Salmon Run

He was a preacher.
They’d checked him into the nursing home.
He was wheelchair-bound.
He had dementia and required a lot of medical attention.
So his wife checked him into the home.
She came to visit him every day
but noticed his smile and his light was fading.
One day, he said he wished he could go home.
So, it was decided. They planned together to make the trip.
One last trip together
to the place he was born.
He wanted to see the ocean tide.
to hold her hand and sit on the sand.
One last time.
She sold the house, sold all the possessions.
She bought an old van.
She took out the couches and made him a bed.
She made it wheelchair accessible.
She stocked up the van with everything they would need.
Her eye sight was bad.
Her hearing even worse.
She worried they wouldn’t make it.
There would be dangers up and down the road.
They had to cross 10 states to get there.
Plus his health was failing fast.
Nevertheless, they sat together and mapped out the route carefully.
He waited for the day.
On the day he left, I saw him sitting outside in the wheelchair.
He had got up early and waited two hours in advance to be picked up. He was smiling.
It was their final salmon run upstream – against the current, against the odds,
and they were doing it together.
No matter what.

The Greatest Thing You’ll Ever Learn is Just to Love and Be Loved in Return

The first tape I ever bought was Nat King Cole’s Greatest Hits. Natalie Cole had just released the song with her father called Unforgettable.  It was my favorite song at the moment.  I liked love songs back then. I liked old AMC movies about love. Especially the black and white movies like Roman Holiday or any of the kodachrome Elvis movies or anything with Cary Grant. I liked everything to do with love. I was a typical young girl full of heart and dreams. So, I went to the store when I was maybe 12 in 7th grade and I bought Nat King Cole’s tape.  I still can recall that day at the mall store.    

I learned every love song on that tape, laying on my bed with my Walkman and listening to the songs with my eyes closed and smiling.  His songs were so happy and promising and full of optimism. I played the tape over and over and over again.  I wore that tape out.  His voice was amazing.  The songs I loved the best were Walking My Baby Back Home and L-O-V-E.  A lot of people today reference Nat King Cole and probably don’t even realize it.  The phrase “to love and be loved” comes from a little known song from Nat King Cole called Nature Boy.  It actually goes like this…. “the greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.”  This song is also in the movie, Moulin Rouge. 

There’s an urban legend story about Nat King Cole’s wife.  Some say it is true.  Some say it is not.  Here is the story, irregardless.  This woulda been in the year 1965:

“An African-American woman is stranded on an Alabama Highway in a rain storm. She flags down a motorist who turns out to be a white man who takes her to where she can get a cab. She’s in a big hurry, writes down his address, and leaves. A week later, there is a knock at the man’s door. It’s the delivery of a giant console color television with a note from the woman he had helped on the rainy highway. She thanks him and says that because of his kindness, she was able to make it to her dying husband’s bedside. It is signed Mrs. Nat King Cole.”

There are other firsts in my life for different types of music playing.  The first 8-track tape I ever remember hearing when I was a little girl in the 80s dancing at my grandma’s house with my cousins was the Beegees.  I remember dancing to Stayin’ Alive.  It was a very happy moment. I must have been four or five.

My mother had a record player and to this day it is in her attic.  We only had three records we would play over and over again.  They were Michael Jackson’s Thriller, Joan Jett’s I Love Rock and Roll, and then Olivia Newton John.  I can’t remember the specific album from Olivia Newton John but I remember her singing I Honestly Love You. My mother liked her a lot.

My first CD, well, that was Wrecks n Effect or maybe Guns n Roses Appetite for Destruction.  To this day, Sweet Child of Mine is still one of my favorites. 

Once streaming came on board, it was pretty easy to access all sorts of songs and I honestly can’t remember what were my first ones then.  But I remember the tape of Nat King Cole the most of all. 

How about you?  What are your fondest memories of music?  What was your first 8-track or your first tape or CD?  What songs meant the most to you as a kid? 

Thankless

By J. Speer

He had a thankless job.


Jerry realized this as he worked the toll road booth collecting change and dollar bills from travelers in a rush. It was Thanksgiving Day. The wind blew cold outside the booth. Snow flurries scattered here and there in the wind. He pulled his upturned collar closer towards his neck. Then, he blew warm air into his hands. He had gloves on but due to changing money, he just had the finger-less knit kind that could grip easily. His fingers were slightly numb.


The Oklahoma turnpike was unusually busy the days prior to Thanksgiving. For days, he collected tolls from this stranger or that stranger, from Minivans to Porsches or Teslas. He greeted each with a smile and sent them on their way with a good holiday wish. “Have a great Thanksgiving, folks. Be safe traveling,” he’d add with a short wave. Most zoomed past once they cleared the booth, so they missed his send-off. Some were curt. Most were pre-occupied. Yet, a few here and there wished him a happy holiday too.

Jerry was 44 years old. He had worked at the factory damn near most of his adult life until it shut down last Spring. He had seen the advertisement for the toll booth job on Indeed. It took him a while to put together a resume since he wasn’t used to job shopping but he did eventually. They called him right away. But he was low man on the totem poll, a new hire, which meant he would work through the holiday season. He bargained with another co-worker. Give me Christmas day and I’ll give you Thanksgiving and Black Friday. It took some hard negotiations but it worked. Besides, he had plans for Christmas. Palm trees and white sandy beaches……maybe a margarita in his hand or a mojito. Florida or Cancun maybe….if Dianne could go. Wishful thinking, he said to himself.


He’d been dating Dianne off and on for a few years now. It wasn’t too serious, just fun. He was a widower. His wife, Lee had succumbed to cancer 6 or 7 years prior. It was a harsh ordeal to go through and he decided to stay single afterwards for quite a long time. The kids seemed to like Dianne enough. His 3 boys and daughter thought she was alright but he knew deep down that Dianne would never take the place of Lee in their hearts. It was just casual. They were more like friends than lovers really.
The wind blew harder outside the booth. He looked over and waved at George and Lucy, the other toll booth workers. They all looked out in unison at the growing darkness outside and the thicker flurries coming down swiftly now.


It was pretty much dead…..not a lot of travelers around 5 pm on Thanksgiving Day. He figured everybody was warm and cozy inside homes celebrating and feasting on turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing, and mashed potatoes. His mouth salivated at the thought of it. He exhaled.


In the distance, he could see headlights making their way slowly in the heavy snow towards the booth lanes. The driver seemed cautious and moved from one lane to the other as if trying to determine which toll booth to proceed to. Whomever it was, they decided on Jerry’s booth.


It wasn’t a fancy car, just a 4-door sedan in navy blue with tan interior. Jerry leaned out his window prepared to smile at the passenger.


“Happy Thanksgiving! Hope you’re doing alright in this snow tonight,” he said.


He looked at the woman in the car. She was pretty and she smiled back at him.


“Thank you,” she said as she gave him her toll ticket.


“$3.50,” he said to her. He noticed she turned down the music and the heat in the car. She had been listening to the kind of music he preferred too. It sounded like maybe a Kenny Chesney song or Dwight Yoakem.


She dug into her purse and gathered the money. She dropped it into his hand.


“Not very busy tonight are you guys?” She asked him. He noted the curls framing her face and the dimple on her right cheek. She was lovely, just as lovely as his wife Lee had been.


“Nope, not at all. Glad to have your company actually,” he said.


“Ah, I’m traveling from my mother’s. Went to see her at the nursing home,” she said. Her eyes seemed misty a bit. “Is there a diner nearby? I missed Thanksgiving dinner. Due to COVID, we can visit the nursing home but not remove our mask near the residents. Can’t risk getting them sick.”


“That’s good of you,” he said. He leaned further out the window. Nobody was coming down the toll road, so he figured he had some time to direct her.


“Try Claudette’s down the road. I think it’s exit 42A. Should be on the right. Best food around this area. They should be open tonight I think for the truckers. Claudette’s good about that, always taking care of them guys and in turn, they keep coming back,” he added.


“Try the pumpkin pie. Best around.” He continued.


She looked at him a bit.


“Are you busy tonight…..I mean, after your shift?” She said hesitantly as if it had just dawned on her. “Maybe we could go together, seeing as how you gotta work for Thanksgivin’ and all.”


She extended her hand with a slight wink. “I’m Lisa.”


He took her hand gladly and paused a bit when she said her name. Almost like Lee, he thought to himself. Normally, he’d decline….but maybe.


She didn’t really know what had come over her either. Usually she wasn’t so forward with any guy but she had a rough day at the nursing home. It was hard to see her mother there…hard to see her decline and her mom seemed sad and depressed. Lisa had done her best to cheer her mother up. She couldn’t afford to have her mother live with her. Her mom needed a nurse’s care and 24 hr attention, around the clock care. She was worried for her mom.


The man in the toll booth had smiled when she drove up. He was a nice man and something about his kind eyes appealed to her. So she had asked him. Why not? She reasoned.


They went to Thanksgiving dinner at Claudette’s that night. They laughed and joked and had a good time together. He ordered the turkey dinner with turkey gravy and homemade mashed potatoes. She ordered the same.


A year later, that thankless job and that chance encounter led to a marriage. They went to the justice of the peace before Thanksgiving. Jerry had talked to the kids about it and they were on board. Earlier, in the year, Lisa had gotten her LNA license through a state grant and with Jerry’s help, had moved her mother back home. She took care of the kids and her mom during the week days. Meanwhile, Jerry had gotten a slight raise at work and was doing well. On the weekends, Lisa would pull a double shift as an LNA while Jerry stayed home to watch the others. She did this to supplement the family’s income.

Together, Jerry and Lisa put together quite a nice spread for Thanksgiving at his small home. He was no longer a newbie at work, so he was able to get off for both Thursday and Friday. The kids and Lisa’s mom had helped with the dishes. They had made Lisa’s mom’s best recipes. The group bowed their heads for prayer and each went around the table saying what they were grateful for. Jerry said he was most thankful for a thankless job which turned into a blessing in disguise by meeting Lisa. Lisa smiled and hugged him. She said she was so thankful for him and her new family and that her mother could join them. They all nodded and smiled.


In that little home full of heart, it really was the happiest of all possible Thanksgivings.

Red M&M

A decade ago, I was in a new relationship with a boyfriend I was starting to like a lot. One night, we went to the Quapaw Casino in Oklahoma. We drank at the bar with a group of friends and sat together.

My date got pretty drunk and started talking about “variety being the spice of life and how men love spicy foods.” From there the conversation went off on a tangent about the TV show 2 and a half men. He continued by saying that he admired that TV character because he chose variety.

He said imagine you got a bag of M&Ms. Now do you enjoy the variety of the whole bag of M&Ms or do you just eat the red M&Ms for the rest of your boring life? That’s where things got a little awkward in the conversation considering I was his girlfriend and the only redhead sitting at the table.

I didn’t know what to say. There was awkward silence and then the conversation picked up on something more lighthearted. I drank my drink. Eventually I excused myself from the table and made my way to the bar restroom. I looked in the mirror a bit at my reflection then went to a toilet where I barfed in the stool. I washed up, went back to the bar but didn’t go back to the table.

I wandered over to the end of the bar where a woman was trying to romance an attractive Cherokee bartender. She kept trying to flirt with him and get his number. I could tell he felt as awkward as did I. He welcomed my presence right away as I was extremely glad for his company too and we all shared a few more drinks that night as I watched him continue to deflect her advances.

Eventually I went home with my boyfriend but we broke up shortly after.

Ten years have come and gone. I saw him a few times through the years. He remained a bachelor. I got married and raised a family. At one point, he asked me to come back. I didn’t really answer.

Yeah.

10 years.

That actor from that show ended up with HIV. That boyfriend never found a woman to stay very long with him.

Variety may be the spice of life but too much spice in one’s diet can lead to unfortunate longterm consequence and illness.

We each have our own little M&M in our life. Chose the boring path or the fun and flirty. Just be prepared for the longterm outcome.

The Letter

by J. Speer

It was Mother’s Day. Layla sat down at the table to work on a letter to her daughter. She knew that usually mothers were the ones to receive gifts on this special day. However, this time was different. In 16 years of motherhood, Layla had received all kinds of gifts from flower bouquets to hugs and kisses to little hand imprints in clay. She had experienced the morning breakfasts and the nice time spent sleeping in. But this year, she was a bit melancholy. In a few weeks, her daughter would be going to live with relatives on the coast. It was what Layla wanted for her children but she was sad inside from time to time.

She wanted to write something fantastic and amazing. She searched her memories of family vacations or school activities or sports events….but 16 years had come and gone so fast that it all blended together and she really had to focus on specific moments. She remembered the first time she felt her daughter. She was maybe 23 at the time. Layla had been resting. She had started to get the morning sickness and that was the first clue. The pregnancy test came back positive. In the first trimester, she almost miscarried. The first time she felt her daughter was in that bed resting. Her hand was across her flat bare abdomen and she felt a tiny movement. She touched the spot gently. It was a hard bump near her right inner hip the size of a quarter. She touched it with the tips of her fingers and it moved slightly. That’s when she first felt what it was to be a mother.

The sonograms were inconclusive about the sex of the child. The black and white screen showed the baby bouncing playfully around in the womb. Three sonograms were performed and the doctor said he was 90% certain it would be a boy because the legs were crossed each time. Layla decorated the nursery with yellows and greens, neutral tones just in case. It surprised her husband when their beautiful baby girl arrived.

The delivery took almost all day. The labor was intense.

Her daughter grew and grew and grew through the years, through good days and sometimes bad days. No matter what happened, Layla and her children rarely parted. They stood together side by side and there was nothing Layla loved more than holding their little hands in hers. When the children got to be teenagers, that was what she missed the most of all.

As her daughter grew, Layla also learned to love all the exact same things her child loved. When her daughter liked art, Layla bought her all the drawing books and art supplies she could find. When her daughter liked soccer, Layla sat in the stands cheering and clapping. When her daughter moved on to books and anime and movies, Layla moved on too. To Layla, nothing her daughter chose was ever wrong. Her daughter could have liked rock throwing and Layla would be out there with her searching for the perfect rock to throw. As her daughter’s interests grew, so did Layla’s.

Her daughter started high school eventually. Layla helped her to the school entrance with all her school supplies and wished her well. Her daughter learned to drive a car. Layla tried to take her out test driving and prayed when her daughter finally headed off to school in her new vehicle paid for with small savings. It wasn’t a beauty of a car but it ran and Layla hoped it wouldn’t be too embarrassing to drive.

When her daughter said she wanted to visit family on the coast, Layla encouraged her. She wanted her child to explore and see the world. It was what Layla wanted for her child but the thought of separation made her blue sometimes.

16 years had come and gone. 16 wonderful years that didn’t seem enough to Layla. Not enough time to teach her daughter. There was so much Layla wanted to say but couldn’t say. She didn’t want to jade her daughter or trample her hope or her optimism for the future.

For 16 years, her children were her reason….

the reason she worked…..

the reason she saved any money…..

the reason she made choices like she did…..

Layla packed the bags for the coast. She bought new swimsuits and beach wear clothes. She gave her daughter her best stuff for the trip, put together a Spotify playlist, and bought Google photo albums of their past memories for a going away gift.

And now Layla was writing a letter. She wanted to say something profound but she had nothing really. To tell the truth, she was a bit afraid. If her daughter left, what would she do with herself? Who would be there at night after work? Who could she talk to? Who would she protect or feel a purpose providing for?

It was a new journey for her daughter but also for her……a transformation of sorts.

She wished her daughter the best and so she wrote it in the letter. She asked her daughter to be safe and wise. She hoped her daughter would find someone to love and be loved in return. And she told her daughter, she would always be in her heart even as they were apart.

She signed the little letter, put it in the envelope, and hid it in her top drawer of her dresser. She decided to give it to her daughter the day of the flight at the airport…..too much to say and yet, not enough to say.

Virtually Kiss the Blarney Stone

St. Patrick’s Day is fast approaching! This is a wonderful holiday full of cheer and good tidings. I love the Irish blessings I see passed around every year on Facebook. Here is mine for you:

Since you are a writer, a poet, a blogger, an artist, a musician, or a dreamer perhaps….here are some pictures of the Blarney Castle for you. It is said that if you kiss a certain rock while hanging upside down at the top of the castle…you will be gifted with the finest eloquence the world has ever seen! Here’s to you and yours this wondrous St. Paddy’s Day. May you have love and laughter all the days of your lucky life.

I know I include music quite often in my blog…perhaps too much but I play this song often for my children in the car. It reminds me of an old Irish blessing. It was played for me on the day I graduated high school. This song has a special place in my heart from that day. I intend to play it for my son and daughter the day they graduate from high school too some day. Listen to it and have a wonderful St. Paddy’s Day!

You Cannot Break Love

Love does not come from the heart.

Rather, the heart comes from love. 

The heart may break but the origin of the heart is eternity.

When you understand this,

You understand love. 

For love flows through all things and all times. 

It permeates everything…

The raindrop, the ant, the mountain, the tree.

Why do you cry, silly girl?

Why do you hang your head low? 

Do you think you have lost love?

Do you seek it?

Do you ask yourself when will you find it?

Love is within you.

Love is near, ever present surrounding you

In the winds, the foods, the waters, the books you read, the poems you write, the thoughts you think. 

Love is in all that you do and all that has been done before or will be done in the future. 

Love is life.

Love is reality. 

Love is the past.

Love is the present.

Love is the future. 

Love exists through creation, destruction, and renewal.

Love was there in your first breath and will be there for your last.

Love was there for your ancestors and will be there for your descendants. 

All creations of love will return to the source and then flow out again. 

You cannot lose that which is never lost, never broken, never entirely destroyed. 

Dry your tears. 

Stop dwelling on sadness.

Don’t expect another to provide you this love.

Open your eyes and see love for what it truly is…immortal.    

Connect to that source that flows through you

And no man shall break you anymore.      

Coincidence

In his book, Greenlights, Matthew McConaughey talks about love. He compares it to archery. He says, “The arrow doesn’t seek the target. The target draws the arrow.” He was probably talking about romantic love.

Many of us spend much of our lives chasing romantic love like Wiley Coyote and the Roadrunner. It evades us when we force it. But if we go with the flow enjoying life and the present moment, if we stop to “smell the roses” so to speak….that love will come sit down right beside us and we don’t even have to try…much like the Roadrunner going “beep beep” to get Wiley’s attention.

Bottomline, as I get older I don’t chase love as much. For one, my knees are bad. Chasing is exhausting and makes you want to drop an anvil on someone’s head with frustration when you fail. For another reason, there’s no point in it. Policing a man or woman gets you nowhere. Love will come to us when love is ready.

Beep, beep….

But tonight, I talk of a different kind of love…the love from pets. There have been only a few times in my life that I have been drawn to something or someone like a strong magnet. One of those times is the day I first encountered my second dog.

When I saw him, I knew in my heart I wanted that dog. I didn’t go to Petsmart to get a dog. That was the last thing on my mind. I was there to get fish food. I had brought my son and one of his friend’s along to the downtown shopping district. We were just enjoying the day.

Do you believe in random occurrences or are our steps ordered in some way as if predestined? Why do I say such gibberish? I will tell you why in a moment.

This is my second dog. I took him home from the pet store that day as a spur of the moment decision. I said I’d take him the moment the volunteer said his name.

Slushy.

Such an odd name for a reddish brown border collie like this:

Slushy was his name.

Why would that name make me instantly buy him?

This picture right here:

A 1982 Slushy doll on sale.

In 1982, my grandma bought me an Avon toy called Slushy the dog. I carried Slushy everywhere. I slept beside Slushy. I ate beside Slushy. Slushy never left my side….for years. He was my favorite toy comparable to a favorite blanket. I loved Slushy with all my little girl heart.

Slushy.

How is it possible that years later I would encounter the real life look-alike to my favorite childhood toy friend? Coincidence? Random fate? Or something more…

Today, I type this by the fireplace as Slushy sits beside me napping. The fire is warm and toasty. He is resting. His eyes are closed but I know if I shift just a little, he will open them to peer at me curiously….my toy brought to life in later years, just when I would need him most. I would need his friendship once again.

I sleep beside Slushy curled up near me sometimes. I eat beside Slushy. Once again, we are inseparable. And we will probably be inseparable to the end of the road for one of us, whomever that might be.

Love amid the Lanes

This is my Valentine’s Day gift to you! I wrote a piece for a love contest. Here is the entry. It is supposed to be a heart-warming story about love in a Midwest bowling alley. Picture Kingpin meets Romeo and Juliet.

I hope you have a wonderful, romantic Valentine’s Day! Stay warm too, my friends!

Imagine Me and You

by J. Speer

In 2018, there was a little bowling alley in Hot Springs, Arkansas.  It was a popular locals’ joint and featured 12 open lanes for 12 unique teams on league night each Friday evening.  People loved going to the little bowling alley to unwind from a long week of work. 

The bowling alley manager was named Bill Casey.  He had owned the bowling alley since 1987, the year Patrick Swayze dirty danced with Jennifer Grey having the time of her life.  Bill had three great loves in his life: the game of bowling, his deceased wife Maria, and their one daughter she had named Jennifer. 

Jennifer worked the bowling alley counter.  She also was the top bowler on a league team named I Can’t Believe It’s Not Gutter.  Jennifer was a vibrant woman though still unmarried.  For years, she had looked in vain for that one true love of her life. Her team of friends was several fun colleagues from diverse occupations who shared the one commonality of being from different minority groups.  They all agreed on one thing.  They disliked the other competitive league team at Lane 1 called Split Happens

Split Happens consisted mostly of what some might call “a redneck hillbilly crowd.”  They were dang good bowlers.  The best player on the team was a handsome eligible bachelor named David Huxley.  Every Friday night, the team at lane 1 and the team at lane 2 would spar good-naturedly trading continuous barbs or pranks at each other’s expense. 

Every year, inevitably, these two teams would face off against each other in the annual Championship for the Big Balls trophy, a much-esteemed achievement.  For the past three years, Split Happens had held the title of Champion on the grandmaster board.  This was dedicated to all the great bowling league teams through the years since 1987. 

There were other teams in the league too that stood a chance at winning a prestigious spot on the leader board.  The group in Lane 3, for example, was a hardy team of independent feminists.  Their team was named Got Ya By the Balls.  In lane 4, likewise, was a team of fun-loving LGBT friends named The Sexy Strikers.  There were other lesser teams as well, such as the comic book fan team called the X-men at Lane 7.  They loved all things high tech.   

David Huxley and Jennifer Casey had grown up together, attending the same classes at the same elementary school and high school.  David had always admired Jennifer from afar.  Jennifer, for her part, held in high esteem David’s ability to hit multiple strikes.  He carried his team to victory again and again.  They, however, were adversaries on opposing teams.  For some reason, through all the years, the two had never really dated.  But that all was about to change…

It was a cold, blustery Friday night in February just before Valentine’s Day.  The league games had just ended.  Split Happens and I Can’t Believe it’s Not Gutter both defeated their opponent teams.  The sore losers for the night were taking off their bowling shoes and turning them in to Bill at the counter.  They were heading out the door. 

Jennifer wandered over to the old arcade that held the ancient Atari games and racing games.  David was already in there with a few friends.  She took some quarters out of her pocket.  She eyed the old air hockey game to the side of the room.  David looked over at her mildly with interest.  He always seemed to notice her.  She caught his glance and smiled.  Cocking her head towards the air hockey, she asked him, “You up for a game of this?  Haven’t played it in a while.”

“As I recall,” he said, “You used to be pretty good at this one.”

She laughed.  “I’m a little rusty, I’m sure.”

They put the quarters in the slot and the air hockey game commenced a humming noise indicating it had started.  The two squared off against each other on opposing sides.  Jennifer scored the first point and grinned.  David grinned back.  He quickly scored the second point.  Jennifer rolled up her sleeves to try again. 

Several minutes of aggressive play continued with David scoring three more points to Jennifer’s frustration.  She eyed him coolly at this point.  She set the hockey puck down on the table ahead of her.  She rapidly scored the next point. 

David watched her more intently.  He noticed every little detail about the way she bit her upper lip as a tell that she was getting ready to strike or the way she squinted when he would come close to scoring again.  The hockey puck went back and forth more urgently.  David noticed too that she looked quite pretty that night with her curly black hair tied back at the nape of her neck, her crew shirt, and slim jeans accentuating her appearance.  She scored another point and he let out a slow whistle. 

“Damn,” he said under his breath.  The game continued.  He ended up winning and smiled mischievously.  Although defeated, Jennifer had to admit to herself that she loved that smile.  David had always been handsome and loved to have a good time. 

“Alright, I guess you won this time.” She admitted.  They both shared a brief moment.  She figured she needed to help clean-up so she started to turn away to leave the arcade.  David frowned just a little.  He finally said the thought that had been in his head through most of the air hockey game. 

“You doing anything later tonight?”  Jennifer blinked.  She looked around at the others in the arcade for a moment. 

“No, no plans.  Why?”  She said bluntly surprised.

They agreed that night to maybe go out to the local coffeehouse after she finished work. 

Later that night, they sat together at The Bluebird coffee shop downtown and pretty soon were exchanging fun stories and engaging in entertaining banter.  Jennifer felt comfortable with David, although they both worried a little that at any moment, they might be seen sitting at the same table.  They agreed to go on a few more dates after that.  The romance started out a little slow and then quickly picked up steam.  One date was a dinner, another was a movie, and soon they were spending a lot of secret time together while still bowling as adversaries on League nights.  It soon became obvious to both parties that they might be falling in love. 

The secret rendezvous exchange continued.  It led to passionate embraces and nights spent lovingly in each other’s arms.  Neither one was sure what to say to their other team mates.  They agreed to keep things hush for the time being.    

Then, one night as fate would have it, they were discovered.  Jennifer had another secret admirer, a pretty woman from another team named Leslie Shaw.  Upon encountering the couple holding hands in the mall parking lot outside a local delicatessen, Leslie dropped her jaw in shock. 

“Holy cow,” she muttered under her breath.  This is interesting she said to herself with a slight twinge of jealousy. 

Leslie Shaw wanted her team, The Sexy Strikers, to win the leader board position too.  She devised a plan to blackmail the two lovers, threatening to expose them to everyone unless they both agreed to throw their games in the semi-final matches, allowing Leslie’s team to move forward to the Championship game.  Jennifer and David reluctantly agreed.    

Split Happens went first in the semi-finals and Jennifer watched sadly as David “accidentally” threw gutter ball after gutter ball forfeiting his team’s place and frustrating all his teammates to no end.  They shook their heads in disgust.  Some team members from Lane 2 scoffed at the losers with delight.      

As the second semi-final game commenced, a sudden fight broke out in the nearby lounge room between Team 1 and Team 2 players.  This spilled over quickly to an all-out brawl in the crowded league night bowling alley.  All the divided teams were fighting and carrying on.  David searched for Jennifer across the crowded room.  Jennifer tried to keep her sights on him too. 

Somehow in the midst of all the quarreling, David got hit by a thrown bowling ball.  Jennifer called out to him in alarm over the ruckus.  She rushed towards him.  She quickly helped him back to his feet. 

“You, ok?” she asked with concern and the two embraced.  All around them, people noticed and the room went still. 

“What?” she said defensively while looking around.  She reached hesitantly for his hand.  His fingers enclosed around hers too. 

“What the heck?!” said a few shocked onlookers.  David and Jennifer looked around awkwardly. 

“Yes, ok, we’ve been dating…” David began.  He then proceeded to explain the story of their relationship and what happened with Leslie.  Leslie looked down embarrassed.  She slinked off to the side a bit. 

 David looked around and back at Jennifer holding his hand.  He smiled at her. 

“I know we all have our differences,” he said hesitantly.  “But the truth is I love this woman.  Jennifer Casey, will you marry me?” He asked her as he started to get down on one knee.

The crowd completely stopped fighting.  Everyone waited for the reply.   When Jennifer said, “Yes!”  her teammates were among the first to clap alongside the team mates from Split Happens.             

Soon the folks that had been looking to start trouble were ashamed of their behavior.  The whole room clapped then, even Bill Casey who clapped the loudest.  It was decided that the couple would get married at the bowling alley later on that month. 

Bill Casey disbanded the league teams.  He took down the leader board which had caused so much animosity among the different groups.  There would be no more league nights, no more winners and losers.  Everyone would play as equals.    

On the wedding night, David Huxley and Jennifer Casey married at Lane 5.  He wore a tuxedo.  She wore a white wedding dress.  They kissed happily.  She tossed the bouquet.  Leslie Shaw managed to capture the bouquet too alongside a beautiful bowler named Sara.  Leslie and Sara smiled shyly at each other.  For Leslie, it seemed fated.  That’s how Leslie found her new love interest in life. 

That night, the bowlers at Bill Casey’s little bowling alley in Arkansas all bowled together as friends in a big diverse party.  Bill Casey turned the lights down low.  He set everything to Cosmic Bowling.  He turned on the music.   Happy Together by the Turtles filled the air and everyone was truly happy in that moment, especially David Huxley and Jennifer Casey.