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Gerard Butler GALS
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MareksLadyD

"40"

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With cruel impartiality the day began much as any other. The sun rose without fanfare, the nest of robins tweeted outside the bedroom window, and the smell of coffee brewing from the automatically timed pot sent wafts of aromatic ambrosia to tempt Mariah from the pocket of warm coziness in her down comforter.

“40â€

She sighed the word unconsciously hoping it would soften the impact. It didn’t. Ignoring the call off nature and caffeine Mariah groaned and rolled over to burrow into the covers as if they could protect her from harsh reality of time.

“40â€

This time she spat out the offending number. She growled then blew out a breath as she tossed back the covers with forced determination. "Nowhere to hide, no place to run." She grimaced at the trite sayings, however accurate.

“Well, Mariah, time to put your big girl panties on.†She sat up and stretched taking mental inventory of any aches and unexpected creeks.

“40â€

Her toes crept into the soft leather and wool of her Ugg slippers and with a defiant slap to the innocent mattress she stood and accepted her fate. At 4:01 am she’d turned 40 and each click of the clock cemented her further onto this side of the hill. She stopped at her full length mirror to survey the damage of each previous birthday. Childhood birthdays always took forever to arrive and never lasted long enough. Flashes of frosting fights, pulverized piñatas and ripped wrappings brought a wistful smile of nostalgia which shifted to a blush as a brief montage of her high school and college gatherings filled her mind. Her smiled widened and she bit her lip at the wild memories.

Her eyes focused to the present and she scrutinized her image looking for the flaws she knew where there. She nodded to no one at her size. Years of weight fluctuations finally seemed to be controlled with this last seventy pound loss. She’d shaken off the depression of losing within months of each other both her father to a heart attack and her husband to a pert blonde. It had taken a year to remove the gallons of Hagen Daaz, truckloads of Oreos and countless stops at the golden arches, but she’d done it. The grudging pride at her accomplishment had slowly become a coat of self respect that she wore more comfortably every day.

“40â€

She blinked as the number repeated in her brain like the spine twisting shrill of a snooze alarm. She was no longer married, no longer sure of her future, no longer young.

“But I’m not old…yet.†She leaned forward to closely inspect the relatively unlined reflection. A lifetime of healthy skin care, sunblock and good genes kept the web of wrinkles at bay. “Remind me to thank my mother when she calls later,†she said to herself. Her lip trembled slightly as she thought of the single parental birthday wish. Even after three years the hole of his absence had yet to fill. Her eyes squeezed back the salty grief as she held her breath and counted to ten. She opened them and locked with an identical set only inches away. Her lips curved a bit at the bright green color. Tears and emotion always made her eyes an illuminated green. Her ex had always said her eye color was a warning system.

She snorted at thought of the man she’d once sworn to love, honor and cherish til death. Considering his extra marital activities that she no longer denied, she was obviously the only one who had meant the words. She shook her head and pushed away from the mirror.

“40â€

The number drifted across her psyche to give a gentle accepting nudge. The depth of her reluctance to do so surprised her. Birthdays had always been inconsequential markings paired with a raucous gathering and excuse to see neglected friends. Mariah smiled into her coffee cup as she imagined what kind of party her best friend of 25 years, Bethany, had pulled together.

Bethany had reached the milestone age two months earlier which her jovial husband, Matt, had announced with a cacophonous celebration of black balloons, over the hill paraphernalia, the obligatory banner of “Lordy Lordy Bethany’s FORTY!†set to the soundtrack of a funeral dirge. Matt never did anything halfway. Mariah tried to suppress the shudder as she thought of his contribution to this birthday celebration. She took another long drink of the mind clearing coffee and braced for the ordeal ahead. One would think she was facing a medieval castle siege instead of a stream of good natured ribbing and sincere wishes for a happy birthday. Still she mentally reinforced the ramparts and faced the day.

*******

As she had feared her coworkers had conspired together and sent her an enormous floral arrangement which would have been sweet except for the large gold painted plastic letters gleaming in the center “Rest in Peace†Her right hand covered her eyes as she received the delivery and the entire office had erupted in laughter and a boisterous rendition of “Happy Birthday†Surprisingly, the gesture had marginally lifted her mood. All in all the day hadn’t been the apocalypse she’d feared.

Until now.

As she stood in Bethany and Matt‘s normally voluminous but now crowded great room, she plotted revenge. Never one to repeat a stunt, Matt had taken over and topped the party he’d thrown for his wife two months earlier. The background funereal music must have inspired him, Mariah wryly thought as she looked around. Gravestones lined the perimeter of the room, one with today’s date and the heading “Here Lies Mariah’s Youth†The largest was near the fireplace and was originally blank, but the nearby Sharpie markers were quickly used to fill every empty space with well wishes, signatures and the accumulating collection of alcohol fueled wit sprinkled with the occasional flair of true cleverness of the party guests.

“Guests,†Mariah snorted and finished her vodka tonic in a gulp. “Mourners are more like it.†Every single person was dressed in somber dark colors with a pewter satin armband tied to their bicep. Now that everyone had arrived Matt stood on a chair, pointed out the numerous boxes of Kleenex around the room, raised his glass and began a brief eulogy.

“Tonight, ladies and gentleman, we gather not to mourn the loss of Mariah Jacobs’ youth, but instead to celebrate and remember fondly that which has now passed forever, never to be retrieved.â€

As her husband played to the laughing crowd Bethany replaced Mariah’s empty glass with a full one and squeezed her arm in support. “You know he wouldn’t go to all this trouble if he didn’t love you, kiddo.â€

Mariah took another healthy gulp, “I hope you are open to new adventures because you are about to experience widowhood.â€

Bethany laughed and hugged her friend with one arm. “Just remember we have his fiftieth in a couple years.â€

“Only problem is he revels in the attention.†She couldn’t help laughing at the man that was as dear a friend to her as his wife. The two of them had kept her above water these last couple years and she knew nothing was done out of malice.

She scanned the crowd halting at a tall muscular figure leaning lazily against the patio door. She could only see his profile, but she knew she'd never seen him before. Her eyes brushed the dark hair dusted with natural highlights mentally twirling a curl below his ear and her pulse quickened at his sensuous mouth surrounded by several day’s worth of scruff. She licked her lips when his bicep flexed as if answering an unspoken request by her. His half grin and wink at her confirmed the suspicion.

“Damn,†she muttered appreciatively under her breath and she wondered who he was. Although in dark jeans and a navy shirtsleeve polo he was not dressed in funereal garb, nor did he wear an armband. Bethany glanced at her and then followed her gaze and grinned.

“Yummy, isn’t he? That’s an old friend of Matt’s. His name is Kieran.â€

“Karen? Doesn’t seem to fit him.†Her gaze stayed fixed. As did his.

Bethany snorted, “Not KAIRen, KEERin. It’s Irish or Scottish or something. He’s from Scotland actually. He studied a year at Matt’s university and they roomed together. They’ve kept in touch but this is the first time he’s come to visit since Matt and I’ve been married. We weren’t expecting him until tomorrow or I would have asked if it was okay for him to come tonight.†She gave her friend a hip check and a grin, “I hope it’s alright that he’s here.â€

Mariah made a soft noise and nodded then was forced to tear her eyes from the compelling man as Matt finished his eulogy-slash-standup routine with a toast to the golden years that lay ahead in her future. She glanced back to the now empty space by the door and a quick survey of the room did not reveal the tall Scot. She might have looked more thoroughly but a rousing round of “For she’s a jolly good fellow†commanded her attention and she began to make her way around the room.

****

Too many vodka tonics later Mariah slipped out the patio door with a relieved sigh. Ninety percent of the guests she knew. They ranged from very close friends to casual but friendly acquaintances. The remaining ten percent were significant others and tagalongs always up for a good party. It was a jocular mix and generally entertaining but she had tired of the repetitive ‘over the hill’ jokes three cocktails earlier.

She stepped into the shadows of the expansive teak deck and inhaled the sweetness of the early September night. The heat of summer was slowly giving way to the approaching autumn coolness and the hint of crispness in the air cleared the fuzzy edges of her brain.

“40â€

The annoying alarm buzzed the number again and with a mental slap on the snooze button she backed even further into the darkness to attempt escape. She just needed a moment alone. Then maybe she could face a future on the downside of the hill by first making it through the night.

A couple Mariah knew from work came close to the sliding door and she took another step back to avoid discovery. The couple passed by without exiting as Mariah’s heal hit something and she lost her balance. With a thud and an undignified grunt she landed on denim covered steel. Warm firm hands settled on her hips and she turned in surprise at the low rumbling laugh behind her. Words of apology died on her lips at the knowing grin and conspiratorial twinkle in Kieran’s eyes.

She sat on his lap transfixed, mesmerized. He was more stunning up close and for a moment she forgot to breathe. The sound of the door sliding open broke the spell and she turned toward it and would have relieved Kieran of her weight, but his fingers tightened pulling her back against the granite wall otherwise known as a chest. Before she could say anything Bethany’s head popped out.

“Mariah? You out here?â€

“Shhhhh,†he hushed in her ear; an amused but willing accomplice to her escape. Their eyes locked; his eyebrows raised in a sexy invitation as Bethany retreated leaving them indiscovered in the shadows. Mariah remained frozen, but not cold. Nerves crackled, blood whooshed hot in her veins and she felt alive for the first time in years. Years of grieving her mentor and hero of a father. Years in a lie of a marriage convincing herself it was life. Years of battling uphill.

With a quick glance at the glass door then back at the captivating man serving as her chair she relaxed and smiled.

Today she turned 40.

Tomorrow would start the thrilling ride downhill.

Edited by MareksLadyD

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Awesome story, LadyD!

The events have a nice down to Earth everyday feel, and both the reflecting on the past and hoping for the future is very realistic of the thought processes that we go through routinely, especially on our birthdays. And, who could ignore the hot Scot with the granite chest? :p

Steph

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Thanks!

I submitted it before I was done editing. I didn't like the last bit as much so I changed it but couldnt edit it until just now. It's not a big change but I like it better. Problem is I could keep tweaking forever lol.

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