Shelly, A Love Story
The only bad memory she had of Tommy was his dying. From the time they first met in the cafeteria until cancer took him away, theirs was a romance novel existence. Now, it seemed every waking minute, Shelly dwelled on that first meeting. She was in her first semester as a junior and had concentrated on her studies, wanting to become either a doctor, like her father, or some sort of medical specialist.
Shelly had so admired her father, a family doctor, who while making an excellent living for his family, spent about half his time treating patients at free clinics. If he told her once, he told her a thousand times, "We have so many blessings, sweetheart, when you grow up, don't forget to give something back to people less fortunate."
But, in one horrific moment, Shelly's life was shattered at age twelve. She elected to stay with her Aunt Margery when her parents went to a medical convention in New York. The plane went down in a forested area of Pennsylvania. All aboard were killed, and Shelly's weekend stay with her aunt became permanent. Losing her parents made Shelly turn inward, seldom speaking to anyone except when necessary. As she grew up and went through high school, her introverted personality caused her classmates to believe she was stuck up. And, she really didn't care. In a way, it was a blessing. While others were out partying and playing, she studied hard, made excellent grades and received a full four-year academic scholarship.
She went to college with no idea of dating or a social life, but only to become the doctor that would make her dad proud, had he lived to see it. Not that she wasn't interested in meeting the right man and getting married some day, she just wanted to reserve that for the future. But, when Tommy smiled at her across the crowded cafeteria dining room, all her plans disappeared like snow in Texas in the middle of July. She was smitten at first glance. Oh, she didn't fall in love at first sight, as she'd had friends tell her had happened to them, but she was sort of interested in this handsome young guy with an absolutely irresistible smile.
Over a matter of three weeks, it seemed Mister Handsome had the same lunch period as herself, and always smiled from across the room, but never made any sort of overture. At first, it puzzled her, then she realized it was a tactic. A tactic to make her speak to him first. Well, if that was his game, he had a long time to wait - like forever.
Evidently, he finally figured out his smile-from-a-distance tactic wasn't working. When Shelly sat down at her regular table and looked across the room, he wasn't there. As she was thinking perhaps she should have given in and spoken to him first, a soft, deep, masculine voice behind her made her skin nearly crawl.
"May I sit with you?"
She was so taken by surprise, Shelly nearly choked on the milkshake. All she could do was nod her head up and down.
"Sorry. I didn't mean to startle you. You okay?"
Still, all she could think to do was nod and concentrate on the cold roast beef sandwich.
"Not very talkative, are you?"
Shelly managed to smile and nod once more.
As he worked his way toward a chair across from her, he said, "My name's Tom Harris. Could I ask yours?"
Shelly hadn't, up to that point, realized her voice, when she was excited or engrossed in something else, had a sultry sound to it. She spoke to people so seldom, no one had ever told her. But, she realized she sounded like one of those sexy actresses from the old movies, with a hint of whisper to her voice. She blushed with the realization, but managed to get out, "Shelly. Shelly Johnson."
"Shelly, I want to come right to the point. I am madly, deeply in love with you."
He said it in such an offhand way, Shelly laughed loudly and, again, nearly choked on the gulp of milkshake she had started to swallow.
When she finally had herself somewhat under control, she said, "Now, that's a truly unique pickup line."
Tom got an earnest look on his face for a moment, then smiled that beautiful smile and said, "No, no, you don't understand. I really am very much in love with you. It's no pickup line. I know you probably think I'm nuts, but I'm in love with you."
Shelly had replayed that scene in her daydreams an untold number of times after Tom died. It hadn't taken her long to realize, this was the perfect man for her. He never once treated her improper, though at times, when he was bringing her home after dinner, she had a terrible urge to sneak him into her room. Tom had asked her to marry him on their first date. He truly had fallen in love with her from a distance. They'd been married six months when Shelly learned she was pregnant with the only child they would ever have.
Now, two years after she watched Tommy's casket being lowered into the ground, she was going to do something besides sit around feeling sorry for herself. As she had perused some magazine or another, she came upon an article on surviving the loss of a loved one. The evident sage writing the article, among other things, said, "We grieve for ourselves, not the one who has died. You seldom hear, `oh, gosh, how will my dearly beloved who is gone get along without me?' It is always, "How am I going to get along without him or her? How can I survive this? Then, we sit around feeling sorry for ourselves for our loss, rather than feeling sorry for our dead loved one."
It struck a chord with Shelly, and she realized that was exactly what she had done for two years, feel sorry for herself, because she was alone. Because she was lonely. So, she realized Tommy would want her to get on with her life and do something. Perhaps she would become the doctor she had meant to be before marriage and motherhood got in the way. So, here she was, attending college with people thirty years her junior. But the old Shelly was still in there. She hadn't lost the zest for learning and doing well at anything she attempted. All her professors were impressed with her way of answering questions with more than one answer, when indeed, there might be more than one alternative. She was exceptional at examining all possible sides of a question, then coming up with logical answers. Needless to say, her grades reflected her dedication and extra effort.
Only one thing bothered her about attending this school. It wasn't the courses or the instructors or such, but the football players on the practice field. Student parking was on the other side of the practice field, and every afternoon she had to walk past a field loaded with players and hopeful players. Tommy had been a football fanatic. She had never really taken a lot of interest in the Monday Night Football games, or even the Superbowl, but she sat by Tommy many times when he would work himself into a sweat rooting for one team or another. So, seeing these young men on the field was a cause to dredge up that old sorrow she felt after Tommy died.
Finally, as a student nearly knocked her off her feet, chasing an errant football, and apologized profusely, she smiled at him and said, "No need to apologize. Have a good practice." As she climbed into her car, Shelly realized how good she felt, speaking to the young football hopeful. It confused her, and she thought about it all the way home.
The next afternoon, she slowed her pace, as she passed the football players, and eventually stopped for a moment to watch a young man catch a real bomb that seemed to travel the length of the field. In her mind, she could see and hear Tommy cheering the receiver on toward the goal post after that brilliant reception. Again, it made her feel good, and she remembered another bit from that article about losing a loved one. "If we can see it, there can be great joy in our sorrow. Joy that we feel sorrow, because that means the deceased truly meant something to us. Joy that we shared at least part of the deceased person's life. Joy that perhaps we gave the deceased a measure of happiness for the time they were with us."
The following afternoon, Shelly not only slowed at the field, but walked around the end of the small bleachers and sat on the bottom step. It almost felt as though Tommy was there beside her. It was an August day in San Antonio; hot enough to fry eggs without a skillet. Shelly got lost in thoughts of Tommy and didn't even notice the players leaving the field. The coach passed her, then stopped and came back. He sat down at arms length and said, "Hot."
Shelly simply nodded, looked out at the empty field, stood and walked toward the parking lot. If hard pressed to do so, she couldn't have told anyone the first thing about the man who had sat down beside her and said, "Hot." In fact, she forgot it as fast as it happened, but, the following afternoon, she once more stopped to watch football practice. Again, she was filled with thoughts of Tommy watching football and had a slight smile on her face when the coach again sat next to her.
She turned to look at him and nodded agreement.
"You like football?"
Shelly squinted her eyes slightly and said, "I don't know. My husband did."
The coach was obviously a man sensitive to a person's moods and said, "I'm sorry," as he got up and walked away.
He'd been gone at least a full minute before Shelly realized what he said. It made her feel bad that she'd ignored the coach. She stood and looked for him to apologize, but he was nowhere in sight. Tomorrow, she'd apologize.
Evidently she'd insulted the coach by ignoring him. The following day, he only glanced over at her and continued toward the gym. "Excuse me."
When he stopped and turned to face her, a huge smile on his face, she gasped. His smile could have passed for Tommy's. "Yes?"
"Uh… It… Listen, I'm sorry I ignored you yesterday. I was deep in thought about something else."
"Yes, I know. And, I understand. No apology necessary." As he spoke, the coach walked back and extended his hand. "George Shaw."
"Shelly Harris. Pleased to meet you, Mister Shaw."
He continued smiling and said, "George. Just George. No one calls me Mister."
Shelly laughed softly and said, "Okay, George. Anyway, I'm sorry."
During the exchange, he had moved to sit once more at arm's length from her. He wiped the towel he carried across his face and said, "Hot again," smiling all the while. "Are you a student here, Shelly?"
"Yeah. Kinda old for college, I guess."
"You're never too old for education. I'm forty-two and working on my Ph.D. in psychology. Assistant Coach to earn my way."
"Wow. Ph.D. I'm just now working on my bachelor's."
"Bet you took some time out to raise a family, didn't you?" He turned to face her, as he spoke.
"Just one son. He's a senior at A&M. He took a few years off after high school before going to college." The huge smile on her face proved she was proud of him.
"Really? I played quarterback a lot of years ago at A&M. Didn't make it in the big time. Wasn't fast enough."
"Oh, I don't mind. I think everything happens for a reason. Life's too darned complicated to be all chance."
"A philosopher, too."
"Listen, Shelly, I have to get inside and chew some guys out. Will you be here tomorrow?"
My God, what had she done? It sounded as if he was asking her to be there. The last thing she was interested in was being involved with a man. "Uh, I don't think so."
"Well, I'll see you around sooner or later. Gotta go." With that, he trotted toward the gym.
Well, she'd just have to take another route to the parking lot. She didn't want to hurt his feelings by rejecting any proposal he might be up to, but she wasn't ready for anything like that. When she walked into her bedroom and disrobed to shower, she stopped before the full-length mirror and turned around to look at her body, something she hadn't done in years. As she thought that the old body had held up pretty well, Shelly suddenly realized she was thinking about how lonesome it was nights with no one else in the bedroom and she blushed. How could she even think about such a thing? Tommy had been the only man, ever, in her life, and that's the way it would always be.
But, as she showered, Shelly found herself seeing George smiling at her. As she dried, she suddenly burst into tears, sat on the dressing stool and cried, the towel pressed to her face.
"Oh, God, Tommy, I'm so lonesome. I miss you so much."
It was the first time she'd cried like this since Tommy died. She had wept quietly at his funeral and for several days afterward, but this time, she cried aloud, with a need to expunge the feelings she was having. Shelly realized she was not only missing Tommy, but missing what a man meant in her life. She had put up such a good front for her son and all of her friends, never wanting them to think her weak. But, inside, she died a little every time she looked at Tommy's picture on the nightstand, or saw his beautiful soft brown eyes or his smile in her son's face.
This night, she drove to the small parcel of property Tommy bought along the Guadeloupe River, forty-five miles from town. They had intended to one day build their retirement home up there. It was a beautiful spot, set high atop a hill overlooking the river. One could see for miles in all directions from their future home site. Tonight, Shelly sat on the park bench next to the barbecue pit Tommy and Richard built and stared at the night sky for hours. Away from the haze of city lights, the sky was so beautiful. The stars seemed twice as bright, and seemed, as she had read somewhere, nearly close enough to touch. She spoke softly to Tommy about her feelings and apologized for her want of a man in her life. When she saw the dim lights of an airplane passing high overhead, she quickly said a prayer that the people aboard reach their destination safely. That brought back the memory of her fear and hurt when her parents died, and again, she cried softly for some minutes before climbing back in the car and driving slowly home. Home, to a house without Tommy. A house without any sort of companion.
All through the next two weeks, she indeed walked a good distance out of her way to avoid the football field, and each night sat alone, feeling more alone than she imagined a person could be. When she began to sob one evening, Shelly knew she was losing it and had to make some sort of change, or she would sink into a depression that could be dangerous. Sitting in the back yard at sundown, she tried to analyze what other people did when they lost someone close to them. Her cousin, Loreen, had remarried after being a widow three years, and she and her two young children seemed to be perfectly happy. And, there was Jerry. He seemed to be living a good life with his new wife. Finally, she had to ask herself if she wanted to be alone the rest of her life or take a chance she'd find someone as good as Tommy to spend it with.
Then, she thought that was the wrong attitude. There would never be another Tommy.
There was only one of him. But, might not someone else be just as nice in their own way. She'd go to football practice tomorrow. No, wait, tomorrow's Saturday. No school.
She called Richard on Saturday and, during their conversation, told him the football coach might have been flirting with her, and she didn't know how to respond. Richard was as bright as his father and, for his age, was quite level headed. Shelly expected him to tell her to be careful, but his answer to her comment was, "Hey, Mom, go for it, if you think he's a nice guy. If he isn't, well, he has me to deal with."
"I have to confess something to you, Rich. I really want to get to know him better, but it makes me feel so guilty."
"Look, Mom, I love you very much. I know what a great relationship you and Dad had, but Dad wouldn't want you to be alone forever. You think about the kind of guy dad was, you'll understand that. So, what's this guy look like?"
"Actually, he's pretty good looking. Great smile."
"So, there you go. Like I said, he has me to answer to if he screws up. Okay?"
When Shelly got off the phone, she realized what a major step she had taken and that her entire reason for calling her son was to get his approval for her to think about finding someone to share the rest of her life. This time, when she stood before the full length mirror in her shorts and halter top and decided she not only had a reasonably nice body for a woman of forty-nine, but a hell of a nice body for a woman of any age, she wasn't embarrassed or feeling guilty for the self assessment. As she thought to herself, "Who needs a bra to look great?" she turned from the mirror, and as she left the bedroom to work in the back yard, she said aloud, "Damn, Shelly, admit it, you're just plain horny." This admission made her laugh every time she thought about it, and she wished she knew how to get in touch with… she couldn't remember his name. Uh, George something, I think.
Sunday was another yard day, and Shelly realized she was trying desperately to stay busy. Then, Monday's classes were barely a conscious exercise. When she left her final class of the day and started for the practice field, she realized she had no idea what the heck had taken place in her five classes of the day, and hoped she had taken notes. She did know she had done a lot of doodling.
Her pace was quicker than normal and her heart sank, when she discovered exactly no one at the practice field. She stood with an armload of books, staring at the empty field, amazed by the feeling of disappointment. My gosh, she had only seen this man a couple of times for a brief moment. Was she only grasping at any man? That thought scared her, because she had always considered herself completely moral and conservative. Now, here she was, disappointed about a man she didn't know at all.
After turning around to look in the direction of the gym and seeing no sign of a football player, or their coach, she hurried to her car and called Loreen on her cell phone.
"Hey, Shelly. Good to hear from you. Gosh, it's been months. You okay?"
"Oh, sure. Going to school. I thought I'd drop by to visit this evening if you're going to be home."
"As luck would have it, Chuck's out of town, and my next door neighbor and I are going out to eat. Why don't you join us?"
"Yeah. I'd like that. Where you want me to meet you?"
"Why don't you come on over about six. We're going to a steak house not far from here."
Shelly realized she was only trying to not be at home alone this evening after being so disappointed that "the coach" wasn't at practice. But, it would be good to see Loreen again. She also realized what a hermit she had become since she lost Tommy and promised herself she'd visit or call her friends and relatives more often.
When she arrived home late enough to go directly to bed, Shelly was thankful she had called Loreen. Loreen had always been the opposite of herself, telling off-color stories and laughing a lot. It had been a really fun evening, and not once had she felt the depression that had plagued her for so long. As she climbed into bed, she did wish she hadn't let Loreen talk her into that third margarita, knowing it would be hard to get up the following morning.
All week long, the football field was deserted after classes, and Shelly began to feel self conscious about even walking past it, feeling sad that her "coach" wasn't there. On Friday afternoon, she was dreading the weekend all alone again, when she stopped and sat down on the bottom step of the bleachers, lay her books at her side and propped her chin in her hands. She sat staring out across the field, confused by her growing desire to see the coach again. Her eyes were closed, and she was thinking about what to do about the bugs eating on her back yard roses when the voice startled her.
She whirled her head around and found George sitting down beside her. This time, he was a little closer than arm's length. "Oh, hi. You startled me. I was deep in thought about the bugs eating my roses. Know anything about roses?"
He smiled that beautiful smile, shook his head and said, "Afraid you're asking the wrong man. I like them, but know absolutely nothing about growing them. Do you believe in love at first sight?"
The question took her so by surprise, she jumped up, knocking her books off on the ground, which George quickly gathered up and placed back on the seat. Then, she stood staring down at him, the smile still on his face.
"Guess I startled you again."
She was at a complete loss and couldn't make a sound, even though she opened her mouth to speak.
George stood and faced her, close enough to disturb her. She didn't want to feel what she felt. She wanted to throw her arms around George and hold him.
"You didn't answer my question."
"I don't really understand it." She sat back down as she spoke, even though she knew she should walk away. Then, she asked herself why she should walk away and couldn't come up with an answer. She didn't dare look him in the eye, or her true feelings would be betrayed.
George sat down even closer and said, "I just wanted to know if you believe a person can see someone for a few minutes a couple of times and not be able to get that person out of their mind. You know, think about them night and day and want to know them much better… and, well, could a person fall in love that quickly?"
Shelly continued to stare at the ground, thinking about how she felt the first time she saw Tommy across the cafeteria. Then, she thought about how she had nothing but George on her mind for the last couple of weeks. "Yes, I definitely believe you can fall in love at first sight. When I met Tommy, my husband, that's exactly what it was." She wished so she could go on to tell him she had thought of nothing but him since first seeing him, but it was like trying to tell a stranger your most intimate secrets. How could she possibly tell him she had lain awake thinking about what it would be like for him to be lying next to her?
"Shelly, would I be out of line to ask you out to dinner?"
At first, her inclination was to turn him down, the feeling of shame returning, and the feeling that it would be unfaithful to Tommy resurfacing. But, how could she turn down that smile. "No, I don't suppose it would be out of line."
"Good. Then I'm asking."
She chuckled and said, "I'm accepting."
Again, her first inclination was to say they'd better wait for the weekend, but she couldn't say it. "Sure, tonight would be fine."
"Where do I find you?"
A half-hour before George was to pick her up, Shelly stood staring at Tommy's picture and wondered if she was doing the right thing. "Tommy, I love you so much. I'll never quit loving you. I hope you understand, I think I love George, just the way I loved you, when I first saw you. He seems so much like you. And, he's a football coach, Tommy."
When George showed up at the door, he had two items in his arms, a huge bouquet of white and yellow roses and a thick book on the diseases of plants.
As George opened the car door for her, Shelly thought, Yes, I definitely believe in love at first sight. Even the second time.
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