Love: At What CostbyMyhands316©
Here is another one of my love stories. As with most of my stories, it isn't a quickie sex story, but more of a romance novella. As with all my work, please feel free to vote and comment on it. Please remember this is a copywrited work of fiction and all legal disclaimers apply. I'd like to thank Woflvixen, Ekmathean and the brokenhearted1 for their editorial services.
"Mom, I'm home...! Mom...? Mom...!" A young woman came in the house and slammed the door. "Are you crying again?" Linda Burris's daughter asked through the locked bedroom door as she listened to the muffled sounds coming from her mom's room.
She was caught.... 'Oh Shit!' She thought, as she scrambled to get herself together. "I'm fine sweetie. I'll be out in a minute to fix dinner." Linda called out, as she bolted into the bathroom. She refused to let her daughter see her like this again. Her son did once not long ago. He hounded her for weeks afterwards, trying to be the man of the house, he thought she needed.
Her son, Tony, at sixteen was much too young to take on so much responsibility. He needed to worry about co-eds, computers and sports. Not his widowed mother, the house or if the bills were getting paid. Linda knew her children missed their father as much as she missed her husband. She turned on the sink to cover her last few sniffles, as she tried to regain her composure.
What happens when you've already had perfect? How do you go on after it's gone? How do you keep on living when the love of your life is dead? Washing her face, her mind tumbled.
To most, these questions are something they might deal with in a philosophy class. For Linda Burris, her life depended on finding the answers. She gave herself thirty minutes a day to be pitiful. Unfortunately, that day, she forgot her daughter would be coming home early. That day, the grief was too raw and the memories too vivid to hold back.
Coming out of her room, Linda came face to face with her daughter Kim, a younger, thinner version of herself. Kim had her father's eyes that could always melt her heart. They were built so similarly, they could already swap cloths. Not that she'd wear anything out of Linda's closet, or Linda out of Kim's.
They both stood between five six and five seven, with light reddish blond hair. Mom had hazel eyes and Kim had her father's green. Both tipped the scale under the hundred and twenty mark. The only exception, Kim still wore a large C instead of Linda's D to DD bras. But Kim hadn't had children nursing at her breasts yet. Linda hoped it would be a long time until she did.
"Hi, honey. How's your day?" She tried for upbeat, hoping Kim wouldn't notice her red rimmed eyes.
"Why were you crying? What happened?" Kim asked concerned. She knew her mom still had bad days. She did too. But for her, life had a way of moving the loss farther from her everyday mind.
"Nothing, I was having a bit of a pity party, that's all. What do you want for dinner?" She tried to divert her overly astute daughter.
"Mom, get a grip. Gram's bringing pizza... Remember? Family meeting night! Even Tony is going to make his presence known to us lower life forms. God, I hate having such a geeky brother." Kim was concerned, she thought, like almost everyone else, her mom needed to move on. If she found someone else, then she wouldn't dwell so much on the past.
"Oh, I forgot.... Um... you don't seem to mind when he helps with your homework." Linda tried to sort out where her day went wrong.
"Is this about dad again?" Kim knew her mom too well.
"A bit, I suppose... and I had to tell Peter that I can't see him anymore. Of course, he caused a scene.... I don't know why I'm telling you all this." She said, walking into the kitchen to get a glass of wine. She needed to find her balance.
"Mom, it's only three. No wine until after five... your rules. Are you depressed? The school counselor wants me to ask." Kim worried about her mom. She was acting so weird lately.
"No sweetie, I'm not happy as a lark... but no, I'm fine. I don't need a bunch of pills, to get by either." She said pouring the glass anyway. "I've just had a really bad day."
"Hi mom, isn't it a bit early?" Her son, Tony, asked in his usual direct tactless manner, as he entered the kitchen.
Linda sighed sadly, he looked more and more like his father every day. He had the lank that made him look skinny, but also the defined muscle tone of an athlete. He was going to make some woman very happy when he chose.
"Bad day she claims, and she's been crying in her room again." Kim tattled to her brother, ignoring the look from her mother.
"Hey, wait a minute, I'm the mom. If I need a good cry...." Linda protested.
"Dad again...?" Tony asked his sister.
"That'd be my guess. She's on her first glass of wine and forgot the family meeting and dinner again." Kim told her younger brother, ignoring her mother's protest.
"The trip will do her good then." He said absently, thinking they were right in their conclusions.
"What trip...?" Linda asked
"Shut-up Tony...! What an idiot. For someone so smart, you can be so stupid...!" Kim slapped her brother's arm. "Aren't you going to Nashville for that real estate thing?" Kim covered quickly.
"Oh, um, no... That's part of the problem.... Peter arranged for a single room, with a double bed... and I really didn't want to go there." Linda rubbed her head, fighting the ache that was building.
"Oh, sorry mom..." Tony covered his gaff. "I didn't know... sorry."
Kim dragged her brother out of the kitchen to give him a piece of her mind. Linda would have picked up more, if the headache wasn't already pounding behind her eyes. She grabbed two pain pills and downed them with the last of her wine, rinsing out the glass and setting it in the strainer. Pulling out the paper plates, she set them on the table, and retreated back to her room. 'I need to get a better handle on myself. I haven't been this bad in over a year.' She thought as she lay down, covering her eyes with a pillow.
Linda startled awake, when the doorbell rang. She didn't have to look at the clock to know she dozed. As she came out of her room, she heard her mother talking to the kids and sighed. Another confrontation she wasn't ready for.
"Why is this door locked?" She heard her mother's voice ask tartly. "I thought I was expected? A fine way to be greeted...." The older woman prattled, as they escorted her to the kitchen. "How many today...?" She asked looking at the wine glass in the strainer.
"Only one so far, she started at three when I got home, and she was crying in her room again...." The dutiful Kim, informed her grandmother.
Linda knew she was going to have to do something about Kim. Like hire her out as the town crier or something. Maybe she could replace that silicone stuffed shirt on the news...? Kim had a habit of dispensing information, if you wanted her to or not.
"Hi mom..." Linda greeted. "If you're done questioning my kids... how are you today?" Linda asked, as her mother put her twenty years out of date, if very expensive, purse on the sideboard.
"A damn sight better than you it seems... When are you going to quit all this moping around? It's been three years plus. You need...!" she shook her regal hair-do.
"I know what you think I need mom. But, I don't want cheep hollow sex. I don't even miss it that much. I don't need to go bed hopping to prove I'm still a woman. I have responsibilities to fill my day. I am fine and dealing with it as best I can!"
"You still need to find someone. You're not that old yet. You need to have some fun!" Her mother wasn't to be deterred. Like all mothers, she thought she knew what her child needed even if they didn't agree.
"Mom... I had a great man, and now he's gone. There's nothing I can do about that....Why should I settle for good? Besides I'm tired of fending off the grabby hands of those idiots when they find out I'm a widow... I'm not, nor ever will be, that desperate."
"No, you're lonely. You need companionship. You need someone to share your life with... Do you think Ted would want you to stop living...?" The regal woman tried to get through to her daughter.
"Mom, family meeting, you called it. Let's serve the pizza and get it over with. I have a headache and I don't want to fight with you again. I know you mean well, but...."
"Pizza... I smell Pizza!" Tony bound into the room, diverting the budding hostilities. "Cool, extra meat!" He said, as he opened the lid of the big box, getting in between his mom and grandma.
Linda wanted a glass of wine, but had iced tea instead. She didn't want all the commentary on her drinking habits. She wasn't a lush or anything. She knew exactly how much she drank and why. After the strained dinner conversation, sometimes Linda hated her mother's constant intrusions... she hoped they would get to the point of the meeting so she could go back in her room and let this day fade away.
She should have expected something was up. But, it being one of those days, she didn't see it coming. Her mother, bless her heart, set this up and she knew it. Linda wanted to kill her... but then again, it was her mother.
"Okay, now that the appetite has been filled, let's get down to business." Her mother stated without preamble. "We are concerned that you're refusing to move on Linda. We all know how much you loved Tim, but he's gone. You need to move on and get back to living again."
'Way to go mom! Love the tact.' Linda thought bitterly. Like it was that easy.
"Oh I know, you've gone on a few dates, but they all end as utter disasters. I hate hearing my daughter being describes as a cold fish...."
"Who said that?" Linda blurted. "Was it that braggart Ted? That slime-ball, I'll...!" Linda fumed.
"It doesn't matter who said it!" Her mom shouted over the rant. "What matters, is that I have seen it with my own eyes. You've retreated into a hollow shell of your former self." Before Linda could go on an offensive, her mother beat her to the punch.
"What matters, is that we all agree...! How often does that happen?" She paused for a second then slammed the hammer down. "That's what I thought you said. Now..."
"Mom, we love you...! That's why we called Grammy." Kim said, trying to diffuse the argument. That was so like her, the little peace keeper. If anyone in the house was going to throw a tantrum... that was Kim's job.
"Yeah mom, Please?" Tony added pleading.
"Okay... okay, I'll listen" she said in defeat. She knew she was out flanked by their show of solidarity.
"As I was saying...." her mother went on. "We all talked about it, and came up with the perfect solution. We know you haven't taken a vacation or any time off in the last two years. So, we put our heads together and found the best thing for you." She added smiling at the children.
"And what might that be?" Linda asked, not really wanting to know.
"A two week cruise in the Caribbean." Her mom said triumphantly.
"WHAT...!" Linda screamed, grabbing the table for support.
"A Cruise!" her mother stated forcefully. "Before you say anything, let me tell you all about it.... It's a special cruise. There is going to be a large woman's only group there, plus a singles group. You can mingle with whichever group you want... or not." She put her hand on her distraught daughters.
"Mom, this isn't a set up." Kim added her hand to theirs. "This is us wanting you to have some down time. We know how hard you've worked to keep it together and we appreciate it. This is only our way of trying to show you." Kim tried to reassure her stressed out mother.
"Yeah mom, it's time for you to chill for a bit. We already cleared it with your boss and everything. We love you, and think you need a break from the routine for awhile. You never know, you might even get lucky." He added with an eye wiggle and a laugh to show he was kidding. He had to do something to lessen the tension in the room.
"I... when... What?" Linda stammered. "We can't afford this. I won't take any money out of the college accounts." Linda was losing and she knew it.
"Linda, you don't have too. I've already purchased the ticket. When the kids thought this up, I agreed it was an excellent idea. I know... I know...! Before you even say it... Yes, I can afford it, and you know it. There is no use in having money, if you can't use it!" She finished with a smug look on her face.
"But... and I... So, when is this fabulous cruise?" Linda asked sarcastically.
"It's in early April. It will be before the hurricane season and before or after most college breaks. It's for two weeks instead of just one. So, that will limit the juvenile element. I have all the information you'll need. I have the instructions how to get there, and what you will need to pack. The travel agent was very helpful." Linda's mother knew how to manipulate people. It didn't matter if she had to act like a dotty old granny, or the rich entitled dowager, she got what she wanted, when she wanted it.
"She told me that they have a first timers club, which will adroitly let the ship's personnel know, so they can help you, if you need it. What's really great about this cruise... it's an all inclusive trip. So, you don't have to worry about meals or anything else. Well, maybe a little extra money; to buy souvenirs or a new bathing suit. But, the room, meals and snacks are paid for. The cruise line even owns the resorts you will be stopping at...."
"Whoa, this is too much. I can't just... That's in less than a month!" She reeled with the information overload. "I need a drink."
"Tony, get your mother a glass of wine." Her mom ordered, as her son bound out of the room in instant compliance.
'I still don't know how I got sucked into this.' Linda thought, as she waited for her plane to board for Florida. She smiled at the tall brunette who was jabbering away on her phone. The woman had to be a model or something. She stood over six feet tall and had to be a size six, maybe an eight, but she doubted it. She wore clothes that mere mortals like Linda only dreamed of. And they looked great on her. She waved back, never faltering in giving someone instructions on the phone. Linda jumped as they called her flight to board.
Linda hated flying, but somehow she was committed. Half the clothes she owned were already on the plane. It had been years since she'd even left Lexington. Her hands sweated as she'd found her seat and put her purse and overnight bag on the floor under the seat in front of hers, as she sat down.
It surprised Linda to see the tall woman, while still talking on her phone, came and sat next to her. "Yeah, that's what I said... 20% and nothing more. Look, my dad will be in town for the next two weeks, act like he's the owner while I'm gone. As soon as I'm off the phone, I'm killing this thing until I get back to the states. It's been five years since my last real vacation...."
Linda tried not to listen, but it was that or stare. So, she watched as the woman shut off her phone and shoved it into her bag, stuffing it in the overhead compartment before sitting down.
"Hi, I'm Michelle." Her voice sounded much softer, and smoother as she introduced herself to Linda.
"Oh, hi, I'm Linda." She smiled up at her.
"First time flying Sugar...?" Michelle asked kindly
"No, no... I just don't like it."
"Where are you going" They asked each other at the same time and laughed.
"Vacation... forced." Linda said tongue tied.
"Sweetie, no one had to force me. I've needed the break. It's fun in the sun time for me. Daddy can handle the business while I'm gone. Not that he knows much about making dresses, but he does know how to run a business."
"Oh, what do you do?" Linda asked interested.
"I own a dress shop in Lexington, how about you?"
"Oh, nothing exciting like that.... I'm in Real Estate, I list houses. I don't like selling.... That makes me feel like I'm being pushy, especially in this market." They chatted as the plane got ready to take off. Michelle chuckled as Linda grabbed her hand when the jet jolted down the runway, picking up speed for takeoff.
"It's okay Sugar, I've got you." She said until Linda realized what she was doing.
"Sorry, I... umm, hate flying." Linda blushed, not knowing how to break the contact.
Three hours of chatting later, Linda thought she had seen the last of her tall friendly acquaintance. It was fun while it lasted, and helped her forget she was flying. But, she had to catch the bus that would take her to the ship or end up having to pay for a taxi. She had to get checked in early, and register for her place at dinner, according to her mother's itinerary.
She was glad her mother had paid the extra for a suite. That meant she wouldn't have to share her room with a stranger, and could relax alone in her room if nothing else. She hoped that the singles didn't get rowdy. She would try to avoid them if at all possible. Dating or meeting someone for a two week fling was the last thing on her mind. She just wanted to relax and maybe find some peace.
She stared blankly out the window at the palm trees and concrete, she gasped when the big ship came into view. She just knew she'd get lost on that thing, it was huge. There was no way she could find her way around. She blindly followed the directions on her paper, when she was approached by a plump woman in a cheap suit.
"Can I help you?" She asked all smiles.
"Hands off Sister..." Michelle's voice barked from behind her.
"Oh, Hi, I didn't know you were taking this cruise." Linda smiled at her, as her long legs ate up the space between them.
The woman backed off, as the tall commanding figure approached muttering. "Pushy fucking slut..." She brightened as she answered Linda. "Hey Sugar, I'd shared my limo if I knew. Daddy has a service, since he races horses down here all the time." She smiled down at Linda.
"What a small world... I don't want to be a bother... Doesn't she work for the cruise line?" Linda asked confused watching the woman's retreating back.
"Oh, Sugar, I forgot. This is your first time... No, she's on the make. She's looking for someone to sponge off. This is the upper class entrance. She's in the cheap seats and wants an upgrade."
"Huh?" Linda asked even more confused.
"Never mind... Let's get checked in." The tall woman escorted her through the VIP Concierge entrance. "So where did they book you?"
"Oh, I have a private suite somewhere." Linda looked at her paperwork, trying to figure out what her room number meant.
"Oh, cool digs. Who forced this on you anyway, you never said?" Michelle asked suspicious for the first time. There were things that didn't add up.
"My meddling mother... She got together with my kids and set this all up." Linda said exasperated.
"So, is your husband going to join you?" She asked pointing to the wedding ring.
"God I wish..." Linda breathed, instantly clouding up.
"Oh... OH...! Sorry. I'm really sorry. I didn't know.... I guess I'm just getting jaded. How long ago...?" Michelle asked putting her arm around the shorter woman.
"Four years ago in July. A drunk driver..." Linda said, her eyes misting. It still hurt.
"Damn... Hey, we're on vacation.... Okay, take a deep breath, and let's go have fun!" The tall woman said, trying to undo the damage her carless comment caused.
"Where are you staying?" Linda asked, changing the subject.
"Somewhere close to you. They have only so many suites on this tub." Michelle smiled, trying to lighten the mood. Michelle kept up the idle chatter until she saw Linda's face lighten up. She hated to think she had caused this obviously innocent woman the pain etched on her face.
'Damn, I need this more than I thought.' Michelle scolded herself. She didn't think her father was as jaded, and he was on arm candy number four since her own mother died. She shook her head and loped her arm with the shorter woman who for some reason caught her attention. When it was their turn, a tall fresh faced young man told them.