The alarm went off at three in the morning. Why otherwise sane, intelligent women get up at such an ungodly hour, fight massive crowds, all just to get a 'bargain' is beyond my ability to comprehend.
But my wife loved it, and of course I loved my wife. So much so, that I got up with her, and cooked a massive breakfast while she got ready.
"Hey" called out my stepdaughter Amy, stepping into the kitchen and grabbing a cup of coffee.
"Hi, baby," I said, as she kissed my cheek. "Ready to conquer the masses?"
"Ha!" she cried. "We have a plan. And I have on the right shoes this time."
Last year an enormously obese woman stepped on her toes. They were bruised for weeks. As a joke, I bought her a pair of steel toed shoes. I was really surprised when she liked them enough to wear them.
"Morning Dad!," came a cheery voice, as my other stepdaughter Jane breezed in. I had the water heated and the lemon sliced, and soon she was sitting at the kitchen table with her Earl Grey, checking sales papers, reaffirming their route. I shook my head. If she could plan military campaigns as effectively, General Jane would rule the world.
"Uncle Frank!," my nieces Lori and Sandy came in next, kissed my cheek, poured coffee, and sat, looking over the plan Jane had set up. I made another pot of coffee.
My wife Debbie stumbled in, not quite awake despite the shower. She kissed me, demanded coffee, and took a seat. The other part of the group wasn't here yet, but since they were always late, and had been threatened with being left behind, I started plating breakfast. Eggs scrambled, if you wanted over easy you could cook them yourself. Bacon, sausage, and ham. Home fries, rice and gravy. And of course, two large pans of homemade biscuits. By the time I had finished serving, Amy's friend Jean and her mom Alice were sitting down, digging in without ceremony.
The last of the troop to arrive dashed in.
"Damn! Almost overslept, again. Did I miss breakfast?"
I laughed at my ex. She would be late for her own funeral. I handed her a sausage and egg on toast and a travel cup of coffee, grinning as she tried to eat and walk at the same time.
I was left with a massive pile of dirty dishes and lipstick smears from the kisses. Why in the world makeup was necessary at that time in the morning was a mystery.
I wiped my cheek while an enormous grin split my face. I was the luckiest man in the world.
Instead of going back to bed I sat in my recliner, thinking about how I got here and how lucky I was, before I dozed off.
I didn't always feel that way. eight years ago I considered life to be a miserable experience.
My wife had just left me. Not because she wanted to be with someone else, but because she just didn't want to be with me anymore. It wasn't totally unexpected, I knew something wasn't right, but never expected that. Seventeen years, shot to hell.
I was never exactly what she wanted, but she seemed happy. It was her second marriage, Amy was five and her ex had just disappeared, so maybe she considered me a fall back.
Amy was Amy, a sweet little girl without a mean thought in her mind. We were hesitant at first, I had no experience being a Dad, and she never really remembered her biological father, so we were on even footing. Pretty soon though, she was a true Daddy's girl. I coached her softball teams, cheered her at soccer, growled at her boyfriends when she was old enough to have them, and gave her away with tears in my eyes at her wedding. I think her mother was actually jealous at times.
She was a secretary, I worked in maintenance in the local factory. She studied at night and got her degree, something we were both proud of. I had an associates' degree in management, certificates in welding and plumbing, and was a licensed electrician. And to be an old guy, I was pretty decent around a computer. She still though her four year degree raised her slightly above me.
We saved, at my insistence, had 401 programs, she even had a profit sharing program at her job. On reflection, I really think she was just waiting to cash out. I didn't really fight it, just made sure it was an even split. I didn't want the house, so we sold it and split the money.
She went on a cruise, got a nice apartment and a new car, and lived the life of a comfortable divorcee.
I went back to work, got promoted to maintenance manager, rented a small house and saved. It was just me.
I didn't date, just had no interest. At forty six, I was so out of practice I didn't know where to start. I'd probably have died a lonely old man if I hadn't gotten cut at work and had to go to the emergency room.
Debbie was my nurse. She dressed my wound, after the doctor put in ten stitches, giving me a sympathetic pat on the wrist. That probably would been it if she hadn't gotten stranded.
It was pouring rain, and being late October it was also cold. She was standing outside the door on her phone.
"Damn it!" she said, starting to cry. I'm a sucker for a crying woman, couldn't help it. I took her arm gently. She looked around in surprise.
"Are you all right?" I asked, as gently as possible.
I think the sympathetic look pushed her over the edge.
"NO, I'm not all right. My piece of junk car just stopped running, leaving me without a way home and my daughter without a way to class. To top it off no bus runs near my house, and I don't have money for a cab. I don't even have an umbrella."
She looked borderline hysterical. I took both her hands, shocking her a bit, I think.
"Hush now. No man with any decency would leave a nice woman like you stranded. If you can put up with riding in an old truck with someone who isn't exactly the greatest conversationalist, I'd be honored to escort you home. Please. I couldn't rest tonight if you refused."
I think that last part got her. She looked at me and actually giggled.
"I'd hate to come between a man and his rest. It isn't far, if you really don't mind."
"Please," I said, "I'd be honored. Now you stay here in the dry while I pull around."
Her eyes widened a little when I pulled up. I don't know why, I wasn't lying about the old truck. I just didn't tell her it was a '61 Studebaker, completely restored to showroom condition. My pride and joy, and my main hobby for the last year.
"My great uncle had one of these. Didn't look nearly as nice as yours," she said, after settling in.
"My latest project," I told her proudly. "I usually restore something and get rid of it, but just can't seem to do it with this one."
This led to an interesting discussion about old cars and favorites we had owned in the past. All too soon we were at her apartment. She seemed reluctant to get out.
"Thank you so much," she said, about to open the door, "and thanks for letting me ride in this cool truck."
I looked at her and decided to be honest.
"Look Debbie, I'm probably going to suck at this because it's been so long since I've done it, but would you like to have dinner with me some evening? Provided of course you're not married or in a relationship. It's been a long time since I've been around anyone as nice as you, and I'd love to get to know you."
She was probably offended, given the stare she was giving me. I guess I made a mistake.
Suddenly she started talking.
"I don't see a ring. Are you married?"
I shook my head.
"I was, for seventeen years. Haven't been for the last two. Amazingly, there was no cheating, no horrible fights. She just woke up one morning and decided she wanted to be single again. Refused counseling. Refused to talk about it. In the end she hinted that she was just bored. Took a long time to come to grips with that."
Her eyes had widened.
"That seems even more painful than if she had cheated. My story is much more mundane. He wanted to stay married, and date regularly. When I objected, loudly, he disappeared. We haven't seen him in twelve years."
"What was, was, for both of us. Come in, meet my daughter, have a cup of coffee. I'll give you my decision before the second cup. I even have homemade pound cake."
She introduced me to her daughter Jane. She was studying nursing, with an eye towards being a nurse practitioner when she was done. Carrying on the family tradition.
The apartment was small, but neat as a pin and had a really homey feel. She made a good cup of coffee and the cake was excellent. I told her so. She was so pleased she gave me two slices to take home, even happier when I didn't even pretend to object.
Jane was preoccupied, worried about school.
"I have a way home, I just need to get there."
Her class started in forty five minutes.
"How do you feel about old trucks?" I asked, while her mother smiled. "If your mom will accompany me, I'll take you."
She must have really wanted to get to class, because she started gathering her things.
"I'm sure your truck is just lovely," she said, while Debbie grinned.
She was impressed, I could tell. Debbie didn't seem to mind in the least sitting close to me. I quietly said a prayer in praise of bench seats. I was disappointed when Jane got out and she moved over.
I stopped in front of her apartment. She sat for a minute before reaching over and giving me a nice kiss on the cheek.
"Friday. Six o'clock. I really like seafood." And then she slid out of the seat and almost ran into her apartment.
I grinned all the way home.
.... There is more of this story ...