The unexpected marriage proposal went nothing like the way she’d dreamed; no misty-eyed lover dropping to one knee, no declaring eternal love. Instead, it came on the back of a rabid dog with a sweet puppy face.
The heat eased after sunset, but the air indoors was still too close. Sarah had fallen asleep by the window under the bamboo ceiling fan. She awoke in the dark with a handkerchief wadded in her fist, and for that moment between sleep and alert, she forgot why she held the damp cloth. Oh, Jordon.
The lake house belonged to her now, since both parents had died, first her father, then months later her mother. As was the family’s habit on such hot summer nights, she picked up the flashlight from its hook by the door and started for the water. Sarah walked alone in the dark, flip-flops slapping down to the end of the private dock. She spread a folded blanket over the moist surface and sat, laying palms behind her, she pressed her shoulders back, opening the space in her chest. It was her first chance of the day to really breathe and she sucked in the sweet jasmine air.
Crickets and cicadas sang the high-pitched sounds she’d loved since girlhood days on the lake. Croaking frogs reminded her of fun times with her best friend Marjorie, who said they were miniature foghorns. Sarah bunched her white nightgown under her slender thighs, let her feet dangle over the edge.
It was the second time she’d worn the princess nightgown since buying it for too much money the year before. The soft Pima cotton designed with a line of tiny pearl buttons, pin-tucks over the bodice, and satin piping edging narrow shoulder straps was fit for royalty. It was the epitome of sensual femininity. She didn’t care anymore what Jordan said about it.
Her mother could have given sage advice. To thine own self be true, she would have said. But Sarah lacked that wisdom and felt lost in the labyrinth of indecision.
The tears began again.
It had been a year since Marjorie's debut book signing. Sarah stopped by to brag about her promotion as VP of finance. The women squealed and hugged in the book store’s coffee lounge, while out in the shop customers queued up to meet the new author. At twenty-five, the two best friends had reached success in business and could hardly believe it.
Sarah and Marjorie wiped their eyes and walked back to the customer area where stood a man by the window, sipping from a styrofoam cup. He looked like someone Sarah had seen in a movie, although she couldn't come up with a name.
She unboxed a stack of books and turned to place them on the table next to Marjorie. When she stood, there he was, squarely in front of her, empty cup in hand.
"We should be together," he said and chuckled as he tossed the cup in the wastebasket.
Put off for a moment, Sarah stepped back on her spike heels.
"I mean, look at this," he said smiling and pointing to a dimple on his cheek. "Your have a dimple on your right cheek. Mine's on the other side. Well okay, yours is better. But mine's still a match."
The hardback book in her hand, its fiery red cover suddenly felt heavy.
"You're brave," she said. "I could knock you out with this."
“Maybe so, but I'm not worried. I can duck pretty quick.”
She had to admit it was an original pick-up line.
“What do you think? Put us together and we have a complete face.” He made his dark eyebrows bounce like Groucho Marx. She laughed in spite of herself.
“My name’s Jordan.”
“I’m Sarah,” she said.
“Beautiful name for a beautiful woman.”
At work she would have done the eye-roll. She knew a kiss-ass when she saw one. But no one ever called her beautiful. Smart, yes. But never pretty. Never beautiful. The compliment was so foreign that she didn’t know what to say.
“Have you read this?” he asked.
"The author's my best friend. Its a good book. Even if I didn't know her, I'd love it."
“Historical fiction is my go-to genre. I‘ll take one, on your recommendation.”
“You’ll like it. Want it signed?”
”Naturally,” Jordan said and to Marjorie, he grinned, “Your greatest fan here tells me I’ll love it.” He was a self-assured sort, the type with whom one feels immediately familiar. “My name is Jordan,” he said and laughed when he read Marjorie’s message; To Jordan the Charmer, may you fall in love (with this book—haha). Best, Marjorie.
He winked and thanked her. Sarah had emptied every box.
Jordan said, “Hey miss dimple, want to catch a drink? How about the pub on the corner?”
Marjorie held her pen, ready for the last customer and looked up, craned her neck to see around the patron and nodded slowly as if to say, "Hubba-hubba."
Sarah had a graduate degree and a good job, but those years with the books left her behind in the social world. Jordan found her fascinating for how well-read she was and her position as Vice President in a well known company. Jordan said he loved to cook. She enjoyed fine food, but cooking didn’t interest her. In her kitchen was a Keurig coffee maker, a six-pack of Fresca in the fridge, and a half dozen eggs.
Jordan gave her a lift back to her place that first night and asked to come in.
“Wine’s in the pantry, help yourself,” she said and left the room to change into jeans and tee shirt.
“What’s this? he yelled from the kitchen. “Seriously, wine in a box?” Chuckling, he added, “Only rubes drink box wine, and we know you are not a rube.” He said not to worry, he would teach her how to appreciate French wine and single malt Scotch.
From a cottage nearby she heard piano music, slow and lovely, the Moonlight Sonata. Sarah breathed deep once more and held onto it, wanting to keep it, along with the enchanting night sounds. Of course, she had to let it go and take in the next one if she wanted to go on living. Her hand ran across the smooth cotton on her lap.
Their first outing they hiked beside a stream where boulders blocked their path. She nearly fell in but he caught hold of her elbow just as her knee crashed against the rough stone, scraping the skin, making a shallow wound, the most painful kind. On the way home, they ordered Pad Thai from the take-out joint down the block and he offered go out for it while she cleaned up.
Sarah ran bathwater, dumping in lavender salts. Her knee stung and oozed as she dabbed it and covered it with a bandaid.
“I’m back,” Jordan called out, “where are you?”
“I’m in the tub, I’ll be out in just a minute. Get yourself a drink and relax.”
She gathered her thick dark hair into a loose mass, letting strands fall around her face then slipped into her princess nightgown. Glossing her lips and pinching her cheeks she opened the door, and faced Jordan who lay spread out on her chenille bedspread, thumbing his phone.
“All set,” she said, standing flat-footed at the end of his the bed.
He looked up from his phone and laughed. As if she’d worn a clown suit or Wonder Woman costume, he laughed.
“Wow,” he said. “Straight out of Little House on the Prairie.”
“Is that good?” she’d asked while turning halfway toward the mirror, double-checking her image.
Eyebrows up, his eyes rolled to the side.
“Sure. It’s good,” he sucked his teeth. “I wonder about you sometimes,” he said, but stood and wrapped his arms around her, lifted the gown over her head, and tossed it. She loved his attention, but inside a tiny piece of her died.
The following Saturday, Jordan arrived at her place with hands behind his back and a sly look on his face that showed the dimple on his left cheek. His short stubble beard was perfectly trimmed at the lip edge, and below the jawline.
“Whaat do you have?” she laughed, stretching out the words.
They danced around each other as she tried to see, laughing and teasing, until she got hold of his arm and wouldn’t let go. He let her pull it from his hands, a lovely gold satin gift box with sparkling handles. The tag read Victoria’s Secret. Sarah’s insides shrank as she lifted a red thong made of string and delicate lace; under it was a matching push-up bra.
“Model for me,” he breathed into her neck.
She went to the closet. Behind the door, she pushed herself into the bra. G string, right up the bum crack. She tugged and twisted, but there was no getting away from the wedgie. She wrapped her bath towel around her chest, opened the door, and charged straight to the bed.
“Don’t lay down,” Jordan said, his voice husky. “Drop the towel. Now walk over there, I want to enjoy you, my own private peep show.”
She did as he asked, aware of goosebumps on her paper-white skin. But when he kissed her shoulder from behind, his large warm hands gently pulled her to him, all that disappeared.
The gentle sound of oars and low voices came toward the dock. In the moonlight she saw it was a couple, he rowing and she facing him, looking up at the full moon.
“Evening,” a deep voice said.
“Evening,” Sarah replied clearing her throat.
“Beautiful moon shadows tonight. Nice on the water,” the woman said.
Sarah did not answer.
They traveled to Europe and South America, touring old vineyards of Italy, French bistros. Together they discovered the glow worms on the ceiling of New Zealand caves. He taught her to ski and took her sky diving.
Marjorie gushed over Jordan the Charmer, handsome, gallant man. Sarah shrugged. Cracks had formed but Sarah refused to tell her best friend. Holding onto the story meant the end wouldn't come. Is there such a thing as happily ever after, Sarah asked herself.
When he was up, she couldn’t get enough of him. But at times, he would turn into a spoiled child, barking over nothing. She asked what was wrong.
He said through gritted teeth, "Nothing. Nothing. Is. Wrong."
He would growl, "Leave me alone."
She despised driving with him in the car. He complained that she put on the brakes too late at a stop sign. Wasting gas. Wearing out the brakes. She’d concentrated then on slowing the car further back until it seemed like she might stop before she made it to an intersection. He chided her for driving like an old lady.
At restaurants, he scoffed at her dinner preferences. Lately, she didn’t bother to order for herself, instead, she let him decide for her. It was easier that way. Food choice wasn’t a hill she wanted to die on.
She complained about his moodiness, his volatility. That was his passion, he’d said. He asked her if she’d rather be with a lumper who adored her and did nothing else. Passion is one thing she’d told him, but the moods, one minute cracking jokes, the next silent, angry. They'd broken up once but not for long.
She had been on a business trip when the final client on her schedule canceled, allowing Sarah to move her flight up. Delighted to have a chance to surprise Jordan, she planned to make a meal he'd taught her, mussels in tomato and wine broth, serve it with a crusty baguette and chilled white wine. Sarah stopped at the market on her way back from the airport.
The after-five crowd had gathered at the pub across from the market. Loaded down with shopping bags, Sarah made her way through the parking lot. A child in the car next to hers held a sleeping terrier puppy. “Adorable,” she whispered as she passed. The dog awoke and began yapping as she opened the rear hatch. “Sorry!” she said to the boy.
Her thoughts went to the playlist on her phone for the evening. She placed the last bag in the car and closed the hatch, noticing that the puppy had quieted and lay on the child’s lap. Nothing quite like a puppy, she thought and reached for the car door handle.
Across the lot, in front of the pub, by the entrance, Jordan put his hand on a young woman’s neck, tilt his head, and kiss her on the mouth. Oh, so tenderly. His hand on that woman’s neck, just as he did when he kissed her the first time.
Later she wondered why she didn’t confront them in the moment. She felt embarrassed for him, caught this way with her watching and turned away, as if it was she who wronged him.
At Jordan’s place she paced, heart racing.
She had flown into a rage like a shaken soda can, the top had sprung and the power locked inside exploded from her as she threw his fine stemware onto the ceramic floor. Again and again, the shards went like shrapnel in a shower of glass and sound, a symphony of notes, blowing up like fireworks amongst a cheering crowd, except no one cheered in that kitchen.
Jordan laid cardboard over the destruction, then as if she were an injured animal, he spoke quietly and took her hand, guiding her away from the glass. It had all been exhausting, reaching this point. He put his arms around her, cooed next to her ear that she was his one and only, that he was sorry and that he would prove it to her. “You want to get married?” he’d asked. But then his tone changed. “If that’s what you want, if that’s what this is all about, then let’s get married.” The words came out harsh and tight.
Sarah let her toes skim the cool black water easing her feet in, making a faint rippling sound. He had become part of her. She forgave his moods and harsh words, the derisive tone, and disparaging attitude. Who would she be without him? They had become an entity as a couple. Together they were unlike anything and anyone else. Being with Jordan made her someone she wanted to be, sophisticated, worldly, beautiful. With anyone else, she was ordinary, just a face among the masses.