The Fog began to lift sometime in March. Before it lifted, I managed to put one foot in front of the other, eat, get dressed, converse, do basic housework. I guess I wasn’t a very good legal secretary during The Fog though, because in late February, my boss Attorney Bickers fired me. He came out of his office one day and set a Letter of Dismissal on my desk.
It stated, in part, that I was “not focused on the work at hand and giving one hundred percent effort.” To which I mentally replied No duh, as I slid personal items off my desk and into a plastic grocery bag. I didn’t bother to talk to him about his decision. I didn’t care about losing the job I’d had for years or about the stuff I carried home that day in the plastic bag and promptly tossed in a corner of the living room. I didn’t care about much of anything.
Besides the meager paycheck, there was only one reason I would miss going to that office, and now that Dean had died, that reason didn’t exist anymore.
Eighteen years of marriage snuffed out in a single moment. And I was supposed to bounce back from that? I was supposed to throw my shoulders back, take a deep breath, and proceed as if I’d just hit a snag? My world had not only spun out of control—it didn’t exist anymore. And the person I’d shared my problems with every day for so many years wasn’t available to talk me through it.
Sure, I have friends. Great friends, in fact. But Contacts Numbers One and Two on my cell phone’s Favorites List during The Fogwere Lillian Standish and Reba Markland, women near my mother’s age. That’s because they got it—they’d been through The Fog and survived. I would too, they assured me. These sweet ladies, whom I lovingly thought of as the Widow Patrol, even gave me a copy of a book I’ll always keep. Widow to Widow by Genevieve Davis Ginsburg is group therapy between the covers of a book and helped more than anything.
So, yeah, in March, The Fog began to lift. I could see colors again and notice sunshine. I’d forgotten what the world looked like Before, and even though it would never quite look that way again, at least my head was beginning to clear.
It was another year before I started to ask myself what I’d do with the rest of my life.
“Fourteen and a half pounds of books? No wonder my arm was going numb.” I rubbed my left upper arm to get the blood flowing again and pulled a twenty dollar bill from my purse. “Keep the change. As it happens, this particular romance author is worth much more to me than a dollar a pound.”
The unfairly handsome Jamison Kincaid smiled, but history had taught me not to be affected by him in that way.
“The Friends of the Library appreciate your generosity, Alice.”
He put the money in a beat-up metal box and dropped the lid. Pulling out some plastic grocery bags, he looked at them doubtfully before he rummaged behind him for a moment and faced me again. “Actually, since you’re such a good customer, I can throw in this deluxe, wood-products book carrier absolutely free.” He held up a newspaper-lined cardboard box with oval-shaped handles cut awkwardly in the ends. Then he leaned toward me conspiratorially. “We can only offer these perks to our big-money customers, you understand. Your mother, for instance, had to put her acquisition in her purse.”
Aww. How cute was that? Jamison being all chatty with me as if we were buddies. Going along with him since I had little to lose these days, I glanced quickly around at the various shoppers, then leaned toward him to stage-whisper back. “I’ll take the deluxe carrier. And please drop a membership form into it. I really should become one of the Friends of the Library.”
He moved my books from the old-fashion bathroom scale to the cardboard box and slid it across the scarred desk. A loose chunk of veneer popped off and landed on the rough concrete floor.
But he didn’t take his hands off the box. I kept mine at my sides so our fingertips wouldn’t accidentally touch and maybe set off some kind of charge, as it would have done in the olden days. That would be a very bad idea.
Jamison looked deeply into my eyes, and I hoped my soul wasn’t visible from his point of view. “Are you getting lots of writing done, Alice?”
“Um…yes. Some. I still haven’t quite found my rhythm with it.” Instead of always flailing for a response, why couldn’t I devise a pat answer to this question and have it ready when needed? I certainly heard the question often enough. It was either that or Have you found a job yet? Heaven knew most people were still afraid to mention Dean’s name in my presence.
“You’ll find your rhythm for it, I’m sure.”
I sent him a smile that I hoped was indicative of self-assurance. “That’s the plan.”
“Your house is okay? And your car? Everything’s working all right for you?” He sounded like my dad, which made me smile. Fortunately, it also took the edge off my perception that he was coming on to me.
Still not reaching for the box, I straightened my spine and inhaled a silent breath. This was only slightly uncomfortable, not a big deal. Jamison had always been a nice guy. Even for the period of time when I thoroughly hated his guts and wished a plague of locusts would land in his hair and gnaw it off, I couldn’t have said he was anything other than basically a good person. Misguided? Sure. But not bad.
Remembering that teenage plague-wish, I shifted my eyes to the contents of the cardboard box so that when I smiled, it looked as if I were happy about my books instead of entertained by my decades-ago locust visualization. “Yes, I’m coping, Jamison. I even remember to take the car in for an oil change at the right times.”
He frowned. “I didn’t mean you’re not capable—”
Oops. I had hurt his machismo. “I know. I know that. You’re just concerned, and I appreciate it. But I’m okay, really.”
“Of course, you’re okay, Alice. You’re a lot stronger than many people realized. I knew you could get through it, no matter how hard it was for you.”
I shifted from one foot to the other, wanting to move on. Jamison had no idea how hard getting through Dean’s death had been—and still was sometimes. Perhaps if Jamison had behaved better back in ancient times, I’d be in a completely different life situation. Now there was a waste of thought energy. The dreaded if only.
He walked around the desk and took my hand in his. “Alice, I want you to sign a book to me. The first one you get published.” He squeezed my hand briefly and let it go. “I’m just so happy for you. Going after what you want, after all this time.”
I got my hand back, and since there was a chance, picked up the box of books which created a nice barrier between us. “Um. After all this time?”
“Well, we all know you put your life on hold for— I’m just saying you deserve any happiness you get.”
I swallowed an unpleasant remark about a certain bit of happiness being ripped away from me a couple decades earlier by none other than Jamison Kincaid. Again, that would have been a waste of energy. “Okay. Thanks. I’ll see you later on, Jamison. Good luck with the sale.” I turned on my heel and got the heck out of Dodge.
“Jamison certainly was talkative today,” Mother said as we walked to my car.
“Yep.” Too talkative.
“I don’t think Darlene would have appreciated the way he was looking at you, or that he took your hand.”
Without a doubt, Darlene, Jamison’s wife, would have taken a dim view of that scene, even though it was, as far as I was concerned, completely innocent. “Yeah. I’m guessing you’re right on both counts. It was out-of-character for him.”
“At this time in his life, yes.”
I shifted the box as I walked. “Ancient history alert, Mother. Our relationship, if you want to call it that, was a long time ago. Honestly, I can barely remember it.” Okay, that was a lie. But I didn’t want to remember it.
“He made a decision long ago that may be haunting him.”
“A tall, beautiful decision with blond hair, deep blue eyes, and a daddy with lots of money? My heart weeps.” I clamped my mouth shut too late, surprised that I’d spouted that childishness.
Mother shook her head. “You’re better off without someone who’s so easily swayed by money and status.”
“Yep. Dean couldn’t have cared less about those things.”
“I’m not talking about the past, sweetheart. Certainly, Dean was a good-hearted man and very down to earth. We honor his memory, but please don’t be afraid to step out and find happiness.”
“Mother. I have stepped out, and I’m very happy with the way my life is going.” I shifted my load again in order to hit the right button on my car’s key fob. The doors unlocked, and Mother opened the back passenger side door so I could set the box onto the floor behind her seat. The other side was full of our treasures from the morning’s first stop—the farmers’ market.
Irritated by her mention, for the umpteenth time in the past year, of me going out and finding happiness, I closed the car door a little harder than necessary, before walking back to my side and sliding under the wheel. I looked over at her and struck an upbeat tone. “So—what did you buy at the book sale?” It was a way to divert the conversation, I hoped.
She pulled a thin paperback out of her big leather shoulder bag and handed it to me. The book—really more of a pamphlet—was circa 1960. I flipped through the black-and-white pictures and very small print instructions for hand-made projects, mostly crocheted doilies.
“What do you think of my bargain? Too lightweight to register on the scale, so Jamison only charged me twenty-five cents.”
“Hmm. Nice. Guess I know what’s coming for Christmas, huh?” I joked. At any rate, I hoped it was a joke. My living room was sufficiently outdated without the addition of doilies. A nice re-do was on my agenda, one of these days when there was a convergence of time, money, and energy. I wasn’t putting it off for any other reason, no matter what anyone said.
When I pulled up to my parents’ house, I hefted Mother’s bag of goodies from the farmers’ market, and she opened the back door on her side to take a look at my carton of books. She picked up a slim volume and paged through the travel guide. “I didn’t know you were interested in Spain.”
I came around the car and stood by her. “Me either. You never know though. An opportunity could come up.” I shrugged, wishing I believed that. I hadn’t been further than a few hundred miles from Serendipity so far, and with my current financial situation, there was no chance I would anytime in the near future. “Anyway, it caught my eye.”
“Mmm. It would be lovely if you could do some traveling.” She pulled out the biggest hardback. “Are you going to read this biography of Audrey Hepburn right away or may I borrow it?”
“Help yourself, Mother. I have plenty to read—and write—for the foreseeable future.” I always had lots of writing to do.
“Thank you, sweetheart.” She tucked the tome in the crook of her arm and closed the car door. “Come in for a cup of coffee?” She opened the back screen door in invitation.
“Um. You know what? I probably shouldn’t. Need to get some words on the page today.” I smiled brightly, and she nodded in that serene way of hers.
“All right, sweetheart. Happy writing.” We hugged briefly around the bag of veggies, and I got back in the car and headed home.
I poured myself a glass of iced tea and took it into the living room. Flipping on the desk lamp, I got comfortable in my ergonomic desk chair and opened a new word processing document. The little cursor blinked hopefully, waiting for me to begin a new masterpiece.
These days I was writing nonfiction. One of my best efforts was an essay on the loss of a spouse, but I was also proud of the article entitled How to Organize Your House Before It Organizes You. I’d noticed tips on organization were a monthly mainstay of “women’s” magazines in the grocery check-out aisle, right along with how to lose ten pounds in a week and recipes for beautiful, million-calorie desserts.
Another change in my lifestyle since Dean’s death was a daily, morning walk. Since I had lost a few pounds and gained some muscle tone, I wrote an article about gradual weight loss through this low-cost exercise and a reasonable diet. I polished it until it shone like a new penny, just as I did with all my work.
I wrote every single day, sometimes for hours at a stretch and, for the most part, it was a joy. As far back as I could remember, a shiver of anticipation ran through me whenever I sat down at the keyboard of a computer—typewriter in the olden days—and opened a new ream of paper or settled into a comfortable chair with a good pen and pristine notebook.
The cursor continued to blink, and I took a long drink of tea. The conversation with Jamison, then Mother’s reaction, was on Rerun Mode in my head.
Jamison thought I was cool now, because of doing the writer gig fulltime. He was impressed with my ability to persevere through the past year and do something new and interesting. Of course, he assumed I was writing a novel. Or more than one novel. Everybody in Serendipity who knew I was writing had a different understanding of what that meant. I saw no reason to alter their various perceptions.
Wouldn’t Mother, and Jamison, my girlfriends, and the populace of Serendipity at large be surprised if I wrote the ultimate breakout novel? And then my agent—the one I would eventually sign with—got my manuscript in front of the right people and I became a big name bestseller? Yeah. The whole town would take notice of that, huh? And it could happen.
Cursor. Cursor. Cursor.When would I write anything worthwhile? Even the computer was mocking me.
My phone rang, and I scooped it up after seeing Carla’s name on the caller ID.
“Hey, Alice. Melissa and I are up for a trip out of this burg. Wanna see a movie and grab an early dinner in the big city?”
The cursor shook its head at me and reminded me I said I was going to work. I frowned at its temerity, closed the word processing program, and pulled up my browser. “Sounds great. What’s playing?”
Carla sighed into the phone. “Kids’ movies, horror stuff, and sci fi. In other words, nothing. But Mel refused a shopping trip when I suggested it. Commissions are down, evidently.”
“Ah.” As a realtor, Melissa’s income was unpredictable. Boy, could I relate. We were all just happy her career had brought her back to Serendipity after being gone for years.
Scanning through the theater’s offerings online, my breath caught. “Oh. Robert Diamond.”
“Robert Diamond is starring in that new sci fi movie. Let’s see that.”
“I hate sci fi.”
“Hello. Did I mention Robert Diamond?” I was only a slightly bigger fan of science fiction than the other girls, but anything with my favorite hunk actor in it was worth the cost of admission.
Carla’s tone changed. “Ah. Right. He’s delicious. I guess I could force myself to sit through it as long as there’s lots of buttered popcorn.”
“That’s the spirit. I’m only pushing my advantage because one day soon, you ladies are going to decide I’ve healed enough and you don’t have to be nice to me anymore.” Once a week, sometimes more often, the three of us did something together, even if it was just a quiet evening of take-out pizza and reminiscing, or a board game and a bottle of wine.
“That’s right. We certainly will, so milk it while you can. Put on your party shoes, Alice. We’ll see you in a bit.”
I got to ride shotgun in Carla’s gorgeous Mustang. We sort of tried to mitigate the damage to our hairstyles, but traveling for thirty miles with the convertible top down was infinitely worth every tangle. Riding in her convertible always gave new meaning to the phrase, “throw caution to the wind.”
At the theater, we filled our arms with tubs of buttered popcorn and giant soft drinks, and found seats in plenty of time for the endless trailers for movies we would absolutely not be coming back to see. When the main feature came on, I remembered the last time Dean and I had seen a movie in a theater. Back to the Future with Michael J. Fox. Yep, the first one. Brand new. Dean preferred to stay in and watch TV or a rented video instead of driving to a theater, standing in line, putting up with discourtesy of others during the show, and spending big bucks for the privilege. Made perfect sense, so I was probably getting more of a kick from the outing than anyone else in the cavernous room.
I enjoyed the comfortable seat, cool built-in cup holder, and painfully-priced, unlimited popcorn. The opening credits and unearthly music were loudly dramatic. Then, unfortunately, the movie began.
Robert Diamond, who’d done some great adventure movies a few years previous, was starring in a pathetic attempt to combine Star Trek and Star Wars. I had no quibble with the black uniform that was so snug it could have been painted on him, but someone had decided a scantily-clad crew would be a good idea too. And, unfortunately, the word “plot” didn’t seem to have been part of the process anywhere along the line.
After the disaster ended, the girls and I staggered into the restroom. We looked into the mirror while washing our hands, and immediately burst into hysterical laughter. Melissa regained her composure first.
“Okay, Alice. You owe us, big time.” She shook her head. “Anybody feel like dinner after that? In addition to being stuffed with toxic snacks, that movie made me sick.”
Carla cranked out a paper towel. “I couldn’t possibly eat after that—whatever that was.” She waved the towel in the air in an effort to find the right word, and shivered.
Melissa pulled her hair back into a severe ponytail in preparation for the trip home with the top down. “In Alice’s defense, though, Robert Diamond’s movies are always worth the price of admission. All of them, except this one.”
I repaired the mascara run from our laughter outburst. “They were—he was—swoon-worthy. Bet he’ll have a hard time living down those two hours as Officer Drey.” Officer Drey—a man with a mysterious past, a terrible temper, and a penchant for liaisons with female crew members.
And female aliens.
We traveled back to town singing along to the blaring radio, and by the time we pulled into Serendipity, our moods and appetites had improved. Carla slowed to the downtown speed limit. “Chez Gwendolyn or Barbeque Basement? I’m not eating fast food after what I already put my stomach through today.”
I wasn’t sure if she meant the popcorn and soda, the movie, or all of the above.
“Basement,” I said. “So we can drink to poor Robert Diamond.” Chez Gwen didn’t serve anything harder than sweet tea.
We parked in the nearby municipal lot and walked down the dark stairway into a huge rock-and-brick walled basement of what had been, in our youth, the main shoe and clothing store in Serendipity. The white ceiling was heavily textured and somehow reminiscent of stalactites. A Louisville food critic’s glowing write-up a few years prior had made the Barbeque Basement hugely popular, and the food, service, and ambiance kept it that way. We lucked into a table in the noisy, crowded restaurant.
When our drinks were served, I raised mine in a toast and the girls did the same. “Robert Diamond. May his reputation survive, and his career take a more pleasant turn.”
“And may he find a good woman who can give him the advice he so obviously needs,” Melissa added, giggling. We clinked glasses and settled in to enjoy the live music. From the little stage on the far end of the room, an outlaw country band from the Louisville, Kentucky, area put an end to our discussions about movies, movie stars, or anything else.
That night, I dreamed I was on a starship as an enthusiastic new recruit. We were zipping through the middle of who-knows-where, stars flashing past the view screens at a dizzying rate of speed. For my training, I was assigned to Officer Drey and developed a huge crush on him. Although I tried to hide it, Drey became aware of my feelings and, just when I thought I was in for a lecture, he pulled me into a small alcove off a hallway and kissed me passionately. Very passionately. For a good, long, steamy while.
The neighbor’s dog barked and I awoke with a start, breathing hard, my pulse racing. I sat up in bed, willing my respiration rate to return to normal, which it was not likely to do while the dream replayed in my mind. I kept replaying it on purpose, knowing otherwise it would be lost forever, wafted away to wherever dreams go. Being kissed by Drey was a turn-my-bones-to-water experience. The character’s personality aside, he was definitely attractive in a tall, dark, and handsome sort of way. Not to mention those broad shoulders, dimples, gorgeous, inviting lips…. I jumped out of bed and quickly pulled it together—the bed first, then myself.
I decided to begin a new adventure in writing. I would create a story to lift Officer Drey from the abyss of bad authorship and whatever else had spawned such an unfortunate movie. Just for fun.
Famous last words.
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