Friday, December 31, 2010

A Broken Heart Mended

          I saw Kevin again at a New Year's Eve house party.
The man who'd broken my heart.
Out of the corner of my eye, while I was laughing and talking with a group of friends, I spotted him. I didn't think he saw me.
A chill sweeping through me, I excused myself and strolled away from my friends.
I slid the glass door to the balcony open and stepped into the cold winter night. The shrill party noise followed me until I eased the door closed.
I hugged myself, and peered at a sky filled with bright stars and a giant moon. What to do? Face him? Ignore him? I couldn't stay out here in the cold and snow forever.
I needed a second to think.
When we broke up, I thought I'd never love anyone else. To love once, so intensely, I told myself, was to love always. I would never feel like this about anyone else. I wouldn't even try.
I started to shiver.
I decided to face him—I needed closure. But before I could reach for the door, it slid open. Tall and broad-shouldered, Kevin faced me, the party clamor behind him spilling into the night. He pushed the door closed. "Hi," he said, smiling easily. "I saw you escaping a minute ago. I thought I'd join you."
"I needed a break form the music and laughter," I said, totally surprising myself.  I mean, I felt calm. In control.  My heart steady.
"Your boyfriend's probably wondering what happened to you."
"I think Mark's in the rec room playing pool."
For months I tried to tear Kevin from my memory, but despite my efforts, I awoke every morning thinking of him. I saw him on the street and in crowds everywhere—the illusion of him. And for a long while I dreamed of him.  Nightly.
"How have you been?" he asked.
His eyes crisscrossed me. "Look, Casey—I want to apologize..."
I waved a hand. "I shouldn't have been fooled so easily. "
"It's cold out here." He rubbed his hands together. Blew into them. "Let's go inside and find a warm corner where we can talk."
"What will Lisa think, her seeing you with me?"
He shrugged a little. "I'm alone tonight. She called at the last minute...the flu, she thinks. And you're going to catch your death out here." He smiled at me and inched forward, as if to circle a warm, protective arm around my shoulder.
I stepped aside. "The very first clue," I said, "should've alerted me: You stopped answering your cell when I called, and you stopped texting me altogether."
"Casey, please..."
"But it wasn't until you suddenly couldn't find time for us that I really became suspicious." I bit my bottom lip. "And when you said we needed to 'take a break,' the truth finally hit me. You'd found someone else. Lisa."
"I know I was acting like a jerk—I just didn't know how to tell you about her."
Letting out a frosty breath, I sidled past him.
I'd lived through this moment—talking to him—a thousand times in my dreams, but none of the horrible emotions I expected to feel surfaced. Not anger—not electric shock—only a tiny bit of sadness.
I reached for the sliding glass door. Before I could pull the handle, the door swished open. Mark stood in front us, smiling. "What are you guys doing out there, it's freezing. Close to zero."
I stepped inside, the party clamor and warmth from the room immediately engulfing me. Kevin followed, closing the door, and the three of us faced each other.
"Mark," I said, "this is Kevin O'Neil. We worked together at Fisher and Atwater for a time before I left the firm." Before the two men reached to shake hands, I added, "Kevin, this is Mark, my fiancé."
Kevin's hand stopped in midair, but Mark grabbed it and gave it a hardy shake.  The two men said, "Glad to meet you." Then Kevin, darting a glance at my engagement ring, gave a sheepish nod and said, "I should call Lisa. See how she's doing."
"She'd like that," I said.
Kevin disappeared.  "That's him?" Mark asked "The guy who broke your heart?"
"I thought it broken beyond repair at the time."
"You look cold," Mark said, and wrapped me in a warm embrace.
"I spotted him. I tried to avoid him. I ducked outside, but he followed."
Among the throng of partygoers milling about, still snuggled in Mark's strong arms, I gazed into his eyes.
I remembered a time when I thought only Kevin's dark eyes could excite me, but blue eyes, I decided, were far more exciting—and tender and loving and caring.
Mark kissed me, and suddenly I felt his warmth and love sweeping through me. "You're not still hurting, are you?" he asked.
"It's a new year," I said, "and I've mended perfectly."

The End
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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Merry Christmas

         It had been a cold Friday, snow falling for the last three hours.
I parked in the Dooley Insurance Agency lot at 6:00 p.m. I expected to find all the lights inside the office turned off, but everything looked lit up. When I unlocked the front door and stepped inside, I found Heather Allison, our new office manager, so busy trimming the office Christmas tree she apparently didn't hear me entering.
She'd started work for the Dooley agency a month ago. What a beauty she was—short but curvy with blond hair tumbling across her shoulders. Big blue eyes. Single, too. Like me. I reigned in my hormones.
I closed the door softly, tilted my head, and smiled. I didn't dare speak. She stood on a metal folding chair in her stocking feet, stretching, trying desperately to reach the top of a seven-foot spruce tree to drop a gold star in place. I didn't want to startle her. She might fall off the chair. But if you rush up behind her, I told myself, and yell, "Merry Christmas!" she might fall into your arms.
Bad idea, I decided. So I waited until she heaved a big sigh and jumped off the chair, the star still in her hand. That's when I said, "Hey. What's happening?"
She whirled, her blue eyes popping. "Oh, Lord! You scared me. What are you doing here, Mark?"
I explained I'd made calls all afternoon and I was coming in to finish up paperwork in the office so I wouldn't have to bother on Saturday. "And what are you doing trimming the office tree all by yourself?"
"Everyone else bailed. Because of the snow, I think. But I love rimming a Christmas tree."
"It reminds me of home and of all the happy times our family had over the holidays."
I'd always wished for a happy holiday experience. After my folks died in a car accident when I was six—I had no other living relatives—I grew up in series of foster homes where money and love were sometimes scarce, Christmas trees sometimes nonexistent. "Need help?" I asked.
"What about your paperwork?"
"It can wait. Let's start with the star."
At six-two, I had no trouble stretching and reaching the top of the tree to set the star in place. "What's next?"
Heather looked at me curiously, as if my not knowing the next tree-trimming step was strange, but a warm light sparkled in her eyes; and, I swear, my heart quivered.
We worked on stringing the lights, then started hanging the many colored ornaments. All the while, we swapped details about ourselves. We were both thirty, never married, not even dating. She grew up with three sisters and three brothers and learned the value of hard work and cooperation.
I told her my story about the foster homes. "And after I graduated high school," I said, "and was lucky enough to get grants and a scholarship, I decided I was going to make a good life for myself—a meaningful life with everything I ever wanted."
"Like a family?" she asked.
That question, shot at me point-blank, startled me. Since I'd never been part of a real family and had never known close, loving ties, I tended to shy away from relationships that might lead me in that direction. "Um...I have a new car," I said.  "I'm on my way to owning a great house. I have a boat and motor."
She nodded silently. I'm sure she realized, like I did, that I'd mentioned only material things. But she said simply, "Next comes the tinsel—I'm old fashioned, I love tinsel."
Strand by strand, we meticulously hung tinsel, tinsel, tinsel on every branch. All the while, she softly hummed Christmas carols—"Silent Night," "Jingle Bells," "Little Town of Bethlehem"—and my heart begin filling with a warmth I'd never experienced before.
When we finished with the tinsel, I helped her wrap a cottony skirt that looked like newly fallen snow around the tree stand. Then we sat on the floor in front of the tree, our arms looped around our knees, like kids, and admired our work. The glittering, pine-scented tree, her nearness and warmth—everything thrilled me.
 "Tomorrow morning," she said, "I'm coming in to lay out the manger scene underneath the tree. I just bought it. It's at home."
I didn't think twice. "Need more help?"
She smiled.  "I'd like that."
"Maybe breakfast first? Pancake House?"
"I like that, too." She leaned back on her hands and gazed at the ceiling, her eyes darting around.
"What are you looking for?"
"Where should we hang the mistletoe?" she asked. "Over your desk?"
Both of us smiling now, we playfully bumped shoulders.
"I dare you," I said. Then I laughed and felt, well, merry. Very merry. Like this might be the happiest, merriest Christmas of my life.
The End
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