September 24
11:30 am.

“Where did all these flowers come from?” The house bears a close resemblance to the local florist.

“It’s all your admirers.” Gwen winks at me.

“Yeah…I believe that.”

“No, really. Your church staff, church members, even Martha and Kate came to see you.”

“Martha and Kate? I must have been really out of it.”

“You were.”

“Frankie called to see how you were doing. Also, Tav called daily to find out how you’re doing.”

“He did?”

“Frankie?”

“No, Tav. I mean I’m surprised my boss would call.”

Then why hasn’t he called now that I can talk on the phone? Men!

“Some guy named Walt spent a lot of time in the dining room praying for you. I think most of the flowers are from him. He seems really nice. Was very concerned about you. Found him in your room, changing the washcloth on your forehead…begging you to take care of yourself.”

“That’s weird. I have a memory of a voice saying, ‘Natalie, take care.’ But it became a part of my nightmare.”

“You like Walt?”

“Walt? No. I mean yes. I mean not in the like, like way. Just like.”

“I think he’s all in the like, like way about you.”

“Not happening.”

“Just thought I’d warn you. You can be so naive at times…all the time.”

“I’m…”

“Yes, you are. And you hate to hurt any guy’s feelings. ‘I’d rather be the one to get hurt than be the one to hurt someone.’ Sound familiar?”

Ugh. She would remember that.

__________________

September 25
4:30 p.m.

“You’re a sight for sore eyes!” Gwen and Mitch are away for the weekend. I had insisted that they not cancel Mitch’s speaking engagement in Carmel. Thought it would be a nice little romantic getaway for them too.

But…here’s Frankie!

Ringing and knocking on the front door.

“What are you doing here?” I can’t believe it! All the heartbreak…the tears I cried, and I thought it was all over…and I’m watching Frankie standing right in front of me. Like nothing has happened.

Really???

“Nat, I heard you were very sick. Scared me, you know. I’m thinking I have the best thing in my life and I’m letting her get away.”

No, you don’t have her. I want to say, but he’s staring at me now. “You look…not so good…I’m thinking.” He’s peering into my face.

I’m not feeling very good. I don’t have any make up on. In fact, I think I feel more ill at seeing Frankie than I did when I was ill. If that makes sense.

“You’d like something to drink?” I’m still at the front door blocking his way into the house, but I’m going to have to be gracious.

“Water.” Frankie follows me into the kitchen telling me stories of home and how everyone sends their love.

“Natty, it’s so good to see you. You happy to see me?”

“Oh Frankie…” What was I going to say? No. I mean it was good to see him, sort of.

Okay, I’ve been very sick. Obviously, I’m feeling homesick. I miss my parents. Gwen wanted to call them and tell them about me, but Mitch persuaded her that it would only worry them and bring Mom scurrying home from the mission field. So hearing Frankie’s voice after such a long time was just wonderful. I had to admit it. It was familiar. It felt like a big hug.

“Here’s your water.” He’s taking the glass from my hands, and awkwardly, we spend several minutes just looking at each other. Then he sets the glass down and gives me a big hug. A. Big. Hug.

“So…how long will you be here?” I’m disentangling myself from his arms and hoping that didn’t sound too rude.

“I took off the weekend so we could talk.”

“Cool.” The whole weekend??

“You look different!” He’s now making himself at home in my sister’s house, flopping himself onto the couch and propping up his legs on her coffee table. I wonder if his shoes are going to scratch the table. And where has he been walking? Whatever was on those shoes is going to end up on that table.

And what’s happening to me? Frankie was doing just what Frankie always did.

“I haven’t changed. Really…”

“Come, sit next to me.” Frankie’s patting the place on the couch next to him. “I’m going to make it up to you.”

“Sure.” And there’s no way you can ever make it up to me. Why did Gwen have to go away? Oh wait, I forced her to go away. “But first, tell me what would you’d like to eat… I’m sure you must be hungry after that long drive.”

“Just hungry for ya.”

Not buying it. I’m forced to admit that I have changed. This is going to be a long weekend.

“Awww…sweet! Okay, nothing to eat. But I must get you my new favorite drink. I’ll be right back.” What favorite drink? Water? Water was my favorite drink, but I couldn’t conjure about anything fancy about water. I rushed to the fridge and yanked open the door.

No soda, just smoothies. That was going to be it. I poured some in a glass and took it back to Frankie. This time I forced myself to sit down on the couch, but a little distance away from him.

“Green?” Frankie’s watching the smoothie like it’s poison. One sip and the glass gets slammed quickly on the coffee table.

“You don’t like it!”

“Nat, you know me, I never liked all that healthy stuff you drink.”

“Don’t worry, you don’t have to drink it, but tell me about what’s happening in your life?”

“Well, nothing much…you know…working a new job at a new startup…kinda new, we’ll see how long it goes, ya know?”

What a surprise! Frankie is the ultimate failure to launch.

“Living in a new apartment, it’s great, right in the center of the city.”

“Really? You bought your own apartment?”

“Yeah. Yeah. Well, you know, my parents are, like, kinda taking care of the big stuff right now, ya know? Yeah. But I’m buying, like, the food and stuff.” In other words, his parents are continuing to fund his unproductive lifestyle.

“Frankie, you have to find something that you like to do. You’ll only regret letting your life slip by like this. This is the time to really build your foundation for the future.”

So weird. I could swear I sound just like my mother.

“Yeah. Cool. That’s why I’m here, Nat.”

Time for a desperate change of subject. “Let’s go out for dinner! I’m starving.”

“You always are!”

“Yes. Just give me a few minutes to get ready. I’ll show you the town!”

“Can’t we just order a pizza?”

“Sure! Let’s go get one. I know this place…” I just want to get Frankie out of the house.

This is going to be the weekend from hell.

______________

11:30 p.m.

“Frankie?”

“Yes!!”

“You’re joking!” Gwen sounds totally put out about hearing that Frankie’s in town. “He’s not staying at our house?”

“No! Thank God. He’s staying at the Marriott in Burlingame.”

“He would. Poor little rich boy.”

“It was a nice walk by the water. And then I left him and came back home.”

“How was it?”

“Okay.”

“Did you tell him how you felt?”

“Uhm…”

“Nat, he’s not changing your mind, is he?”

“Not really…”

“Nat… Be strong.”

____________

September 26
9:45 a.m.

I could hear it ringing, but where was it.

“Hello!” I’m still so sleepy. Being with Frankie had tired me out.

“Natty! You awake?”

“I am now,” I grumble. “What time is it?”

“Almost 10:00. Thought you’d be awake by now. What time do you want me to come over?”

Come over?

“Frankie, I was hoping to take you to this very special place. How about 4:00?”

“4:00? So late.”

“Yes. Forgot some work stuff. You know how it is.”

I wonder if Tav…and there it was again. Tav. I can’t compare Frankie to Tav.

Nobody could compare to Tav.

Gaaah stop thinking about Tav!!! Going to have to find a restaurant that no church member will ever visit. Pacifica! Pacifica is remote. I haven’t heard anyone from church mention that they’ve ever been to a restaurant there.

Can’t go back to the Ritz Carlton in Half Moon Bay—don’t want anyone to remember me from the time I was there with Jimmy. Slim chance, but fate has a way of taking slim and making it a big fat chance in my life.

___________

5:15 p.m.

“Natty, this is beautiful.” Frankie’s loving the ride on Highway 1 as we drive along the coast. “The ocean is beautiful today.”

“Every day! I love it.” I’m pulling into the driveway of the restaurant.

“Wow! This is a nice place. Wait…”

“What?”

“Isn’t that the sign for Half Moon Bay? How about the Ritz-Carlton? Jimmy mentioned you both went there.”

“Yes, but…”

“Natty, let’s go there.”

“Sure.”

Why couldn’t I say no? It’s going to bring back all those horrible memories of the last time I was there.

The valet takes my car, my dirty car. I hadn’t had time to pick up the See’s Candies wrappers.

“It’s beautiful.” Frankie’s chatting up the waitress and gushing over how wonderful the place is.

“Yes, I like the view,” I’m saying as I follow our waitress to our table.

A booth? Why a booth? I want a table.

“Is this okay?” she asks. “I thought you both might want some privacy.” She smiles knowingly at us.

Frankie gives her his dazzling smile, with his cute dimple. I’m thinking about all the times he has mentioned how people love his dazzling smile, twinkling eyes…and to-die-for dimple.

I did too.

Once, I was mesmerized by all of him.

“Natalie, you’ve changed.” So, we’re back to that again. Frankie’s setting his menu down on the table.

“How?”

“You seem content, you know, like, happy. Like you have this inner glow about you.” Inner glow? Has Frankie been reading Elle? I’m getting a little uncomfortable under his scrutiny.

He’s mentioning glow, I’m thinking Tav, and feeling like I’m cheating on Frankie…when we are not only over, but over over.

“Thanks, Frankie. That’s a nice thing to say.”

I’m searching for the waiter and begging with my eyes for the food to arrive on our table soon.

“Artichoke chip and dip.”

I stuff my face.

________

7:45 p.m.

This is probably the longest dinner I’ve ever had with Frankie. Or anybody else in the world. Not longest, but this evening seems like it will never end.

“Dessert?” The waitress is back with the most indulgent smile on her face. “You both are so cute together.”

The damning “cute.” It’s like saying, “I pronounce you husband and wife.”

“I have my dessert right here.” Frankie’s eyes are on me.

Not mine.

“Well, I’ll have the flourless chocolate cake with tons of whipped cream.”

Frankie reaches across the table and gently caresses my hand. “Natty, do you think…?”

“How sweet!” The voice trilled next to my left ear. Guiltily, I quickly snatched my hand out of Frankie’s.

“Faith!” What a ghastly surprise! No, that’s not the right word—shock, horror, and with the great desire to stab the fork that is resting next to her hand on the table next to my napkin. Nope. Can’t do that. She’s got her sweet smile, bouncing hair…and several of her BFFs. Too many witnesses.

Of all the places in the world, why would God send her here?

“What a wonderful surprise!” Faith’s doing this oh-I’m-so-intensely-happy-to-see-you drama. “And who is this…handsome…dare I say…delicious…man with you?” She’s very coy, extending her hand to Frankie.

“This is an old buddy from my hometown. We’ve known each other for years! My best buddy!” I’m hoping she would just go away and be someone else’s nightmare for a change.

“Hi, buddy! I’m Faith,” she continues, and won’t go away. “It’s very private and cozy here. I can see why Natalie wanted to bring you to this romantic hideaway…to keep you to herself.”

I bare my teeth in a smile. Or a snarl. I’m not sure how it appeared to onlookers…

“What are you doing here, Faith?”

“Our prayer group really feels that we can spend more focused time in this atmosphere with our BFF…Jesus!”

Their BFF Jesus? Excuse me while I throw up. Why do women even think the BFF Jesus is right theology?

“Cool.” Frankie is giving Faith huge smiles and complimenting her on how she beautiful she looks.

Tav also was always nice to her. Men are so stupid.

“Jesus must like the high-end life of this world.”

As usual, sarcasm was lost on Faith.

“He’s so right for you,” Faith leans in and stage whispers in my ear—of course, Frankie could hear her. Then, with fake embarrassment at her remark being heard, she leaves, her groupies giggling in tow.

“She’s nice!”

“Yes.”

As nice as electric barbed wire.

_____________

8:15 p.m.

My already ruined evening is even more ruined. What is Faith going to tell everyone in church?

Forget everyone. What is she going to tell Tav?

Not that it matters.

But it does.

Mom always says, Be patient, this too will pass. Whatever the situation, it had to come to a resolution. God has just worked things out that way.

But now, we’re back home and I’m angry at myself for being nice once again and saying yes to the Ritz-Carlton.

I’m angry at Faith.

I’m angry at Frankie for making me feel like I’m completely worthless.

“Frankie, thanks for dinner. I wish I could invite you up, but I’ve got to get up really early for work tomorrow.”

“I understand, Natty.”

Oh good, closure without explosure… Okay, not a word, but it rhymes.

“Natty…”

And something just snapped in me.

“No, Frankie, let me say something…something that I should have said a long time ago. You know you were the one person that I would have done anything for…you know I permitted things from you, and let you treat me in a way, that I would never have let any other man treat me. But you treated me like a piece of worthless trash. I put up with your rudeness, your lameness, your passive-aggressive personality. You’d disappear, make excuses, and then, a random text and I would willingly forgive you—whatever Frankie wants, I’m here for him. Poor Frankie, he’s going through such a rough time. You were the one man who got to me like no one else ever had. But you took me for granted. My niceness you saw as weakness…like I couldn’t let go of you. I’m sure you had lots to tell Jimmy. I don’t know if you thought you were some grand god or God’s gift to women. You thought that you could throw me a few crumbs and I’d be like, ‘OMG, Frankie likes me after all. Frankie and Natalie forever.’ Swoon. Die. You thought that I was a doormat for you to walk over any time you liked…the mat that said, ‘I love it when you wipe your feet on me.’ Natalie is so understanding. But you know what Frankie, you completely misunderstood me. You mistook my kindness for neediness—for being desperate for you, because kindness is not something you have in yourself. You’re conceited, self-centered, egotistical, arrogant, and…actually, you’re just a creepy, boring jerk. But, I do thank you. Because of what you put me through, you made me stronger. You made me learn to stand up for myself. You taught me to put a value on myself…something I had never done before…and I’ll never be the same. So you know what…take a hike.”

I’m not sure where I got the confidence to say those things. Mom and Gwen would be so proud of me. Dad would too if he knew as much as they did about Frankie!

And, dear diary, I can’t tell you how good I feel. It’s like that moment in Ben Hur when Judah’s mother and sister are completely cleansed of leprosy.

Yes, my life, once and for all, has been cleansed of Frankie.

Maybe we’ll be friends again later, but for now, he’ll never hurt me again.

Thank God.

_____

Photo by Images by John ‘K’ via Flickr