Sandy Perkins sank into the office chair at his desk. He pulled a box of stationery and writing utensils from the bottom drawer. He dipped his pen into the well of ink and masterfully swiped a greeting onto the heavy stationery. Dear Maria Rose Ellison…
The Perkins house had been a witness to many such a letter, each with the same delicate handwriting and addressed to the same delicate woman. Sandy Perkins was a patient and determined man.
As he wrote, Sandy willed himself to get lost in his most recent proclamation of love. No more ex-Mrs. Perkins. No more ungrateful children. No more curling up in bed alone each night. Only Sandy and his one true love, Maria Rose.
If Sandy had married Maria Rose instead of the old nag for whom he settled, perhaps all his children would be beautiful. Perhaps he’d live in an extravagant manor. Perhaps he’d climb into a king-size canopy bed beside the lovely Mrs. Perkins. So much could have gone so much better for him!
Sandy folded the letter carefully and slipped it into a baby pink envelope. Maria Rose’s favorite color should catch her attention. He only wished he could be there when she received it.
A knock came at the door as Sandy dripped a puddle of melted wax onto the closed envelope. He pressed a rose seal into the tiny pink lake as two more knocks rang out into the house.
Sandy finally opened his door to the sweet face of his youngest daughter. Really, she should have been his only daughter. She had been a wayward child for a few years after the divorce, but she later came back around. Now, Sandy considered her his only child that was worth all the trouble.
“Good morning, Papa. You look good! How have you been?”
Sandy invited Evelyn in. “I’ve been well, thank you. Are you still employed at that art school of yours?”
“Julliard. It’s a school of the performing arts, and yes, I still work there. You should come visit! You’d love New York.”
Sandy chuckled. “Thank you, darling, but you know I never leave this old place. Come, have a seat. I’ll make us some Jasmine tea.”
“You still drink Jasmine? I thought you hated that stuff.”
“It’s grown on me.”
“So,” Evelyn started once she had her tea. “What have you been doing with your time lately? I remember you were considering taking up fishing?”
“Oh, no, not anymore. Too much effort, too little payoff. I’ve been writing lately. And what takes up your precious time not spent at Julie Ward?”
“Julliard, Papa. Mostly just that. Well, I have been seeing this guy…,” she trailed off nervously.
“A guy, you say?”
Evelyn laughed. “His name is William. We’ve been together for two years now. You’d love him, Papa. He’s quiet, and polite, and he has a great sense of humor.”
“Hm. Sounds too much like me,” Sandy commented. “He must be trouble.”
“Papa! I know you don’t mean that. You could find out for yourself if you would come visit.”
“I’m staying here, Evelyn,” Sandy said a bit more harshly this time.
Evelyn frowned slightly but moved on. “You said you’ve been writing? Are you writing books? Articles?”
“Letters,” Sandy answered casually.
Evelyn cringed slightly. “Letters? Do you have a…a pen pal somewhere?”
“Not quite,” Sandy said with a deep breath. “I’m sure you recall my regular correspondence with Miss Maria Rose Ellison.”
Her cringe was much more pronounced this time. “You’re not still stalking that poor woman, are you?” she asked softly.
“Stalking? Lord, no! Just keeping in touch. Maria Rose loves my letters.”
Evelyn swallowed. “Um. All right. How about we move on, then. How’s Abby?”
Abby, Sandy’s gray milk cow, had been with the Perkinses since Evelyn was fifteen years old. The cow had been his daughter’s best friend through most of high school. When she moved to New York, Evelyn had had a harder time leaving Abby than leaving Sandy.
“Oh, I sold Abby last year sometime. She wasn’t good for milk anymore.”
Evelyn looked horrified. “You sold her?”
“She was a milk cow, Evelyn. She had outlived her purpose.”
“She was practically part of the family! Would you sell me, Papa?”
“Evelyn, you’re being unreasonable. Perhaps you were too attached. She was just a cow, dear. Besides, while I would certainly never sell you, I’ll have to admit I would have fewer reservations about selling your sisters.”
“Papa! You’re unbelievable! And while we’re on the subject of being too attached, why don’t you tell me more about your friend, Maria Rose? The one who you’ve been reaching out to since you were in the fifth grade. The one who’s never written you back once. Was I that attached to the cow, Papa?”
Sandy cleared his throat and stood up. “I can see you’re upset, Evelyn. You have a hotel nearby, don’t you? Why don’t you go cool down there?”
Evelyn took a deep breath and held it. Exhaling in a rush, she said, “Yes, I have a hotel room. Do me a favor, would you?”
“Possibly. What do you need?”
“While you’re writing all your letters,” she said spitefully, “write one apologizing to the cow.”
With that, she stormed out. Sandy rolled his eyes as she slammed the door behind her.
Evelyn had always been a fiery one. She took after her mother in that way.
Sandy put his head in his hands and, for the millionth time, contemplated where he had gone wrong. He had been a brilliant young man. Handsome, too. If he had so chosen, he could have taken any woman in his hometown when he was younger. What had prompted him to pick Caroline all those years ago? Why hadn’t he taken his chances with Maria Rose back then?
The answer was simple, really. Sandy had spent his whole life settling. No steak left? Oh, all right, chicken would be fine. Can’t get a mansion in Kansas City? A run-down ranch house in Parkville will suffice. Maria Rose Ellison is ‘too popular’ already? Caroline Mathers has rich parents, she’ll do. Sandy was sick and tired of settling!
He ran to the end of his winding driveway, huffing and puffing the whole way, and shoved the pink envelope into the outgoing slot. Maria Rose would have to get the message this time. Sandy had toiled for decades over this woman—writing heartfelt letters and poems, painting her portraits, composing her symphonies and sending the sheet music. He had worked his old fingers to the bone in desperation for her. She simply had to take him now! No one or thing else could ever do. Sandy had said as much in his most recent letter.
On his walk back to the house, Sandy dreamed of Maria Rose’s reaction to the letter. The penmanship alone would woo her, but the secrets of which the lettering spoke would cause her to grow positively weak! Her soft cheeks would fill with blush, and perhaps a single tear would sneak from her pale blue eye and roll down her perfect face. Sandy was giddy with anticipation!
He could hardly bring himself to sit down and enjoy the rest of his tea. The stuff was awful, but he had to prepare for when he was enjoying afternoon tea with Maria Rose every day. Jasmine was her favorite.
Tea didn’t feel an appropriate beverage for the perpetual heat of Missouri, anyway. Perhaps it would be if he were somewhere cold. But Maria rose was Missouri born and raised. After fifty years of wanting and waiting, he would do anything for her. Even drink bitter tea in the heat.
That night, as he was in bed staring at the ceiling, his mind raced with plans for his future with Maria Rose. Of course, there was a little part of him that doubted she would read this letter. She clearly had not read any of the previous ones; that wretched receptionist of hers was always writing him back in her stead. But Sandy pushed that train of thought out of his wandering mind. There was no room for negativity like that. He needed to be ready for when she finally received the letter. Surely, fate would toss him a bone this one time.
Sandy had a difficult time waiting for a response to arrive. For the next several days, he could barely contain himself from the moment he woke up to the moment the mailwoman arrived each morning. Each time the white truck rolled on to the next mailbox on its route, Sandy was tearing down his driveway to get his mail. Each time, he was met with nothing but bills and disappointment.
Finally, a full week after he sent the letter, there was a curious envelope in his stack of mail. It was pink, just like the letter he had sent to Maria Rose! And, better yet, her name was elegantly spread across the front. Maria Rose Ellison.
After years of receiving responses from Maria Rose’s receptionist, Sandy knew the receptionist’s handwriting, and the signature within the return address was not it. That penmanship could only belong to Maria Rose herself!
Unlike his usual unenthusiastic trudge back up his driveway, Sandy nearly flew back to the house this time. He tore through all his mail expect the letter from Maria Rose, which he intended to savor once all the tedious bills and junk mail were out of the way.
He had just picked up the pink envelope to open it when a knock came at the door. Sandy was sure he knew who it was, and he groaned internally. Couldn’t he get a moment alone to read the most important letter in his life? He dropped it and went to the door.
He swung the door open and didn’t bother forcing a smile at his daughter. “Evelyn. Feeling better?”
She sighed but plastered a smile on herself. “I am. May I come in, Papa?”
He stepped out of her way and followed her inside, careful not to slam the door shut despite his annoyance.
“Papa, I’m sorry for how I behaved last time I was over,” Evelyn said once they were settled in the living room.
“Oh, it’s all right, dear. The news was fresh, your overreaction was understandable. I’m glad you came around.”
“I always do,” Evelyn chuckled humorlessly. “I brought you an I’m Sorry present.”
She held out a metallic orange giftbag and offered a genuine smile. Sandy took the bag and dug through a sea of noisy tissue paper until his hand found something solid. He pulled it free of its papery prison, and found it was a shoebox. He opened it and found a dainty pair of lady’s pumps. They were a lovely shade of pale rose with pink ribbons one would lace up their calves.
Sandy laughed out loud. “What use do you suppose I’ll have for these, Evelyn? I regret to inform you my youthful days of crossdressing are far behind me.”
Evelyn laughed, too. “No, Papa, I know you won’t use them. They’re intended to be displayed. Those were the shoes that Maria Rose wore during her first ever televised performance!”
Sandy frowned at the shoes. “Oh.”
“Oh? Don’t you like them?” Evelyn asked, a touch of concern in her expression.
“They’re lovely shoes, Evelyn. It’s just—well, what am I supposed to say? They’re just shoes.”
“Just shoes? You know, I would have come back over days ago, but I felt I needed something to make up for my behavior. I wanted to get you a meaningful gift that would really show you how sorry I am. So, I did some digging and found a collector in eastern Kansas. It took two days of negotiating a price and six hours of driving each way to get those shoes. I spent more than I make in a month to get them.”
“Evelyn! I can’t believe you’d pay so much for a pair of high heels. That’s preposterous!”
“I did it for you, Papa,” Evelyn said shortly. “They’re not just shoes, they’re shoes that belonged to your idol. Not only did she wear them for her first televised performance, but she wore them in her first beauty pageant, too! And I didn’t even tell you the best part. They’re signed! Right on the sole of the left shoe, look!” she said, pulling out a shoe and turning it over so Sandy could see.
The most exciting part about the gift so far was that the signature matched the one on the letter he was still yearning to open.
“Evelyn, may I ask you a question?”
She perked up slightly. “Of course, Papa. What is it?”
“Do you think I would pay out my nose for a pair of your, uh, William’s shoes? Even if he wrote his name all nice and pretty on the bottom?”
Evelyn was taken aback. “What? What does William have to do with this?”
Sandy rolled his eyes. “I didn’t want to say anything because I know how jealous you get, but I happen to have a handwritten letter from Maria Rose sitting on my kitchen counter. She and I are in love, dear. What could I possibly want with an old pair of her shoes? I’m sure there are hundreds more where that came from. It would be silly to keep around these unusable ones.”
Evelyn’s mouth fell open and her green eyes widened immensely. “You can’t be serious.”
“Oh, I am! Quite, in fact. I can show you the envelope if you don’t trust me, but the letter within is for my eyes only. I’ll be opening it as soon as you leave.”
She was visibly shaking as she eerily calmly said, “I mean, you can’t possibly think she’s ‘in love’ with you. You’ve been pining after this woman since you were ten years old and she’s never once looked your way. Not when you went to school with her, and certainly not once she became famous. She’s never written you back once. Not so much as a thank you for the kind words and the beautiful art.”
“Dear, you seem to have forgotten, she has written me back. I just told you, her letter is waiting for me in the other room.”
“I meant before that, Papa!” she replied, her voice beginning to raise. “You’ve wasted most of your life chasing her. And, sure, maybe she’s written you back now. But how could that possibly change the fact that she has never made contact once before now? You’ve harassed her for decades! Maybe she asked you to stop contacting her because the receptionist’s harsh words weren’t cutting it.”
“Evelyn Alamaria Perkins! You watch your mouth! You know nothing of my relationship with Maria Rose!”
“Lord, Papa, neither do you! It doesn’t exist!” Evelyn shouted. Then, riding on adrenaline, she continued. “You know what? I’m sick of you! All my life, nothing anyone did was ever good enough for you! You ignored your family for years to keep chasing some pipe dream of an ex-celebrity!
“You know, I used to hate Mom for leaving you. I thought it was her fault you didn’t love any of us kids. But I owe Mom the apology of a lifetime because it was never her, it was you! You’re sick, and delusional, and insane! I’ve worked my butt off my whole life to please you, and it’s never amounted to anything but another addition to my endless list of ways you’ve failed me! You have never once appreciated a thing I did for you! You’ve never once even thanked me. Even now, after giving you the best gift I could ever possibly think of or afford, you didn’t offer so much as a simple thank you! Thank me, Papa. Thank me for everything, and apologize for being a disgusting, sorry excuse for a father, or I’m walking out. And if I do, I swear on Nana Katherine’s grave that I’m never coming back for anything. Not even for your funeral. You can die here, alone, writing another one of your millions of useless letters and rot as the ink dries!”
Sandy chuckled. “Evelyn, dear, you sound as if you’ve gone mad. You shouldn’t raise your voice like that. Now, why don’t I brew us some Jasmine tea? That ought to calm you right down.”
Evelyn grabbed the shoes away from Sandy and stormed out so furiously the furniture shook. She turned back from the doorway and launched the heels back inside, nailing the wall with intense force before disappearing behind a slammed door.
Sandy hadn’t seen her so upset since her days as a wild child, but upon remembering the letter that was waiting for him, he brushed it off. Finally, he could read what his love had to say to him!
He opened the envelope reverently and pulled out the paper. He unfolded it and was confused to find, not a handwritten letter, but a typed page. As he read, his heart plummeted into his stomach.
It wasn’t a letter at all. It was a restraining order. There was a pink note attached to it, which read: I didn’t want it to come to this, but you have harassed me for long enough. I have tried everything else. I sincerely hope this gets my point across. Signed, Maria Rose Ellison.
Sandy dropped to his knees. The room was spinning so fast he had to shut his eyes. How had the receptionist put Maria Rose up to this? The wicked hag!
No matter, thought Sandy after a moment of panic. At least he had finally received his first handwritten letter from the woman of his dreams.