There were whispers, of course. But that was to be expected.
Her husband’s secretary had last seen him with a young, mysterious, interesting woman.
And when she looked in the mirror, she saw none of those things.
Young? HA. She kissed that adjective goodbye several years ago. She was happy to embrace her silver streaks but was not as grateful when cashiers stopped asking for her license to officiate senior discounts.
Mysterious? No. Not even a single magic trick up her sleeve. She was a firm believer in blunt interactions and the truth of the matter. She wore her feelings and her wealth on her sleeve, and was proud of both. There were no secrets here. Well, none that belonged to her.
Interesting? She’d railed against this one. Her husband always introduced her as the “one with all the good stories” but those stories weren’t hers, she just told them well.
Her family found her interesting. Her daughter-in-law told her once “you’re the most fascinating being I’ve ever met!” in that cute Minnesota accent. Yet she knew that was mostly because the poor gal had never been fed a proper peach cobbler or heard a tale that started with “So we were out listening to the junebugs…”
But Pepper certainly didn’t feel interesting.
And now she had proof she wasn’t. Not even Clark, her husband of multiple decades, found her interesting enough to stick around for. He said he’d be gone a few weeks to clear his head. It was many silent months later when she gave up on his return. Their children were distraught, positive he’d been kidnapped for his wealth in a foreign country, or dramatically lost at sea and was still desperately trying to get back to them. Pepper was never really sure what to do when these hypothesizes were discussed. She didn’t want to dissuade her children from the romantic tragedy of their imaginations, as it would be easier to heal from than the truth, but she also was not going to entertain them as far as sending out cross-country search parties. She knew the actual, real truth. Clark was dead.
She could tell for months before his disappearance that he was getting restless. She had tried to bring in new projects for him to play with- bought a new location for a hotel, redesigned his office, took him on a cruise to Alaska where he could fish for the big salmon like he used to with his father. She’d even started telling her stories again.
He loved her stories. She knew he married her because she was reliable and low-risk, but he fell in love with her over time because of the stories she had begun to tell their children. Each night from the first born to the fourth, she’d tell of the mischievous nymphs and rowdy pirates she’d met to escort their young imaginations into fantasy filled dreams. She told them of their great-aunt who vanquished monsters and could see through time, and their own grandmother who met regularly with kings and queens of other worlds.
One by one, as the children became the teenagers and then adults, they stopped begging for story time after dinner. But Clark never stopped. He would beg for them when their nest was again empty. Even when the grandchildren arrived and all the old stories were told again, he would sit with the smallest in his lap, the same eager expression on both man and child as they listened. He said he loved the sound of Pepper’s voice, and admired her adventurously creative mind. Sometimes when she’d finish a wild tale he’d say “lets do that someday, my love.” And she would laugh, saying Mars or Zeus or Atlantis were too far away, but maybe someday.
She supposed Clark decided someday had come, and he’d left without her. But she knew he’d intended to come back. He’d loved her. He’d respected her. Perhaps he had no longer found their marriage exciting, and run off to have a little affair or steamy vacation, but he would have come back to her if he could. That’s just who Clark was. He wouldn’t have left her on her own like this, to mind the children and run the company. So while others mourned the loss of a good man gone bad, she quietly grieved a great man who was just… gone.
That was why her heart was not just broken, but irreparably shattered. She almost took comfort in knowing it would never heal. It was the hope that one day everything would go back to normal that always killed people. She would never really be okay again. That in itself, was really fine. Deep down, no matter how much they’d loved each other, she always knew he’d leave one day. She just didn’t know it would be because he would go looking for a story of his own. Pepper thought it would be when he realized all of hers were true.
So she put in the life insurance paperwork. She assisted the children through their grief, and showered her grand-babies with love and attention so they would not feel the loss of Papa Clark in the room.
For the next 10 years she devoted her life to creating an empire from the hotel and tourism businesses Clark had built. She played her part in this new timeline, the widowed grandmother with time to babysit the young ones and meet her friends for tea between investor meetings. There were suitors too, of course. They would approach what they saw as a grown woman who knew what she wanted. And they were right, but what she wanted was to be left alone. Her kids and friends alike pushed her to date again. She almost did just to comfort them, but really it held no interest for her. Her broken heart wasn’t a shield, as her eldest daughter accused her one evening, but simply a state of being. It was like the laugh lines around her eyes and the ache in her left knee- simply a way her body was now. Something time had given, and would not be taking back.
Pepper spent the several weeks before her 67th birthday reorganizing and simplifying all of the business accounts. After blowing out the candles on a red velvet cake from her favorite bakery, she promoted all four of her children to partners in the company, and retired. It shocked all of her family so much that she was halfway done with her slice of cake before any of them spoke again. They were obviously teetering between grateful and worried, and Pepper decided it was fine to let them choose which side to fall on. She had always promoted independence in her children. She laughed with they split evenly over joy for her retirement and concern for her, what her plan was to do next. It was sweet, really, the way their eyes narrowed cautiously above their smiles. They had never seen their mother without something keep her busy!
But oh, she would be very busy indeed. There would just no longer be board meetings or jets to construction sites or early morning calls to board members. Now, there would be her stories. Instead of investors, now the hunt was for listeners. And where were the best listeners in the city? The same places where people pretended not to hear: extravagant bars, expensive hotel lobbies, regal halls, and old libraries.
She attacked this plan much like she had every other success in her life. First, there was a battle plan sketched up on whatever object was nearby when inspiration hit- this time, her bathroom mirror (Clark had started leaving dry erase markers there after she ruined her favorite lipstick to make sure she didn’t forget her exotic ballroom plan before she dried her hair).
Second, she would type it up officially on her laptop with a full pot of coffee nearby. She listed names of coffee houses that held weekly poetry readings, libraries looking for volunteers, karaoke nights that welcomes the bold.
Lastly, she jumped, and hoped there was ground somewhere below.
This jump was taking herself on a starlit date to downtown. She closed the clasp on her diamond necklace. It was a backup plan, there to shimmer if she didn’t manage to herself. She left her professional gray blazers in the closet, and pulled on the mink coat Clark had gotten her for her 40th birthday. A thrill went through her at the thought of being one of those interesting characters a passerby noticed as he shuffled to his next stop. After slipping on heels that would make her feet ache in the morning, she called for the driver. Tonight, she’d start somewhere familiar.
“The Swan, please.”
Return (verb): 1. Come or go back to a place or person. 2. Give, put, or send (something) back to a place or person.
(noun): 1. An act of coming or going back to a place or activity. 2. A profit from an investment.
Hi again! I think the word for this story is pretty clear. Just like Pepper, I’m back to telling my stories.* Also like Pepper, I am very excited to do so. I hope you enjoy this little dip into her tale!
Just a note on what we’ll call Family Matters- as you may remember from Today I am Steady, we learned that Pepper is Peter’s grandmother. Which meeeeeans, Peter’s very stiff mother we met in Today I am Carry is Pepper’s one of daughters. This is correct. It may not seem like a gal raised by the caring and comfortable Pepper and Clark would turn out so stiff, but I think with what she may have experienced due to her parent’s lives, her personality can be understandable. Perhaps one day we’ll get her side of the story…
*No, I do not imagine myself as Pepper or vise versa, she’s far too humble for me! And also I don’t like French 75s 😉