At 19, Marnie plunged into first love with Joe, a guy who was completely wrong for her. Their romance was fast and exhilarating and like nothing Marnie had ever experienced or understood. Just as quickly as it began, it was over, with no explanation. He left her with
unanswered questions and unexpected feelings of loss and regret, and a quiet grief she would carry with her for the next fifteen years.When Joe returns, Marnie is a 34-year-old wife and mother to two rambunctious little boys, who is slowly healing from a devastating loss. All the emotions she suppressed from the past fifteen years surge to the surface, threatening to ruin her marriage and destroy her family. She'll need to confront the one person who hurt her the most to realize that love and loss sometimes go hand in hand… and that you have to live with some of your toughest choices for the rest of your life.
A Little Bit of Everything Lost is part coming-of-age/part love story. It's a story about a woman desperate to make peace with the past. It's for all women who have ever experienced the magnitude of first love, whether it was a lasting bond or a fleeting moment. Because first love - while it might not have been the best love - is a love none of us ever forgets.
1988: What Marnie Remembers
Don’t go any lower, don’t go any lower. Oh my God, that feels so good, don’t go any lower.
“Because, it feels too good.”
He looked at her and smiled. A smile that took her breath away, and scared her all at the same time.
“Plus, I don’t even know your name.” She thought it started with a J.
“I told you. It’s Joe. And you’re Marnie."
The whole process irritated the hell out of Marnie.
The microwave timer buzzed, frozen pancakes warmed and ready.
“You’re going to be late for the bus!” she yelled as she searched the meat drawer for ham.
“Why don’t I do this the night before?” Marnie muttered into the fridge. She found meat, made sandwiches, and moved to the pantry to grab syrup for the pancakes.
The lid was sticky.
She heard the boys arguing about who got to play Xbox first when they got home from school. They were going to be late. Again. And the lid was covered in syrup. Again.
“Damn it, boys! Get down here. Now!”
They were still arguing as they bounded down the stairs and Marnie knew Jeremy had taken his forefinger and thumb and whacked his younger brother on the head because Trey yelped, “I’m telling!”
“No tattling,” Marnie threatened. “Or there’ll be no soccer after school.”
“Good. I hate soccer practice,” Jeremy said.
“Me too,” Trey agreed with his older brother.
Marnie shook her head. There was no winning here. She was losing the battle that was good parenting, and she didn’t know how she was going to survive. High school – hell, junior high school – was still eons away.
The rumble of the bus wheels turning onto the street signaled panic in the boys’ eyes.
“The bus!” Trey screamed.
“Grab a granola bar, your lunches and backpacks, and run!”
No matter what chaos each morning brought, Jeremy and Trey were endearing still, her little boys, taking the time to kiss her, and to tell her they loved her. Every morning, no matter what, they managed to love her. If only that were enough. If only.
As Trey buried his head into Marnie for a hug, she inhaled the little boy smell of him. Oh God, how she wished they didn’t have to grow up, didn’t have to become big boys. Big ones – well, big eight-year-olds like Jeremy – were already showing signs of pulling away, of needing her less and less. Of asking for fewer cuddles, and practically no more bedtime stories, wanting rather to stay up late to watch basketball with Dad when he was home. At least six-year-old Trey could still be babied. He and Marnie would snuggle at night and make up stories about worms named Pinkster and Swirmy, who lived in huts in their backyard, and ate muddy cakes filled with flies.
Marnie sighed. “I love you boys. Have a good day.” She touched her belly.
“Love you too, Mom. Bye!” And the door banged behind them. Her double tornado gone. She heard them screaming down the drive, Trey shouting for Jeremy to wait up for him, always, always chasing after his older brother.
Marnie opened the microwave and took out the mini pancakes the boys hadn’t had time to eat. She grabbed the syrup bottle again, forgetting it was sticky.
“Damn it,” she said to no one, because no one was home. It was Tuesday, and Stuart was gone.
She pulled a paper towel off the roll and noticed it had a Fourth of July stars-and-stripes pattern on it. Summer seemed like forever ago. She didn’t want to remember the summer that didn't happen. She didn’t want to think of fireworks and pool parties, barbecues and sparklers. And her boys, their tanned little bodies, their goggled faces, swimming until they were so tired they would collapse into their beds with no coaxing. She didn’t want to think about parades and fresh sugary-tart lemonade, neighborhood get-togethers, of weekend trips to her parent’s lake house, all the things they didn't get to do. She didn’t want to think about what she should be doing now.
Marnie turned the faucet on cold, saturated the paper towel, and rubbed the top of the syrup bottle as best as she could to clean it off. Then she doused the pancakes with syrup and popped the mini pancakes into her mouth, one by one, filling the void with the golden yeasty fluff, not feeling or tasting, just chewing… chewing until they were all gone; until the anxiety settled in the pit of her stomach and she felt like she could begin her day.
She ran a mental list through her head: the dry cleaners, she had to proof photos from last weekend's shoot, a trip to the grocery store. And she would have to stop by the post office to mail that package that had been sitting on the foyer table for over a week now. The one Stuart had asked her to mail.
When he got home last Thursday and spotted it still there, he had sighed. “I didn’t have time today,” she said. “Tomorrow,” she promised. “I’ll get to it tomorrow.”
“I’m home now. I can mail it tomorrow,” he had said, but he hadn’t gotten around to doing it either.
The phone rang, Marnie wiped her sticky fingers on another paper towel, and checked Caller ID. It was Collette. She hadn’t talked to Collette since last week so she settled onto a kitchen bar stool, ready for one of her usual pep talks. Marnie was desperate for one today.
“Hey you,” Marnie answered.
“Mar, hon. He’s back in town.”
Marnie felt a glob of doughy pancake she had just devoured rise to a lump in her throat.
What Marnie really remembered about that night, the night she met him, was bad choice of underwear. She wasn’t looking to meet anyone, didn’t consider she might be taking off her Zena jean shorts and striped tank top; didn’t think a guy would be slipping her bra straps from her shoulders to feel the firm flesh of her breasts, to pinch her nipples until they tightened.
The underwear. The one thing – the only thing – that held her back. Because she didn’t know if her underwear were sexy enough for a guy to peel from her hips, to slide down her thighs, to toss to the floor.
“Why?” He nuzzled into her, his stubbled chin sending goose bumps everywhere, and then he licked her neck, and she melted into his shoulder, smelling beer and cologne. They were both buzzed. She shivered, in the dimly lit room, on a bed with a guy she hardly knew. She didn’t know how far it would go, how far he would try to go, how far she would let him go.
She decided she wouldn’t go any further. Only because she was probably wearing her Hanes yellow cotton panties. Instead of giving him an answer, she felt for his face, and kissed him again, biting his lower lip and pulling his hands back up to where they had been. That was feeling pretty incredible anyway, and he was a great kisser.
He hadn’t asked again, and for that, he won some major points. She liked him.
The party was loud. She remembered Phil Collins’ song, Take Me Home blaring on a tape deck, and him whispering, “I’d like to take you home.”
She lifted her hips, and although he kept on his shorts, she could feel him through the denim. He felt big. Really big. Marnie liked knowing he was so turned on. And Marnie knew if she stopped him right now, he’d probably call. And that’s what she wanted.
“Stop,” she breathed heavily into his ear, and nipped at his lobe. “We gotta stop.”
“We just do. You’re turning me on too much.”
There, she said it. Other times, with other guys, she said it only to be a tease. This time she said it because she meant it. And she really, really didn’t want him to see her yellow cotton undies. They’d have to wait. Plus, she wasn’t quite sure about his name. She thought it started with a J.
He rolled off her, frustrated, she could tell, but then he sighed, leaned onto his elbow, hooked his leg over hers, and played with the strands of her hair. This gesture felt more intimate than everything else they had been doing.
“Your eyes are pretty.”
“Oh, come on,” Marnie laughed. “What kind of crap line is that? They’re brown.”
“No they’re not. They’re chocolaty.” He stared at her. Kept staring.
Marnie stared back. Like a game. She decided she wasn’t going to say anything, just wanted to stare into his hazel eyes.
Finally, “Don’t you want to know my name?” he asked.
“Do you want to know mine?”
“I think I’m interested in that, yes.” He continued to twirl the piece of her loose hair. “And a lot more. Later. Okay?”
“Marnie. Marnie’s my name.”
“Marnie. That’s different.”
“I never knew a Marnie before. That short for something?”
“Actually, long. For Mar.” She touched his shoulder, just to feel that he was there and real. His skin was warm. And tan.
“Mar. I like that. I’m Joe. Short for Joseph.”
She giggled. “Nice to meet you, Joe.”
He smiled back at her, and then settled his head down on the pillow. They were on the bed of one of his friends, she guessed, because he had led her into the room after the party started dying down, after the game of “Have You Ever” ended with him asking her, “Have you ever seen the bedroom here?”
Marnie hadn’t even known whose house it was; she just knew Collette had a friend who knew the kid who was having the party, and that maybe there would be some cute guys there. Collette had definitely been right.
“Give me your number?” he asked, still playing with her hair, tickling her neck with his fingers. It made her tingle, and she thought of her damned underwear again, wishing they had been different. Maybe.
She rattled off her number and when he said he needed to write it down, Marnie replied, “You want to call me, you’ll remember it.”
“Tell it to me one more time. Slower.”
“Who saw him?”
Collette was barely in the door when Marnie shot the question at her.
“What’d he look like? Was he with anyone? How long’s he in town?”
Marnie felt on the verge of a breakdown reoccurrence, and after what she’d been through the past summer, the reappearance of Joe was going to bring her to the edge.
She was so fragile, and Collette of all people had known her history, had been there when she had first met Joe, fifteen years ago, when he had stormed into her life, and created a whirlwind, changed her from being the person she might have been. And even though they had been together for just a short while, he had thrust himself upon her so abruptly and passionately, she hadn't seen it coming. And just like that, he was gone.
Marnie’s face was flushed, she paced the room like a caged animal, plumped pillows, and wiped non-existent dust. She was a nervous wreck at the mere thought he could be back.
"So, where is he?" she asked again.
“Whoa, Marnie, how about, ‘Hey Collette, would you like some coffee?’”
“Sorry. Coffee?” And Collette followed Marnie into the kitchen where she poured one cup for Collette, cream and sugar, and one for herself, black.
“Thanks. So anyway, no one’s actually seen him yet. Fran's mom ordered something from their family bakery last week and found out his grandmother’s turning ninety, and that the whole family’s coming into town for it. So, technically, I guess he’s not officially back yet. But he’s coming back. For the party.”
“His grandmother’s still alive? When’s the party?”
“I don’t know, around Thanksgiving maybe?”
Marnie sat with her head in her hands, the scent of coffee filling the room, steam wafting from their cups. Collette knew enough to wait quietly while Marnie let her thoughts form, the history of her past churning through her mind.
“What am I going to do?” Marnie said, more to herself than to Collette.
“What you’ve wanted to do all of these years, I suppose.” Collette said.
“I have to see him.”
“I have to tell him.”
Stephanie Elliot is the author of A Little Bit of Everything Lost, What She Left Us, and the novella, The Cell Phone Lot. She is also a writer and editor and has written for a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites. In her spare time she edits manuscripts for other writers and proofs executive documents. She lives in Arizona with her husband and three children.
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