You're Worth Dying For Ch. 01byEgmont Grigor©
THE STORY: A young and tragically widowed investment entrepreneur Maggie Roberts returns to work. She knows she needs a replacement lover and leads a management buy-out of an ailing publishing company she wants to restructure into new life. Lo -- at last the company's divorced chief executive catches Maggie's eye which doesn't give him much of a chance despite having a female companion of his choice. Maggie is compulsive like that and it's a wise move because Ryan will save Maggie from being taken away as a hostage and possibly executed. Such heroics costs Ryan a bullet through his chest but Maggie is hailed as a heroine for her part in the thwarted robbery and everyone knows heroines don't lose their man. A neighbor and a previously semi-indifferent mother and deep, unexpected association with a hospital teach Maggie the meaning of 'community'. Those contacts develop soft edging to her character even though she becomes -- er - naughtily involved with a wacky mobile radio disc jockey who calls himself Indiana Dick.
Returning from England after the funeral with the ashes of her husband Stephen was yet another traumatic experience for Maggie Roberts, now sitting unloved within her home sanctuary. A child would have filled this gulf in her life; she was deeply conscious of a yearning for the comfort of a family anchor.
A baby, had there been a baby: would she have loved her or him with Stephen now gone? Maggie, head bowed, concluded such a negative thought was unworthy of her but under the circumstances right-thinking women would understand her harboring such thoughts.
Maggie slid that musing aside, accepting there were more pressing matters at hand, such as the imminent arrival of her neighbor from across the street, Mrs Marks, heading for the front door with a big sheath of flowers -- white, not cheerfully multi-colored flowers. Maggie's heart cried out she wanted to be left alone but her mind brought the pragmatic reminder life must go; the Marks's performed as dutiful although rather austere neighbors of the kind that strengthen community solidarity.
Solidarity -- was that what she wanted right now? The twenty-nine year old straightened her blonde curls in the hallway mirror then forming the correct smile and slivering her tongue tip between her rather dry lips opened the door as Mrs Marks pushed the button to activate the door chimes that played the opening bars of 'Three Blind Mice'.
Stephen had always intended to call the serviceman to change that stupid tune, but always there were other priorities, and understandably Maggie was glad that the call to the serviceman remained low priority because gradually she'd become rather addicted to that tuneful piece of childlike frivolity, knowing that some guy with a weird sense of humor at the electronic door bell factory had probably placed the two opening bars of 'Three Blind Mice' as the company's signature tune as the staff cafeteria was infested with the little rodent. Maggie thought like that and somehow that gave her an edge.
"Good morning, Mrs Marks. It's lovely to see you again. How are Mr Marks and Fluffy?"
"We're all fine, but it's you I'm worried about -- you look do pale and lethargic. Have you been eating well?"
"I'm fine, what lovely flowers; would you like to come in?"
Mrs Marks held out the bouquet cradled in her plump arms. "They are the pick of the crop from the garden, welcome home. Unfortunately I am taking Mr Marks to the dentist so can't stay. Can we get anything for you at the supermarket or at the mall?"
Maggie dragged out a warm smile and said no thanks, appreciating the offer. She didn't dare ask about Mr Marks' dental problem in fear of being kept on the doorstep all morning. Discussing medical ailments, health scares and crazy diets were her friendly neighbor's favorite soapbox topics and her ability to talk non-stop and with authority had at times threatened to stupefy Maggie. So on this occasion she spoke with wisdom gained from four years of living under the influence of her talkative neighbor who was inclined to panic needlessly: "Don't allow me to be responsible for Mr Marks being late for his appointment."
"Oh, thank God I have a young mind to keep me alert -- yes, I must be off; will talk later. Good-bye dear."
"Although your kind thoughts count for most, I think these flowers are a tribute to your gardening skills," Maggie said warmly. "They are prize specimens."
Mrs Marks beamed as said she had changed her mind and chosen the white chrysanthemums. She had began picking a colorful array but then thought it might be a little too early to introduce color into Maggie's life. She waved and was off, allowing Maggie to release a huge sigh. On the flight home she'd despaired at the thought of Mrs Marks calling and discussing in detail Stephen's tragic death, the funeral including who was and who wasn't there and how Maggie proposed to carry on life without her husband.
In excruciating mental anguish at the prospect of having to relive private thoughts with a chatterbox though kindly neighbor had filled Maggie with dread in the flight home, and for a few crazy moments she'd considered at not returning -- having a Realtor sell the home on her behalf, thus avoiding having to face Mrs Marks; and, of course, others. Reason then prevailed; an inner voice telling her she'd never been cowardly so there was no reason to find a yellow streak now. At that point the motherly flight attendant who'd been chatting to her earlier arrived with a second cocktail -- unordered but gratefully received and soon she felt revived, ready to deal with life in which Mrs Marks and clones meant well however misguided they were.
Mrs Marks was no slouch as a gardener as the stalks were long and already cut in a slight variation of lengths, so when Maggie dropped the chrysanthemums into a tall vase and fluffed them up and outwards with cupped hands they fell back almost perfectly into a rounded shape from the centre. They looked so beautiful and not at all like they had been delivered by the replica of a soulful looking undertaker's assistant.
Maggie sat at her dressing table she often used as a writing desk. Choosing a card featuring two attractively drawn cats looking expectantly at an unopened can of jelly-meat she wrote thanking Mrs Marks for the flowers and kindness and praised her for being such a warm-hearted neighbor. She then wrote a postscript that was as long as the thank you message.
PS: I would be most grateful, Mrs Marks if you and Mr Marks do not discuss in my presence my husband's death, the funeral in England and my life without him. I'm in no hurry to forget him but it will distress me to hear others talk to me about him or my life without him. I'm now ready to resume life without Stephen and it would please me to just live privately with my thoughts about him. It may distress you to be told this so early in the piece but my intention is to remarry and if possible to have children. I have no person in mind or a timetable.
Your friend, Maggie.
Maggie walked across and placed the envelope in the Marks' mailbox, thinking with that accomplished it was as if she'd taken a giant step forward in her new life. Fluffy Marks followed Maggie back to her house and the beautifully groomed Persian waited patiently by its saucer for milk. Fluffy's preference was to eat solids at home and to cross the street to the Roberts's home for liquids. On very hot days Stephen used to pour Fluffy chilled beer which she lapped up faster than milk.
Arriving home Maggie had been pleased to find little trace of Stephen's personal possessions in the house. Her mother Harriet and friends had removed all of his clothes and presumably disposed of them, without asking Maggie. That suited her fine. She checked in the garage -- his car had gone. It was a bigger than hers but she had no wish to swap as she loved her luxurious black Lexus two-door Sports Limited. She smiled; all the tools remained on the workbench or hanging on the wall behind it -- her mother obviously thinking the replacement husband would have his own car but possibly not tools. Good thinking, mother, thought Maggie, for the ten thousandth time wishing her mother had been more thoughtful in naming her Waverly (meadow of quivering aspens) after Harriet's former home in south-west England, an estate on which her father -- Maggie's grandfather -- still farmed as a country gentleman. Maggie had her name changed formerly the day she turned eighteen.
Her mother had not asked whether Maggie would remarry as it hadn't been necessary, knowing her daughter had been waiting to start a family and since her late teens had preferred being in the company of a male. This predilection for fringing into the world of men had influenced Maggie to qualify in law and to continue on to gain an MBA and then, with a hugely handsome advance from her grandfather screwed from him on the night after she graduated in London with her business administration degree. The wily graduate encouraged him to drink the champagne with a whisky chaser -- a combination he rather liked. That helped to loosen his tongue and soften his frugal ways with money, she reminding him she was his only granddaughter -- there were four grandsons -- and it would be a grand opportunity to divest some of his wealth outside of Britain.
Only fools part with their money readily but at least she had secured the loan money in principle. She returned to New Zealand where she developed a business plan, investigated some proposed investments, and then met her grandfather Otis in Malta where he was holidaying and won him over, completely. His current traveling companion (his wife hated leaving home) took an instant liking to Maggie and the friendship with Anna was reciprocated. Two days before Maggie left for home Anna's son, hurriedly summonsed by his mother with an eye for other things beside horseflesh and jewelry, arrived and pounced.
Within hours of their meeting Stephen Roberts was in Maggie's bed -- not invited but nor was he kicked out. Hotel management threatened to have them leave the hotel unless they ceased making such a noise and running down to the pool together drunk and naked. Maggie would always remember her last 48 hours in Malta as the most exciting, stimulating and utterly outrageous time of her life to date. Anna Roberts and Otis Holbrow rather enjoyed being in the company of the licentiously compatible fun-loving couple and gave them every encouragement.
Sighing at reliving those memories, Maggie returned to the house and although she'd arrived home late the previous night and slept in her bed for the first time in a month she had failed to notice the new photograph on the bedside cabinet on her old side of the bed. It was of Stephen -- he'd been to the photographer's only days before his death; obviously her mother had been contacted and gone in to collect and pay for the photographs. It was very good and Maggie decided to leave it there for the time being as she did not feel compelled to jettison his every presence.
She'd already noticed their wedding photographs had been left on the hallway wall -- really, her mother was so good. No, that wasn't correct, she was so much like Harriet they thought and acted similarly, almost like twins and both were aware of this. Usually it had produced little more than a laugh and the ability to like each other's purchases in clothing, furniture and cosmetics. But now her mother's ability to comb through the house and remove the remnants of a marriage that were no longer required was little short of amazing, and a great relief really.
Well, the decks had been cleared so where was the new husband; would her mother produce him or -- Maggie rolled her eyes -- would Mrs Marks manage to that?
The phone went, it was Mrs Marks.
"Thank you for your lovely card -- I adore the water-color," Mrs Marks said. "Your postscript makes absolute sense to me and I shall abide with your wishes. You are a very sensible young woman."
"Well thank you."
"Look, please call me Lillian. This Mrs Marks tag by someone your age makes me feel old."
"Okay, Lillian. Nice name."
"I've always disliked my first name."
"Join the club."
Lillian asked Maggie if she could come to dinner on Saturday.
The feeling of dread hit Maggie but she kept the smile in her voice. She knew she was available because she'd cleared her diary for a full month, which ended on Sunday.
"I am available but may I ask the reason for this invitation?"
"Yes, of course. Someone will be there I wish you to meet."
"A male, I assume."
"Yes, am I naughty?"
Resisting the urge to say yes, Maggie said, "In that case I'll come reluctantly."
"Is it too early for this?"
Maggie considered that. "No, but since the world is full of self-confident young women like me, match-making has gone the way of lace curtains."
"I have lace curtains."
"Hmm," Maggie sighed, resisting having a sly dig.
"His name is Peter, a divorcee, who is my nephew. I don't particularly like him which probably means you may, although I can't for the life of me explain that comment. At the very least it will present you with the chance of working up into some bedtime together if that is an interest of yours."
Maggie's eyes opened wide. "Lillian, are you being coached by someone? This doesn't sound at all like you; first a matchmaker and now a procurer of bedfellows. Whatever next?"
Lillian sounded a little less confident. "This conversation has rather taken off on us. In no way did I wish to offend you."
"No, you haven't but I must run. Look, I'll come to dinner on Saturday but for goodness sake don't even breathe a suggestion that I could be interested in him, even if limited to a one night romp -- it would result in a disastrous dinner for you. Remember also that blind-dating has a huge failure rate; one only hears about the successes. Thank you for thinking so kindly about a womanly need I might be feeling, though I doubt that I am. That of course could change in a flash if I say a guy in tight leather trousers were to bend down to tie a shoe lace."
"You want me to ask him to wear leather trousers?"
Horrified, Maggie urged Lillian to say no such thing, not even to think about it. She was relieved to be told two other couples would be at the dinner -- younger friends of the Marks's.
The previous evening Maggie had arrived home late by cab as Harriet had gone with girlfriends to the national hairdressing championships in Wellington so was not available to meet and deliver her home; Maggie's fourth-in-line stepfather, Max Lapp, a Realtor, was available; however, Harriet knew better than to send him as chauffeur as her daughter couldn't stand the swine -- Maggie's current name for him -- after he groped Maggie at Harriet's Christmas party. Eventually the also drunk Maggie had the presence of mind to wallop him, breaking his nose in two places.
Harriet considered divorcing Max over that but Maggie talked her out of that suggesting Harriet wheedle a new car out of the swine for fouling up her Xmas party and attempting to be unfaithful to her. Max hated Maggie for costing him $65,000 less trade-in for the new car. But in this typical way of a super-salesman, he rotated his mind three-sixty degrees to decide he now worshipped Maggie for saving his marriage.
The car was available in seven different colors so Harriet phoned Maggie from the dealer's showroom unable to decide which color. "Choose white Harriet -- it's virginal, it's so you," Maggie said playfully, only to hear her mother say, "That's it; I can always rely on you darling," before terminating the call.
Maggie began calling her mother Harriet when she was almost twelve, at her mother's suggestion. They were both ground down by the never-ending comments -- usually from women -- that they couldn't possibly be mother and daughter. Thus behaving as if they were sisters seemed to be the right thing to do, and it worked, wonderfully. Rather late along the road they learned not to answer any question about their relationship and that brought further relief. Because there were only fifteen years and ten months difference between them, and they were reasonably close look-alikes, they accepted there was novelty about their relationship.
Driving the new car over to show Maggie -- a very expensive town car because Harriet rarely drove herself beyond city limits -- her mother divulged that Max would now do anything in the world for Maggie for saving his marriage.
Gratified to hear that, Maggie's response was: "Then tell the swine to stay away from me."
"Really dear," said he mother, checking her lipstick and eye makeup, "he was drunk when he fondled you. He explained to me, quite convincingly I thought, that he was interested in trying you out to see how we compared."
That shocked Maggie. "And you allowed the swine to get away with that or did you re-break his nose?"
Harriet did her best to look apologetic. "He did admit that he thought I would win the assessment because I have a little more flesh on my bones and waggle my ass more than you do."
"Mother, I can't believe I'm hearing this. That slimy toad has no right to be thinking about me like that. The man ought to be castrated."
"Oh darling," soothed Harriet. "Remember, he's only male and you know that Realtors have difficulty coping with ethics."
"He can't fucking well spell the word ethics so what hope is there of understanding ethical behavior!"
"Hush, dear. You know your mother becomes uncomfortable in the presence of bad language. Should I tell him you're still upset and he'll have to give you a beach-house to buy your off?"
Maggie looked at her mother steely-eyed, the cornflower blue eyes under her shaggy blonde hair appearing almost navy blue. "Go now mother before I go for your neck and if you dare mention just one word of what we've just discussed I really will attempt to throttle you. I don't want that swine thinking about me, do you understand?"
"Yes dear. Perhaps I should have divorced him but the trouble is if I looked for a replacement people would start counting and realizing just how many husbands I've had. Well, I'll be off now; have a nice day."
Maggie, waving her mother off, had reflected on a comparison -- she had either twenty-eight or twenty-nine pairs of shoes, plus slippers, boots and sneakers whereas her mother was breaking in husband number five. Her question was which one of them was the more excessive? Her mother, of course -- she also had something like eighty pairs of shoes. Was this line of thought relevant? It sure was, getting her mind off her latest stepfather, the creep.
On the way to the kitchen to pick up her car keys, Maggie wondered if her mother would be better at sexually pleasing men and extracting more personal enjoyment from such activity than she was capable of achieving in any other pursuit apart from shopping. One was unlikely to ever know the answer to that; it was such a private thing and too subjective for easy comparison. Her mother, however, was absolutely marvelous at attracting men to her honey pot or whatever she called it.
Maggie's father Raymond now lived in South Africa and had remarried and was raising five children. The only contact they had with him was the annual exchange of Xmas cards. According to Harriet, Maggie's father, then a senior aircraft engineer in the Air Force, left them because he wanted to return to England where they'd first met but Harriet had refused to go; they began fighting and finally he divorced her. His successors -- Jack, Grayson and Douglas -- divorced Harriet as according to her she was too extravagant and too sexy for them, whatever that meant. It's not something you normally discuss in detail with your mother although Maggie knew she had only to ask as Harriet loved nattering with her about anything.