A few people have had trouble opening the file for the short story I shared in February, so I’m pasting it here for easier reading. Enjoy!
By Alice Workman
“Your turn,” Staci said, indicating the hotel bathroom that she’d just exited. Brian flashed her his Robert Redford smile as he brushed past, and she forced herself to return it. He didn’t seem to notice that she was gripping her hairbrush as though trying to prevent it from jumping out of her hand and biting her.
Sitting on the edge of the king-sized bed, she faced herself in the mirror and quietly, but firmly, ordered her reflection to relax. After all, we love each other, and that’s all that really matters. But as she sat there brushing her long, chestnut hair—hair that she’d brushed only a moment before in the bathroom—she felt the pit in her stomach sink lower and lower.
They had known each other only a few weeks. Like Cinderella and her prince, they’d found each other at a ball. But it had been far from a magical night in a fairytale castle.
Photo by CMSetter at sxc.hu
Staci and her grandmother arrived at the Senior Center at precisely six o’clock. Grandma always insisted on punctuality, and to be late to the one event that she looked forward to each year would be unthinkable.
A stroke, two years before, had left Grandma wheelchair-bound and unable to dance. But she still loved to dress up, to watch the dancing couples, and most of all to hear the music. It makes me feel as though I’m there on the floor with John, she would say, as she swayed gently to the music. How I wish I could dance with him, hold him, just one more time.
As they made their way across the musty, crepe-paper-and-balloon decorated hall, Staci asked, “Where would you like to sit, Grandma?” She already knew the answer.
“Let’s go over to the corner, where John and I always sat.”
Grandma and Grandpa had been married for forty-nine years, when he suddenly passed away. If his heart had only lasted a few more days, Grandma often lamented, we’d have made it to our golden wedding anniversary. But then, we had a golden marriage, so I guess that’ll have to be enough.
Staci was in total awe of their relationship, which seemed to continue in some way even after her grandfather’s death. Her parents, by contrast, had not even stayed together long enough for Staci to be born. Growing up, she had watched her mother tumble from one relationship into another, none of them ever lasting longer than a year.
Staci herself had never had any kind of romantic relationship. To her, attaining fifty years of marriage seemed about as probable as having a blackbird drop a duffle stuffed with a million dollars at her feet. And she often felt that she would gladly pay that million and more to have the kind of love and devotion that her grandparents had shared. When Staci asked what their secret was, Grandma would always say, “It’s the little things that make the difference.”
Little things, Staci sighed. She stared at the closed bathroom door for several minutes without really seeing it. Then she realized with a start that she’d been brushing the same strand of hair over and over again. Laughing, a soft, nervous laugh, she forced herself to lay down the brush. If I keep this up I won’t have any hair left.
She stood up and started to pace. But her left foot was aching and throbbing, scolding her for walking on it again after such a long day. “Darn foot!” She shook her fist at the offending appendage and plopped back down on the bed. “Though I guess I really should be grateful to you for bringing Brian and I together.”
Halfway through the Senior Ball, the band started playing, Unforgettable.
“Staci, dear, would you get us some refreshments?”
Staci stood, and patted the woman lovingly on the hand before walking away. The refreshment table was covered in a thin, blue plastic that couldn’t hide it’s many scars, and looked like an exact replica of previous years, down to the types of punch and cookies that were displayed. She slowly poured two cups of raspberry-red punch, then nibbled on a sugar cookie before putting two on a plate for Grandma. he knew it was “their song,” and wanted to give Grandma some time alone with her memories. As the song ended, she headed back across the floor. A dancing couple suddenly swung in front of her, and as she stepped back she stumbled over a handbag on the floor and lost her balance, spilling punch all over her and slamming into the side of a wheelchair before hitting the floor.
Embarrassed by all the attention that followed, she didn’t notice at first when the tall, blond paramedic walked in with his bag.
“Where are you hurt?”
“Mostly my pride,” she replied, eying the back door and wishing she could somehow escape the crowd that was gathered around her. “But I think my…” She turned to look at him, and there were the bluest, kindest eyes she had ever seen.
“Your what?” he prompted.
“My…my…” She wanted to say ankle, tried to say it, in fact, but couldn’t think of the word. “Eyes…” was all that would come out.
“You hurt your eyes?”
“No. No… I…” She reached harder for the word, and almost had it when she noticed the tag on his shirt: Brian. Brian. She turned the word over in her mind, mentally caressing it.
The concern in his eyes—those gorgeous, blue eyes—seemed to deepen. “Did you hit your head?” he asked, and he examined it carefully, several times, as if expecting that a large bump or open wound would appear any second.
“N-no. I don’t think so.”
“Can you stand?”
Could she? She wasn’t sure. He started to help her to her feet, but the pain shot through her, bringing her back to reality. “Aaaagh!” She pointed to her foot. “I think my ankle’s broken.”
“Alright,” Brian said, turning to another paramedic that Staci hadn’t known was there. “Let’s get her into the ambulance.”
With her throbbing foot jammed into an ice bucket, Staci picked up the hotel menu and started to read, just for something to do:
Crab Dip and Fresh Vegetable Platter. He might not even notice.
Stuffed Mushrooms. Of course he’ll notice!
Cheesecake. The real question is, will he be pleased?
Hot Fudge Sundaes. Or will he be annoyed?
Ginger Ale. Maybe I should order some of that to help settle my stomach.
Raspberry Lemonade. What’s taking him so long, anyway?
Strawberry… Oh, this is ridiculous.
She slammed down the menu and started pacing again, ignoring the pain, and chiding herself for being so silly. He really did love her, though she wasn’t sure why. He certainly couldn’t have been impressed by their first meeting. She smiled as she thought of the lovely picture she must have made in her punch-soaked dress. Her incoherent speech hadn’t helped, either. But Grandma had.
The ambulance had nearly reached the hospital when Staci, lying on a gurney, finally came to herself enough to remember her grandmother. “Oh, no!”
Brian jumped. “What? Are you alright? Do you need something for the pain?”
“Oh! Sorry. That is, yes. No. I mean…I’m alright.” Her cheeks were flushed. “It’s just that Grandma…my grandmother…she can’t…” She swallowed hard, frustrated by her sudden inability to put together a simple sentence. “I was her ride home.”
Brian relaxed a little. “Don’t worry,” he said, as they pulled into the hospital parking lot. “After we get you inside, I have to go back to the Senior Center to pick up my aunt and uncle. I’ll make sure your grandma’s taken care of.”
He had been true to his word. Her grandmother was so impressed by his gentle care, his quick humor, and most of all his availability, that she arranged for a little matchmaking dinner the very next day. That’s all it took. Staci and Brian saw each other every day after that, and within two weeks they were engaged.
Staci stared at the ceiling, fighting the urge to pick up her brush again. It all happened so fast, she couldn’t help thinking. Too fast.
Glancing around the room for something, anything, to distract her, she noticed Brian’s silk bow tie lying on the dresser. She hobbled over and picked it up, slowly fingering it. This morning—was it really just this morning?—she had stood by this man and was joined to him as his wife, and it had felt so right. It was truly the happiest moment of her life.
Lifting the tie to her nose, she closed her eyes and inhaled deeply. The spicy smell of Brian’s cologne transported her to the dance they’d shared together at the reception. Eyes still closed, she began to hum Always and Forever. Humming and swaying, she felt again the warmth of his arms as the band played, each moment with you, is just like a dream to me… “It really does feel like a dream,” she had whispered in his ear. “I’m afraid someday I’m going to wake up and the dream will be gone.”
Smiling, Brian had gently lifted her chin to gaze into her eyes. “Whether you’re dreaming or awake, I will always be beside you.” He had held her closer then, his eyes echoing the words of the song as they told her that he truly would love her forever.
Staci opened her eyes, and the image faded. But the pit in her stomach had been replaced with a lump in her throat. “No more worrying, Staci,” she said out loud. “That’s no way to start off a golden marriage.” She set the tie down with a firm resolve. “Little things can’t—won’t—come between us. Ever. I simply won’t let them.”
As if in response, the bathroom door opened, and Brian started toward her. She looked into his bright blue eyes and smiled, this time a genuine smile that reflected the love and joy she felt inside. Her smile never wavered as he asked her the question that she’d been both expecting and dreading. She nodded in reply.
“Good,” Brian said, taking her in his arms. “I’m actually glad you changed it. I prefer to have the toilet paper roll that way, too.”
© Alice Workman 2011. All rights reserved.
Please do not copy, post, sell or distribute in any way without prior permission.