ALONE TOGETHER

Listen to the waves as they kiss the shore, the rustle of the beachgrass in the gentle breeze. The golden hues of sunrise pirouette gracefully on the terrace and across the bed. The start of another day, as blissful and serene as the one before it. Summertime.

Is that my heart beating deeply or yours? Both, you say. You caress my shoulders. Hold me in your arms as if it’s our first time, our last time. I feel free. I feel ageless. I feel more cherished than any other woman.

You are my one, my soul, my heart. I watch your profile as you gaze out the window, peaceful and content. My fingers curl through the hair on your chest, now grey. That does not matter. Only we matter.

How long have we been alone together? A thousand summertimes, you say. How long will we be alone together? For a thousand more, I reply.

You pull me closer, eyes dancing in the morning light. Let the world go on without us. We are here where we belong – alone together. 

NAR © 2022

TWILIGHT TIME

Incorporating the word “astounding”, this was written for  # Eugi’s Weekly Prompt July 19, 2022

Coffee mug in hand, I leaned over the railing of my little vacation rental staring out at the Great Barrier Reef. Recently divorced and childless, I was now truly alone for the first time in a dozen years.

Glorious sunrise, isn’t it?” a smooth Australian baritone voice remarked. I turned my head to see a ruggedly handsome man with unruly blonde hair in jeans and a sweater.

We exchanged smiles and appreciative glances. I replied that it was indeed glorious. 

He lingered for a moment or two, then declared “Well, I’m off. Snapper and mash for brekkie.” He walked a few steps and turned. “I wonder, do you like Semillon Sauvignon Blanc? “

I sipped my coffee thoughtfully and said “I haven’t had the pleasure but I do enjoy a good chilled white wine.”

“Meet me right here tonight; if you think this is a thing of beauty, you should see the sunsets. They’re astounding.” And he walked off, the clop of his boots on the deck the only sound.

He was right about the wine and the sunset. That was the last night I would ever be alone again.

NAR © 2022

FORCED FUN

What the hell am I doing out on a night like this?” Glenn grumbled to himself, his mood worsening with every passing minute. “Freezing rain, my feet are soaked and I don’t even want to go to this damn office Christmas party!”

No one at his company knew that Glenn was planning to quit on New Year’s Eve. He was sick of his dead-end job, always being passed-over and stuck in a little cubicle all day. There’s got to be more to life than that!

Running into the little gift shop located in his company’s office building, Glenn spotted a small lapis lazuli ornament near the cash register and decided it would make a fine Secret Santa gift. As he reached for it, his hand bumped into a lovely feminine hand with sparkling fuchsia fingernails.

Hold on, buster! That’s mine! I just left it on the counter while I went to get a gift bag.”

Turning his head sideways Glenn encountered a familiar face; it was the receptionist at his office. He always thought she was pretty but tonight she looked particularly fetching.

Carrie, isn’t it? Well, I’m sorry but the rule is if you put something down before paying for it, it’s fair game. Besides, I’m in a hurry and I don’t have time to look around for anything else.”

Carrie recognized Glenn immediately. He reminded her of a dreamy Hugh Grant in his younger days – handsome and charming – just not at this particular moment.

Glenn, right? Well, I’m in a hurry, too. The office Christmas party is tonight and this is my Secret Santa gift. You’re probably here for the same reason.”

Guilty as charged” Glenn quipped. “Come on, Carrie. It’s been a crappy day. I just want to buy this gift, make an appearance at the party and get the hell out of there.”

I feel the same way. These office celebrations are the worst! The last place I want to be is at that party but it’s mandatory, as you know. Nothing like ‘forced fun’!”

Glenn had to chuckle at that.

Look, Glenn. There’s a bunch of other ornaments right over there. Just pick something and let me buy this one, alright? I did see it first, after all.”

Oh, alright! It’s all yours, Carrie” Glenn conceded and dashed off to look for something else. He quickly found a small gold star ornament, grabbed a gift bag and returned to the register just as Carrie was finishing up her purchase. She gave Glenn a little smile and headed out into the lobby. He couldn’t help noticing her shapely legs as she walked away, heels clicking on the marble floor.

So, we meet again” declared the voice beside Carrie as she waited for the elevator. She felt a slight rush knowing it was Glenn.

Or maybe you’re following me” Carrie replied coyly, hoping she wasn’t blushing. She and Glenn never really spoke to each other at work but he always caught her eye. Glancing at him Carrie was struck with how intensely blue his eyes were. At the same moment Glenn was thinking how very kissable Carrie’s lips looked in the shimmering light of the lobby’s chandelier.

They stepped into the elevator, the only two occupants as it made its slow ascent.

Mind if I ask why you’re dreading this party so much?” Glenn inquired.

That’s easy!” Carrie replied. “I hate my job! The people are unfriendly, all I do is answer the phone all day and give directions to rude visitors. I’m bored to death and capable of so much more. If I tell you something will you promise to keep it a secret?”

Glenn nodded and gave her the ‘zipped lips’ sign.

I’m quitting on New Year’s Eve” Carrie whispered.

No kidding! So am I! I hate my job, too. But mum’s the word, OK?” Glenn whispered back conspiratorially and they stared into each other’s eyes for a lingering moment.

Any idea what you’re gonna do?” Glenn asked.

Not really” Carrie sighed “but I’ve always dreamed of running a bed and breakfast in Maine.”

Sounds delightful” Glenn replied wistfully. “We used to vacation at my grandparent’s lake house in Maine when I was a kid. It’s gorgeous up there – a really great place to settle down.”

The elevator door opened to the office party in full swing. Glenn and Carrie groaned and deposited their little bags on the Secret Santa gift table. He went one way, she went the other but every few minutes they found themselves staring at each other across the room.

After a short time Carrie casually made her way to the elevator. She was just about to make her escape when she heard that familiar voice cry out “Hold the elevator!” and Glenn rushed in breathlessly.

I was wondering…..” they said at the same time and laughed self-consciously.

You first” prompted Carrie.

I was thinking perhaps we could get a drink somewhere and talk about Maine” Glenn suggested.

My thoughts exactly. Would you .. um .. like to go to my place?” Carrie smiled invitingly.

I’d like that very much” Glenn replied and slipped his fingers between hers.

NAR © 2020

EXTRA X CHROMOSOME

CHIMERA TORTOISESHELL KITTENS
AVAILABLE FOR ADOPTION!
COME IN – ASK FOR LEAH

Gary did a double-take when he saw the sign on the marquee outside Redemption Ecclesiastical Church. He’d always been fascinated by those distinctively mottled cats with an extra X chromosome. Gary supported humane societies, not pet stores. He knew people paid a lot of money for pets, especially the designer dogs some breeders ‘manufacture’ such as Labradoodles and Yorkipoos.

Not hesitating for a second, Gary walked inside and knocked on the open door of an office marked ‘Communities Outreach Program’. A pleasant voice rang out “Come on in! I’ll be right there.”

Glancing around the room Gary noticed a large bulletin board full of colorful flyers about the church’s events: the weekly Advent wreath candle lighting ceremony, the upcoming Christmas pageant, a clothing drive for the homeless and a sign-up sheet to volunteer at the local soup kitchen.

Hi! You must be Sam. The delivery is all ready for you.”

Gary found himself face to face with the most adorable woman he had ever seen. She was casually dressed in jeans, a Christmas sweater and a Santa hat; her short blonde hair barely reached her shoulders. Dark-rimmed glasses couldn’t hide her luminous green eyes and her infectious smile displayed sparkling white teeth. Even without makeup she was radiant.

Somewhat dumbstruck, Gary said “Um, hi. I’m Gary, not Sam and I don’t know anything about a delivery. I’m looking for Leah.”

I’m Leah. Sorry, there appears to be a mix-up. I’ve been waiting for a guy named Sam to deliver a truckload of groceries to the soup kitchen. I thought you were him.” Leah frowned.

Actually, I’m here because I saw the sign about the kittens for adoption” Gary admitted rather sheepishly, wishing he was there for something more altruistic – like making a soup kitchen delivery.

Oh, shoot! I forgot that sign was still up!” exclaimed Leah. “I’m sorry but the kittens were all snatched up except for the runt of the litter. Poor little thing – I took her home. She’s keeping my cat Othello company – not that he’s thrilled about it.”

Gary was visibly disappointed. “Oh, man! I was excited about adopting a cat. Well, I guess it wasn’t meant to be. I’ll get out of your hair now, Leah … unless I can help with something.”

Leah checked her watch; it was getting late and it looked like Sam was a no-show. Gary seemed like a trustworthy guy so she took a chance. Besides, he was wearing a Santa hat, too; if you can’t trust a cute guy in a Santa hat, who can you trust? “Well, if you wouldn’t mind I could use a hand delivering those groceries.”

Why not!” Gary answered – a bit too quickly. “I don’t have anything else to do now anyway.”

Great!” Leah answered – a bit too quickly. “You’re a lifesaver, Gary! And I’m really sorry about the kittens.”

On the way to the soup kitchen, Leah and Gary chatted non-stop and discovered they had a lot in common. They were both decent people who enjoyed doing volunteer work, they loved animals and they were hopeless romantics. What could have been a boring night turned into a wonderful evening and they thoroughly enjoyed each other’s company.

When the delivery was done, Leah said “Gary, I want to thank you for all your help tonight. I know you were really hoping to adopt a kitten. How about we make that happen?”

Gary was blown away. “Leah, I didn’t help you because I hoped to be rewarded with a kitten. I really like you and was happy to help. But if you’re serious, then yes – that would make my day!”

I really like you, too, Gary.” Leah blushed. “I just have to warn you: watch out for Othello. He doesn’t like strangers and is pretty territorial. In fact, he barely tolerates me and that’s because I feed him!” Leah laughed.

To Gary’s ears Leah’s laugh sounded like crystal bells.

Arriving at Leah’s place, Gary was too excited to worry about Othello. He was enchanted by the tiny chimera kitten and gently picked her up. He sat on the sofa, cradling her in his arms. Leah’s heart melted watching the two of them.

I’ll go make some coffee” Leah suggested. “You be nice, Othello!”

Out of the corner of his eye Gary saw a large cat in the hallway giving him the evil eye. “Ah, you must be Othello” he whispered. “Look man – please don’t blow this for me, dude. I’ve really fallen for Leah and just between us guys, I think she likes me, too.” Othello crept closer and sniffed Gary’s shoes. Placing his front paws on the sofa he stared intently at Gary, then nonchalantly jumped up and made himself comfortable leaning against Gary’s leg purring contentedly.

Well, how do you like that!” Leah declared in pleasant surprise. “Othello’s taken a liking to you, too, Gary. I think we made a match here tonight.”

Yeah, I think we really did, Leah. And I have the perfect name for this little lady. Leah, say hello to Desdemona.”

Ah, Othello and Desdemona, Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers – but this time with a very happy ending” Leah sighed as she snuggled close to Gary.

Othello

NAR © 2020

THE DATING GAME

Rachel and Paul had been together for six years. They assumed one day they would marry, have kids – the whole nine yards – but life has a funny way of taking twists and turns. Their romance and dreams just fizzled out but they remained very close and relied on each other for guidance – from the job scene to the dating game.

One night Rachel texted Paul: “Hey, babe. Ella & Sam set us up with blind dates for Fri. U in?”

Paul: “Y not? No plans anyway!”

Rachel: “Great! Emilio’s @ 7. Glad U R my back-up!”

Paul: “Ditto, babe! C U there.”

Both kicked themselves for calling the other “babe”. Old habits die hard.

Friday night the foursome met at Emilio’s. Paul and Rachel exchanged looks; her eyes were screaming “WTF!” Dinner was quick.

As soon as Paul got home he called Rachel: “What just happened?!”

Rachel howled: “A TOTAL FREAK SHOW!! Your date was downright scary! She looked like Vampira and I swear her eyes were red! She wore a black cape – with a hood, for Christ’s sake and her steak was so rare it was practically throbbing!”

And what about YOUR date?!” Paul exclaimed. “Wrist-to-neck tattoos, facial piercings, boots with spikes and a ‘Carcass’ t-shirt! He downed a bottle of beer in two gulps and belched like a bloody Viking!”

I’ll never let Sam and Ella play matchmakers again. I’m sure they thought it was hysterical” Rachel quipped. “So … my mother set me up with her friend’s son, ‘The Doctor’, for next Saturday. If you get a date maybe we can try this again.”

Sure. Nothing could be as bad as tonight” Paul replied. “I’ll call ya.”

A few days later Paul called to say he had a date for Saturday – a friend of his cousin. “But she said ‘drinks only’ and she’ll take a taxi.”

Fine” Rachel agreed. “If it’s another debacle we can all go our separate ways.”

Arrangements were made to meet at ‘The Aviary’ in Central Park. Rachel’s date was Wesley, a gynecologist/obstetrician. He was handsome, tan and suave. Paul’s date was Ginger, a salesgirl at Victoria’s Secret with modeling/acting ambitions. She was a vivacious redhead with mischievous green eyes.

The hostess seated them at a semi-circular booth; Ginger smoothly slid in between Wesley and Paul. With each sip of her martini Ginger inched closer to Wesley, asking risqué questions about his practice; he was more than happy to oblige. Before long they were blatantly flirting, leaving Paul and Rachel dumbfounded. Giggling, Ginger excused herself to use “the little girl’s room”. The trio sat in awkward silence until Wesley’s pager beeped. He announced he had an emergency at the hospital, apologized and left.

Well, there’s no point in me hanging around” Rachel said glumly. “Ginger should be back any second.”

As Rachel got up to leave she glanced out the window and saw Wesley and Ginger getting into his car. “What the hell, Paul! We’ve been dumped!”

Arm in arm Paul and Rachel started the slow walk of rejection through Central Park.

Do you think we’ll ever be as happy as when we were together?” Paul asked quietly.

I don’t think that’s even remotely possible” Rachel sighed.

In the loneliness of the park they held each other tightly, sharing a warm familiar kiss in the moonlight.

Why the hell did we ever break up, Paul?”

I have no idea” he replied wonderingly.

Take me home, babe” Rachel whispered. “I miss us.”

Fingers entwined, they climbed the stairs and went inside, locking the door and the world behind them.

NAR © 2020

U.S.S. ARIZONA

Gregory Tomlinson stretched out on the top bunk, smoking his Lucky Strike cigarettes, watching the cloudy vapors swirl around the dimly lit corner of his berth on the U.S.S. Arizona. Some of the guys exchanged letters and snacks from home, showing off photos of their wives and girlfriends. Others played cards and cursed at their wireless radios saying “This news is a bore! Turn it off and find some Glenn Miller!” And the men all laughed like boys at summer camp. 

Hey, Gregory” whispered Leo Becker from the lower bunk. “Can I ask you a question?”

Gregory chuckled. “I think after eleven months trapped in this can you can ask me anything!” 

Leo hesitated for a second then said “Ok, here goes. How come you never get any mail? 

Gregory didn’t answer and Leo could have kicked himself. Lighting another cigarette, Gregory inhaled deeply and blew a precise smoke ring. 

Just as Leo was about to apologize Gregory summersaulted off his bunk landing perfectly on Leo’s. “That is an excellent question, my friend.” 

Leo was stunned. “I, a homely handyman from Reedsport, Oregon is your friend?? With your Tyrone Power charm and good looks you probably have a girl in every port! All I have is this box of letters and photos from home.”  

Ha!” snorted Gregory. “Nothing could be further from the truth. Your box is very special, Leo; even if I had a box I’d have nothing to put in it. When I was 15, my parents were killed in a car crash and I was left alone – a family of one. No siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins – no one. I took off and made the Navy my family.”  

“Now I have a question for you, Leo” said Gregory nonchalantly. “How many nights have we sat on your bunk poring over the contents of this box?” 

Leo rubbed his chin thoughtfully, mumbling “eleven months, 30 or 31 nights give or take a few here or there  .. I’d say between 330 and 345” Leo calculated. 

How many times did I ask you to describe Jenny to me?” Gregory asked as he held Jenny’s photo. Leo shrugged, nonplussed. Gregory continued “How you said “hi” to her the day you were painting the chancery and knocked over a can of paint. You said she had the sweetest disposition.” Gregory sighed. “You said she didn’t get mad or anything – how you really liked her a lot that day. You know why I asked you to tell me those stories, Leo? Because I felt all alone but now I felt like I had two friends, you and Jenny.” 

Suddenly there was an enormous explosion, followed repeatedly by non-stop bombings and eruptions. The Japanese were attacking Pearl Harbor. Leo quickly stashed his stuff into his backpack and he and Gregory ran out to man the guns. The torpedo attack lasted about 11 minutes, long enough to kill Reedsport, Oregon’s own Leo Becker. 

Upon Gregory’s medical discharge, he was called to the admiral’s office and handed a box which he recognized immediately as Leo’s. Gregory’s name was written on an envelope attached to the box. When he opened it he found a letter inscribed “To my dear friends Jenny Warner and Gregory Tomlinson – Open this box together. Gregory, I wish you could have seen your face light up whenever I talked about Jenny. And Jenny … you must have asked about Gregory in every letter you wrote to me. If ever two people belong together it’s you. I love you both and you two love each other, too – even though you haven’t met yet. You belong together.”

A smaller note was also enclosed in the envelope; it read: “Gregory, I’ll be watching you from heaven. Call Jenny; her number is on the back of this note. It will make me eternally happy knowing my two dearest friends finally found each other.”

NAR © 2020

THE JOURNEY

Mid-August in Alabama is about as hot as hell’s back kitchen, or at least that’s what folks like to say. It was just me and ma making do as best we could since my pa got himself killed in some place called Vietnam. I don’t recall much about the day we got the news. Couple of soldiers in fancy uniforms came to the door and mama started wailing like she was being skinned alive. Ma never really got over that. Some folks said she went plum crazy that day. She’d sit on the porch in that rickety old rocking chair staring straight ahead, just mumbling to herself and fidgeting with pa’s dog tags like they was rosary beads.

I sorta became invisible to ma so I started spending my time down by the watering hole mostly swimming and fishing so we’d have something to eat. I went hunting one day, surprising ma with a rabbit and we cooked it up for dinner. Ma hugged me tight and put pa’s dog tags around my head. Next morning I found her hanging in the barn and started screaming till the neighbors came running. That’s when I began living with the Jenkins Family. I was six years old. 

The Jenkins’ was good hard-working farm folk and they treated me real fine. They had a truckload of kids – six boys and two girls but they didn’t think twice about taking me in. Ma Jenkins always said “What’s one more mouth to feed?”

At first the days moved slow as molasses in February. I knew right quick that farming wasn’t for me but I did my share every day. When I was about fifteen or so Ma Jenkins said I sprouted into a handsome devil, the spitting image of my pa. Right about the same time I started taking up with Nell Jenkins. Two years older than me, she was all legs, boobs and big sky blue eyes. We made love every night and she taught me stuff I didn’t think was possible. Somehow we never got caught. We was crazy for each other but I wasn’t looking to get hitched. I knew if I didn’t get off that Alabama farm I’d die there. One night while Nell slept I placed my pa’s dog tags on her pillow and slipped out. I was 19 years old.  

I got me a job as a long distance trucker; hard as it was it beat the hell outta farming. Shit! I been trucking for 16 years. I’m 35 years old and dog tired. I been thinking a lot about Alabama lately, maybe getting a job in a hardware store. A few days later I quit and went back to where it all began.

Wiley’s Diner was still there. I went in and sat at the counter. A girl appeared from the kitchen and asked what I’d like. “Coffee, please” I said and found myself staring into big sky blue eyes. She was a pretty little thing and my heart skipped a beat. Around her neck hung dog tags and I knew. Lord Jesus! This is my baby girl! I asked if her ma’s name was Nell and she smiled, saying “Yes. Do you know her?” I said I did a long time ago. I don’t know what possessed me but I scribbled down my name and number, asking her to kindly give it to her ma. She said she surely would.  Choking up a bit I said goodbye to my daughter.

Dear God – after so many years and thousands of miles Nell just might forgive me.

NAR © 2019

SAVING GRACE

I have never told anyone this before but I got pregnant at 17.  

It was 1942 and I was crazy about Pvt. Roy Holmes at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Every night for two weeks I snuck out to be with him. Then he stopped coming and I heard he’d been deployed. I was heartbroken. One month later I learned he was killed. Another month later I realized I was pregnant. 

Mama and daddy would never forgive me. I packed some clothes and snuck out one last time. I caught a north-bound bus, getting off at the aptly named city of Hope, Ohio. Eyeing a pretty white church, I headed straight for it and rang the bell. I was surprised when a boyish pastor answered; he was even more surprised when I fainted in the doorway. When I came to I was on a sofa, the pastor and two woman standing over me. 

Better now?” asked the pastor and I shook my head. “Tell us what’s wrong” he suggested. “Maybe we can help.” 

Speaking softly, I made up my story as I went along: “My name is Grace Holmes. My husband of five months was killed in the war. I have no family, no money and I’m pregnant.” I started to cry again – real tears of sorrow and shame. Handing me a tissue the pastor quietly said “Stay the night here in the parish house and in the morning we’ll sort it all out.” 

The next morning I found everyone in the kitchen preparing breakfast. “Good morning, Grace! Join us! This is our cook Anna and Peggy, our housekeeper, and I’m Richard Clark, the pastor.” Everyone was so welcoming!

After breakfast Richard asked me into his office. “Grace, I believe things happen for a reason. We can help each other. You see, my secretary recently retired and I’d like to offer you the job. It’s not very demanding, the salary is decent and room and board are included. Won’t you stay here with me … um, I mean with us?” 

We both blushed. “But what about my condition? Won’t people talk?” 

“Have faith, Grace. You’ll find the people here very understanding.” 

“Then yes, I accept!” I replied happily. “I won’t let you down.” 

Parish life was wonderful! Richard and I grew close, fell in love and he asked me to marry him. I was thrilled but haunted by my lies. “Richard, I love you but I have a confession. I was never married and I left home because of the pregnancy.”  

“I was hoping you’d tell me, Grace. I’ve always known.” 

I was stunned. “But how?”  

“No wedding ring, no pictures of your ‘husband’, no mention of your family. I figured it out and it doesn’t matter. I love you and I want us to be a family.” 

Richard and I got married that weekend and a few days later our baby girl was born. 

She’s beautiful, just like you, Grace. What shall we name her?” 

“That’s easy, darling. Her name is Faith.” 

NAR © 2019

RULES OF ATTRACTION

“Credited for my prize-winning chili” was probably the last thing I heard my speed date say before I zonked out, my head hitting the desk with an impressive “thwack”.  

DING!” went the timer and my arm automatically shot up as I shouted out “Check please!” Everyone looked at me like I was crazy. “Yeah, I’m crazy alright for agreeing to go along with my friend Nadine’s cockamamie idea and she never even showed up.” 

I looked up to see my next date arriving – an Elvis impersonator replete with spangled jumpsuit, a ton of hair and heavy cologne. Whoever invented the jumpsuit should be shot. “Well, hello there, little lady. I do believe fate has brought us together. You are the spitting image of my Priscilla.” 

“Oh Lord! Get me outta here!” my mind screamed. Quickly I jumped up. 

“Hey, toots! Number 9! Whaddya think you’re doing? You can’t just break outta line like that!” shouted the hoody-wearing overseer with the pronounced nose. He pointed an accusatory wizened finger at me looking every bit like Charon the Ferryman from the River Styx. 

I shoved passed him, walking out into the fresh night air. “Another wasted Friday night. Wonder what there is to do” I murmured. Looking around I noticed a movie theater down the street. “Well, better than nothing.” As I got closer I saw the movie was “A Hard Day’s Night” and it was about to start. I got my ticket and bought some popcorn. There were clusters of people scattered about and I chose a secluded seat in the back.

Just as the theater lights dimmed, some guy sat next to me. “Jeez!” I’m thinking, “Of all the seats, you choose that one!” Looking straight ahead, eating my popcorn, I assess the situation. I never know what to do at times like this. Do I move? What if he’s a pervert? “This is all your fault, Nadine” I whispered. 

Excuse me. Did you say something?” asked the guy next to me. 

I turned to answer and immediately began choking as I inhaled popcorn. The guy was a carbon copy of my one true love – George Harrison. 

Are you ok? Here, have some water.”

Finally able to breath and talk again I said “I’m awfully sorry! You shocked me. Has anyone ever told you you look exactly like George Harrison?”  

“All the time. And has anyone every told you you look exactly like Priscilla Presley?” 

“All the time.” 

We sat there laughing at the movie, then walked out together deciding to get a drink. 

Who’s in the club but none other than Nadine. 

Spotting us, she came running over, gushing “Oh my God! Has anyone ever told you you look exactly like George Harrison? Giving ‘George’ the once-over, she drooled “Maybe I should have gone to speed dating after all. Mighty slim pickings here tonight. Wanna dance, handsome? Olivia won’t mind, will ya, hon?” 

Grabbing ‘George’s’ hand we ran from the club, laughing and tripping over ourselves just like in the movie.

NAR © 2019

HONEYSUCKLE AND PROVOLONE

The minute she walked into my little grocery store, I was blown away. She knocked my socks off. Even through the crack in the storage room door I was dazzled by this profusion of red hair the color of a bright autumn day, delicate skin with a smattering of freckles and captivating emerald eyes. And I fell head over heels. 

I’m Bruno Deluca – or Mr. Monotone compared to this rainbow butterfly who just floated into my shop. I have the traditional Italian look – dark brown hair and eyes and a perpetual deep brown tan. But I have a sparkling smile and dimples “to die for”, as my Aunt Francesca always said. 

This amber goddess stood in front of the meat and cheese display, a bewildered look on her face. Here’s my big chance. I bolted from the back room and positioning myself directly in her line of vision, I said “Welcome to Deluca’s. May I help you with something, miss?” [Smooth, right?] 

She looked up and I flashed her the old ‘to die for’ smile. And she smiled back, blushing winsomely. My knees grew weak when she spoke, just a trace of a lilting Irish brogue. 

“Everything looks so delicious! I don’t know what to order, even if could pronounce the names!” And when she laughed I swear I saw musical notes wafting through the air. 

“No problem” I replied as I swiftly came around to her side, naming and describing all the meats and cheeses. 

She smelled like honeysuckle. I smelled like provolone. 

She still couldn’t make up her mind so I tried something radical. “How about I give you a few samples – on the house – if you promise to come back and buy something, even if it’s one slice of salami?” 

She hesitated for a second, then laughingly said “You have a deal, Mr…..” 

“Deluca. Bruno Deluca. And you are…..?” 

She extended a delicate hand. “Rowan McCourt. Pleased to meet you, Bruno.”

Rowan, eh? That’s a lovely name. What does it mean?” 

Tentatively touching her hair she said “Little Red-haired One. And what does Bruno mean?” 

I simply stated “Brown” and we both burst out laughing! 

I packed up a nice selection and some Italian bread. “Here ya go, Rowan, and don’t forget…..” 

“This is too much, Bruno! Thank you!” 

“Go! Enjoy! See you soon.” 

True to her word, Rowan returned two days later. “Bruno, everything was delicious! Now what shall I buy?” She browsed for a minute then said “That looks incredible! What is it?” 

“That’s lasagna – already cooked. Just heat and enjoy. How much do you want?” 

“Enough for a few portions” Rowan replied. 

“Ah, leftovers. Good thinking” I said. 

“Actually, Bruno, I was hoping you would join me for dinner tonight.”

“I’d love to” I whispered while inside I was screaming “Mama mia! I’d love to!” 

“Wonderful! Here’s my address. And Bruno, can you bring some wine and bread?” she asked. 

I nodded mutely. Smiling, she said “Bruno, I’m very happy you’ll be joining me.” Taking the bag, she danced out the door. 

NAR ©2019

HOUSECALLS

Saunders Drive. On the right corner stood the library, looking exactly as it did the last time I saw it. Diagonally across the street was the church we attended every Sunday, the preacher bellowing about morals and principles. Directly across from the church was a quaint-looking inn with a sign over the doorway – “Welcome, Travellers!” And on the fourth corner was the big Victorian house where the Casey family lived. Jeff Casey was my first boyfriend. Now there was a prominent shingle on the front lawn which read JEFFREY CASEY, M.D. A doctor! I never should have broken up with him! 

My childhood house was a stone’s throw from the Casey’s. Not quite ready to see the old place just yet, I kept walking. About halfway down Main Street, I came across a boho chic coffee shop/poet’s corner called “Beggars, Cynics and Diogenes”. A pretty young woman wearing a rainbow tie dyed hippie skirt was preparing lunch tables outside. She smiled pleasantly at me and asked if I’d like a table. 

“Why not” I replied and she handed me a menu. I was engrossed in reading when I became aware of a man standing nearby. Looking up I was pleasantly surprised to see the still handsome face of Jeff Casey grinning at me. 

“Rebecca Gardner! My God! What’s it been – 20 years? What brings you back to town?” 

“Jeff!” I exclaimed happily. “You look great!” and I instinctively hugged him. “Please join me.” We sat and the waitress took our order. 

Twenty years exactly. My folks sold the house when I left for college. Honestly, I’m not sure why I’m here. Memories, you know?” 

We caught up on life … marriages, divorces, etc., and I mentioned going to see my old house but for whatever reason I was nervous. 

Jeff tossed a twenty on the table and said “Come on. Let’s go together.” And before I could think of an excuse, we were on our way. 

The Matthews live here now. Nice family.” Jeff bounded up the front steps and rang the doorbell. No answer. 

Jeff, look. These are my handprints on the cement steps! And remember when we buried my favorite dog under that oak tree?”

“Riley – that sweet old beagle” Jeff responded, shocking me that he remembered. 

“Right there in the parlor was where I learned to play piano. And upstairs in the back was my little bedroom where I did my homework and listened to the radio. You know, when I left here I thought I’d find myself, but I ended up getting lost. If I could go inside I might find myself again and I wouldn’t take a thing – just a memory from the house that built me.” 

We slowly walked up Saunders Drive to Jeff’s place. “Well, I’ve got patients to see” he said. 

“And I’ve got a train to catch” I replied. “Can I call you sometime, Jeff?” 

“Anytime, Becca. By the way, I make house calls.” He smiled warmly and disappeared inside. 

NAR © 2019

INEFFABLE

Piano music drifted up to her as she leisurely strolled the aisles of the exclusive Manhattan department store .. not the unremarkable, annoying background Muzak one usually hears in waiting rooms and elevators. No, this was definitely different. 

Being a devotee of the piano, she was convinced no one else in the world could possibly love its sound more than she. Enchanted, she felt compelled to find the source of the music. 

As she approached the escalator, the volume increased minutely. Gliding down, gently floating closer and closer, she realized “this is LIVE music”.

Arriving at the store’s café level, she stood still, tilting her head slightly in the direction of the beckoning music. Sensing an invisible hand on the small of her back, she swayed slightly as the unmistakable melody of “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” trickled above the polite chatter of the ladies who lunch. 

 “Someone is definitely playing the piano” she thought, quickly adding “Oh, please, don’t let it be one of those self-playing digital pianos.” 

Now the music was clearly audible and she followed the winding hallway from the escalator into the center of the café area. Suddenly standing before her in all its glory was a glimmering ebony Steinway baby grand. The lid was open, revealing the hammers and strings, but concealing the pianist .. if there even was one. 

As if on cue, she heard a silky rich voice as smooth as Maker’s Mark Bourbon singing and she imagined Harry Connick or Frank Sinatra. “Embrace me, my sweet embraceable you.” As she made her way around the curves of the Steinway, the illusive piano man came into view. She kept her eyes downcast, afraid to look, and just listened as this sorcerer cast his spell on her. 

Slowly she raised her head to surreptitiously glance at the singer. He wasn’t the handsome, debonair Harry or Frank .. actually, he looked more like Woody Allen .. but when he caught her eye everything fell away and all that mattered was the here and now. She approached him tentatively, her hand gliding along the piano, eyes still locked with his. 

Ruefully she thought to herself “Why do I always fall in love with musicians? I would follow this man anywhere.” The feelings deep within her heart, her body, her soul were ineffable ..  impossible to comprehend. She sat beside him on the piano bench, their legs touching. 

Please”, she whispered in his ear. “Don’t ever stop playing!” 

NAR © 2018

FOWC with Fandango: Embrace

LAMB STEW

As she kneaded the dough for that night’s supper, Liliana caught a glimpse of her reflection in the open kitchen window. The wild child from years ago had been replaced with a confident, sexy woman. No cover girl, for sure, but not bad at all for a well-seasoned dame of a certain age. 

Long brown hair, hazel green eyes and a captivating smile more than made up for her slightly prominent Sicilian nose which only added to her unique beauty (or so she had been told). She was not tall and thin but her legs were long and her curves voluptuous. No skin and bones, this one. Laughing lustfully, she thought “more like a handful … or …. a ripe mouthful”. She laughed at herself often … another appealing characteristic (or so she had been told). 

Her laughter rippled through the sun-kissed Sicilian air. Brushing an errant lock of hair from her face, she continued kneading and massaging the dough with sensual, undulating back and forth motions. 

Looking outside, she noticed the handyman Gaetano across the veranda smiling, watching her appreciatively. Should she smile back or simply ignore him?  She had seen him working next door several times before … no movie star, he … but there was something intriguing about this stranger. That familiar fantasy began surging in her mind. Was it his powerful arms, the cigarette dangling from his lips, his crooked smile, the devilish twinkle in his chocolate eyes? 

Chuckling heartily, he pointed to her, then began wiping his face with his hand. Glancing quickly at her reflection, she saw a streak of flour across her forehead and nose. Mortified, and barely managing to maintain her composure, she reached for a towel to clean her face. Suddenly he roared with laughter and she realized in her haste she had wiped her face with the discarded flour sack, not a towel. 

Now she, too, was consumed with laughter, tears streaming down her floured face, doubled over in giddy convulsions. Regaining self-control, though still giggling despite herself, she stood … only to find she was face to face with this charming rogue. As if in a trance, she allowed him to gently wipe the flour from her face, her eyes never leaving his, tiny gold flecks dancing provocatively as he looked at her intently. 

“I prepared lamb stew for supper. Would you like to join me?”  

“Si, cara. I would love to.”  

NAR © 2018

THE RIDDLES OF LOVE

PRINCES OF MAGONIA!

YOU ARE SUMMONED TO VIE FOR THE HAND OF PRINCESS AMIRA!

Fifty answered the royal command. Upon seeing Amira, everyone gasped; she was stunning. The double of her late grandmother, she grew more beautiful every year .. skin as white as porcelain, eyes as blue as crystal waters and hair the color of the stars. Her loveliness was surpassed only by her cleverness. She longed to be married but found men boring and inane. 

Amira motioned for everyone to sit and in a confident voice addressed them: 

“One among you will be my husband! Marriage is not based solely on appearances. To win my hand, you must be clever and smart. These fifty parchments, one for each of you, contain three riddles. You have two days to solve them. Record your answers on the parchment, returning them to my secretary. Use your brain; only a clear head and clever mind will win my hand.”

Forty succumbed on day one. On day two, the remaining ten reported to Amira’s secretary. Nine answered incorrectly and were dismissed. Only one had all correct answers. Placing the parchment in her desk, the secretary presented the victor to Amira. 

“Greetings, clever prince! What is your name?” 

“I am Khalil but I am no prince. I am squire to Prince Wahid. He could not answer your riddles.” 

“And YOU can? Let us begin!” 

   “I can only live where there is light but will die if light shines on me. What I?”

Khalil answered “A shadow.”

“The more there is, the less you see. What am I?”

He replied  “Darkness.”

“What disappears the moment you say its name?”

Khalil said “Silence.”

“Excellent, Khalil! All correct! But you tried to fool me.” 

“Wahid is a dolt, besotted only by your beauty. He is not worthy of you. Please afford  me one opportunity. I have a riddle for YOU. If you answer correctly, we shall marry. If not, I will leave immediately.” 

Intrigued, Amira agreed. 

“He loves a princess though his blood is not royal.

He has nothing to give, just a heart that is loyal.

He has no earthly treasure but is clever and smart.

And can promise his bride all the love in his heart.”

“Who am I, Amira?”

 Reaching for Khalil’s hands and drawing him closer, Amira whispered:

“The answer is YOU.

You are honorable, clever, fair of face

AND

my future husband.”

NAR © 2018

DR. ROBERT

Playboy: a man, especially one who is of comfortable means, who pursues a life of decadent pleasure  with multiple women. 

Meet Dr. Robert Chase. Even in hospital scrubs, cap and a surgical mask with only his eyes visible, the man oozed sex appeal. It may be hackneyed but women wanted him and men wanted to be him. 

He was rich, handsome, clever – an expert on the dance floor or in the OR, adroit in the boardroom or the bedroom, charming but not cloying. He attracted people and he was admired by all.

Robert was what is called in the trade a ‘nip/tuck guy’ .. a plastic surgeon whose clientele consisted of rich women looking for bigger boobs, fuller lips, tighter butts and curvier hips. There was no doubt he had hooked up with most of his patients. In his office he had a provocative poster .. half woman/half cello .. with a quote by Pablo Casals: “The cello is like a beautiful woman who has not grown older, but younger with time, more slender, more supple, more graceful.” 

However, there were two peculiar qualities about Robert that just couldn’t be explained: #1) He was married to a gorgeous, funny and smart woman, one any man would be proud to call his wife; why the insatiable need for other women? #2) For someone who was incredibly worldly, he could be uncharacteristically stupid at times. Perhaps it was his ego or self-denial that made him so reckless as to give women his real name, home and cell phone numbers .. the road to perdition.

Robert was the keynote speaker at a medical convention in Miami. Since he wasn’t slated to speak until the third day, he decided to troll the beaches looking for ladies. It wasn’t long before he spotted a fetching redhead chasing her errant beach umbrella in the wind. He came to her rescue, catching the umbrella and securing it in the sand. They talked for a while .. her name was Scarlet .. and made plans to get together that night for dinner. Robert was his usual charming self and the evening ended with Scarlet inviting him back to her room where he spent the night. In the morning they exchanged phone numbers and he kissed her goodbye. 

That afternoon Robert discovered a topless beach and, as a nip/tuck guy, he was in his element. He strolled over to the tiki bar and struck up a conversation with a voluptuous blonde named Denise. Giving her his business card, she jumped up, grabbed his hands and planted them on her breasts. Feel them!” she demanded. “Do you think they’re the same size?” Not skipping a beat, Robert suggested they go up to her room where he could give her a “proper exam”. He was quite thorough and it didn’t take much convincing for him to spend the night. Next morning he put Denise’s number into his phone and bid her farewell. 

Leaving Denise’s hotel, Robert collided with a bikini-clad goddess on roller skates. They tumbled onto the boardwalk clinging to each other. Looking into Robert’s eyes, she said ,”I’m Rita. Pleased to meet you.” Biting her bottom lip, she asked if he’d like to join her for coffee “or something”. Robert groaned in frustration, explaining that he’d love to but he had to get back to his conference. After exchanging names and numbers, he impulsively kissed her, promising to call.

At the close of the convention, Robert was invited by three other doctors to stay in Miami for a few days of golf. Robert agreed and called his wife Sophia to tell her he’d be home in four days. They played eighteen holes every day and relaxed in the evening with prime steaks, fine whiskey, Cuban cigars .. and girls galore. Robert was a legend among his friends and they were duly impressed. They would joke around by saying “Dr. Robert Chase .. always on the case.” 

Finally after a week away from home, Robert was ready to return to his lovely Sophia. If she knew of his philandering, she never let on. She was always occupied with lunching and shopping with her friends or going to the spa. And he was sure to return with shiny baubles, flowers and Italian chocolates .. her favorite. On the plane ride home to Santa Monica, Robert busied himself by looking through his iPhone at all the new lady friends he met in Miami. There they were in all their glory .. names, numbers and photos. Don’t want to lose track of those lovelies! 

Robert’s driver Charles met him at the airport and upon arriving home he was surprised to see some unfamiliar cars on the driveway. Grabbing Sophia’s gifts, he bounded up the stairs and into the house calling her name. Sophia came running to greet him. “Hurry, Robert! You must say hello to my guests!” She pulled him out to the veranda and much to Robert’s shock there sat Scarlet, Denise and Rita .. all looking like the cat who swallowed the canary. 

“Darling”, Sophia purred. “You’ve been a very busy boy. You see, when these charming ladies started calling here looking for you, I decided it would be nice if we all met and had a little chat. They certainly had a lot to tell me about you and Miami. Are you alright, darling? You look very pale. Here, have something to drink.” But before Robert had a chance to reach for the glass of champagne, Sophia threw it at him and slapped him hard across the face. 

Robert reeled from the smack. He was stunned, humiliated, desperate and begged pitifully, “Sophia, please, let me explain.” 

No! Not one more lying word from your filthy mouth! What a damn fool I’ve been all these years!” Sophia snarled at him. “Your bags are packed and Charles will drive you to a hotel. Do not try to see me or contact me in any way. My lawyer will be in touch. And Robert, before you go .. leave the gifts.” 

NAR © 2018

#9 DREAM

Head resting gently on his shoulder, her ever-so-slightly parted lips barely grazing his neck, he inhaled the intoxicating aroma of gardenias in her hair and traced her perfect ear with his mouth. Her arms caressed his upper back while his hands slid down hers and he pulled her closer. They swayed across the dance floor to the smooth rhythm of John Lennon’s “#9 Dream” – their first dance together as husband and wife. 

Twenty seven years ago their mothers were best friends – army wives and neighbors, sharing morning coffee, exchanging recipes and sometimes a handkerchief to wipe away tears. Their babies napped  in the same playpen…..he a dark-haired, brown-eyed, sweet-faced charmer and she a fair-skinned  blonde little goddess with eyes as green as dewy grass. 

When they were four she surprised him with a worm and he plucked a dandelion for her that made her giggle. As time went on and days turned into years, they remained  inseparable – climbing trees to see if they could touch the clouds, catching lightning bugs and making a wish before setting them free, sitting in her room sharing their dreams, listening to their parents Beatles CDs while stretched out in his dad’s station wagon, kissing for the first time and a second and a hundredth. 

They “went steady” in high school and became lovers in college. They found an apartment above a shuttered café in Brooklyn. They talked about taking a chance on the old place and bringing it back to life. They worked together and finally celebrated the grand opening of “The Glass Onion Café”. 

It poured like cats and dogs on their wedding day – the old adage of a long and happy marriage.  Could this be reality, their happily-ever-after? Dreams shared in a teenage girl’s bedroom come true? 

Something old: her grandmother’s pearl necklace. Something new: the minuscule miracle of life growing inside her. Something borrowed: her mother’s “army wife handkerchief”. Something blue: her sapphire engagement ring. 

The Master of Ceremonies made the introduction of the new Mr. & Mrs. to the guests and invited everyone to join them on the dance floor. The photographer snapped shot after shot of the stunning couple – she in her exquisite gown of Scottish lace and he in a fitted, perfectly tailored tuxedo. 

It was the magical night everyone intrinsically knew was meant to be; their #9 dream come true. 

NAR © 2017

#9 Dream serigraph by John Lennon

WHITE COLLAR JOB

Monastic Gregorian chant serenely filled the empty church. Candles flickered, casting long shadows across the walls. A sliver of the moon was barely perceptible through the rose-colored window above the crucifix. It was very late but the church was never locked as troubled souls sought comfort and refuge regardless of the hour. 

A solitary man sat huddled in the corner of a pew, thinking, praying, contemplating his next move. Occasionally his eyes would glance at the little round light above the confessional door indicating that a priest was available to listen, to advise, to absolve. 

Rubbing his chafed neck, the man stared at his Roman collar now resting on the pew next to him. How many years had it been since his ordination? How many baptisms had he performed, weddings had he celebrated, funerals had he officiated? More than he could count. 

He was a good priest; some might even say excellent. Not perfect by any stretch, but the rights certainly outweighed the wrongs. All except THIS wrong. 

He was no thief, no murderer. No one knew his secret so who was he hurting? He asked himself that question endless times, always able to justify his actions. Even Jesus said that the sins of the flesh were the easiest to forgive. 

It was so natural, so easy. He was happiest when he was with her and yet it was killing him. This wrong which felt so right was eating him alive. 

They were friends and saw each other every day at Holy Rosary Hospital. She was not only an outstanding nurse; she possessed an amazing ability to calm the fears of the dying and console the grief-stricken. They told themselves they were drawn together by their mutual empathy for the suffering, which was true at first. Now the unthinkable had happened. They were lovers, adulterers…..for he was married to the church and she was married to his best friend. 

He knew the two choices before him…..confess his sins, beg forgiveness and give her up or go on living a lie and continue their affair. Whatever his decision, the toll would be unbearable. 

Making the sign of the cross, he rose and slowly walked toward the confessional. Steeling himself, he reached out for the handle of the confessional booth. At that exact moment, the light switched off. 

Head hanging, tears falling, he turned and disappeared into the night. 

NAR © 2017

JUST THIS ONE

“Impressive collection you have here” said Jackson to the owner of the record store.

“Feel free to look around” came a voice from somewhere behind a stack of boxes.

Jackson browsed the tiny cubby of a store, appropriately named “The Inner Sleeve”, looking for nothing in particular. 

“Psst. Down here,” whispered a battered box stashed in the corner. Jackson crouched down to wipe the dust off a yellowed label.

SIDNEY BECHET” 

Feeling a jolt shoot straight to his heart, fingers racing through musty LPs, suddenly there it was- “Les Annees Bechet”, #1: “Petite Fleur”.

“I’ll be damned”, whispered Jackson. No longer was he in “The Inner Sleeve”. It was Paris, 1982 in that enchanting café … what was the name?

Café de la Paix. Yes, that was it!” he recalled. And then, in a barely perceptible hush, “Lisette”.

Slumping back against the wall, Jackson clasped the precious vinyl against his chest, caressed it lovingly with the same fingers that raced through the box just seconds before. The same fingers that released Lisette’s raven hair from its ‘pince à cheveax’ and showered it across her porcelain shoulders. The same fingers that traced her face as gently as butterfly wings – ‘ailes de papillons’ – from her widows peak to her crystal blue eyes, her nose, her blushed lips. “Just this one time” thought Jackson. Just once before returning to his insanely mundane existence in Stamford, Connecticut. Oh, for just one more taste of Lisette.

Slowly Jackson stood, a sadness like none other enveloping him. He suddenly realized he had been crying. He wound his way through the maze of boxes overflowing with records that were meaningless to him. He had found what he didn’t know he was looking for.

“All done, sir?” the clerk asked. 

“Yes, thanks”, Jackson replied. “Just this. Just this one.”

NAR © 2017