(Photo by Frank McKenna on Unsplash)
Claire waited her turn to serve the volleyball at a seaside resort. She wore shorts to play at the retreat her employer had sent them on. It was nice of him to sponsor her group, sure, but for what purpose? To pretend they were a huge, happy, extended family? So a miracle could happen and the employees would get along?
Claire got to serve the ball six times before the other team won a point. This game is taking forever, Claire thought. Finally, she was able to take a walk on the grounds and check things out.
The size of the resort astounded Claire, and to be truthful, Claire wasn’t usually impressed with anything. This place was really beautiful and majestic; set at sea level, it silently encouraged Claire to come down to the water and spend some time.
It wasn’t long before Claire visited a place in her memory again, even as she stared at the churning water and the brave ducks trying to swim within its waves.
“I am listening to reason, Frank,” Claire said three years ago. “But you’re not offering me any. Why should I move to a strange place just so you can start being a doctor?”
“Because you love me and want the best for me?” Frank said.
“On both counts, yes—I do. But I’ve got to stay here. My parents need me now.”
Frank sighed. Had she always been this contrary and he hadn’t noticed it?
“You make plenty of money now, Claire,” he said. “Can’t you hire a private nurse for your parents? Besides, if you go with me, you’ll only be a couple hours away from them.”
Claire shook her head no. “I’m so sorry,” she half-spoke, half-whispered. She leaned over to kiss Frank on the cheek and opened her car door. Claire walked up the steps to her porch without looking back or saying goodbye.
Something jerked Claire back to the present. It couldn’t have been anything in the water. Those poor ducks were only a little farther than they had been before. She smiled, thinking of how their tiny webbed feet must have been pumping hard.
Claire looked around but didn’t see anything or anybody. Strange.
She went to her room and took a nap. By the time she woke up, it was time to shower and slip into her ballroom-style dress. Sheesh, she hated stuff like this. Her boss had strongly hinted that the employees needing to dress with elegance. The boss wants us to pretend we’re rich, yet he expects honesty?
When Claire arrived in the huge dining room, outfitted with golden eating utensils, china, and linen napkins, she took in a breath. Maybe she could be impressed after all. This place was really elegant. Yet the dining room felt open and friendly.
The food was excellent, and rumor had it the staff was all hired from Paris for the weekend.
It seemed to Claire that there were so many contradictions at this retreat. Be yourself but pretend you always dress this way. Play volleyball and other outdoor games like you’re having fun, instead of despising everyone behind your smile. Act like you’re glad to be here when no one really seems overjoyed.
Claire participated in the trivial conversation at her round table. Well, it could have been worse. She could have married good ol’ Frank and been told at every meal to watch her sodium intake.
There was that strange feeling again. Soon someone tapped her on the shoulder, and he walked to the main table and adjusted the microphone. Claire questioned the man silently. Frank? But you’re not even dressed up! What are you doing here?
“Good evening, everybody,” Frank said, looking directly at Claire. “You may wonder what I’m doing here and why I’m dressed in tennis clothes.”
“Well, yeah,” Claire murmured. Everyone in the room seemed to be thinking the same thing. Who was this man?
Claire’s boss stood up and walked over to Frank, taking the microphone from him with a smile. Frank remained at his side.
“Friends, you have this fine man to thank for the whole weekend, right down to paying the kitchen staff from Paris and for all your rooms. Do you want to know why? I’ll let Mr. Frank Simmons tell you why. Back to you, Frank,” he said as he handed the microphone back.
“Because I’m in love,” Frank began. His eyes never left Claire’s sweet face. “I made a terrible mistake in leaving her for my new job. But I’ve come to rectify the situation. You see, the medical practice I started has done very well. I’ve hired additional top-notch doctors and nurses, and I only see patients as a backup physician now.” Frank sighed and cleared his throat.
Claire wondered what he was going to say next.
“Sweetheart, a life without the one you love is nothing, not even with loads of money.” He started to hand the microphone back to Claire’s boss and was going to walk over to her, but her boss pulled him back and nodded at the crowd. “Listen to what they’re saying,” he told Frank.
Several women and a few men were yelling, “Stay at the microphone. We want to hear what you have to say!”
Claire laughed. A warmth began in her chest and warmed her pleasantly.
“All righty then!” Frank said. The crowd chuckled, and he continued.
“Claire, you were right. I hope your parents are all right, because I’ve got to see them and thank them for molding you into such a wonderful person. A person who cares about others deeply and won’t ever let them down. A person whose eyes don’t get glazed over at the prospect of a rich life.”
“I’m wearing my tennis clothes because I’m welcoming myself back to the life I knew. This kind of life,” Frank said, motioning his hand over the audience, “is nice but not for me. We’re having a big ol’ grand hurrah. Let’s celebrate!”
The crowd cheered. Claire jumped to her feet and ran to the front of the room. Claire and Frank embraced, and Claire whispered to him, “I’m so glad you came back. It turns out that I have to let go of my stubbornness and look for ways to compromise.”
“Then I’m glad I can help. I love you, Claire MacDougall. What say we go find your parents now?”