Tuesday, April 14, 2015

How do you tell an ex goodbye forever?


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.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

A Romantic Date Idea: Win Her Heart


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.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Have You Ever Tried Cordon Bleu Balls?


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.
    “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.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

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


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."
    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.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

What's your best advice about love?



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

Nightmares plagued my sleep, dreams where Mark said we would never work out because he wanted a biological child. In one dream he said he'd never loved me, but just acted like it to have a kid. I saw the same scenario a million times: Mark wanting a kid. I could have retaliated, but in each dream, I simply absorbed his words, then tearfully walked away.
   In other dreams, I'd run to meet the Schmuck, to tell him I hated him and my terrible luck with men. But instead of The Schmuck, his wife waited, her beautiful face twisted into a havalina grin as she saw me open my van's door.
    The next morning, I woke up nearly shaking. After brushing a hand through my tangled hair, I told myself to get my act together and make a quick breakfast. My kids' dad had decided to take them for the next couple of days. As I fried egg after egg, and buttered all eight pieces of toast—even as I helped my kids into my ex-husband's truck—I couldn't shake my dreams.
    Right after my kids left, I texted Mark.

I'm leaving for a couple of days.
I can't shake the feeling that something is wrong.

With what?
Are you okay?

There's a lot on my mind.

Does this have anything to do with The Schmuck.

Some of it does. But mostly…
I don't think you and I are going to work out.
We're dragging each other along,
when we both have different goals.

Gina! I love you.

I love you too, but w
e need to be honest here.

If we're going to break up, it's better sooner than later.
I'm leaving. I'll talk to you in a couple of days, okay?
This'll give us both time to think.

Ummm… Okay.
Be safe.


I love you.
I love you back.

    Then I jumped into my van and, on the spur of the moment, drove several hundreds of miles just to see one of the people I respect most in the world.
    It was quite late when I pulled up to her house. The woman is out of a fairytale, sweet and kind. She lives in a quaint house that feels like pure sunshine. She serves tea that would sate the gods themselves. When she opened her screen door, a look of pure surprise, and then 
happiness, lit up her features.
    "Gina! What in the world are you doing here?" she asked.
    "I need some advice…AND some tea."
    She whisked me into the kitchen. She'd apparently been making scones, so I snagged one from the counter and grinned at her while taking a bite.
    We sat across from one-another. I ate like crazy as she eyed me suspiciously.
    "What?" I asked through a mouthful of food. She just chuckled and shook her head.
    "All those miles. This is sure to be good."
    After I'd finished eating, we both sipped at our teas, neither one of us saying a word for quite some time.
    "So, come on. What brought you here?"
    "I'm confused. I wanted to ask you a question. If you could give someone one bit of advice about love, what would it be?" I asked. She's awfully smart, been alive for over seven decades. I hoped she'd have something good to say.
    "Gina, don't tell me this about The Schmuck again?"
    "Kind of," I admitted. "It's about how scared I am." I told her all about The Schmuck's recent texts, about my plan to meet him, about the romance with Mark, and Mark's desire to have a baby.
    "Well, how do you 
really feel about Mark?" she asked.
    "I know I love him," I said. "But it's a different kind of love. It isn't always scary or exciting like I've always known love to be. Sometimes it's quiet and peaceful. It's not intense, not at all… But I know I'd do nearly anything for that man."
    She nodded. "First off. I don't know why you want to meet The Schmuck in person. I hear what you're saying, that he'll only leave you alone if you tell him goodbye in person. But part of me wonders if you want closure? Are you worried you might feel something when you see him?"
    "Maybe. It's been so long. I don't know what I really think about the situation; it's just too far inside of me, buried under all of the pain. Maybe I just want to know how he was able to hurt me so badly. Will I see him differently, and see how silly the whole thing was, how he dated me while he was married?"
    "And his wife, why forward anything to her. She isn't listening to anything you say."
    "I feel bad for her, to be stuck with him. But honestly, I envy her a little. I can't ever make anyone happy, really. I try so hard, but it never seems to be enough. I tried my very hardest in my marriage. I tried being perfect for The Schmuck and he lied to me the whole time. Now I'm finally being myself with Mark, and that's still not 
enough because I can't give him a baby." Some tears came to my eyes and she handed me a napkin. "The Schmuck's wife seems to be good enough for someone. She obviously makes The Schmuck happy because he's with her. I wish I could be enough for someone someday."
    "Anyone would be more than enough for that man," she mumbled.
    "Nothing," she covered. "It's just that who's to say they're really all that happy? And good for them if they are. I'm just glad you're not in that mess anymore. This Mark fellow, he sounds like a good man. I'd much rather talk about your boyfriend's need for a baby, than your boyfriend's…hidden marriage."
    I couldn’t help but laugh, as she took a sip of her tea.
    "You asked me if I have any advice about love."
    I nodded.
    "Well, I'm getting older now. I've never really been in love, but I have seen a lot of love. All I can think to tell you is what my mother told me. Each morning before we went to school, no matter how much my brother and I had fought, no matter what was said, before we left the house, we always told our mother that we loved her. She'd hug us and say, 'I never want yo
u to leave this house angry. I always want you to know how much I love you.' And that was a wonderful lesson to teach me, that we should appreciate love for as long as we have it."
    After finishing our tea, we played Rummikub and spoke lightly until it was time to go to bed. I stayed the night, then began the long drive home the next morning. And the whole time I drove, I thought of her words: "appreciate love for as long as we have it."
   As the day passed and the sun eventually descended into the mountainous horizon, I pulled into my driveway.
    Sitting on my doorstep was something brilliant and bright. I ran up the concrete stairs, and wondered over the beauty of the flower arrangement on my porch. 

 photo flowers_zpsn7weuxfm.jpg

    Who would send something like this? I opened the front door before fumbling to read the card.

    When I met you, your smile made my whole heart warm, your laugh made my whole being smile, you were so genuine and honest and full of life it seemed to overflow to the people you talked to. I felt like I had found the one person that I could completely connect with, have fun with to no limitation, and co
uld conquer anything with. ...AND you are gorgeous along with it. I hoped at one point in time that you would end up with me... I had wanted, so many times, to tell you how much I love you, but who was I to tell you that I thought we belonged together?
    I completely fell in love you that first week... it was the best week of my life! I honestly felt like I knew that I wanted to spend my entire life loving you, and showing you that love... I was just scared that it wouldn't work out. But I felt that love so strong it seemed like anything was possible and nothing could kick us down.    I've loved every bit of our time together and will always look back on it as the best of my life.
    I only want to understand and want an open and honest relationship with each other...
    I love you with all my heart. I just want you to be happy.

    I couldn't tell if this was a break-up or a make-up, but I loved every bit of his letter.
    This love wasn't a roller-coaster, but it could be wonderful just the same, like loving a dear friend who was brilliant, sexy, and fun. I brought a flower into my bedroom, then 
smelled it for the longest time. I closed my eyes and thought of Mark, remembering his strong arms, and his gentle voice. I was in the middle of reminiscing, when my phone dinged with a text message.
    I ran over to it, just hoping it was Mark, saying he wasn't breaking up with me. But instead, the number surprised me. It was from a mutual friend of mine and The Schmuck.

Are you still planning on meeting The Schmuck,
to say goodbye?

I thought for a moment. Maybe I shouldn't see The Schmuck after all? Maybe he would just leave me alone. Maybe I could keep dating Mark, appreciating what we had until the very last second. Or possibly, I should go on with the planned course. After all, Mark had even said I should tell The Schmuck goodbye once and for all—cut ties and be strong.

I texted back.

Don't go.


What are you doing tonight?

Well, I'd planned on relaxing.
I just got back from a six-hour drive.

Will you go talk with me?


I asked.

A hockey game.

LOL! Seriously? Tonight?

Yes. Please, Gina.
There's something I need to tell you
before you meet with The Schmuck.
I think you
 have a good thing going with this Mark guy.
There are some things you need to know
before you mess everything up.

I'm not going to mess anything up.

See you in 10 minutes? I'll pick you up?

!>oo<! Okay…. See you in 10.

    I threw on my coat, and waited for one of The Schmuck's closest friends to come pick me up. What in the world did he need to tell me? And why was he acting like it was such an emergency?

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Never Meant to Be

Meeting the Families

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

When Mark and I met each other's immediate families, it went better than I would have hoped. Mark's mother and sisters had such a natural confidence about them, yet still made me feel at ease. It was kind of strange, but they reminded me a lot of my own family.  His father was hilarious, the kind of person folks instantly like being around, and I understood where Mark got his charm from.  It wasn't until I met Mark's Italian grandmother, that I got extra nervous.
    Mark, the kids, and I drove to the cutest house, something you'd imagine as a model 50s home. Mark knocked, and after a moment, a tiny elderly lady opened the door. "Come in! Come in! It's cold outside. Have a seat—would you like a drink—are you hungry? And don't turn me down, you look like you could use a good meal!" she motioned to Mark, then kindly motioned for me and my children to come in.
After sitting down, I tapped my fingers together and started playing different rhythms. "Mom?" my oldest daughter whispered.
    "What?" I asked.
    "You're so nervous," she nodded to my fingers.
    I quickly stopped, but wondered if she knew how terrifying this was. Glass knick-knacks perched everywhere and I just knew my little kids wanted to touch everything in sight.
    "What religion are you?" his grandma suddenly asked, moving her head much more quickly than I'd expected.
    "Hmmm… That's good," she said. "Good. You've been married before?"
    "Yea—s." I shook.
    "You've dated a lot!"
    "Yes. I have."
    "And what's to keep you from going back to an old beau?"
    Mark leaned into the velvet chair, and obviously tried to keep from laughing.
    "I love Mark. My kids love Mark. He's the only person I've ever thought I could spend this life AND the next with."
    She nodded, and things lightened up after that. She fed us the most delicious treats, and we talked about her life. I found that this woman, who candidly spoke her mind, was one of my favorite people ever.
    As we were leaving, my four-year-old tugged on my pants and motioned for me to bend down to her. "Can I kiss her on the cheek?" she whispered. "That's what grandmas are for!"
So I timidly asked Mark's grandma. She blushed, being thrilled with the idea. She bent down, and my little girl went on the very tips of her tiny toes and gave her a huge, wet, kiss.
    After leading the kids into the vehicle, I went to tell Mark's grandma goodbye. "Listen," she said. "I believe everything you said, about never wanting to go back to an old beau, and about loving my grandson. And I like you—and your children." She slapped me on the shoulder. "If you two ever have trouble, let me know. I'll know it's HIS fault." She pointed right at Mark and I couldn't help but laugh.
    It wasn't until Mark had dropped me and the children off, that I had time to mull over her words. I rested in bed, thinking about how much I loved Mark and never wanted to hurt him or his family—that's when my phone suddenly dinged with message after message from The Schmuck.

          Hello Sunshine.

          Remember me?

          I won't leave you alone until we meet in person.

          You said you'll meet me next week! One last goodbye.

          You should be nervous.
          I think you've forgotten how much you loved me.

          Check your email.

    I slammed my phone on my dresser, hoping he'd really stop texting me after I told him I had no feelings for him—especially in person.
    I didn't want to read the email he'd sent, but another part of me was too curious. After eventually grabbing my phone, I clicked on my email. He'd forwarded a message I'd sent to him right after we broke up forever before. And as I read each word, I remembered how bad it had hurt.

I'm sitting at our library; remember the wooded area out back—the place we'd sneak off to when we wanted to see each other, grasping any moment we could get. We'd sit on this stupid bench, hold each other and whisper how we'd never be apart.
    Well, I'm sitting here now . . . all alone.
    I even bought you a coffee. The steam keeps swirling up and around, kissing my lips when you cannot. I finally set it under the bench—just can't look at it anymore.
    But no matter if I can see the damn coffee, or you, or anything that should tie us together, I can't get the memories of you from my mind. And the whole time I'm wondering, was any of it real? What brought me to the wooded area behind the library anyway, when you'll never be here again?
    Still, I keep glancing back, like we're so connected you'll know I'm here. And by some chance you'll want to be with me, the way I dreamed about being with you. And give me honesty. And love. And all I deserve because that's what I gave you. But maybe someone else will give me that, someday.
    I left my van on. The windows are down and a song that reminds me of you is playing.
    Remember the stream that winds in front of "our" bench? 

 photo Wooded_Stream_zpse5390a6c.jpg 

    We wanted to cross over the glistening waters, but someone had torn the bridge down and we could never get to the other side.
    Well, they've built a new bridge now and the thing is so mesmerizing, it practically blurs my vision.
    So I walk up to it, put my hand on the intricate railing and decide to cross. But then I can't. Because a realization suddenly hits me. As I stare through the foggy morning, to the other side of that solid bridge, there's someone on the other side. And I swear . . . it's you. The guy looks at me. Neither one of us cross.     Tears fill my eyes because it's tragically beautiful. We could never cross that bridge. We could have easily, but somehow we never truly did. . . .

    The man stayed on his side. I remained on mine. That damn music kept playing about love and how it'll never end 'til it practically kills me inside.
    So I sat back down on our bench. I drank your stupid coffee. And the man on the other side of the water left.
    Neither one of us crossed.
    And that's when I knew, it was never meant to be.

After reading the whole letter, I paused, lost in so many thoughts. Why wouldn't he just let me go—I'd moved on and he was still married!
    As I prayed to God, Mark's grandmother's words drifted back into my head. "Listen, I believe everything you said, about never wanting to go back to an old beau, and about loving my grandson. And I like you…."
Everything would be okay. Someday The Schmuck will just be a faint memory, I told myself, and he'll never bother me again. I nodded, turned off my phone, and went to sleep.

Monday, February 2, 2015

600,000 Pageviews!

    As you know, I've been writing a new book on my blog (click HERE to check that out), but today I'm taking a break because...
    It's my birthday!  I'm 32 today--WOW--getting up there.  And I have to say that it's an AWESOME birthday.  My blog recently hit over 600,000 pageviews!  I'm stunned. Thanks for all of your support :)
    To say "thank you" for everything, I'm offering some free eBooks from 2/2-2/4, including my newest book "Threaded Dreams." I hope you'll like the books if you have a chance to read them--see the links below :)

Friday, January 30, 2015

And the greatest of these is love



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

Mark didn't come over one Saturday, and I decided to take my kids to Antelope Island. We sped along the causeway while my children talked about the smooth saltwater spreading on either side of us.  
 photo ANTELOPE20ISLAND20CAUSEWAY_zpsebgvym21.jpg
    "Isn't it crazy; we live by this place?" my little boy said.
    "One minute we're in the city, the next we're driving to an island," my oldest daughter said.  "Mama, isn't it strange how we can go different places, but still be the same people?"
    I nodded. "I hope all of you will always stay the same, no matter where you go."
    "We've changed since you and Daddy got divorced. That changed us!"  She was suddenly so irate, I didn't know what had caused her mood-change.
    "Baby, what's wrong? Talk to me."
    "You'd never understand. You do want us to change!"
    "Change isn't always bad. Take Antelope Island for example.... We were in the city, which is great in its own way, but look where we are now. THIS place is amazing. We never would have seen it unless we left the city."
    "This place sucks. It's dead!" She practically spat the words at me.
    Her three younger siblings rallied around me. "Don't be mean to Mama! You know they had to get divorced. Things were bad when they were together and you know it. Mama is trying to have fun with us."
    But my oldest refused to concede or look at any of us for that matter. Instead, she remained glued to the passenger-side window.
    After reaching the island, I curved to the right and followed the bumpy road, moving quite slowly despite my eagerness to reach the salty beach. "Look hard, kids. You might see some deer, antelope, a buffalo."
    "We won't!" my oldest said. "We won't see any--"
    Then the van was screeching to a halt, and my hands tightened against the wheel. A blur of brown had jumped high in front of my van. My heart raced. My teeth gritted, and I involuntarily threw my right hand out and pushed my oldest daughter hard into her seat.
    "Oh. My. Gosh!" my oldest said, breathlessly looking ahead. 
    Dust swirled around the van, as if the five of us had been taken up with Dorothy in her Kansas cyclone. My youngest kids quickly unbuckled themselves, stood up and stared out the front windows, waiting for the dust to clear. 
    And when the dirt dissipated, every single one of us gasped. In front of us--right in the middle of the road--stood the largest brown and orange fox I'd ever imagined.  Its ear eternally perked, he eyed us at an angle and then studied us straight-on.  He stayed there, breathing deeply, and it wasn't until moments had passed that I realized he wasn't looking at me or my three youngest children; he was staring directly at my oldest daughter.  I glanced at her and tears had brimmed her eyes.  "Wow," she said. "Who would have thought we'd see him, in a place as crappy as this."
    I couldn't help but smile.  The fox whipped his tail high, turned his head and jumped into the brush, leaving our sight forever.
    I drove really slowly after that, and although we looked hard, we didn't see any other wildlife.  We parked at the edge of a sandy beach. "Come on, guys. You're gonna love this."
    "But we don't have swimsuits," my boy said.
    "And we don't need them!  Come on, guys, let's live a little."
    They each looked at each other with confusion and then excitement.  "Okay!" my youngest said. "Let's go, guys."  
    We grabbed hands and ran.  My oldest followed, albeit slowly.  We spent the day splashing each other with water, and catching brine shrimp in our hands.
    My babies giggled, wading in the foot-deep water, so excited to hold some of the thousands of shrimp swimming around our legs.  "Mama! Mama! I'm a fisherman!" my boy said.  
    And I couldn't help thinking of how good it felt finding myself enjoying my kids. The water swayed against my calves and I stood rooted so long, watching my kids play, that sand covered my feet.        
    But as I studied each of them, their worries seemed to fall away.  For that moment, everything was perfect. I wasn't thinking about a failed marriage, a job that didn't pay well, an ex-boyfriend who wouldn't let go, a love that might not last. Instead I marveled over my youngest daughter's bright eyes. How delighted she looked, with those poor shrimp dangling from her chubby hands.  I watched my son--acting so brave, tromping through that water like he was Superman.  My second oldest daughter, whose hair glistened like sunning honey, dripping from a hive.  And then just as I was about to look at my oldest, a handful of brine shrimp was flying at my face!
    I moved to the left, trying to dodge it, but my feet were so completely immersed in sand, my body smacked hard into the water.  
    "Oh snap!" My oldest gasped, stifling a laugh. She sloshed over and held out her hand. "Mama, I am so sorry. Let me help you up."
    I grabbed her hand and pulled her onto my lap before splashing her.  We laughed so hard, both of us completely forgetting everything as her siblings dog-piled us too.
    "Mama, I love you so much." She suddenly hugged me--seemingly out of nowhere.  "You work so hard for us.  I'm sorry I take things out on you. You're so much fun."
    After the sun began descending into the western horizon, we carried our soaking shoes and walked back to the van.
    "Mama," my second-oldest said, "I knew you were fun, but I never knew you were that fun.  What's happened to you?"
    I thought of the fox and smiled. "Remember how I told you change isn't always a bad thing? How we went from the city to here, and how if we looked for it, we could find the good in both places?"
    "Like the fox," my oldest said.
    "Exactly."  Just like that gorgeous fox. "We're entering a new time in our lives. Maybe Daddy and I aren't married anymore, but we can find the good in this. We can become better people. We can even be a better family."
    My second oldest hugged me. "I don't know how you became this fun, but I love it."
    She skipped by her younger siblings and I did wonder what had happened in my life, for me to blossom like I had. I just felt so free, so happy. I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but something had changed my outlook.
    "Wanna race?" my second oldest yelled. "One, two, go!"  My three youngest kids began running across the sand, but the ground was so soft, they moved as fast as beached turtles.
     I put my arm around my oldest daughter's shoulder and laughed, watching her sisters and brother struggle to run. But my oldest wasn't laughing, instead she looked riddled with regret.
    "Baby, what's wrong? Are you okay?" I stood and looked her straight in the face.
    "I'm sorry that I can be mean to you."
    "I forgive you, but what I don't understand is why I'm the only person who you're mean to. What did I ever do to deserve that? Are you still mad I dated the Schmuck? Are you still worried things won't work out with Mark?"
    "No, Mama. That isn't it at all. You don't understand." Her eyes took on the most concerned look. "I don't want to tell you."
    I glanced at her siblings who were now running in circles, making trails in the sand.  "You can tell me anything. I won't judge you. I'll try to understand."
    She bit her lip and gazed up at me, looking so much like me the day I'd decided I needed to get divorced. On that day, which seemed like an eternity before, I'd clutched a mirror and stared at my tear-stained face, just trying to gain my composure. I'd told myself to be strong, quit crying, go get a good job and support my kids.
    "Be strong, baby-girl," I said to someone else this time. "What's bothering you?"
    "I have so much anger inside of me. I'm mad that life isn't perfect. I'm mad that Daddy isn't around all of the time. I'm angry that you have to work so much.... Everything can change--everything.  I barely see Daddy, but if I'm mean, maybe Daddy won't want to see me at all. He'll leave. I won't see his side of the family." She sighed, then pointed to her brother and sisters. "And if I'm mean to them, they won't want me around. The only person who never lets me down is..."  She suddenly hugged me so hard and sobbed, I could feel her tears soaking through my shirt.  "The only person who will never leave me...is you. You love me when I'm mean. You love me when I'm nice. You love me so much. I can treat you like anything, thinking you'll leave me someday, but you never do.  Mama, I'm so sorry."
    I cried then too.  And I brushed my hand through her hair the same way Mark had brushed his hand through mine days before.  And it hit me, how love can bring so much light to situations.  When you love someone, really love them, they know, and that love can make you cry, or laugh, test it, hope it'll never go away; and that love can even help you blossom.
    We drove home. Although we didn't see another fox, or even an antelope or buffalo, I'd seen something I'd never forget. 
    I'd seen how much my children needed me, and I'd realized again how very blessed I am.