Tag Archives: middle-age romance

Anything Can Happen: A Romance Short

What was it with brewers anyway? I wondered, squinting through my peephole at my good friend Dave and the burgeoning mass of bristles that had been protruding haphazardly from his chin ever since he’d taken that assistant’s job. They all seemed to be walking around with piles of crazy facial hair, a fact which, if you attended as many beer festivals as we did, became perturbingly apparent. Of course, I’d never seen one as ridiculous as Michael’s; a foot-long, narrowly pointed monstrosity that ought to have repelled me like a flea collar. If I were the flea, instead of the one with the itch.

Michael, I snorted irritably to myself, leaving Dave waiting cold and snow-flaked in my foyer while I bundled up in a bulky sweater and one of those loathsome turtlenecks that keep out the cold but then keep themselves amused all day attempting to strangle you. Turning my back on the mean mirror that kept refusing to lie about my age, I plastered my long-johns on underneath my fat jeans and prodded my feet into some rancid rubber galoshes, perfecting the picture of my hideousness. I told myself it didn’t matter. I wasn’t trying to seduce him, right? I sighed internally. I was strong enough to be practical enough not to wear some cute skimpy outfit and be miserable the whole day, but not enough not to be depressed about it. I am woman, hear me roar. Rrrr.

I tried not to look for him. Much. I drank my beer and chatted with Dave and his equally-bearded brewer buddies and periodically scanned the festival crowd in what I hoped was a nonchalant manner. It was late in the day when I finally caught the dreaded glimpse – it was hard to miss that bright red hair and chest-length beard. It was even harder to miss the attractive young blonde he was hugging when I saw him. Unfortunately for me, Dave spotted him at almost the same moment.

“Look, there’s Michael,” he said, failing to see me wince at the mention of the name. “Let’s go say hi?”

Dave didn’t know, of course, about me and Michael. I’d been too mortified to admit that after months of impatient waiting I’d shamelessly tackled him just days after his divorce was final. Or that I wanted to punch something every time I recollected his early-morning speech about not wanting to get involved.

“It looks like he’s with someone,” I answered, compromising and kicking the floor instead. “Maybe we should leave him alone.”

“She looks familiar,” Dave responded, oblivious to the damage I was inflicting on the hardwood. “I think she works at the brewery.”

Even worse, I thought. She has access to him eight hours a day; probably after-hours, too. I only get to see him once every few months, and I’m already forty and getting older by the minute. How can I possibly compete? I felt a jealous rage swelling within me, and impulsively I wanted to smack the alleged little tramp out of my way. Fortunately, the logical part of my brain kicked back in and I caught myself. I breathed deeply. It was not a competition. For what it was worth, I’d already had Michael. I had no right to expect him not to move on to someone else. It wasn’t her fault, and it wasn’t his either. I could be a grownup about this, couldn’t I?

“I suppose it would be rude not to say hello,” I grudgingly conceded. Dave meandered over to where they stood, not thirty feet away, and I trudged along behind him, feeling enormous, ugly, and ancient. The blonde scrutinized me with pity. It’ll happen to you! I wanted to yell, but she was already walking away, leaving Dave and me alone with Michael. Dave shook Michael’s hand but I merely nodded and averted my eyes, my brief dream of behaving rationally fading quickly in his suddenly very tangible presence. They talked on about beer while I seethed silently, excoriated myself for even caring, then seethed silently some more. I couldn’t tell if Michael was even aware of that, because I wouldn’t look at him. He doesn’t care, I reminded myself viciously. He never did. He was just using you to – to get his feet wet, I thought, among other things. Remember how he blew you off? Wanted someone younger and prettier, no doubt. He was probably picking up all kinds of women now. Who knew what number blondie even was? I was well shut of him. I had refilled my taster while the boys were chatting, and I was so consumed with brooding that I didn’t even notice when Dave stepped away to fill his, leaving Michael and I alone.

“How’ve you been, Kate?” he was saying, casually reaching out to touch my arm. I started, then realized who was talking to me and pulled out my best contemptuous sneer.

“Fine, thank you, and yourself?” I answered coldly, jerking away from his touch.

“Wow!” he exclaimed. “What did I do?”

His ignorance of his wrongdoing infuriated me even more.

“Who’s the blonde?” I spat it out like a curse.

“Excuse me?” he said with affected innocence.

“You heard me. How long have you been seeing her?”

“You mean – you mean the blonde I was talking to a little while ago?”

“You seeing some other blondes, too?”

“She works at the brewery,” he answered calmly.

“You’re dating someone you work with?” I snapped scathingly. “That sounds smart.”

“I’m not dating her,” he reiterated firmly. “She works at the brewery; that’s how I know her.”

“Oh.” I was still too mad to be embarrassed, but I could sense that that was about to change. I figured I’d better backtrack fast before he started thinking I liked him or something. But it’s hard to backpedal when you’ve got your foot in your mouth.

“It’s really none of my business,” I said coolly. “I just don’t want to see you – ruin your reputation.” Really? I confronted my addled brain. That was the best you could come up with? I thought you were supposed to be smart. But it was out and I would have to stick to it now.

He didn’t buy it anyway. “I haven’t been seeing anyone. In case you were wondering.”

I knew it might be a line but it sure didn’t sound like one, and his expression was sincere and his eyes were maybe even a little sad, and I was suddenly aware that he was standing very close to me and it was almost like old times, before that night, only more so because I could do a much better job of picturing him naked now. And had I not known that it was finished between him and me, I might even have believed that the anticipation was starting all over again, the wonderful wondering of what just maybe could possibly happen if the planets were somehow aligned perfectly right, a feeling I had sorely missed those last few months. Because when we exchanged our farewells and his eyes met mine, I knew that in spite of what he’d said, in spite of how he’d hurt me, I still liked him as much as I ever had. And what was more, I thought that maybe, just maybe, he felt the same way.

***

“Anything Can Happen” is an excerpt from my novel My Life with Michael: A Story of Sex and Beer for the Middle-Aged which has been modified to make it self-contained. It made for a good short story, I thought – chock full of frustration and foiled desire. It’s strange, though; I seem to have a penchant for main characters who perpetually make asses of themselves when it comes to love. I am absolutely certain that there is nothing in the least bit autobiographical about that.

Originally published in e-Romance, April 2013.

You can download more FREE excerpts from My Life with Michael from your favorite eBook retailer. Please visit the book’s webpage for more information.

My Life with Michael eBook

Careful: A Love Story for the Middle-Aged

We were getting old.

It struck me rather abruptly one day late in autumn when Michael called to tell me he wouldn’t be coming by as he usually did after work on Fridays because he’d thrown his back out.

“I can come out to your place if you want,” I’d volunteered bravely. It was nearly a two-hour train ride out to his house in the suburbs.

“Thanks, but that’s okay, Kate,” he’d assured me, a trace of his customary good humor shining through his sullenness. “I can’t really do much anyway. Just lie around all day…” he grumbled, in a tone that suggested that he found his infirmity personally insulting.

I knew how he felt. Every year, it seemed, some new aspect of my body threatened to fail. Often I found myself longing for the days when the only effects of aging that I fretted over were my graying hair and wrinkling skin. You don’t worry so much about little things like your appearance when you’re hobbling because some vital body part has stopped working again.

It was unfortunate I’d found him so late, I reflected the following week as I tidied up the tiny studio in which I lived and worked, crammed tight with a queen-sized bed and a king-sized desk and not much else. The apartment of a person who didn’t often entertain visitors; who until recently had expected to spend her middle age alone. A woman who, at forty-five, nonetheless caught herself giggling like a schoolgirl knowing that he would soon be there. Who, anticipating his pending presence, for a multitude of marvelous moments, still felt young.

I smiled. The frenzied desperation of our lovemaking rivaled that of any teenager. We always hurried into it, as if aware that our youth was failing, that soon we might lose either the desire or the ability to make it happen. As if it were the most important thing in the world to get done before we were incapable of doing it anymore.

A rough thumping noise leaked in from the hallway and I leapt clumsily across the room, landing precariously at my doorstep on one trembling foot like an uncoordinated kid on a hopscotch board. Breathlessly I yanked at the door and threw it open as wide as the arms with which I intended to greet him. He entered cautiously, holding his body stiffly upright. I’d been prepared to spring as soon as he knocked, but seeing him still hunched painfully over, I caught myself; patted him gently on the shoulder instead.

“Hmph!” he grunted irritably. “You don’t have to treat me like an old man!”

“Then you should stop acting like one!” I joked, kissing him wetly on the cheek.

“Says Miss, ehhhh! My knee! And ehhhh! My hip!” he retorted pointedly.

That was the noise I made when my joints hurt. I was making it pretty often these days. On bad days I wondered how old people ever even did it. Sometimes walking seemed like too much effort, let alone all the aerobicized contortionism that went with sex.

“Yeah, yeah,” I said sarcastically. “I’ll still never be as old as you, so there!” He had me beat by six months, a fact I delightedly refused to ever let him forget. Playfully I stuck my tongue out at him. He stuck his out back, so I licked it and we both laughed.

“Can I get you a beer?” I offered.

“Oh, god, yes.”

I went into the kitchenette, fetched a bottle from the fridge, and divided it between two glasses, humming some stupid romantic ditty softly to myself and grinning at my own cheerful idiocy. Broken or not, I was happy to see him.

He had sat down on the edge of the bed. I handed him his beer and he took it, downing half of it in one draught. He still seemed to be in pain. I fondled the back of his neck sympathetically, my fingers tingling over the swath of razor-trimmed bristles lining the base of his skull.

“When did you buy the sofa?” he inquired abruptly, taking in the contents of my small apartment with half a glance. I had by undaunted effort and ruthless rearrangement carved out space for a loveseat off in one corner of the main room.

“Someone who was moving out left it behind, so I grabbed it,” I responded, perhaps a little too quickly. It was only partially a lie. I had only paid fifty dollars for it, and the man who was vacating had helped me angle it awkwardly up the stairs.

“And the new bed? Did someone leave that behind, too?” he queried suspiciously, his brow creasing into a multi-layered frown as he sampled the cushiness of our new sleeping arrangement with his one free hand.

“No, I bought that,” I confessed, blanching slightly under his piercing gaze.

“How come?” he demanded, shooting the question at me as if I were a suspect under police interrogation and causing me to glance guiltily away.

“Oh, I just thought it was time we lived like grownups,” I answered vaguely. “The futon was so low to the ground, you know? Made it hard to sit and get dressed.” I’d noticed him having trouble with shoes sometimes. I wasn’t sure if it was due to stiffness in his spine, the effort required to bend around his growing gut, or the combination of both.

“What you mean to say,” he pronounced with an aura of mature dignity, “Is that you thought that after my back’s been out, I might not be able to get up and down off a short bed anymore, isn’t that right?”

“Huh,” I said, extremely impressed by his perceptiveness. I didn’t see any way I was going to win this argument. But I had to think for a second before rejoindering excitedly, “Wait until you see how I fixed the toilet!”

He looked horrified; began struggling to get up. “Kidding! Kidding!” I said, forcing him back down onto the bed with all of the strength it would have required to subdue a newborn kitten.

“You should be nicer to your elders,” he said, wincing.

“I am nice.” I took his glass from his hand and set it on the nightstand, then pushed him gently on the chest while supporting him by the shoulders until he was prone on his back on the bed. I lay down beside him and fondled his arm. It seemed the safest place to touch him.

“Listen, Kate,” he said. “All joking aside, I’m not really sure I’m up to – stuff – today.”

“Then why did you come over?” I kidded.

“Because it’s Friday, of course,” he answered smoothly.

“Just part of the routine, eh?”

“That’s right.” But his eyes twinkled when he said it, and I twinkled to see it.

“You’d better watch it, sweetie,” I teased, poking him playfully in the ribs. “I might start to think you actually like me.”

“I do like you.”

“Well, in case you’re interested, I like you, too,” I answered, nodding my head in affirmation.

“That’s good.”

“I think so.”

“Well, all right then.”

We smiled shyly at each other. I got up to get us another beer. When I returned he was still lying in the same position, as wretched as a sickly old dog and twice as pitiful.

I set our beers down and snuggled up beside him on the bed, placing my hand softly on his chest.

“It’s getting late… Would you like to just go to sleep now?” I said kindly, realizing with a start that this would be the first time we’d gone to bed together without having sex and that I wasn’t really all that bothered by it.

“I’m sorry… I guess I’m not very good company tonight.”

“I’m glad you’re here,” I reassured him. “Want me to help you undress?”

“I can do it!” he responded, seeming a little disgruntled.

“I know, but it’s all romantic and junk if I do it.”

So he let me help him out of his shoes and shirt and pants, and then I wiggled myself into the lacy pink chemise that delicately covered up my sagging this and drooping that while he scooted awkwardly up into the bed and under the covers. I ducked under the blankets, too, climbed astride him, and drew the comforter over us both. I gazed down at him fondly, this man who was aging as fast as I was and with no greater grace. But there was something appealing about him, too, this new, old, fragile Michael. Perhaps all ages have their own special beauty.

His pelvis was directly underneath mine, and I guess I must have made a telling motion because he said again, “I really don’t think I can . . .”

“I’ll be very gentle,” I promised. “I’ll do all the work. Just tell me if it hurts.”

And so I slid him into me, oh, so very slowly and gently, with no sudden or rapid movements, and then, with just the slightest of motions, I gradually let him out, and at length brought him back in again. This went on for a very long time. At long last, I finally felt him tense up, and finish, without hurting anything, and that pleased me immensely. And as we were lying down to sleep, I said to myself, This is how old people do it. Carefully. And I smiled.

***

“Careful” is an excerpt from my forthcoming novel My Life with Michael: A Story of Sex and Beer for the Middle-Aged. The piece has been heavily modified to make it self-contained, but the theme is essentially the same as that of my book: how aging changes our view of sex and romance and the people with whom we want to share them.

It’s a cute story, I think; one of my sweeter pieces. This is my favorite line:

“So he let me help him out of his shoes and shirt and pants, and then I wiggled myself into the lacy pink chemise that delicately covered up my sagging this and drooping that while he scooted awkwardly up into the bed and under the covers.”

Paints quite the romantic picture, doesn’t it?

“Careful” was originally published in e-Romance in May 2013.

Copyright © 2013 by Lori Schafer

You can download more FREE excerpts from My Life with Michael from your favorite eBook retailer; please visit the book’s webpage for more information.

My Life with Michael eBook

Romance Flash Publication and Author Commentary: The Sublet

My flash fiction romance “The Sublet” has been published in Romance Flash:

http://romanceflash.com/stories/75-the-sublet

This story is actually a modified excerpt from my forthcoming novel My Life with Michael: A Story of Sex and Beer for the Middle-Aged. They say that publishing excerpts from your novels is good strategy, and maybe it is. But don’t kid yourself into thinking it saves time because you’re recycling something you’ve already written. If anything, it takes longer than writing a story from scratch. First, you have to build a frame story around a segment that was intended to be a much longer work. Second, you have to make it self-contained, which means adding and getting rid of stuff that no longer fits in the revised version. And finally, you have to adjust the length to make it work for the market for which you’re shooting, and in the case of flash fiction, this can be daunting indeed.

I like the frame story I chose here, which is completely unrelated to the plot of my book. The idea that people are no longer forced to stay in a particular place for work and are thus free to move around as much as they like intrigued me. Perhaps I get that from my days as a professional eBay seller, when I routinely traveled several months of the year and worked on the road. In the modern world the scenario is perfectly plausible, and for people without roots or strings tying them down to one location, the thought of simply packing your suitcase and moving on whenever you felt like it might have some appeal. On the other hand, it would definitely interfere with your love life. Suddenly, instead of just hanging out to see what happens with your new relationship, you have to consciously decide – do you stay or move on when your time’s supposed to be up?

Fortunately, this particular section of my book didn’t require a tremendous effort in order to make it self-contained, which is one of the reasons I chose it. Except for at the beginning, there weren’t a lot of references to events that happened earlier, and those were fairly simple to excise. Trying to get the word count down to under a thousand was awful, though. I started out with seventeen hundred, and after I’d whittled it down as much as I thought I possibly could, I still had twelve hundred words. After I took out the final two hundred, I was afraid the story didn’t make sense as a story anymore, so I set it aside for a while so I could read it with fresh eyes. I guess it must have worked, though, because the good people at Romance Flash decided to publish it. I only hope the readers like it, too!

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You can download more FREE excerpts from My Life with Michael from your favorite eBook retailer. Please visit the book’s webpage for more information.

My Life with Michael eBook