Mirabel stood at the mirror that hung on the back of her closet door, small droplets of water still clung to her naked body. Not bad for 50, she thought, as she turned and inspected herself from a new angle. Not quite what it once was, but not quite what she’d expected 50 had in store for her either. Could she still consider herself middle-aged at 50? Probably not, but Mirabel had always seen her cup as half full and she wasn’t likely to change her outlook now. She stretched and watched herself in the mirror, admiring the outline of her form and appreciating the way her muscles flexed and relaxed in turn. Bending over to touch her toes, her knees creaked a bit and her back felt tight and she realized she’d need to stretch a bit more before heading out on her morning walk. She missed the days when her body was always up to the task, ready for whatever she had in mind. Mirabel was not a fan of preparation but aging had begun to teach her the benefits of patience. She pulled on her softest t-shirt and stretchy yoga pants before padding into the kitchen for her morning coffee.
Just a few doors down the street, Jean stepped carefully from the shower, drying herself quickly and reaching for her long, fluffy robe before remembering she’d left it in the basket, too tired to put away the clean laundry last night. Her slippers were there, though, tucked beside the tub, and sliding her damp feet inside them she shuffled into the bedroom. Jean caught sight of herself in the mirror over the dresser as she rifled through her underwear drawer. Jesus, she thought…is that really me? Is this what 50 looks like? Her knees creaked as she sat down on the bed to put on her panties, her leg unwilling to rise high enough on its own for convenience and her balance too unreliable to remain standing for the struggle. Shit. Getting old sucks.
Rounding the corner and making her way back up the hill toward home, Mirabel tugged at Simon’s leash and let him know she was making a stop. He hurried back to her side and followed her through the gate, up the front steps, and through the front door.
“Knock, knock! Where’s the birthday girl?” Mirabel called as she stepped inside.
Jean was in the kitchen, washing breakfast dishes. “In here.”
“Happy birthday,” Mirabel said and she planted a playful kiss on her sister’s cheek.
“Happy birthday to both of you,” said Henry.
Mirabel jumped. “Henry! Sorry…didn’t see you there. I thought you’d be playing golf this morning.”
“Nope, spending this Saturday with my beautiful birthday girl.” Jean rolled her eyes.
For a moment, Mirabel’s mind drifted to Jack and how he used to treat birthdays as special too. They’d linger over sex before getting up for breakfast then return to bed for round two. Jack was a world class lover. There had been others, before him, but none knew her body as Jack did and she still sometimes longed for his touch. It wasn’t the only thing she missed about him since the accident, but it was a big one.
“You don’t realize how lucky you are, Jean. Henry’s a good guy. Loosen up a little bit, forget all your excuses, and let him spoil you a little today. Have some fun. ” Jean was older by ten minutes, but lately she acted as if it were ten years.
“Listen to your little sister, Jean. How about you put on that blue dress that matches your eyes and we go dancing tonight.”
“Dancing? We haven’t gone dancing in years.”
“All the more reason,” said Henry, and he stood from the table and moved toward Jean, his hand reaching for hers. She batted him away.
Mirabel took his hand and he twirled her around the kitchen, exciting Simon who barked and circled around them making them laugh.
“Ok, enough” said Jean, “enough. I’ll go if you come along. It is our birthday and we should spend it together this year.”
Mirabel glanced at Henry. She wasn’t sure if Jean was using her as a buffer or feeling sorry for her.
“Sure, we’ll make it a three-some,” he said. “Besides, who wouldn’t want to be seen out with two blondes on his arm…and twins besides!” He smiled when he said it, warmly, and in a way that let Mirabel know she wouldn’t be spoiling their plans. He was a sweet man, kind and generous. She hoped Jean appreciated him more than she let on.
Mirabel chose her green dress. It had a high neckline and skimmed her curves in a way that was both graceful and sexy. She was 50, not dead, and she intended to enjoy herself tonight. Dancing wasn’t what she’d planned on doing, but Mirabel was not one to turn down a good time. She filled Simon’s bowl with water and put out his kibble, turned a light on in the living room and closed the door behind her. The walk to Jean’s was short, but she carried her heels, saving her feet for the dance floor.
“Hello?” she called, sticking her head in the door. “Ready to go?”
“Come on in, Mir. Jean’s still upstairs.”
Mirabel made her way to their bedroom and caught Jean inspecting herself in the mirror. “Beautiful!” She startled her.
“Hardly. Beautiful was 20 years ago. I’m shooting for passable tonight.”
“Fuck passable! This is our night! We’re 50 and it looks good on us!” Mirabel was in the mood to celebrate and she wasn’t about to let Jean spoil it. She stood behind her and smoothed her hands over Jean’s dress, pulling it tighter across the bust then spinning her around so that her backside faced the mirror. “Look at that ass, Jean. This dress doesn’t do it justice. Put on that blue dress…the one Henry likes.”
Jean gave her a look but relented. There was a part of her that liked the attention, the convincing. She slipped on the blue knit sheath, cut low in the front with a zipper that ran the length of the back. Just putting it on felt sexy and Mirabel’s encouragement fueled her excitement.
“There! Now that says happy birthday!” They laughed and headed down the stairs.
At the restaurant, they enjoyed a lovely dinner followed by a slice of indulgently decadent chocolate cake. Mirabel savored every bite but Jean, afraid her dress would reveal too much of her meal, merely tasted the cake then suggested they move to the lounge for drinks and dancing. The music was lively and fun and Henry was in his element. He was a fabulous dancer, graceful and sure of himself. Dancing with him was like floating on air and Mirabel hoped to catch at least one song with him. But first, he extended his had to Jean and with just a little nudge they were off.
The music was faster than Jean had hoped and she worried about keeping up. She was not the dancer her husband was and she relied on him to guide her across the dance floor, which he did magnificently. Jean watched as Mirabel danced with a man easily 10 years her junior. And then an older man, gray but handsome none-the-less. She envied the ease with which Mirabel changed partners, making small talk and moving around the room, seemingly unphased by being on her own… enjoying it even. When the music stopped, they returned to their table and Jean was thankful for the break. Moments later, the DJ invited everyone back to the dance floor to try something new.
“What did he say?” Mirabel asked above the noise of the crowd.
“They’re teaching a dance step, something new,” said Henry.
Mirabel looked out on the dance floor toward the group that was gathering. “Sounds like fun. Let’s try.”
“You go, I need a break,” Jean said, and she kicked off her shoes.
Mirabel looked at Henry and saw the disappointment on his face as he sat down next to Jean. She so rarely took his desires into consideration. And yet he’d follow her anywhere, do anything for her. He was not a weak man by any stretch of the imagination, but he was hopelessly devoted to Jean even if she failed to see it.
“Jean. C’mon. It’s your birthday! Shake that booty!” Humor was always the best way to win Jean over; although the look she shot in Mirabel’s direction told her it wouldn’t work tonight.
“Henry? Wanna give it a go?” Mirabel hoped to alleviate the momentary tension and let Henry have a little fun at the same time.
“No. Thanks, though. I’ll sit this one out with Jean. You go and you can teach us later.”
Mirabel sat down at the table and was silent for a moment. She was holding back, but not for long. “Oh come on, Jean. Don’t do this. Not tonight. Just one more…I promise it will be fun.”
“It’s not that easy, Mirabel. I’m too old for this. We’re too old for this…except that you haven’t seemed to notice.”
“Is that what this is about? You think I have it so easy? You think your life is so much harder than mine? Why, because I don’t complain? Because I don’t bitch and moan about the aches and pains, about missing Jack, about the kids being out of the house? You think I don’t care? You think those things don’t hurt? Seriously, Jean? Is that what you think?”
“You always took everything in stride. Whatever life threw at you.”
“That’s right, I did. I took it and I made the best of it and I moved on. That’s how life goes, Jean…it moves on whether you come along or not. Just like Henry will if you’re not careful. And if that happens it will be no one’s fault but your own.”
She regretted the words as soon as they came out of her mouth. The look on Jean’s face told her she’d hit too close to home.
“That’s enough, Mir.” Henry’s voice was calm but strong and Mirabel knew it was time to go.
They road home in silence, bruised and resentful. Henry turned on the radio, searching for a song that might ease the palpable tension. He finally settled on a jazz station and the small space was filled with sounds both soothing and soulful. It fit the mood perfectly and smoothed the rough edges off everyone’s nerves. Henry couldn’t fix this, but he somehow always knew the right thing to do in any situation. When they reached her house, Mirabel apologized to him for her part in the evening, thanked him for the ride, and went inside.
The house was quiet; Simon was asleep on her bed. She drew a bath, intent on soaking away the remainder of this birthday and watched herself undress in the bathroom mirror. Is this what 50 was like? Was it going to be ugly and bitter? She hoped not. She checked the bath. The temperature was good but the tub wasn’t quite full so she went to the kitchen and poured herself a glass of wine – half-full, as always.
“How ‘bout a glass of wine?” Henry asked.
“No,” said Jean, “I think I’ll take a bath.”
“Suit yourself, Sweetheart. It’s your birthday.” He kissed her softly then headed into the kitchen.
In the bathroom, Jean turned on the faucet and watched herself undress in the bathroom mirror. Is this what 50 was like? Was it going to be ugly and bitter? She had hoped to be beyond that now. Beyond the jealousy and the hurt. Past the shame. Memories of that awful night still haunted her in her sleep and she wondered if she’d ever escape them. What had she been thinking? Did she really believe that Jack would have betrayed Mirabel for her? No, not really. She only wanted to tempt him…to have him, anyone, look at her the way he looked at Mirabel…even if only for a few moments. Henry loved her but it was a quiet love, based on what she didn’t know, and she never trusted it would last. She’d seen the way men lusted after her sister. What did Mirabel have that she didn’t? They were twins for God’s sake. But it didn’t matter. She’d come on strong and Jack’s refusal stung hard, harsh confirmation that she would never be as captivating as her sister. They’d all had too much wine that night and Jack left over the objections of everyone at the party. When Jean got the call from the hospital about the accident she was scared to go, afraid to walk into that hospital room and face her sister, sure that Jack had told her why they were leaving. But he hadn’t. Instead she sat and held her sister’s hand while she mourned the loss of her husband.
The light in the bathroom was harsh and Jean’s body showed its age. She dimmed it and turned from the mirror, bending to check the water in the tub. Henry slipped in quietly behind her and when she stood again he pulled her close and kissed her deeply.
“Henry, don’t. I’m tired and it’s been an awful night.”
“All the more reason,” he said, kissing her neck and undoing the buttons of his shirt.
“Henry.” She took his hands and held them in her own.
“Henry, I’m 50. This body is old and worn and not even close to what it used to be. I know what you’re trying to do.”
“Make love to my wife?”
Jean looked at him. A boyish grin spread across his face and she was too beleaguered to fight. When he kissed her again, she kissed him back. For tonight she’d let him win and pretend to believe she was everything he wanted.
The house was quiet but the light flooding in from the full moon kept Henry awake. Lying there beside Jean he felt so alone. She was sound asleep but that had nothing to do with it. He slipped quietly from between the sheets and made his way to the bathroom. He left the door open and raised the seat, the moonlight sufficient for him to see what he was doing and he caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror by the sink. Was this what 50 was going to be like? He’d seen it coming for the last year or two but had hoped she would have worked it out by now. Instead, it was only getting worse. The quiet, tender Jean…the Jean who had always worn her emotions on her sleeve and needed his strength was slowly pushing him away…pushing him harder and harder to prove his devotion to her. And the harder he tried to show her how much he loved her, the more she seemed to doubt him. If she was complicated before, she was downright confusing now. Mirabel’s words tonight were harsh; she’d definitely crossed the line. But there in the moonlight, looking at himself in the mirror, he wondered how much more he could take.
The full moon was keeping Mirabel awake, but not Simon. His legs were kicking and he let out a few muffled barks…she wondered what he was chasing in his dream. Reaching over and stroking him softly, he quieted and her mind drifted back to Jean and their argument. She’d been so tempted tonight, Jean had pushed her hard. But in the past two years since the accident Mirabel had learned a lot about forgiveness and its power. Jack was a wonderful father and a fantastic lover, but he wasn’t much of a husband. They were just beginning to put their marriage back together after his last affair when Jean made her pass it him. He’d told her in the ambulance on the way to the hospital and at the time she wasn’t sure whether it was to prove he was finally done fooling around or one last stab at the relationship he’d always been so jealous of. She’d never told Jean about his affairs or even that she knew what Jean had done. It was hard enough to admit to herself that she was a failure when it came to choosing men, that no one of Henry’s caliber ever sought her attention. She’d just lost her husband and she wasn’t about to lose her sister too. So she swallowed it. Buried it. Moved on. And now, two years later, she’d arrived at a place where gratitude and appreciation filled her and she was finally content with her life. It’s what she wanted for her sister; for contentment and happiness to replace the bitterness that had crept in. 50 didn’t have to mean old and she just didn’t understand what Jean didn’t get about that. She’d planned to tell her tonight, before Henry had suggested dancing. She was going to sit with her and tell her that she knew…that’s she’d known all along. Mirabel had learned how powerful forgiveness could be and she wanted to give that to her sister so that she could leave the bitterness behind and embrace the years yet ahead of them. But it didn’t work out that way. Was the universe trying to tell her to let sleeping dogs lie? As if on cue, Simon let out a muffled yelp and his legs twitched furiously again. She’d think about it more tomorrow. If nothing else, 50 years had taught her patience.
© Kelly Rainey and 500wordsandcounting.wordpress.com, 2015.
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