February Romantic Scene Contest Winner
One of the prizes for February’s contest was the winner’s submission posted on our blog. We’re so excited to share Brenda Morrell‘s winning piece! It was full of heart, love, sadness, and beyond relatable. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did!
Jennie knew two things. Tonight was the night, and nothing mattered after. Her youngest daughters were already there to help to make every detail perfect for her and her high-school sweetheart of 54 years. The last few months had been chaotic, to say the least, and Jennie could never have pulled this off on her own. Her steps made footprints in the newly disinfected carpet as she crept down the hallway toward the kitchen. She overheard the two girls discussing something about candles and popcorn.
“But Dad loves popcorn,” Bethany lamented.
Rachel grabbed the matches, “You’ve got to be joking.”
Jennie didn’t want to interfere, but the candles made more sense, so she was pleased when Bethany relented and put the popcorn popper back up on the shelf. The aroma for the evening was not a critical detail, and Jennie silently followed the girls to the den.
On the other hand, the choice of music was a significant detail, and all three women could agree on that one: Alan Jackson’s Precious Memories album. Jennie felt like she was dreaming as she watched Rachel set up the old gospel music to play on a loop for as long as the evening would last. Jennie took note of Bethany cracking open the window, and she wanted to stop her. Even though it was the end of May, it was going to get very cold that night. Instead, she just stood there frozen, catching only a few of Bethany’s words. Something about the possibility of rain, how romantic that would be, and how snuggling in his favorite blanket would be nice.
“Do you know where it is, Mom?” Bethany brought Jennie back into reality with her question. “The blanket?”
“Umm, I think maybe downstairs. I don’t know.’ Jennie’s voice cracked and she bit the inside of her cheek.
Bethany squeezed her mom’s hand, “I’ll find it.”
As Bethany searched for the blanket covered with grandchildren’s faces, Jennie tried to find something to do. Rachel was busy moving tables around and rearranging frames and photo albums. Jennie felt in the way, so she headed back to the kitchen. The hallway, with its walls covered in memories, seemed to stretch longer every day. There was nothing to do in the kitchen either. There was no food to fix for tonight. None of them were hungry. She leaned on the counter and rummaged through the cards which had been piling up. Instead of focusing on the beautiful words of encouragement, her eyes kept falling on her wedding ring. It was a simple round diamond. He had practically begged her to buy a bigger one on their 10th anniversary, but she had never wanted anything more. She spun it around on her bony, wrinkled finger and grimaced at the memory of her sweetie’s first proposal. Her eyes locked shut and she found herself under the stars in that old ’65 Buick Skylark.
His arms were pulling her close, “Marry me.”
“You’ve had too much to drink.”
“I’ve loved you my whole life,” his lips were almost to hers.
“You don’t even have a ring.” She turned her head away from him. As much as she wanted to kiss him, she needed a sober proposal.
“You know you can’t live without me.”
He kissed her neck and she turned away, “I could manage just fine without you.”
“I found it, mom.” Bethany interrupted just in time. Jennie wished her words could be erased forever. What a stupid thing to say. She had never deserved him, that sweet farm boy down the road who would have given her anything her heart desired.
“And look, weren’t you looking for these?” Bethany held up two white hankies.
“Oh, thank you! Yes. My goodness, were they with the blanket?”
“No, I found them in the old desk that dad used to have in his office. I told you he would never get rid of them.”
The little pieces of cotton were yellowed and torn. They looked as if they had been used a thousand times when in reality, he had never used them once. Jennie caressed them sheepishly. The stitching of the two bluebirds in a cherry tree was quite embarrassing. They had been a gift to him on their first anniversary.
Two arms tugged Jennie’s waist from behind. Rachel kissed her mom on the cheek. “Everything’s ready, Mom.”
The three women nodded in unison, but Jennie was feeling panic. Two steps forward and she reminded her daughters, “You don’t have to stay out.”
“We’ll be right down the hall for now,” Rachel assured her.
The first steps in the room and Jennie caught her breath. It was heavenly. The bouquet of dahlias on the nightstand looked exactly as they had on her wedding day. They took center stage and she hardly noticed the dozens of other vases filling the room. Alan Jackson was doing his part softly singing in the background, and the light, steady beat of rain was in rhythm with her heart. The faint glow from the candles created an atmosphere of peace and covered up the smell of antiseptic. Jennie lingered for just a moment and then drifted toward the bed. She lowered the bed rail. The girls had placed everything she might want or need for the evening next to the bedside stool. She took hold of his hand and settled in for whatever the night would bring. Long or short, the hospice nurse had assured her that their agony would end tonight.
“Herb?” Jennie squeezed his mottled hand hoping he could hear her. His breathing was labored, but she was thankful the rattle had dissipated. Communication the last few days had been through touch and facial expressions. She knew what every movement meant.
The grimace on his face prompted her to immediate action. Tenderly, she rubbed the morphine-soaked Q-tip inside his cheek. The movement of his chest immediately eased with relief from pain. She still couldn’t see what other people saw. He was not a weak and withered man; he was still her Herbie. Crawling into the bed with him, she pulled the blanket over them both and snuggled in close so her heart would be close to his. On cold winter nights, his large frame had always kept her warm, and now it was her turn. She clasped their hands together so that their rings touched. He had kept every vow he made to her.
The girls had worked so hard to prepare everything, but there was no energy left to reminisce about the photos in the frayed albums. Being together in this moment was enough. She felt one with him. The tears started flowing. Time was not on her side, and desperation was setting in. How could she preserve this moment so that she would always be able to feel and hear him? The thought of him becoming a memory was unbearable.
She turned to face him when his finger gently pressed hers. Her tears covered his neck, and his were falling to mix with hers. Even now, she knew his concern was only for her. Through all the months of treatment, she had been so selfish. Her fear and dread had not helped him in his fight; she had only been another burden. She knew he was longing to speak words of life into her. Somehow, she had to reassure him so he could let go.
“Herb, I’m fine. I promise I will be fine. The girls are here. You’ve spent your whole life making sure I would be taken care of. I have felt your love and patience for 54 years. Words aren’t needed anymore.”
His lips scratched hers as she sweetly kissed him and then nuzzled back into his neck. She tried to fight it, but somehow the sleep that had evaded her for days overcame her with a deep and sudden swiftness. A thick darkness covered her body like a heavy blanket; at the same time, she felt like she was floating away.
She felt a tugging at her arm, and when she opened her eyes, she could see Bethany and Rachel on either side of the bed.
“Mom, you need to wake up,” Rachel’s plea was barely audible.
With one or two more heartbeats left, Rachel and Bethany held his hands, and Jennie placed her face close to his. Their noses barely touched, but she felt the heat of his breath one last time.
“I’ll Fly Away.” Alan was still singing, but the rain had stopped.
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Victoria Scott started Scribbler in 2017 after traditionally publishing an impressive number of books with companies like HarperCollins Harlequin Scholastic and Macmillan. Victoria is an Uber-hailing city girl who is passionate about writing and helping other writers find their voice.