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Falling in Love Again


by


T. J. Robertson




Smashwords Edition




Copyright 2017 T. J. Robertson




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Falling in love again was the last thing on my mind. Been there; done that. And believe me; it was not a pretty sight. Oh, I do not blame Jenny; for, at the time not only were we young and foolish but we came from two different worlds. She was a wealthy, big-city girl; I, a poor, small-town boy. Never the twain shall meet. Except, of course, on the summer playground of Cape Cod where I was born and raised. It all happened so quickly--the glance, the spark, the electricity. And soon after came the wedding vows. For her sake, I shed my bathing trunks, shook the sand off my sandals, and, sporting a Brooks Brothers business suit, headed to her home town, New York City, where I took a job at a brokerage firm. Never in my life was I so unhappy. So, our paths parted as quickly as they had crossed. Irreconcilable differences is, I believe, the term the lawyers used.

* * *

In the wee hours of one of those frigid, wintry nights with the wind whipping and the water roiling, I was making the rounds in my police cruiser, driving slowly along the parking lot of Corporation Beach. To my surprise, in the glare of the headlights I caught sight of a single car. "Kind of late and cold for lovers," I murmured, glancing at the clock. "And why would the car be backed in, facing away from the water? Strange."

As I came to a stop and lowered my window, I could hear its engine idling. Once outside, I turned on my flashlight and, pressing my nose against the glass of the driver's door, peered inside. Barely visible was the figure of a woman, slumped over the steering wheel. Stepping back and pointing my light at the exhaust, I saw that the tailpipe had been driven into the snow bank.

Alarmed, I muttered, "She's trying to kill herself."

Tugging on the door handle was futile; for, it was locked as were all the others. So, with my nightstick, I shattered the glass. My fingers maneuvered among the shards and released the lock. No sooner had one hand opened the door than the other was reaching for her pulse. "She's alive," I said, breathing a sigh of relief and turning off the ignition.

As I was about to call for an ambulance, she stirred, murmuring, "Who are you?"

"Ed Gallagher, a police officer." I broke the silence that followed. "And your name?"

"Emma," she replied, lifting her head and leaning back.

The interior light revealed a thatch of red hair that tumbled down over dark eyes which glowed like fiery coals. Pale yet proud, delicate yet strong, her face was an enigma. A jagged scar on her soft right cheek was its only flaw. The seat belt secured and separated a narrow waist and shapely legs from firm high-perched breasts and a slender white neck.

"Are you okay?" I asked.

"Yes, of course," she replied indignantly. "Why shouldn't I be?"

"May I see your license, please?" Slowly, she reached into the glove compartment and handed it to me. "Emma Sanders," I murmured, glancing at it.

With a heavy sigh she answered, "I plead guilty, that's me."

"Please get out of your car, Miss Sanders, and come with me," I said, returning her license and lending a hand to help her do as I had asked.

Brushing it aside, she perked up. "Where are we going?"

"To the hospital." .

"Why?" she demanded.

"Because you just tried to kill yourself."

"What are you talking about?" she protested, pushing strands of hair away from her eyes.

"You backed into a snow bank?"

"So?'' she scoffed. "If I did, it was by accident."

"Accidentally on purpose if you ask me."

"I'm not asking you," she snapped, "I'm telling you."

Annoyed, I retorted, "I advise you not to get flip with me."

"Are you threatening me, officer?" she fired back.

"All I'm saying is that you backed so deeply into that snow bank you couldn't help but have known it and, had you wanted to, you could've pulled forward," I said, softening my tone. "So, I can only assume you did it on purpose."

"Nonsense." Frowning, she folded her arms across her bosom. "You have an overactive imagination."

"According to your license, you live on Phillips Street in Boston," I said matter-of-factly. "Unless I'm mistaken, that's on Beacon Hill."

"You get an A in geography," she retorted with a defiant wag of her head.

"What are you doing at this ungodly hour on a deserted beach so far from home in the dead of winter?" I asked, her contemptuous tone sparking my anger.

Taking a deep breath, she turned and glared at me. "Although it's none of your damned business, I'll tell you what I'm doing."

"I'm all ears," I replied curtly.

"I'm no stranger to the Cape; my mother--Miriam Sanders--has a cottage on Scargo Hill."

Whereabouts on Scargo Hill?"

Her expression was one of pained tolerance. "Anchor Lane, Mr. Tracy."

"The name's Gallagher--Ed Gallagher, not Dick Tracy." I said, matching her sarcasm with some of my own. "Now I'd appreciate it if you'd be so kind as to tell me what you're doing here at this ungodly hour."

She sighed in frustration. "That's what I've been trying to do but you keep interrupting me with stupid questions.''

"Well, go ahead," I replied with a dismissive shrug, "and don't give me a stupid answer."

Frowning, she glowered at me. "I love the Cape and visit often." Her voice was cold and exact. "Because I have a big decision to make, I drove down here to mull it over."

Replacing anger with sarcasm, I replied, "Do you always do your best thinking here on Cape Cod?"

"Always," she snapped.

"And what, if I may ask, is the problem that you need to resolve?"

If looks could have killed, at that moment hers would have vaporized me. "Now it really is none of your business." Suddenly I found myself studying her intently. So long did I do so that she became uneasy and demanded, "Now what's wrong?"

"You look familiar." I raised an eyebrow questioningly. "Have you and I, by any chance, met before?"

"Perish the thought," she exclaimed, stroking the scar on her cheek. "Believe me; if we had, I'd never have forgotten it."

I shrugged. "Whatever."

"Unless you're going to arrest me," she said mockingly, "I'll be on my way."

"Be my guest," I replied, throwing up my hands in resignation.

As I turned to go back to my cruiser, she closed the door and, through the shattered window, said, "Oh, Officer Gallagher, because I hold the Dennis police in high regard--present company, of course, excluded--"

"Of course," I interposed.

Those fiery eyes of hers glowed even hotter. "As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted," she said, "because I hold the town police in such high esteem, I'm not going to charge the department for the cost of replacing my broken window."

Joining her in a game of one-upmanship, I found myself replying, "I, in turn, won't give you a ticket or file a report."

"Touché."

With that single word she turned on the ignition and drove off into the darkness.

* * *

One afternoon, upon entering my favorite restaurant, the Lost Puppy Pub, for lunch, to my surprise I found it crammed with patrons. Spotting a vacant stool at the counter where I usually sit, I hurried over to claim it. No sooner had I sat down than the person to the right of me blurted out, "Oh, no, not you again."

Turning, I found myself face to face with my red-headed, Corporation Beach nemesis. As startled as was she, I quickly regained my composure and quipped, "Today's your lucky day."

"That kind of luck I can do without."

"In case you haven't noticed," I replied, gesturing, "the place is jam-packed and this is the only seat available."

"Why don't you try Grumpy's," she said, raising an eyebrow in amused contempt, "you'd be right at home there."

"Very funny," I replied with a hollow laugh, "you're not exactly a paragon of civility, either."

"Flattery will get you nowhere," she retorted.

Ignoring her quip, I said, "Besides, I know the owners of this place and love their food; so I eat lunch here every day."

"I'm glad you warned me," she said, pushing aside her plate and getting up.

"Hey, I hope you're not leaving on my account?" I replied, reluctant to see our banter come to an end.

A frown flitted across her features. "If I stay any longer, I'm afraid you'll arrest me for loitering."

Before I could respond, she was going out the door.

Despite our exchange of insults and her apparent disdain for me, to my pleasant surprise she often showed up for lunch at the restaurant. Like me, she chose to sit at the counter and whenever possible I would lay claim to the stool next to hers. The truth is that I enjoyed matching wits with her even though most of the time I came out on the losing end. And although I cannot speak for her, I got the impression that she, too, enjoyed the repartee. Why else would she, if I may use the term, rendezvous there with me?

I must confess that while on patrol I frequently drove by the Sanders' home on Anchor Lane. More often than not her car was in the driveway. On one such drive-by, I found myself smiling and musing aloud, "It looks as if she's become a permanent Cape Cod resident."

* * *

Having survived a hectic day in which I refereed a bout between a husband and wife, persuaded a drunken driver to hand his keys over to me, and tracked down a young runaway, I opened the door of my modest Cape Cod home and plopped down onto my sofa. Out of habit I reached for the remote and turned on the television.

Senator Roger Wigglesworth was holding a press conference. Nattily dressed in a Ralph Lauren suit, Tommy Hilfiger shirt, and Armani tie, he looked as if he had just stepped out of the fashion section of Esquire Magazine. Upon the lapel of his suit coat was pinned a gold cross which served as a staff for a replica of the American flag. "The best of both worlds," I muttered. "What a wily politician!"

Straightening out his tie and running a hand through his coiffed hair, he peered out at the sea of reporters and, with a smile of satisfaction, said, "As I'm sure you know, this afternoon a North Korean submarine fired a torpedo at an American destroyer. Although fortunately it missed its target, that action has created an international uproar. At this very moment the President is meeting with his military advisors to decide upon an appropriate response to that provocation. In the past I admit to having had my differences with him but I've called this press conference because I want you to know that in this case--a brazen attack by the wacky dictator of a rogue state upon this great democracy of ours--I'll support whatever punitive measures he decides upon. Now, if you have any questions, I'll take them."

As several hands flew up, he leaned on the lectern and pointed at a young woman whose tawny bangs, like a swag curtain, hovered above her deep blue eyes. "Martha, you have a question?"

"Yes, sir, I do," she replied, rising. "It's my understanding that the American ship strayed into North Korean territorial waters and that therefore Kim Jong-un had every right to protect his country's sovereignty."

"Beware of fake news, Martha," he admonished. "My source, which is impeccable, tells me it was in international waters."

"What, if I may ask, is that source?" she persisted.

"The White House itself. Need I say more? Next question, please?" Glancing around the room, he gestured toward another young woman--this one a willowy brunette. "What's on your mind, Amy?" he asked.

"Sir, there are some who say you are wrapping yourself up in the American flag because you're in a tough fight for reelection."

"Nonsense," he protested, waving his hands. "Why would I do that?"

"Because patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel, so says your opponent, Gerry Randall."

His mouth thinned with displeasure. "The man's a fraud," he retorted, tugging on his chin.

"With all do respect, sir," she persisted, "he was highly decorated for his military service in Afghanistan."

"That may very well be but he was also taken prisoner there." His expression was derisive and nasty. "I'd rather die than surrender to the Taliban and their ilk. Next question, please." Gesturing to yet another attractive young reporter--this one with auburn hair and delicately carved features--he said, "What would you like to ask me, Dorothy?"

"I'd like to change the subject if I may, Senator Wigglesworth?"

"Of course."

"Is it true that your wife has filed for divorce?"

Caught off guard by the question, he flicked a speck of lint off his shoulder and remained silent for a long time. "As you know, I've always been more than willing to talk about anything and everything that pertains to my duties as an elected official," he said, his mouth taking on an unpleasant twist. "But I consider any questions concerning my family out of bounds and will not answer them. Now next question." This time, ignoring the remaining young beauties among the press, he pointed to a disheveled, middle-aged man with a stubbly beard and a large stomach. "Ray, it's your turn."

"Apparently your wife doesn't feel the same way, sir," he answered to the senator's obvious chagrin. "For, on the record she's said that you've been having an affair with another woman? Do you deny it?"

His brows drew together in an angry frown. "I came here today to address the threat posed to our nation by that mad man in North Korea. To my surprise and regret, however, I find that most of you are more interested in discussing innuendo and drivel concerning my private life. By doing so, you do the American people a great disservice and add to their growing skepticism about the integrity of the mainstream news media. Because I've said all I need to say, I declare that this press briefing is now at an end."

As he stalked off the stage, I could not help but notice the entourage that followed so closely on his heels. That it was large came as no surprise; for, it was common knowledge that he loved the pomp and pageantry of political office. Then it hit me like a piece of space debris; for, I realized at that moment where, for the first time, I had met Emma Sanders. And it was not at Corporation Beach but rather at the celebration of the founding of the town which the senator, seeking reelection, decided to attend. As his regional director, she had met with me concerning his visit; for, I had been put in charge of providing the security for him and his entourage.

Oh, how I looked forward to meeting her again and seeing the look on her face when I told her where we, in fact, first had met. When, at last, that opportunity came, I, looking like the cat that swallowed the canary, wasted no time in confronting her. "Now I know where I've seen you before," I said, pleased at how nonchalant I sounded.

"Oh?" she replied, setting her sandwich down and looking at me warily.

"You're Senator Wiggleworth's district representative."

Uneasy under my scrutiny, she replied, "Was, past tense."

"Oh, really?" I offered, taken aback.

Her dark eyes speared my blue ones. "That surprises you?"

"Frankly, yes," I retorted. "From what I see on television and read on the internet, he's got some problems and needs all the help he can get."

"Well, he's not getting any from me."

The rancor in her tone did not go unnoticed. "I get the feeling your departure from his staff didn't take place under the best of circumstances."

"You got that right."

Once again before I could respond, she flew off her stool and hurried out the door.

If I thought I was victorious in setting the record straight about our first meeting, it was a Pyrrhic victory. For several weeks afterwards, she was a no show at lunch. Just as I was beginning to despair of ever seeing her again, however, she showed up. For a long time, we sat in silence, each one of us sipping coffee and ignoring the other. At last she turned to me and, in a civil tone, said, "I'd like to declare a truce."

Dumfounded, I nearly fell off my stool. "You're putting me on?" I replied, turning and peering at her over my raised cup?"

"No, I'm serious," she said with a sigh of resignation.

Emboldened, I quipped, "What if I insist upon your unconditional surrender?"

She shook her head decisively. "I'll even accept that."

"Wow," I replied, setting my cup down with a thud. "I'm--I'm flabbergasted."

"Don't be." Never before had I heard such softness in her voice. "I have a favor to ask of you."

For a long time I surveyed her carefully before replying, "Well, don't keep me in suspense? What is it?"

She took a deep breath and swallowed hard. "Down here on the Cape I've been seeing a therapist."

"Really?" The surprise in the look on my face matched that in my voice.

"That startles you?" Her dark eyes caught and held my blue ones.

I nodded. "Yes, it does." Feeling a need to explain, I found myself stammering, "I mean you're--you're so feisty and confident that I--I thought you were indestructible."

"Well, I'm not." Her voice was calm; her gaze, steady.

Again I raised my cup and peered at her. "What can I do for you?"

She set her knife and fork down and pushed her plate aside. "I'd like you to join me and my therapist at my next session."

If her disclosure about undergoing therapy had surprised me, the invitation to join her at the next session astonished me. For want of anything better to say, I offered, "I hope you're not going to suggest that I need a course in anger management."

"Of course not," she retorted, sensing my anxiety, "I'm the one with the problem."

Dabbing at my mouth with a napkin, I mulled over her request. "When do you want me there?"

"How's seven o'clock Thursday evening at the Bayview Health Clinic sound?" She spoke the words tentatively as if testing the idea.

I shrugged. "That's fine with me."

I could have sworn I saw a faint smile toying at the corners of her mouth as she replied, "Thanks, I'll see you then and there."

Long after she had left, I remained at the counter; for, I could not believe what I had just heard. It was as if I had been talking to a different person.

* * *

So it was at dusk, as the last rays of the sun were giving way to the shades of darkness, that I found myself standing at the entrance of the Bayview Health Clinic, wondering what in the heck I was doing there. Despite my hesitation, however, something inexplicable compelled me to cross the threshold.

The office, though small and modest, was warm and comfortable. From a window with a nice view of the bay the last rays of the setting sun shown upon seascapes which adorned pastel-colored walls. A sofa and two armchairs, neatly set on a soft, thick beige carpet, added to the cheerfulness of the milieu.

Dr. Clarke, the therapist, was a thin, wiry older woman whose straight salt-and-pepper hair framed a narrow, wrinkled face the most prominent features of which were bug eyes and a crooked nose. Her resemblance to the wicked witch in the Wizard of Oz was uncanny. Taking my hand, she squeezed it and grinned. "I'm glad you've come, Mr. Gallagher," she said, leading me to the armchair opposite the one upon which Emma quietly was seated.

"I wouldn't have missed it for the world," I lied.

"And I want to commend you, too, Emma, for getting up the courage to invite him to join us," she said, settling down upon the sofa. "I know it wasn't easy to do."

Shuffling my feet nervously, I found myself quipping, "Hey, Emma, I'm not that difficult to talk with, am I?"

"Not really." To my surprise, she bestowed a smile upon me.

As I was matching hers with one of my own, the therapist turned to her and said, "Don't you think you should tell him why you wanted him here?"

"Yes, please, by all means do," I urged.

Intertwining her fingers and forming a steeple, she stared ahead. "I've always prided myself on being open, honest, and frank," she said with staid calmness.

"Oh, I'll vouch for that," I declared.

With a pained expression she turned to me and shook her head. "You'll be wrong if you do."

"Oh?" I offered, puzzled.

She swallowed with difficulty and found her voice. "Do you remember the night we met at Corporation Beach?"

I smiled wryly. "How could I forget?"

"Well, you were right."

"Right about what?"

She let out a long audible breath. "That I was trying to kill myself."

At that moment, moved by her sad tone and look of quiet desperation, I felt sorry for her--so much so, frankly had the therapist not been there, I would have swept her up into my arms and tried to console her. "But--but why? I mean--I mean you're bright, confident and feisty." Suddenly I found myself rambling. "Not to mention quick on the retort. And the truth is I enjoy sparring with you."

Suddenly Dr. Clarke intervened. "The why of it is an issue Emma and I are working on, Mr. Gallagher."

I got the message loud and clear and was ready to step back when Emma waved her off. "Because the media are all over it, Dr. Clarke, I need to talk openly about it," she said, drawing her lips in thoughtfully. "Catharsis, as you so often remind me, is an essential ingredient of successful therapy."

"Indeed, it is," she replied in a grudging voice.

Turning to me again, Emma said, "As you know, for some time now rumors have been flying about Senator Wigglesworth."

"Yes," I retorted with a wag of my head, "the scuttlebutt is he's been having an affair with another woman."

"Well, it's not scuttlebutt; it's the truth," she declared.

"So you became disillusioned and stopped working for him?" I mused aloud. "I give you credit for doing that; it was gutsy."

"I wasn't being noble," she said, biting her lip and stealing a look at me.

My brows crinkled in bewilderment. "What are you saying?"

She dropped her eyes before my steady gaze. "I--I was the other woman," she answered, her voice trailing off to a hushed whisper.

"But he's a married man," I blurted out, a feeling of jealousy seizing me.

My caustic tone made her flush in shame. "I knew that only too well and the last thing I wanted was to come between him and his wife," she replied, dabbing at her eyes with a tissue. "I--I tried to break up with him but--but--" she stammered.

"But what?" I demanded.

"I couldn't do it; for, at the time I was in love with him," she said in a tremulous voice. "Madly so."

Like a drowning man clinging to a piece of jetsam, I found myself saying, "Was? Past tense?"

She nodded and an intense silence enveloped the room. "One day--one day his wife showed up at my door," she said, sounding like a dormant volcano about to erupt, "and only then did I realize what a fool I had been."

"How so?" I asked, teetering on the edge of my chair.

She looked away and shuffled her feet nervously. "She told me that if I thought he and she were going to get a divorce and he'd marry me, it was foolish, wishful thinking."

"But she's the one who's filed for the divorce," I protested.

Again she gave a wag of her head. "Only to frighten him and try to put an end to his affair with me, so she said." With each and every word of the conversation which she was recalling, the look of pain on her face grew starker. "To my chagrin, she informed me that there had been others before me to whom he had made the same promise." Pausing, she breathed in quick, shallow gasps. "She's an heiress--her father was a hedge-fund manager--and, because her husband has such expensive tastes, she assured me he couldn't afford to leave her. If I believed otherwise, she declared that I was living in La La Land. She even gave me the names of the other women with whom he had been involved." She broke the awkward silence that followed, saying, "So early the next morning I went to the office and resigned effective immediately."

"And, then, you drove down here to end it all?" I replied, putting the pieces of the puzzle together.

"Yes."

"All because of him?" I offered, more with sympathy than in disdain.

"I was ashamed of myself," she said in a hushed voice. "Fortunately, however, you came along in the nick of time."

I shrugged. "Call it serendipity; for, I was just doing my duty."

She severed another long pause. "I've since come to regret my past actions."

At that moment I felt her eyes were beckoning to mine for understanding and forgiveness. But before I could answer their call, Mrs. Clarke, who throughout most of the session had sat in silence with her gnarled hands on her lap, glanced at the clock on the wall and chimed in, "Emma, get to the heart of the matter and tell him why you invited him here."

Awkwardly she cleared her throat. "I asked you to join me here tonight because I want to thank you for saving my life."

"At the risk of sounding like a broken record, let me say again I was just doing my duty."

Her breast rose and fell under her intense breathing. "I also owe you an apology for all the mean and nasty comments I made."

I shrugged. "In anger unkind words are said."

"Rage would be a more appropriate noun," she replied, rubbing her scar so hard I thought she might tear it open, "and that night and in the weeks that followed you just happened to be a convenient target."

Puzzled, I found myself replying. "I'm afraid you've lost me; a convenient target for what?"

"For the liberties all those other men took with me." She spoke in a weak, tremulous voice.

"What men?" I demanded, reverting to the role of a cop.

She flinched at the tone of my voice and sighed heavily. "My father, minister, and dentist," she answered, her voice trailing off to a hushed whisper.

Taken aback by her confession, I managed to pull myself together. "What about Senator Wigglesworth?" I queried.

She shrugged, tugging on a strand of hair. "That goes without saying."

Dr. Clarke, sweeping aside the eerie stillness that had wafted over the room, glanced at the clock and declared, "Unfortunately, the hour is up and I must bring our session to an end."

As I was breathing a sigh of relief, Emma got up and turned to me. "I really appreciate your coming here tonight and listening to me, Officer Gallagher."

"Dittos for me," the good doctor added, rising.

Being a natural-born follower, I, too, got to my feet. "Emma, my friends call me Ed and, because I consider you among them, please don't be so formal."

"I appreciate that."

With those words she offered me both her hand and a smile. Grasping the former, I replied, "Thanks for inviting me." Savoring the warmth of her touch, I might have held on to her forever had not Dr. Clarke gone to the door and opened it. Getting the message loud and clear, I crossed the threshold. "Oh, Emma," I said, turning back to her and smiling, "I look forward to seeing you, as usual, tomorrow at lunch-time at the Lost Puppy Pub."

Matching my smile with one of her own, she replied, "I wouldn't miss it for all the tea in China."

All I remember after that is walking out into the cool, refreshing evening air and feeling that I was the luckiest and happiest man on the face of the earth. Why, one may ask? Because I was in love with a stranger I had met in the deserted parking lot of a Cape Cod beach in the wee hours of a stormy, wintry night.

True to her word, the next day Emma showed up at the restaurant; long before I did, I might add. For the both of us it was a new beginning. Frankly, I felt like a transient who had just moved from Alaska to Florida and was trying to adjust to the change in climate. Smiles replaced frowns; civility, anger; and reason, emotion. As I reluctantly got up to leave and go back on duty, I said in a low, awkward voice, "If possible, Emma, I'd like to see you outside the restaurant."

Unlike me, she got right to the point. "Are you asking me to go out on a date with you?"

"Yes, I guess I am--" Catching myself in the nick of time, I exclaimed, "No, I'm not guessing; I really am asking you for a date."

She offered a forgiving smile. "I'll go out with you but on one condition."

"Oh?" A flicker of apprehension coursed through me. "What's that?"

"Although, as I've said in the past, I pride myself on being open, honest, and frank, for the time being I've told you all that I'm going to say about myself."

"I assume you're referring to what was said at our session together at the clinic?"

"Yes," she replied with a nod. "Is that okay with you?"

Because in the past men, whom she trusted, had hurt her, I understood the reason for her caution. Besides, I was in love with her--so much so I saw myself as a beggar and, as the saying goes, beggars cannot be choosers. So, I blurted out, "Of course it's okay."

Although, as a topic of conversation, her life was off limits; mine became an open book. And she insisted upon reading every page of it. Whether it was a lack of self-confidence, shyness, or that weak ego of mine, one thing was for sure: I did not like talking about myself. Often I tried to parry her questions with humor but to no avail. Intuitively, she could tell whether I was kidding or not. A snippet of one of our chats offers a good example of that insight of hers.

One evening, sharing a pizza with her at the Showtime Pizzeria, I glanced up and caught her staring at me. "Is something wrong?" I asked.

"No," she replied, bemused, "I was just wondering what, in heaven's name, made you decide to become a policeman?"

Pasting on a smile of nonchalance, I said, "You don't approve of the way I do my job?"

"Oh, no," she protested, "on the contrary you're an excellent role model. But beneath that gruff exterior of yours you're so kind and gentle that frankly you don't fit my notion of a cop."

For a moment I regarded her quizzically over a slice of pizza. "Did it ever occur to you that your notion could be wrong?"

Under my scrutiny she needed a moment to reorient herself. "You may be right; I'll have to give it some more thought."

"In answer to your question, however," I said matter-of-factly, "believe it or not, in my last year of grammar school, the faculty chose me to be a crossing guard. I loved helping my classmates safely cross the street; so much so I decided at that point I wanted to become a policeman."

"Oh, I believe you," she replied with a wag of her head.

"That's nice to know but flattery will get you nowhere." After matching her smile with one of my own, I said, "My senior year in high school a kind and caring teacher steered me to Cape Cod Community College where to my surprise and everybody else's I did well."

"It doesn't surprise me at all," she chimed in wryly.

"On second thought, perhaps flattery will get you everywhere." This time we exchanged grins. "But seriously I transferred to the University of Massachusetts's Boston campus and graduated with a degree in law enforcement. End of story."

Then, getting in the last word as usual, she said, "And a nice story it was."

How I savored each and every moment of the courtship that followed! Whether it was frolicking in the refreshing waters of Paine's Creek Beach, picnicking on the lush lawns of Drummer Boy Park, or bicycling along the scenic pathways that crisscrossed Nickerson State Park, as long as we were together I was happy. Had we at that time been marooned on a desert island, I am sure that mishap, too, would have been enjoyable if not blissful. Ever mindful, however, of the saying that all good things must come to an end, I worried lest my cup of happiness should slip from my grasp and shatter.

And shatter it I did on one misty, foggy morning as I, dressed in civvies, was standing in line at the local bank to cash my check. At the time there were two tellers and four customers; among the latter I was the next in the queue. Suddenly a masked man, dressed in army fatigues and brandishing a revolver, burst through the door. "Everyone down on the floor," he hollered, "this is a holdup!" To make sure we knew he meant business, he seized the young woman at the first teller's window and pushed her roughly down onto the floor.

As he was grabbing wads of bills from the teller's trembling hands and stuffing them into his field jacket's pockets, I took a deep breath and waited for him to move to the window of the second teller, in front of which I was lying. When, after what seemed an eternity, he did so, I, in a single motion, leaped to my feet, wrapped an arm around his neck, and pressed my pistol, a Beretta 38, against his temple. "Freeze or else?" I warned.

Going limp, he lowered his weapon and, to my pleasant surprise, offered no resistance. What I failed to anticipate, however, was that his wheelman and partner in crime, who, I learned later, was his brother, would come barging in. "Drop the gun or you're a dead man," he shouted.

As I let it fall to the ground and turned around, I came face to face with the barrel of an RK47. Fortunately for me, he did not pull its trigger but, instead, swung it, striking me on the side of the face and sending me sprawling.

All I remember after that is waking up in the hospital and touching the bump on my head and the wires in my mouth. I looked up and lo and behold beaming down upon me was Emma, who had been at my bedside all the while. "Ed, you have a concussion and a broken jaw," she whispered, "but you're going to be all right."

"Are you sure? I swear I can see the pearly gates up ahead."

Matching my humor with some of her own, she said, "You have nothing to worry about; for, Saint Peter only allows the good to pass through them."

"You really know how to hurt a guy," I retorted.

Her smile widened. "I refuse to share you with anyone," she said, squeezing my hand, "including the Apostles."

Upon my release from the hospital, troubled by the severity of my injuries, she insisted that I move in with her. Being in no condition to argue, I agreed to do so. And it was a good decision because under her watchful eyes--in her concern for my well-being, with her at all times was a pair of wire cutters--I quickly recovered. She had taken two weeks off from her job, about which out of respect for her request for privacy I never asked.

Living together for the brief period that followed turned out to be a dry run for our future together. Getting up together in the morning, sitting across from each other at breakfast, shopping in tandem for groceries at the local supermarket, sharing laughs at the supper table, and chatting late into the night in the living room--are not these the roles that husbands and wives play? Although I loved her--more so with each passing day--I was hesitant about rushing into another marriage. Could anyone blame me? After all, my first one had been a failure, if not a disaster. Besides, I did not feel worthy of her and, so, was afraid she would reject my proposal. Damn that weak ego of mine!

Let me say a little bit more about our meals together. My jaw being wired, liquids were the only item on my menu. Nevertheless, be it morning, noon or night time, too, I enjoyed sitting at the table as long as she was with me. Had I been unable to take a morsel of food or a sip of liquid, her mere presence would have given me sustenance. For, my eager eyes would have feasted on the wealth of red hair tumbling over the sculptured forehead of an oval face rife with both delicacy and strength. And, those lips, hewn as a replica of Cupid's bow, what a dessert they would have been!

As for those late night chats, I would like to say a few words about them, too. Our first evening together, sitting in the living room of her mother's cozy summer place, I glanced up from reading the Cape Cod Times and caught her staring at me. "Is something wrong?" I asked setting the newspaper aside.

"No." The wag of her head sent strands of red hair tumbling over her forehead. "It's just that I can't for the life of me understand what an RK 47 is doing anywhere on the streets of America."

"You're right about that," I replied, nodding in turn. "The criminals have more fire power than do the police and I blame the damned NRA."

"The National Rifle Association?"

"No, the Nation's Robbers' Alliance," I quipped.

Bewitchingly, she smiled. "Well, one thing is for sure; you haven't lost your sense of humor."

"But seriously the NRA's no laughing matter," I replied, my expression turning more somber. "Thanks to them, the country's awash in guns and, for that reason, I consider them to be complicit in the death of 30,000 Americans every year."

She frowned in exasperation. "What about Congress? Don't they share the blame?"

"Of course," I retorted with a shrug. "Our esteemed Senator Wigglesworth would file a bill allowing murderers and felons to carry nuclear weapons if he knew it would get him reelected."

The grimace that the mention of his name brought to her face did not go unnoticed. So, I discreetly changed the subject.

The next evening, however, I approached the subject of Roger Wigglesworth in a different way--a humorous one. "How'd you meet, Mr. Wonderful?" I asked.

"Roger Wigglesworth?"

"Yes, the one and only."

We shared a smile and, then, she said, "I trained as a nurse at Mass General Hospital and was fortunate enough to get a job there."

"It's one of the best hospitals in the country," I offered.

She nodded. "I was assigned to the ER."

"Oh, that's a tough place to work," I said, frowning.

Again she gave a wag of her head. "Because so many of the people who came there for help had no medical coverage, I soon realized that the country needed to have a national health insurance plan--a single payer one."

"You and another Sanders," I quipped.

"If you're referring to Bernie Sanders, he and I aren't related." Her smile vanished and her expression turned serious. "So, when I learned that Senator Wigglesworth was a staunch supporter of such a plan, I volunteered to help him get reelected. And, so I began spending all my free time helping out at his headquarters. One evening to my surprise he took me aside."

Because she hesitated, all the while shaking her head in disbelief, I found myself sputtering, "Well, what--what did he say?"

"I remember that conversation as if it happened yesterday," she said, intertwining her fingers and reenacting it.

"'I appreciate the hard work you've been doing on my behalf,'" he said. "'It's above and beyond what anybody else has ever done for me.'"

"'Thank you, Senator Wigglesworth,'" I managed to reply, taken aback.

"Then he dropped the bombshell."

Leaning forward on my chair, I asked, "Oh, what was that?"

"'I'd like you to serve as one of my regional directors,'" he said with that easy smile of his.

"'Oh, I--I don't know about that,'" I stammered.

"'Let's not be so formal,'" he said in a soft, smooth voice, "'please call me Roger.'"

"'What--whatever.'"

"'You'd be in charge of the Boston office,'" he said, turning his smile up a notch, "'and I can assure you it won't be as bloody as is the ER at the hospital. And the money's not bad, either.'"

"We shared a laugh and don't ask me why but I found myself accepting his offer."

Feeling a pang of jealousy, I blurted out, "I'll tell you why. He's a political Svengali, that's why."

"You'll get no argument from me on that point." Then, with a shrug she said, "The rest of the story you already know."

At this point in our chats no topic was out of bounds. So during the next one I did not hesitate in saying, "Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?"

"No, in case you've forgotten," she teased, "I pride myself on being open."

Smiling, I took pleasure in reminding her of some of her earlier words. "Open, honest, and frank, in that order."

"You've got a good memory," she replied, matching my smile with one of own.

Cutting through the silence that followed, I said, "The scar--how'd you get it?"

For a long time she remained silent and, then awkwardly clearing her throat, replied, "When I was a teenager, my father, who had a drinking problem, began making lewd comments and trying to fondle me. The more I resisted him, the more he persisted." Her face clouded over with uneasiness. "Finally, in desperation, I went and told my mother about him."

"Did she confront him?" I asked.

She nodded. "Yes and an argument ensued. Brandishing his fist in anger, he grabbed her and told her to shut up or else." As casually as she could manage, she said, "The next morning she got a restraining order and filed for divorce."

Reverting to my role as a lawman, I found myself probing, "Did he leave the house peacefully?"

"He had no choice," she replied. "Under the watchful eyes of a policeman, he picked up his clothes and tools."

"Tools?"

With a wag of her head, she said, "He made his living as an ironworker."

"Was that the last you saw of him?"

"Would that it were so." In a voice that seemed to come from a long way off, she said, "On Christmas Eve--of all nights--he came barging in."

"Your mother hadn't changed the lock and he had a key, eh?" I offered.

Again she shook her head. "Reeking of alcohol, he came at me, shouting, 'You've turned your mother against me, you little bitch.' As I turned to get away from him, he gave me a shove. So forceful was it that I lost my balance, fell, and hit the side of my face on the edge of the coffee table. At the sight of my blood he did a quick about-face and ran out the door. Meanwhile my mother helped me to my feet and drove me to the hospital." A melancholy frown flitted across her features. "The scar is his Christmas present to me."

The silence between us became unbearable, prompting me to ask, "Unless I'm mistaken, you also mentioned something about a minister and a dentist?"

"Because of the problem with my father at home, the church became my refuge," she said, heaving a heavy sigh. "Reverend Williams, kind, gentle, and caring, became the father I never had. Thanks to him, I grew less tense and more confident. Most important of all, I became a better person." She paused and continued in sinking tones. "Then, suddenly Death, in the form of cardiac arrest, came calling for him. Unfortunately, his replacement, Reverend Dolan was his polar opposite--testy, crude, and mean. And worse, he was, as I would soon learn, a sexual predator."

"There's a special place in hell for those who prey on the young," I offered.

"Being in the choir, I took responsibility for the care of the garments in the vestry. Not long after his arrival, one Sunday following the church service I was hanging up the choir robes." Her voice was soft but alarming. "Upon hearing the door, which I had left open, close, I turned around and found myself face to face with Reverend Dolan. Smiling lustfully, he grabbed my arm and pulled me roughly to him." She hesitated, momentarily lost in thought. "After my father's shenanigans, my mother told me the best way to fight off a sexual predator."

"Oh? How does a woman do that?" I asked.

"'Kick him where the sun doesn't shine,' she said and that's exactly what I did."

I had all I could do to keep from smiling; for, this was not the time for levity. "What's your relationship to the church now?"

"I don't have one," she replied, swallowing hard. "After that incident, I left and never went back."

Lifting another one of those curtains of silence, I asked, "And the dentist?"

She hesitated, measuring me for a moment. "Because I was experiencing severe pain from an infected wisdom tooth, I needed to have it taken out. Unfortunately, however, my dentist was overseas visiting her mother, who was very ill. So, I had to go to a different dentist." Her mercurial dark eyes sharpened. "I would've preferred that he numb it; for, I have great tolerance for pain. He, however, insisted on putting me to sleep. Reluctantly, I relented."

"The doctor knows best, eh?" I offered.

"So I foolishly thought," she replied with a nod. "Upon awakening, I noticed that my blouse was improperly buttoned. I knew for a fact, however, that wasn't the case when I sat down on the dental chair." Her eyes flashed with outrage. "So, I could only assume that he had been amusing himself during my sleep."

"Did you confront him about it?" I asked.

"You better believe I did." Her tone was raw and harsh.

"So what happened?"

"Indignant, he accused me of imagining things." She threw her hands up in frustration. "What could I do? It was his word against mine."

Strange as it may seem, the defining moment of our relationship took place the afternoon I was getting ready to return to my home and, the next morning, to work. I had just finished taking a bath and, as I was putting on my bathrobe, I heard the doorbell ring. Opening the door a crack, I peered out, unprepared for the spectacle I was about to see unfold.

Upon going to the front door and opening it, Emma recoiled in horror. "Roger, what--what are you doing here?" she stammered.

"I was just about to ask you the same question." he replied, pushing her aside and forcing his way inside.

Although my first instinct was to rush out and beat him to a pulp, I yielded to an inner voice which was telling me to bide my time.

"I live here," she replied, standing by the open door.

"According to my records you're legal residence is on Beacon Hill and you're in charge of my regional office in Boston."

"In case you haven't noticed," she snapped, "I've resigned my position."

"That's something you and I have to talk about," he replied with a dismissive gesture. "Now shut the damned door so we can get on with it."

''There's nothing to talk about," she replied, her voice hardening. "It's over and done with.''

Turning to face her, he reached over and slammed the door shut. "I refuse to accept your resignation."

"You've come on a fool's errand." Folding her arms across her chest in defiance, she stared across at him. "Nothing you can say or do will change my mind."

"But what about our future together?" he said, softening his tone and gesturing. "You love me, don't deny it." As he reached for her, she stepped back. "And I love you. As soon as the divorce is final, you and I'll be husband and wife."

She let out a hollow laugh. "Liar, liar, pants on fire."

A muscle flicked angrily at his jaw. "Why are you mocking me?" he demanded.

"Because you know only too well," she said, clenching her teeth, "there isn't going to be a divorce."

"How can you talk like that?"

"Those aren't my words; they're Marilyn's."

"My wife's?" She nodded and he stammered, "You've--you've talked with her."

She had him on the defensive and reveled in it. "Indeed I have and she tells me she has no intention of divorcing you."

"But--but--" he stammered.

"Now, if you don't mind," she interrupted, "I have people to see and places to go.''

As she turned to open the door and shoo him out, he grabbed her by the wrist and swung her around to face him. "If you think you can just walk out of my life, you're mistaken," he snarled. "Nobody walks away from Roger Wigglesworth. Nobody, do you understand?''

"Get your hands off me." In vain she struggled to break free.

"Let's stop playing games," he said, pulling her closer to him, "you want me as much as I want you?''

"Let go of me or else?" she demanded.

He leered at her. "Or else what?"

Now I knew was the time for action. So, taking a deep breath and tightening the belt on my bathrobe, I strode into the living room. "Or else I'll beat the living daylights out of you," I declared, stopping abruptly several feet from him.

Startled, he released his hold on her and stepped back. "Who--who the hell are you?" he exclaimed.

Suddenly I found myself shouting, "I'm her husband. Who do you think I am?"

"What?" His eyes went from me to her and back.

"You heard me, I'm her husband," I replied, frowning and moving slowly toward him. "If I were you, I'd get out of here before I rearrange that pretty face of yours."

"I--I had no idea that she had gotten married," he stuttered, backing toward the door.

"On second thought, worse than giving you a facelift," I mocked, "I just might call a press conference and you can bet the subject won't be North Korea."

Grasping the handle, he did a quick about-face and tore the door open. "It's--it's a simple misunderstanding," he said. "I'm leaving."

"That's for sure," I snarled.

As I lunged at him, he took off running faster than a cheetah. Poking my head out the door, I watched him jump into his car, turn on the ignition, and burn rubber. "I don't think he'll be bothering you anymore," I said, closing the door.

"You're right." Her mood seemed suddenly buoyant. "In the current political atmosphere a charge of sexual harassment would be the death knell for his career as a senator. Believe me; that would be the last thing he'd want."

"Like most of those in Congress," I said, grinding my words out, "he thinks the job's his forever."

"That husband thing of yours, though a lie, was a gem," she said, a smile pursing her mouth, "it sent him scurrying."

"Good riddance to bad rubbish." Glancing at the clock on the mantel, I declared, "Oops, I'd better get dressed, gather up my clothes, and be on my way."

When I came back out into the living room, I set my suitcase down. "I want to thank you for all your kindness. I wouldn't have recovered as quickly without you."

Standing across from me with folded arms, she gave me a conspiratorial wink. "I'm a nurse; that's what I was trained for."

"And a darned good one you are." Standing awkwardly in the middle of the room, with reluctance I broke the brittle stillness. "Well, I'd better be on my way before I have a change of heart and decide to stay."

With an adventurous toss of her head, she replied, "That wouldn't be so bad."

We shared a laugh and, then, picking up my suitcase, I went to the door and opened it. "Hey, Emma," I said, turning and facing her, "about that husband thing?"

"Oh?" she replied, fingering a loose tendril of hair. "What about it?"

"The truth is that, for some time now," I confessed, "it's been wishful thinking on my part."

Bewitchingly, she smiled at me. "Ed Gallagher, are you, by any chance, proposing to me?"

An unwelcome blush crept into my cheeks. "In a roundabout way I guess I am."

"You guess?" Her voice was soft and purposely seductive. "Why don't you come right out and ask me?"

Suddenly I found myself stammering, "Because I'm--I'm afraid you might reject me."

Now she was purring. "Why don't you try me?"

Again I set my suitcase down and stared across at her. "Emma," I said, taking a deep breath and crossing my fingers, "will you marry me?"

The warmth of her smile sent my pulses racing. "I thought you'd never ask."

All I remember after that is sprinting across the room, sweeping her up into my arms, and, wires notwithstanding, smothering her with kisses. Has our marriage been a happy one? Yes, indeed! More than happy it has been blissful--except, of course, for an occasional game of one-upmanship, of which, I must confess, more often than not Emma is the winner."

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