Below is the first chapter of my novella in Wedded Bliss?
This is a 4-in-1 novella collection from Barbour and is available in stores now. Coauthors are: Susan K. Downs, Kristy Dykes, Sally Laity, and Carrie Turansky.
A blurb of Wedded Bliss?
is: Four couples are about to celebrate their 25th anniversaries and hit snags instead. We enjoyed writing this collection with a unique theme. The novellas are love stories, but they're "married romance" because the couples are married. The scriptural theme of my novella is Hebrews 12:1,3: "Let us run with endurance the race that God has set before us...Don't become weary and give up." (New Living Translation) I think married couples need to heed that scripture. Fortunately, my heroine Felicia did in the nick of time.
This story reminds me that God can help us in every situation we face, even in our marriages. I hope you enjoy reading it.
Tonight, I’m asking Jake to move out.
Felicia Higgins wheeled her SUV into the garage, thinking about what she intended to do this evening. She put the gear shift in park, pressed the garage door remote, and reached for two book bags full of term papers that needed grading.
"Jake, I'd like you to move out temporarily to give me time to think," she said, preparing her speech just like she prepared lesson plans for her English classes at Palmdale Middle School.
A pang hit her in the heart. Hurt? Despair? Guilt?
She was stuck in a...a routine, unfulfilling marriage, and she had to do something about it.
That's what her teacher friend Stacy often told her. Before she met Stacy, she thought this was her lot in life—staying married to Jake Higgins--something she had to endure. But not anymore.
"You deserve better than you're getting, Felicia," Stacy had said repeatedly. "You’re too good for Jake. Why, I wouldn’t let a man treat me the way he treats you. It's ridiculous. Aloof and indifferent, to put names on his behavior. He's a moron. He’s got a good thing going—you--and he doesn’t even know it."
Stacy always ended her diatribe the same way. "My first husband was just like Jake, Felicia. But Darren--my second husband--he's so different. He's attentive, and he's interested in me, and…and he likes to do all the things I do, and well, he's everything I could ever want in a man. I'm so happy, and you deserve to be happy too."
Felicia took a deep breath. "Yes, I...I want to be happy--that's all I've ever wanted in my marriage." Forcing herself to put her somber thoughts behind her, she got out of her vehicle and made her way toward the door.
Inside the house, she put her heavy book bags down, then breezed out the front door and got the mail. In minutes, she had the mail sorted and boneless chicken breasts browning, seasoned just right. Tonight for supper, it would be chicken Parmesan and fettuccini with her special homemade sauce. Accompanying the chicken dish would be island salad with Romaine lettuce and Plant City strawberries, plus Italian bread slices buttered and broiled and dotted with parsley. For dessert, it would be Jake's favorite, later in the evening when he was watching sportswhatever, her homemade chocolate chip cookies, which she kept on hand at all times.
She glanced at the clock. If she hurried, she could spend an hour in her backyard garden before supper. Her impatiens were long and leggy, and they needed pruning so spring growth could make them full and pretty again and profuse with colorful blossoms.
Chicken breasts browned, she pulled the pan off the burner and covered it. She would make her sauce and boil the fettuccine right before serving time.
She started to set the kitchen table but then decided not to. Jake would insist on eating on trays in front of the TV when he found out their son Curtis wouldn't be home for supper.
She let out an angry sigh. "I guess that's what we'll do. Jake always gets his way." Suppertime was the only opportunity for conversation in their house it seemed, and with Curtis away so much, it had pretty much denigrated to a few grunts from Jake during the evening news.
She hurried out the French doors then stood on the flagstone patio in the pleasant Florida sun, scanning her garden, admiring it, feeling proud. Nature had given her a massive laurel oak tree. She had provided the rest through blood, sweat, toil, and tears, as Sir Winston Churchill had put it.
“Ahhh.” Beauty abounded in her beloved backyard. Impatiens in delicious hues circling the oak. A thick carpet of St. Augustine grass. Stepping stones leading to an exquisite English garden. A white gazebo. An orange tree dotted with oranges and thick with white blossoms that smelled like heavenly sachet.
"Pure eye candy, my garden. And soul candy too." She breathed in deeply of the heady scent, smiling. With Central Florida's year-round growing season, she experienced soul candy every day of the year--a refreshing tonic to her aching heart.
"Too bad my marriage can't provide the same thing." Woodenly, she made her way to the cottage-style potting shed.
Tonight she would talk to Jake about...about the weighty matters facing them. She simply needed a break from unconcerned, indifferent, and unromantic Jake Higgins. She thought he was her Prince Charming when they married over 24 years ago. She thought he was Mr. Perfect when they dated. She thought he was the answer to the prayer she'd prayed in her teenage years. Lord, send me a Christian mate.
Though he was a Christian, she really didn't know Jake back then. But she had loved him. It would be unreasonable to think any other way. From the get-go, there had been an attraction between them—a strong one—and then love. The trouble was, their love was now dead. Was their marriage dead too? She thought so.
She pulled on garden gloves, attached her kneepads, and knelt near the impatiens bed.
Hold stalk. Clip. Toss in pail.
Hold stalk. Clip. Toss in pail.
On she worked, but her mind was a million miles away.
She remembered Jake on their wedding day, both of them starry-eyed and in love, as the proverbial saying went. They were salt and pepper, her blond, him raven-haired, a striking couple, people said. Of course she didn't realize how badly a sports nut he was and how he would glue himself to the TV every evening of their lives.
For 24 long years.
She didn't know they would turn out to be salt and pepper in life—complete opposites with nothing in common. When she married him, she didn’t know he would quit going to the things that were important to her, like the symphony, or a flower show, or even a simple walk through the mall or along the seashore—all the things they did while dating.
She didn’t know there would be arguments—discussions, Jake called them--that usually turned into pouting sessions, her being the pouter, he liked to remind her. No, she didn't know back then that their marriage for the most part would be characterized by lots of time spent apart. They were simply two unconnected people.
As a teenager looking for the perfect mate, she thought marriage to a Christian man, your soulmate, meant pleasant togetherness in all things, a skip through daisy-dotted fields with your very best friend, hands entwined, hearts melded together in sweet wedded bliss.
"Boy, was I in for a rude awakening. Ouch!” She yanked off her left glove and squeezed her finger where the pruning clippers had grabbed it.
"Oww," she said in her characteristic quiet way. She released her hold on her finger and examined it.
"At least I didn't cut it." But an angry red mark was there, below her fingernail.
"What's the matter with me?" She hadn't done something like this in years. She was always careful when handling garden tools, always mindful. She paid attention and took proper care. She had studied gardening manuals by the armloads, knew just what to do for every chore, from pruning, to hoeing, to clipping branches, to properly lifting heavy bags of mulch, to achieving different colors with hydrangeas, to you-name-it.
Still rubbing her sore finger, she glanced at her watch then gathered her things and stood up. "Guess I'll go finish supper. Jake arrived home from the office 26 minutes ago, and he's been in his recliner exactly 22 minutes. He'll be starving to death by now, as usual. And bellowing about it too."
Jake Higgins pulled his car into the garage beside his wife's SUV. He smiled. Felicia would be in her backyard garden, working with her flowers. He could see her in his mind's eye, bent over the bed that circled the giant oak tree, clipping her...pansies?...geraniums?...whatever.
He was glad gardening was her hobby. Some women were gadabouts, going all over town running up huge charge bills. Not Felicia. For the most part, except for that one trip she'd made to England a few years ago with the church women, she was a homebody. She worked in the yard, cooked sumptuous meals, made scrapbooks full of family photos, graded English papers, and prepared for her Sunday school lesson.
"You lucky man, you." With a touch of a button on the garage remote, he let the garage door down, reached for his briefcase, and headed for the kitchen.
"Ummm." He breathed in the delicious scent as he stepped inside. He glanced at the stovetop, saw the saucepan, lifted the lid. Chicken. What recipe was Felicia cooking tonight? Whatever it was, he knew it would be good. Everything she cooked was fabulous.
He set his briefcase down and thumbed through the mail on the counter, appreciative that Felicia had already gone through it and culled the junk. In her organized way, she always sorted the mail for him, bills in one stack, letters in another, magazines in a third stack, catalogs in a fourth. He picked up the bills, headed down the hall, and put them in the study with the rest of the bills that he planned to tackle tonight.
He knew Felicia would take care of the remainder of the mail pronto in her usual, efficient way. She was neat and tidy, and he loved that about her. She kept the house as clean as a whistle, everything in its place. Course he was that way too. But when they first got married, he was a slob stemming from college dorm living. Gradually, he'd come to be more like her, and now he wanted things organized and in order just like she did. Her good points had rubbed off on him--in more ways than one--and he was thankful for her.
He thought of their many years together. Didn't she say the other day that their next anniversary was their 25th? Yes, that was right. In a few months. How would they celebrate the milestone event? Some couples had formal receptions. Some took trips. His secretary and her husband had celebrated their 25th last year by going on a cruise. She'd already taken her two-week vacation to be with her baby granddaughter during surgery, and when Jake found out about her looming anniversary, he'd insisted she take an extra week of vacation for the cruise.
A 25th anniversary only comes once in a lifetime, he'd told his secretary. Just consider it a reward--you keep me organized here at the office, and I appreciate that.
Would Felicia enjoy going on a cruise? The kids wouldn't have the time or expertise to put on a formal reception--Cara, a brand new schoolteacher living two hours away, and Curtis, a senior in college living at home but mostly gone, what with his classes and work schedule.
Jake made his way up the hall. He and Felicia would probably take a special trip to celebrate. Paris, perhaps? That sounded nice.
In the family room, he plopped in his leather recliner and clicked on his big screen TV.
The newscaster reminded him of Felicia. Blond. Blue eyes. Elegant clothing. Slim figure. He was proud of Felicia. She worked hard to stay in shape. He did, too, though it was a challenge, what with her cooking. He worked out regularly—either at the gym at lunchtime or on his treadmill in the evenings. Treadmills and TV went together like he and Felicia did—you couldn't have one without the other.
A commercial came on showing a family at dinnertime, a chicken dish in the center of the table.
He smiled. It wouldn't be long, and his family would be gathered at the table, devouring Felicia's fabulous food.
He sighed, relishing the thought, then slipped into his regular before-dinner nap.