Nightmare or Dreamboat by Lee Barnett
Romance Writing Contest contest entry
Dreamboat or Nightmare?
By Harriett Ford
"Oh no! It's him," I exclaimed to Susie, who had changed for the firm's office party and looked elegant in a black cocktail dress.
"Him who?" she asked.
"The man in my dream. I recognize that extraordinary red hair."
Susie gave me that don't-start look. "Carrie, you aren't going to put any stock in that old dream. You were only 14 at the time. Lots of guys have red hair."
I didn't have time to argue with her. I had to get out of the conference room before he saw me.
Too late. He had turned and was staring at me. I wondered if he knew it too.
Then I saw a curvy blonde beside him. Where did she come from? This party was for the firm's employees, clerks, paralegals and attorneys to celebrate the grand opening of the new offices.
She was gorgeous.
The blonde had his attention. I hoped they were an item.
He was glancing my way again. I knew it! Blonde or no blonde, the red-headed lawyer had his eyes on me.
I knew it. I had to stop this right away before I lost my nerve.
A slow smile began and spread across his handsome features as he watched me move toward him. I felt rather drab in my blue pinstripe jacket and skirt compared to the other women, secretaries, paralegals, and lady lawyers who had changed into glamour wear. Oh well. I wasn't trying to impress anyone. Certainly not him.
I decided to get right to the point and skip most of my story.
"Excuse me, sir. I know this is going to sound really strange since we've never met," I began. "I need to ask you a favor."
"A favor?" He eyebrows raised in pleasant curiosity. "What might that be?"
"Just promise never to ask me out. Please."
A look of surprised amusement settled in his sea-green eyes.
"Never ask you out? You mean for a date?'
"Well, I suppose I could try to resist the temptation."
I'd released my breath with a huge sigh of relief.
"Thank you! Really." So what if he thought I was crazy.
I turned to walk away, but he took my arm gently.
"Excuse me Miss, but could I ask a favor in return?"
"What might that be?" I asked. The warmth of his hand on my arm sent a tingle all the way down to my toes.
"Would you give me your name and phone number? Just so I can actively resist the temptation to call?"
"Carrie Ann Mckenzie. 399-6848." I rattled off the information without hesitation.
What was I thinking?
"But I'm never home." I blurted, "Not for the next couple of years." I had to repair the damage.
"Going on a trip?"
"Working late at the office. Walking my dog. Returning books to the library. heavy schedule."
"Sounds like you're very busy indeed."
I moved away but turned back and asked, "You're not engaged or anything are you?"
"I'm not engaged or anything," he emphasized slightly the word anything.
Darn! If only he had been madly in love with some other woman.
"How about you?" he asked.
"I don't have the time for that sort of thing."
"Oh yes, the dog and the library."
I had to get away from him at once before I fell completely under the spell of those green eyes.
"I'm glad you understand," I muttered. "Well, goodbye, Mr..."
"It's Jamison. This really is goodbye then," he said with a mock tone of heart rending regret.
"Definitely goodbye. I hope you're not too disappointed."
"Heartbroken, but I'll try to get over it."
"Thank you. I'm truly grateful. So, have a nice . . . life."
And that was that. However, for the next three weeks Mr. Jamison's smile lingered on the screen of my imagination. I never ran into him in the elevator or the parking lot. His offices were on the fifth floor. I saw his name on the directory by chance.
Okay, I was looking for it. And for him.
I'd started to believe I was safe when he called my apartment one evening.
"Carrie Ann McKenzie?"
"It's you!" I recognized his voice instantly. "You promised you wouldn't call to ask me out." How silly of me to assume that. But of course why else would he call?
"I always keep my promises. Since you aren't at the library or working late, I thought maybe your dog needs a walk. Just join me in walking my dog around the park. That's not a date."
"Okay, I'll meet you in the park at six." I agreed without hesitating.
I hung up the phone and scolded myself.
What was I doing?
It's just a walk in the park. That's all. I've been honest with him. He knows I'm not interested.
Ken's dog was a tan boxer named Rocky, a comical creature that walked in the shape of a comma when it wanted affection. My own dog, Snitzel, was a miniature dachshund, just right for my little apartment.
We ambled under the autumn leaves, enjoying the color and the breeze.
"I knew you'd have a dog," I remarked, watching my little pooch working hard to keep pace.
"What else do you know?" he asked.
"I know lots of things. Elephants have a three-year gestation. Albert Dowd is a great writer who never got published."
"I meant about me."
"Not a whole lot really. I just figured you'd be the type who likes animals. You probably read good books too, right?"
He nodded. "I never bother reading any other kind."
"And you were probably in the top of your class at law school. You're sensitive, thoughtful, and ambitious."
This time he laughed.
"Have we met somewhere before?"
"Actually we have. Sort of. Well no, I've met you before, but you haven't met me."
"Don't tell me you're into that reincarnation mumbo jumbo."
"Oh no, not that. It's just something that happens to the women in my family, but it's not reincarnation stuff. Not even close."
"Tell me about it."
"It's going to sound weird. We all know the man we are going to marry before we meet him. We see him in our dreams. It happened to my grandmother. When she was twelve, she saw grandpa. My mother had her dream when she was 14. She met my dad when she was 18 and knew at once he was the man in her dream. They were married a couple of years later. But they're divorced now."
That was the part that made this whole dream thing a mystery to me. I couldn't get past the divorce.
"Interesting," Ken prompted.
"I dreamed about you when I was 14. Or at least someone who looked like you. That's why you can't ever ask me out."
"I can't ask you out because you conjured me up in a dream?" He sounded incredulous. Putting a hand to his forehead, he said, "I'm going to rest my eyes for a moment. But go on, I'm listening."
"We'd have a terrific time, and we'd have this great relationship and you'd fall madly in love with me and ask me to marry you. And I don't want to get married."
"Well, I'm glad we got this all cleared up," he sounded genuinely relieved."Now we can relax and walk our dogs."
"Thanks, Ken. Sorry about the marriage thing. It's nothing personal."
"I'll try to console myself," he chuckled.
We walked and talked in the September rain under umbrellas. In the October chill wearing heavy sweat shirts and jogging pants. In November we had to break out our down jackets. Snitzel was so into his walking routine that he'd bring his leash to me as soon as I got home.
We liked the same books, went to the same church. We both liked pizza.
Imagine that. Pizza connoisseurs. Who would have thought?
I noticed Ken's eyes were a different shade of green when he laughed.
We were standing under a bus shelter in a November downpour when it finally happened. Our dogs wrapped their leashes around our legs, tying us together in an intimate pose. Yeah I know. Disney style. We laughed. Ken leaned over me, tying to untangle us. I saw a kiss in his eyes.
"Oh no!" I spoke in sudden alarm.
"Ken, you're starting to fall in love with me," I stammered.
"That's all? From your expression, I was afraid there might be a rampaging killer rooster on the loose and headed this way."
Still trying to free us, he suggested, "Why don't I cook a nice dinner for us, and we'll talk about this?"
"At your place?"
"That's usually where I cook."
"Absolutely not! You'd play our favorite music and light candles. We'd start slow dancing and you'd kiss me. No way! We should talk this over right here and right now."
"I like your description of dinner better. Now I'm not saying it's happened, but what would be so terrible if I did fall in love with you, Carrie?"
"I've already told you. The 'M' word."
"What have you got against marriage?"
"My mother married the man of her dreams. Dad and Mom broke each other's hearts. They got a divorce and broke my heart."
"That's what you're afraid of? Divorce?"
"You gotta admit it's a legitimate concern. One out of two marriages ends that way now days. Not good odds."
"You can't live your life based on fear of failure. Don't you want to have kids some day? Raise a family?"
"Not without a father to be there for them. I wouldn't do that to kids. Not even to Snitzel."
"So it's a dog and a library book you want for companions to grow old with? I can't really believe that. You're not the type of person to retreat from life just because it has some hard knocks."
All my reasons for avoiding marriage were starting to sound foolish in the light of Ken's logic. I also had this sudden desire to kiss him. I was losing control.
Then a flash of Mom's tears on the day Dad left came to mind.
I took a deep breath. "The only thing to do is to walk our dogs in separate parks for now."
"Separate parks? That sounds like we're breaking up and we never even went out."
I couldn't meet his eyes, afraid of what I might see. Dragging Snitzel out in the driving rain, I headed for my apartment, telling myself it was for the best. I would only hurt Ken if I continued the relationship's logical progression.
My life would go on as before, pleasantly monotonous. He'd be fine. I'd be fine.
But I didn't count on missing him so much.
November got very cold.
December was even worse. The holiday season lacked its usual luster. Instead of festive red and green, my world was colored in shades of gray.
I finally broke down and called Mom.
"What's wrong with me?" I asked, after telling her the story of Ken and me. "How come I feel so lousy?"
"Carrie, you say this man is falling in love with you. But you haven't once admitted that you're also in love with him."
As usual, Mom got straight to the point.
"In love with Ken? No of course not! Well, maybe just a little. But I still don't want to marry him!"
"And why on earth not?"
"Mom, you forget I saw what happened to you and Dad. I was there."
"So I won't ever go through the kind of pain that you put each other through. Dream or no dream!"
"Yes, I dreamed I would marry your father, and we did torment each other. But if I had to do it all again, I'd still marry him."
"And just because our marriage failed doesn't mean yours will. There's no such thing as happily ever after and no perfect marriage. Because there are no perfect people. In spite of the turmoil, I wouldn't have missed marriage for anything. Besides, if I had, I wouldn't have you. You're worth it all."
"Worth it? You really mean that?"
"Of course. And I'll tell you this. You and your dream man will have ups and downs. There will be times when you'll wonder if you made a mistake. But the good times will be there too. Those times make life worth living. Don't expect perfection just because he's the man in your dream. Love him for what he is and not for what he isn't. Carrie, if you don't give love a chance, you will regret it all your life."
"You really don't have any regrets Mom?"
"Of course I do. But not about marriage. I regret that we didn't have this talk long ago. I regret that I didn't teach you the difference between major regrets and minor ones. I really regret that I didn't use a better face cream. Now why don't you hang up and invite Ken over to my place for Christmas dinner? Oh, and by the way, your father is coming."
"Dad's coming too?"
"Umm hum." She almost purred.
With a huge grin on my face, I started dialing Ken's number.
No answer. Not after several calls over the next two weeks. I rode the elevator up to his floor a couple of times, but he wasn't in the office.
Where was he?
I began to think he might be avoiding me deliberately when his phone kept giving me a busy signal. Maybe he'd left it off the hook on purpose.
It was at the office Christmas party that I finally found him, his extraordinary red hair unmistakable across the crowded room.
I headed toward him as determinedly as before. So what if the shapely blonde was hanging on his arm again? This time I felt dazzling myself in red velvet.
I could compete with her. Heads turned as I passed by and my confidence soared.
"Excuse me, Mr. Jamison. This is going to sound strange, but could you do me a favor?"
Ken turned and his face broke into an incredible grin, warming my nervous heart.
Seeing the expression in his green eyes, the blonde turned and stomped away.
"A favor? What might that be, Miss Separate-Parks Lady?"
"Would you come to my place for dinner tonight?"
"Dinner at your place?" He frowned and put a hand to his chin in thoughtful consideration.
"Let me think about this. I'll have to check my schedule. Will there be candles and music?"
I nodded. A slow grin began at the corners of his chiseled mouth.
"Will there be possibly a slow dance? And maybe even. . . a kiss?"
I gulped and nodded again more slowly.
He arched his eyebrows.
"That's pretty intimate for people who walk their dogs in separate parks. Sounds like two people who could be falling in love wouldn't you say? And aren't you afraid of the M word?"
"O Ken, I thought you'd never ask!" I exclaimed. "Of course I'll marry you!"
He laughed outright, and taking my arm, he moved me toward the mistletoe.
"Don't you think we ought to get engaged for a little while before the wedding?"
"Oh yes, and we'll have a proper courtship. But first I must tell you something rather important."
"Something you probably haven't noticed. I'm . . . not . . . perfect." There. I spit it out.
"No!" he exclaimed with mock astonishment. "Could have fooled me. Now tell me all the reasons why you've fallen in love with me. I'm not busy for the next six hours."
"You'll have to ask my mother."
"Ask your mother why you love me?"
"No. About my imperfections. I can't think of any myself, but Mom knows them all."
Ken nodded seriously. "You have imperfections, huh? I might as well be honest. So do I."
"Really? Oh, I'm sooo glad! I thought dream men were supposed to be perfect, and I'm not and you're not and that means we're . . . we're perfect!"
He maneuvered me directly under the mistletoe.
"You don't want to wait until after dinner to kiss me, do you." I said, looking into his eyes. They made me dizzy with his enthusiasm. "Kissing you is something I plan to do often and like it a lot."
I liked it a lot too.
Catching my breath, I confessed, "There's one more thing I have to tell you.
"Last night I dreamed we had redheaded triplets. You can call it off right now if that scares you."
He sighed between kisses, "Triplets run in my family."
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