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Seasoned ~ A Love Story

By Jayme H. Mansfield

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Essie ~ The Box, 2006
As a prelude to autumn, the Colorado mountain air chilled and the aspens shimmered with gold. I opened the cedar chest to take out my beige sweater to wear for this meeting with my daughter, Allie. Over the phone last night, she declared, “Mom, tomorrow is a new day for you.”
But my hands betrayed me. I lifted the cardboard box marked ESTHER OWENS WHITE—PERSONAL and set it on the floor. The container weighed more than I remembered. Memories—odd and abstract—fleeting as they slip through my fingers like sand. Others ingrained, deeply cut, scarring. Happy or sad. Light and airy or heavy and dank. Maybe the box seems heavier because it reminds me a broken heart never completely mends.
No, I won’t open it. This is a new day. I won’t slip on my wedding ring and read through years of anniversary cards. No giggling at family photos, especially the Polaroid of the four of us—my bouffant hairstyle dwarfing our two young kids. No time to flip through the chronology of school photos and ... the forty-year-old newspaper clipping of our son’s obituary. The yellowed piece of paper isn’t needed to remind me of the death of our son, Reece.
I returned the box to the chest and gently covered it with a plaid Pendleton blanket, tucking the past away. Then, ruffling through sweaters, I chose a pretty butter-yellow cashmere and shut the lid. What has my romance-writing daughter, Allie, cooked up? Definitely not food.
Allie said I need to get out more, with a man.

Me ... date?
At my age? Ha!
But, if I pretend to go along with this, maybe Allie will use her far-
reaching imagination in those fiction stories, not on me.
**** *
So, on this Saturday morning, when sensible widows in their eighties would still be in bed, or at least at home in slippers and a robe, I drove the quick fifteen minutes to Allie’s to discuss this plan of hers. What do I have to lose? Of course, I have no intention of marrying again after fifty-six years with Ray. Perhaps some friendly socializing wouldn’t hurt. After all, my tennis partner, Marge, married and moved to Florida. Phyllis is dating a man she met at the Y, and Carla is in heaven.
I parked in the driveway, stopped to admire the pink sedum overflowing onto the brick walk, and stepped inside. As usual, a soothing concoction misted from the oil diffuser on her writing desk. No-nonsense coffee aroma wafted from the kitchen. For Allie, the perfect atmosphere was as important as hitting the ground running, or writing, that is.
“Hey, Mom.” She sipped coffee from the Happily Ever After mug I’d given her last Christmas. The moment I looked at her, I knew something wasn’t exactly happy for her this morning.
“Give me a sec to finish this sentence.” She motioned to the cup and saucer on the corner of her desk. “Here, I have your tea ready. Chamomile. Calm is good, right?”
Before she diverted her gaze back to the computer screen, I spotted her puffy eyelids. Like my own, they were a shared genetic giveaway she’d been crying. And perhaps because my daughter was an author, she was an open book—or at least to me as her mother. But she needed to ease into the initial scene when it involved her personal life. I’d learned to respect that and would wait until she was ready to share.
“There, nailed it.” She leaned back in her chair. “This manuscript is a tough one. These characters are making me work for my money.”
“Do I get to read it before you send it to your publisher?”
“If you want, but you’re an awful editor. You think everything I write is perfect.”
“True. That’s my mom-job.”
“Pretty much the same romance formula. Heroine meets hero, they dig each other but can’t show it or don’t know it, at least not yet. Then,

oh no, a big problem arises and lots of little ones. But they’re crazy for each other and things get steamy. More problems, but finally—”
“They make the commitment to spend their lives together, expecting to live happily ever after.” Those words always make me smile, and I couldn’t help but grin. “As life should be.”
Allie gave the universal thumbs-up and changed the subject. “Mom, I’m proud of you for agreeing to this early morning meeting. Shows you still have the get-up-and-go spirit.”
“Thanks. I suppose I’ve never been one to let grass grow around my toes.” I fidgeted with my tea bag, lifting, then submerging it again. “So, this plan of yours—”
The topic got a brief reprieve when Snow White, Allie’s Westie bounded through the mini-dog door with a stuffed teddy bear in her mouth.
“Whatcha got, Snowy? A new toy?” I patted her head before she gave the bear a vigorous shake and ran from the room. “What’s up with her today? She’s so spunky.”
“Dogs read our emotions. She’s as excited as I am about this.”
“The plan?”
“Absolutely. The Passion Plan.” Allie removed her glasses and nested
them atop her head. “Makes it sound more intriguing.”
“Hold on a minute. I’m only considering this for companionship. You know, dinner or a movie, maybe catching a museum exhibit or
“Fine. Nix the sex, keep it G-rated.”
“Well,” I mused, “at least not X-rated.”
“Mom!” Allie’s eyebrows rose.
“I’m not dead for heaven’s sake.” I smiled. Giving Allie a bit of her
own medicine was fun. But I could never even kiss another man.
Allie focused on the computer screen. “It’s simple. We should have
done this online dating months ago.”
“But isn’t there an age limit? The market must be tight for eighty-
“Maybe slim, but plenty of older people are lonely and know how
good it is to be loved—”
“And love.” A familiar pang tapped on my heart.
I missed Ray’s steady, calming voice when worry crept in. I missed
his kiss when he left for work, and again when he returned home at night. I missed his touch. My bed had been so warm when my husband

lay by my side as the Colorado snow swirled outside.
Yes, to be loved and to love is bliss—a two-sided coin—each side
worthy and necessary. Husband and wife. Mother and child.
Emotions threatened. I should not have touched that box this morning. Sipping the tea, I forced my mind to settle on the husband-
and-wife theme.
I swallowed the last drop and set the cup on the desk. “So, how are
you and Peter? Is he here?”
Allie gave me a sideways glance. “We’re fine. He left early for work.”
She swiped her hand at the air, dismissing the topic of her personal life. “Anyway, we’re focusing on you.”
I pressed my lips together in an effort to remain silent, but my instinctual I-know-there-is more-to-the-story slipped out as “Mmm.”
“Mom.” Allie rolled her eyes. “I wish you wouldn’t do that.”
“And I wish you wouldn’t do this.” I rolled my eyes.
“Fair.” She grinned.
“Back to the plan.” She tapped a series of keys and turned the
computer screen toward me. It glowed as if it shared her enthusiasm for whatever she had devised.
“I’m not sure I like what you’re up to.” I squinted at the words she typed into the Search bar. “And your father would feel the same.”
“Dad wouldn’t want you to be alone either.” She tapped the logo emblazoned on the screen, Liaison. “Besides, we’re only looking for a friend ... right?”
“Right. No man to pocket my money or have me iron shirts. And if he’s my age, there’s a good chance he would expect me to push him around in a wheelchair. Let’s try to avoid that.” I crossed my arms. “Now, if you can find me a handyman to fix everything breaking at my house, that could be an added bonus.”
“You’re acting a little self-centered, don’t you think?”
“Not at all. I’m an octogenarian ... but don’t you think a man would expect me to cook for him?”
“You like to cook,” Allie shot back.
“Not really. I’ve gotten used to eating light. Something liberating about having a bowl of cereal or popcorn for dinner. I cooked my share of meals over the years, and I don’t know if I want to—”
“Mom.” Allie pointed at me. “This is only about friendship with a man.”
My fingers tapped out a rhythm on my knees. “That’s why this idea 4

makes me jittery. Maybe I shouldn’t have come.” I straightened my back and tried to redirect my attention to the computer. “I know you mean well, but I’m fine. You say you and Peter are fine. Let’s agree that everyone’s fine and leave well enough alone.” I stood. “Do you want more coffee?”
“You’re stalling.” Allie patted the seat of my chair. “This won’t hurt a bit.”
Hurt had been part of my subterranean repertoire for so long— coursing through my being like an underwater river and often surfacing where the earth was dry and cracked. However, I’d done a pretty good job taming the water since Ray passed, made respectable progress in healing the wound, especially over the last year. For a long time after he was gone, every day was painful ... holidays, birthdays, our anniversary ... really any ordinary day.
I’d sat alone at church, received junk mail addressed to Raymond White, and warmed my body with an extra blanket instead of his touch. All acute reminders that he was gone. They still come—like the thieves who unlatched the door to my soul and stole my joy the day my son died.
“I’ve checked several sites, and this one is the best.” Allie clicked on a tab, and a screen full of smiling faces appeared, several cheek-to- cheek and some lip-to-lip.
“Must be the paid testimonials.” I leaned closer toward the beaming, white-teethed, pretty people. “I don’t see any close to my age. Must be an age cap.”
“Sorry. No such thing. You could be over a hundred and join.” Allie clicked another icon, and a form with numerous blank spaces appeared. “This is where we start. A new chapter for a wonderful woman, looking for fun and companionship with a man who wants the same.”
“But look at this.” I pointed to a row of boxes. “They want to know my age, where I live, my hobbies. They’re awfully nosy, don’t you think?” “Unless you’d like to meet a man half your age, living in Hawaii, who likes to surf naked, then I’d say this is all pretty reasonable to find
a good match.” Allie began to fill in the blanks.
“Hmm. Naked surfing. Sounds dangerous.”
“Could be worse ... naked skydiving ... sword fighting.” She
continued typing. “This is the basic profile information. The probing goes much deeper.”
“Honey.” I paused, allowing my words to catch up with my heart. 5

“Do I deserve another special person in my life? I had your father, a wonderful son, and I’m blessed to have you. I’m not sure that I’m worthy of more.”
There, I’d said it. My response surprised me. Gratitude. Self-help proponents shout it from the mountaintops—staying focused on what was and is good in life is the answer to all the world’s problems. Perhaps my gratitude cup overflowed long ago. And yet, I thought as I glanced at the empty teacup, maybe there is such a thing as a second serving.
Allie closed her eyes and took a deep breath before she spoke. “Not having Dad the last two years has been tough. I miss him too. But life was never meant to be—”
“Lived in a box?”
Allie’s shoulder’s slumped. “Right. Not lived in a box.”
I nodded. Surprisingly, agreeing felt good.
“You’re an amazing woman, ready for a positive change. Mom,
maybe someone out there would make you happy. Maybe someone needs you.”
Such a complex concept ... to be needed. I’d been needed for so long. First, a young nurse out of college, then a wife, soon after a mother, later on a caregiver when Ray’s heart was failing. Like a chocolate cream cake, multiple layers, all necessary to complete the richness of my life. But an essential part of the cake crumbled when Reece died, and more fell away after Ray passed.
Wasn’t that how every love story eventually ended? Widow? Widower?
But ... could there be a man out there, wherever out there is, who might need me? Someone who enjoys good, intelligent conversation that’s different than girl-to-girl or guy-to-guy talk? Another person who wants to feel special again without having to get married? Someone who gets the “been there, done that” thing?
After a deep breath, I said, “I’ll agree to try this only if I can back out when I want. Stop any time, pretend the whole thing didn’t—”
“Mother, must I remind you that I’m a romance writer?” A sly smile crept across her face. “You are in good hands. Allie LaFleur is your official online dating ghostwriter.”
“And I’m supposed to feel so much better?” I grinned. It was time for me to have a little fun as well, and weaving relationships, albeit fictional, was right up Allie’s alley.
“This will be a blast! After we input your basic information and the 6

matches start to come in, I’ll log in as you and do all the writing.”
“And what do you plan to say to these gentlemen, if any respond?” “I’ll tell them how fascinating and full of life I—I mean you are. That
you’re now a widow, after being happily married for many years, and simply looking for another man to spend quality time with.”
“And fix the screen door that won’t shut.” I pointed to the keyboard. “Don’t forget the handyman part.”
“Mom, this isn’t a classified ad for home repair.”
“Well, that’s a good reason for having a man at my house.”
Her eyes softened. “You are lonely ... and no one should be lonely.” I stared into my daughter’s hazel eyes, reminiscent of her father’s.
She was right. Could the truth overrule my pride, and more accurately, my fear? The fear that, like the sands of time, my opportunity to love and be loved had disappeared?
No, I still have time on my side. I hovered my fingers and air-typed. “Then, my dear, make me fascinating.”
“You are fascinating. And remember, I’m a writer. I can handle this.” Allie set her fingers on the keyboard and typed, Esther White.
“My formal name instead of Essie? Sounds a bit mysterious. I like that. Haven’t used it in years.”
“Good. Next, what should your password be?”
“I need a password to meet a man?” I scoffed. “That sounds complicated.”
“How about the movie Sleepless in Seattle, and we can make the s’s dollar signs? I love when Tom Hanks meets Meg Ryan on top of the Empire State Building.” Allie patted her heart.
“I thought our goal was companionship.”
“It is.” She sighed. “But that scene is hard to beat.”
Allie logged in and entered her credit card information. “Since it
was my idea and I’m dragging you into this, I’ll pay.” She eyed me. “If you get hooked and men are waiting in droves to wine and dine you for months, then you’re picking up the ongoing fee.”
“Don’t hold your breath. I hardly think my demographics will result in a flood of suitors.” I offered my hand. “For this arrangement to be fair, I have a bet to make with you.”
“And what would that be?”
“I agree to give online dating a whirl if you tell me what’s going on with you and Peter.” A loose strand of hair had slipped from her

ponytail, and I tucked it behind her ear as I had done hundreds of times when she was a child. “Even if you say everything is fine, I still have a suspicion, call it mother’s intuition, that things aren’t going according to your desired storyline ... plus, your eyelids are puffy.”
Allie lowered her head. “Where do I begin?” “Where most authors begin ... with chapter one.”

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