Here is the beginning of a wonderful tale from Barbara J Peters. Chapter One of her soon to be released book, Never Too Old For Romance
June, It was twilight. The irascible Florida sky, wide and threatening, promised anything from a cloudburst to a light wind. When Melanie Schulman got out of her white BMW convertible in the parking lot of the Boca Raton Hilton, a slight breeze wrapped her knee-length dress around her, revealing a curvy figure. Although she was nearing sixty-six, she looked young and attractive, with hardly a wrinkle. She’d contemplated eye surgery, but as a nurse, she was scared of operative procedures and pain. When she was out with her thirty-eight-year-old daughter, people often mistook them as friends, which always made her feel good. So she thought: To heck with the surgery! They’ll have to love me, sags and bags. Men still did a double take from time to time. Although she was a brunette with long, stylish hair, she wore it with a few blonde streaks, much as she did in high school. Because she had a pretty face, with a turned-up nose and a smile that warmed the heart, Melanie still had the “it” factor. But she was the only one who didn’t realize this fact. Today, she and Lois Drazin (the best friend she grew up with) had a drink date. They were soul mates in every way. They still borrowed each other’s clothes, and before they were married, they often double-dated. Even though they had been in different cliques in high school, they had remained friends. Lois was a sweetheart, always ready to help a friend. Just as Melanie walked up to the curb, she spotted her friend getting out of her two-door sports Mercedes. Lois was a leggy blonde with an even Florida tan. The copper tone of her skin magnificently set off her green eyes. Although Lois loved haute couture, she shopped at Marshalls with a keen eye for knowing exactly what she wanted. She wore a 4.5-karat diamond ring and a wedding band, but somehow her ensemble still looked fashionably understated. She was unpretentious in her own way. After a quick hug, they entered the white-marble lobby of the hotel. Melanie’s earnest smile brightened her pretty face; but Lois, a discerning friend, could tell that something was on Melanie’s mind. They were still waiting for their drinks on the lanai by the pool when the setting sun sent a rainbow shimmering across the fountain spray arising from the center of the pool. It got their attention. “Look at that,” remarked Lois. “Means something big is about to happen” Grinning, Melanie said, “That’s either hopeful or foreboding” Lois shared her grin. Both women were analytical. Lois was into astrology, and she had been begging to do Melanie’s astrological chart. While Melanie had no interest in astrology, she knew that Lois saw merit in it. The drinks came, and the middle-aged waiter gave the two attractive ladies a big smile. Lois, thoughtfully sipping her drink, said, “So what’s bothering you? Is it the e-mail message from some guy we knew back in high school, coming out of the blue?” “Well, yeah. You know how it is,” Melanie said. “My personal life right now is far from ideal. I’ve been living a rather uninteresting life” Then suddenly out of context she added,”It’s peculiar that I don’t remember him at all.” Lois remarked, “From my recollection, he was a nice guy, kind of smart. In fact, he even wrote in my yearbook! My guess is that you’re hoping that this goes somewhere beyond just a friendly chat?” Blushing almost imperceptibly, Melanie leveled her gaze at her friend and said, “l’d be lying if I told you that it didn’t get me thinking. About everything. Like I could fool you anyway.” Lois sipped her drink, her eyes full of interest. “You looked him up in the yearbook, of course” Melanie grinned again. “Of course. He’s quite handsome, if that’s something to hang your hat on. I don’t remember even talking to him. But who can remember? It’s been so long ago. As you know, I was a cheerleader, and your friends and mine were as far apart as Alaska is from Australia. That much I remember.” Soon, the hors d ‘oeuvres arrived. Nibbling a mozzarella stick, Lois said, “You seem like you are flattered with his attention for you. The way you blush when you talk about him gives you away. Come on Mel, let me in.” “Okay, it’s true” Melanie said. “I am getting a bit ahead of myself. But it all makes me wonder if it’s too late. Why am I thinking like this? The die is cast. Do people our age make midlife changes and come away happy? Or do they just get new troubles in a different pair of pants?” “Who knows,” said Lois. “Life is complicated and uncertain. We often don’t get to know the outcomes. If you let me do your chart, I might be able to see some trends. One thing for sure, I can see this in your eyes: You’re excited about the possibilities.” Instead of the expected mirth, Melanie lapsed solemn, a twinge of apprehension tempering her expression. “Is that a bad thing?” she asked seriously. “Perhaps I should forget all of this childish daydreaming and walk away from it.” Lois shook her head. “How many years have we known each other? I’m betting that you can’t walk away. I know you too well. Your curiosity has a hold of you, and now it’s too late.” Melanie wouldn’t admit it to her friend, but her life was bland. She was so starved for affection and love that any glimmer of excitement and male attention was bound to move her. She knew that Lois was right- she couldn’t walk away.
Melanie parked in the driveway of her sprawling ranch with a Spanish-tile roof. Out front there were transplanted coconut palms. Flowers of bright yellow and white led the way to the front door. She sat in the car, marveling for a few minutes before going in. She looked at the house and grounds. The lawn and shrubbery had just been cut, and the sweet smell of freshly cut grass was in the air. What I always wanted: a beautiful home, a useful job, and … The missing element! A life rich with passion, romance, and fulfillment. Well, maybe romance was a pipe dream, but at the very least, contentment should be in the picture. She loved the house, and she had decorated it according to her personal taste. The colors were close to nature (ochre, green, beige, and earth tones), which enhanced the overall serenity and gave the feel of the outdoors. The house was quiet as usual when she walked in. Her only welcome was from her dog, Schneider, an eight-year-old King Charles Cavalier, whose name she had lifted from one of her favorite soap operas of the sixties. He rocketed into Melanie’s arms. Schneider made up in enthusiasm for what he lacked in size. He was small; his elegant, silky coat featured tri-colored markings. His face wore the perpetual frown of the breed, with soulful eyes and a sweet, “melting” expression. Melanie spent time greeting him and easing his loneliness, smiling and laughing at his zealous antics. He was the apple of her eye, because her children had flown from the nest long ago and created their own families. “Are you that glad to see me, you old charmer, or are you just hungry?” she chuckled as she slipped off her shoes and looked around to see what needed to be cleaned. Quite frequently when she came home from work, she had to clean up a mess in the kitchen that her husband had left before dashing off to a golf date. This day was no different. She understood his passion for golf. After all, she enjoyed tennis, a game that kept her heart healthy and her legs toned. But she did resent his foregoing a more intense personal relationship with her, in favor of golf. With a sigh, Melanie went to the refrigerator to check out what there was for dinner. “Guess it’s going to be leftovers again tonight,” she told Schneider, who was busy with his own evening meal. She popped a dish of spaghetti and veal cutlet in the microwave, poured herself a small glass of wine, and as soon as the meal was ready, she took it to her computer in the den. She was new to the technological age, having been led to it by her adult children, Edward (who was forty-one) and Megan (who was thirty-eight). Edward had kidded her about being a “Luddite” because of her resistance. She had to look up the word before understanding that it referred to those people who resisted technological advances. But now, considering how lonely she had been feeling these days, she looked forward to being on the computer. Even though her job as a cardiac nurse was fulfilling, it still left her with a lot of time on her hands. Her fascination and interest in the Internet had a lot to do with pleasant anticipation. It piqued her imagination. It was fun to check e-mail and find messages from friends. Right now she was focusing on an upcoming fiftieth high school reunion. For Melanie, the Internet had its own special kind of expectation, allowing her to wander into another world. It provided her with a quiet hope that something interesting would be waiting for her. She looked forward to being online, because the Internet seemed to promise almost anything you were looking for. She was looking for friendship, hope, and interesting banter with friends. Whenever she sat down to the computer, the Internet stirred her with its possibility to provide what she was lacking in her life. This day, her heart leapt at the notice of “You have mail” She quickly punched the appropriate keys, and there it was: a note from Mark. Melanie, I’ve been enjoying chatting with you. In case you don’t remember what I look like, there are two photos on my somewhat-vestigial social media site. If you can’t access them, let me know. Never really got into all the social media technology, but thought it would be fun to see if any of our classmates were still around. It is interesting to reconnect with people from the past. I did follow your link, by the way. Looks like life is treating you well. Happy to see it. By the way, are those grandkids in your photo? So cute! How old are they? Regards, Mark Melanie’s jaw dropped in awe of Mark’s pictures. Just like in the yearbook picture, he was still quite handsome, with blond hair and a mystery in his piercing blue eyes that promised something beyond merely good looks. She replied to the e-mail, answering the mundane questions first. Then she slyly suggested that they use personal e-mails for future correspondence; she was hoping for a more intimate conversation to develop. She wrote: Mark, Please e-mail me directly. I usually don’t check these social media sites very often, as I, too, am not a big fan. (She then provided a link to her e-mail.) Would love to hear more about you and your life. Yours, Mel Two days later, she got an e-mail directly from Mark, which made her heart leap into her throat. Melanie, So glad to have your personal e-mail. I might just be coming to your neck of the woods in a few weeks for a business trip. My career often causes me to travel. We can get into that later. It sure would be nice to meet you again, after all these years. What do you think? In the meantime, I’d like to hear more about your life, and I would be happy to acquaint you with mine. We do have a history in common, and we still probably know a lot of the same people. Regards, Mark Melanie took a deep breath; her heart was pounding. He was coming to Florida? If he only knew! This was so exciting. Her imagination took off on flights of its own, over which she had little control. She quickly responded and agreed to correspond. She was so bold as to give out her phone number, just in case he had the urge to talk. Melanie felt like a schoolgirl again, and she was enjoying fantasies of the unknown. She felt as if she was being pulled to him with a magnet. Still unsure of his marital status, she decided to opt on the cautious side. The next few days she had a twinkle in her eye as she went through her usual daily activities. She allowed herself to fantasize and take trips down memory lane. As the days went by, the two became more than pen pals, asking each other questions about each other. They shared intimate details of their lives, getting to know each other better, laughing together and enjoying their talks. They got personal, seeming to connect on many levels. The topics they talked about had no censorship. It was as though the almost fifty years since school was a mere illusion. E-mailing each other became the highlight of her days. She went to sleep thinking of him and woke up thinking of him. She was falling in love, and she told him so. Then one day his phone call came, unexpectedly. That changed the dynamics of the relationship, bringing them even closer. Hearing his voice added another dimension to their growing connection. During one of the phone calls, he revealed to her that he’d had a “crush” on her for a year and a half during high school. At the time, he hadn’t asked her out because he didn’t have a car, and he didn’t think she would be interested in him. He said that he remembered sitting behind her in a class, and he called her a “goddess” He said he remembered her being funny and genuine, unlike the other girls in her crowd. She couldn’t stop herself from wondering what would have happened if he had asked her out. But that was more than forty-five years ago, back in Brookline, Massachusetts, where they grew up. A lot of time had passed since they’d walked the same halls. Was it now too late for a second chance? Melanie returned her thoughts to the present. She wondered, What will I do if he asks me out? She was unhappily married, but still married. Was the answer in the stars? Should she let Lois do her chart? Lois certainly believed it would be beneficial, and Melanie knew her friend would never be anything but genuinely honest with her. My gosh! she suddenly thought. What if the chart reveals that Mark is supposed to be a big part of my life? What if my life still holds the promise of world travel and adventure, as well as romance? So many ifs! Ultimately what Melanie asked herself was, Should I wait and let it happen, or should I find my own direction? She knew there was a lot of cynicism about astrology and downright phoniness, too. But there was something alluring about the concept of letting the stars plot the future. Maybe she should do the chart, after all.