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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2008491-Night-of-Lights
Rated: E · Other · Drama · #2008491
For a contest, photo inspiration. A relationship changes after a festive evening.
         You want to know why I'm leaning against the car so late at night blubbering like a baby? If you have the time, I'll tell you.

         It's nothing new. Most of women's troubles begin and end with a man. I never thought I would go out with a man so much older than me. Ten years older, yes, I had, but I had been young enough that his age was still workable. However, Jim was retired. His one and only wife had passed away ten years before. He never got over her. He hadn’t dated and figured he would die, too. Then he met me. Both of us changed.

         It was a chance meeting. I was with a church group, mostly older folks, on an outing one Saturday not long ago. The only one younger than me was an attractive married woman, close to my age, driving one of the vans. I was the only person in the group still employed. I worked of necessity as a divorced person with no money and ongoing bills. No big deal. I probably struggled more than the others financially. That day we went to a rustic restaurant in an orchard on a mountain.

         Jim was there at the restaurant with his grown children and their spouses. It was a popular historical sight on the mountain top. Our eyes met. I recognized him immediately, but knew he wanted his privacy, especially at meal time. I looked away quickly, but smiled foolishly. He was as handsome in person as on the internet and film. I assumed he didn’t pay any further attention to me. I didn’t tell anyone in my party that a famous person was in the restaurant. I figured it would be too hard to explain who he was. It had been a while since he was on TV, and he had always avoided the tabloids, since a good family man with a faithful marriage doesn’t make headlines.

         But he must have said something at his table, because later I caught his son staring at me. He was a little famous himself. So I smiled at him, and he smiled back. I nodded sideways towards his father, without looking at him, and patted my heart, then looked away. No one at my table noticed.

         Some soldiers came in and sat down. I said, “Whoa, girls, men in uniform. Mama will be back.” I was standing when I added, “Young men in uniform.”

         I walked over to the group, which included two women. I shook hands with each one, thanking them for their time in the service and for being patriots. They seemed to appreciate it, telling me where they were from, where they were going. I asked how they came to this out of the way spot. They had been to a special training class at the nearby college, and were on their way back to base. That explained the dress uniforms, including the women. I wished them luck and went back to my seat. The ladies with me told me how much they liked that.

         Outside on the big porch with rocking chairs, my group grabbed empty seats to watch the valley below us. Some strolled about or sat on the edge of the porch. The grassy part of the hill always tempts me to lie in the grass and roll down the hill like a kid. But adults don’t roll as easily as children. I was wearing jeans and sneakers, so I sat in the grass, admiring the changing leaves, and lost in my own thoughts. After a while I was surprised to see the white haired gentleman standing over me. He looked like a giant from that view.

         “Am I interrupting?” he beamed down at me.

         “Not at all. Pull up some grass and have a seat.” I immediately felt embarrassed. What if he can’t get down, or worse, can’t get back up. But he started to sit.

         “I haven’t sat on the grass with a pretty woman in a long time.”

         Oh, my, Mr. Hollywood, churning out some charm. He continued to exude warmth and charisma and after a while, I started to believe he was sincere. We talked about a lot of things without getting into his films or shows. Maybe half of them had been dismal failures. He had worked in every angle of the business, but I left the subject alone. After a while it felt like we had been friends forever. My group left me alone. His family left him alone. Later I learned that they saw us smiling so much and talking so much and leaning closer together, they felt like we needed to be on our own for a while. He got my phone number and name before he left, never mentioning how I knew I knew his name and family before we ever met.

         I figured he’d never call since we live in different states. He was on vacation, and I lived about 45 minutes away from where we were. By the time I got home, he was on the phone. We talked a long time, and he asked me on a date. I met him in town that night and we had a wonderful time together. I still passed it off as just a way to pass the time for both of us. Nothing could come of this. My mistake. The next few days he sent his family off sight-seeing by themselves or taking short trips with him in the day, so that he could see me after work. He was sweet, attentive, and chivalrous. We talked about history, literature, raising children, and surviving the difficult times. He shared stories of his difficult childhood. We both liked Ella Fitzgerald and Andy Griffith. I felt alive when I was with him. The glimmer in his eye made me think he felt the same way. By the time he had to leave town, we knew we were in love. It would never work. We lived in two states, and neither of us had any money. We were dependent on others to get by. So there was no love story here.

         I was surprised his family was so tolerant. Supposedly, it wasn’t customary for him to meet women. They wanted to be supportive of their dad, and let him be happy. Apparently, after a few days they began to like me, too, to see that I wasn’t gold digger, or prey for a former regional celebrity. And I guess he told them enough to let them know that I didn’t pose any threat. They stayed over two extra days, so that we could spend more time together.

         I didn’t let my family come near him. They’re too protective. I’m no spring chicken, but I knew they would think he was too much older. This was only a temporary thing. Why have them get so bent out of shape? We said our final good-byes. I heard him saying that we would stay in touch. I knew that the phone calls would fade out, the e-mails would dwindle down, until one of us couldn’t correspond any more. He was the most exciting man I’d met in years. He set pretty high standards. How would I find anyone else as clever with so many tales to tell, and so much chivalry and tenderness?

         We did communicate. Each phone call let me float on air. Each e-mail had me soaring. I thought how ruggedly handsome he was even at this age. I watched reruns of his shows whenever I could find them. He was a hunk when he was young.

         He planned another trip to town to see me. I was delighted at the prospect of seeing him one more time. When he got to town, he took a taxi to his hotel. I was at work, so I met him for dinner. We had a lovely time and went for a walk at the outdoor mall. We held hands as we strolled, talking and gazing alternately at the stars and into each other’s eyes. It was difficult to say goodnight, but agreed to meet for dinner the next day.

         I picked him up in my car. Someone had suggested to him a quaint new restaurant on the north side of town. We drove out. He kissed me hello and held me tightly. We chatted and flirted as we drove. We arrived, and he suggested I take my wrap. It was a chilly evening and we were dining outside. Hidden by a fence and shrubs, the back was a dining area with Mexican outdoor furnaces. My breath was taken away by the sight. Little white lights filled the square, on trees, bushes, fences. Mason jars with candles hung from wires. The stars were beginning to come out overhead. Small lights lined the walkways. Battery operated candles stood on the tables. Music was playing and children were dancing.

         And there was Jim, looking so handsome and beaming his warm smile. He was charming, witty, and amiable as always. The atmosphere was festive. It felt so romantic, and I was ecstatically happy. I was fully enjoying the moment with no other thoughts. I didn’t want it to ever end.

         But all things must end. It was time to go. Jim paid and escorted me out to the car. It felt good to be near him as he held his arm around me. He got me into the car when his phone rang. He remained outside talking. In a few moments he got in, and we drove back to town in silence. I broke the silence as we neared his hotel, telling him what a lovely evening I had. He agreed it was lovely, the best time he’d had in years.

         I pulled into the hotel, not sure whether to let him out at the door or to park and get out with him. He suggested that we park and talk in the car. I suddenly felt the chill in his voice. He told me again how lucky he was to find a woman so good when he was a young man and how long they had been married. He was proud of the two children that they had together. This didn’t enhance my romance; I already knew that he had never gotten over the loss of his wife. He continued to speak, saying he was the luckiest man on earth. He had found love, which eludes so many people, twice in one lifetime.

         He then looked at me, took my hand. He explained the phone call was from his son. Will had told him he was happy for his dad. He only wanted someone to love him and make him happy. Will thought I was that person. That was like a splash of cold water to Jim. He realized that he had fallen in love with me. But he didn’t want to. He had his great love already, and she was gone after a lifetime. He didn’t want anyone to take her place. We couldn’t go back to just being friends. We had to break up.

         I was stunned. I told him I never expected anything more. I was content with things the way they were. He had enjoyed a terrific marriage. Mine was a disaster. I had never known a man to treat me as well as he had. This had been the best relationship I had ever had, and I was on the down side of middle age. I wasn’t looking for marriage or living together. I placed no demands on him. I couldn’t believe he felt this way.

         “I can’t go on wasting your time. I’m burdened with guilt. I don’t want to hurt you. I can’t give anything more.”

          "I never asked for more. But I can't compete with a ghost. Just remember, memories can't keep you warm at night.”

         He got out of the car slowly. The spring in his step was gone. He looked like an old man going back to the front door. I drove home sulking. I should have known it wouldn’t last. How did I let myself get so bedazzled?

         Dazed, I got out of the car in my driveway and looked up at the starry sky. I burst into tears. The festive lights are now just a sad memory. And you, poor dear, have found me blubbering over someone who meant more to me than I had realized.

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