It makes me sad too, Gina." He forehead wrinkled with seriousness, maybe even remorse. "I know I didn't say it right when you found out about my wife, but I'm really sorry for everything. Your faults are more than most men can hope for--I know I didn't say that right, but you of all people understand what that means." 

    I sat down next to him, side-by-side with a person who'd betrayed me. "I think our relationship was something totally different to me than it ever was to you."
    "Maybe it wasn't," he said. "Maybe not as much as you think."
    "Doubtful.... I thought we'd end up together, in some little country house that was in the middle of some small town where we could have happiness...and trust... And everything you're supposed to have in a good relationship. Instead I was just a mistress... Second-best. The runner-up in the contest I never meant to enter."
    "You were never just a--"
    His eyes actually pleaded with me, to no avail. Then I was yelling, taking everything out on this man who had not only betrayed me, but his wife as well. "I really loved you. So much I can't even describe it. I would've gone to the grave for you--and damn you I practically did. Here I am...sadder than a conscious death. Crying because I still think about you every day. Crying...because I can't seem to get over what happened, the things you said, the choices you'd made. Maybe I'm just some stupid girl to you, but I know that I matter to someone...I matter to my kids. And I maybe even matter to a good man who's come into my life." I cried so hard, and pulled my hood over my face so he wouldn't see how weak I could be.
    "You've got me all wrong, making me out to be somebody I'm not. And you matter to a lot of people. You'll always be the love of my life. You'll always matter to me."
    I stood and started walking back in the direction we'd come from, wanting to get the hell out of there.

    "You're leaving, just like that. Gina, I feel terrible. You've got to understand, I loved you. I still love you."
    "You are married." I stomped along, unable to calm my nerves. "I've just got to figure my shit out. The guy I've been dating--Mark--he is such a good guy. I don't know where that relationship is going, but he's kind and honest. And he loves me and my kids so much. And I'm falling for him." I slowed, thinking so hard.
    "He's honestly good for you, isn't he?"
    My feet rooted to the ground and I really looked at The Schmuck. "I think so," I said. "I know I'm not good enough for him and I keep telling him, but he doesn't understand."
    He nodded in understanding. "I've told my wife the same thing."

    I pushed the hood off my head, then shoved my hands into my pockets. This was going so differently than I'd expected. 
    "Can I be honest with you, Gina?"
    "Yes! That's all I ever asked for."
    "Well..." he sighed, "my wife is actually trying. Do you think if I tried too, we'd have a shot?"
    My eyes gazed at the trail ahead of us. "You guys have been through a lot together." I smiled from the irony, since I'd been one of their past problems. "You love her?"
    "It might be in a different way than I've loved you, but yes, I'll always love her. But my mom always told me, a woman's love is like a candle, when the wick burns out, there's no going back."

    I'd never heard him use a simile, ever--it surprised me. "But her wick hasn't burned up. She still loves you."
    We silently walked back to our vehicles, me thinking how strange life can be, how answers can be found in the oddest of places. And instead of just saying goodbye, we shook hands.
    The whole thing was so ironic. We had never really been friends when we dated, but finally I felt as if our friendship had begun and then swiftly ended, in the blink of an eye.
    "So this is goodbye?" He asked. "Our wicks have burned out?"

    "You could say that."
    "We can't even check in just to see how the other one's doing?"
    "No," I said. "Because some things are worth saving. Like my relationship with Mark. And your relationship with your wife."

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    "I wish so many things were different," he said.
    "Me too."
    I drove off, wishing him well, but also wishing I didn't know what it was like to be his girl. My wick burned out, and the closure hurt. Also, maybe he wasn't the monster I'd made him out to be previously; he was just lost, like the rest of us.
    I drove toward my home in the city. The farther I sped from that canyon, colors looked brighter, the song on the radio rang clearer, and my thoughts became concise--for once. I didn't know what the future would hold, but at least now I had a better idea of what I wanted.


Please CLICK HERE to read more.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

A Romantic Date Idea: Win Her Heart

KAYAKING 
TWENTY-FIVE

To read this story from the beginning, please go HERE
This is a work of fiction based on a true story....  

Mark came over at the butt-crack of dawn the next day.  Two kayaks were strapped into the bed of his truck. "Hop in," he said, wearing a hat—and a mischievous look—I'd never seen before.
    "Kayaks, huh! What are you up to?"
    "A surprise. Just enjoy it, Gina."
    I closed my eyes and breathed the cold air, deep into my lungs. I'd worn some daisy dukes and a tank top—which I soon regretted, after starting to shiver as we drove high into the green mountains.     

    Mark threw his coat onto my lap and grinned. "It'll warm up once we get where we're going. No worries. The sun will be rising higher soon."
    After emerging from a canyon, Mark stopped by the sole gas station within a valley. He bought us each a canned iced tea, sunflower seeds, energy bars, and some beef jerky. "Might be a long day, we'll see."
    I couldn’t help but smile as he put the goodies into an enormous backpack. “You’re going to bring that thing?” I pointed to the pack.

    “What’s inside of here," he patted the bag, "well, that’s the biggest surprise of all.”
    “A bigger surprise than kayaking?" I asked and he nodded. "I’ve never been kayaking. I’m pretty excited.”

    “I have a feeling that you were made for this." And about an hour later, as we set the kayaks in the water and both climbed in, I thought maybe he was right. 
    He'd brought me to a huge reservoir, with glistening waters and spawning salmon. We followed the water to a point where it narrowed off between high rocky walls lining both sides of the water. We paddled farther and farther, neither of us saying a word. I watched Mark’s strong arms as he paddled so slowly, magestically gliding much faster than I could even with multiple strokes.
    Birds sang; the sun shone down; water dripped from our paddles, and a breeze wafted through my hair. As the rock walls loomed even higher, Mark slid his paddles into his kayak—where he’d stowed his pack near his feet—and leaned back, the vision of relaxation. Our kayaks drifted several feet apart. The scent of pine and fish seemed to invigorate him. After a time, the current picked up enough that I set my oars on top of the kayak and simply drifted too.
    "Catch," Mark yelled under-handing a can of Arizona iced tea to me. I snapped the drink open and grinned—it seemed like forever since I’d had a day like this, no pressure, no time limits, just good times and nature.
    I leaned back, closing my eyes, and feeling the sun on my face.
    "Damn—I’d forgotten what this felt like, to be in nature like this. When I was in high school, I’d come to the mountains all the time. I just don’t get to come up anymore. It’s strange how we can forget what we love, if we get stuck in the monotony of life. Sometimes I feel like I’ve dated people, and I’ve tried so hard to be a good fit for them, that I stop doing the things that really make me happy. Instead I try making them happy."
    I remembered all my crazy trips to the mountains, climbing, hiking, discovering everything I could about certain trails.
    "I knew you'd like kayaking," Mark smiled. “But I hope that you’ll never have to change for me. I want to do the things that you love too. We can learn to enjoy different things together. I just love being with you.”
    We drifted for hours, sometimes paddling closer, sometimes not. The serene mountains beside us offered watery caves and crevices that we inspected at our leisure. I smiled watching the brilliantly red salmon beneath us, twirling and spinning as they spawned.
It wasn’t long after, that Mark motioned for me to maneuver near a bank on our right. Then, sticking his paddle into the mud, he stepped from his kayak and helped me out as well.
    “Gina,” his voice deepened as I stood on the ground next to him, “I always hoped someone like you would come into my life. Always.”
    My heart beat faster at the sound of his words and the heat emanating from his hand that still held mine. "I've never met someone as purely good as you are--I always wanted to meet someone like that...." Then he was leaning down, throwing his pack over his shoulders, and hiding our kayaks with such expertise I almost had to take a second look just to see where he’d shoved them behind some brush.
    Mark hiked up a steep trail and I followed, studying him the whole time. He was such an interesting man, gruff looking--with his mountain-man beard and bachelor-past--yet so soft-hearted, intelligent and thoughtful.

    We walked near a rounded bend in the path, marked with jagged rocks, quakies and pine trees. "I need you to wait here," Mark pointed to a rock and threw some jerky to me. "Promise you won't come over here until I tell you?"
    "Promise!" I smiled so wide that my cheeks hurt.  I curled up on a rock, and could hardly believe the sight in front of me. So many pines rose up, water glistened far below, and the green-crested Rocky Mountains dotted the horizon majestically.  
    "Come on over!" Mark yelled.
    I suddenly felt so nervous.  What in the world did this man have in mind for me?  Around the bend, Mark waved at the bottom of a tiny trail to the left.  "Down here."
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    He stood in the midst of a Bob Ross glade, complete with little purple flowers, a tiny brook, and the greenest grass. In between two pine trees, Mark motioned to a hammock he'd hung next to a rock that had all sorts of snacks and some beer on it.  
    "Mark! A hammock?"
    He nodded, then held the hammock so I could easily sit down.  The fabric was pretty wide, large enough for both of us.  We swung side-by-side, drinking beer, snacking on jerky, and kicking off of the rock by us, for hours.  It was the closest thing I'd felt to Heaven in a long time.  
    After a while, I leaned back and he held me in his arms.  We rested in the silence, me staring up through the canopy of trees, while listening to the squirrels, Mark rocking us by pushing against the rock over and over without complaint.
    "Mark, I need to tell you something. But you might be mad," I blurted without thinking.
    "Okay. What's going on? You can tell me anything."
    "I'm meeting The Schmuck tomorrow. You know, my ex."
    His arms tensed for a moment and he quit rocking us. "Because?"
    "Because I need to say goodbye in person."
    He held his breath before quietly exhaling. "I understand," he said. "You broke up with him through a text. He's still having a hard time letting go...and sometimes so are you."
    I looked up into his eyes. "I'm not."
    "Gina, I know you. We were good friends before we started dating. You're having a hard time healing and letting go too. I get it."
    "I guess so. I'm don't quite understand though.  He cheated on me. We had some terrible times."
    "I know it wasn't all bad. And you have a hard time dealing with friendships that end, let alone break-ups like this past one. I just hope you're willing to move on from all of that. I want a future with you. I want to be with you through the ups and downs of life. I want to be the guy who has a chance to make you happy. But you need to let go of all that stuff from your past."
    "I know," I said.  
    Mark started rocking us in the hammock again. 
    "I've never felt like I was dating my best friend," I said, hugging him.
    "It's kind of fun," he said, then he kissed me on the forehead.
     So this is what it felt like to trust someone.  I closed my eyes, completely secure, then I fell asleep within his arms and the heat of the descending sun.

Please CLICK HERE to read the rest of this story.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Have You Ever Tried Cordon Bleu Balls?

A DO-GOODER 
TWENTY-FOUR

To read this story from the beginning, please go HERE
This is a work of fiction based on a true story.... 

We’re meeting in two days.
I’m looking forward to catching up, Sweetheart.

The Schmuck’s most recent text loomed over me. I didn’t know whether I should still be going to meet him, but I didn’t text otherwise.
    Maybe I would just be alone forever, reconciled to having my coffee alone, snuggling—not into a man's arms—but into a pillow at night, and having a cold, romantically-lonely life as an old maid! 
    If I didn't meet someone who was bad for me, I met guys I couldn’t have a future with, like Mark. My thoughts turned to Mark. I couldn’t tell exactly how he made me feel, but when I started thinking about him, I missed the strangest things: Like feeling his hands gently holding my waist as he kissed me. The warmth of his bare shoulder against my cheek as we held each other close and watched the stars. Hearing his laugh, and seeing the shocked look he always gave me when I said something completely ridiculous..
    I shook myself. I hadn’t talked to Mark much, and I would meet The Schmuck in two days. It was time to rid myself of these issues. But somehow the thought of meeting The Schmuck made me feel sicker and sicker—as if meeting him would seal everything with Mark and he’d never want to see me again. Plus, I hadn't even told Mark that I was meeting The Schmuck on Monday.

    My ex-husband had decided to keep our kids at his place two additional nights because of a family reunion. I unhappily agreed to let them stay. Then, after hanging up my phone, I pulled my bed's comforter over my face and groaned. The house was so quiet. Nothing could make the day better except for my children, and they were having the time of their lives without me.
   I had the world's biggest pity party—I was the only one invited—and that’s when one of my dearest friends called.
    I didn't want to answer the phone.  It rang and rang. She called a second and third time until I finally picked up.
    "Hello," I droned.
    “Gina! How are you doing?”
    “Honestly?” I asked her.
    “Of course! Honestly.”
    “I’m doing terrible. Lying in bed, not wanting to get up. Depressed.”
    “You’re going out with me. Right now.”
     “What? Do I sound like I want to go out? I'M staying home,” I said. What gave her the right to call me and make demands first thing in the morning.
    “I said, you’re going out with me. Get out of bed.”
    "No. I'm too busy being depressed. I appreciate your concern, but I'm fine."  Then I hung up, shut off my phone, and closed my eyes.
    It wasn’t long before I heard her pounding on my front door.  Then she actually opened my door and traipsed right into my bedroom. “YOU look like hell. What happened—were you hit by a semi?” she blurted.
     I jumped, holding the comforter over myself and letting her words register. Had she just said I looked like I was hit by a semi?
    “Thanks. That’s what I needed to hear. Didn’t I tell you I’m already depressed?”
    So she proceeded to open my closet and pull out a bunch of outfits, pairing strange things together, until she found something for me to wear.
    “Okay,” I finally said. She stared at me encouragingly, wide-eyed and way too excited. “IF I go out with you, where are we going?”
    “To a bar and grill on Main. A band is playing tonight. You’ll love it. And we’ll both look awesome!”
    “You'll look awesome. I'll look like road-kill. Remember?” I couldn’t help but smile at her as she balked. “Fine. We can go out. But give me some time to get out of bed?”
    She crossed her arms. “Great! We’ll go a breakfast first. Then we can come back here and I'll do your hair and makeup.”
    She went down the stairs leading to my kitchen and whistled the whole while. “Ge-et dressed,” she sang. “It’s a beautiful daa—ayy!”
    I begrudgingly donned the clothes she’d picked out for me. We went to breakfast and honestly didn’t say much until my phone broke the silence.
    I miss you....
    Mark texted.
    “Was that Mark?” my friend asked.
    “Yeah. How did you know?”
    “You get this certain look when you talk about him. You had that same look when you read the text. What's going on with you two, anyway?”
    “We’re pretty much broken up,” I said. “He wants biological kids. I’m done having children. End. Of. Story.”
    “And you told him all of this?”
    “Well, not exactly. I just told him we wouldn’t work out.”
    “Gina! I thought I taught you better than that?”
    “Taught me?! You're only two years older than me. Quite acting like you're my great-grandmother.”
    “But we've talked about this same thing dozens of times. If you want a relationship to work, you have to sort through problems. You should tell him why you don’t think you’ll work out, not just dump him without giving a good reason. Maybe he wants to be with you regardless. He might realize you’re worth it.”
    I blushed. “Thanks.”
    Before I could stop her, she grabbed my phone, typed something then went back to the home-screen.
    “What was that?” I asked, straining to get my cell back.
    “Nothing.”
    “That's messed up. What did you do?”
    “You trust me?” she asked.
    “Yeah, but you don’t just grab other people’s phones—”
    “Unless you’re their best friend and you have their best interest at heart. You do trust me, right?” she asked and I reluctantly nodded. “Then trust me now.”
    "We went back to the house and she applied my makeup like I'd never done it before. My eyes were dramatic and extremely dark. I had bright red lipstick that made my skin look even whiter than before. My eyes shone, enormous, and barrel curls framed my face. I hardly recognized the girl looking back at me from the mirror.  
    Before long, my friend did her own makeup quite differently from mine, and straightened her hair. She looked absolutely stunning. 
    I starred at our reflections.  "It's weird how life can turn out so polar opposite from what you might expect," I said.
    "Yep. But, that's what makes it exciting." She capped her lipstick and patted me on the shoulder.
    We went to the bar shortly after, and laughed over the menu. They had cordon bleu that they'd named "bleu balls". 

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Find the recipe HERE.

    "I'd like an order of Bleu Balls," I yelled to the bartender after drinking a bit too much.
    "Bleu Balls?" a deep voice said behind me. "Why am I not surprised?"
    My friend quickly stood and walked a few steps away, as if completely engrossed in a picture of a Harley on the wall. I took a swig of my yellowed drink and swirled the inch of liquid in my glass.
    "I said," the man with the deep voice cleared his throat, "bleu balls?"
    I turned, to see Mark, looking utterly flawless, and strong and completely...vulnerable, behind me. As I studied his features, I realized how tired he looked. And that he was wearing, the strangest outfit. "You're still in your work clothes?" I asked.
    "I heard you'd be here," he glanced at my friend, "so I rushed over on my break."
    "You're working tonight?"
    He nodded. "Yeah, but I came here anyway. I needed to see you. I'm not sure if we're broken up, or about to break up. I'm not sure why you don't think we're good together.... Gina, will you spend tomorrow with me?  Let's talk about things?  Sort through what's going on." He grabbed my hands. "I don't want to lose you."
    "Okay," I agreed. "But we really aren't good together. You'll understand everything when we talk about it." 
    "I'll pick you up early, okay? I want to take you someplace special. Call me when you wake up?"
    "All right, Mark. I'll see you tomorrow."
    "See you then." He began to walk away, then turned before leaving the bar and yelled, "Enjoy those bleu balls."
    "Enjoy the rest of your shift," I hollered as he disappeared through the doorway.
    My friend rejoined me and grinned.  "You're welcome," she said. "The two of you are meant to be together--you just don't know it yet."
    "You told him we'd be here!"
    She just looked away and took a sip of her drink.

Please CLICK HERE to read the next chapter.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Sometimes we need a good friend to help us make it through

.
A FRIEND'S INTERVENTION 
TWENTY-THREE

To read this story from the beginning, please go HERE
This is a work of fiction based on a true story.... 


Tony's jeep barreled into my driveway and, momentarily, bright lights illuminated the wall in my front room. "Come on, Gina. I can't wait forever," I heard Tony yelling as I opened my front door.
    "All right! All right!" What was this guy's deal? When I'd been dating The Schmuck, I'd gotten to be pretty good friends with Tony. But since dating Mark, I hadn't had much time for any of my friends.
    I jumped into the jeep before Tony gunned it, peeling down my tiny street.
    "What spurred this on?" I asked. "A hockey game?"
    "We need to talk," he said. "But first," he shoved two flasks and a huge glass bottle of whiskey into my lap, "fill these up!"
    "What? You can't be serious!"
    "Gina, don't tell me you've gotten boring. The Gina I knew would try anything."


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    "Fine!" I unscrewed the whiskey's lid and began expertly pouring the liquid into the flasks, not spilling a drop despite the bumps and curves of the road. "I'm not boring. Never will be."    "Okay, kid. Okay!"    He ALWAYS called me kid, even though he's only in his forties. And I looked up to the man, wanted him to think I was neat. After all, he's the same guy who isn't afraid of nothin'--the same guy who will go hiking and caving nearly anywhere. He's the same legendary man who won a ham at a bowl-off last Christmas—then gave the prize to a man in need.     He's part Filipino, part tiger, and damn it I wanted to seem like a badass too!    "So what's new with you, G?" he asked.    "Oh, ya know. Just livin' the dream."    "How are things going with that Mark guy?" He turned into an overflow parking lot not far from the hockey rink.    "He's an amazing guy, but I just don't know if we'll make it. He wants a kid and all that. He's a great guy though, really."    "Really. What does a word like good mean to you anyway? You loved my friend, The Schmuck; you thought he was good. You always go after the bad guys though, Gina. Always."    "Loved The Schmuck. Ha! This guy is different. He's honest and kind. He'd never cheat on me."    "You're wrong, Gina. Every man will cheat. Every man."    We walked quietly amongst the shadows that thronged the rink's entrance, and his words loomed ominous like our surroundings. 
     "Not every man. Men are like women, some have consciences about cheating and others don't."    He shook his head. "Live long enough, kid, and you'll lose that optimism. You'll start to see the world for what it is. But until then, let's enjoy! Tony had grabbed the flasks and he quickly put them under his shirt as we walked along.    "What are you? Pregnant? You look absolutely ridiculous! Give those to me!"    So he handed me the flasks, and I quickly shoved them into the front of my pants, and adjusted my puffy coat to hide them.    "Gina. I've missed you." He raised his brows, impressed.    "Don't be an idiot. You haven't missed me at all!"    We walked up to security, and they only asked to see my purse.     "Is that all you want to check?" Tony asked one security guard.     "Don't you think she looks suspicious?"    I could have killed him. There I stood, pants filled with liquor, and he said things like that. I'd take all of the blame for his whiskey if they caught me.    "She couldn't hurt a fly," the old guard said. "Have a great time, sweetie. Don't let the language bother you too much at this place. People really get into hockey around here."      I smiled. "I'll try to enjoy the game anyway."    "What a load of crap!" Tony said as we bought a couple of large Sprites, then rushed to the stairs leading to the nosebleed section. "Quick, pour yours in, and I'll put mine in too."    "This is gonna be so strong," I balked.    "And no one will ever know but us!"    We picked seats right next to the highest railing, kicked out legs through the bars, and sat side-by-side, watching an old-school hockey game in the wrong part of town.    It wasn't long before the whiskey hit both of us and we were laughing and jeering at the players, completely uninhibited.     At one point, a puck shot through the air and hit a player right in the helmet. "Oh SNAP!" We laughed and laughed. "Dude, Gina. You're such a dude. What kind of chick likes to see shit like that?"
    "Girls who drink whiskey?"    "It'sssss true." He smirked. "But you ain't perfect. Not. You kind of suck actually."    "What the hell does that mean?" I asked, turning to look at him squarely.    "You're going to say goodbye to The Schmuck. That's a dumb thing to do. I expected more from you, kid."    "You're one to talk! You let him text me from your phone."    "Hey, he's bigger than me. The man's built like a house and hung like a—"    "Save it! I might not go see him. But what's it to you?" I'd completely forgotten about the game, or the whiskey, or the fact that my leg was twisted in a weird sort of way and the railing was digging into my thigh.    "Listen, Gina. He wants you back bad. He's been telling all of the guys at work how you'll see him again and end up being with him whether he stays married or not. Then he can have the two women he loves."    "But that's not—"    "Just hear me out!" Then as a mess of blubbering drunkenness, he told me everything he should have told me a long time before. "The Schmuck has had so many affairs," he said. "In the beginning, you were one of many. The first time he told me about you, he had this dirty sort of look in his eyes, saying he'd really hit the jackpot. All the guys from work stood around, and he showed us a picture of you naked."    "What?! All those guys? How did he even get that?"    "It was from the back; you were walking away or something, probably didn't even know he'd taken a picture. He said that day he'd been with you and his wife."    I could have thrown up.    "But somehow after time, things changed. I met you in person. I didn't know how damn likable you'd be. I wanted to tell you he was married, but I didn't have the heart. You seemed so happy. He'd bring you to my house, then invite me over to dinner at his house with his wife. I was torn, more than you know, trying to lie to both of you."    I sighed and took a huge swig of my drink.    "But if I was a mess, you should've seen what he went through," Tony said. "You kept trying to break things off. See, girls normally chase after him—and they NEVER find out he's married. He'd never had a chick break up with him before—and no one had ever dated him long enough to talk with his wife. So I think that's why he doesn't want to let you go. He thinks he's in love with you, but that ain't love. That ain't…. I was in love once. It wasn't about all that garbage. It was about me being willing to do anything for that girl."     His feet kept swaying back and forth through that damn railing, making me so dizzy. And I had a slight premonition that our dangling legs might bring us some not-so-great attention. But I was too busy listening to his sea of words to really think much beyond that.    "I was jumped once," he went on. "These thugs came out of nowhere and beat the shit outta me. The girl I loved was there too, crying as she watched me. She could've ran away, but she didn't—she stayed, and before long, they started hitting her too." 
    He voice shook then. And I thought how strange it was to hear this story, and share this moment in the nosebleeds of a stupid hockey game. "I watched them beat her so bad, Gina. I can't tell you how that felt, but it was worse than getting beat close to death.... I couldn't do a damn thing to help her. Then they threw us in the gutter outside of a bar. I knew she could've gotten away, but she stayed because she loved me. We were taken to a hospital soon after that. I don't know how we got there or who took us. Anyway, she stayed. She should've gone, but she wouldn't have left me, ever."    "But you're single now, Tony? Why didn't you stay together?"    "Someone…died. I've told you enough tonight. I'm done talking about her…."    The crowd cheered as two players collided and hockey skates flew into the air. But I didn't care much, instead, I thought about Tony's words. Maybe true love to him was enjoying the good and bad times together—no matter what. That was pretty thought-provoking. Would I stay if Mark was getting beaten in a gutter? Would it even matter if I stayed? Or was that truly an action only love could inspire? In my heart, I hoped I would be the kind of girl who would stick by his side regardless.    "So, The Schmuck… Gina, he won't leave you alone. But I still don't think you should meet him. He said he's going to lie to you, tell you he really is divorced and that his ex-wife has been lying about the whole thing. But you have to know—he's married. He always was married."    "I know," I said. "It's a good thing that we live in a small town; almost everyone and their dog knows The Schmuck and his wife."    "But you're still going to see him again?" he asked.    "If this were a movie, would I go see him?" I asked. "Honestly, would I?"    "Yes. You would." His response was so reluctant. "But this isn't a stupid movie! You could get hurt. You aren't strong enough. You still see the good in everyone." Then my friend, who had always seemed so jovial, began hollering so loud. "Don't be an idiot! He wants you to be his mistress, his second woman. He has no respect for you. You're better than this. Look at you—goddamn it, look at you!"    My face heated, and faster than I'd meant to, I stood, glaring at Tony. "What, Tony? What? Tell me what you mean by all of this." He stood as well, and I was about to step closer to him, so angry, when someone grabbed my shoulder, and then Tony's.     "Calm down, you two. Give me your drinks," a young security guard said.    "They have some downstairs if you'd like your own," I said.
Tony's eyes widened and he couldn't help but shake his head. My anger from moments before turned into shock.
    "Hand-it-over," the guard ground the words through gritted teeth, but I couldn't respond seriously. He looked so little to be giving orders.    "Okay-dokey." I handed my drink over. "I used to be a security guard." I smiled, and batted my eyelashes.    "Sure you were." The guard pursed his lips. "You must've been one heck of a guard. You don't look scary at all AND you illegally drink in public venues!"    I tried looking innocent, then I hiccuped.    Tony put his hand over his face, and stared at me through splayed fingers, pleading with his eyes, begging me to not act stupid.    "I'll give the two of you a choice," the guard finally said after sizing us up. "You can either stop yelling at each other, give us your drinks, and leave… Or you can go to jail."    "How kind of you. Tony, wasn't that swe—"    "We'll take option one!" Tony grabbed my arm, and dragged me beside him as we were escorted out the back entrance. It was a dizzying walk, but a fast blur of excitement. The guards slammed the metal doors shut and locked them behind us.    As we stood out in the cold, so much adrenaline suddenly hit me. I jumped up and down, and ran my hands through my hair. "Holy shit, Tony! Now THAT was fun!"    He suddenly burst with laughter. We ran to his jeep, both of us too scared to look behind us. "Quick! In case they change their minds!"    We slammed the jeep's doors as if we were chased by monsters. We both jabbered so quickly recounting the whole conversation with the guards. As we talked, Tony drove to a diner really closeby, so he could sober up before taking me home.    That night we didn't talk anymore about The Schmuck, or his wife. We didn't even talk about Mark. Instead we laughed like old times, telling stories, and geeking out about the fact that we'd just been let off the hook.    "I used to be a security guard," Tony mimicked, then slapped my arm. "My hell. You almost blew the whole thing!"    "No way! That's why he let us go."    "Not likely," Tony said, chugging his coffee. "Ya know, kid. You have a good head on your shoulders. No matter where you go in life, follow your intuitions. If somethin' don't feel right, please listen and get away quick."    "Okay," I said.    Later that night, after Tony dropped me off, I thought about what a good friend he was. It had felt good getting out like that, appreciating life instead of worrying so much.
    Just before I went to sleep, Tony called me. "Tony? What's up?"
    "Gina, I'm kind of shook up." His voice was low and serious.
    "Why? What's wrong?"
    "Someone came to my house while we were gone. They bashed-in my mailbox, and left it on my front lawn."
    "You don't think it was--"
    "Yeah. You know who I think it was. If he finds out we're still friends.... Just promise me, if you go see The Schmuck, please be safe."
    "Okay."
    We hung up, both shaken. I sure was grateful to have a good friend like Tony. Little did I know, that was one of the last times I'd ever talk to him.

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