Authors: Gary Smalley,Dan Walsh
Tags: #FIC042000, #FIC008000, #FIC045000
he following day, a Wednesday, Marilyn worked the daytime shift again at Odds-n-Ends. She was beginning to feel more comfortable in her new role there and was actually able to answer about half of the customers’ questions without seeking Harriet’s help. And she’d become a whiz on the cash register.
In idle moments throughout the morning, she’d been mulling over her conversation with Charlotte about taking dance lessons. The desire to “give it a try” had formed into a decision to do so when a woman about ten years older came into the store and fell in love with the same music box.
The woman set it down on the counter and lifted the lid. “Isn’t this just the most beautiful thing?” she said. “And I just love that song.”
Marilyn rang it up on the cash register. “I bought this same music box just the other night.”
“My oldest granddaughter is eight,” the woman said, “and she just started taking dance lessons. I’m going to get this for her.”
“She’s going to love it,” Marilyn said.
“By the way,” said the woman, “was I wrong to bring this one up? Isn’t it a floor model?”
“No, we keep all our stock on the shelves.”
The woman leaned forward, as if telling a secret. “This was the last one.”
“That’s okay,” Marilyn said. “You can buy it. I ordered two more, they should be in this afternoon.”
“Oh good,” the woman said. “I didn’t want to have to come back. I live over an hour away.”
Marilyn wrapped it carefully for the woman and set it in the bag. After the woman left, Marilyn heard the back door open and close and turned to find Emma coming in from the hallway. She glanced at her watch. “Oh good, Emma, you’re just in time to relieve me for lunch.”
Emma set her purse behind the counter. “I just finished eating mine on the way in. It was delicious, a chicken salad wrap. I almost died when a big splotch of honey mustard fell out of it. Fortunately, it dropped on the steering wheel, not on my blouse. Going anywhere special?”
Marilyn smiled. “Kind of,” she said. “But not to eat.” She picked up her purse and started walking from behind the counter.
“Well, are you going to tell me?” Emma said.
She almost didn’t want to say. “I’m going over to a dance studio to see about signing up for some lessons.”
Really, Marilyn repeated in her mind. Was she really going to do this? “I think so. If it’s not too expensive.”
“I’d love to do something like that.”
“Why don’t you?”
“I can’t. Between school . . . and work . . . and homework.”
“What kind of lessons would you take if you could?”
“Probably swing. But I also like the Latin ones. You know, the rumba, the cha-cha, the mambo.” Marilyn had heard of them but couldn’t tell one from the other. “What are you hoping to learn?” Emma said.
“I have no idea,” Marilyn said. “But I better go. Gotta be back in thirty minutes.”
Marilyn had looked up the Windsor Dance Studio’s website last night and was surprised to find it was only two blocks away from the store. It was a nice day, so she decided to walk. It occupied two large storefront suites on Oakland Avenue. She walked past the big glass windows, happy to see the view inside was mostly blocked by curtains, except for the area by the front door. She didn’t cherish the idea of all those people on the street looking in at her like she was some fish in an aquarium as she hobbled her way through dance lessons.
She stood at the door, took a deep breath, and opened it. A little chime rang above her head, but there wasn’t anyone sitting at a desk by the carpeted entrance. To the right, a large wooden dance floor took up most of the space, but the place was empty. The lights were off except over the desk. She looked around, but there was no little bell to ring. Should she leave?
“Oh, sorry to keep you waiting.”
She looked up into the smiling face of, yes . . . a tall, dark, handsome Latin man with wavy hair. He stepped into the reception area through a doorway on the back wall. She smiled, thinking of what Charlotte had said. “You must be Roberto.” Marilyn held out her hand.
“Yes, I’m Roberto. A pleasure to meet you, Miss . . .”
“I’m Marilyn—Mrs. Marilyn Anderson.”
He shook her hand. “And how can I help you? Do you wish to learn how to dance?”
“Well, yes, I guess I do. But I can come back another time if you’re closed.”
“No, we’re open. But there are no lessons scheduled at the moment. Have you ever taken lessons before?”
“No, but I used to take my daughter to a dance class.”
“I see. Come over here and have a seat.” He pointed to some cushioned chairs set in front of the desk while he sat behind it. “What kind of lessons did she take?”
“Some ballet, and something like jazz, but I forget what they called it.”
“We have a ballet class for young girls here at two today. One of my dance instructors teaches it. I only work with adults. What kind of lessons are you interested in taking?”
“I’m not totally sure. I was thinking of ballroom, I guess. Like the waltz.”
“Perfect,” he said with a big smile. “We have a beginners class that meets in the evenings once a week. We learn the waltz, the tango, the foxtrot, several others. The next class is tomorrow night, right here, at seven.”
“Really? So soon?” She didn’t know why she said that. She was only planning on getting some information at this point.
“We’d love to have you join us.”
“Is it . . . very expensive?”
“Not at all. We have very competitive prices. I could say we are the least expensive studio in River Oaks, but then we’re also the only studio in River Oaks. Here, take this.” He held out a brochure. “This explains all our classes, the schedules, the prices.” She took it from him. “We’re running a special now for beginners. Your first two classes are absolutely free. Just a
way for people to try it first, see if they like it, before making a longer commitment.”
Marilyn opened the brochure and looked at the inside pages a moment, trying to work up the nerve to ask her next question.
“So what do you say? Can I expect you tomorrow night?”
“Maybe,” she said, then looked up. “Does anyone come who . . . doesn’t have a dance partner?”
“Yes, yes. Many times. Particularly those who are . . . a little older.” He looked at her hand. Marilyn thought he noticed the ring on her finger. “It’s not uncommon for one spouse to want to learn how to dance and yet another one to not be . . . as interested.”
That would be putting it mildly in my case, she thought.
“So, shall I expect you? If you don’t thoroughly enjoy yourself—which I’m sure you will—you don’t have to return.”
“Okay,” she said. “I think I’ll come.”
“Great,” he said.
She looked at the clock behind the desk. “I better go, my lunch break is almost over.”
“I’ll see you out.” He came around the desk and opened the glass door for her.
“Thank you,” she said, smiling. “Have a nice day.”
“See you tomorrow night.”
Jim sat across the street in his Audi, parked several stores down, glaring at Marilyn. He had followed her here from Odds-n-Ends. At the moment, she appeared to be standing in a doorway, flirting with some Latin or Italian-looking man at a dance studio. The guy was easily ten years younger.
Earlier, as Jim had sat across the street from her store, he’d
wrestled with the idea of walking right in there, demanding that she meet with him and talk, even though Mort, the head deacon, had advised against it. But how else could he get her to see him? Just as he was about to get out of the car, she had come out of Odds-n-Ends and started walking down the sidewalk. He’d watched her until she turned the corner. He’d backed his car out and followed her. The trail had led here.
Now she was walking back the way she came. What was Marilyn up to? And who was that man she was laughing and flirting with?
’m sorry, Dad, I forgot to ask her.”
“What do you mean, you forgot, Michele?” She didn’t answer. Jim had to calm down. He knew he was in danger of getting hung up on again. He couldn’t believe he had to play such games . . . with his own daughter. He was on his way home from work. It was Thursday evening. He had just called her—once more—to find out where Marilyn was staying.
“We mostly talked about my wedding,” Michele said. “You’re still coming, aren’t you?”
“Of course I am.” What a thing to say. “Okay, listen. I understand you’ve got a lot going on right now. I remember how crazy things got when we got this close to Tom’s wedding. But Michele, your mom’s been gone more than a week now. I’ve done my best to give her some space. You can ask her. I haven’t called or bothered her in any way. But I think it’s a little ridiculous that I still don’t know where she’s living . . . or any of her plans for the future.”
“She’s not making plans for the future. I know that for a fact.”
“I don’t mean long term,” Jim said. “I mean day to day. A
pretty big thing has come up, something that could really make a difference in our finances, and she needs to know about it.” He was thinking about the two-week deadline Mort Stanley had given him for the deacons’ meeting. He now had about ten days left.
“So that’s what you want to find Mom for, to talk about finances? Not a good idea, Dad.”
She could be so exasperating. “That’s not the only thing,” he said. “I know you can’t appreciate how important things like this are, since I’ve been paying your way all these years. But believe me, you and Allan will know exactly how much money matters after you walk down that aisle.”
“Believe me, I already know. At least some. Allan and I were working on our budget just last night. Things are going to be very tight.”
“Well, they’ve been pretty tight for us the past few years,” he said. “Tighter than they’ve been since our early years of marriage. But I’ve got something brewing that could really give us some breathing room. Your mom leaving me like this could ruin it.”
“Uh . . . how could Mom leaving you have anything to do with one of your financial deals? You’ve got a client that’s actually asking about your marriage?”
“Well, yes, as a matter of fact. This one cares. They care a great deal.” He really didn’t want to get into this with her. “The thing is, I need her back in the house for this deal to go through. And I’ve got less than two weeks.”
“What? Dad, that sounds absurd. You need her to be there to host one of your business parties?”
“No, it’s nothing like that.” He turned his car down the service road behind Elderberry Lane.
“Then what is it? Who would make such a ridiculous demand?
Your personal life is no one else’s business. Why should your marital status affect someone interested in renting one of your properties?”
Jim sighed. “It’s the church, okay? The church your mom and I—the church we were
attending as a family—for over ten years. They’re the client. And they definitely care about my marital status.”
“The church,” she said, a tone of disgust in her voice. “Let me guess, Mr. Stanley paid you a visit.”
How could she know that? “Yes, he did. But I don’t want to get into all of this with you. They have standards, Michele. All churches do. They can’t have a deacon representing the church whose wife has walked out on him.”
“I don’t see how that should matter whether or not they rent a building from you. That’s not a moral decision, Dad. I’d be surprised if half the construction workers who built that building even go to church. Why should they care?”
“It’s complicated, Michele. Okay? The thing is, they do.”
“And so you want Mom to move back in—right now—to put on a good show? Is that the deal?”
“No . . . it’s not to put on a show.” Jim pulled into his driveway, pushed the garage door button.
“It’s not? Okay, Dad. Let me ask you this . . . did Mr. Stanley even ask you how you were doing? Spiritually?”
“Did he spend any time taking an interest in your soul? Ask you any questions about how Mom is doing or what you thought might have caused her to leave?”
Jim wanted to say yes, and was just about to. But, he realized, it would be a lie. “Well, Mort—Mr. Stanley—is not a pastor. He’s a deacon. He’s more in charge of practical matters.”
“Oh . . . I see. He’s not a pastor. He’s just a deacon. So that means he couldn’t take a few minutes to care about you as a person. That’s the pastor’s job.” The comment reeked with sarcasm.
“It’s not like that.” Jim turned off the car. The garage door closed behind him.
“Dad, it is too. That’s why I hated that church. Why I’m never going back. Whatever happened to being your brother’s keeper? Mom is hurting big-time right now. I bet you are too. And all he came to talk to you about was the embarrassment your family life is causing the church.”
“That’s not all. I’m sure he cares about us. But he’s got a job to do.”
“A job,” she said. “That’s right, Mr. Stanley, the deacon. Well . . . whose job is it to care about people going through a crisis? The pastor? Okay, Dad. Has the pastor called you then? Has he come over to see how you’re doing? How Mom’s doing? I’m sure he knows she’s left. That church is so full of gossips, I’ll bet everyone knew before the Sunday service was over.”
Now Jim wished he had never called. “The pastor’s a very busy man.”
“I’m sure he is.”
Neither said anything for a few moments.
“You know what, Dad? Our pastor’s a busy man, and he’s already met with Allan and me four times for premarital counseling.”
“Well, I’m glad to hear it.”
“Have you looked over the list yet?”
“Our wedding invitation list. Mom said she would leave it on your dresser.”
Jim remembered seeing it there. “No, I haven’t yet. I will though, soon.”
“I guess I should warn you,” she said. “I’ve left most of the folks from your church off the list.”
Oh great, Jim thought. Just great. What should he say? “Michele, that’s not going to help matters, doing something like that. Most of these people have known you since before you were a teenager. And you’re kind of shooting yourself in the foot too. They’d give you and Allan some wonderful presents if they—”
“Dad . . . I don’t want their presents. I want our wedding day to be pleasant, and we want all the people there to be either family or friends.
Another long, awkward pause.
“Speaking of money,” she said. “Are you . . . can you still pay for the wedding? You said things are really tight right now. If you need us to cut back, we can. Allan and I have talked about it, we can—”
“No, Michele. Don’t worry about the money. I saved for years for your wedding and set the money aside in a separate account. You guys do whatever you were going to do before your mother . . .”
He just didn’t want to say the words again. Why, Marilyn? he thought. Why did you leave me? And why now?
“I’m sorry, Dad.” He heard her crying softly on the other end. “I’m sorry all this is happening. Sorry for what you’re going through too. I’m especially sorry you’ve got no one to help you, no one caring for your soul. I know you can tell, I’m mostly on Mom’s side in this, but you know I love you, right?”
He felt his own emotions welling up.
“Are you . . . are you still going to walk me down the aisle?”
“What? Of course I am, Michele. No matter what happens
between your mom and me, you’re still, and you’ll always be my little . . .” Tears began falling down his cheeks. “My little girl,” he said. He took a deep breath. “But hey, I’ve got to go.”
“I will ask Mom about telling you where she’s staying,” Michele said. “The very next time I talk to her.”
“No, don’t worry about it,” he said. “I’ve got to go. I love you too.”
He hung up and got out of the car. He wouldn’t wait for Michele to get around to talking to Marilyn when it suited her. He’d find out for himself. This very evening. He glanced at his watch. She had worked all day at Odds-n-Ends—he’d driven by that morning and saw her car in the employee parking lot—which meant she should be getting off in the next hour or so.
Jim got back in his car, turned it on, and pushed the garage door button.