Authors: Brenda Hill
By the time I pulled my white Toyota onto my driveway, I was so relieved I almost cried. No more nicey-nice faces, no more screaming children. Just a quiet evening with a good book and a nice soak in my oversized tub.
My condo was actually a two-story townhouse in Upper Yucaipa, and the back of the building faced the San Bernardino Mountains. My unit, the end one, had an unrestricted view. Oh, how Mac had loved it. When we first toured the property, he got as far as the patio and waited while I checked out the rest of the rooms. I think it could have been gutted and he wouldn’t have cared as long as he could see the mountains.
Today, they were spectacular.
In the growing dusk, a tinge of blue shaded the snow-capped peaks as they pushed their way through a layer of wispy clouds. Beautiful and mysterious, they rode the sky like a jagged island of bluish-white, standing miles above
foothills lost in a sea of fog.
During his last months, Mac had often asked me to help him to the patio where he’d sit and gaze endlessly at the mountains. Savoring the beauty today, I took a deep breath and wished with all my heart that he could be there to share it with me. This has to be for you, Mac, I silently told him, hoping that from somewhere, he could still see
the view that he had so loved.
Inside, I tossed my briefcase on the wing chair, kicked off my shoes, and padded barefoot into the kitchen. I poured a tall glass of Diet Coke and looked at my watch. Shanna should be home by now. Talking to her so soon after that awkward scene at the airport would be tough, but I wouldn’t be able to relax until I’d made sure she and Kyle had
arrived in Minneapolis safely.
Downing a full glass of soda and wishing it gave courage, even false
courage, I punched the numbers.
“Hi sweetheart. Get home okay?”
“Of course.” Her tone was stilted, her words clipped.
There was an awkward pause and I could hear the slight hum of the wires. I longed to beg her to understand, but something, pride, perhaps, kept me silent.
“How did Kyle like the trip?”
“He was wide awake,” she answered, her voice a little warmer, “but the woman in the seat next to me gave him all her attention. He loved it.” She asked me about the house, and I tried to sound natural as I told her about the afternoon, but we soon ended the call. I think we both wanted to avoid excha
nging harsh words.
Was I doing the right thing? In trying not to be a burden, was I causing Shanna more pain? Thinking back to our conversation at the airport, she’d s
eemed to be pleading with me to make the move now. But why? Her marriage was secure, and since she’d given birth to Kyle, she had the complete family she had always wanted. An intruding widowed mother was something she didn’t need.
Slipping off my jacket, I hung it in the closet next to the others, arranged in blacks, grays, and navy blues. Off to the side, price tags intact, was the red blazer Mac had encouraged me to buy two years ago. After a year, he finally gave up trying to get me to wear it.
But jewelry was something else. How I loved artificial diamonds and rhinestones, and the bigger the stone, the better. Mac had teased me about my gaudy taste, but I loved watching the sparkling reds, blues and yellows, always reminding me of the magic of long-ago fairy tales where, no matter what had happened, the main character wound up living
happily ever after.
I pulled the cotton shell over my head and shrugged out of my bra. My nipples puckered at the sudden change and I lightly massaged them, savoring
the luxurious feel of freedom.
The last couple of years Mac had pestered me to leave off my bra. Finally one day when I had wanted to cheer him up, I’d pulled a bulky sweatshirt over my bare breasts. Whether it was the relaxing of my standards or just watching my small breasts bounce, I couldn’t say, but Mac got a kick out of it. I’d felt so sil
ly that I never did it again.
I was the quiet one, an only child conditioned to fading into the woodwork. Mac was tall, blonde, and gregarious, with a mischievous twinkle in his hazel eyes. He’d loved to tease me, to make me blush. I’d adored him, and we had everything we needed to make it through together.
Until the cancer.
With an effort, I pushed the past away. I wouldn’t allow myself to spend another evening wallowing in misery. I was going to make some changes in my life and start over in Minneapolis; I might be a little late and a lot older, but I could do it. I would be there for my daughter and my grandson.
To my amazement, I slept well and woke about seven-thirty the next morning. I decided to get some housework done before ret
urning the signs to the office.
But, like a magnet, I was drawn to the notice in my handbag. I studied the date. A year ago this month, Mac had finally admitted that he could no longer struggle to work every day and had retired on disability. Even his desk job as technical illustrator proved to be too strenuous. He was crushed, his ego deflated when he told me, as if my love depended on his masculinity.
I quit work to care for him. We were home together most of the time, so I couldn’t imagine why he’d need a private post office box. Folding the notice, I stuffed it back into my handbag. It was probably nothing, but I’d ask Stan. As Mac’s executor, he’d know if it was anything to be concerned about.
I vacuumed the living room and hallway and checked the small bath downstairs. It looked pristine, even after Shanna’s visit—the strawberry hand towels folded neatly on the rod, the dish of pink soaps placed just so, and the sp
arkling sink free of soap scum.
How I’d love to see Mac’s toiletries scattered on the marbled vanity. I wouldn’t even gripe at the little pile of whiskers he’d always left in the sink.
The last year of Mac’s illness, when he was too weak to climb the stairs, I’d made a bed for him in the living room.
One day, when we had felt especially disheartened, we looked around at all the drab furnishings and decided we needed some color in our lives. So we sold the white drapes and the beige sofa and chairs, pored over catalogs and ordered new furniture and drapes in a rich, burnished gold. The day everything was delivered, we were as excited as kids at Christmas and admired our new room like parents with a new offspring. Mac got out the wine, poured each o
f us a glass and held his high.
“To all of our years together, some of them good,” he teased.
“Some of them good?”
I repeated, clicking glasses, loving him with every ounce of my being, terrified I was going to lose him.
“Always remember the good times, and forgive the bad,” he said as his eyes met mine. “Unlock that big heart of yours, Lisa, and let those who love yo
u fill your tomorrows.”
Today, I took my coffee and sat on Mac’s sofa bed, desperately needing to feel something of him, his essence, his spirit for life.
During the long nights after he died, I’d try to remember the look in his eyes—the frustration, the hopelessness of living with so much pain. He had tried so hard to put on a brave front for me, but all I had to do was look at him and I knew. When it was especially bad, I prayed for his death. Other days I was more selfish because I couldn’t stand the thought of losing him.
I took a sip of cold coffee and wished I’d been a better wife.
I had loved him more than anyone and tried to show him, by keeping his clothes immaculate and the house spotless. But something was missing. I just couldn’t let my emotions show. Mac talked to me about it many times, told me he had never felt passion from me. I desperately wanted to please him, so I read everything I could about relaxing, especially before lovemaking. I tried eating, not eating, soaking in warm water, sipping wine—one time I gulped three daiquiris one after another. But I was never one to hold liquor well. Instead of feeling happy and sexy like most people, I became sleepy and morose.
The phone rang. I didn’t recognize the ID or the man’s voice.
“This is Terry O’Neal. You know, from yesterday, at the open house.”
Oh no, I thought, wishing I’d let the machine answer. I tried to put a smile into my voice. “Mr. O’Neal. What can I do for you?”
He hesitated, laughed, and sounded embarrassed. “I don’t know quite how to put this, but I have to tell you I’ve been thinking about you and had to hear your voice again.”
I was so surprised that I co
uldn’t think of a thing to say.
“I know you probably think I’m a nut,” Terry went on, “and I guess I am. But I’d really like to see you again. As soon as possible.”
“Call me Terry, please.”
this conversation is completely inappropriate. I’m not interested.”
“Please, Lisa. I haven’t dated in over thirty years and I’m probably going about it in the wrong way. But when I saw you, something...magical happened to me just like in the old s
ongs. I have to see you again.”
I had a sudden flash to the moment when he was leaving the house and our eyes met. I couldn’t deny I’d felt...something. Perhaps it was simply that knowledge women get when the
y knew a man was interested. For that one instant, I’d felt alive.
Still, I had no interest in this man or anyone else. It took every ounce of strength I had to face each day, and there was no room for complications
“Mr. O’Neal, are you even looking for a house?”
“Of course. It’s for Betty, my ex-wife. You met her yesterday.”
“You’re buying a house for your ex-wife?”
He sighed. “It’s a long story and I hope you’ll give me the chance to tell you about it.”
I wasn’t sure I believed him, but a client’s martial status was no concern of
mine. Not that he was a client.
“While this is very flattering,” I finally said, “I’m going to hang up.”
For some inexplicable reason, I held on.
“Please, Lisa. May I call you Lisa?”
“Mr. O’Neal, I’m really not up to this. Yesterday was my first day back to work. My hu
sband passed away last month...” My eyes filled.
“Oh. I’m sorry,” Terry said.
“Thank you, but please don’t call again.”
“Let’s start again. I’m serious about buying a house and you might as well get the commission.”
I hesitated. Our insurance had refused to pay after Mac’s treatments reached five–hundred thousand, so we’d spent all of our savings. Even after Mac’s insurance and small pension came through and I sold the condo, I’d still have to watch every penny.
“You think about it and I’ll call you tomorrow. Then you can do your thing—you know, get all the information you need to help me find Betty a house.”
Should I? He did have a nice voice, and he sounded sincere. B
ut, it wouldn’t be a good idea.
“I’d be happy to give you the name of someone else in the office to help you,” I told him, thinking of
Nina, the office receptionist and a single mother who was studying to be a realtor. She would love the referral.
“No, that won’t do. It’s you I want, and I intend to call you again to persuade you to change your mind.”
I punched the disconnect button. Of all the nerve.
Heading west on I-10 to the Redlands office, my cell phone rang again. I glanced at the ID, relieved it was my brother-in-law rather than that nut from the open house.
“Hey, babe,” Stan said, “how’s it going?”
I told him about my first day back and mentioned the O’Neals and the morning call.
“He bothering you?” he asked. “If he is, I’ll give him an attitude adjustment.”
Dear, sweet, Stan. While Mac had been just over six feet, Stan was the bear in the family at six-five and two-hundred-fifty pounds, a man who looked so intimidating that no one would suspect he had the heart of a teddy bear. He was the one who taught me to fish at Big Bear Lake when Mac didn’t have the patience, laughing when I snagged his shirt or hat with my casting line. Not only was Stan my brother-in-law, but he was also our attorney and had been my right arm for the past year. I dearly loved him and his wife, Maggie, and didn’t know what I would have d
one without either one of them.
“Nothing like that,” I told him. “The man was just a nuisance, a guy on the make. You know the type.” I asked him about their trip.
“We fed the fish more than they fed us,” he said with a laugh, “but it was good to get away.” Then he asked about Shanna and the baby.
“She wants me to move there, Stan, and I want to.”
“That’s a big decision, Lisa. You sure you want to decide something like that now? Maybe you should wait a few months.”
“It’ll be a few months anyway, until everything’s settled. But is there any way to speed things up? For some reason, Shanna wants me out there as soon as possible, and I
’d like to go. She made me feel wanted.”
Stan was silent a moment. Then, “I’ll see what I can do, doll, but you know how the system works. You doing anything later this afternoon?”