“Hey! You’re kind of cute!”
I jerked my head towards the voice in the left lane. The driver of the silver Corvette convertible winked as soon as our eyes met. A second later, the light turned green, and he took off. The car behind me honked impatiently, so I closed my mouth and stepped on the accelerator. Within seconds, my red Pontiac Sunbird was pulling up beside the very handsome, stop-light-pick-up-line man at the next intersection.
“Are you following me?” he yelled and then laughed a glorious laugh.
“Uh, no. Do I know you?” Ugh! Why do you say the stupidest things? Think of something sassy to say! Show some personality, would you?
“Not yet, but we can fix that. What’s your phone number?”
Another green light. Our two convertibles made their way to the yellow light that quickly changed to red in honor of the conversation.
“Did you just ask for my phone number?”
“Yes. Is that a crime? With a beautiful face like that, you should smile.”
I just sat there, wanting to blurt my phone number, or run and jump in the car with him. Either seemed appropriate at that moment. There was something about his eyes and that smile, strangely familiar and comfortable, yet exciting.
This time when the light turned green, the cars behind us began honking.
A half-minute later, the herd of vehicles once again arrived at a red light.
“Hurry! Your phone number! My turn is three lights away.”
I looked away and prayed for the light to change. Then, I wouldn’t have to decide. What kind of girl would I be if I give my number to a stranger at a stoplight? He must be joking, probably trying to see how desperate I am. However, he is outrageously attractive and has a kind face, and those lips! It’s most likely a big joke. He probably has a buddy hiding in the car who has bet him fifty bucks I won’t give him my phone number. Why didn’t I just pull into the right turn lane before now and make my escape? I’m way too awkward for this. Besides, who talks to a stranger at stop lights?
A rich, baritone voice perfectly on key began belting out the familiar tune, “You make me so very happy! I’m so glad you came into my life!”
With that enticing song, I couldn’t help myself. Turning to look at him, my face broke into an unsolicited smile, and I prepared to join in on the next line when the car horns pierced the air. While everyone around me was wishing for green lights, I was totally enjoying the red lights.
During the quarter mile to the next light, my common sense began to creep back in. Dad would absolutely kill me for even talking to a random guy, especially one in a silver convertible, Corvette at that, let alone for giving him my phone number. I didn’t have to imagine the tone my father’s voice would take, or the look in his eye, or that famous finger he would shake in my face as he talked, or the hug that would come at the end of the speech.
“845,” I yelled above the car noises.
He hurriedly grabbed a McDonald’s sack and wrote down the three numbers. Second thoughts followed by third and fourth thoughts came rushing in as I looked at his gorgeous face with his eyebrows raised waiting for the remaining four numbers. I opened my mouth but could not bring myself to say the last four numbers. I had forgotten my phone number!
Green light. Horns honking.
The divide between my logic and emotions became wider as my car made its way to the next intersection. If I don’t finish giving him my number, I might never see him again and I would regret it the rest of my miserable life. But, if I give him the last four numbers and he turns out to be a real creep, I can simply block him from calling. There! How hard was that?
Before my car came to a complete stop at the next light, which had only just turned yellow much to the aggravation of the car behind me, I yelled, “1632!”
“845-1632. Got it! I’ll call you tonight. Your life will never be the same. I’m Joe, what’s your name?”
Before I could answer, the horn honking began again, and I took off finding myself in a right-turn-only lane. Nothing to do but turn right onto Montana Street and figure out how to get turned around. Somehow, I felt a bit incomplete without the silver Corvette next to me.
A year later, that silver ‘Vette was parked in the garage and Joe was next to me on the sofa watching Steel Magnolias, pretending that he liked it. Life was great.
Eventually, I traded my convertible for a minivan in hopes we would begin creating a family, but Joe kept his silver ‘Vette and began working long hours. Innumerable fights and make-up sessions later, Joe’s precious ‘Vette was found in a crumpled heap in a ravine. From that point on, his side of the bed, my heart, and my bank account would be empty.
. . . . . . . . . . .
It seemed that every evening found me curled up on the loveseat watching the fire dance and spit sparks onto the hearth. Tonight, I was thinking about the joy of young love as I recalled meeting Joe at a series of stoplights. We had joked about getting married in a convertible, repeating our vows in segments under a succession of red lights. Instead, we had sensibly opted for a quiet ceremony in mom and dad’s back yard. We were so happy that day.
Life with Joe had consisted of more than our share of laughter. Not only was he very handsome, smart, athletic, and motivated, but he also carried a level of confidence that allowed him to keep life in perspective. Too bad all those attributes didn’t pay the bills after he died.
The embarrassment of moving back into my parents’ home pricked my heart once again, releasing the same anger that had flooded my life when I discovered I was not only alone, but utterly broke. How could he have been so careless as to forget to pay his life insurance premium or take out a policy on the house in case something happened to him? So many holes in this seemingly perfect man, and I had discovered nearly all of them in the days following his death.
As if being alone and destitute were not enough, I once again relived that moment when I answered the doorbell. I will never forget the policeman standing at my door revealing the second piece of devastating news a few hours after being told my husband had died in a car accident.
“Ma’am? Do you know a Melanie Dobson? Is she perhaps a friend or relative?”
“I have no idea who she is. Why? Was she in the other car?”
“There was no other car, ma’am. She was the passenger in your husband’s car. She’s in critical condition and we are trying to locate her family.”
From the reaction of my friends who had gathered in my living room for support, I realized that Melanie Dobson was one Joe’s latest of several well-known flings. My naïveté was vanquished at that moment and a rage begging for vindication was born.
Three months following my initiation into widowhood, I stood behind the counter at People’s National Bank. Honestly, I would have been content spending my days eating Amos cookies and watching tv in my childhood bedroom had my father not sent me an email containing links to job openings. Imagine sending an email to someone you live with! Dad always did use subtlety at first, but if that didn’t work, then came a face-to-face confrontation, which was never pretty. After reading the email, I had decided to skip the steps leading to the all-out battle and begin applying for jobs.
Being a bank teller wasn’t so bad. I had always been good at appearing friendly and helpful while rolling my eyes on the inside. However, the day came when my reaction was more than annoyance at humanity as the customer slid the deposit slip and a couple of checks under the glass. The name on the paper made my heart nearly stop: Melanie Dobson. The sounds of the other customers’ chatting and the elevator music floating throughout the lobby were drowned out by the audible ache deep within. Bank employees were trained to always make eye contact with customers, but I could not comply this time. The balance on the account was huge! How much of that money had Joe given her? And here I am living with my parents unable to make my own way in life.
As soon as Ms. Dobson left the bank, I took my break and nearly ran to the breakroom. In that stark 10’ X 12’ room, I paced while my brain raced from one thing to another, and pieces of my heart began falling off one by one. At the conclusion of my 15-minute time limit, I calmly walked from my retreat and took my place at the bank window. I would have to think about it later. The rest of the afternoon was mundane until ten minutes prior to closing when Mr. Kingston appeared at my window.
“Got time to help out an old geezer?”
“Of course, Mr. Kingston. Do you know an old geezer who needs help?”
“Not only are you the prettiest teller here, you’re also the wittiest! Do you know I waited specifically for your window to open up? You’re my favorite!”
“Better watch out, Mr. Kingston. I might just start believing you one of these days.”
“You should start believing me, Ms. Mendoza.”
“Janine, Mr. Kingston. You can call me Janine.”
“That’s a beautiful name. And you should stop that Mr. Kingston nonsense. Please call me Jamison.”
“Of course, Jamison. Now what can I do for you today, young man.”
“Well, I need to deposit this check into my free account, and this one into my interest-bearing one, and this, my dear, needs to go into my savings account.”
I took the checks and made sure Jamison had endorsed them properly, then processed each of them into the correct accounts.
He just deposited nearly $300,000! This guy is loaded!
As I finished the deposits, I gathered the receipts and slid them under the glass with my left hand.
“Your husband is one lucky man.”
I followed his eyes to my wedding ring. Why had I not removed that symbol of a pretense of a marriage.
“Oh, well . . . uh my husband passed away a couple of years ago. I probably shouldn’t wear my ring anymore.”
“Oh, my dear! I’m so sorry. What a tragedy.”
“Thank you. It’s fine. Really.”
“I tell you what. Let me take you to dinner tonight. Everyone will assume you’re my granddaughter, so we won’t cause a scandal. You deserve a special dinner with a very special escort.”
Janine! This man has over a million dollars in this bank. Might be a good idea to become better acquainted, even if he is about 40 years older than you.
“That would be very nice, Mr. uh Jamison. I would love to be your daughter for the evening.”
“Great! I’ll pick you up around seven. Wear something nice!”
It was only a few months later when I became Janine Mendoza Kingston. Mr. Kingston was a refined gentleman who loved to engage in discourse about literature, movies, and music. I read more classic literature, watched more old movies, and attended more symphonies in my five years as Mrs. Kingston than in my entire life. He loved to enter a room with me on his arm whether it was an expensive restaurant, the symphony hall, or the grocery store. He showered me with compliments and extravagant gifts of clothes, jewelry, flowers, and trips. In exchange, I did my best to make his life very enjoyable.
When it had become obvious my husband was not doing well, I slowly ensured that I would not be left penniless after Jamison’s tenure on earth. Five years after becoming Jamison’s wife, I became Mr. Kingston’s widow. By the time I kissed his cold forehead, the bulk of his assets belonged to me. His children received their fair share, which prevented them from becoming angry with me, but there was plenty of money in my bank account.
Not really needing to work, I considered simply floating from house to house and party to party. However, I eventually felt the need to get busy and pursue my next mission. Once again, I found a bank job. After my training period at First Community Credit Union ended, I was free to study client accounts before meeting the eligible, elderly, wealthy gentlemen. I had plenty in the bank, and I owned a couple of nice homes as well as the lake house, so it was important that number three had even more money and property than I had.
Between helping clients, always examining the older gentlemen who came in alone, I discreetly scanned the bank balances on my computer. Mr. Bordier seemed the most likely candidate, but he had only been at my window once. Lance Bordier possessed one of the top five accounts at the bank. I studied his i.d. photo, trying to figure out the best approach. He wasn’t homely, but certainly wouldn’t win any prizes. I guessed that he had been and still was in the nerd category, but according to his latest bank statement, he was definitely worth the trouble.
While Jamison had pursued me, making the catch very easy, Lance Bordier had no clue I even existed. He would be more difficult to acquire, so a bit more ingenuity was required. However, I was creative and even more determined to add Bordier to my train of names.
Whenever Lance Bordier walked through the lobby doors, I waved him to my window and casually mention various authors, actors, and composers as I fulfilled his transaction. Without much response, I finally decided I needed to change my approach.
“Hello, Mr. Bordier. So nice to see you today. I was hoping you would come in because you always brighten my day. I love that shirt you’re wearing. You look fantastic in that color! I bet you are quite the ladies’ man.”
“Well, I don’t know about that,” he replied dryly. “I need to withdraw five hundred dollars for my granddaughter’s birthday.”
“Certainly!” As I counted out the money, I made sure my hand touched his while I met his gaze doing my best to make my eyes sparkle.
“So, how old is your granddaughter?”
“Uh, 21 on Saturday.”
“Oh my! You don’t look old enough to have a grown granddaughter!”
Finally, a smile almost made an appearance.
“Thank you, ma’am. Bye now.”
“Wait! You almost forgot your receipt, Mr. Bordier, or do you mind if I call you Lance.”
“Mr. Bordier will do. Goodbye.”
I watched Lance Bordier shuffle towards the door, glaring darts into his back. Maybe I should try Mr. Joliet instead. Bordier is obviously not interested. Releasing a huge sigh, I began closing out my drawer, counting the change and then the bills.
I looked up and there was Mr. Bordier. Did he forget his receipt? No, I remember giving it to him.
“I was a bit rude, and I am very sorry. Please feel free to call me Lance. And what may I call you, ma’am?”
“Oh, you weren’t rude at all. I was just a bit overbearing; I tend to be that way when I’m around a handsome man like you. Please call me Janine.”
Now that a breakthrough was achieved, it was downhill from there. I became the master of subtle suggestion, beginning with dinner, then moving quickly to a proposal three months later. By month #6, I was Mrs. Janine Mendoza Kingston Bordier.
Surprisingly, honeymooning in the Caribbean was exhausting. The island breeze seemingly transformed boring little Mr. Bordier into a very amorous and extremely . . . shall we say, frisky gentleman.
Lance lasted only four years before expiring, possibly due to his voracious bedroom activity. Once again, I stepped into widowhood with grace and experience. I had truly cared for both of my geriatric husbands, and no one could find fault with the attention I lavished on them. Their departures from this earth were natural and heartbreaking. However, one could never be overly financially secure.
After closing out house #2 and selling Lance’s antique car collection, I decided to spend some time at the lake house to decide my future. Sitting alone in the rustic waterside home watching the fire as it fell into a calming dance, profound sadness and loneliness barged in unchecked and dropped their heaviness. Although my Kingston and Bordier marriages had first and foremost been financially beneficial, I truly missed the old gentlemen. They both had soaked up my attention while working eagerly to pamper me in return. The gaping cavern of betrayal, pain, and embarrassment left by Joe was less noticeable when I was married.
Soon the fire began to dwindle, so I awkwardly placed another log on the pile and pushed it around. With a final angry jab at the log, I surrendered my anger and loneliness, turning my focus to my mission instead. My bank account was very robust, and I owned enough property that I could easily sell something if I needed more money. But what was I going to do with the rest of my life? It wasn’t a very genuine question. I knew what I was going to do.
It was only a few months later when the sunshine preheated the landscape in preparation for summer, and I left my shift at the bank in my silver Corvette convertible, top down.
Sure enough, my timing was perfect! Pulling alongside Mr. Jordan’s cherry red Corvette convertible, I bided my time until I came to a stop at the red light.
Mr. Jordan looked at me, seemingly quite confused.
“Oh! It’s you, Mr. Jordan!” I covered my mouth with my hand, feigning embarrassment. “I didn’t recognize you at first. It’s me, Janine from Metropolitan Community Bank. Where are you headed?”
Green light. Janine took off, leaving Mr. Jordan to deal with a symphony of honking.
“Oh, hello Ms. Janine. I’m going to the dentist. It seems I broke my tooth!” And he smiled, providing proof of his statement.
“I’m so sorry! Yes, you should get that fixed. We can’t have anything messing up that perfect face!”
Green light, honking ensues.