Title: Middle Ageish
Author: Shirley Goldberg
Genre: Romantic Women’s Fiction
Sunny Chanel's marriage is circling the drain when her husband marks his colonoscopy on the calendar and ignores their anniversary. With divorce papers instead of roses on the horizon, she says "au revoir" Paris and croissants, and "hello" cheap New Haven apartment and ramen noodles.
Encouraged by her friends, Sunny jumps into online dating, twenty-three years and twenty pounds after her last date. To her surprise she discovers dating might require a helmet, and occasionally armor to protect her heart, but after years of being ignored, her adventurous side craves fun and conversation. She's middle-aged not dead. Then suddenly, on the way to reinventing herself, life takes a left turn when the one man she can't forget calls with an unexpected request.
Stop and Shop stocked giant shrimp and salmon, and I was in line at the fish counter. Straight from my Wednesday Zumba class. Hungry and salivating, as if I could taste the spicy Cajun cocktail sauce already.
I scanned the case, and goody, jumbo shrimp were on sale. Someone behind me was talking but the words didn’t register, as I was busy list-composing in my mind. Paint the tag sale bookcase I’d picked up two weeks earlier, since Ed McBain, Elmore Leonard, and a bunch of the romance ladies needed more room. Pop over to Bed and Bath to check out cute little soap dispensers for the guest room. I have my own guest room!
“Seriously. How do you pick out a good piece of fish?” Was someone talking to me? I turned around.
“Hi, I thought it was you.”
He looked…cuter than I remembered, jeans and a shirt rolled up at the cuffs, not tucked. He leaned on the handle of his cart, smiling. I blinked with fatigue. I’d stayed up too late watching old movies. The Thin Man and half of After the Thin Man, William Powell and Myrna Loy drinking martinis, sparring, and fumbling with bad guys.
“You didn’t recognize me? I know it’s been a while.”
“I’m surprised is all. I didn’t expect you at my––at this store.” I glanced at his cart. “No, really, I was on another planet.”
I’ll admit to forming an opinion about the lives of strangers based on what they buy at the supermarket, but Luke was a step up from a stranger, so it was more fun. He’d picked about ten items, and they all seemed to be fruits and vegetables.
“It’s good to see you.” He leaned on the cart looking at me, a slight twitch around the corners of his mouth. “I was thinking of buying fish for dinner. Not quite sure what to get.”
“Um, how are you cooking it?”
“Well.” He rolled the cart to the side to make room for a woman and an older guy waiting in line. “On the grill. I moved a few months ago, and I just got a new one.”
“OK, let’s see. Salmon. Salmon’s great. I was thinking of salmon. Salmon’s my favorite.” At this rate, my middle name could be salmon.
“I remember. To be precise, blackened with mango salsa.”
“But not the ones with the bones.” I wrinkled my nose. Pretended not to notice his excellent recall of our one and only date. Meet. “I’m no expert. I choose what’s on sale. Quite the discerning shopper.”
“Sounds good,” he said. “Then salmon it is.” He nodded. “Thanks. Thanks very much.” He started to turn around, affording me the opportunity to check his butt, but the shirttail blocked access.
“Of course, there’s also swordfish,” I said. “Swordfish steaks are great on the grill.” He nodded. “And tuna. Fresh tuna, there’s nothing like it. Tuna.” I was beginning to sound like a fish ad. Or a fisherman’s wife. A fishwife.
He nodded again, this time more enthusiastically. “Wow,” he said, smiled and pointed to the enamel fish case. The woman had finished, and the man stepped up. “I’d like to try all of your suggestions. Everything looks so good.” He turned to nod at me. “And how about you?”
“Oh. Well, I’m getting the salmon.” I touched my hair. “And a couple shrimps.” Had I slapped on a little mascara this morning? I brushed a finger under my lashes. Yes, yes, that felt like mascara. My face sported some bronzer to go with my fake tan legs. Luke and I were going to dinner in two days, so that would be another opportunity to talk about salmon. While dining on salmon?
“This is such a surprise, bumping into you.” He was smiling. “Your help is most appreciated.”
“Don’t mention it.” Yup, he was looking even better than I remembered. Brown hair with a little gray at the temples and swimmer’s shoulders. The blemish above his eye? Still there. Faint and noticeable only if you looked for the little scar. I stepped up to the counter and ordered the salmon and four shrimp. I’d enjoy it all later that day with Ed McBain. I knew because I’d already read Ed’s first sentence, that important first sentence, the one that grabs the reader. The fishmonger handed over my package of fish goodies.
“See you, Saturday,” and I rolled my cart away, slowly, feeling awkward, not knowing if I should have stayed to chat while he ordered.
“Looking forward to it,” Luke said.
Well, this was a bit clumsy, not major, but even so. Given our lame lunchtime phone conversation on market day, I didn’t want to linger. I barely know the man, I sputtered inside my head. Yes, you do, you’ve talked for hours on the phone. Arguing with myself, speeding over to the bread section at the opposite end of the store. Talking on the phone. That means you know him? My[ SHOULD THIS BE my or My?] argumentative side asked. I grabbed bran muffins and a loaf of French bread, intent on reaching the checkout before Luke.
I was putting my groceries on the checkout counter when I heard his voice behind me. ”So. We meet again.” He was here, his cart full of produce, the salmon package and a few others in the little tray on top, a loaf of bread beside it.
“Hi.” Was Luke following me? I swiped my credit card and handed over my keys with the Stop and Shop tag. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see him check out the magazine rack, pluck one, leaf through it, and replace it. Everything he did was slow, easy, as if waiting in line were no bother.
“You haven’t got any vegetables,” he said.
“Oh. I suppose not.” I’d rushed through the store. “I’ll throw together a salad.”
“I have quite a few. All go well with fish.”
“Are you criticizing, or donating your vegetables?”
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Shirley Goldberg is a writer, novelist, and former ESL and French teacher who’s lived in Paris, Crete, and Casablanca. She writes about men and women of a certain age starting over. Her website http://midagedating.com offers a humorous look at living single and dating in mid life. Shirley is the author of two rom coms. Eat Your Heart Out and Middle Ageish, both in the series Starting Over. Shirley’s friends nag her to tell them which stories are true in her novels. Her characters believe you should never leave home without your sense of humor and Shirley agrees.
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Amazon Author page: https://www.amazon.com/author/shirleygoldberg