A fairy tale for grownups…
“Once upon a time,” she began. Peg stared at the words she had just typed on her laptop screen. For goodness sakes! She thought. Who starts a story with “Once upon a time” any more? I am not writing a fairy tale. Well, maybe I should. I’ve been living one most of my life haven’t I? Waiting for the knight in shining armor to appear and take me away on his white stallion. Who am I kidding?
Unexpectedly, there was a knock on the door. Peg was leery of opening it, being all alone in a very remote area with few neighbors in a five-mile radius. She had escaped to this ranch retreat to write undisturbed, and expected no visitors.
Peg looked out the lace-draped window that faced the front door of her bungalow and was intrigued to see a rather handsome young man of about 30. He was dressed in the standard Montana fare, from his close-fitting jeans, to his red plaid shirt, topped with an Alan Jackson style Stetson pulled down over his forehead. Parked in the driveway, dwarfing her little red Mazda was a man-sized shiny white pickup. In his muscular arms he held two bundles, one wrapped in brown paper and string, and the other a long box tied in a big red ribbon.
Curiously, she called from the window. “Who is it?”
“I have a delivery for Mrs. Johnson!”
Oh, shucks, I guess that shoots the white knight fantasy! He knows I am married. She mentally scolded herself. Of course you are married and to a wonderful man I might remind you!!
“One moment!” she finally responded, feeling a new flush in her cheeks.
Quickly she checked to see that she was presentable. Realizing that there could be nothing more modest than baggy sweats and sweatshirt and no makeup, Peg tucked her slowly graying hair behind her ears and opened the door.
“Yes”, she replied, a little too sweetly. Hey you only live once!
“These arrived for you this morning at the ranch office and since I was headed this way, I offered to drop them off.”
“Well, thank you, that’s very kind of you.” Peg took the packages from him, placing them on the nearby table. She quickly scanned the note attached to the longer box, and was not surprised to see her husband, Dave’s, signature. Her pleasure was evident by the glowing smile that lit up her face.
Aware of the young man’s eyes on her, she looked up apologetically. “Forgive me. Do I owe you anything?”
“No, Ma’m, it’s totally my pleasure.” He turned to go, hesitated, then turned back to face her in the doorway again. Peg looked at him inquiringly.
“ I wonder, I mean, would you do me a favor?” He finally asked.
Nobody had called her “Ma’m” before, least of all anyone so handsome, and Peg again felt her cheeks warm.
“ If I can. What would it be?”
He awkwardly removed his hat and held it in his hands, looking like the classic “aw shucks” cowboy of the old westerns she often watched on TV. “Well, you see, I have worked at this ranch for a long time, and don’t remember anyone going thru this much trouble to get a package delivered. Why, it must have cost your husband a fortune to have those packages delivered this far from town. He must care a great deal about you.”
She thought of her husband and his kind and generous nature and realized the young man was right. “I guess if you put it that way, he does. What’s the favor?”
“Well, Ma’m,” He started, hesitantly. “You see, there’s this woman I care a great deal about and, well, I want to have the kind of relationship with her that you and your husband seem to have. But I don’t know how. You see, my folks died when I was young and I’ve pretty much been raised by ranch hands who don’t know much about women, if you know what I mean.” He smiled, and for just a moment she was carried back to the first time she saw Dave’s smile. It had been hard not to fall in love with him. She was sure this man’s girl friend felt the same way. “So I was wonderin’ if you could tell me, well, what’s your secret?”
Secret?! she thought. His question gave her pause. She looked at him, into his deep brown eyes, and saw a man of sincerity and honesty. So much like my Dave, Peg mused. God, what is this all about? Why did you bring this man here at this time and place?
Confident that he was not going to be easily put off, she invited him to have a seat on the porch. He filled out the grandfather-sized rocker, and propped his leather cowboy boots up on the footstool, casually crossing them at the ankles. She took a seat on the porch swing, the back and forth swaying motion giving her some comfort as she reflected on her marriage to Dave.
Was there a secret to our happiness? God knows we had been through some rough times – four kids, career changes, illness, bankruptcy, two separations. Goodness, how much of this was she to share without scaring the man away!
Peg looked at her visitor, realizing she didn’t even know his name. Trying to sound like a true local, she smilingly asked, “So what’s your handle, cowboy?” He laughed at her awkward attempt at cowboy lingo. “I go by John.”
“ John, I am pleased to meet you. Just call me Peg.”
“Howdy, Peg”, he smiled.
“Well, John, I wish I had an easy answer. But the truth is, our marriage hasn’t always been what you would call happy. We struggled a great deal. We even separated twice.”
“What brought you back together?”
“The first time, it was the kids. One of them had a bout with a serious illness and we needed to be there for him. Once we got thru that, we decided to try again. The second time was after the kids were out of the house. We just looked at each other and said, “Who are you?” and at ourselves and said, “Who are we?” and decided to go find out. We just got back together last year.”
“From the look on your face when you opened that card, it must be working now.”
“Yes, it is. And I suppose everything we have been thru would be the secret to our happiness. We have learned a lot about each other and ourselves. There is only one thing I regret.” She looked down at her hands folded in her lap, remembering the heartbreak of the separations and the difficult temptations they had brought to the marriage.
“The times apart. There was a well-known preacher I heard on the radio once who was asked what his one piece of advice to married men would be, and his answer was two words – “Don’t leave”. Dave and I are fortunate we got back together, and I give all the credit to God. I just wish we had had the courage to stay together through the tough times.”
John reflected on Peg’s words for a moment and then nodded a simple, “Thank you, Ma’m, I mean Peg.” As he got up to go Peg also stood up. Steadying the rocking swing, she replied warmly, “No, thank you!”
John, looking puzzled, replaced his hat on his head, and went down the stairs to his white pickup. As he opened the door and got in, he turned and waved. She couldn’t help smiling. White horse and all, she thought as she shook her head in amazement at God’s timing.
As she entered the cabin, Peg walked over to the two packages on the table. She untied the bold red ribbon around the long box and discovered within a dozen white roses, nestled in an array of baby’s breath. The note simply said, “I love you. I miss you. Your Dave.” She set them aside, making a mental note to get them into water as soon as possible. But the other package had her curiosity. She opened it to find within a book of fairy tales. Dave had written an inscription on the inner front cover, “Once upon a time, there was a beautiful princess named Peg and a handsome prince named Dave. (smile) They traded in their white stallion for four kids and a station wagon, and lived happily ever after. But they never stopped believing in the fairy tale. Live your dreams, my sweet princess. Your prince awaits your return. All my love, Dave.”
As her eyes overwhelmed with tears, Peg looked up to the heavens, and whispered a prayer of thanks. With blurry eyes, she arranged the flowers in a vase she had found, and returned to her laptop.
“Once upon a time, there was a young man named John …” she typed.