“I think I’m going to buy a boat. A really big boat.” Mark leaned back in his leather recliner, blew on his black coffee, and flipped through the pages of the Aquatic Dreams sales brochure.
“You gazelle,” Raquel sighed. If Mark had glanced up, he would have seen the roll of his wife’s gray eyes. But he was engrossed in his plan-de-jour to sell the sprawling ranch and retire on a yacht.
Raquel’s pet name for Mark started some forty years ago when they were newlyweds. They lived in a cramped apartment in an artsy Austin neighborhood, just down from where he taught high school history. A few years younger, Raquel was completing her fine arts degree at the University of Texas. One morning, the phone, which sat on Raquel’s side of the bed, rang. Like a Pavlovian dog, Mark leapt off the mattress and over his petite wife in one bound. He landed with both feet on the hardwood floor, the phone receiver in his hand, already pressed to his ear.
At that time, Raquel had laughed, calling him “gazelle.” The swift animal continued to be an appropriate description for the man she had followed across the country for four decades.
“What, Honey? Did you say something?” The slight interruption of Raquel’s voice caused Mark to fumble his mug, and a few drops of dark coffee dribbled onto the cushion. It didn’t matter. Raquel, always prudent, had long ago reupholstered their furniture in varying shades of brown fabric. She often joked that she should one day create a line of spot-concealing fabrics with names like Tea Stain Tan, Coffee Drip Brown, or Merlot Splash Maroon.
“Nope, I didn’t say anything. Not a thing.”
Mark didn’t notice his wife walk out of the den. He smiled to himself as he looked over the brochure’s glamorous photos depicting the various yacht and sailboat options. He wondered which one he should choose.
Raquel was organized to a fault. Mark was grateful for that. Thanks to her diligence with the house and kids, as well as her easygoing networking style that impressed his colleagues, Mark quickly moved up to Chair of the history department. As Raquel liked to say, “You be the historian, and I’ll take care of everything non-historical.” Their three children were now grown and out of the house, but Raquel kept up, calling each one every Sunday afternoon. She updated Mark, giving him an abridged version of their kids’ comings and goings.
And she was loyal. When, just a few years into their marriage, Mark wanted to start a textbook publishing company as a side business, Raquel was supportive. When the company went under and they lost all of their savings, Raquel didn’t blame him. When, after teaching high school for ten years, Mark wanted to switch to teaching undergrads, Raquel listened to his idea.
“I don’t know, Rocky, but I think academia is calling my name. And I could make more money as a professor. It wouldn’t take much, just a few years of graduate school. There’s an amazing program at Princeton, and I know I can get in. I’ve already checked. I bet we’ll make a sizeable profit on our house. Probably enough to live off of while I’m in school. It’ll be a new adventure. Right?”
“So, let me get this straight. You want to quit your teaching job. You want to sell our home. You want our three children to leave their friends. You want us to move halfway across the country. We’ll live in, uh, oh yes, that’s right, New Jersey. And you want to go back to school to get your PhD? Is that what you’re telling me, Mark?”
“Sure! Why not? It’ll be fun! The kids will love the Jersey shore! Come on, Rocky, I need this. And I need you. I can’t make this move without you, Babe.” Mark cocked his head in the way that his wife still found cute. He winked, grabbed her hands, and pulled her up from their dark brown sofa. He twirled her around the den, dipped her down low, and kissed her. He finished the dance off with his customary jig—a ridiculous hip wiggle combined with jazz hands.
“You gazelle,” Raquel couldn’t help but laugh.
And as foolish as his idea had sounded at first, three months later, the Sanders family was settled into new schools and a new home a few miles from Princeton University. Getting out of Austin was a good move for Mark and the kids. For Raquel, it meant putting her plans to open an art studio on hold.
“There will be time later for you to start your little art hobby, Raquel,” Mark promised. “Once I get my new career going, it’ll be your turn.”
“It’s not an art hobby, Mark. I want a legitimate studio where I can teach real art classes. Please don’t call it a little hobby.”
“I’m kidding! Don’t be so sensitive! Of course it’s important. Right after I get my PhD… your turn, Babe. Your turn.
At their twenty-fifth anniversary, Mark surprised Raquel.
“It’s something big. Really big!” he teased his wife at the restaurant that evening. Mancino’s was their favorite spot; a hole-in-the-wall pizzeria they’d discovered when they first moved to Kentucky. Georgetown College offered Mark a tenure-track position teaching Civil War and Reconstruction, and they had settled comfortably into the quaint town after he finished his degree at Princeton.
Their children put down Kentucky roots, too. The twins—Mark Jr. and Melissa—had recently graduated from Georgetown College, having taken advantage of the free tuition offered to faculty dependents. Their youngest, Mallory, was about to be a senior in high school. Mark and Raquel were proud that after years of pricey horse riding lessons, Mallory made her school’s Equestrian team. Life in Georgetown was unhurried, but it provided an easy, comfortable pace. Year after year, Raquel postponed her plans for the art studio.
“There just isn’t time,” she reasoned, as much to herself as to Mark. “Mallory still needs me, and Mark Jr. hasn’t even found a job yet. Melissa’s wedding is in six months. How could I possibly open my own business, figure out how to attract art students, and take care of you and the kids?”
Mark reached for a piece of fried calamari, accidentally sloshing a bit of wine on the white tablecloth. He dabbed the stain with his napkin. “You know, Babe, Mancino’s would probably buy yards and yards of your Merlot Splash Maroon fabric. Now that would have been a smart business for you to start. Too bad you never got that idea going. Forget the art hobby. You really should come up with a marketing plan for those fancy fabrics you’re always talking about instead.”
“It’s more than a hobby to me, Mark. And I’m not passionate about textiles, for goodness sake. You know that I’m passionate about painting… and about teaching art.”
“Passion schmassion!” Mark chuckled. “Okay, okay, you’re right. It’s not a hobby. So, anyway. Whatever. Do you want your big surprise or not?”
He handed Raquel a small, navy blue, velvet box. Maybe it’s something silver, she thought, thinking he might know about the traditional twenty-five-year marriage gift.
And it was. Inside the box was a silver chain with a sterling charm. Puzzled, Raquel turned the trinket shaped like the Eiffel tower over in her hand. Paris? Is Mark surprising me with a trip to Paris? For years she had dreamed of visiting The Louvre. It was so unlike Mark to remember something like that. Had he actually listened to me talk about The Louvre last month? “Paris?” she questioned out loud.
“Paris, Rocky! Whaddya say we move to Paris?” He began to laugh so hard he spilled his wine again. “Paris, Texas, that is! You know I’ve always wanted to buy a ranch. Let’s move back to Texas, Honey. As soon as Mallory graduates. Please say yes. I want a ranch with lots of land… goats, cattle, the works! We’ll get a horse for when Mallory and the twins visit. You’ve gotta say yes. You know I can’t make this move without ya, Hon.”
Raquel fastened the necklace around her neck and smiled at Mark. “Sure thing, Babe. After all, it’s your turn.”
After forty years of marriage, Raquel knew one thing. Two things, actually. For one, she wasn’t going to get on a boat. Small boat. Big boat. Really big boat. Didn’t matter. Mark must have forgotten that she couldn’t swim. He must have forgotten that she was deathly afraid of the water.
Secondly, Raquel hated brown. She hated all shades of brown. Tan. Chocolate. Beige. And especially dark-reddish brown. She hated maroon most of all.
She only packed one suitcase. She didn’t want Mark to notice that she was gone. Not yet. There’d be time for explanations later. And what was she thinking, anyway? Mark wouldn’t notice for a while. The flashy Aquatic Dreams brochure had his attention for now.
Yellow, Raquel thought as she drove down the dirt road, away from the ranch Mark had named Gazelle Grange.
I love yellow. I think I’ll paint my art studio yellow.
Cathey Nickell is a Houston, Texas-based author and elementary school speaker. In 2017, her book, Arthur Zarr’s Amazing Art Car, was awarded first place by the Texas Association of Authors in the category of Children’s Picture Books. She talks to students about writing, creativity and where to find that spark of inspiration. Cathey is married with four grown children.
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