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Friday, May 11, 2018

the sea shell

Shell, Shells, Nature, Beautiful, Beauty“I’m going to walk along the beach.” I drop the words over my shoulder as I walk past the recliner where my husband sits. I touch his arm; he half-smiles, his eyes lazy with fatigue. “Okay. But don’t stay too long; I want to take you out for supper.”
      I waggle my fingers in a goodbye motion as I open the door on a watery world. The condo is one of several on this stretch of prime beach property in the Outer Banks region of North Carolina. We don’t own it, but we have a generous friend who couldn’t use her time share. 
     “You take it.” She said. “After the wedding, you’ll need a quiet place to rest and 
recharge.” She got an impish twinkle then. “And maybe, revive some romance.”
     I rolled my eyes at her, outwardly downplaying what sounded like a good idea. Or at least, it might have if I hadn’t been to the saturation point with all things related to romance.
     Weddings do that to the mother of the bride. What once seemed so sweet and wonderful evokes near nausea. Oh, it has nothing to do with the groom, bless his heart. Poor dear already fears his mother-in-law (gracious, is that me?) No, the sick feeling washes over me every time I realize anew that romance in my daughter’s life means she’s changed homes as well as names. My legs suddenly feel weak, and I sink to the sand. It is sun-warmed and damp. I wish I could reclaim my emotional balance as well.
     A wave breaks at my feet, its foam reminding me of frothy bridal dresses. I remember the other times she wore white – her christening, a friend’s wedding, her high school graduation. I wonder if white is a color anyway, or just an empty space left when the vibrancy of life is gone.
     A solitary shell sits a couple feet from me; I stretch to get it. The underneath is satiny smooth, with a wondrous pink tint. I gentle my finger across it. My little girl always treasured shells. Her collection in a large pickle jar sits on the shelf in her closet; it didn’t make the cut of the things that moved with her. I put the shell back on the sand for another little girl to discover and release the tears that have been threatening me all afternoon.
     A vortex of emotion controls me. I birthed that child, taught her to play patty-cake, told her the story about The Three Bears, scolded her, hugged her, dressed her and worried over her. I miss my mommy role. Yet, I delight in the woman she has become, partly with my help, partly in her own right, through God’s goodness. I would not keep her a child, unaware of the greater scope of living. A mother joys in the blossoming of her child though all the while she frets over the process. Oh, what a complicated thing is motherhood. I hope a day will come when this season too will seem normal and good.
     The phone in my pocket rings. “Hello?”
     “Hi . . . Mom?”
     I swallow hard, put brightness in my voice. “Hi, baby! How are you?” (Dumb question. She’s a happy bride.)
     “Awesome . . . except I just spilled shrimp cocktail sauce on my new skirt.”
     “Uh-oh. The one we bought last week?”
     “Mm-hm. A big spot right in front. And I can’t remember if I’m supposed to use 
hot or cold water on this kind of stain.”
     The mothering nature in me wants to remind her how many times we’ve discussed laundry stains and their treatment, and then I realize I’m being asked something by my adult daughter. She needs me. Sure, it’s a small thing, but after all, isn’t most of mothering about the small things in life? And the small things usually turn out to be the most important.
     The world slowly tilts back into focus. The beach is beautiful. The sunny day is glorious. The sand welcomes my toes. The clouds are happy puffs of white—white is a color after all. I’m a mother. Mothers make things better. I hug her with my voice. “Don’t worry; I’m sure you can get it out. Go to the restroom and dab it gently with cold water. Then, when you get to your room, use one of those stain wipes we packed, okay?”
      “Okay.” I hear a voice in the background. “Oh, and I’m supposed to tell you (from the guy sitting across from me that the chicken salad at the reception was amazing, and that we can’t wait to visit and eat more of your cooking.”
     The afternoon is totally brilliant. My heart and voice smile. “That’s sweet. I’m looking forward to it too.” Come to think of it, she’d married a guy with some good qualities.
     “Well, I need to go now.”
     “Okay, honey. It was nice to hear from you.”
     “Bye, Mama. I love you.”
     The words pull me into a wave of wonderfulness. I catch my breath and whisper. “I love you too.”
     I stand up to start toward the condo. My phone rings again. The screen displays the name of a friend who has been with me through everything and who understands my journey like no one else. I smile as I answer. “Hi, Babe. Where are you taking me tonight?”
     Out of the corner of my eye, I see a mother and a little girl walking my way, collecting shells. I pick up the one beside me to give to her. She’ll love it. 

 - VQ 

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Married to Mr. X

Angela fingered the revolver and hoped it didn’t show under her wedding gown. It really would be too bad if she had to use it before she was ready. The extra time and trouble she had taken to find a special holster had been worth it though; no one could possibly guess that the jacketed dress concealed a weapon. Well, maybe the groom had a suspicion, but then she would expect him to.

The sun was shining as she mounted the church steps; a lovely day for a lovely deception. If only everything went off the way it was supposed to. She had practiced until she knew exactly how many seconds it took to walk down the aisle, turn and face the man she was going to marry.

The music started; in front of her, the bridesmaids swirled one by one in measured rhythm. Now it was her turn. Angela took a breath, let it out and started walking. Faces turned toward her, some smiles, some bored, but no one crying. Ah, yes, but this wasn’t a traditional wedding anyway.  

She reached the front, turned slightly toward the straight figure waiting for her and looked at – a perfect stranger.  

She felt her guard slip for a moment. He met her eyes, shook his head almost imperceptibly. Angela held the bouquet with one hand; raised trembling fingers to tuck a feathery wisp behind her ear. He wasn’t the one! Should she go through with this? What other chance did she have? 

She wildly sorted her options as the minister’s voice droned on. She played the part, smiled, said the words, and even clasped the masculine hand offered her as the vows were said.  

But she knew the kiss was coming. It was the pivotal point of the wedding, especially this one. Just like Judas, she’d said to herself in the days of preparation. The ancient signal had seemed a natural choice. She was prepared to endure it for the sake of victory. What should she do now? What. . .  

“. . . may kiss the bride.”  

It was time. The man beside her turned, lifted the veil and smoothed it back. She forced herself to look into his eyes, eyes that were . . . amused? 

He put his arms around her, bent his head and whispered against her lips, “When I say 'now,' follow me.” 

It wasn’t really a kiss, but it must have looked like it to the crowd. There were a few oohs and aahs and gentle laughs. But Angela was reaching for her composure as the minister presented them and the organ trilled out the recessional.  

She had not counted on this. Where was George Crowder, entrepreneur, debonair ladies’ man and Angela’s bridegroom? And who was the man she had just married? The agency was going to get an earful as soon as she could make contact.  

While she wondered how she would explain all this to the well bred group of well-wishers, she quick-walked with him toward the back of the church, followed by a flutter of bridesmaids. In the foyer, he turned suddenly and said in her ear, “Now!” 

Down the basement steps he pulled her, through a narrow hall and into a dark room in the back. She felt a tug as her dress caught on something. Yanking at it, she stumbled, gripping his hand to keep from plunging headfirst into a sprawl.  

“Hurry!” He said and pointed toward a shaft of light coming from a corner where there were more steps. 
Angela was feeling frightened. She stopped and tried to glare at him, one foot on the step downward.  

“Look, would you mind telling me who you are and what is going on here?” 

“We don’t have time for that.”  

“Yes, we do. For goodness sake, I just married you, Mr. . . .” 

“Just consider me the guy who saved you from Crowder.” 

“And how do you know about him?” 

“He happens to be my stepfather.” 

 “You mean you’re the George I married?” 


“But I don’t understand. What about the people, the papers, the pl. . . ?” Angela stopped. 

“The plan? Yes, I know about it. I’ll explain everything as soon as we’re safe. Now, let’s go, and please watch that thing.” He nudged her shoulder gently. And she froze. He knew she had a gun. 

“Would you really have shot him?” 

“You said you know everything. What do you think?” 

“I think the agency asked too much of you.” 

“I carry my own weight; when I have a job, I do it.” 

“But this time you don’t have to.” 

Angela didn’t know where this was going. They had emerged into a narrow alley, hemmed in by towering brick buildings and not in the greatest part of town. Suddenly, a black car careened to a stop in front of them. The man snatched the door open and shoved her in, jumping in after her as the driver sped off. 

“It’s over, Angela.” The man beside her took her hand and held it. 

“Please tell me what is going on.” She wasn’t sure if she should slap him or hug him. 

“Let me first assure you that your country is grateful. The assignment wasn’t easy; you toughed it out.” 

“So, I am to assume that you have both the knowledge and the clearance to discuss this topic with me?” 

“You may. And you should also know that you haven’t been alone.” He winked.  

“You mean you’ve been tailing me?” 

“I guess you could call it that. The fact is, I never intended for it to go this far; I didn’t want you to be in any danger. But, of course, things never go as we plan, do they?” 

“Tell me about it.”  Angela stared out the window as the limousine turned off the freeway and headed toward the distant peaks, cloaked in gold and crimson. “By the way, where in the world are we going? And what is next in the plan?” 

“George” smiled and spoke softly. “I thought you’d never ask.” He took her hand. “Let me lay it out for you. First, we go to the agency’s mountain retreat for debriefing. Not the most fun, but necessary, as you know so well. Then, we change into casual clothes and have dinner at a great little place where there’s a fireplace and they serve hot cocoa in mugs as fat as pumpkins.” 

“And then?” 

“Then, Angela, I ask you to marry me as me, and not as an assignment.” 

“But you don’t even know me!” 

“Oh, I wouldn’t say that. A man learns an awful lot about a girl when he’s been her shadow for eight months. Besides, I’m an agent, remember? I specialize in reading the character of others.” 

“So you’ve been ‘reading’ me, I guess.” Angela felt her face getting pink. 

“Just in the primer level, honey. But I’ve got a lifetime to get my graduate degree. And, now, how about handing over that gun? The Lord and I will keep you safe from now on.”  -- VQ 

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