Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Chapter 1

Chapter #1

You’re so late, Em! What a great impression you’ll make interrupting the Principal’s speech! Looking at my watch, I realized I’d have to pass the “World’s Greatest Grandma” in the Plymouth ahead of me if I wanted to make it on time for my first day of work. I guess “The Little House on the Prairie” episode shouldn’t have been a priority, ehhh Sanders?

I ran my second yellow light of the morning as I pulled my green Honda into the parking lot of Grover High School. GHS, home of the ‘Mighty Warriors,’ and now me, Emma Marie Sanders, 11th grade English teacher. I was about to begin the first ‘grown up’ job of my life, standing on the threshold of an actual career: Teaching. No more French Fry flinging for me. I was ready to enlighten the minds of Grover’s youth; to build a foundation of change; to help them hearken to the voice of their inner soul as only one in tune with youth can do. Call me an idealist, a romantic, whatever, but I believed that not only would my student’s lives be changed by this experience, but mine would as well. I smiled as I checked my reflection in the rear view mirror. Well, kind of. Enlightening students is great, but I’d rather pay off some student loans!

I reached into the back seat, grabbed my purse, and checked for the day’s agenda.

7:30-8am- Continental Breakfast
8:00-8:15-Welcome by Superintendent Jones
8:15-8:30- Welcome by Principal Regan
8:30-12pm- Work in Departments
12pm-1pm- Lunch in Cafeteria
1pm-3pm- Team Building Activities

Looks like a full day. Checking my watch, I realized it was already 8:05. Emma, what a great impression you’ll make; late on your first day.

Although late, I had taken special care with my outfit this morning, choosing something that would compliment my hazel eyes. My brown hair hung straight to my back, and I wore a white button up over a cami. Khaki capris and brown Steve Madden sandals completed the look. Mom would say I looked like I was going on safari. I locked my door, and headed across campus to the library where our meeting had already begun.

Grover was a small farming community located just south of our State’s capitol. There were more cows per capita than people, and a drive down main-street literally took less than five seconds. The only claim to fame, other than the pervading odor of dairy land, was the high school. This was definitely a high school town, with Grover High’s ‘Mighty Warrior Wear’ sold at the town’s drug store, pictures of all the different teams hanging on the walls at Denny’s, and the local video store selling copies of every home football game all the way back to 1974. Yes, this was a great American little town, one I was now proud to be associated with.

The high school was fairly large and was made up of both brick buildings and gleaming new portables. There were also expansive grassy areas, practically creating two separate campuses. If I didn’t know my way around, I might feel as lost as a freshman on her first day of school, but luckily I had been a substitute here for part of the previous year. I had also made friends with a few of the teachers, and happened to spot two of them as I quietly opened the library door, and attempted to slide in undetected.

Luck was with me, as I walked over and sat my purse down on an empty chair. “Did you save me a seat?” I whispered, poised to drop down on a vacant spot next to Hannah and Jill.

“Actually, we’re saving it for the new History teacher. Have you seen him? He’s gorgeous!” answered Jill, checking to make sure no one had heard her.

“She’s only partially joking, Em. Sit down before everyone notices you were five minutes late!” Hannah said, tossing her golden hair and trying to stifle her laughter. “How was your summer?”

“Not bad,” I murmured, sitting down. “Too short, though. How about you guys?”

“Mine was great,” said Jill, turning her bronzed face my way. “My parents took our family on a cruise to Mexico for a week. Good times.”

“I finished up a few classes at the University,” sighed Hannah. “No good times for me! What did you do, Em?”

I glanced up to make sure the Superintendent hadn’t completed his speech. Noticing no change, I replied, “Most of the summer was boring. I taught summer school, that’s how I landed the full time position, and I visited Ron’s family.”

“Cool,” Jill said. “Okay, so back to the new History teacher? He’s incredible! I did some snooping and found out that….”

“Shhh,” hissed one of the French teachers. “Please stop your chatting we can’t hear what they’re saying.”

“Sorry,” I mouthed back, and turning my head to the front of the room, I waited for a minute before I pulled out a piece of paper and wrote, “I’m not interested, Jill. I just got an e-mail from Ron, so you can stop trying to tempt me with your slew of hot men! He said his job in New Mexico would be finished in a few months, then he’d come home and we’d begin planning our wedding. Isn’t that wonderful?”

Ron Banks and I had been together since my sophomore year in college. He was the kind of guy I’d always hoped I would marry, but knew was way out of my league. A double major in engineering and physics proved he was brilliant, but he was also funny, charming, and extremely attractive. With brown hair, and brown eyes on his six foot tall frame, he really was the man of my dreams. We’d met at a party my old roommate was throwing. He’d just come home from Africa with the peace corp., and I’d broken up with a serious boyfriend a few weeks earlier. We were both at different places in our lives, but had clicked. Our friendship gradually turned to something deeper and although it took longer than I’d anticipated, he was finally talking about marriage.

“Emma, you’ve been dating Ron for five years,” she wrote back. “Do you really think he’ll ever settle down? I mean the guy flies airplanes, races cars, sky dives, and mountain climbs. According to leading anthropologists, that particular breed of species doesn’t want any strings attached; they want a girl who’s willing to be a pit stop on their road of life, and honey you aren’t a pit stop.”

Forgetting where I was, I wadded up the paper, and tossed it at her. “Dang Jill, when you put it that way I’ll be 105 and still hoping for an official proposal. Ron is the best thing that has happened to me, and I’m not going to jeopardize that by….”

“Be quiet, you two. Principal Regan is looking right at you,” hissed Hannah.

“When did he get up there?”

“When you were day dreaming about your man,” she replied.

“…and once again, I’d like to say welcome. We at Grover High School know you’ll all be incredible assets to our faculty, which ensures our students will not only excel academically, but also in the realms of the real world. We’d now like you to meet with your departments and go over curriculum. We’ll reconvene in the cafeteria at noon for lunch.”

“Woo-Hoo, meetings!” uttered Jill, unenthusiastically as the room broke out into noise. “I can’t think of a better way to spend the morning.”

“Other than leave and go get some breakfast?” I said grabbing my purse as I stood up.

“Yeah,” she replied, gathering her things. “If only that were possible.”

“Well, have fun with your drab science and math meetings, girls. I’m off to be enlightened by Shakespeare and Whitman. I’ll see you at lunch.”

“Emma, how are you going to teach literary classics if you only read Danielle Steele?” Hannah shouted at me as I headed into a throng of people feeling like a salmon going up stream.

Turning, I stuck my tongue out at her as the force of bodies swept me further away. Now where was that room again?


After four excruciating hours of reviewing conjugation, split infinitives, and participle phrases, I would have been fine if lunch consisted of gruel, but luckily it didn’t. Steak sandwiches, rice, steamed veggies and salad was on the menu for the day. I filled up a plate and looked around for Hannah and Jill, before spotting them on the other side of the cafeteria, and made my way precariously through the salmon, once again.

“Hey, girls," I said slumping down in a chair. "I don’t know about you, but I would rather split the atom than have diagramed all those sentences. It was murder! The department requires no scantron tests, seven to ten essays a year, plus research papers and novels to read. I’m glad Ron’s gone, otherwise I wouldn’t have the time to grade at all.” I picked up a roll and tore of the heel, gnawing it inconsolably.

“Blah, blah, blah! Listen,” whispered Jill, lowering her voice and looking around.

“What?” I asked leaning in.

“We invited Warner to sit with us.”

“Who?” I asked

“Warner. The hot History teacher.”

“How did you talk to him? We’ve all been in meetings for the last two hours.”

“I ran into him by the bathroom.”

“The bathroom? Jill, you’re a germ freak! There’s no way you’d use a public bathroom. What did you really do?” I asked shaking my head.

“Okay, Okay. I saw what room his meeting was in and when he walked out I excused myself to the bathroom. I had to! If I didn’t brand him as ‘ours’, Em, the girls in foreign language would have snagged him; they speak French, for pity’s sake. How can we compete with that? Besides, what else was I supposed to do?” She asked throwing up her hands in despair.

“And,” continued Hannah “we’ve done our research. His name is Warner Hall, and he just graduated from Creighton.”

“Impressive,” I said mocking their exuberance.

“He played college football, and was an All-American for two years as a tight-end…don’t say it, Em.”

“Hmmm,” I said ignoring her warning. “I’ve always wondered if you had to have a tight end to play one.”

“…And he wants to coach football here. We also found out he graduated from Grover six years ago.”

“Oh, a home town boy. How sweet,” I finished m y roll and waited for more news, getting none, I continued. “Well, girls, I will say that I’m impressed you’ve done your research on this one. It just seems every time you smell fresh blood in the water, you attack.”

“Emma,” Hannah said slightly annoyed. “You don’t know what it’s like! You’ve been with Ron for five years. It’s hard being single.”

I looked out across the table at my two friends. Hannah’s baby blue sweater matched her translucent eyes. A natural blush marked her fair complexion, and a halo of corn silk hair framed her face. She looked like a painting of Raphael’s angels. Jill was the complete opposite. An olive complexion with coal black hair, which hung straight to her shoulders, and eyes the shade of an Indian Jade pendant; there was an exotic mystique about her.

Oh it is hard. I lowered my eyes, and began to tap the table guiltily remembering that piece of my life. I’m so glad I’m not there anymore. Single means alone, and I am so lucky to have Ron. Why was I so lucky? What caused me, Emma Marie Sanders, to be with a great guy for five years? Me, who used to be called ‘Munch-Munch’ or ‘M&M in grade school, because of my propensity to eat anything (not to mention my shape). Me, who had to ask my cousin from out of town to take me to my Senior Ball? What gave me the right to believe I could expound all this knowledge onto someone else, when I really knew nothing about the ways of men except for one?

“I know, Hannah. I’m sorry, I was just kidding,” I replied, leaning over and touching her hand. “I can’t wait to see what Mr. Perfect looks like, and if there is any substance in his big football exterior.”

“Even you’ll be impressed, Miss Priss. Oh, here he comes.” She moved her hand and waived it above my head. “Warner,” she shouted, “we’re over here.”

Let me interrupt for a second. Have you ever had a moment, one that seems to have been scripted in the stars, where you dream the most gorgeous creature walks up to you and says “Hello.” How would you react? Well, if this was still a dream, you’d be wearing your skinny jeans, have on the perfect sweater that sets of the natural highlights in your hair, and be just the right blend of witty and flirtatious to make him drool.

Yeah, this wasn’t one of those moments. In a signature move, I dropped my fork, and while bending over to get it, hit my head on the table. Clutz! Straightening up, I locked eyes with the most beautiful specimen of a man I had ever seen. Whoa!!

“Emma, this is Warner Hall. Warner, this is Em,” said Jill making the introductions.

“Hi,” I said, with my eyes frozen on him, not realizing I’d uttered a word.

“Hi, Emma,” he said shaking my hand. “Is it Emma, or do they call you Em?”

"Uh-huh,” I said even more incoherently than before. Emma! Pull it together, woman. You are twenty-four years old, not some silly high school girl meeting a Hollywood crush. You are a professional! Snap out of this! You have a boyfriend; there is no reason for you to act like a fool!

“Ron,” I said out loud. “My boyfriend’s name is Ron.” Good job, idiot! That was smooth.

“That’s great,” Warner replied releasing my hand and quizzically raising his eyebrows. “You must have hit your head harder than it seemed. Do you guys want anything? I forgot a soda so I have to go back anyway. Maybe some ice so you won’t get a bump?”

“Uh, could you get me a new fork and a water?” I asked, trying to sound casual.

“I’ll take a Sprite.”

“Me too,” echoed Hannah.

“Sure, I’ll be right back, just don’t spit in my food or anything, okay?” he said winking, as he turned and walked back towards the buffet tables.

Jill and Hannah burst out laughing as he left. “That’s the least I’ve ever heard you talk, Em,” said Hannah between fits of hysterics.

“I especially loved the part about Ron. Warner’s look was classic,” finished Jill, trying to catch her breath. “‘My boyfriend’s name is Ron.’ It’s a good thing you brought that up in the first minute of your conversation.”

“Yeah, well at least he knows not to waste his time on her, and he can turn all his attention to us,” Hannah joked.

“Yeah, Yeah, Yeah. I don’t want to hear it anymore,” I said, trying to suppress the flush in my cheeks. “You guys were right, though. He’s magnificent! My, gosh, his eyes are hypnotic. The word ‘blue’ can’t even describe them!” Realizing I was getting a little too excited, I changed my tactics. “I have to admit you’ve picked a good one girls. If nothing else, he’ll be great eye-candy.”

The three of us looked across the room to where Warner was talking to someone in the History department. I began to size him up, and quickly forced myself to become detached. Sandy brown hair, 6’2”, and shoulders you could park a truck on. He was built well enough to fill in his navy blue ‘Creighton Alumni’ polo shirt and khaki slacks. Glancing up at that moment, he caught me staring at him, and flashed me a smile. If I hadn’t armed myself with Teflon Man Deflectors years ago, it probably would have melted me into a puddle of goo.

Emma, can’t you see this guy is trouble? Don’t be fooled by a pair of eyes and a body like that. You’re vulnerable because you haven’t seen Ron for a few months. Shake it off, Em! Just be your friendly self. The much-needed pep talk boosted my defenses. Taking a deep but subtle breath, I once again began chatting mindlessly with the girls.

After half an hour of small talk, Principal Regan took the microphone. “Okay, everyone. If you could all quiet down and take you seats. We are now moving on to the ‘touchy feely’ part of our meetings today.”

“I like that idea,” yelled someone from the back.

Laughter and jeers were met with silence from the administration.

“Continuing on,” said Principal Regan glaring icily in the heckler’s direction, “if you would remove your ID badges and look on the back, there will be a name printed in red. That person will be your partner for the remainder of today’s activities. Please find them in the next few minutes, and wait for further instructions.”

Instantly the room erupted into moving chairs, hollering of names, and the clicking of high-heeled shoes. The noise level was worse than a Rock concert, and I could barely handle the commotion.

“I’m waiting for someone to find me,” I said folding my arms across my chest, and sitting back down in my seat.
“What makes you think your partner won’t hide from you?” taunted Jill.

“Because I am a nice person, who is a good listener, and has special qualities.”

“Like what?” asked Warner above the racket.

“Well, for starters, I have a bag of candy in my purse,” I replied, taking out the stash my younger cousins had left from the movies two nights before. “Now, other than me, who doesn’t like candy?”

“You don’t like candy?” he asked, his eyes widening. “It’s one of the most valuable food groups.”

“Glad you’re not a health teacher! But no, I don’t. I mean there are a few I don’t mind, but I’m not a candy person.”

“Oh, great,” howled Jill interrupting us. “Dennis Cordova from P.E. It’s bad enough he asks me to chaperone the prom with him every year, but now I’ll have to listen to his story again about how he let the homerun ball slip through his fingers at last year’s Giant’s game. Hannah,” she said reaching over and clutching our friends arm. “If you trade names with me, I’ll watch all your last period classes so you can go home early for a month.”

“Oooooh, as tempting as that sounds, it’s not worth it!” she replied, standing up. “Even if you threw in an extra hundred in cash, it still wouldn’t convince me. I’ve heard that story, too, and I’m not about to sit through it willingly. Besides, I have Sara Turner, and I am dying to find out if her sister ended up marrying the ex-con in Vegas this summer.”

“Wasn’t that in June?”

“Supposedly,” she said “but only if the divorce from his third wife was finalized. I’ll catch you up after work,” and she was off.

“Well, I’d better go too. Let’s go Giants,” moaned Jill unenthusiastically, dreading the next few hours.

Warner was still sitting at the table without any obvious plans to find his partner. “If you don’t know your partner, I could probably help you. I’ve worked here as a sub, so I am pretty familiar with the faculty and staff.”

“That’s alright” he responded. “I think I know who my partner is. I’ll just wait for them to come to me.”

I leaned back from the table and blankly looked around the room. “What makes you think they’ll know who you are? Do you
think you’re radiating an aura or something?” He seems a little conceited. It’s his first day here, and he automatically assumes everyone’s noticed him?

“Actually, a lot of the teachers are still here from when I graduated, so I think they’ll remember me.”

“Oh, that makes sense,” I agreed. “So, who’s your partner?” Reaching for his ID badge sitting on the table, he smiled as I turned it over, and saw my name.

“Emma Sanders,” he replied. “Has anyone ever asked you if you were related to Colonel Sanders and the KFC Empire?”

I stuttered in amazement. Was it luck, or a curse that I was paired with this Adonis? “I’ve heard that one since first grade,” I laughed. “I had higher expectations for a Creighton Alum. Here’s one for you,” I said sharpening my wit. “Did you parents find your name in the obituaries? Don’t you think it’s a little old fashioned?”

“Ouch, okay, okay! Put your attack dogs away, I was only kidding. Jeesh! For your information, there wasn’t an obituary involved. I was named after my grandfather. You must have brothers, because you play tough, Em.”

“I have three, so I play to win,” I replied smiling. “If you can’t take the pain, you’d better hand in your jersey, sissy boy.”

And with that single interaction, our ‘relationship’ as one might call it, was cemented. We learned a lot about each other during our afternoon question and answer activity.

He had a girlfriend who he wasn’t too serious about. “She’s really great, but we’ve only been together for two weeks and I don’t feel that connection, spark, whatever you want to call it.”

He learned one of my biggest fears. “I’m afraid of Oompa-Loompas.”



“From Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl?” he asked.


“What would you do if I started singing the Oompa-Loompa song right now?”

“Honestly, I’d probably punch you and run out screaming,” I replied looking around for a possible escape route.

“You look like you’d have a pretty good right hook, so I’d better not.” He smiled and leaned back in his chair.

“Thanks. My brothers used to chase me around the house singing the ‘Oompa-Loompa’ song. Once my oldest brother Will hid under my bed, grabbed my ankles, and started singing it. Lucky for him, he was quicker than my dad.”

Warner told me about growing up in the country with animals and chores, and I told him about Los Angeles and the rapid pace of life. I also told him about Ron.

“We met at a New Year’s party. I was talking to a few friends, and he walked in the room. He had a commanding presence, and I was in awe. I had never met someone who demanded so much attention without even saying a word.”

“What does he do for a living?”

“He’s an independent planner. Basically cities hire him to overhaul their power, electric, and gas companies. He develops long term plans for them to cut spending, increase revenue, and other stuff I really don’t understand. He’s down in New Mexico right now, but hopefully he’ll finish soon, and then we’ll get married.”

“So you’re engaged?”

“Not officially,” I said shaking my head, “but we’ve talked about it a lot, and know it’s going to happen. We just haven’t been able to nail down the specifics.”

“Attention faculty,” boomed Principal Regan’s voice over the intercom cutting off our conversation. “On behalf of the whole administrative team, we’d like to thank you for a successful in-service day. For your information, the alarm system will be off tomorrow and Sunday from 9am-6pm so you can access your classrooms. If you have yet to pick up your keys, please see my secretary as soon as possible. Have a wonderful weekend, and go Warriors.”

“Are you going to come in this weekend?”

“Probably tomorrow, but not Sunday. I’ve got church and then dinner with my cousins.” I pushed back my chair and yawned. “OK, so our shackles have been removed. Where did you park?”

“In front of the gym,” he said, picking up a maverick pen that kept falling on the floor.

“Me, too. I’ll walk with you.”

We walked a few minutes in silence when Warner said, “Can you believe our last weekend of freedom and irresponsibility before we join the ranks of working professionals is here, Emma? What are you going to do to celebrate?”

“Oh, I don’t know” I replied. “Probably clean out my closets or something equally exciting.”


“Well, with Ron gone, a lot of my friends are in relationships or are always busy, so, I spend a lot of time on my own, either reading or watching TV. Last Friday night, I was in my jammies and in bed at 8pm because I had nothing to do. Pretty depressing, huh?”

“Man, you need to come hang out with me and my roommate Jason. The party never ends.”

“Yeah, well. I’m not really into the ‘single’ thing anymore, but thanks for the offer,” I said as we reached my car.

“No problem,” he said getting into his silver Chevy Tahoe and closing the door. “Just remember, on Saturday night, while you’re watching ‘Dances with Wolves’ for the 30th time on cable, you could be out dancing with us.”

I laughed and waved good-bye as he drove away. Nice guy. I watched him round the corner and drive out of sight. I wish I had a sister to set him up with.

Pulling out of the parking lot, I made a right and headed for the freeway. Twenty more minutes and I’d be home. Home, to my adorable studio apartment. It was a great find with upgraded Berber carpets, a built in stereo surround system and its own little side yard. It was above a detached garage at the back of someone’s property with no other houses around, so I felt isolated from the rest of the world. I had never lived alone before, but this apartment was just the right fit for me. I loved it.

Scrolling through my programmed stations, I couldn’t find anything worth listening too, so I popped in a James Taylor’s Greatest hits CD, and began to evaluate my day. My department seems cool; everyone is very supportive and helpful. My classroom’s all ready to go, and my first paycheck will be deposited in thirty days. All in all, not a bad day plus, I made a new friend, I thought smiling. I decided I needed to come up with lesson plans for at least the first month. Everything was so overwhelming today: Curricular expectations, attendance procedures, and department agendas. Would I keep everything straight?

“My brain is going to fry like an egg!” I suddenly shouted above “Fire and Rain.” Driving along for a few more miles, Warner’s words slowly filtered back into my consciousness; ‘…Our last weekend of irresponsibility…’ I knew instantly what I had to do. Driving past my off ramp, I headed straight for the mall.


Three hours, and $400 later, I walked into my apartment and collapsed on the couch. What a perfect day for Macy’s to have a sale. I fingered my new boots and looked at the bags on my bed. The day I decided to frivolously spend money.

“Em, are you home?”

Turning sharply, I was a little startled to hear anyone’s voice. “Lisa, is that you? When did you get here? I didn’t see your car.”

“Oh, about 15 minutes ago,” she said walking out of the bathroom and opening the freezer door. “I jogged over. I’m going to Troy’s wedding in February, so I have to get this butt in shape to remind him what he’ll never have again.”

I smiled at my best friend as she pulled out a package of hidden Girl Scout Cookies. “Isn’t that counter productive, Lis?”

“I need a reward for running, Em. I won’t eat the whole package! Besides, you know I like the mint ones best.”

“I know, that’s why I hide them in the freezer.”

“Maybe you should come up with a better solution,” she said winking at me.

Lisa Gallegos was not only my best friend, but also the sister I’d never had. We met a few years ago coaching softball at Creekside High School, where she teaches history. She’s about 5’4”, and extremely beautiful with naturally curly black hair, which she continually straightens, and deep brown eyes. Running the 3 miles to my house was nothing new for her, as she was a roller-coaster health nut.

“So,” she said “someone’s been to a sale at Macy’s without me, and I see she’s made off like a bandit.”

“Well, I felt reckless. Why shouldn’t I want cute clothes for my first week of school?”

“Honey, you’re preaching to the choir,” she laughed. “Or,” she continued, “Are you just trying to build up some courage to tell your other half?”

“I don’t need courage, Lis,” I said rebelliously. “I am a grown woman, and it is my money.”

“So you won’t take it all back if Ron gets upset?”

“Well, no…I’m a professional now.”

“Good, because when he made you take that stuff back a few months ago, I wanted to scream.” She finished off the final cookie in the package, walked over to my junk drawer and grabbed some scissors. “Since you’re so sure of your independence, I’m cutting off all the tags and we can put them away.”

“Lisa, don’t make him sound like an ogre. He just wants what’s best for me. I was a little strapped for cash then, and I really didn’t need those clothes. It all worked out,” I said folding a sweater and placing it in my cedar-lined drawers. I watched as she mercilessly shredded every tag before dropping it in the trash.

“No more guilt for you, my friend.”

“Are you hungry?” I asked standing and deliberately interrupting her to change the subject. Last thing I need is to think of Ron’s reaction about my purchases.


Later that evening, as we were watching TV, Lisa looked at me and said, “Hey, Em. I forgot to ask you how your in-service was at school today. Anything exciting happen?”

“Not really, just normal teacher stuff: grading procedures, meeting with Child Protective Services about child abuse, stuff like that…”


“…And I met some cool people. There was one guy…” I said and chuckled softly to myself, looking down and tracing the arm rest.

Noticing the unintentional tone in my voice, she looked at me from the corner of her eyes and muted the TV. “What about him?” she asked muting the television, and crossing her legs.

“Well, nothing really. It’s just that he’s the one who inspired me to shop today.”

“I love guys with that type of inspiration,” she beamed. “Tell me about him.”

“Nothing much to tell. He’s actually really good looking, though. Six foot-two with light brown hair and….” At that moment, the phone rang and interrupted my trance. “…He has really pretty eyes, too.” I finished as I picked up the receiver.

“Thanks for remembering,” a voice on the other end of the line said.

“Ron! Honey, how are you? I haven’t talked to you in a week; you must be so busy. I did get your letter yesterday, though. When do you think you’ll be home?”

“Slow down, Em, slow down,” he laughed. “I’m fine, sweet heart, but yes I am very busy. I actually can’t talk too long because I have a meeting, but I needed to get in touch with you.” He cleared his throat, and knowing him so well, could tell he was slightly bugged about something. “Now, Emma, I love you, but I asked you not to call me during business hours. Today I was meeting with a client, and my phone kept ringing and ringing. You know how I hate checking my messages.”

“I’m sorry, Ron. I figured if you were in a meeting, you’d have shut it off. I just wanted to hear your voice on your voice mail. I was on my way to the mall, and I just thought of you, that’s all.”

“You went shopping?”

I felt the tone changing on the other end of the phone, and I nervously began to ramble. “I start work on Monday, and I decided I needed a new outfit. Oh, Ron. Work is going to be so fun. I’ve met a lot of new people, and I’ll be teaching Freshmen and Junior engli…”

“Emma,” he burst in. “Haven’t we talked about your spending habits? You have to monitor your purchases. Just because I’m not there doesn’t mean you can go crazy.” I could almost hear his veins throbbing out of the little line on his forehead right above his eye. “When we’re married, I’ll be in charge of the finances, and you won’t be able to spend money on whatever you want. You’ll need to ask me first to make sure it’s in the budget.”

“But, Ron. We’re not married yet, and it’s still my money.” I was feeling a little brazen and wondered if it was because Lisa was in the room.

“No we’re not, and yes it is, but number one: it will soon be ‘our’ money, and number two: I have a much better mind than you do for business. Honey,” he said taking a deep breath, “let’s not fight about this. It’s not a big deal, but you just can’t do this again. Promise?”

“Yes, I promise,” I said relaxing.

“Now, just take it all back tomorrow, and I’ll be proud of my girl.”

Houston, we have a problem. “I can’t take it back. Lisa and I already took all the tags off of everything.”

The tension was mounting in New Mexico. “Is she there?” he asked through gritted teeth.

“Yes,” I replied overly bubbly, trying to ignore his icy tone. “I was right about to take her home. She jogged over here from her house.”

“Well that’s nice, I’ll let you go. I have a meeting I’m late for, anyway.”

“Wait. What did you want to tell me?” I almost begged, knowing any hope I had of keeping him on the phone longer was gone.

“Originally I was going to be home Labor Day Weekend, but now Carlsbad wants to hire me, and I’ll be here until December.”

“December? I haven’t seen you in 3 months, and now you won’t be back until December? That’s another 4 months.” I tried to keep the tone in my voice even, and not sound frantic. “Can I maybe come out and visit if you aren’t coming home?”

“Em, that’s really not in the budget. Don’t be upset about the new job, either. This is a great opportunity for me, for us. Once my name becomes well known, there’ll be no stopping what will come our way. We’re making sacrifices now, so we won’t have to later in life.”

“Ron, I know that. I want you to be a success, but I miss you. Letters are nice, but you can’t hug a letter; you can’t hold a phone call or an e-mail.”

There was a long pause on the other end of the line, and I thought we might have been disconnected for a second until I heard Ron cough. “Um, Emma? It really makes me feel a little suffocated when you say things like that. It’s like you always want to be around me and stuff, and that’s a little annoying.”


“Look, I have to go. I have to meet the Mayor of Carlsbad about this new job, and I don’t want to be late. I’ll try and call you in the next couple of days, all right? I am going to be really busy, though so don’t worry about calling me.”
“Okay,” I replied trying to control my voice. “I love you.”

“Me, too” he replied. “Goodnight,” and he was gone.

I threw the phone down on my bed and let out a tribal yell, which should have called the rain to fall from the heavens. “Suffocated,” I sobbed burying my head in the pillows. “Suffocated. Over a thousand miles away, and I suffocate him? You’ve got to be kidding me. Lisa, what’s so wrong with me that I keep him away?” I asked raising my tear stained face from the pillow. “He obviously doesn’t want to come home, does he? I can’t take this anymore!”

Tears of self pity turned to anger as my moods changed like the tides. “Do you see a ring on my finger? I don’t have a ring on my finger, and he’s telling me what I can and can’t do? The audacity of that man!” My sobs began to subside as I lay in bed.

Lisa sat quietly across the room on the edge of the couch, letting me ramble on. “But I do love him, and he does know so much more than I do.” I paused contemplating not only the last few minutes, but also the last five years.

What can I do to make him love me as much as I love him? I looked at her feverishly, “Do we still have the tags? I’m sure Macy’s would take this stuff back if I came up with a good reason.” I hastily jumped up and began digging through the trash.

“Emma. Emma!” Lisa said startling me into reality. “There is no way I’ll let you take those clothes back, do you understand me? Do not let him bully you into doing what he wants. He’s not worth that.”

I began to cry again, and Lisa calmly got up from the end of the couch, walked over to me, and took my hands in hers. “Em, there is nothing you can do to make him love you more. Just be yourself, because you are wonderful.” She hugged me and straightened up to leave.

“I’ll give you a ride home,” I said reaching for my keys.

“No, I need to run. I love you, Em,” she said opening the door to leave. She then stopped and turned around. “Em, no one will make you feel inferior without your consent. Don’t give it,” she finished as she closed the door behind her.

Sitting there, I thought about what she said. Lisa was right. I got up and made my way to the bathroom grabbing my headphones and turning on the tub. I watched the bubbles begin to fizz and rise under the flowing warm water, as I lit some candles. The steam was relaxing and began to clear my head. I do have to value his feelings and see his point of view, but he also needs to give me the same courtesy. It was so different in the beginning. I swirled my hand around in the water to check the temperature as I contemplated our relationship. He bought me flowers; sent me cards, called to tell me he loved me for no reason…it was like a dream.

The water enveloped me, and the tension in my muscles began to fade as I slid into the tub. I don’t remember when things changed but when they did, I apparently became too needy, too suffocating. I remember one time when he took off for three days and we were supposed to go out with my brother who was in town for a convention. He had just left; didn’t tell me anything, just disappeared. He hadn’t called me for days after he came home, but he had had a reason. I don’t remember what it was, but it was good at the time. Of course I was hurt; really hurt, but I loved him, so I forgave him. No matter how challenging our relationship was it was worth fighting for. I’ve invested five years into ‘us’, and I’m not going to throw that away and begin from scratch with someone new.

“We’ll work it out,” I said aloud to the empty room wrapping a towel around my head, half an hour later. “We’re stronger than this.” I noticed the light blinking on my answering machine, and silently berated myself for not bringing the phone in the bathroom, and possibly missing Ron’s call.

Lisa’s voice filled my apartment, “Em, I meant what I said tonight about you. You’re wonderful, the best friend I have, and I want to be there for you. I love ya.”

The machine beeped with one more message. “Hi, Em. It’s me again. Umm, I didn’t make up that saying. You know the one about people making you feel inferior? Yeah, that was Eleanor Roosevelt, not Lisa Gallegos. Love, ya.”

“Crazy Lisa,” I chuckled out loud. Pulling on my jammies, I turned on the news and watched it until the 5th story on escalating gang violence was too overwhelming. I need ‘fluff’, not substance tonight. Flipping through the channels I settled on TNT’s movie of the night ‘Dances with Wolves’. How prophetic Warner had been. I smiled and grabbed a bag of carrot sticks from the fridge.

I had a hard time keeping my eyes open, and dozed off within the first five minutes. When I woke up, Kevin Costner’s bare behind was staring me in the face. "Great", I said to the empty room. Now I’m going to have serious nightmares.

I turned off the television, hit the lights, and checked to make sure the door was locked. Crawling into bed, I shook my head, hoping I would dream of Ron so some of my fears would be put to rest.

And you know what? I did, except strangely enough, he didn’t have brown eyes. Instead they were the brightest Caribbean blue I’d ever seen.

1 comment:

dark-huntress said...

When I read this chapter the first time, I remember thinking, "I'm going to love this book." It only takes that long to absolutely fall in love with Em. And not only her but the other characters we've met as well. (Except for Ron, I never liked him.) I remember that I read all the way through it without stopping because I couldn't put it down and also that later that night when I got to the end of what I had, which sadly was only the first half of the novel, I got to the last page and snapped out loud, "Oh my god, I don't have the other half." Worse still was that it was Friday and I had to wait until Monday to see the rest. (Which I read all the way through as well.) I absolutely could NOT put it down. I had to know how it ended and more importantly, if it ended happily as Em deserved. As a reader, we become so attached to her character that though the novel is a "Fluff" novel meant for lazy summer days and long drives and such, it is just as addictive as a thriller or a mystery. In addition to its wonderful relateable descriptions of a life we could all easily live ourselves, it is written with such an ease and a cleverness and a sweetness that you continue reading if only to hear Em's voice in your head telling you her story. Honestly, I'd drop-kick the latest murder mystery novel and read At Last for the fifteenth time because you know what, it IS that good. I absolutely love the book and it is definitely a book you want to read anytime you need a little hope, anytime you want a good laugh, anytime you're in need of some cute little stomach butterflies, or anytime in general. Legions of fangirls, here I come.