NO STRINGS ATTACHED
by Laurel Sparks-Sellers
“Dearly beloved…we are gathered here today to honor Jace Veron. Before you is a lady who…” The preacher’s arm seemed abnormally long as he extended his arm.
If the dearly beloved only knew.
… “will be missed by those who knew her, loved her, and wished her well.” Reverend Oliver did a nice job of calling attention to the departed’s many qualities and attributes, speaking with awe and affection.
“Time conceals but it does not heal. Please take these words to heart today,” he paused, drew in a deep breath, and with what some thought later was a tear in his eye, “and make each day count better than the day before.” His thick hair, streaked black and gray, had the luster of smoked pearl.
He allowed a period of silence and took his seat among the other mourners.
An hour later, with the funeral home service completed, the mourners proceeded to the cemetery, milling about. The air was cool and clear, scented with the fresh smell of wet earth.
Several men, none of whom family or friends, or each other, recognized, gathered at the cemetery and held back from the crowd around the casket. Handkerchiefs nestled into a few hands.
One curly haired sheepish looking man remembered when he and Jace Veron met…
It was a frigid Wednesday evening in the middle of January two years ago. They sat side by side at Russo’s Pub’s long bar enjoying their individual drinks. She accidentally spilled hers onto his long white shirt sleeve and profusely apologized for it.
“No problem,” he had maintained from the mishap.
“But I feel terrible, let me buy you another drink after you finish yours…something to make up for it,” her eyes stabbed at his.
“All right, if you insist.”
That short encounter began their history.
Within the hour, they found a private table. And more eye contact.
“I’m married,” he confessed without thinking.
“So?” was her only reply. To him, she seemed to have a shallow optimism.
“Eighteen years now.” Was he bragging? Or just being cautious?
“And you’re happily married, have raised the kids, and looking forward to the grandkids,” she finished for him, taking a long sip of her Jack and Coke.
“Sounds like you’ve heard this story once or twice eh?”
She never answered, only looked at him more squarely.
Before the evening came to a close, they shared a bond.
He loved the attention and the company, although in her presence he felt similar to what a wagon wheel must undergo with a missing spoke. His wife never looked into his steel blue eyes anymore like this woman did. Nor did she hold his hand in public like the old days. And, out of spite, the spouse walked in front of him instead of beside or behind him.
No wonder he strayed, right toward this available woman who not only showed interest, but was in for the chase on his terms.
Because he was a watch checker, he consulted it many times throughout the rest of the evening.
“Wife got you on a tight schedule?” Jace angled for humor.
“You’re something else lady,” he smiled and nodded sharply.
“You have no clue!” The words were nearly inaudible as the bartender brought another round of drinks. They said their goodbyes, intimately, and made plans for future meetups.
So many in fact that their affair lasted eight months and three days.
Even though he hadn’t seen Jace Veron since, he could picture her vivacity in his mind.
He missed her already.
Back at Greenlawn Cemetery, a second man cried more openly as he coped with the loss. At this moment, Jace Veron’s memory held such incredible power.
Reminiscing on three years ago this month, he remembered being in town for a temporary construction project. His daily routine included some brief office work before each days end. With Miss Veron as the company’s administrative manager, she was hard to avoid.
His eyes had busied themselves on the distraction, missing no detail. There had been crispness to her beauty. The mane of auburn hair, the long legs, chestnut eyes, the way she carried herself.
Never one to go for hunches, or start something that had no end, he quickly found himself in lust.
As much as he tried to resist her, the guilt lost its cutting edge and he found himself in her inspirational web.
Reckless thoughts stirred in his mind. Yes, he knew the score, having had several short-lived affairs before. With luck, he’d survived them without any consequences or discoveries.
Would this one be different? More risky?
By looks, she was sure worth a try!
He’d asked her out for a drink several times, but she never committed to an answer, always seemed busy with computer work. Then one day, she loosened up and reciprocated.
They made plans to meet at a local neighborhood tavern down the street from the company. After a half hour of waiting, and thinking he had been stood up, she arrived. Many drinks, and many hours later, they both relaxed into an amicable union.
“You probably guessed I’m married,” he offered.
“And?” Her words expressed no concern.
“You’re comfortable with that?”
Jace smirked and held up her drink. “If you’re okay with it, I’m okay with it.” She winked her approval.
Relief rose to the occasion. She’d be a nice diversion to his crummy home life of a nagging wife and three snotty kids two states away.
So during his construction tenure, he and Jace set their sights on a brief intimate relationship.
She’d been like a wish come true.
When he returned home from the construction project, he’d tried to keep the lines of communication open, but months and months of no response followed each other. Eventually he learned to live without her, but it sure wasn’t easy.
Now his chances of seeing Jace Veron again were gone forever.
After the graveyard ceremony, the last man, calmest of the three, melted into the shadows. He shifted his eyes from face to face, with uncertainty. Stalling his departure, his lips twitched and his palms engulfed one another.
His story was strangely different from the others.
Looking to the heavens, he realized today the world had been overcast. But Jace Veron, even deceased, shone her true colors. Dressed in a blend of violet and silver, her skin glowed almost a natural tan. Her silky auburn hair was arranged to show the charming contour of her head. Even now, in peace, her sweet mouth possessed that trademark stubborn line.
Thank goodness she didn’t look made up or unnatural.
Nearly the way he remembered her the times they had secretly met up.
She was a standout, mesmerizing to a man in his position. In fact, she was the kind of woman one would want his best friend to hook up with. In time, she would be hard to get out of his system. But she must.
Several times today he resisted the impulse to cling to her hand that used to make him feel at home in her presence.
While wisdom prevailed, his pulse raced much like a medley of native African drums. She once told him she was afraid of him, of his power. Compared him to a high explosive and the damage they could do.
She could have changed his future, but she chose not to.
In spite of himself, and his strong morals, she had brought him to the edge of indecency.
He should have forbid himself such luxuries, yet her influence was clearly shut up in his heart. He’d been an apprentice at infidelity. Yet that vibrant spirit so free and natural proved hard to resist, like a subliminal invitation.
How could she be gone so suddenly?
Life seemed unfair sometimes.
Try as he might to shake off her effect, he knew time would conceal but would not heal. What could he do? Right now he couldn’t pull a prayer out of the Bible.
For he was the person who’d just given the eulogy for Jace Veron.
Laurel Sparks-Sellers made radio copywriting her paying profession before pursuing a full-time writing career. Contributions to online journals include those in Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, Indiana Voice Journal, Pen There, and Our Write Side. Plus her work appears elsewhere in print. She is author of POLKA DOT PROMISES: TAKING BACK TIME and BEYOND GINGHAM: REFLECTIONS OF 1965, both short story collections devoted to nostalgia.