Two Lonely PeoplebyJakeRivers©
I got home and thought about calling Erin, but I was too embarrassed. I called Jill and she agreed how much fun we had, but didn't volunteer too much else. I stopped by Clara's grave and cried!
Mandy was a senior now and they were getting married in June. She brought Phil home for Thanksgiving and slept in the same room without a by your leave. I thought about it, and decided I didn't really care. We went to the club for a dance on the Saturday after Thanksgiving and ran into Erin and Cindy. Erin was sitting with a man I recognized as a neurosurgeon at the same hospital she worked at.
I did walk over and ask her for a dance and chatted with her a bit. We were dancing to a slow number but she was standing apart a bit. After a few minutes, she stopped dancing and looked up at me.
"You slept with someone, didn't you?"
I stammered something unintelligible and she looked at me sadly for a minute and walked back to her table. I felt like I had lost something but I didn't know what.
Over the next few weeks I saw her a couple of times, at the club or the grocery store, and each time she nodded at me but didn't stop to talk. My feelings were very confused – I felt like I was drifting. Life wasn't fun anymore.
In early December I needed to go to Boston to talk to a new publisher my agent had put me on to. After I finished my business with them I went back to the hotel. I was staying at the Marriott near the turnpike and the 128 bypass. Flipping a mental coin I called Jill.
Recognizing her voice, I said, "Hi! This is Mike. I'm in town on business and I would like to see you!"
There was nothing for a bit. I could swear I could hear her thinking before she responded, "Well, this is a surprise! I didn't expect to hear from you! I've got company over and... well, shoot, why don't you come on over?"
I didn't feel good about it but asked her for directions. I was there about ten minutes later and rang her chimes (just an expression). When she opened the door she looked stunning in a simple black sheath dress with a strand of pearls and pearl earrings. To be honest she looked like she was ready to go out. She took me in the living room and I saw a guy standing there: quite handsome and dressed in a very expensive suit!
She told the guy, "Bill, please wait here for a minute, then I'll be ready to go." And she pulled me back into the kitchen.
She looked at me for a minute, something wistful on her face, and then I could see her make the decision.
"Michael, I... I really enjoyed the time on the cruise with you. No, I mean it! I've met someone else. Bill and I are getting married at Christmas. Bill is a long time family friend and, well, things just happened!"
I could see from her face it was over! I kissed her on the cheek and left without a goodbye. Bill said something and I ignored him too and walked out the door. I went back to the hotel, got a bottle of scotch from room service and tried to figure out the meaning of life and love.
After the third glass of a fairly nice single malt, and seeing how nicely I had figured out life and love I decided to take on trying to understand women. I had some brilliant insights and decided on the spot to write an article and share my incredible perceptions with other needy men. All I could remember the next morning was that I had a bastard of a headache and that I was alone... no one loved me! Yeah, smile! But it was shattering for me.
I went home and didn't hear anything from Erin. I felt sad without really understand why! Mandy was going to Phil's parents for Christmas so I didn't do anything: no decorating, no tree, nothing. I did send Mandy a blouse I'd brought her in Italy. It was beautiful, scoop shouldered, and intricate lace. I included a nice card with it.
About a week before Christmas, I heard a knock on the door. Glad for the interruption since I was unable to focus on my writing, I went to the door. It was Cindy, looking very mature. I guess she was seventeen now, almost eighteen. She smiled at me and asked if she could come in. I didn't say anything, just opened the door. She pulled me down and kissed my cheek on the way by.
She had a box and an envelope in her hands but she set them down and said, "I'm going to fix us some tea, okay?"
Without giving me a chance to respond, she went into the kitchen. She came back later with the tea and two saucers and a knife.
"I made you a fruitcake but it's so good I want some too!"
Without saying anymore she opened the package and sliced off some fruitcake for each of us and poured the tea. With a smile she said, "This card is for you!"
I opened it and it was a nice Christmas card with a note inviting me for dinner on Christmas Eve. Both Erin and Cindy had signed it. I looked at Cindy with my eyebrows raised.
"Cindy, I don't understand. it seems like your mom is mad at me! What's this about?"
"Michael, you know I like you a lot, right?" At my nod she continued, "Mom is going through a hard time. She is sorta confused."
I looked at her, confused myself, "I don't understand."
"Look, Michael! You are such a dummy! Mom loves you! I don't know why she has been acting funny but she fell in love with you at the hospital. She didn't know it then, but..."
I guess I just stared at her, so she continued, "I know I seem too young to be giving advice but don't ever try to understand women! Just come over to the house at six on Christmas Eve for dinner. And please be smart enough to bring some flowers and a nice present!"
It sounded like my daughter scolding me! Somewhat speechless I nodded my head and we had the tea and fruitcake!
After she left I tried to understand what had happened. All I got out of that was a headache so I marked the date on my calendar and started thinking about a present. I looked around but couldn't find anything. Finally, cleaning out my jewelry box I found an Antique Wedgewood Cameo that had belonged to my grandmother. It had a picture of a woman standing on a cliff watching a boat sailing away. I'd tried to give it to Mandy but she said it was too sad for her. I had it cleaned and put in a nice presentation box.
On Christmas Eve, I showed up five minutes early, nervous as hell. I had a nice bouquet of assorted flowers and a decent bottle of wine. Cindy opened the door and gave me a big hug and pulled me inside.
I could hear Erin walking from the kitchen as she called out, "Cindy, who's at the door?" as she walked in and saw me standing there.
She looked stunned! "What are you doing here?"
The way she said it and the way she looked at me I could see she had no idea that I was coming over. She and I looked at Cindy, who had the grace to blush, and almost yelled at me, "Well, you weren't invited and you are not wanted here!" Her face was mottled with her anger.
I was crushed. With tears in my eyes I lay the flowers and the gift and turned to the door. In my haste I dropped the wine and I could hear it shatter as I ran to the car. I was a fool! Listening to a kid and building my hopes up! I had to be terminally stupid! I drove home, shamelessly crying. I washed two sleeping pills down with a glass of brandy and fell asleep on the sofa. I couldn't face a long Christmas Eve night alone with my thoughts.
Somewhere in the depth of my dreams I thought I heard the phone ring but wasn't able to raise my consciousness enough to deal with it. The next morning I woke up stiff and disoriented. I stumbled down the hallway to the bathroom and jumped in the shower. I dressed in an old pair of jeans and a new Stanford sweatshirt Mandy had sent me for Christmas. I swallowed down some cereal and went into the living room with some coffee.
I sat there for a couple of hours, thinking of the ways I had screwed up my life. The prize right in front of me all along and I was too dumb to see it. I stared at the blank TV, thinking of Clara and feeling lonely as hell! The phone rang and I assumed it was Mandy. I'd call her later; I didn't want to talk to her now. About eleven the doorbell rang. I ignored it for a bit, but it kept ringing. Finally I jumped up and went to the door, prepared to yell at someone.
Erin was standing there wearing my pendant, looking beautiful! Her eyes were wet and her face was streaked with tears. She didn't say anything; she just came in and hugged me... sobbing into my chest. She was mumbling something but I couldn't understand it. Finally, I disengaged myself and got a wet washcloth from the bathroom and wiped her face off, gently.
"Erin, what's going on?"
She smiled sadly and asked, "Do you have any coffee?"
I went into the kitchen and fixed a fresh pot, taking my time so she could settle down. I didn't have a clue what was going on. I finally went back to the living room with the coffee and I could see she had gone to the hallway bath and fixed her makeup. We were both quiet for a few moments, neither of us looking directly at each other. Finally she came and sat next to me, taking my hand.
"Mike, I fell in love with you at the hospital! No, don't say anything; let me finish or I might run away! I guess it was sadness for you at first but it quickly turned into more. I couldn't say or do anything because I knew you needed time to grieve for Clara. It didn't help that Cindy kept telling me that you were the perfect man for me and hinted she wouldn't mind having you for a father.
"It seemed like we were growing close for a while and then you went to Ixtapa again. When you got back you seemed... different somehow! I was hurt, angry, and jealous; but I had no right to any of those feelings. Then when you got back from the cruise I knew you had found someone else and that you had slept with her. It showed all over you – you looked guilty as hell. But you had no reason to; I had no claim on you except for that love you knew nothing about.
"I hated myself for waiting too long, for not letting you know how I felt. I hated you, too, for being unfaithful to the love you didn't know about. That's pretty dumb, right?"
I could see she didn't expect an answer and I had no idea what to say anyway!
"I talked to Cindy and she told me what she had done. She knew I loved you so she thought it was a great idea. I was so shocked to see you that I didn't react well. I don't want to talk about it now but could you please come over for dinner? Cindy is going to fix everything as atonement to the two of us!"
With that she leaned forward and kissed my cheek, walking away without giving me a chance to react! I sat and thought things over, everything that had happened since Clara had died. I guess in the end I was surprised to figure out that I deeply loved Erin. In a way I had needed Jillian. It almost felt that she was the one Clara had wanted for me. But then I understood that Clara had only meant that she didn't want me to be alone. And I was alone!
I went over to Safeway and picked up some dark red roses. I pulled out the prettiest one and trimmed the stem with my pocketknife. Cindy answered the door again and started trying to apologize. I gave her a hug and shushed her!
Erin walked in, her face flushed a bright red. I handed her the roses and gave her a gentle hug. She took my hand and led me to the dining room. The meal was very nice – Cindy did a great job!
After dinner, Cindy came to me and kissed my cheek, and murmured, "Merry Christmas. I'm going over to Josh's folks' place for dessert and gifts." Pulling my head down, she whispered in my ear, "Be patient with mom. She does love you and I know you love her too!"
From the mouths of babes...
I helped with the dishes and afterward went into the family room in front of the fire roaring merrily in the fireplace and had some brandy. I sat next to Erin on the sofa and took her hands in mine. Without speaking, I put my hand on her cheek and caressing it gently, gave her a light kiss. She put her arm around me and pulled me tight, opening her mouth and making the kiss more passionate. After a few minutes, she stood and looked at me, a question in her eyes. I guess she saw what she was looking for. She took my hand and led me up the stairs to her bedroom.
We were married a couple months after Phil and Mandy had their wedding; we didn't want to distract from their happiness – and we were in no hurry. Cindy was really happy, and her happiness was contagious. The reception at the country club was a blast.
Had I done the right things after Clara died? Probably not, but Erin convinced me I was just human, with all the strengths and frailties that goes with that. I might have been happier sooner but I couldn't be anymore happy than I am now.
Three months after Mandy finished her masters at Stanford she presented me with a beautiful granddaughter. Life was good and I looked forward to living it to the fullest!
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