LOVE ME TENDER (c)

by Jodi Lynn Copeland

“Now, why did you do that?”  Dora looked across the Blazer’s center console at her husband Nick.  He’d just turned off one of her favorite songs.

He answered without looking at her.  “I’m trying to drive.  Your singing is distracting.”

His response didn’t surprise her and still it hurt.  He never wanted to hear her sing.  Everyone else thought she had a great voice.  Everyone, but Nick.  “Is it my singing that bothers you, or my voice?”

He sighed, but still didn’t look at her.  “Dora, let’s not start.  You know I love you, honey.”

She frowned.  She did know that he loved her, just sometimes she wondered why.  He didn’t want her to cook, he didn’t want her to sing, and lately he’d taken over all the household chores.  Was he trying to remove her from his life, one task at a time?

“All right,” she said, turning to stare out the passenger window where fall bloomed in an array of dazzling color.  “We’re almost home anyway.”

The next morning as Dora and her long-time friend Jen prepared to open the coffee shop they co-owned, Dora asked, “Do you think I have anything to offer a man?”

Jen looked up from the donut case she filled to where Dora mixed the mocha blend of the day.  Her dark brows drew together over warm brown eyes.  “What kind of question is that?  Even if you didn’t co-own a successful business and have an awesome sense of humor, you’ve got a great body, not to mention are a natural blonde.  How many women can say that these days?”  She lifted a stray lock of her own hair where dark roots belied the rest of her blond head.  “I know I sure can’t.”

“Hmm… maybe.”

“Are things not going good at home?” Jen asked.

Dora set the blend aside.  “I don’t know.  Just lately I feel like Nick’s trying to get rid of me.”

Jen looked skeptical.  “You’ve only been married a year.  And the last time I saw Nick, he was looking at you like you hung the moon.  Why would you think he wants to get rid of you?”

“He just seems...detached, I guess.”

“Has he been ignoring you in the, you know, bedroom?”

Feeling a blush sting her cheeks, Dora busied herself wiping down the already clean front counter.  As close as Jen and her were, they didn’t often talk about intimacy.

“No.  Nothing’s wrong there,” she said several seconds later when she felt the blush had sufficiently faded.  “It’s just...well, Nick doesn’t like to me sing.”  Dora rolled her eyes as the words left her mouth.  That sounded really lame.  Poor Jen couldn’t find a good man to save her life and here she stood complaining her hot-to-trot Italian husband didn’t like her voice.

Jen laughed.  “Is that all?  You have a great voice, Dora.  Besides, I thought you and Nick met at a karaoke bar.”

“Yeah.  We did.  I hadn’t thought of that.”  She really hadn’t thought about that in a while.  He must have liked her voice that night.  Or maybe he’d liked the short miniskirt she had on.  Either way, it didn’t explain his aversion to her lifting a finger around the house.

“I wouldn’t worry,” Jen said as she made her way to the front of the shop and flipped the ‘Come In, We’re Open’ sign.  “If it bothers you that much, talk to Nick about it.  The last thing you want is communication problems this early in your marriage.”

If only it were that easy, Dora thought wistfully.  After all, she had asked Nick about her singing, sort of.  Maybe, she just needed to be more specific next time.

As they sat down to a dinner Nick cooked that night, Dora asked, “Why don’t you like my voice?”

He stopped forking spaghetti onto her plate and gave her an odd look.  “What do you mean?  I love your voice, honey, you know that.”

She did?  “What about cooking and cleaning?  You don’t let me do anything around here anymore.”  Not even serve her own food, she thought with a rueful glance at her plate.  “I feel useless, Nick.”  Her voice broke on the last word, and Dora could feel the tears well in her eyes.  She tried to sniff them back, but it was in vain.  “I feel like you’re trying to get rid of me,” she choked out, then dashed from the table, before he could witness her tears.

In their bedroom, Dora sank down onto the bed and wiped at her tears.  If Nick wasn’t trying to get rid of her before, now he surely would.  Crying like a baby over housework and music.  Most wives would be ecstatic to have their husbands do all the work.  Apparently, she wasn’t most wives.

She swiped at her face again and checked her turbulent emotions.  Standing, she stared at the bedroom door.  Strange that Nick hadn’t followed her to the room.  One of his best traits was he never let her walk away from a fight without first working things out.

She went to the door and cracked it open, listened for him.  The house was silent.  She made her way down the dark hall, her curiosity growing with each step.  She gasped when she reached the dining room.  The table was still set with food and drink, but there was no Nick to be found.

“Where did he go?” she whispered.

Oh no, had she driven him away?  Had hearing her speak the truth aloud made him realize how badly he did want to be rid of her?

Refusing to cry anymore until she got to the bottom of things, Dora tossed back her shoulders and set about cleaning up the uneaten dinner.  The table cleared, she started to push in Nick’s chair when a note on the seat stopped her.

She picked it up and read the two scrawled words aloud.  “The Backdoor.”

The Backdoor was the karaoke bar where she and Nick had met.  It was a few short blocks from their house.  A spurt of panic claimed her.  Did he want to meet her at the bar to tell her things were over?

Dora hurried to put the leftovers away, then slipped on her jacket and shoes and walked the few blocks to The Backdoor.

A woman’s soft voice and dim lighting greeted her when she entered the bar.  Dora looked around for Nick as her eyes adjusted to the light.  She didn’t seem him anywhere, and then a deep, husky voice reached her from the stage.  She stared at the man on the stage--her husband, her Nick--and slowly took in the words he sang.

Love Me Tender--their wedding song.  His eyes shimmering with love, Nick beckoned her to join him on the stage.  Dora went to the stage with her heart in her throat.  He hadn’t asked her to come here to end their marriage.  He wanted her to sing.

Hours later, Dora and Nick lay snuggled together on their living room couch.  Nick kissed her forehead, then continued to explain about the woman he’d dated before he met and married Dora.  She was a singer, who’d left him because he’d expected her to hold down her fair share of the housework and take turns cooking dinner.  He hadn’t told Dora about her before this, as he considered her a part of his life he’d just as soon forget.

“So you see, honey,” Nick said, “I never meant to make you feel left out.  I never even realized I turned off the radio or tuned you out each time you sang.  I love your voice.  I love everything about you.  I just don’t want you to leave me because you feel like I expect too much.”

Dora tipped her head back and kissed her husband with all the love in her heart.  All this time, he hadn’t been trying to get rid of her.  He’d been trying to make sure she’d stick around.  Who could ask for a better man?

“By the way, thanks for cleaning up dinner,” he said.

She smiled, realizing now why he’d left the way he had.  To make her feel needed.  “Thank you for letting me.”

“I love you, Dora.”

“I love you, too, Nick,” she breathed against his mouth, “and I’m not going anywhere, ‘til death do us part.”

2003 Jodi Lynn Copeland

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