In another life, I sold real estate and ran my second craft business. I’ve done that you know … worked two ventures at once.
Those were what I call my dead years. The kids were gone, I began to hate every housewife I showed houses, and the crafts business bottomed out.
To fill in the time, I babbled in my second journal and played with short stories. I’d write something perfectly awful and email it to my real estate partner. He read each story and commented that I might want to consider going back into therapy.
What I also discovered during those years was the romance novel. Being hung up on mysteries and traditional types of books, I had never ventured into the romance genre. A good friend told me I needed to expand my horizons.
I went regularly to the Publisher’s Clearing House Catalog and ordered wholesale cases of Harlequin paperbacks for my mother and her eighty-year old girlfriends. Then I’d visit and get them smashed with a bottle of vodka and a quart of orange juice.
“Mom, you like that stuff?”
“Yes, I do. I love happy endings.”
So I gave it a shot. For six months I took out dozens of romance novels from the library and fell in love with Nora Roberts. I was hooked.
Jake Darling was the first time I attempted the three girlfriend scenario. Three girls at a crossroad take a summer cottage. Three sisters inherit their father’s business. Three woman meet and …
Well, you get the picture. Trilogies are the romance rage. It is also Nora’s specialty. No one can do the trilogy quite as well as she does. Three sisters own a bar in Ireland. Three wiccans live on an island. Three sisters break a two hundred year old curse handed down from their great-great grandmother.
For reasons, I can’t begin to analyze, even with the help of a therapist, I tend to save every damn thing I write. I’d still have some of my grade school essays if my mom hadn’t had one of her fits and sent them to the incinerator one weekend. “I told you a thousand times to get that stuff out of the hall closet.”
And if she were still here torturing her only baby girl, it is for damn sure, I’d never let her near my computer.
So without further delay … I give you Sarah, Eileen, and Trudy in Jake Darling.
It opens thus …
We were three girls of the fifties, the first, my mother would say proudly, of the baby boom generation, born in 1946. Donning plaid skirts and over-sized sweaters, saddle shoes or Skippy sneakers and of course, pony tails.
It is a friendship that began in sixth grade.
Today, we were sitting at a seafood restaurant at City Island and I was expanding on my thoughts of true love.
“Being in love might be compared to seasonal allergies, hives, temporary insanity, or a train wreck depending on the duration and the major life threatening symptoms.”
Eileen shook her head. “Oh common Sarah, don’t you cry when you see ‘A Love Affair to Remember?’”
“Well of course I do. I cry over love stories all the time, except that nauseating movie in the seventies. God I tried to watch it all the way through once and gagged.”
“You don’t mean with Ally McGraw and Ryan O’Neil?”
“That’s the one.‘Being in love means you never have to say you’re sorry.’ What tripe. Being in love means you’re sorry every damn day of your life.”
Eileen turned to Trudy. “She means Love Story . Don’t you just I cry every time you watch that one.”
Of course, Eileen cried every time she watched her soaps or the nightly news or read the tabloids. “Can you imagine a divorce after all these years?” “Did you know Gretta Garbo had a love child she abandoned in the South of France?”
“My luck, if I were abandoned it would have been in the South Pole.”
Trudy tapped her martini glass with a spoon. “Would you two cut it out, we have important business to discuss.”
Trudy on the other hand was among the one percent on the planet who had a good marriage. Trudy and James met in high school, got engaged at the senior prom and had been together for over thirty years. I was so jealous I could bite someone.
“I will concede you and Jim are the exception to the rule.”
Eileen raised her hand for the waiter. “I think love is always possible. You never know anytime you might turn the corner—“
“And get hit by a truck ‘cause you were looking for love instead of looking at the traffic light. Give me a break, Eileen. Look when you’re a kid and you wake up after losing a tooth you find a quarter under the pillow—“
Trudy giggled. “A quarter, Sarah? Your mom only gave you a quarter?”
“Yeah, she probably told me the tooth fairy was having a year of losses. Under the definition of cheap there is a picture of my mom. Anyway, if you wake up at fifty and you lose a tooth you get slammed with a $1,500 dentist bill.”
“Poor tainted Sarah.” Eileen flagged the waiter and orders us another round of martinis.
“Don’t poor Sarah me. You still believe in Fairy Tales?”
“It’s not the absolute belief of anything you can touch and feel. It’s the knowing of what can be.”
“Trudy, will you help me out here before she starts chanting.”
“Listen you two, cut it out. Either you believe in something or you don’t.” She craned her head. “Where is he with those martinis? Being with you two requires lots of drink.”
Our drinks arrived and we toasted to true love. After all, Trudy was happy with her marriage, Eileen was happy with her search for the perfect mate, and I seemed happy to. To what?
“Let me point out something Sarah,” Trudy interrupted my thoughts, “you are the one who collects love songs and mushy movies.”
“Yeah, and you read Nora Roberts.”
“Yes, but my favorite of hers are the romantic suspense. Mix a little murder and then the love part is more palatable.”
They went off on a tangent of the weekly sales at Saks and I became lost in reminiscences.
We had been friends since grade school. We went to drive-ins together, we flirted at the local diner together, and of course, went to all the high school dances together. We were at a dance at Midwood High when Trudy met James. Damn if it wasn’t love at first sight.
Eileen married a year after graduation and divorced after three children, several broken ribs, and a custody battle. She moved back in her parent’s house and still had her pink and white gingham curtains on the windows and her dolls on the bed.
She was divorced for one year and married again, and again after another child and filing bankruptcy she was back in her parent’s house. The last time I went to pick her up she still had the gingham curtains.
“Eileen, why don’t you change these, you’ve had them since high school.”
“I do every other year. I just go out and get more gingham and make a new pair. You see, I love the feeling of walking in the room and making believe I’m still sweet sixteen and never been kissed.”
Well Eileen had been kissed. Married twice, engaged three times and currently having a hot affair with a married man fifteen years her senior. She and the kids went to therapy twice a week for ten years. She worked at a local real estate office, watched the soaps and was a Gold Card member of Parents Without Partners.
I took the middle ground. Married, two kids and divorced all in five years. No house, no bankruptcy, no parents to move in with and not enough money for therapy. I concluded the kids might as well stay screwed up. It would give them more to talk about when they could afford therapy of their own.
My folks were under the impression I would come to my senses and go back to my husband and moving back home would make me too comfortable. I was under the impression they were too cheap to help us out, so I rented the top floor from Trudy and James house, drove a re-furbished yellow Beetle financed by my Aunt Mabel, went back to college, and started teaching.
My mother on the occasion that I needed a sitter, “Sarah, has it ever occurred to you that your father and I need some time alone in the autumn of our life?”
“Yes it occurs to me every time I ask you to take the kids for one night. You and my father are spending your autumn, winter, spring and summer doing something more important.”
“Excuse me? Did I tell you to get a divorce? Your father and I tried to convince you to work through your problems. Seems to me your generation could learn a thing or two about commitment.”
“Yeah, we’ve learned, you stay married too long, you end up committed.”
“And what stops you from getting married again? Tell me that? Do you even try?” She pushed her glasses to the end of her nose.
“Now take Eileen, she has herself out there in the mix. She’s makes an effort. How many times have we tried to introduce you to one of your father’s business associates? How many dates have your friends tried to arrange? Tell me how many dates have you refused?”
“Ma, I’m too old for blind dates. What do you expect me to do, put my hair in a pony tail and go hang out at the diner?”
“Don’t be so cute. Now she’s old. So what happened when you were younger, I ask? Face it, you need to go out there and find a man. Your children have gone on with their lives and what do you do with your time?”
“Speaking of Eileen. All a guy has to do is give her a half a smile and she’s getting engaged.”
“But she is out there trying. She’s a trouper.”
“No Ma, she’s a schnook.”
“I don’t like that you are alone. When your father and I die who will you have?”
“I’ll retire and move to Florida with Aunt Carol and her twenty cats.”
“I can’t talk to you.” She pushed her glasses back up and flipped the pages of her newspaper.
I felt a sharp pain in my arm where Eileen had just pinched me. “Sarah, will you please come back to earth!”
“Ouch!” I rubbed my arm. “Gees I hate that. You know I hate that.”
“Well pay attention.”
“I was thinking about my mother.”
“God, don’t give me a rash.” Trudy leaned forward, her face open like she was about to burst at the seams. “I have monumental news.”
Tell the truth, don’t you just love a happy ending?
I mean if you had your druthers wouldn’t they all end with a kiss?