Sunday, August 30, 2020

New Story from Annabelle: The F-Word

Hi all!  Thanks for your inspiration a couple of weeks ago!  I'm going to go ahead and start posting a new story.  As opposed to usual, this one isn't completely written yet and I don't have a book ready to go, but I figured nobody is posting, so I'd go head and get it up there.  Since it's very much in progress, comments are welcome!!!!


THE F-WORD


Audrey

Two weeks ago, I got married.

I’m married. 

I still can’t wrap my head around it entirely. That I’m somebody’s wife. I’ve got a ring on my left fourth finger that I wear all the time now, except when I shower. I have a husband. I still can’t say it without giggling.  Throughout our entire honeymoon, every time Blake or I referred to each other as our husband/wife, we would giggle. It just seemed so preposterous.

And now that we’ve returned from our honeymoon, Blake is unlocking the door to our apartment to start our lives together.  I mean, my husband is unlocking the door to our apartment. My husband. That’s so wild.

As the door swings open, Blake grins at me. We’ve been together four years now, but I still find him so sexy, especially when he smiles. My husband is sexy. My husband.
 


“So,” he says, “should I carry you across the threshold, Mrs. Campbell?”

I roll my eyes, but I have to giggle, especially since he called me Mrs. Campbell. I’m in love with my new surname.  Audrey Campbell. So much better than Audrey Griswald.  “You already did that in our hotel room in Cancun.“

He nods at our living room. “Yeah, but this is a new threshold. I have to carry my wife across every available threshold.  That’s the rule.”

Before I can protest, Blake puts his right arm under my knees and he’s effectively swept me off my feet. I squeal in protest: “Our luggage!”  We’ve still got two bags sitting outside the door. But Blake doesn’t seem to care. He carries me across the living room and deposits me on our futon, both of us laughing by now.

“How many thresholds are you going to have to carry me across?“ I ask breathlessly.

“Only two or three more—max,” he says.  “Obviously I have to carry you to your desk at work.”

“Obviously.”

“Maybe the next time you use the bus?”  He cocks his head to the side. “Too much?”

I punch him playfully in the arm.  “What worries me is if I think you might actually try to do it if I told you to.“

“Of course I would.“ He tackles me onto the couch as I squeal and giggle.  “You know me so well, my wife.  I’m so glad I married you.“

As he kisses me, I can’t help but think the same thing. I am 28 years old, two years away from 30. My friends are the same age, so we’re all been feeling a lot of pressure to get married recently. Some of them have made some pretty questionable choices. But not me. There’s no doubt in my mind Blake is my soulmate. I knew it from the second I first saw him at that party at my friend Lucy’s house. 

I know it sounds crazy, but it was love at first sight for both of us. I saw Blake across the room four years ago, with his black hair, lanky build, and cute nerdy glasses, and I was in love. And he was looking at me the same way. We started talking, and we didn’t stop talking all night. He walked me home, two miles back to my apartment building, then when we got to my front door, he leaned in and gave me the best kiss I’d ever had in my life.

The connection wasn’t all physical either. We like the same type of movies. We have the same sense of humor. And we’re both obsessed with old sitcoms. Although we disagree on our favorite. Blake loves Get Smart and has watched every episode multiple times. He does a great Maxwell Smart impression—it’s right on the money.

My favorite series is I Dream of Jeannie. For my birthday last year, Blake bought me the entire series of Jeannie on DVD.  But the real present is he watched them all with me.  (I secretly think Blake looks like a young Larry Hagman.)

Of course, we were in our early 20s and didn’t want to rush into anything.  We were living together by six months, but it didn’t seem important to make it legal. It was enough that we got to spend every night together and wake up together every day.

And then one day while we were in a restaurant, Blake got down on one knee with this beautiful ring. I cried. And now we’re married.

Married!

“The bags,” I say weakly.  I half heartedly try to push him off of me. I feel conflicted. I love the way he kisses me and don’t want him to stop, but in this building, our bags can and will be stolen if we don’t bring them in.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah…” He knows I’m right, so he sits up on the couch, his face flushed. “I’ll go grab them.“

Blake starts over to the door and picks up our bags. His is light, but he grunts when he lifts mine. What can I say—I wanted to look good on my honeymoon. “What do you have in here, Audrey?  Bricks?  Did you bring bricks on our honeymoon?“

No.” I rise from the couch. “Do you want me to take it from here?“

“No way. I don’t think you could even lift his bag.“

“Well, I probably shouldn’t.“ I put my hand on my belly. “I mean, not in my condition.“

Blake’s eyes widen. 

I’m not pregnant. Not even a little bit. Not even a smidge. It’s a joke, just to get a rise out of him since he made fun of my bag. I expected him to panic for a second, before I would obviously let him off the hook. But he’s the one who surprises me. Because even though he looks taken aback, a tiny smile spreads across his lips.

“I’m not pregnant,” I say quickly.  “I’m just kidding.”

“Oh.”

I bite my lip.  “Are you… disappointed?”

He drops my bags in the middle of our living room. “No. We talked about it, right? We’re not ready to try yet.”

It’s true. We had a discussion about it a few months ago, and we agreed to at least wait two more years to start trying.  I’m still working to establish my career in interior decor, he just opened his own accounting firm, and we want more time alone together. “It’s just… when I told you that, you didn’t look freaked out.”

“I know.” He rakes a hand through his black hair. “I thought I would be, but I wasn’t. I mean, I still want to wait. But… I love you and I want to have kids with you. Soon. And if it happened now instead of in a couple of years from now… Well, it wouldn’t be the end of the world, would it?  It would be… nice, actually.”

A rush of affection for my new husband nearly knocks me off my feet. I love that he’s planning our lives together.   For the millionth time, I get this warm feeling come over me that I have made the absolute right decision in marrying this man. This is the guy I want to grow old with. Raise my kids with. Share my life with. I run over to him and throw my arms around him.

He laughs. “What?”

I raise my chin to look up at him.  He’s a perfect 6 inches taller than me. “I’m glad you’re my husband.“

“Well, I’m glad you’re my wife.“ He grins. “And just for that, I’m carrying you across the threshold again.”

I squeal again as he sweeps me off my feet for the second time and carries me to the couch.  I’m glad the door to our apartment is closed and the luggage is inside, because I definitely am not going to tell him to stop kissing me this time.  He pulls off his glasses and tosses them on the coffee table, which is a sign that we’re about to go all the way.

Between kisses on my neck, Blake lifts his head.  “Hey, Audrey,” he says.

I raise my eyebrows.

“Do you think we will still be this way when we’re 40?“ he says.

“What way?”

“You know.” He smiles dopily.  “Crazy in love.”

I pause, not sure how to answer that question. After all, a lot of people get divorced. Half of all marriages end in divorce. I want to believe that in 12 years, when I hit the big four-oh, Blake and I will be just as deliriously happy as we are now. I mean, I can’t imagine ever feeling any differently about him than I do right now. I certainly can’t imagine ever not being with him.  It’s unthinkable.  Blake is my soulmate.

“Yes,” I say confidently.  “We will be.”
 
 

12 Years Later

Audrey

“So are you excited about the big four-oh?”

I am getting so sick of that question.

My assistant, Priya, doesn’t mean any harm. She noted that we were scheduling a business meeting on April 10, which happened to be the day before my birthday. Thus the question.  And now she’s smiling brightly at me, her cherry red lipstick contrasting with her bronze skin under the overhead lights, waiting for my answer.

“Don’t say that word,” I say.

“What word?”

“The F word.  Forty.”

She frowns. “I thought fuck was the F word.“

“Only until you’re 35.“

That’s right—in only one month, I’m turning the big four-oh.  And every time I think about it, I want to throw up in my mouth. Where did my 30s go? For that matter, where did my 20s go? It’s like one day I was a 20-year-old college student, now suddenly here I am, almost 40. How did this happen?

I don’t want to think about it. I just want to live in my little 39 bubble forever.

“Why not?” Priya chirps.

“Why not?” I repeat. “I don’t think anyone under the age of 30 should be allowed to ask someone why they’re not excited about turning 40.“

Priya laughs, like I just made a joke. It wasn’t a joke. “I don’t know what you’re so upset about.“  She tucks a strand of her curly dark hair behind her ear. It’s her natural color, because she doesn’t have to dye her hair like I do to get rid of hundreds of strands of gray interspersed with my natural red.  “I mean, yes, you’re almost forty—“

I raise my hand. “I told you, don’t say that word.“

She rolls her eyes.  “Fine.  Yes, you’re going to be the F word, but you’re exactly where you want to be.”

My phone lights up on my desk with a text message. I Ignore it. “Not exactly.”

“Of course you are!” Priya’s enthusiasm is almost infectious. If interior decorating doesn’t work out for her, she could be a cheerleader. “You’ve got it all! You’re a VP here—and damn good at it—you’ve got two beautiful kids, and you’ve got a great guy.  Anyone would be jealous.“

“Yeah, maybe.”  My phone lights up again.  “I just wish I could have all those things and still be 25. Or at least look 25.“  There’s nothing wrong with being 40 if you look 25.

“If it helps,“ Priya says, “I don’t think you look a day over 25.“

I roll my eyes. “OK, now you’re just sucking up.”

She winked at me. “Just a little.“

Priya doesn’t have to suck up. She is the best assistant I’ve ever had. If she keeps up at this rate, she’s going to be one of our regular decorators in no time. But I’ll be sad, because I don’t know what I would do without her.

My phone lights up again. Who keeps texting me? It can’t be something with the kids, because I would’ve gotten a call. And they’re both too young to have their own cell phones.

I glance down at my watch. I’ve got to get out of here now and hoof it to their afterschool program if I’m going to make it on time. The director told me if I’m late one more time, she’s going to kick them out. I don’t know if she means it, but I’m not going to take that chance.

I grab my phone and look down at the screen. There are five text messages from Gretchen Casey, one of my wealthiest clients. Gretchen is married to a wealthy politician, and every six months or so, she completely redecorates her upper Westside townhouse.   And her budget is insane.

“Gretchen?” Priya asks me.

I nod.  It looks like she’s having some sort of emergency with her redecorating. Her last text reads: Bathroom is a disaster! Call me!

I look down at my watch. I have to leave in the next 10 minutes if I’m going to make it to the afterschool program. But I have to call Gretchen. That’s not optional. Not if I want to keep my job.

I pick Gretchen‘s name off my speed dial list. The phone barely rings before I hear her breathless voice: “Audrey?“

”Is everything okay?”

“No!” She sounds like she’s about to burst into tears. “Audrey, something terrible happened. You have to get down here immediately.“

I can’t imagine what terrible thing happened. It’s probably something like the painters spilled one drop of paint on her porcelain bathtub.  “Can’t you just send me a photograph?“

“Oh no,“ she breathes. “You have to come here. Please, Audrey.”

I look down at my watch again. Dammit. “I’m going to send my assistant, Priya.”  I look at Priya for confirmation, and she gives me a thumbs up. “She’ll be right there.“

“No, I need you, Audrey,“ Gretchen moans.  “Please come.”

If it were anyone but Gretchen, it would be a hard no. But I can’t say no to Gretchen. She’s our biggest client. Anything Gretchen wants, Gretchen gets.

“I’ll be right there,“ I say.

Great, now what am I going to do?

I could ask Priya to pick up the kids, but there’s a rule at the company that we’re really not supposed to ask our assistants to do personal favors.  Also, she doesn’t have the keys to my apartment, so she’d have to take them to her place, which is not in the best neighborhood. (It’s almost as bad as where Blake and I lived when we first got married.)

“I don’t mind getting them,” she says.  “Really.”

I shake my head.  “I’ll ask Patrick.”

Priya takes off to do her own work while I hit Patrick’s number on my speed dial. Unlike Gretchen, it takes him several rings to pick up.

“Audrey!” His sexy voice comes on the other line—his voice was one of the things that first attracted me to him. Well, that and the fact that he’s gorgeous.  “You never call at work. Everything okay?”

I grip the phone tighter. “Is there any chance at all you could get the kids from their afterschool program?“

There’s a pause on the other line. “I wish I could, babe. But I’m about to step into a meeting.”

“Oh.” Damn it.

“But I can order dinner. How does Chinese sound?“

“Yeah, OK.” Dinner is the last thing on my mind.  “I’ve got to go.“

“Sure. And hey…” I can hear the smile in his voice. “I’ve got kind of a surprise for you when you get home.“

Despite everything, I allow myself to smile. “I can’t wait.”

“See you soon, babe.”

Any good feelings disappear the second I hang up the phone. I look down at my watch again. I’ve got to go get the kids now if I want to be there on time. But Gretchen is expecting me too. And I can’t bring the kids to her townhouse. Every surface has something breakable on it. Katie would destroy her living room in five seconds flat, and then I would owe Gretchen like five billion dollars.

I only have one other option.

I brace myself and select another number from my speed dial.  It’s a name I hate looking at these days, but I call him enough that I need to keep him on the list.

The phone rings two times, three times, four times. I wonder if he’s going to answer. Or if he’s taking his time just to torture me. He knows what I want.

Finally, I hear his voice on the other line. “What is it, Audrey?”

“Hi, Blake!” My voice always sounds several octaves higher when I’m talking to my ex-husband. “Are you busy?”

There’s a long pause on the other line. “You need me to get the kids, don’t you?“

“Well…” I have to admit he’s right. “Yes. I have a client who really needs me right now and—“

“And you figured, well, Blake has nothing better to do.“

“Believe me, this wasn’t my first choice,” I say through my teeth.

“Gee, thanks, Audrey.”

I take a deep, calming breath. I know he’s going to agree to do it. As much as he wants to make my life miserable, he won’t give up a chance to spend extra time with the kids.  Blake is the only person in the world who loves those children as much as I do.  They’re the only reason we have anything to do with each other anymore.  If not for Katie and Andy, I would have blocked his number by now.

“What would you do if you didn’t have me?“ he says. “If you didn’t have me as back up any time something important came up? What would you do, Audrey?”

“Look,“ I say patiently, “you do work from home…”

As soon as the words are out of my mouth, I know I shouldn’t have said that. But to be fair, there’s very little I can say that won’t make Blake furious at me.  “Not every day,” he shoots back. “And it’s March. You know how busy I am right now?“

“Blake…”

“Fine,” he snaps.  “I’ll go get them. But… If I pick them up, they stay with me for dinner.“

I let out a breath. “OK.  When should I get them from your place?”

“Eight.”

“Thanks—“ I start to say, but Blake has already hung up on me.

I sit at my desk, staring at my phone. I feel that same mix of emotions I always get after talking to my ex-husband.  Why did he have to be such a jerk? Why does he get to spend the whole evening with the kids just because I’m running a little late? Why can’t he be civil, for God’s sake?  I know things got bad between us, but why can’t we at least pretend to like each other for the sake of our kids?

I never thought it would be like this with Blake.  I thought I would be spending my 40th birthday with him. Hell, I thought it would be spending my 80th birthday with him.

I only wish things hadn’t gone so horribly wrong.

 
 

Blake

Talking to Audrey on the phone always puts me in a bad mood.

It didn’t used to be that way. It was the opposite. I could be having the worst day, and then Audrey would just look at me the right way, and all my stress would melt away. I was having a bad day the night I first met her. I was at this party and not having a very good time. I had just told my buddy Greg that I was going to head out. Then I looked across the room and saw this girl with chin length straight red hair that curled around her ears and freckles cascading over the bridge of her nose.  And all of a sudden, I was really glad I didn’t leave the party.

Of course, it took me at least 15 minutes of staring at her before I worked up the nerve to talk to her. 15 minutes and a shot of vodka. Greg kept nudging me and saying, If you don’t go over there soon, she’s going to think you’re a creep. Yes, she was looking at me too, but that didn’t mean she was interested. Maybe she was actually just looking at, I don’t know, the sofa.  I didn’t usually get this nervous around girls, but I’d never seen anyone I liked so much. I never believed in love at first sight, until it hit me like a bolt of lightning.  I never looked at a girl before and thought, this is The One.

Then when I finally worked up the nerve to go up to her, all I could come up with to say was, Hi. Immediately, I was beating myself up. How can you approach the girl of your dreams with “hi”? What the hell was wrong with me? But then a giant smile spread across her face and she said hi back.

Six months later, we were living together.

16 years later, I’m her ex-husband.

That’s right—I’m her loser ex-husband who can pick up her kids whenever she’s got something better to do. She thinks I’m just waiting around my apartment in my sweats, ready to do her bidding whenever she wants.

I look down at my legs. Admittedly, I am wearing a pair of sweatpants right now and a T-shirt with a badly frayed hem. I didn’t say she was wrong. But it’s still insulting.

I wonder if I should change, now that I’m actually leaving the house. But Katie won’t care. No matter what, she’s always happy to see her dad. As for Andy… Who the hell knows with that kid these days? He’s 10, going on 16.  I keep wanting to sit down and have a talk with him, but I don’t know what the hell I would even say. 

And anyway, I’m not sure I have enough time to change. Gone are the days when I could quickly swap out sweatpants for a pair of jeans.

My computer dings from across the room.  It’s a Skype request from a client.  I look down at my watch—their after school program is nearby, but I’ll have to leave in about five minutes to drive over there. I have to make this quick. Unlike Audrey, I put my kids above my work.

I push my palms against the rims of my chair. Two strong pushes is enough to get me across the room. In case anyone is counting.  Audrey may be the decorator, but I’ve put a lot of time and effort into designing this apartment so that I could get around as easily as possible.  It’s perfect now.

The Skype request is from Cindy Holland.  It’s my first time working with Cindy, and I just sent her an electronic copy of her tax returns.  Hopefully, she’s happy with it. In any case, I don’t have time to discuss it now.

I click the button and Cindy’s pretty face fills the screen.  She’s a couple of years older than me—42, according to her tax return—but she doesn’t look it.  She reminds me of Ginger on Gilligan’s island, except she’s a blonde.  Her divorce recently went through, and this is her first time filing without her ex, who was a hot shot CEO and left her for his secretary.  I had to do a lot of handholding.

And I mean that figuratively.  Cindy and I have never met in real life. We’ve talked on Skype and on the phone. I don’t go into the office much anymore. The nice thing about being an accountant is you can do everything from home.  Especially when you’re co-owner of the firm.

That said, certain people have told me it might be good for me to get out of the house more.  But to hell with them.

“Blake!” She’s smiling at me, which is a good sign.  “I just looked at the return. It’s perfect.”

I let out of breath. “Glad we’ve got another satisfied customer.”

Very.  I mean, you scored me a big fat refund.  Everyone told me you were the best, and they were right.”

”Yeah, you won’t find anyone better than me.” I smile at her. I’m trying my best to be charming—even flirt a little. When you’re an accountant, you don’t have to be Mr. Personality.  But if you’re hustling to get business for your own firm, you have to learn to play the game. And it’s not like I’m married and should feel guilty about it.  “So you have to submit the return yourself, but if you have any questions at all about the process, I’m happy to help—anything you need.”

Cindy lifts a well-shaped eyebrow. “Anything?”

“I’m at your disposal.”

“Well,” she begins, “actually…”

“However,” I cut her off before she can get started.  Cindy tends to ramble. “We need to pick a time to talk later. I’ve got to pick up my kids now before their afterschool program closes.”

“Oh, no problem.” She smiles graciously. She doesn’t have children of her own, but she asked me once if I had any and I told her about Katie and Andy.  I had already mentioned my own divorce when she told me about hers. It was a way to bond with my client. “I do have a couple of questions for you though. Do you... want to grab a drink later this week? My treat, of course.”

I suck in a breath.  That’s the danger in flirting.  Cindy is attractive and newly single. And based on our limited interactions through Skype, I check off a number of important boxes. I’m single. I’m about her age. I have a good stable job.  I don’t look like a guy who walked into a wall.  That’s four checkboxes in my favor.

Except she doesn’t know about my wheels. You can’t see my chair on Skype.  If she knew, she wouldn’t have asked in the first place.

Of course, I could tell her. I could explain my situation, and then ask if she’s still interested.  But I’ve done that once before, and it didn’t go great. I hate the expression on a client’s face when they meet me in real life after dealing with me exclusively on Skype or the phone.  And anyway, I shouldn’t be going for drinks with attractive female clients. It’s unprofessional.

But mostly, I just don’t feel like having the wheelchair conversation with her.  Not now—not ever.

“Hey,” I say, “as much as I’d love that, I’m really swamped and doing all my meetings from home. But like I said, just pick a time.”

Cindy grins that sexy Ginger smile at me.  “Oh, is that how it’s going to be, Mr. Campbell?”

I lift a shoulder and offer a lopsided smile.

“Okay, let’s schedule a meeting for later,“ she says.  “But if you change your mind about that drink, let me know.”

I let out a breath of relief as we end the call. I did the right thing—no question about it. If I’m going to date, I should go back to meeting women online. Set up a profile and lay it all out there so they know what they’re getting into.

Except I don’t really want to date. The idea of meeting women for the first time, that awkward first encounter, debating whether I should call or not and when, analyzing where the relationship is going… Just the thought of it is exhausting. I miss being married.

No.  If I’m being honest, that’s not what I miss.

It’s Audrey I can’t quit thinking about.

 
To be continued....

18 comments:

  1. Thank you for posting Annabelle. So nice to have another story from you!

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  2. Oh, I'm so curious about how you are going to bring these two together again (hopefully)! :) And knowing you, I'm sure it's going to be a fun ride!
    Thank you for a new story!

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    1. Thanks! I just finished a first draft, actually!

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  3. Great start. Looking forward to seeing how it unfolds.

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  4. Me encanta. Que larga se va a hacer la semana. Espero que escribas el libro también, como tantos otros lo compraré.
    Gracias

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  5. Thanks! A lovely start, can’t wait for the next part! It’s great to read about people my age :-)

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  6. Yep. Love it already. Seemed way too short!

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    1. Thanks... yeah, I'm just going to post short blocks.

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  7. I can’t wait to see how this develops!!

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  8. Great start. Can’t wait til their personalities are fleshed out and to find out what happened to make them divorce. Love the older characters.

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  9. Yeay great start! Very happy to read about older characters.

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