The invitation…a short story by Linda Claire Groshans

Linda Claire as story character

“When in doubt…wear red lipstick”

Mary Lou was getting ready to go to the party. The invitation was right there on the vanity counter next to her in the bathroom. As she inspected that invitation for the 100th time, she felt nervous all over again. The extra pounds and years she wore on her body were not helping her self confidence. “Come on,” she said out loud to herself as she started to try to gather some calm.

On her bathroom wall, was a word-art sign that she had purchased years ago. She read it with a half smile, “When in doubt, wear red lipstick.”

“Oh, what the heck!” she thought as she grabbed the tube of red lipstick and applied it to her lips and then inspected herself again in the mirror. It had worked, the red lipstick reminded her that she still had some womanly charms. If fact, she thought, her new pink shimmery blouse was going to be a hit too. But then, inspecting the blouse more closely she noticed that there was a bit of a gap between the buttons at her cleavage. “Drat!” She was nervous again, and then spent the next 10 minutes wondering if she should go. She paced.

Mary Lou calmed herself by running her fingers through her blonde hair and as she did that, she remembered how it felt to have his hands soothing her head.

So long ago. It was all so darn long ago. And yet, there were still so many memories. But, why had she received a formal invitation after all these years of not seeing or being in communication with him. “What are you up to?” she pondered as she returned to viewing herself in the bathroom mirror.

“Oh, you goose,” she said out loud to herself. “Everyone gets older…he probably looks ancient by now.” And then she actually laughed out loud as she tried to picture him as an old man. She imagined his waistline was no prize now either. She added a couple of age spots to his face as her imagination continued to gather the reality of time spent apart. She continued to fantasize about his aged physique because it was an entertaining thought for her and helped her anxiousness.

Mary Lou now performed her signature “ego value thinking” as she tried to reclaim her feeling of being “worth it.”

Well, actually, Mary Lou felt good enough about herself that she started to dismiss her anxiety. “Who cares what that old codger thinks of me!” She thought with some indignation.

“In fact,” Mary Lou thought “The time he spends with me today will probably be the best time he has spent in the last 20 years!” She smiled at herself. And that smile was an absolute. An ABSOLUTE (in all capital letters) , smile of a fully confidant woman. There she was! “Mary Lou you are completely WORTH IT.” she said to herself.

She grabbed the invitation and stuffed it into her party purse. It fit in by the compact mirror, the pink blush, the tube of red lipstick and a little comb.

The roads are quiet. She arrived at his home at the exact time she had planned. The home looked stately, almost Romanesque. A powerful house for a powerful man. “A powerful OLD man,” Mary Lou corrected her thoughts.

Mary Lou looked in her rear view mirror before she opened the car door. The lipstick was still good. She looked down at her chest to make sure the blouse button had not popped open. Then, she threw open the car door and made her way to the door. And as she walked, she gathered her self esteem and thought to herself that she would probably actually hypnotize him with her charm.

But, what greeted her when the door opened was a surprise she never could have imagined.

Part 2:

There he was standing in the entryway to greet her. His outfit and appearance were impeccable, but he had clearly aged.  In his hands, he held a large poster board sign with words handwritten in black marker, it said, “I can explain.” His face and body suggested a nervous pose as he studied her for a reaction. Then, he tried to reach out to her with his open arms for a hug, but his attention was not returned. Mary Lou was looking past him into the hallway.

The hallway had 7 original, large, and distinctive framed artwork pieces. And the artist for each of those pieces had been Mary Lou. It appeared that these pieces of artwork which Mary Lou had sold over these last 20 years since she had left him through the local art gallery, were now in the possession of her old love interest, Roger. She was too stunned to have an immediate reaction, but she could hear her own small voice saying simply, “What have you done? Why? What have you done?”

Then,Mary Lou looked at him with disgust.

“Mary Lou, it isn’t what you think.”, his reply was hideously lame. “Please, let me explain.” he continued.

While she walked the hallway with growing agitation, she examined her own work.

He quietly said, “Please, I beg you, let me explain.Will you believe me when I tell you that I did this all as your truest friend?”

“No.” she glared at him. “This is unforgivable.”

“Please listen.” Roger implored her while he was wringing his hands and looking at her with fear and trepidation in his face.

They were both silent for a long time before she said, “You know what Roger, you do owe me an explanation. In fact, I can’t wait to see how you are going to rationalize this theft of my very creative nature.I want you to try to muddle your way through this story. And, after I listen to your lame apology, I want you to package each of the paintings and have them delivered to my house.”

Mary Lou took careful pleasure in walking with her head held high to the easy chairs in the lounge. Roger sat facing her in an arm chair. Mary Lou looked at him with loathing. Roger stared back in a fearful gaze. He started his explanation:

“It started out in innocence,” he began.

Mary Lou scoffed, but Roger continued…”I found one of your paintings at the gallery and I realized right away  that the subject matter had a deeper meaning. I could see that you had not randomly selected  just any good painting subject.”  Roger leaned forward with a hopeful look on his face. “I could tell you were recording history in a very novel way. I could see what you were trying to communicate.”

“What a line,” Mary Lou spat out, but she was also now the one to be a bit nervous. Had Roger really figured out her motives?  “Well, please continue your pathetic nonsense,” she said in an effort to cover her own growing suspicions.

“He knew? He had figured it out? The secret of the paintings was now no secret at all?” Mary Lou thought to herself. She was becoming uneasy and shifted in her chair trying to hide her growing anxiety.  His knowing changed everything.

As Roger stared at her, Mary Lou looked down at her blouse to make sure that the wide gap between the top buttons was not the object of his stare. She also wanted to check her lipstick again but only because she wanted to feel in control again…but it was all slipping away. Roger knew that the paintings were a code.

“My God,” Mary Lou shrieked inside her own mind. “He knows, so now what?”

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