Skip navigation
text size: default | enlarged——servicing readers in 130 plus countries——110 free stories
Genre: Romance
Back to Previous Page Review This Story Share This Story

Living The Dream

By: M.B. Hohl

Meg slowly drove passed the cloned ranch houses that made up her neighborhood. She was unused to the quiet. Usually the Bair's would be playing basketball, the Myers' twins would be jumping rope and at least one child would venture out into the road on their bike. Her stomach clenched and she shook her head to keep the tears from falling. The neighborhood was quiet because all the kids were still in school. She'd gotten laid off this morning. She was coming home three hours earlier than usual.

Turning down the cul-de-sac Meg swung wide to the right and then sharply turned the wheel to the left as she expertly maneuvered 'Big Blue' into the tiny drive. She switched off the engine and waited while the Bonneville sputtered a couple of times, backfired once and then stilled.

She reached for the purse lying on the seat beside her and then pulled back. She wasn't ready to leave the car yet. Folding her arms across her middle, she slumped back in the seat and sighed.

"What a day."

She was tired, really tired, not just weary from a hard day's work, but bone tired. Her feet hurt and her hands ached and tonight the short walk to her house seemed like miles instead of a few yards. She settled deeper into the seat and closed her eyes.

Depression fell heavily on her heart as old insecurities resurfaced. She felt so stuck in this life she'd created for herself. Every year that passed made it more difficult to remember the dreams she'd had for her future and how determined she'd been to leave her mark on the world. God that was so long ago. She'd been so naïve. No. If she were being honest, she'd have to admit that desperation played a bigger part then naivety and her husband Randy had known just how to use that to his advantage. Now here she was ten years and two children later trapped in a dead end job going nowhere fast.

It still felt as though her life was plummeting out of control and she was always running to catch up, squeezing one more drop out of the shampoo, gathering change to put gas in her car . . . she was tired of the chase and today had been the straw that broke the camel's back. After this week she'd be on unemployment.

Opening her right eye a fraction Meg peeked at the walkway and debated making her way inside. She knew she was procrastinating, but it was just so darn comfortable right where she was.

A sharp rap on the car window made her jump. Clutching her rapidly beating heart she turned and released a low groan as she stared eyeball to eyeball with Mrs. Herring, her elderly neighbor. Mrs. Herring was wearing purple sweats and a red sweatshirt, with "I'm hot, you're not" appliquéd across the front.

Remaining in a hunched over position her neighbor cupped her mouth and shouted loudly through the glass. "Thank goodness, you're alive. Why, I told Mr. Herring I had to come over and check on you." She looked accusingly at Meg. "You hadn't moved in quite some time and I thought you might have asphyxiated yourself."

Meg smiled and squeezed the door handle. Mrs. Herring moved a few steps back as Meg stepped out, but continued talking. "Of course, now I can see you're just fine, but I couldn't help thinking about those poor boys, why if they'd lost their mother it would have been a tragedy."

Meg knew that Mrs. Herring didn't approve of her. Meg was a single mom and therefore couldn't possibly be a good mother. Meg kept the smile plastered on her face as she nodded her head. "Yes, it would have been terrible for them." Shutting the door she turned toward the house, hoping her neighbor would take the hint that she wasn't in the mood for company.

She didn't.

Meg continued toward the door, praying she wouldn't actually have to invite her into the house. She knew she didn't have the fortitude to deal with her neighbor this afternoon and was contemplating a tactful way to get rid of her when her best friend Liz skidded into the drive.

Grateful for the reprieve, Meg watched as Liz slammed on her brakes and literally flew out of her vehicle.

Waving a quick hello to Mrs. Herring, who bristled at the interruption, Liz grabbed Meg's arm and pushed her toward the door. "Hello, Mrs. Herring, nice to see you…If you'll excuse us, Meg and I have some pressing business."

The last thing Meg saw before the door closed was her neighbor's mouth hanging open in obvious outrage.

She was left little time for remorse as Liz literally pulled her into the kitchen and forcefully pushed her into a seat. With all the drama she could muster, Liz slapped a magazine on the yellow Formica table and positioned it right in front of Meg.

Meg glanced down. "What's thi…" Her eyes grew wide as saucers as she carefully picked up the magazine. "Oh, my."

Liz was just shy of jumping up and down. "I couldn't believe it. I was in Mulligan's grocery checking out when I saw it. I didn't have enough cash so I had to put back my laundry soap to get it. I suppose I could have put back the brownies, but…"

Meg looked up, puzzled, and then it dawned on her. "You bought a rag mag?"

Liz slammed down on a chair and placed her hands on the magazine. "Let me get this straight, this is the same man, who after you dated almost every single guy in Canal Village, you saw one time . . .and it wasn't even in person." Liz was on a roll. "You saw him one time on a DVD and from then on no other man would do. You told me flat out you were going to marry him one day."

She wasn't done. "It's been what, two years since you've even heard anything about the man and now suddenly he shows up on the cover of People magazine and all you can say is, 'You bought a rag mag.'?" She was on the verge of hysteria as she leaned in closer. "Don't even go there today."

Angrily she reached into her pocket and pulled out a five-dollar bill. Stomping over to the refrigerator she yanked down the plastic pickle jar that housed past dues paid for reading tabloids, pulled out four ones and threw the five in as she grumbled. "There, there's your stupid dollar, now look at the magazine."

Meg looked at the picture of Jake. He looked older; a tad weathered and there was a sprinkling of gray at his temples. There were laugh lines at the corners of his eyes. She pushed the magazine aside and looked back at her friend. "I should never have told you about him." Getting up from the table she grabbed two glasses from the cupboard and filled them with iced tea.

"Yeah, well you did." Liz grabbed the magazine and looked at his picture. "You know. There is something about him…" She waved off the obvious. "Of course he's drop dead gorgeous, but remember when you told me about how you really felt he was limiting himself by just singing. . .like there was more that he had to offer?"

Meg set a glass of tea in front of Liz. "Yeah, it was right after you and the boys had seen him in concert. You'd bought the DVD for them and I watched it the next day. It wasn't just the man that knocked my socks off; it was everything he was doing. The videos, the teachings…" She realized she was building up false hope again and trailed off. "I see what you're saying, but now. . .I mean, for crying outloud he's on the cover of People Magazine."

Liz accepted the glass and took a drink before responding with a smile. "Yeah, well don't think you can convince me you've given up hope because I know you've had plenty of opportunities to date, you just won't. So, if this is your man…if you want him in your life this could be your opportunity. After two years of self imposed isolation the man is back in the news again. This is it; it's sink or swim, either you get all the information that you can on him and go for it, or you put it all behind you and move on."

Meg felt her heart lurch. "Liz, he's famous. I mean it's one thing to drool over someone on a prerecorded DVD, or even to get excited about some of the things he was doing and want to be a part of it, but this…" She swung the magazine up and laid it down. ". . .is freaky." She flipped open the magazine then closed it. "I can't deal with this right now. I'm 41 years and five days old today, I'm so stiff I feel like I'm sixty, and I'm still working at the basket factory weaving baskets." She looked at her friend and pleaded, "Tell me, what kind of life is that?"

Liz lowered her glass and sat for a moment before carefully answering her friend. "The one you chose."

Meg stiffened. "You know, it's easy for you to sit there and act so sanctimonious but when Randy died and the insurance company wouldn't pay because they labeled his death a suicide I had to come up with a job fast and even though they say it's discrimination not to hire a pregnant woman, no one would…except for the basket factory. I have to support my kids. I have responsibilities."

Liz sighed. "We all have responsibilities, and we all choose how we deal with them. Ryan is almost six now. If you don't like making baskets, get a new job."

"What do I know how to do? It's all I know; making baskets and raising kids."

Liz gave a derisive laugh. "That's not true and you know it. Remember it's me, Liz, you're talking to, and you can't fool me with that drivel. People need what you have to give. You just choose to stay where you are because it's safe and comfortable." She pushed the magazine back toward her. "This is uncomfortable, and risky. So make up your mind, are you going to get proactive, or sit on your butt and do nothing?"

Meg had been alone for a long time, and since her husband died five years ago, no one told her what to do or got in her face, except for her best friend. She reached for the magazine and opened it again. "I think I hate you." Liz smiled. "No you don't."

Meg flicked through the pages. "This is a huge article."

Liz leaned in. "It is huge and it's got important information in it." She backed up a bit and crossed her arms. ". . .very important information."

Meg rolled her eyes. "How do you know…never mind you probably skimmed it on the way over here. If I promise to read it when I'm ready will you let it drop for now?"

She could see the disappointment on Liz's face as she accepted the fact that this was as far as they were going with this today. "Okay, but please don't put it off too long."

The door crashed open and banged against the wall, as Meg's boys exploded into the house.

"I told you to shut up."

Meg winced at her older son's tone and cringed as her younger countered, "I'm tellin' mom you said shut up. You're gonna be grounded."

Liz raised her eyebrows and picked up the magazine. "I'll just set this aside and when you have time, or rather when you make time, read it and get back to me."

"Hey, Aunt Liz, hey Mom. I have baseball practice at six tonight." Derek had come in for snacks for himself and Ryan and left as quickly as he'd come.

Meg heard the television click on and hollered to them, "Two cartoons only and then homework."

Their muted grumbling filtered into the kitchen. Meg shrugged her shoulders and turned back to Liz. "Maybe I'll find time next year."

Liz stood. "Okay, I'm outta here. I have a meeting at the theatre. They're trying to convince me to costume their next play at almost half my usual salary." She reached into her jacket pocket again. "Oh, by the way, here are the tickets for the Sound of Mucus."

Laughing, Meg took the tickets and clipped them onto the fridge. "Music, Liz, the sound of music."

Liz winked before leaving the kitchen. "You haven't heard their singing yet. Just wait till you hear them and trust me…you'll agree."

Liz hugged each of the boys as she walked through the living room and then with her hand on the door called back, "Bye, guys. See ya later."

"Bye." Said in unison, their eyes never left the television.

Meg shook her head and smiled. Glancing back at the magazine she shrugged and left it unread. She had a feeling reading that magazine would change her life forever and for whatever it was worth, she kind of liked her life the way it was.

Later that night, she walked into the boys' room to check over their homework. Derek looked up from his desk, guilt written all over his face. Narrowing her eyes, she did a quick scan of the desk. He was smoothly sliding a piece of paper under his notebook. She tried to hide a smile as she realized her baby boy probably had a girlfriend. Of course, he'd want privacy at first, but eventually he'd open up to her, she was sure of it. "Okay boys, let's see those homework papers."

Each boy displayed his homework so Meg could review it easily. Finding two multiplication errors in Derek's, she handed the papers back for him to rework. Ryan was only in kindergarten so his papers were much easier to check. His class was on the letter P. He'd found a picture of a panda bear and a Popsicle and glued them on his paper. "I thought you needed three things?"

Ryan shrugged, "Yeah, but that's all I could find in your magazine that started with the letter P. I wish we were on J, then I could use Jake's picture."

Meg grew very still. "What magazine are you using?" Ryan held up the magazine Liz had brought that day. Without conscious thought she grabbed it and flipped to the article on Jake. Sure enough, right in the middle of the article was a huge hole. Turning the page, a roughly cut Popsicle shape had been removed from an advertisement.

Taking the magazine with her Meg retreated to the kitchen, where she calmly replaced the magazine before grabbing a can of Prego and peeling off the label.

Walking back into the room she handed the label to Ryan, who gleefully pasted it onto the orange construction paper before pronouncing his project complete.

It only took a moment to recheck Derek's paper, and then the boys were instructed to get ready for bed.

Ryan immediately started whining. "Mom, just one more show, okay?"

"Absolutely not, now get your pajamas on and brush your teeth." She glanced toward Derek. "...both of you."

Derek started to complain. "I'm almost ten years old, Mom. I should be allowed to stay up later than him."

"I'm not sleepin' by myself. Mom. . ."

Meg placed her fingers at her temples and rubbed gently. "Ryan, brush your teeth. Derek, when you're ten you can stay up until nine o'clock." Derek opened his mouth. "Not another word, we've been through this before. You'll stay up later when you're ten and not a day before."

With attitude written all over him, Derek stormed out of the bedroom and down the hall to get ready for bed.

Meg waited until both boys were settled in bed, listened to their goodnight prayers, kissed them, and then went to raid the freezer. This evening called for Death by Chocolate ice-cream and nothing less would do.

Scooping a sizeable portion, she glanced once at the magazine, then stuffing it between the fridge and the microwave; she positioned herself on the couch and flipped through the channels, hoping for something good.

At midnight she was rudely awakened to wet, slobbery kisses as Sampson, their golden retriever, made it known that he needed to go outside, now. Stumbling off the couch, Meg grumbled about the doggy door they'd installed that he refused to use when they were home and let Sampson outside.

She walked to the fridge and dug the magazine from where she'd hidden it figuring now was as good a time as any to read it. She was completely alone…she glanced at the doggy door…well almost completely alone. She fingered the magazine lightly then leaned her hip against the counter and flipped to the first page of the article. She scanned the page; it was mostly about his childhood. She had already known most of what it said from the few concerts she'd gone to because he shared openly about his life. She read some more, boring - boring. . .already knew that. She stopped breathing as she read furiously. Jake had married someone two years ago.

Even if, emotionally, she could have read the rest of the article, Ryan had destroyed the last page by cutting out the Popsicle. She placed the magazine back on the counter and took a deep breath.

Everything was all messed up now. For once in her life she'd taken a chance and allowed herself to believe for something good for her. When she'd first seen Jake in the DVD she'd thought 'Why not me?' Why couldn't Jake Redding marry someone like her? All this time she'd waited for him. She'd put her entire life on hold working a lame job knowing in her heart that some day it would all be different because she really believed that she would one day be connected to this man in some way. Meg felt a stab in her heart as the truth hit her. None of it was true. Everything she'd based her hopes and dreams on was a lie.

Sampson's return shook Meg out of her stupor and barely aware of what she was doing she made her way to her room. She felt the tears but they wouldn't fall, she was too numb for that.

She sat on the edge of her bed and kicked off her slippers before lying back and falling into a fretful sleep.

Meg woke with a terrible sense of foreboding. The magazine article was the first thing she thought of. She needed time to reevaluate her life and what she was going to do with it now that her entire prospective future had been ruthlessly crushed in one single blow. She winced at the bitter edge her thoughts had taken. She needed a moment to herself. However, being a single mom that was a luxury she seldom realized. Besides this morning her first priority was coffee.

Meg found Derek was already up and had gotten ready for school. He'd poured his own cereal and she gratefully poured a cup of coffee and sat sipping and just watching, wondering when and if he would tell her about his 'little girlfriend.'

He sat down across from her and took a couple of bites of cereal. "Mom, can I have a stamp?"

Meg set her cup down. "Why?"

Derek stuffed more cereal in his mouth. Ryan had come in the room and turned up the radio. "He has to mail the paper for the contest."

Derek gave him a death look. "Shut up, you moron."

Meg blinked. "Derek, how many times have I told you not to tell your brother to shut up? And now you're calling him names."

She waited a heartbeat. "Apologize."

Ungraciously, he turned to his brother. "Sorry, but it's none of his business."

"What contest is this?"

He stared at his brother for a second before answering. "Jake Redding has a contest. I want to get a dirt bike."

"What do you have to do to win?"

"I had to write a paper."

Meg cocked her head to one side and took another drink. "Ryan turn the radio down, it's too loud." She refocused on Derek. "A paper about what?"

Derek shifted. "Just stuff, can I have a stamp?"

Meg shrugged. "Sure, they're in the desk drawer on the right hand side."

Derek got up and placed a stamp on the envelope he'd pulled out of his backpack, and then grabbed his brother's hand. "Thanks, Mom, we gotta go."

Glancing at the clock, Meg realized it was time for the bus. She hurried them out the door just as the bus stopped in front of the house. Derek quickly placed his envelope in the box and raised the red flag before boarding.

Shaking her head, Meg headed back to her bedroom to catch a few more minutes of sleep before she started her day. She'd think later. Right now she just wanted to wallow.

The next few days held the same pattern. Get up, get the boys off to school, lie back down for a nap, get up, watch some reruns on television, make dinner, and then start all over again. She was in a rut.

Climbing out of bed, Meg checked the clock. It was 12:22. She'd slept the morning away again. The phone rang and she lifted the receiver. "Hello."

"Are you still in bed?"

Meg flopped on her back. It was Liz. "I'm in bed, but I'm awake."

"Any chance you read the article yet?"

Meg groaned. She'd been trying to avoid this conversation. "I read it."

"What did you think?"

Meg sat up and pulled the covers away forcing Sampson to move off the bottom of her bed. "I'm embarrassed. I can't believe I really thought he and I could ever even meet let alone…well I never told you right out, but I'm sure you probably figured out that I thought he and I might even get married…You know it's almost a relief to have the possibility removed."

Liz's voice had an edge to it. "Why, because he was jilted?"

Meg walked to the kitchen and flipped on the coffee maker. "Liz. It's over. I am moving on. In fact I'm thinking about going back to college and finishing my teaching degree. It's time for a reality check." Meg stopped mid stride. "Did you say jilted?"

Liz sighed dramatically. "I can hear that tone in your voice Meg. Don't judge him to harshly. You and I have both made our share of mistakes."

Meg rubbed her temple. "I…Liz…he wasn't married? But the article…"

"I thought you said you read the article, it was right there on the last page."

Meg barely caught herself on the stool before falling on the floor. "Ryan used it in his homework."

"He used Jake's being jilted in his homework?"

Meg's voice broke with relief. "No, he cut a popscicle out of the last page. I couldn't finish the article."

"Oh Meg, you thought…Oh kiddo…No wonder you were so upset. They didn't elaborate on the whys just that it was a mistake and it's over. Now he's planning a big comeback."

Meg stood again. "That must be why he's been out of the news for so long. What's he doing for his big comeback?"

Meg heard Liz's mom through the line.

"I have to go. Mom needs a ride to her card game this morning. Meg, try to remember that people tend to blow a mistake made by someone in the limelight way out of proportion. The Christian community was not very forgiving of their golden child. Don't make that same mistake…Okay mom I'm coming…Call me later okay?"

Meg grunted noncommittally. "Yeah sure."

Hanging up the phone, Meg took a long swallow of her coffee then closed her eyes. Jake was making a big comeback.

Opening her eyes she placed her mug on the counter. She had more important matters to attend to like the letter she'd gotten from the bank yesterday. The paper inside was green, she'd seen that before and knew she'd made an error in her statement and probably bounced a check, or two.

Tossing the statement into the basket with the other unopened mail she walked into the living room and flipped on the television to watch reruns of the Nanny. That was about as deep as she was willing to go today. She'd had just about all the drama she could handle in her life. She didn't need or want any more.

The next morning Meg awoke with a fresh sense of purpose and ignoring the desire to hit the snooze on her alarm she threw back the covers and placed her feet firmly on the floor.

Creeping softly down the hall, so as not to wake the boys, she made her way to the kitchen and her beloved Mr. Coffee. Cradling the glass pot in her hand, she held it under the faucet, eyeballing the water level before pouring it through the filter then flipped on the radio and adjusted the volume to fit her mood. The radio station had just begun their countdown and she hummed softly off key as she walked to the calendar to mark off another day. According to the paper she'd received from the unemployment office, she should be getting her first check next week.

When the quiet beep signaled the coffee was done she got up and poured a cup, savoring, as always, the first sip, letting the sweetness coat her tongue and tantalize her taste buds before swallowing.

Moving her head from side to side she took a kind of sick pleasure in the undignified cracking, as her neck adjusted to what must have been another restless night.

Taking another sip she breathed out a shaky sigh. She had expected the layoff to affect her financially, but she was unprepared for the blow to her self-esteem.

The D.J. announced the time and Meg jerked in reaction. "Great."

It was seven thirty and the boys were supposed to be up at seven fifteen. She headed back to their room, stopping just inside the doorway. Her oldest son lay sleeping, his arm hanging over the side of the bed. The boys were as different as night and day. Ryan was a towhead with curly hair while Derek had his mother's coal black hair. Ryan was chubby while Derek was lanky and (a smile curved her lips) Ryan was pure ornery, in contrast to Derek's soberness.

Ryan stirred in his sleep, and Meg watched as the sleepy look was visibly replaced with mischief. "Amazing."

"Hey, mom." Derek jumped out of bed and quickly skirted around his mother before she was able to hug him. Meg frowned and turned toward his retreat. Derek had become more and more withdrawn.

"What?" Meg quickly steadied her cup as coffee splashed precariously toward the rim. Ryan had finished dressing and was now hugging her fiercely with his chubby arms.

"Hey, munchkin. . ." She ran her hands lovingly through his hair. ". . .You got dressed fast."

Ryan smiled. "Yeah, I slept with my clothes under my pajamas, cool, huh?"

Meg felt her jaw go slack, but before she could say a word, Ryan had sprinted toward the hallway. "Hey what's playin' on the countdown taday?"

Smiling, she shook her head before following him into the kitchen, then setting her coffee cup on the counter she opened the cupboard door to pull out a box of cereal. "Mom, we have breakfast at school today. . ." Racing to the radio, Ryan cranked up the music, before turning back to his mother. "Mom, do you hear that? Jake's song is number five taday."

Meg didn't miss the hopefulness in Ryan's eyes. She knew that Jake was a favorite of the boys, and rather than discourage him, she plastered a smile on her face. "Yep, he's almost there, maybe he'll be number one tomorrow."

He turned back to the radio and Meg took that opportunity to pull a couple of notes off the fridge, one reminding her that the opening night for "The Sound of Music", was only three days away, and the other that she needed to get bread and milk. Laying the notes on the counter she grabbed the ingredients for the boys' lunches and began making sandwiches.

Derek still hadn't come out of the bathroom and it was almost time for the bus. His withdrawal bothered her more than she liked to admit, she knew he was growing up, but it still hurt that they couldn't talk anymore.

Her youngest had, unfortunately, inherited her off key voice and was singing with all his might to Jake's new song. Meg zip-locked the sandwiches and put them in the lunch bags, then threw in a piece of fruit, a bag of chips and a cookie.

Ryan had finished his duet with the radio and was sliding on his backpack as he responded, "Yes! Tomorrow Jake's gonna be number one."

Meg gave Ryan a considering look. "I said maybe, Ryan. Here don't forget your lunch."

"Okay, folks, this is the day we've all been waiting for. The contest is over, the winner's been announced and. . ." Meg frowned. Derek had entered the room and snapped off the radio before grabbing Ryan by the hand. "C'mon. We're gonna be late."

Taking a deep breath in, she looked longingly at the T.V. "Be strong Meg, remember you're life is changing today. Productivity is the key." Blowing the air out of her lungs, she made her way back to her bedroom.

Now the only question was, how productive did she want to be?

To top of page