based on characters and a sketch by stev2244
Thanks to stev2244 for letting me use his ideas. Thanks to BlackRandl1958 for beta-reading, copy-editing, encouragement, and friendship. She’s great at all of it. Thanks to both of them for liking the result: it means a lot to me.
This story contains no lurid sex scenes, no Navy SEALs or Army Rangers, and no dwarf-tossing or cow-tipping. It is not a morality tale. It’s just a story about some fallible humans trying to build lives in the midst of what Life throws at them. There is love. You have been warned.
I hated the day of the week that everyone else seemed to live for. By mid-afternoon, no one was doing any work. That was okay; we were always far enough ahead that it didn’t matter. The problem was that everyone was chattering away about where they were going that night, who they were going with, and what they were going to do to him or her afterward. I put my earbuds in, turned them up loud, and concentrated on the code review I was doing.
It’s not as if I didn’t enjoy going out and having fun any more. I was only 25, for goodness’ sake, as was my wife, Lena. So why did my Friday’s entertainment consist of mediocre beer, bad television, and my right hand? Three simple words: Girls’ Night Out. The second scariest set of words in the English language, right behind “we need to talk.”
Lena’s Girls’ Nights Out were with her two best friends from work, Chrissy and Anna. Chrissy’s husband Bill, Anna’s fiancé Todd, and I were left to make the best of it. They seemed to be nice enough guys, I guess, and we occasionally got together as couples, but those girls were joined at the hip. If I hadn’t been so sure Lena loved me, I’d have worried that Chrissy and Anna meant more to her than I did. It got so bad that sometimes I even invited Bill and Todd over on Friday nights, but the last few times I called they were unavailable. So it’s back to solitary snacks and TV for me.
It wasn’t always like that. I used to look forward to Friday just like everyone else, even before an otherwise unremarkable Friday turned into the best day of my life.
I was newly hired at the web design and application company for which I still work. I had gone with a couple of other guys to the Gables, which had good food, reasonable prices (that’s important when you’re 22), and a dance floor and live band, which we hoped would lead to some female companionship. I was navigating from the restroom back to our table when I literally ran into a girl. I helped her back to her feet as we both apologized profusely. There was a nervous moment when we just stared at each other.
There wasn’t much to her; I’m pretty average at six feet and she didn’t even reach my shoulder. I looked down into her eyes; they seemed to shine in the semi-darkness of the restaurant. Deep blue, they were, and I was dazzled. Then she smiled, and I was lost. I felt like I could spend the rest of my life gazing into those eyes, and waiting for that smile. Maybe that’s a cliché, but it had never happened to me before. It was all brand new. I stared at her as if she were some kind of ghostly apparition, which was rather silly considering how hard we had cannoned into each other.
“Dance with me, please.” She spoke! To me! Don’t get me wrong, I’m no troll, but this girl was way out of my league. I wasn’t completely stupid, though, so off we went to trip the light fantastic. On the way, we became Lena and Jason, which was much better than “you.”
Lena wasn’t into dirty dancing, nor was she wearing sexy club gear. No matter, I wouldn’t have traded her for anyone I’d ever met, seen, or even imagined. Her beautiful body moved with style and grace, and she knew how to dance with someone, not just move about in the same vicinity. She was exquisite, and she was with me!
We were enjoying our first slow number together when I was tapped (no, more like pounded) on the shoulder. A burly guy with an unpleasant facial expression wanted to cut in. Lena turned away from him, hiding her face in my chest. Her body language was pretty plain, so I made an apologetic gesture in the guy’s direction, and turned back to Lena. He pounded my shoulder again, harder. He was about to say something when an even burlier guy loomed behind him, tapped him lightly on the shoulder, and steered him off the dance floor. I don’t know whether he was a bouncer or a buddy; all I cared about was that I was still dancing with Lena.
I know, you want to hear about how I took her home and rocked her world until the sun came up. It didn’t happen. I walked her to her car in the parking lot, got a kiss on the cheek and her phone number, and that was that, for that night, anyway.
I’m still not sure what Lena saw in me. At first, I was just a guy to be with. It seems the burly guy at the restaurant was an ex of hers who didn’t want to remain an ex. That was fine with me: anything that resulted in my spending time with Lena was fine with me.
I’m a pretty simple guy. I’m good at one thing: code. Everything else about me is boringly average: I had two parents, one brother, one sister, one job, a couple of serious girl friends and a few not-so-serious ones through high school and University. I wasn’t totally shallow, at least I hoped not, but I knew I was nobody’s Deep Thinker of the Month.
Lena was a different story. She worked with a local firm as an interior designer. That had been her major, with minors in studio art and literature. She’d done it all in four years, summa cum laude at that. I soon discovered, though, that this beautiful, brilliant girl had no self-confidence whatever. Her need for approval was almost pitiful. She would back down from an opinion or decision if I even asked a question about it. Of course this had left her vulnerable to jerks of the male persuasion. I was almost ashamed to be a guy as she related some of her experiences. No wonder she wanted me to take it slow with her!
I wanted to know about her past. Heck, I wanted to know everything about her, but she resisted me. I could see there was pain there, and didn’t push her. It took three months or so before she trusted me enough to open up to me. She said no one else knew the whole story. No one else had wanted to know it. I almost cried at the pain in her voice when she said that. I put my arm around her as we sat on the sofa; she snuggled her face into my shirt, then haltingly, she began. This is her story as I remember it; I won’t attempt to reproduce the way she struggled as she tried to get it out.
Lena’s parents were immigrants who had met in Boston. Her mother was Czech; as a young girl, she had seen the brutal repression of the Prague Spring. Her father had escaped from East Germany four years before the Berlin Wall finally fell. Their demeanor and their outlook on life reflected the grimness of their backgrounds. There was little that was light or happy in either of them. For all that, their love for each other was deep and strong, and their little Lena was the light of their lives. They didn’t have much, but everything they had was lavished on their little girl.
Lena was only two when her father was killed in an industrial accident. There were rumors of safety violations at the plant, but the company and their lawyers managed to avoid investigation – and avoid paying anything to Lena’s mother. The company-paid life insurance policy paid her six months’ worth of his salary, which she managed to live on for almost a year, but that was it.
Lena’s mother had no job training or skills, but she parlayed her willingness to work hard and her ability to make almost anything spotlessly clean into a night job as a janitor. When that didn’t provide enough income, she took on private house cleaning jobs during the day. Lena hardly ever saw her except on weekends. Her manner toward her little girl changed as well. Lena, too, was required to work hard, to be the best at whatever she did, even at an early age. There were no excuses. Life was hard and intolerant, and demanded perfection. Lena started school, and excelled. In addition to her natural aptitude for learning, she had inherited both her parents’ work ethic. Still, she could never please her mother. Any praise she received was tempered by criticism. First place in her class was good, yes, but that math score needed to be higher next semester. They had no money for extracurricular activities, so there were no dance or music lessons. She had no social life: she was always studying or working.
Boys noticed her early on. Her beauty made that inevitable. They sensed her insecurity, and crowded around her to take advantage of it. She was bullied mercilessly. She became solitary, retreating to the classroom and the library, broadening and deepening her already impressive academic skills.
I’m sure it was with the idea of protecting her, that Lena’s mother told her a series of blood-curdling horror stories about men and sex. The tactic may have protected her from disease and pregnancy, but left deep scars on the sensitive girl’s soul, and an abiding fear of physical or emotional intimacy.
.... There is more of this story ...