A short while ago I had the pleasure of interviewing Kathleen Valentine on my site. Now she is back to share her latest book with us: “The Old Mermaid’s Tale“, a story about redemption and the importance of stories in our lives.
Kathleen is the author of a collection of short stories, “My Last Romance and other passions”, and two novels, “The Old Mermaid’s Tale” and “Each Angel Burns”. She has also written “Fry Bacon, Add Onions: The Valentine Family & Friends Cookbook – five generations of good eating”, a memoir/cookbook of memories and 400 recipes from a Pennsylvania Dutch childhood, and “The Mermaid Shawl & other Beauties: Shawls, Cocoons and Wraps”, a collection of her own lace knitting designs. Some of her short stories are available in e-format from HeartThrobBooks.com and additional knitting patterns from KnitYourTailOff.com. She currently lives in Gloucester, Massachusetts, America’s oldest seaport, and is writing another novel, “Depraved Heart” and another knitting book, “Siren Shawls, Seaman’s Scarves and Stories”.
The day of Mary Beth’s wedding dawned hot and steamy. By noon the thermometer on the back porch read ninety-two degrees and the humidity wasn’t far behind. I sat on the end of my bed wrapped in towels fresh from a shower and contemplated the god-awful netted contraption I was going to have to squeeze into and spend the entire day in. Being the maid of honor at least I was spared the cotton candy pink that Mary Beth’s five bridesmaids had to endure. But the ceremony seemed endless and the reception at the Grange Hall was hot, loud, and crowded. By the time Mary Beth had tossed her bouquet, which I avoided catching, I had a pounding headache and slipped outside for some fresh air.
“You sure look pretty in that getup, Clair.”
I turned to find Howie Goetz looking awkward and miserable in his groomsman’s white tuxedo behind me. He had removed the tie and jacket and rolled up his sleeves. Against the snowy white of the shirt his bulky arms and throat were dark and gleaming.
I nodded. “Thanks. You look nice too, Howie.”
He shuffled struggling for something to say. Small talk had always stumped Howie. “So, you doin’ okay up there at that college?”
“Yes. I like it very much.” It was impossible not to like Howie. We had dated on and off through most of our junior and senior year. Not going steady like Mary Beth and Ray or most of the other high school sweetheart couples but Howie was easy-going and he made me laugh.
“I think about you a lot.” He was looking down. I wasn’t sure whether it was shyness or a sneaky way of keeping an eye on my breasts.
Long shadows from the poplar trees along the drive cast the side of the old Grange building into shadow and the band inside was playing a slow, sultry rendition of Return to Me. Just what I needed, I thought.
“Mary Beth says you’re doing well working in your Dad’s business.” I didn’t know what to say.
He moved closer and stretched out a finger to touch the sweetheart roses in the corsage pinned at the waist of my gown. “It’s okay. You look so sexy. Like you did the night of the senior prom, remember that?”
“Yes. Only I wore blue.”
“I remember. I got you the flowers you said you liked, the ones that smelled so nice.”
“Gardenias, it was perfect.”
“Yeah.” He was moving closer and he slipped his hands around my waist. I had to admit—he smelled good.
“There ain’t any other girls around here that can hold a candle to you, Clair.” He pulled me close and his mouth was inches from mine. I felt myself shivering despite the heat. He felt it too. “You like me, don’t you, Clair?” His lips touched mine before I could answer.
Howie was a good kisser. I hadn’t kissed that many boys but one thing I remembered was that of the boys I had kissed I had liked kissing Howie the best. I hadn’t been kissed by him or anyone else in a long time. And there was that wonderful familiarity of him. I found it easy to slip into his arms and let him take control. For the first time all summer my mind was quiet and my body relaxed. The air grew cooler and the fragrance of cut grass and long ago gardenias wafted around us. As I melted into Howie’s body and sweet kisses I let go of all the puzzles and contradictions that seemed to have haunted my summer. His tongue slipped between my lips and I answered with a flicker of my own. His big, work-roughened hands moved over the bare skin of my back and shoulders. He moved one hand slowly up my spine and neck and began pulling pins from my French twist. My hair spilled down around my shoulders and I slipped my arms around his neck and surrendered to the loveliness of it all.
“Oh, baby,” he murmured. “I sure missed you.”
I don’t know how long we stayed there, our mouths locked together, but it was delicious and I was loving it. Suddenly I heard a chorus of giggles and Mary Beth said, “I knew it. I knew it. I knew you two would get back together at my wedding!”
Surrounded by a bevy of cotton candy pink bridesmaids she stood in the doorway in a cream-colored linen Jackie Kennedy sheath and matching pillbox hat. Howie and I pulled apart and both stood annoyed, embarrassed, and frustrated.
“Mary Beth, we’re not…”
Howie looked at me. “We’re not what?”
I was trapped. “We’re not getting back together exactly. We just…”
She giggled again. “Oh, I know what you are ‘just’ doing. Now come inside so you can send me away on my honeymoon and then you two go right back to what you were ‘just’ doing.”
I looked at Howie. He was watching me with anxious, besotted eyes and I knew I had made a mistake. A big mistake.
Rosie was right. Do any of us know better when it comes to love?
That night was wretched, I couldn’t sleep. In my head I knew that loving Howie would mean living a life that I was desperate to get away from. But his mouth and hands and arms had felt so good. Alone in my bed the longing for his touch was painful. I thought briefly about asking him to come to the city with me—or to go anywhere away from farms and near cool waters. But I knew Howie could never do that. It seemed unfair that Howie could be so desirable when everything he wanted in life was not. I had to get back to Chesterton, and fast, before I ruined my life over a few delicious kisses.
© 2019, Steven R. Drennon. All rights reserved.