Beach Lane

By: Sherryl Woods

The third option would be to get out of town tonight so the invitation could never be issued in the first place. That one held the most appeal, but it smacked of cowardice. Mack might be an unemployed member of a dying profession, but he was no coward.

Suddenly Will’s gaze landed on the jewelry box sitting on the coffee table. His expression brightened. “Is that what I think it is?”

Jake followed the direction of his gaze. “An engagement ring? You bought an engagement ring? Is it for Susie?”

Mack scowled at the question, “Who else would it be for? I haven’t been out with another woman for a long time now.”

Jake shrugged. “You could be dating a whole slew of them. People have secret lives that not even their best friends know about. I heard about it on Oprah.”

Will and Mack both stared at him. “Since when do you watch daytime television?” Will inquired, his eyes alight with amusement.

“Bree has it on at the flower shop sometimes,” Jake responded defensively. “I see it when I make deliveries there. It’s not like I race home to watch every afternoon.”

Mack grinned. “Good to know.”

“Hold it,” Will said. “How’d we get away from the real question here? Are you planning to ask Susie to marry you?”

“Not anymore,” Mack said, sinking right back into despondency. “How can I? The timing sucks.”

“I doubt Susie would agree,” Will said. “She’s been waiting for a very long time for you to wake up and see the light. I don’t think your temporary unemployment would deter her from saying yes.”

“It wouldn’t be right,” Mack insisted. “I need to get my life back in order first.” He frowned at his friends. “And if either of you mention a word about this to anyone, I swear you’ll live to regret it. Am I clear?”

“Got it,” Jake said.

“No one will hear it from me,” Will agreed.

“Thank you.”

“But I am going on record telling you that waiting is a mistake,” Will said. “Life’s short. Don’t waste a minute of it.”

“Says the man who took forever to get around to asking Jess O’Brien to go on a date, much less marry him,” Jake commented.

“Different situation entirely,” Will claimed, then grinned. “But, yeah, I wasted too much time. Don’t follow my example. Learn from my experience.”

“The timing’s all wrong,” Mack reiterated. “And I don’t want to talk about any of this anymore. What do you guys think about that backup quarterback the Ravens picked up? He’s looking good, don’t you think?”

Will and Jake exchanged a look, then sighed.

“Real good,” Jake agreed.

“I was planning to write a column about him next week…” Mack began, but his voice trailed off. He reached for his scotch again. It didn’t seem to matter what they talked about. Right this second, his entire life sucked.

“You guys might as well go,” he said. “I’m lousy company.”

Both men shook their heads.

“Doesn’t matter,” Jake said. “We stick together.”

“Jake’s right,” Will said. “But if I’m going to drink any more, we’d better think about ordering a pizza. This disgusting day-old glob sitting on the table is starting to look downright tasty to me. And if I don’t eat, I’ll wind up falling asleep on your floor, and Jess will be on the warpath.”

“Ditto with Bree,” Jake said.

Mack saw the determination on their faces and sighed. “I’ll make the call.”

“Extra sausage,” Jake said.

“Extra cheese,” Will added.

Mack chuckled. “I know you two don’t order like that when your wives are around. Last I heard, you were limited to the veggie specials.”

“Sadly true,” Jake said despondently. “That’s why we love you. You don’t judge us for our disgusting eating habits.”

“Who knew that pizza was the bond that would keep us together for a lifetime,” Mack said wryly.

“That, and knowing too many of each other’s deep dark secrets,” Will added. He held up his glass of scotch. “To friends.”

Mack and Jake tapped his glass with their own. Maybe there was one part of his life that didn’t suck, after all. He had some of the best friends around.

That one of them also happened to be the woman he loved was just a bonus. He’d have to think about that after these two went home. Maybe talking to Susie about all this wouldn’t be quite the disaster he’d been envisioning.

Then again, a man had his pride.


Susie had to admit she was a little freaked-out when she didn’t hear from Mack as usual. He’d gotten into the habit of calling on his way back from Baltimore. Most nights they made plans to have dinner together. Sometimes she cooked. More often, they grabbed a bite to eat at one of the cafés along Shore Road, then went for a walk or sat somewhere by the bay and talked. Once in a while they played Scrabble or cards. It always astonished her how competitive Mack could be over a silly game.