General Fiction posted June 7, 2014 Chapters: 2 3 -4- 5... 

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Another day is spent with Paul North

A chapter in the book Enough to Miss Christmas

Fun on a Budget

by Fridayauthor

            I lay in bed, unable to sleep, my head throbbing and the room rolling.  Last night I was tipsy, tonight I was drunk. No doubt. I tried to undress but I kept breathing in the fragrance of thirty-six by quick count long stem roses now invisible in the darkness. The smell made my stomach roil. I stumbled to the massive bathroom, banging my shin, before losing my evening meal in an Italian marble toilet.
            This wasn’t going the way it was supposed to. I stumbled back to bed, still dressed. This man wasn’t playing by any rules I knew. I was so far out of my league I couldn’t see the playing field. I enjoyed his company. I felt a definite attraction. Whom am I kidding?  What was the next level above attraction and a feeling that frightened me to death?  Could Paul North be seriously pursuing me? Any normal woman, the recipient of so lavish a treatment, would be thrilled. Yes, he’d spent hundreds of dollars on me but according to my niece’s research, that sum was a drop in his very large bucket. I treasured my independence and I would not forfeit it for whatever it was Paul North had in mind no matter what Maureen thought of her stick-in-the-mud aunt. I was so uncomfortable with Paul North’s freewheeling credit card that I was ready to flee Boston. Maybe I’d kick myself later when I’d retreated to my bleak and boring existence but it would be my life and not the contrived whim of a man I hardly knew. Okay, maybe I’d miss him but I’d have my pride, whatever that was worth.
            When I struggled out of bed after nine o’clock on Monday morning, it was with the conviction I would return to my empty apartment by whatever means I could muster. My head throbbed worse than yesterday but my mind was clear. I’d take a train or rent a car if need be, if my credit card could take the pressure. One way or another, I’d stop this man’s manipulation in the bud.
            After a lengthy shower I sat naked on the edge of the bed and took stock of my situation.  My wrinkled slept-in clothes lay strewn on the floor. I had no others, save what I’d planned to wear to the wedding. I was supposed to be back in Virginia by now. I fumbled on the last of my clean underwear and my now-inappropriate dress. When I’d worked myself into a half-presentable condition I ignored the conspicuously placed note for complimentary room service and made my way to the dining room.
            I prayed I’d be alone but Paul was seated at a corner table and waved me over. There was an empty coffee  cup in front of him. He rose and held out a chair. I sighed and plunked down.
            Before I opened my mouth, he was apologizing. “I booked the room before I knew you didn’t like this fiscal overkill business. It was foolish of me to go overboard. The roses too.” Then he added, as if trying to change the subject. “You look nice. I like your dress.”
            “It’s great for going to a wedding. Do you see any marriages being performed?”
            “Sorry. I forgot you didn’t have clothes. I could . . .”
            I cut him off. “Don’t even suggest it . . .”
            “Sorry.  Look, I know now the suite was too much. I’ll move you to another room if you’d like.”
            “No need. I’ll be leaving today.”
            I’d shocked him.  “You can’t!”  He put his hand to his head. “Damn, I’m sorry; there I go dictating again. Let me rephrase it; I don’t want you to.”
            My will to continue was wilting like snow to slush but I plugged ahead. “I’m sorry too. I know you mean well but your life style and mine are so far apart we’re in different universes. Let’s chalk up the past two days as a fun experience and both move on. Your other girl friends may relish this type of treatment but I’m just embarrassed by it. I don’t have money, never have had and have zero chance of ever getting it. What’s more important, I don’t particularly give a shit about it. Pardon my army vocabulary. I’m not trying to be snooty, just truthful.”
            “I know I tried too hard.”
            “It’s not you. It’s me. I haven’t drunk more than a beer in a couple of decades, and now I’ve woken up with hangovers two days in a row. You spent more on that lovely picnic and last night’s dinner than I spend for a year’s groceries. It boggles my mind. God knows what that suite upstairs costs, and I barely spent a waking hour in it. No, that’s not right. I was awake half the night, bending over the toilet--the marble toilet.”
            “God, I’m sorry!”
            “Damn it! Stop apologizing! It’s getting tiresome.”
            He reached for my hand but I drew it away. “Just stay until Wednesday, please. Your terms. I’ll change your room to the janitor’s closet if that’s what it takes.” He added,” I had plans for today.”
            “I’ll bet. Fly us over to Paris for the afternoon? Paul, I’ll write it in block letters, it isn’t working. You excuse your actions by saying you’re a control freak but so am I. Only I don’t want to control anyone but myself.”
            He picked at his napkin. “You were so good with those little boys at the reception and my plans were for you to meet Karen and Timmy, my kids.”
            I didn’t know what to say so I kept my mouth shut; for once. Paul waved to the waiter and I ordered coffee, followed by toast and a single egg.  My host played with a second coffee.
            The silence continued until the order was delivered and eaten. “Paul,” I said, “Whatever this is, it’s going too fast. I like you. I really do but I’ve barely dated anyone in twenty years. I don’t even know the ritual, but I refuse to be manipulated. I’m sure your children are wonderful, but I feel like I’m being interviewed for an au pair position. I passed the first test because I can color between the lines. It’s sweet you want me to meet your children but it would be uncomfortable for everyone.”
            He took a deep breath and put his head back. “I’m not sure I ever dated and it’s obvious I don’t know how. I don’t have other girl friends as you suggested. I like you Sarah. I enjoy your company. You’re the first person I’ve said that to in more than twenty years.”  I started to protest but he waved me off. “No, I’m not lying nor am I trying to sweep you off your feet. I’m attempting in my awkward way to get to know you better. I stink at it.” Another conversation lapse followed. “Give me a second chance, purely on your terms. A day at a time. Today and tomorrow. I swear on the menu.”
            “You really mean it?” He nodded his assent. “No booze. No presents.  Change my room and give the roses to a church or, better yet, a funeral home. Lord knows; that’s how my room smells.” He started to speak but I held up my hand. “First take me to Walmart to buy something comfortable to wear and some fresh underwear.”
            “I’ll buy . . .”
            “No, you won’t!”
            “I haven’t finished; you’re limited to fifty dollars, for the entire day, for both of us.”
            He raised his eyebrows. “Does that include dinner?”
            “No. You get to spend a hundred for dinner but only if you make it through the day on the fifty buck entertainment budget.  Last night’s wine cost more than that, per bottle, and most of it ended up in the toilet. A hundred buck dinner including the tip.”
            “You have to pick the day’s agenda and the burger stand. I don’t know any of those places. What can we do for fifty dollars?”
            I thought about it. “I was a history major. Boston is rich with important sites. Better yet, let’s visit Salem. I was in a play about the witch trials in high school and I’ve never visited there.”
            Plans agreed and that was what we did. I stocked up on some Walmart duds while praying to the credit card god. I was close to my max after my move and month between jobs. I changed in my flower-stinky hotel room, and we were on our way.
            It was obvious Paul had little interest in bygone happenings but he was accommodating to me and not once offered to exceed the allotted amount.  Many of the available attractions charged a fee so we were limited in our historical site visits. I set the max, and was disinclined to broaden it. Lunch was a tad difficult but we made do with a pair of overcooked hot dogs.
            The day was unseasonably warm which made a stroll of Salem’s ancient streets a pleasant experience. Paul took my hand as we followed a tourist map of the old city. We were resting on a park bench when he asked an unexpected question.  His serious tone startled me.
            “Will you let me see you after you return to Virginia?”
            “I’d like that,” I answered without hesitation, and then added, “if you behave.” He seemed pleased but didn’t elaborate. I felt compelled to clarify.
            “You said you travel. If you find yourself in the Washington area, it would be nice to get together. There’s a lot to see and do there,” I added, “without spending a fortune. I just hope you wouldn’t be bored.”
            A cluster of pigeons strolled about, looking for a handout. Paul was silent until a small boy chased them away. “I’m not sure how to say this without putting my foot in my mouth but I do want to see you. This may have been a bit of a game so far. I realize we just met but I’m serious.”  He looked at me. “Not too fast and I’ll try and keep my wallet in check, but I want you in my life.”
            His statement made me uncomfortable and I began to feel the first prickle of a panic attack. Up until now, we had sparred over his control and cavalier attitude.  Even when he’d tried to convince me to remain two days in Boston and he confessed inexperience dating, I wasn’t sure I believed him. Now, something in his earnestness frightened me. I began to answer but he stopped me. “At least admit there’s a mutual attraction. Be honest. That’s all I ask.”
            My not replying was an answer in itself. “Why me?” I asked, sounding ludicrous. “We have virtually nothing in common. I’m not some raving beauty that men lust after and I’m certainly not worldly. I’m not stupid. I went to a small college, mostly nights, but I’m no intellectual. I’m Sarah Blanding, widow lady, school teacher, in a boring job and an unexciting life. What attraction could I possibly offer to you?”
            He shrugged. “I’m Paul North who was born to more money than any one person should control and my only talent is making more. That I’m good at; it’s spending it where I suck. I’m not a male model and if women lust after me, the attraction is more my bank account than my good looks. I graduated from an Ivy League college but my parents assisted in the admission process by donating a dormitory or two. If traveling the world is worldly, hardly ever leaving the hotel room isn’t very cosmopolitan. I have no hobbies and few interests besides business. I may appear self-confident but it’s all an act. I have two kids I love beyond reason but I don’t have a clue how to raise them. No, I’m not soliciting a mom. I’m just being honest. Believe me. I’m no great catch.”
            I was flabbergasted at this highly successful man’s low self-esteem and his candor in admitting it, but he hadn’t answered my question. “Why me?”  I repeated.
            “You fascinate me. You’re charming and self-assured. In spite of what you say, I think you’re beautiful.  Mostly I enjoy being with you. You didn’t know a whit about me or my money but you spent hours in my company at the reception and I think you had as much fun as I did. I don’t know your world but I’m curious.”
            I stood up to quell my shaking knees and took a deep breath. “Come on,” I said. “We haven’t seen The House of the Seven Gables. It’s just off Derby Street.”
            “If they charge admission, there’s not enough of the fifty bucks left. We’ll have to sneak in.”
            “Screw it,” I said. “My treat.”


Earned A Seal Of Quality

Enough to Miss Christmas is a family love story, about sisters, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, parents and children. But mostly it tells the story of a stepmom and a very precocious young lady and how they bonded in spite of overwhelming odds.
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