Copyright© 2006, 2007
The following story is a sequel to the very first one that I wrote, "Remembrance". It is possible to read and understand "Renewal" without reading the earlier work. If you could do so, however, it might enhance your enjoyment of this story.
Thank you for choosing my work for your reading pleasure. Whichever you decide, I hope that you like it.
George glanced at Helen as she dozed next to him, her sweater draped around her shoulders. He envied the way she could fit comfortably in the space provided by a seat on an airliner. He was on the aisle, she sat near the window. Even in First Class, his long legs were constantly searching for the right place to be. He refolded them as best he could. He was glad to be on vacation with Helen, but getting there was not 'half the fun'. The flight attendant refilled his coffee cup as he shifted in his seat.
"Can I get a blanket for your wife, sir?" she asked with a smile.
"Thanks, no," George answered. "She looks comfortable enough and I don't want to wake her." The flight attendant nodded and moved on.
George asked himself how many times in the past thirty years he had watched Helen as she slept. The answer was that there had been too many to count. He wondered how many times the roles had been reversed—same answer. It had been a lifetime of providing for and watching over one another. Of course, it was more than providing food, clothing and shelter. They were at a stage in their lives when they no longer had to worry about those basic things. The higher needs they filled for one another could never be taken for granted.
George wasn't a man who often spoke about sentimental subjects. He thought about them often. It was a habit that he picked up during his service in the Pacific during the War. When he was lonely or in fear, he learned how an inner vision could comfort him. Old habits are hard to break. Sitting next to his dozing wife he had good reason to indulge himself in dredging up old memories. All of George's and Helen's vacations were special—there hadn't been many. This one was the most momentous. It started the previous day.
"George, zip me up, please!" Helen called out.
George disengaged from struggling with his tie and stepped over to Helen standing in front of her mirror. As he took the tab of the zipper between his fingers he heard the sound of a glass bottle falling over on the dresser.
"Oh, wait, George, I knocked over my bottle of cologne!" Helen scolded herself.
George knew that Helen seldom spilled anything unless she was nervous. He waited while she righted the offending bottle and blotted up the small amount of spilled cologne. As the scent filled the space it reminded George of Helen's frugality. Even on an important day she would forego the expense of perfume and settle for the weaker substitute. It was a trait born of their beginnings. They could afford perfume; Helen was used to cologne. A breath of it evoked one of George's memories.
She finished blotting up the spill with a handkerchief and he grasped the tiny zipper tab once again and slowly lifted it up the channel and fastened the little hook at its top. It was perched under Helen's shoulder blades, and nice shoulder blades they were. She wore a dress that was unusually daring for her—but it was a special day. Helen had taken great pains to pick out the special ivory-colored dress with the scooped back and neckline.
"Why don't you relax?" George suggested. "There's no need to be nervous."
"I'm not nervous!" Helen insisted. "You are—and you're starting to make me nervous, too."
Her answer was vintage Helen: denial and counterattack. George expected it and took it without offense. He silently congratulated his ability to accurately predict her. He wasn't nervous. It was true that he had reluctantly agreed to the ritual planned for that day. This kind of affair wasn't his cup of tea at all. He agreed, after a coordinated assault by Helen and their daughter, Katherine, that made his Pacific travails seem like a Boy Scout camporee.
George knew better than to move away from her. Helen picked up each end of her strand of pearls in her narrow fingers and drew them to her delicate collarbone. Without being asked, George fastened the clasp at the back of her neck.
"Sorry," George offered gently, "I just thought that you looked nervous." He held her gently around the waist as he teased her. "Anyway, I think that you look as beautiful as the first time."
"Then you need better glasses!" she shot back as they looked at each other's reflection in the mirror. "It's nice of you to say so, though," she added with a hint of sparkle in her eyes.
George remembered the Christmas Eve that he gave her the set of pearls. They were sitting next to the tree on the old sofa. It was eleven o'clock. The children were finally asleep. Outside, snow was accumulating and the prairie winds howled. Inside, the colored lights twinkled in the darkness and George and Helen relaxed with a well-earned brandy.
The year was 1961, their fifteenth together. It had been a successful year for George's road building company. The Company debt was finally erased. The children were all doing well. They were easing out of their struggling years. It was a time when things were good.
"I want to give you your present now," George whispered.
"Oh, George, you didn't have to get me a present," she protested. It was easy for her to say that. She knew that George would never be empty-handed on Christmas.
George ignored the admonishment and produced an oblong box that he had hidden under the couch. He had tried to wrap the box, but gave up and settled for binding it with a ribbon.
Helen's eyes widened, betraying her excited expectation. Women always love to be given any kind of jewelry. She slowly untied the ribbon. She paused before opening the box, in a quandary over enjoying the anticipation and the satisfaction of her curiosity. She surrendered and slowly lifted the lid.
She gasped. "George, how beautiful!" Her eyes were glistening. "How could you afford these?" Her fingers caressed the smooth, white orbs.
"It was a good year," George replied. "You, more than anyone, deserve a taste of the fruits."
"We decided that we need to save the profits for reserves," she reminded him. He nodded. She knew that he wouldn't have, nor shouldn't have traded reserves for pearls. Her bookkeeper's mind was sharp. She glanced at him with a suspicious eye. "What happened to the money that you were saving for your new set of golf clubs?"
"What do golf clubs have to do with it?" George asked back.
"George... ?" she demanded.
"I decided that I still like the old ones."
A tear trickled from the corner of her eye.
"I want you to have these more than I want the golf clubs." he assured her after a pause. "Please keep them."
Helen looked at him in silence in the semi darkness, absorbing what he had done, what he had just told her. She placed the pearls on the coffee table and abruptly stood and turned to the stairway.
"I'll be right back," she whispered as she hurried up the stairs.
George sipped his brandy and waited for her return. He assumed that she had gone to fetch her gift for him. He realized that the words 'right back' meant that he had at least several minutes to wait. There was no denying that she liked the pearls. He savored his satisfaction in sacrifice along with his drink.
The scent of her cologne preceded her into the living room. The lights of the Christmas tree cast a heavenly glow on her. She wore a sheer, floor-length negligee and carried a down comforter from their bedroom. George watched her walk slowly to the coffee table where her unfinished brandy sat. She lifted it to her lips and downed it in one gulp.
"Help me put the pearls on," she whispered to him, "and then make love to me."
He stood as ordered and clasped the string at the back of her neck. She turned and they kissed. It was tender and slow, conveying what they felt in that moment. It was a kiss that overrode one's sense of time. It was not just of soft, yielding lips, but also of arms and hands and bodies pressed and held against one another.
Helen spread the comforter on the couch and then turned to strip him of his clothes. George knew to follow her lead. When she was done she embraced him and they felt the hardness and softness of their bodies. She stepped back slightly. George pushed the top the nightgown down until it pooled around her waist. He stopped for a moment to savor her naked shoulders and breasts. The hard points of her shoulders and collarbone etched the half-light emanating from the Christmas tree. The softer areas became inviting shadows. Her chest rose and fell with her excitement, a little more with each breath. Her lips were parted slightly; her eyes wide and glistening.
George pushed the gown down again and they were both naked, save the pearls. A musky aroma mixed with her cologne. They disappeared beneath the comforter on the sofa. They made love for hours, and then slept until the new morning's sun shot a beam of brightness at them, augmented by the fresh snow. They hurried to their bedroom, lest the children find them.
George used the old set of clubs for the entire season. He finally purchased a new set the following year. He put the old set away in a safe place, unwilling to part with them.
George snapped out of his reverie, overcoming the distraction of the aroma of Helen's cologne.
"Want to elope?" he asked facetiously.
.... There is more of this story ...