Okay, maybe not that long ago.
While I have been writing stories and poetry and bad song lyrics since the time I could hold a crayon in my tiny left hand, it wasn’t until Dec. 30th of last year that I decided I would put enough confidence in myself to take this author thing seriously. I nervously barricaded myself in the spare bedroom of our home and plucked away at the keys. I Googled everything I possibly could about publishing and self-publishing and the odds of even having anyone read your book should you choose to write one. I devoured every helpful webpage I came across. I couldn’t wait to begin my journey. The only problem? I hadn’t actually written anything yet.
So, there I was, facing a blank Open Office page. Could I really do this? Could I write something people wouldn’t think was atrocious? Could I just decide this was what I was going to do?
While my head swirled with questions, I plucked away at the keys and managed to concoct the first non-school-related piece of fiction in my adult life. Nights Like This. It was brooding and kind of sad and way different from anything I had ever written. I had no idea where the characters or story line had come from, but there they were, bursting from the screen. I re-read the entire short story and finally decided it was terrible. I seriously contemplated not even hitting the save button before I slinked off to bed, but I couldn’t bear to see my hard work just fizzle out so quickly. I saved it and pretty much vowed I would never write for pleasure again.
Long story short, I went back and revised the story, but still didn’t know if it was any good. I was too scared to share it with anyone, so I did the obvious: I uploaded it on AuthorStand for random people to critique. To my surprise (and utter relief) I got some really great feedback. I uploaded a few more stories and my confidence really started to grow. It was then that I began penning Trusted. As the months went on, I met some really great people that seemed to fall into my life at just the right times. They boosted my confidence and assured me that I could do this.
Here I am, one year later, and man, I am so glad I didn’t quit! Am I a New York Times Bestseller? Not yet. 😉 But who says I can’t be? If there is one thing I have learned it is this: I am my own worst enemy and the only one that can limit what I can achieve.
So, to come “full circle” so to speak, here’s that story that started it all. I give you, “Nights Like This”. Enjoy. 🙂
Nights Like This
On most warm summer nights, I find myself out here; settled alone atop a grassy hill not too far from my house. The twinkling stars and croaking bullfrogs accompany my thoughts, which replay the hurried events from yet another lively day. When the conditions are right, just like tonight, it’s like he’s actually here. When I close my eyes tight enough, I can feel the warmth of his body next to mine. It is on nights like this that everything else just melts away.
Mrs. Vera Bradshaw. The shiny brass name plate on my desk stares mockingly at me. It’s as if it is displayed there as a constant reminder that he’s gone. Memories flood my mind and tears threaten to spill over just as a call is patched through to my office. I give a quick sniff and make the most genuine effort to be professional.
“Good morning, Vera Bradshaw speaking.” Just saying my last name…the name he had given to me…hurts so bad.
“Yes ma’am, I did receive your email.” I deleted it just this morning, I reminded myself.
“Yes. My boss is actually looking it over as we speak.” He could care less about anything that comes from you.
“Can I give you a call back as soon as I hear from him?” You will never hear from me again.
“Wonderful. I’ll be speaking with you soon. Have a great day. Mbye.” More lies.
The last three months of my life have felt like I’m running on one of those hamster wheels. The more I push forward and try to move on with my life, the more I remain in the same place. To be so young and to have loved so hard; the only conclusion I can come to is this: life is outrageously unfair. I can’t fight back the tears any longer and begin sobbing at my desk, a regular occurrence these days.
Excusing myself early, I walk to my car in a dazed stupor. I never imagined just how hard it would be to function without him here.
* * *
Jesse was everything to me. From the moment I saw him, I knew that I would do anything just to be close to him. I’ll never forget seeing him standing in line in front of me at the grocery store. In a faded gray t-shirt and holey jeans, he was the epitome of perfection. The way his shirt clung to his biceps and how his adorable boyish smile complimented his dimples; I just wanted to be in his world. Being the type of girl that doesn’t typically approach guys, due mostly to shyness, I just admired him from afar. To my surprise, however, upon exiting the store I noticed that he was parked right beside me. I may not have had the courage to talk to him, but I at least had to make him notice me.
I sashayed over to my car, trying desperately to look sexy. I pulled down my sunglasses and tossed my hair to the side, doing my best slow-motion Covergirl impersonation. Mere feet from my car, I saw him glance my way. I locked eyes with him and gave the most flirtatious smile I could muster, and then it happened: I tripped over one of the concrete parking lot bumpers and landed flat on my face. At that moment I wanted to crawl in a hole and die. Literally, the embarrassment flooded over me like a tsunami. Sadly, to make matters worse, I did what I do best in situations of intense adversity; I cried.
“Oh my gosh, are you okay?!” Jesse yelled.
This, of course, garnered the unwanted attention of dozens of other passers-by.
“I’m fine,” I managed to sob out, assessing the extent of my wounds.
I was somehow able to find my car keys on the ground, which, unlike my pride, were still intact. I pushed the unlock button on the key fob and moved as quickly as possible to the driver’s side door.
Just as my hand reached the door handle, I felt the warmth of his hand on mine. Through blurry, tear filled eyes, I looked up at him.
“Look, can I take you to dinner?” he asked.
I stood frozen, speechless.
“Hey,” he continued, “I know how bad falling in public sucks. Trust me, I’ve done it plenty of times. Dinner bought by a complete stranger, however, will make it suck less. I promise.” He smiled sheepishly and held up three fingers, Scout’s honor.
“I don’t need a sympathy date. Thanks anyway. I just want to go home.”
“What if it isn’t out of sympathy?” he countered, stepping in front of me. “What if it’s because I want to have dinner with a beautiful girl that has had a visibly rough day?”
Typically pick up lines don’t work on me, but for some reason (maybe because I had just humiliated myself in front of this gorgeous man and he still thought I was beautiful) I gave in.
We met up at Gringo’s an hour later and well, for lack of a better cliché, the rest is history. What can I say? The conversation flowed effortlessly; we shared the same sense of humor. It was as if we were two halves that made the perfect whole. Jesse truly became the love of my life, my knight in shining armor. I mean, any man that will take a clumsy mess like me out to dinner after seeing me face-plant in front of him is just a special kind of guy. There wasn’t a day that passed that he didn’t make me feel beautiful and special and loved.
We hit it off that night and many wonderful dates followed. We went hiking, we shared laughs, we watched movies…we fell in love. It wasn’t long after that fateful day at the grocery store that we exchanged vows. I was the happiest woman in the world. I was no longer just gangly Vera, I was Mrs. Jesse Bradshaw.
* * *
I will never forget the pounding knock on my door that night. I knew Jesse would be out of town on business for a few days and couldn’t imagine who would be visiting so late. I paused my Netflix movie and peered out the side window. Red and blue lights flooded my yard. I unbolted the door to find two somber faced police officers, visibly dreading to reveal the message that they had come to relay. I remember distinctly two things happening at that moment; first, the thudding of my heart grew so loud that I could no longer hear the officer’s words, and second, I collapsed to the ground screaming Jesse’s name.
Even after the funeral, the reality just never quite set right with me. It still seemed that he would be returning from his business trip any day. Knowing him, he would have a bouquet of roses in hand and he would scoop me up and kiss me like it was the first time. My heart ached for weeks to the point that I wasn’t sure I could go on. One night, laying face down on his side of the bed, breathing in every last bit of his memory I could, something inside me snapped. The next thing I knew, I was running. I bolted out the back door, desperate for something- air? freedom? distance? No, I needed to be close to him. I ran until I found myself on our hill, the beautiful grassy hill that overlooks our house. The stars were bright that night, the moon was dancing high above. As the crickets chirped their nightly song, I cried…and cried…and cried. There was no comfort, no solace, just gut-wrenching, face burning tears escaping me.
For what felt like an eternity, I stayed there bawling like a baby. My entire body ached as I cried myself into oblivion. I competed with nature as a force in the night, my pain drowning out their mating tunes. Then, as quickly as the tears had started, they came to an abrupt stop. An overwhelming feeling of peace rushed over me; it was as if he was there.
“Close your eyes,” he whispered.
Laying there in the summer wind, I could actually feel him. In my heart, it was like he had never left. All of the wonderful moments we had spent together went whirling through my head. Our first kiss, our wedding day, Christmas together; all of the images were so vivid and real. I spent the next few moments studying his face. So many times I had gazed at him, but it wasn’t until now that I fully appreciated his beauty. He was mine; even if for a short time.
Suddenly, much too quickly, the replay stopped. A faint “I love you” lingered in my ears and just like that, he was gone. This time, the void in my heart seemed a bit smaller. I felt refreshed, invigorated by his presence. The loneliness that was sure to creep back in now had an outlet. I knew how to bring him back.
On nights like this, he comes back to me; when the conditions are just right. Laying on this grassy hill next to my house, the same hill he dropped to one knee on not so long ago, he comes to me. When I close my eyes tight, when the sweat beads up on my forehead and my mouth goes dry, I feel him there. He is as real as ever.
Until next time. . .