In the Cards
The Story of Cheryl and Ken
By Cheryl Dougherty
t fifty-one years old, I didn’t expect to lose the love of my life. I was living my youthful dream of love, family, and marriage. Widowhood was not in the picture. When life ignored my plans, I was forced into a new reality. Finding another love and soulmate two years later showed me that a new reality is not always bad. The funny thing is, I think it was in the cards all along. Fate had dealt me a hand. I simply needed to take a risk and play it.
I moved to Florida on Fourth of July weekend in 1980. After growing up in small-town Connecticut with its long, dreary winters, I was ready for someplace sunny and lively. With my studies completed and armed with my newly printed master’s degree, I arrived in Daytona Beach. Daytona was a Spring Break mecca, so the job offer I received from a local college seemed perfect for me. Early on I met a guy at work who captured my attention. He was intelligent, funny, tall, southern, and a grown man unlike the boys I’d dated in college. The attraction was immediate. We were frequently at odds professionally, but his contagious laughter and quick wit kept the process fun. I looked forward to the way our eyes caught while arguing on budget items, sparkling with enthusiasm as we each tried to one-up the other. His deep voice and warm Southern drawl drew me in while his knowledge and confidence challenged me intellectually. When I was with him, I felt grown-up, appreciated, and attractive. The crush I developed for Southern Man was powerful. Although the interest was clearly mutual, his status as a divorced dad with a girlfriend kept us from exploring a relationship.
I was a single girl in a party town, and my social life was exactly as I’d expected: days at the beach, clubs with friends, sports, concerts, and hanging out with my roommate, Mary James. Mary was also single and looking for Mr. Right. While we had fun, I was secretly pining for Southern Man. Our social circle included many male friends, so we were always “safe” when hitting the clubs in a group for entertainment and dancing. Friday nights usually included a stop at the local favorite, Aku Tiki. Their house band, The Better Way, played lively dance music, and the place was always hopping.
One Friday, I parked my tan Plymouth Duster beside the giant Easter Island head in Aku Tiki’s parking lot and headed for the heavy door with Mary and a few other friends.
“I bet this is the only nightclub on the beach that’s in a basement!” I said as we descended the stairs to the sounds of the Kinks’ You Really Got Me. Once our eyes adjusted to the darkness of the windowless room, we found two tables at the rear, put them together to form a long one, and ordered our first pitcher of beer.
The opening chords of Ain’t Too Proud to Beg made me rock in my seat. I glanced around just as a dark-haired guy rose from his seat near the stairs. He ambled across the dance floor, broad shoulders already swaying lightly to the music. Cute, I thought, then realized he was coming our way.
When he reached my table, he stopped and smiled. “Do you want to dance?”
“Sure,” I said.
We took our place on the small floor in front of the bandstand. The room was too dark for me to tell his eye color, but his smile seemed genuine. I guessed him to be about six feet tall. I had a thing for tall men.
His slender frame wasn’t always in sync with the beat, but he didn’t seem to mind, which made it fun. Partway through, arms swinging and head bobbing, he looked at me and said, “You remind me of Sondra Locke.”
I smiled and kept dancing.
“You know, Clint Eastwood’s girlfriend who’s in his movies.”
I answered, “Oh yeah. I know who she is.”
“She’s blonde and pretty, just like you.”
Initially, the words signaled a pick-up line. But even over the music, the tone rang warm and true. He leaned toward me, eyes crinkling. There wasn’t a hint of a leer or laugh as he studied my face. I didn’t sense an ulterior motive. A nice guy was paying me a genuine compliment—that stinks. If I were in the market for a date, this guy would be a REALLY good candidate. But I was carrying a torch for Southern Man. What is wrong with me? You’re only interested in a dance partner, so don’t give him an opportunity to take it further.
When the song ended, I said a quick thank you, spun toward my table, and hurried back to my friends as fast as I could without actually running across the dance floor. Nice Guy got the hint and didn’t follow.
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