It was only several short years ago that two Marines stood in her living room with her and her daughter, Rachel, delivering the news no military wife wants to hear. Her husband had been killed in the line of duty.
A year to the day of their meeting, Gary and Susan went for coffee and began a courtship that lasted another year. On the first anniversary of being a couple, Gary proposed and Susan said yes.
Rachel has no clue her mother is in a serious relationship, let alone getting married, until her best friend, Lila, phoned and told her the news. Struggling with unresolved feelings for her father and trying to establish her new business, the news is a sword slicing through her heart.
How will Susan deal with her daughter's pain?
Release date: October 14, 2020
Print pages: 143
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Twice Around the Block
The slight northwest breeze blew Susan Richardson’s silky shoulder length hair across her face. She reached a hand to smooth the chocolate colored tendrils and tucked them behind her ear. Thankful she’d grabbed the white cotton cardigan before leaving, she shoved her hands deep in its pockets. She and Gary Davis, yacht mogul extraordinaire, had been dating for nearly a year. They’d spent a lot of time on the water testing different vessels that his company manufactured. Today was no different. Gary had arranged with his captain to set sail at 9 AM and Susan was in charge of packing a picnic to share as they traversed the open waters of Portula Bay. “Darling, this is perfect: sunshine, open water, and my favorite lady by my side.” Gary brushed his lips lightly over Susan’s. “It is beautiful, isn’t it? A bit breezy, but beautiful. I’m surprised you aren’t at the helm. Everything all right?” Gary smiled at Susan’s comments. He brought her left hand to his lips and bussed a kiss on her knuckles. “Everything’s perfect. I wanted to spend the time with you, not worrying about navigating the water. Besides, we need to talk about a couple of things.” Susan’s brow furrowed. What could we possibly need to discuss? “Stop overthinking, my dear.” “Well, you have my curiosity piqued.” Gary grabbed the bottle of chilled champagne from the crystal ice bucket on the table.. He poured two flutes half full and handed one to Susan. “We are celebrating.” He clinked his glass against hers. “We are?” “We are.” He set down his glass and took both of Susan’s hands in his, his thumbs caressing her soft skin. “Susan, this past year with you has been amazing. We’ve done so much and seen so much,” his smile broadened as he leaned in for a kiss. “I don’t want that to ever end.” Gary reached in the pocket of his white chinos and pulled out a navy ring box. Bending to one knee, he opened the box to reveal a two carat pear shaped diamond ring. “Marry me, Susan. I love you with all my heart. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life alone. Finding someone, especially at my age… well, I never thought it would happen. And yet, here you are. I want us to spend the rest of our days together.” Before she could respond, Gary slid the ring on Susan’s finger and looked into her eyes, his own brimming with tears. “Yes! Yes! I love you so much.” Susan passionately kissed Gary and wrapped her arms around his neck. Here she was, in her late forties. She hadn’t dated since Daniel’s death, nor had she entertained the thought of marrying again…until Gary. It was quite by chance they’d even met. Susan had stayed late to help her partner, Brittany, close a deal on a new home purchase. While Brittany had done most of the work on the sale, Susan wanted to make sure the paperwork was in order. It wasn’t every day you sold a home to the most wealthy, handsome man in town. She closed the folder and waited as Brittany showed the client into the conference room. “It’s good seeing you again,” Susan offered her hand. Gary took Susan’s hand, holding it for longer than he’d intended. He noted she was dressed in a robin’s egg blue sundress with matching canvas shoes. Her hair fell around her shoulders like melted chocolate. He smiled. “I appreciate the prompt response with the finalization of this purchase, ladies,” the client smiled. “It’s silly for me to continue staying in that huge old house alone. This way, I don’t have to clean so much.” Clean? Right. From what Susan gleaned in working with this man, he was wealthy enough to have an entire staff to cater to his every need. Gary Davis was a well-known entrepreneur in the area. He’d inherited an established premiere custom yacht manufacturing business a few years back. These vessels were not your run of the mill, drop in the water for a weekend trek around the lake boats. No, they were built to the client’s specifications, and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. “Well, Mr. Davis, if you will sign right here,” Susan’s lithe finger hit the direct spot for a signature. “I will hand you the keys to your new home.” Gary picked up the pen and scrawled his name on the line. “I guess that’s it, huh? Thank you again for all you’ve done. If you’re ever in the market for a yacht, I’m your man,” he handed a business card to Susan. Great going, man. That was real smooth. Susan chuckled. A yacht. Sure. “I’ll remember that, Mr. Davis.” “Gary, please. I hope I’m not being too forward, but may I buy you an iced tea or a cup of coffee?” Susan’s cheeks pinked when she looked at Brittany, whose smirk was hard to hide. “Maybe another day?” He scrawled his personal cell number on the back of a business card and pressed it into Susan’s palm. Nodding, he closed the door behind him, wondering if he’d hear from her again. That was two years ago… It took a year for the two of them to finally have that drink…and now he was proposing. Susan sighed. Could life get any better? The afternoon on the water was simply delightful: a picnic lunch, snuggling, holding hands, stolen kisses, and watching the sunset. Susan was walking on air as Gary led her to the front door of her home. “I love you, Susan, and I can’t wait to start our life together. We need to set a date and get things rolling. I’d marry you tonight, right here on your front step if I thought I could find someone willing to pronounce us married.” Susan chuckled. “Don’t you think we better let the kids know first?” “You’re right,” Gary ran his hands up and down Susan’s arms. “Maybe we need to plan a cookout for the weekend. It would be the perfect time. We could invite a few of our closest friends, too.” “That’s a fabulous idea, sweetheart. I’ll drive by around lunch time tomorrow and we can finalize the plans.” Gary tenderly caressed Susan’s cheeks before placing his lips on hers. “Good night, my love.” “See you tomorrow.”
Susan opened her front door to find Lila, her daughter’s best friend, arms filled with burgundy brocaded drapery. “Here, let me help you with those. I can’t believe you have them done already.” “Seriously? There’s nothing to hemming a few drapes. I steamed them, too, so they hang right.” Susan hugged Lila. “You’re a gem. Come in and sit down. I was about to brew a pot of coffee.” “I can’t stay long. I have a million things to do this morning, but I can’t ever refuse your coffee. I think there is something magic about that system you use.” Lila pointed at the French press. Lila followed Susan into the kitchen and pulled out a stool at the island and sat. “I love this kitchen. I know you were skeptical when you bought this house that it could be changed, but the contractors did a fab job.” “And your design skills, too, young lady. If it hadn’t been for your help, I’d still be trying to decorate this place.” Susan poured two cups of coffee and brought them to the island. She sat on the stool next to Lila. Lifting the ivory mug to her lips, she took a sip. “Oh. My. God! Susan! What is that on your hand?” Lila jumped from the stool. “Let me see!” Susan extended her left hand and showed Lila the beautiful ring that graced her third finger. “Is this what I think it is?” “Yes. It is. And don’t you say a thing to Rachel yet, she doesn’t know. Gary and I are having a get together on Sunday. I want you there, of course. I plan on telling everyone then, so don’t spoil it. But yes, Gary asked me to marry him yesterday and I said yes.” Susan smiled at the thought. “I will be Mrs. Susan Davis in a few short weeks.” Lila was speechless. How could she not tell her best friend the news? She ran outside for a breath of air and to gather her thoughts. She had to tell Rachel. It was written in the sisterhood contract to not withhold important information, especially when the information was this huge, this life-changing. She pulled her phone from her jacket pocket and pressed Rachel’s name, waiting impatiently for a voice to answer the call. As soon as she heard a click, she rambled. “Rachel! Get over here now! Your mother has lost every ounce of sense she’s ever had. Seriously, Rach, I mean it. Now!” Lila whispered emphatically. “I’m standing outside on the porch at your mom’s, and you need to get over here now!” Rachel and Lila had known each other since 7th grade. She’d never heard such panic in her best friend’s voice. It terrified Rachel. What if her mother had broken her leg, hang-gliding? Or was bitten by a shark? Or, God forbid, was hospitalized and in a coma from a Rollerblading accident? A deep breath and small pause allowed Rachel to calm her thoughts before responding. “Lila, calm down and tell me what’s going on. Is Mom in the hospital? A coma? And, by the way, why are you at Mom’s house?” “Well, no. I stopped by your mom’s house to drop off those drapes she wanted shortened, thinking she and I could come get you and go to lunch. Instead…” Lila paused. “I find her making coffee and grinning like a Cheshire cat…just get over here!” Rachel was glad whatever this was wasn’t life threatening, but something was happening she wasn’t privy to, and that made her angrier than worried. She glued the corner of the backing paper to the frame in front of her and pushed it aside on the work counter. “If Mom isn’t injured, if she isn’t in an ambulance, why the big rush?” “Rachel… your mom… well, your mom is engaged!” Lila blurted in a hushed tone. She covered her mouth as if those words would pop back in and rip off her taste buds. And that might happen when Susan finds out what she’s done. The words resonated through the phone to the deep recesses of Rachel’s brain with little understanding. Pulling the phone from her ear, staring at it as though it was an alien life form, did little to squelch the queasiness now forming in her stomach. So, Rachel did the only thing she could: laugh. “What?” She snorted. “What are you talking about? You know there’s no flipping way Mom would say yes to anyone before telling me first.” “Just get over here, will ya? And bring a mocha frap, no whip. No, wait, make it a double. And bring one for yourself, too. You’re gonna need it.” Rachel ended the call and glanced at her calendar. With the invoicing and orders that needed to magically be completed by day’s end, she wasn’t too keen on leaving the shop. However, it could be an opportunity to grab food since her stomach was growling and it was close to lunchtime. She’d fit in an hour to find out what her mother was up to. “Dennis, I’m getting hungry. Thought I’d get the usual, you in? I promise, I’ll be back in an hour or so,” she stated. “We have way too much to get done today for me to be gone longer. I do need to stop by Mom’s, though. Also, could you please call the Henderson’s and tell them to come pick up their order? It’s wrapped and on the shelf in the backroom.” Dennis MacGuire, Rachel’s guy Friday, nodded and put one finger in the air, signaling her to wait. He twiddled a pen in his right hand while holding the phone to his left ear. His auburn colored curls brushed the collar of his multi-colored plaid shirt as he moved his head back and forth to the background music that was set on some indie station. He was the first person the employment agency sent to her when she purchased the art shoppe, Palette of Colors, two years ago. His quick wit and desire to complete projects before they were due, gained him the title of office manager. And his fabulous sense of humor and sparkling emerald eyes, that always held a hint of monkeyshines, won Rachel’s approval immediately. It was as though they’d known each other years instead of mere days in the beginning. Now, quite simply, Dennis was family and irreplaceable. “Yes, that’s right. We’re open until five. Please stop by. Thanks for calling.” He ended the call and turned toward her. “That would be great!” he flashed a broad smile that deepened his dimples. “With these three new projects and the one you’re working on, I don’t know if I’m coming or going.” Dennis dug in his wallet, pulled out a twenty and gave it to Rachel, closing her fingers over it. “I’d love a veggie pita with yogurt dill sauce. Hold the onion. And let’s do an iced strawberry lavender tea. Lunch is on me, by the way.” “Are you sure this is what you want? Not your usual turkey and swiss with sprouts?” She cocked her head to the side, a slight grin crossing her melon colored lips. Dennis chuckled and handed her an extra five dollar bill. “Get dessert, too.” “My, my we’re feeling generous today.” Rachel called over her shoulder as she walked out the door. The sun was high overhead, making the temperature in her car hotter than the air temperature outside. She opened the windows and sunroof before sliding behind the wheel, buckling in, and heading out of her parking space. That Vegan Place was on the way to her mother’s house and she could easily stop there on the way back. Traffic was light for a mid-week lunch hour, and Rachel was happy she could navigate the major streets with little to no issues and stop for Lila’s beloved mocha frap. She soon pulled into the driveway of her mother’s turn-of-the-century three-story grand Victorian with its wraparound porch on the corner of Primrose Court and Paddington Circle. It was a ten minute drive from Palette of Colors and an hour from her home. Her mother, Susan Richardson, had purchased this beautiful house the moment it went on the market, two years after her husband’s death. She’d made an offer on it and held the keys the next day. It took a while for her to make it her own, but it was the showplace of the city, both inside and out. Rachel grabbed Lila’s drink and walked through the arbor by the garage into the back yard. She noticed the sliding glass door was open and let herself in, setting the drink on the kitchen counter. She followed the heated voices coming from the den, stopping just outside the doorway to listen. “Susan, why? Why do you all of a sudden want to complicate your life with a man? You’ve said repeatedly you don’t want the drama. I don’t understand,” Lila said. Susan, dressed in denim leggings and a magenta butterfly-sleeve shirt tied at her slim waist, slid into her sandals and rose from the sofa when she saw Rachel standing in the doorway. “Honey, what are you doing here?” she inquired, placing a kiss on her daughter’s cheek. Raising an eyebrow in Lila’s direction, she continued. “You called her, didn’t you?” “Yes, Mom, Lila called me, frantic. By the way,” Rachel nodded at Lila. “Your frap is on the kitchen counter.” She turned her attention to Susan, hands on her hips. “Mom, care to clue me in on what’s going on?” Lila walked quickly from the room, and Susan linked her arm through her daughter’s, leading them back to the sofa. “Spill it, Mom. I don’t have that much time…” Rachel’s mouth fell open. On the ring finger of her mother’s left hand was the most brilliant pear-shaped diamond solitaire she’d seen. It was well over a carat, closer to two, set in platinum, and flanked on each side by three quarter carat pillow-cut diamonds. It was beautiful. Rachel looked from her mother’s eyes to the ring, and back again. “I’m getting married, honey. Isn’t that wonderful?” Susan beamed. Lila walked back in the room as Susan finished speaking. She shook her head “See? This…this is what I was talking about. Talk some sense into her!” She took a huge slurp from her cup and rolled her eyes. “I tried to tell ya. I tried…” “Lila, just shut up, please!” The words were out of Rachel’s mouth before she realized what she’d said. She needed to think and with Lila’s ranting, that wasn’t happening. “Li, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to snap at you. Let’s sit down and all discuss this…calmly.” Rachel put her fingers on her temples and massaged in a small circular motion. She tilted her head back and looked up at the ceiling, willing answers that made sense of this situation. Susan put an arm around each girl while she explained. Never in a million years did she expect to fall head over heels in love again. Never had she thought her only daughter would react in such a manner at the news, either. “You two, calm down. It isn’t like Gary and I are shacking up together. And even if we were…” Rachel’s head dropped as she held up her left hand. A heavy sigh escaped her, and she shook her head. “Mom, thank you so much for putting that vision in my head! What is wrong with you? You’ve preached to me that you didn’t need another man. That being single was growing on you. That you had to be your own person and happy with who you were before you’d entertain a relationship. I knew you were dating. I assumed you were making friends and having a good time. And here we are looking at that rock on your hand that God only knows who put there, because you have oh so conveniently not thought to introduce him to me or anyone else, I assume, and all of a sudden you’re getting married?” It was more of a question than statement. “Sweetheart, if you will listen to me, I will explain to you.” The sound of slurping the mocha frap hit Rachel’s last nerve. She shot a displeased look at Lila. At this moment it didn’t matter that they’d been friends forever and were like sisters. The constant sound of Lila slurping the dredge in the bottom of the cup she held was annoying as hell. “Will you throw that damn cup in the trash!?” “Sheesh, Rach, there’s no need to be so testy. I’ll leave if that’s how you feel.” Lila stood, dropping the empty cup in the trash basket by the desk. Susan walked to where Lila stood and placed her hands on the young woman’s upper arms. “You will not, Lila. You’re like another daughter to me. I want you both to hear me out. I love you two, and whether you like it or not, I’m one hundred percent in love with Gary. There is room in my life for all of you. Now, please, sit down. I’ll answer all of your questions, I promise.” Rachel’s mind wandered to the day of her dad’s death. It was early morning and she’d run back to her apartment to grab a sandwich before her next class. Her roommates were not there and an eerie quiet filled each room. She sat on a stool at the kitchen counter, downed a bottle of juice, threw her napkin into the trash, did a little dance for making the “basket”, and grabbed her backpack. Her cell phone rang. Looking at the face of the phone she saw the call was from her mom. If she answered, she’d be late for class. So, the call went to voicemail. The professor of Modern Art in an Uncivilized World gathered the essays that would make or break each student. It was a pass/fail class, the last before graduating. Rachel needed the credits to complete her major. She knew she’d aced it, but there was a nagging feeling that something wasn’t right. At that moment, another student came into the art room, called her name, and asked for her to go with him. She gathered her things and followed him out the door. “Your mother has been trying to reach you most of the morning. It is crucial you return her call…now.” The student turned and walked away, leaving Rachel wondering what was happening. Rachel walked outside to an empty park bench under one of the massive oak trees that dotted the campus. She pulled out her phone, pressing her mother’s number. After several rings, a shaky voice answered. “Mom? Are you all right? What’s going on?” Rachel asked with trepidation. “Honey, can you please come home?” Susan managed to get the words out between sobs. “Mom, it will take me an hour or so, but I’ll get there as soon as I can. Please tell me you’re okay.” “I can’t do that. Rachel…please…” “I’m on my way.” Rachel was sure she broke every speed limit. She didn’t care. Something had happened. Something big, or her mother wouldn’t have sent someone after her. Forty-five minutes later, Rachel pulled up in the driveway and ran to the front door of the three bedroom ranch, unlocking and throwing it open as she entered. Susan rushed to her daughter and as soon as Rachel’s arms encircled her, the flood of tears didn’t stop. It was then that Rachel noticed two Marines standing at ease by the sofa. Her heart dropped and she shook with fear. “Daddy? Oh dear God, no!” Rachel exclaimed, holding her mother with one arm and placing her free hand on her heart. “I’m sorry, ma’am,” the taller of the two stated. “I’m Chaplain Matthew Brown. This is Staff Sergeant Jon McDuffy. The Commandant of the Marine Corps has entrusted me to express his deep regret that your husband, and father, Captain Daniel David Richardson, died in action in Kabul, Afghanistan. The Commandant extends his deepest sympathy to you and your family in your loss.” That was five years ago. A tear rolled down Rachel’s cheek at the scenes playing on a reel through her memory. “Rachel! You haven’t heard a word I’ve said!” Susan exclaimed, throwing her hands in the air. “I may as well not even try.” Lila saw Rachel struggling and moved to the sofa next to her, placing an arm around her friend’s shoulders and side-hugging her close. “Are you okay?” Lila asked quietly. Rachel looked up, her eyes glistening with tears. “Memories. They’ll get you every time.” “Rachel, I can’t take away the pain you still feel at losing your father. Gary is not a replacement for him. Your father made me promise that if anything happened to him in the line of duty that I would find someone else and not spend the rest of my life alone.” “Mom, you make it sound like some expendable game…oh here, this one died, let’s pick that one.” “You know that’s not true. I grieved the loss of your father, the love of my life, my husband. I spent many hours on my knees by my bed sobbing because my heart was broken, knowing I’d no longer hear his laugh, feel his hugs, kiss his lips. You have no idea what I went through because you weren’t here. I was cold and empty. Life had little meaning. When you went back to school, I spent most days in the house, alone.” “Talking about Daddy isn’t why I came over here,” Rachel looked at her cell phone to check the time. She was already half an hour late in getting back to the shop. She eyed her mother with disappointment. “I’m sorry I made your happy day a rotten one.” “Rachel, you haven’t. We need to talk…more than the five minutes every other week we seem to squeeze in. In short, I’ve been seeing Gary for over a year now. He proposed two days ago, and I said yes. I realize you’ve not met and hope to remedy that soon. Come to dinner Sunday. I’m planning a cook-out, nothing fancy, just a small group of friends—all people you know, except Gary and his family. Lila, you come, too. I want you to be happy for us. Please, say you’ll be there.” “We’ll be here, Susan. I will pick her up on the way,” Lila smiled and winked at the woman who was like a second mother to her. Memories of her father’s death and her mother’s impending nuptials put Rachel in a foul mood for the rest of the day. She snapped at Dennis and even at a couple of the customers. “Okay, boss lady,” Dennis guided Rachel to the workroom. He drew her rigid body into a hug. “I’m not sure what happened but snap out of it already! Whoever peed in your cereal this morning needs to be shot. Now, stop acting like a spoiled brat and be that graceful, customer-loving Rachel Louise we all know and love. Besides, I don’t like being on the receiving end of your anger, especially when I don’t know what I’ve done, or if I’ve done anything to deserve it.” “I can’t win!” Rachel threw her hands in the air and walked away from Dennis. She turned her shoulders slightly and added, “And stop calling me Louise!”
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