The next week dragged slowly by for Ken as he waited for his first real date with Peggy. He was excited. He wanted everything to be perfect. He decided a bouquet of daisies was in order.
On Saturday night, the bank parking lot was empty. Ken stood by his car, flowers in hand, as Peggy drove up. When she got out of her car, he examined her closely. The blue and white poke-a-dot dress she wore, flattered her figure. The color also set off her eyes. She looked terrific. When she saw the daisies, she blushed, smiled and thanked him. For the second time, they put the flowers into a paper cup of water and into her car. Ken was gratified by the big smile Peggy gave him as he opened his car door for her.
Peggy thought, Those daisies are so sweet! I’m having a real problem trying to figure this guy out. Is he actually a womanizer? He seems so sincere and down to earth. Maybe I can find out something by poking a little fun at him.
As soon as Ken got the car on the road Peggy said, “Those daisies are beautiful, Ken. Did you give Sue Ann Hennessey flowers too?”
He looked as if Peggy’d hit him in the stomach.
She continued, “What about the magic wink, did you give Sue Ann the magic wink?”
Ken pulled the car to the side of the road and stopped. Peggy tried to keep a straight face. It was almost impossible. She was positive her twinkling eyes would give her away.
“No, I didn’t give her any flowers. No, I didn’t give her the magic wink. I’ve never had a date with Sue Ann Hennessey!”
“How strange. A little bird told me you were seen holding hands while walking together a week or so ago.”
Ken’s head dropped into his hands. “That part’s true, however, I can explain.”
By this time, Peggy found herself thoroughly enjoying Ken’s torment. “Ken you don’t have to explain anything. I have absolutely no hold on you. Whoever you choose to date is none of my business.”
Ken agonized, “Peggy, I want to explain. And please stop saying I had a date with Sue Ann Cleavage er a Hennessey, because I did not.”
The ‘cleavage’ reference did it for Peggy. She cracked up. “Sue Ann Cleavage is it? Now I understand the true reason for your interest!”
Peggy laughed so hard, poor Ken started laughing too.
“Look…… Didn’t you tell me the bank President’s name is Johnson?
“Suppose Mr. Johnson asked you to come to dinner at their home? Would you go?”
“Suppose the Johnson’s had a whale of a son who weighed about 300 pounds and was about your age. After dinner, if Mr. Johnson suggested you go for a walk with him, would you go?”
“I guess I would be walking with a whale.”
“And if the whale held your hand while you walked what would you do?
“OK, I give.”
“After the walk ended, she asked me to kiss her. I told her, ’You’re a nice woman; however I’m not ready for a relationship.”
“I actually ran off the porch. This may seem funny to you. But you have to remember Mrs. Hennessey is the reason I have a job next month. I have to be extremely careful.”
“Are you sure you didn’t show her the magic wink?”
“Not in a million years.”
They both laughed. Peggy decided to let him off the hook. “Sorry, I just couldn’t resist the temptation to tease you. You’re fun to tease. Come on, let’s start driving to Warsaw. I’m starving.”
After a few minutes of silence, Ken asked, “Hey, if our date’s such a big secret that we have to meet in the bank parking lot, who’s the little bird who saw me with Sue Ann and told you about it? Have you been telling people we have a date? I haven’t told anyone.”
Peggy grinned at him, “Well, if the truth be known, you two walked right by my house. I was studying. I happened to look up at the exact moment you walked under the street light.”
“Oh that’s right. We did walk down your street. Of course, at the time, I had no idea where you lived.”
“Now, because I’ve been so mean to tease you, I’ll admit that for a minute after I watched you, I was….. a little jealous. Whoops! Please forget what I just said and drive.”
Warsaw proved to be not much of a town. The restaurant selection limited itself to a couple of fast food joints. However, on the far outskirts, near the expressway entrance, they found a decent looking steak house.
The hostess led them to a booth in the corner. After they ordered, Ken beamed at his date. “Peggy, you’re an exciting, attractive woman. In my opinion, some women are beautiful and some women are cute. Your twinkling eyes, wonderful freckles, and your adorable pug nose, make you, without a doubt, a # 10 cute.”
“A #10,” Peggy replied, “what, pray tell, is a #10?”
“Well, I guess you didn’t know. Most guys rate women on a scale of 1-10. Sue Ann uh Cleavage would be about a one, if you stretched it a bit. If I say you are a ‘#10 cute’ I’m saying you are the absolute top of the cute category.
“Furthermore, up to this point, and please keep in mind I don’t know you very well; your personality is a #10 also. It’s fun to be with you. You can take and give a joke. Besides all that, Peggy, you have a sincerity around you which, well…..you’re just a #10.”
Peggy felt herself blushing. Boy, this guy is really direct. I think he really believes all that stuff. I’m at a loss as to how to respond.
Finally, she opted for simple. “Thank you Ken, you’re extremely kind.”
Their conversation flowed easily. The dinner tasted better than either of them expected. Somewhere in the middle of the meal, Peggy began to feel an aura of sincerity around Ken. Whenever I speak, he looks right into my eyes. He reflects on what I say before answering. I feel his honesty. It is truly refreshing to be with someone so caring. No way is this guy a womanizer.
It became obvious Ken was the polar opposite of the self-centered Myron or the deeply reserved Jeb.
They declined dessert. Over coffee, a long moment of silence occurred. It was however, a comfortable silence.
Ken stunned her with his next remark. “Peggy, I sense getting over Peter’s death has been extremely difficult for you. I wonder if it would help you to talk about it? Would you tell me how you and Peter met?”
The unexpected direction cause by his comment really jarred Peggy. Immediately, her eyes moistened. She shook her head no; she certainly didn’t want to talk about Peter. However, to the surprise of both of them, Peggy suddenly started talking.
“It was in my accounting class during my sophomore year at the University. My Father insisted I take one accounting class in college because ‘you need accounting to help you run your life.’ Father worried I wouldn’t be financially competent to do my income taxes or manage my household.
“One day, as the class filed in to take their seats, Peter happened to sit on my left. The class concerned debits and credits. It made absolutely no sense to me. As class ended, I muttered something regarding how confused I felt.”
Peter overheard. He said, “Let me have a shot at explaining it.”
“Peter majored in accounting. His explanation was so simple; I thought he should be teaching the class. Five minutes later, I understood a lot more than ever before.
Ken interjected, “Understanding debits and credits in accounting is extremely difficult.”
“Me too. I still get confused if you want the truth.”
“Thank you for understanding. The next thing I knew, we walked out of class together. He asked me out. I accepted. I’d been dating a lot of the ‘fast’ crowd. No one in the group held any appeal for me. Peter was more serious. Kind of like you, Ken. After a few dates, I was certain I was in love with him.”
“What happened next?”
Peggy looked at him. She could sense his sincerity. “You really want to know, don’t you?”
“Yes I do.”
“That’s a fair question.” He paused as he considered his response.
“First of all, I want to get to know you. I want to get to the point where we feel ‘close.’ I don’t see how we can feel ‘close’ if we simply block out 10 very important years of your life. Peter existed. You had a great marriage, a great life together and you have a great kid. How can I become your best friend, if we can’t share such a huge part of your life?
“The second reason is…… This is kind of hard to say…… I sense you need to talk about your life with Peter. I happen to believe if you talk about it with someone you trust, you’ll begin remembering the good parts. It may help the tragic end to fade out a little. My feeling is, for whatever reason, you have either tried to block out your memories or else you’ve focused on the painful, the extremely painful ending. I think it might help you to focus on the happy part of your lives together.”
Peggy felt her eyes fill with tears. No one had ever talked so directly or so bluntly to her on this subject before. Somehow, she sensed the intensity of his interest.
She rose from the table suggesting, “Let’s find a place to go for a walk.”
Warsaw featured a small park located close to the center square. It provided walking paths, drinking fountains and a few benches. There were enough streetlights to make a person feel safe. It created the perfect place for a couple on a date, to go for a walk.
They walked along in silence for a while. Finally, Peggy began to pour out one of her frustrations. “Mother keeps telling me not to think about it. She wants me to block it out as if it never happened. I’ve tried her way. Truly, blocking it out doesn’t help.”
“I don’t agree with your mother. I think you need to do just the opposite. That’s what we did in Afghanistan when one of the guys got hurt or killed. It was always better if we talked about the guy who was gone. I think you need to talk about Peter. You need to remember things that happened. You need to continue to make him a part of your life. If you haven’t been able to do that, perhaps telling me about him will be cathartic for you.”
Peggy thought for a long minute……… She took a deep breath before she began:
“Peter was tall and very good looking. He liked to go for long drives in the country. He had a quiet nature, with expressive eyes. He seemed to almost know what I was thinking before I told him.
“He was gentle, not macho at all. After we were married, he would appear in his suit and tie ready for work. He always put on the wrong color tie. I used to remove it so I could pick out the proper tie while he ate. After breakfast, I would help him tie it.”
She paused a second, gulping down a tear. “You know……. It’s those little things I miss.”
They found a bench and sat down. Ken took her hand. He held it gently, never speaking a word. He just looked into her tear-moistened eyes.
“I’m sorry; I got out of chronological order. Peter was a year ahead of me in school. One day, during the last part of his senior year, we went off together on one of those long drives he loved. We stopped at a scenic viewing spot overlooking the Mississippi River.
“He asked me to marry him. I accepted right away. I knew we were both deeply in love. A few weeks later, he gave me my diamond ring. Showing it around the college dorm was a real high for me. Many of my friends were truly jealous.
“Peter took a job with a CPA firm right in Hamilton, which meant we could be together my entire senior year. The exception occurred when he went out of town on audits. Unhappily, these occurred regularly.
“We were married right after I graduated. We had a big church wedding. Many of my college friends stayed over for the ceremony. I wore a wonderful white dress, which Mom made for me. My Dad wasn’t rich, so we held the reception in the church parlor.
“On our honeymoon, we went on a driving trip out west. We stopped at Jackson Hole, Steamboat Springs, and Yellowstone. After we returned from our honeymoon, we lived in Peter’s apartment.
“I did my ‘practice teaching’ year. Peter earned a promotion at the CPA Firm.
“After Ned arrived, we bought the house we live in now. We moved in when Ned was three months old. Ned was a tiny child. However, he was a good baby. Peter used to help take care of him. He always helped share the work.
“I never started teaching because Peter felt, ‘the nicest thing a man can do for his child is to give him the full time care of a Mother.’ After the accident, my only option was to find a job. I guess I told you that story the other day.”
Ken nodded, however he chose to remain silent. Peggy continued, “Peter loved Thanksgiving more than Christmas. The commercial aspect of Christmas turned him off. The income tax season proved to be exceedingly busy. Every year, though, after tax season, we took a family vacation.
“As Ned got into grade school, I became involved in the PTA. I became a teacher’s helper. We joined a bridge club that met 6 times a year. Peter was an exceptionally strong bridge player.
“The accident was awful. A semi driver, high on drugs, crossed the double yellow line. The semi hit Peter head on. They told me his life ended instantly.
“Peter was a really good man… I loved him deeply….. I still do.”
After a long pause Peggy confessed, “Ken, I think you were right. It’s been helpful sharing this with you. Maybe it’s because you’re a newcomer in town. You don’t know the story. All my friends know what happened. I’ve never had a chance to unload by sharing with a friend.
“Remembering the happy life we shared feels good to me. Thanks. Thanks for encouraging me to talk and remember.”
Peggy looked at her watch. “You’ve been really sweet. However, it’s getting late. Mother’s sitting with Ned. I have to get home or she’ll think I’m out with a monster or something.”
“May I say one thing?” Ken asked.
“After my mother died, one of her friends told me something I found helpful. Maybe it will help you too. She told me:
Don’t cry because it’s over
Smile because it happened.
Peggy looked at him a long time. “That’s very profound, Ken. Thank you. I’m going to try to embrace that idea.”
An interval of silence occurred in the car as they returned to Hamilton. Peggy asked, “You seem to be such a sensitive person, Ken. Is there an explanation?”
He paused for a moment before replying, “Well, as you know my Mom just died last May. That certainly gives me empathy with you.
“My army duty may also be part of it. I spent my first year in the Army in the states, training, and playing a lot of baseball. As a matter of fact, the sergeant in charge of the post baseball team told me I could get out of going overseas, if I took a job as a trainer with him and played baseball. I considered his offer carefully. I finally decided I should stay with my unit. There were many times in the next eight years, I wished I had stayed in the States.
The eight-years I spent in Iraq and Afghanistan were more than sobering. A lot of us were ‘happy go lucky’ kids before we left. By the time we came back, we’d experienced a lot of nasty stuff. It makes a person grow up quickly.
“I can identify with that.”
As they approached Hamilton, Ken asked, “Did you tell your mother you were going out on a date?”
“Well sort of. I told her it was a dinner engagement with a customer of the bank. She has the impression it’s a business meeting. I didn’t discourage the idea.
She continued, “I guess I need to explain. Mother thinks Ned needs a father. She is lining up all of the eligible men in Central Illinois to come courting, as soon as I tell her I am emotionally ready. I might add, if one judges by the subject of tonight’s conversation, it is obvious I am still not emotionally ready.”
After a pause Peggy added, “Ken, I still can’t figure out how you got me to actually go on a date with you. I haven’t wanted to accept any invitations since the fiasco with Myron.”
“He was a mistake. We went on three dates. I dumped him. Ned didn’t know I’d dumped him. He got so upset over Myron, he ran away from home. I was incredibly frightened! Luckily, he ‘ran away’ to his Grandmother’s house, so he was only gone a couple of hours. I must have aged five years in that horrible time! In all honesty, Ken, I’m still not over it. After that, I vowed never to go on another date. Now I’m breaking my rule by having a date with you.
“It must have been the Magic Wink.”
They laughed. As he walked her to her car, she told him. “This has been quite an evening. You’ve had me either laughing or crying all night. You’ve been sweet as well as comforting, Ken. In spite of all my tears… being with you was…. well, comforting.”
He tipped her chin up to face him. Peggy gave a little gasp…….She felt stunned facing a potential kiss…..She stalled him…… “I have strict rules against first date kisses” she exclaimed.
Ken replied, “I understand…….. What are your rules regarding second date kisses?”
“Well, once in a great while, if the guy was really super, I would allow a goodnight kiss on a second date.” Peggyfigured she’d made a safe statement. She was certain she had diffused a difficult situation.
Then Ken announced, “Peggy, this is our second date. “Did you forget our date at Rosie’s Ice Cream Parlor?”
Peggy looked up muttering, “You got me.” She took a deep breath, raising her eyes to his. He put his arms around her. Slowly their lips came closer and closer. When they touched, the warm, soft, kiss felt tender and gentle. Peggy had no clue as to what Ken felt, but it left her with a wonderful glow all the way to her heart!
Peggy hopped into her car, rolled down the window, whispering to him, “Call me.”
She looked back as she left the parking lot. Ken was frozen in place staring. Judging by the awestruck expression on his face, it isn’t much of a stretch to guess his thoughts.
As she rounded a corner, the daisies on the floor of the front seat tipped over against her leg. As she pushed them back in place she thought; I forgot to thank him a second time for the flowers. A few minutes later, she mumbled to herself, I think I could really fall for him.
She recalled the kiss. Her first real kiss since Peter died. (Myron nor Jeb never tried, thank God)…….. It wasn’t a sexy kiss…….. It was sort of a friendly kiss……. No, it was a loving kiss……A very loving kiss. “Oh my! How am I going to deal with that?”
A few minutes later she asked herself, “Did I like kissing him?..... Oh Peter…... How do I answer that question?”
If I’d been the one to die, would I have wanted Peter to find another wife? My rational self would certainly have thought, ’You’re still young Peter. Please find someone with whom you could share your life. Only don’t get some fast, loose woman. Find someone nice, who would be good to Ned.
My emotional self would be jealous of anyone Peter considered. However, it wouldn’t be fair. No, if the situation reversed itself, I’d truly have wanted Peter to find someone else. Therefore, Peter’s position would be similar. He would want me to find someone else.
She reached up, touching her lips where Ken had kissed them. A soft smile washed across her face…….
Peggy drove into her garage, picked up the flowers and walked into the house. She never thought of the possible consequences the daisies might cause. Her Mother looked up. Margo’s chin dropped.
“Where did you get those lovely daisies?” she exclaimed. “I thought you were at a business meeting. Peggy Mitchell Waldren,” she cried, “you’ve been out on a date!”
Peggy looked at her Mother. Margo Mitchell, 58 years young, was tall and thin. She kept her hair swept back in a bun. Because she taught high school for 30 years, she was a confident person. More than once in her life Peggy had felt that her mother was a tad domineering.
The knowledge Peggy had been on a date allowed her Mother put her foot down.
Peggy stood in the living room with guilt written all over her face. She wanted to fib her way out of this. However, she knew she could never get away with a fib. Mother knew daughter too well. Margo Mitchell was not a woman to be deceived.
“The man who took me to dinner is a bank customer. He’s new in town. He obtained a loan from our bank for a house he is buying. I handled the loan details for the bank.”
“A newcomer,” exclaimed Margo. “Do you know anything about him? What kind of family does he come from?”
“I don’t know much. After the loan approval came through, he asked me to go to dinner with him. He appeared so lonely I agreed. He brought me these flowers. He’s very nice.
“Mother, Please don’t read anything into this. I’m simply being a good bank employee. After I get my MBA, I may have to do more business entertaining.”
Mother bought none of daughter’s excuses. She announced, “If you have time to have dinner with a bank customer who gives you flowers, you have time to have Sunday dinner with me next weekend. I’ll expect you and Ned at my house at 1:00 o’clock.”
“I guess I have no choice.”
After her mother left, Peggy peaked in at Ned. Snug had almost pushed her son out of the bed. Ned was crammed against the edge of the mattress. All the covers were wrapped around the dog. Peggy shoved Snug aside, covered Ned, kissing him gently so he wouldn’t waken. Snug looked up, giving Peggy a dirty look for disturbing her. Then the dog mushed herself against Ned and went back to sleep.
Peggy tumbled into bed. As she drifted off to sleep, she found herself touching her lips where Ken kissed her. For the second time, she asked, “Did I like it?”