Love Conquers All

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*Author’s note: Insecurities seem trivial, and many are. Sometimes though, an insecurity is based on something real and gets so deeply internalized, it becomes a part of us, and occasionally, it can be debilitating. It could be anything from a lazy eye to unsightly teeth to morbid obesity to something as horrific as severe facial burns. Or it could be something unseen and even more personal.

Once that happens, it takes a special kind of person to help someone with a serious issue get beyond it. Of course, that special person has to want to deal with it, but if he or she does, it can completely turn the other person’s life around.

Jordan Hanson is so good looking and outwardly confident that no one can imagine him living with an insecurity that has nearly ruined his life. Shay Henderson-Marino is the kind of special person who shows him how loves conquers all.


“So I hear your ex is getting married. You doing okay?”

“Yeah. Sure. It’s fine. I’m actually happy for him,” her best friend said.

“You’re a saint, Shay. I was ready to kill my ex when he told me he was getting married again.”

“As a police officer, killing him wouldn’t have been hard to do, but as a police officer you probably wouldn’t enjoy prison all that much.”

Her lifelong friend laughed and told her she was right.

“Cops don’t do well in prison. Or…former cops, rather.”

Her best friend, Stacey Thompson, was now a lieutenant in their still reasonably-small town of Lebanon, Pennsylvania. She’d worked her way up from patrolman to sergeant, and as of a year ago, she was now the number three person in the department.

The senior police officer smiled then said, “If you’re okay with it then I suppose that’s fine.”

“Besides,” her friend said, “I’ve got something kind of nice going on, remember?”

“Oh, right. With the youth pastor.” Stacey asked as she recalled the name of the new youth pastor at one of the local churches. She smiled when she thought about how the actual pastor was maybe 35, if that, while this youth pastor was closer to 50.

“Yes. With Ted. He’s a really nice guy, you know? And he’s pretty good looking which never hurts.”

“No, it doesn’t. And nice is…okay,” Stacey replied without much conviction.


“Well, I don’t know. If you’re just kind of dating and it isn’t serious, then nice really is fine. But do you want to get serious with someone who doesn’t make your heart go pitter-patter?”

“Stacey, I’m 46. I have a 17-old daughter. I work a in flower shop and barely get by. Ted provides a kind of…anchor. He’s the stability I need right now.”

“You don’t have to convince me, Shay. If it works for you, great. And I’m the same age you are, so there’s no need to remind me about that. Lord knows the mirror does enough of that every morning.”

“Hey. Stop that! You look great,” Shay said supportively.

“Ha! I look…nice. I look…okay—for my age,” Stacey replied. “You, on the other hand. You…make me sick!”

Both of them laughed, but both of them knew she was right. Shay Marino, who was in the process of changing her name back to Henderson, was unreasonably attractive for a woman their age.

Stacey couldn’t hold it against her. It was largely the luck of the draw along with a lot of dieting and hard work on Shay’s part. Both of them had had a child, but Shay was back in a size four a year later while Stacey still battled her weight and was thrilled to get into a ten—on occasion.

And it wasn’t just her figure. Shay had thick, gorgeous, dark hair that didn’t have a single strand of gray in it. And she could and still did wear it to her shoulders. Stacey had given up and cut hers above her ears not long after her ex announced he was leaving. Adding insult to injury, Shay still had soft, smooth, wrinkle-free skin while Stacey battled laugh lines, crow’s feet, turkey neck, flabby underarms, cellulite, and everything else most women their age dealt with and hated.

Most women. Shay wasn’t one of them.

Again, it was no one’s fault. Shay had the genes and because she also worked very hard at it, she also had—the jeans. Tiny, size-four jeans that showed off her tight, round tushy in a way that always drew looks from men half her age.

Once they stopped laughing Stacey said, “Question. Why don’t you renew your real estate license and get back into the business? I know how much you love your job, but as you just said, you’re barely getting by. The market’s on fire, and you could make a lot more money.”

“I know. You’re absolutely right. It’s just that I got so spoiled being able to work a fun job I enjoy that the thought of going back to something more demanding—and stressful—is hard to imagine. But the extra money would be nice.”

“Well, think about it, okay? Maybe just give it a little consideration in your spare time.”

“I will,” Shay promised before saying, “And I’m really glad you stopped by. We don’t see each other often enough.”

“I know. It’s just so hard with work. When I get off all I want to do is go home escort dikmen and have a glass of wine and zone out.”

Stacey laughed then said, “Maybe that’s why my butt hasn’t looked like yours since before we had kids.”

“Your butt is just fine,” Shay told her. “In fact, how are things going with that detective of yours?”

“They’re not,” Stacey told her. “It’s just too hard, you know? He works for me, and a woman giving orders to a man she’s dating, is a big ‘no-go’.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. He’s kind of cute. A little young, but very nice looking.”

“Well, maybe you could give it a whirl. He’s not that young.”

Shay looked at her friend who immediately understood why and said, “Oh, right. Sorry. Pastor Ted. You really are a saint.”

Stacey hesitated, then decided to ask because best friends could ask anything.

“With him being a man of God and all, do you guys ever…you know…”

Shay laughed then said, “No. Never. But it’s way too early for that anyway.”

“Six weeks is too early? Really?”

Shay stopped and thought about it for a second then replied.

“It’s not that I’m not ready. It’s just…complicated.”

“By his job title,” Stacey said without judgment. “How long’s it been?”

“Don’t ask,” Shay said with a shake of her head. “Okay, maybe a week or so before I found out about Carmen.”

“Ah, yes. Carmen. The other woman. The soon-to-be new Mrs. Marino.”

“Yes. That Carmen.”

“So it’s been a very, very long time.”

Shay laughed again then said, “I’ve worn out two vibrators since he left. And my third is getting the workout of a lifetime.”

“Oh, I get it. Then again, I’m actually…getting it. Just not very often. In fact, I was feeling really bad for myself before I talked to you,” Stacey told her, trying not to laugh.

“That would be nice,” Shay admitted. “But you know what? As much as I enjoy sex, or maybe I should say, ‘As far I can remember, I used to really enjoy sex’, what I miss the most is the intimacy. The touching, the kissing, the sweet words. So while I’d love to make love, I’d much rather have all that than just the sex part.”

“Sorry, hon. I want both,” Stacey quipped.

“Slut!” Shay teased causing her friend to laugh loudly.

Shay tried not to laugh but couldn’t help it. That was just how Stacey was. She’d always been the more adventurous. She was the risk taker while Shay played it safe.

“And look where that’s gotten me,” she said to herself as she walked her friend to the door.

“Don’t be a stranger,” Shay told her again as they hugged goodbye.

“I won’t. And I know you’re dating Ted, but well, don’t you be afraid to take a risk every once in a while, okay?” Stacey said, blowing Shay’s mind with the timing of her using the words ‘risk taking’.

“You know that’s not my style,” Shay said with a sense of resignation.

“It could be. Just try and stay open to new possibilities, okay? You’re not married or engaged, so don’t close yourself off to other…ideas. Like real estate or…sex.”

“Sure,” Shay said as positively as she could just to pacify her friend.

Deep down she knew Stacey was right. The problem was doing something about it. Shay was very risk-averse, and the thought of taking risks often made her physically nauseous. And yet the thought of going another six months or even a year or longer without any kind of intimacy seemed even worse.

“Take care, Shay Butter,” Stacey said using her favorite play on words for ‘shea butter’. “Love you, girl.”

“Love you, too, Stace,” Shay said, shortening her friend’s name.

“Tell Pastor Ted I said ‘hi’, okay?”

“Will do!” Shay called out as Stacey disappeared down the sidewalk.

As she closed the door it became painfully obvious something had to change. Shay knew that wasn’t going to include making love with Ted anytime soon. In fact, she was pretty sure that meant not doing anything before they were legally married. As odd as she found that in today’s world, she had to admit she respected him for his values. The problem was that his values did very little to scratch the itch that was driving her crazy. But were he to show her some real affection, even without sex…

Shay laughed at the thought of ‘having an affair’, if having sex without being married or engaged could even be considered an affair. She knew she’d never sneak around behind Ted’s back just to get the itch scratched no matter how severe it got.

No, she’d have to try and find some way to let him know she wanted more while not pressuring him to betray his values.

“Gee, that should be easy,” she said to herself as the phrase ‘trying to square a circle’ came to mind.

Shay sighed deeply as she silently wished life wasn’t so complicated just as she heard the back door open.

“Hey, Mom!” she heard her daughter call out.

“Oh, hi, honey!” Shay called back. “How was your day?”

Alexis Marino was a senior in high school and the most important person in her life. She’d been friends with escort emek Stacey more twice as long as Alexis had been alive, but her daughter was still by far her best friend, just in a very different way than the police lieutenant who’d just left.

They’d always been close, but since her father informed them he’d met someone and would be moving out, Alexis had leaned on her mother more than ever before. Now she was finally coming into her own as a young woman, and Shay was more proud of her than she could put into words. Alexis was not only on the honor roll at school, she was pulling a very respectable 3.72 grade point average, and had already applied to the University of Pennsylvania or, to those from that state, U Penn, where Shay had gone a million years ago.

Alexis was not only smart, she had her mom’s looks and was extremely popular at school. Even so, she was very well-grounded and down to earth. No one would ever call her ‘boy crazy’ even though plenty of boys were crazy about her.

Alexis was a realist who was neither a big risk taker nor risk averse. She was the ‘Goldilocks’ who fell right between her mom and Stacey with a very nice balance between playing it safe and going for the brass ring when an opportunity presented itself. Her mom often envied her daughter for that, but mostly she was just plain proud of her.

“It was really good. I aced my chemistry test, and I just took a math test today I think I did really well on. How was yours?” Alexis said.

“Good. Stacey just left, and she was kind of pushing me to renew my real estate license.”

“And?” her daughter asked.

“I don’t know. I guess I’ll give it some thought,” her mom said. “We could really use the money, although it might take a while to get a steady income stream established.”

“So sell real-estate part time for a while until you do,” her daughter said in that way that made Shay think Alexis was closer to her age than seventeen.

“Hmmm. And yet another good idea from my favorite person in the whole world,” her mom told her with a smile.

“It’s up to you, of course. I’ll support you either way,” her daughter said cheerfully.

“You always do,” her mom replied.

“Like with Pastor Ted?” Alexis asked.

She wasn’t smiling this time, and Shay knew that’s because she thought her mom was settling. It wasn’t so much the religious aspect as it was that Alexis knew Ted wasn’t a passionate man. Alexis was keenly aware he was her mom’s ‘safety net’ who’d come along at just the right time. Her mother was loyal to a fault, and because Ted had been there at the lowest point in her life, she felt like she was…obligated…to be there for him.

Alexis had never seen them kiss or even hold hands, and the only time she’d asked her mom about, she’d gotten a defensive answer in response.

“We don’t have to be all lovey-dovey in public,” her mom had replied, even though Alexis was primarily referring to the time they spent at home in private.

She’d seen Ted put his arm around her mom while they watched a movie once, but that was it. And while she’d never even think about asking about things that were even more private, Alexis was certain nothing ‘more private’ ever went on. That wasn’t her business, but wanting to see her mom happy was, and Alexis had this sixth sense about her and this was one of those times she was using it.

Alexis’s reference to Ted out of the blue both surprised and kind of hurt her. She didn’t want the hurt to show, but she was terrible at hiding things and knew Alexis had seen it on her face.

“Mom? I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it like that,” her daughter said almost immediately.

“No, it’s okay, honey. Again, I have to admit you’re right. You’ve been nothing but supportive, and I know you’re not wild about him.”

“I like him just fine, Mom. He’s a good, decent man. And although I don’t look at men that age the way you do, he’s not all that bad looking. I guess some would even say he’s handsome. It’s just that there’s no…spark…between you. Or at least not that I can see.”

“We have…spark,” her mom said, again in that defensive way.

Rather than argue the point, Alexis smiled and said, “Okay. Um…I’m gonna go upstairs and study.”

“Is that all you ever do is study?” her mom asked.

“No, but it’s all I’m going to tell my mom I do,” Alexis said with a bit of a devious smile.

“Uh-huh. I see. So did someone get asked to the senior prom today? Someone who didn’t tell her best friend?”

“Maybe,” her daughter said somewhat coyly.

“Was it Bryce?” her mom asked hopefully.

“Maybe,” Alexis said with the same kind of look.

“It was, wasn’t it? Bryce asked you to the prom, didn’t he?”

It was pretty obvious to Alexis that her mom was asking almost as much for herself as for her daughter, and that was yet another telltale sign there wasn’t any spark in her relationship with Pastor Ted.

“Ummm…YES!!” Alexis finally admitted as a huge smile broke on her very pretty face.

“Oh, my gosh! Honey, I am SO happy escort eryaman for you!” her mom said as she hugged her.

“Thanks, Mom. I’m pretty happy about it myself.”

“You deserve this so much, Lexi-Lex,” her mom said as she kept her hands on her daughter’s shoulders.

Deciding to take a small risk, Alexis said, “You deserve to be happy, too, Mom.”

Shay slowly lowered her hands, broke eye contact with her daughter, then said in a very unconvincing tone of voice, “I’m…happy.”

Alexis sighed then said, “Okay. I’ll drop it.”

Over the next month, Shay continued seeing Ted, who’d finally kissed her goodnight after spending most of the evening with her. Alexis wasn’t there to see it, and Shay wondered if he’d have kissed her if she had been home.

“I’ve been waiting for the right time to do that,” he told her after the very brief kiss.

It had taken him just over ten weeks to finally kiss her goodnight, and even that brief amount of physical contact had stirred her passions to the point where she thought she might go crazy if she couldn’t satisfy them. But rather than kiss him back, Shay stood there and told him it had been very…nice.

She knew Ted was a widower who’d only ever been with his wife while she’d only been with one man other than her ex-husband. And while Ted wasn’t a hardcore fundamentalist, she also knew he was firmly opposed to sex outside of marriage. Evidently, anything more than kissing was also forbidden.

When he left, Shay made a decision. It was unrelated to her growing physical needs, but it was one she felt was a step in the right direction. Or at least in what she hoped would be a positive direction. The following day she looked into renewing her real estate license and once she knew what she needed to do, she made a plan to do it.

She reread the applicable paragraph one more time which read:

“If your license is currently inactive or expired, you have five years from the date of inactivity or expiration to reactivate your license without taking the licensing examinations. Your completed application for reactivation must be received in our office before your five year deadline. A completed application includes the reactivation fee, criminal background check, conviction documents (if applicable), and continuing education certificates.”

She would have to attend fourteen hours of Commission-approved continuing education then submit the paperwork before the end of August. She’d last been certified five years ago from the 31st of that month. It was only mid-April so she still had plenty of time to complete the training and get re-certified.

Shay didn’t tell her daughter immediately, but she did let Stacey know, and her friend couldn’t have been happier for her. She wanted to save up the good news for a special occasion, and prom night seemed like the perfect time.

When she finally shared her decision with Alexis, it was while she was getting ready to go to the prom with Bryce Owens, the most handsome senior in their high school. Her daughter was thrilled with the news and told her so.

“Thanks, honey, but this is your night. I just wanted to give you one more positive thing to focus on during what should be one of the most memorable times of your life,” her mom replied.

“I’m so lucky to have you as my mom,” Alexis told her so sincerely it made her mother tear up.

“Mom? Don’t start, okay? If you do, I’ll start, and I don’t want my makeup to be ruined before Bryce even gets here.”

“Sorry. I’m just so proud of you!” her mom said yet again.

Alexis smiled then said, “So…do you and Pastor Ted have any big plans for tonight?”

“Um, well, we’re going out to dinner. Is that big enough?” her mom said with a smile.

“Of course,” Alexis replied.

She hesitated then said, “Mom? Are you guys…serious?”

“I…I don’t think so,” her mom told her. “Why? Did Ted say something to you?”

“Well, he did mention a couple of days ago that he really likes you. I believe his exact words were, ‘I really, really like your mother’.”

“Oh. I see,” Shay said trying to hide her surprise, not sure if this new revelation was good news or the other kind.

Ted had told her he liked her before and had recently said he ‘really’ liked her. Shay had said it back, and yet, when she did, the way it made her feel had bothered her ever since. Was it possible she liked Pastor Ted, but only…liked him? Not enough to even say she really liked him? And if so, what exactly did that mean?

“Anyway, have fun tonight, okay?” Alexis said, once again making her mom feel like she was the daughter.

“You, too, sweetie,” she said, recovering from her insecurities.

Shay had that sick feeling in her stomach as her mind began to race. Was it possible Ted might do something as far-fetched as propose to her tonight? Could his comments to Alexis have been his way of feeling her out to see what her reaction might be? And yet he was so traditional, wouldn’t he have ‘asked for her mother’s hand’ before proposing?

As she went to change into a dress for their evening out, Shay’s head was swirling, and she found herself almost dreading their date, something she’d never experienced before. She was rarely excited about going out with Ted, but she’d never had this kind of feeling in the pit of her stomach.

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