Sacred Vows

His strategy for forgetting Justine Samuels was to keep busy with his work as the local parish priest but his efforts failed miserably.  No matter where he was or what he was doing, he couldn’t stop thinking about her and wishing that he could see her again.  He missed her terribly.  Against his better judgment, he had continued to see her even after he realized that he was in love with her.  His excuse was that her grandmother was one of his parishioners and it was his duty to visit her especially since she was unable to attend church.

On several occasions, he visited the elderly woman and prayed for her.  Then he would spend a few minutes in the living-room talking to Justine.  It was during one of those times that she broke down and confessed that she didn’t know how much longer she could continue to care for her grandmother on her own while worrying that she could lose her job because the company might be downsizing.  Her job meant a lot to her because she was able to work from home.  She had moved into her grandmother’s cottage after the elderly woman had fallen ill.

Touched with compassion, he offered to counsel her.  They met once a week in her grandmother’s bright and airy sun room and the sessions lasted for an hour.  Sometimes he would stay afterward and have a cup of tea or he would leave immediately after.

Soon he found himself dropping by even when they didn’t have a counseling session on pretext of checking on her grandmother.  Afterwards, he would feel guilty and go to the chapel and pray for forgiveness.  Try as he did, he couldn’t stay away and during the summer when the weather was pleasant, Justine and he would sit outside in the garden while her grandmother was taking a nap in the living-room.

One afternoon, they were out in the garden, sitting on the bench, talking.  Behind them was a climbing rose bush winding its way up the side of the house to second floor window.  He got up and went over to it.  “Whenever I see a rose, I can’t help but marvel at its beauty and intricacy.  Have you ever heard the quote:  Some people complain because God put thorns on roses, while others praise Him for putting roses among thorns.

She shook her head, getting up and going over to him.  “No, I’ve never heard that quote.  Which of the two categories do you fall into?”

“The second.  I praise Him for putting roses among thorns—beauty among the ugliness that exists in this world.”

“For me, the roses represent God’s grace among the thorns which are the trials in life.”

He reached out to pluck a rose from the bush and winced when its thorn pricked him in the palm.  As he reached into his robe for his handkerchief, she took his hand in hers and gently turned it over to examine the wound.  The touch of her fingers stirred feelings in him and mortified, he pulled his hand away.  She looked startled and when she would have reached for his hand again, he stepped back, putting some distance between them.  He pressed his handkerchief into his palm.  It wasn’t bleeding much.  The wound was the size of a needle prick.  “I must be going,” he said tightly.

“But you only got here ten minutes ago,” she protested.

“Yes.  I have matters I need to attend to.”

“Will I see you again tomorrow?”

“No, Justine.  We can’t see each other anymore.”

“But why not?”

“God help me, but I love you.”

Her eyes widened.  “I love you too,” she confessed.  “I’ve wanted to tell you that for such a long time.”

He dragged his fingers through his hair in agitation.  “There’s no future for us.  I’m a Catholic priest and I adhere to the church’s teachings.  I made a vow of celibacy that celibacy so I could identify with Christ who was celibate.   In an act of sacrificial love I vowed to give myself completely to the service of God and His church.”

“But where in the Bible does it say that priests aren’t allowed to fall in love and get married?” she asked, looking confused.  “Aaron and Caiaphas were high priests and they were married.”

“A Catholic priest follows the example of Christ who is our High Priest and He wasn’t married.  His gave His life completely to serving His Father and shepherding His church.  It was Christ who said in Matthew 22:30, ‘In the resurrection, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.’”

“But how do you explain what Paul said about some people forbidding others from marrying, teaching human doctrines and putting traditions above God’s Commandments?”

“Paul made it clear that being single allows a person to give his undivided attention in serving our Lord.  He recommended celibacy because he himself was celibate.”

“But wasn’t it Paul who said ‘let them marry for it is better to marry than to burn with passion’?”

“He was talking about those who can’t exercise self-control.”

“Tell me, Father Montgomery, how do I stop myself from burning with passion?”

“Marry Robert.”  Robert was a member of the church she used to attend before her grandmother became an invalid.  On a few occasions he had stopped by the house to see how she and her grandmother were doing.  “He cares for you.”

“Is that what you want?” she demanded.

His face went pale.  “It’s not a matter of what I want but what must be.”

“So, this is goodbye.  I’m never going to see you again.”  Her voice trembled and he could see the beginning of tears in her eyes.   “This is so wrong.  You and I should be together.”

“What would be wrong is for me to turn my back on my faith, my church and God because I love you,” he muttered between clenched teeth.  He reached out and his hand trembled as he touched her face.  She caught his hand and pressed her lips into the palm which the thorn had pricked him.  Groaning, he wrenched his hand away and bolted from her.  That was the last time he saw her.  He stopped visiting her and sent the Vicar in his place.

Now he was faced with a dilemma.  His love for Justine was affecting his life and his work.    He had to do something about it, but what?  He went into the chapel and spent the next few hours in prayer, pouring his heart out as he sought God’s guidance.

Where is he?  Justine wondered as she sat there in the pew, hoping to catch a glimpse of him.  He wouldn’t be pleased to see her, she knew that, but she had to come, if only to see him once more and to tell him that she had employed a live-in caregiver for her grandmother and that she had left her job for a better one.

As soon as the service was over, she went up to the Vicar.  “Excuse me, Vicar” she said.  “Where’s Father Montgomery?”

“He is no longer with the church.”

Her heart sank.  “Did he transfer to another parish?”

The vicar shook his head.  “No, he left the priesthood.”

She stared at him, in shock.  “He left the church?”

“Yes.  Everyone was shocked except me.  He had started to question the teachings of the church and his heart was no longer in what he was doing.  I suspect this had to do with a woman although he never said anything.  He was unhappy and I told him that whatever he decided to do, make sure it’s a decision he can live with.  After much prayer and fasting, he decided that the best thing for him to do is to leave the priesthood and the Church.  I wished him well.  Perhaps God will lead him in another direction where he can serve Him as faithfully as he has served him all these years.”

Justine thanked him for his time and left.  She walked out of the church in a daze.  Father Montgomery had left the Church.  Where was he?  “Oh, Lord, You know where he is.  Please lead me to him.” As she got into her car, she got a strong impression to go to the park opposite where she lived.   After she parked her car in the garage, she crossed the quiet street and went into the park.  About ten minutes later, she spotted him sitting on the bench facing the duck pond.  Heart thudding she approached him.  “Hello,” she called.

He glanced up.  “Hello,” he replied, quietly, rising to his feet.  His expression was serious as he met her gaze.  “I was coming to see you.  Your grandmother’s nurse told me where you lived.  When I got here, I decided to come to the park first.”

“I heard that you left the Church.  What should I call you now?”

“John.  You can call me John.  How have you been, Justine?  I think about you every waking moment.”

“I’ve been miserable,” she told him.  “I missed you so much.  I went to the parish today just to see you but you weren’t there and the Vicar explained what happened.  Why did you leave, John?”

“I left because I had too many questions about the church’s teachings which contradicted what was in the Bible and—because of you.  I couldn’t hide from my feelings.  It’s funny.  I believed that the robe I wore would protect me from feelings I believed that I shouldn’t be having.  I realized that underneath the robe was a man—a man who desperately loved a woman who was right when she said that it was wrong for us not to be together.  Will you forgive me for running away from a love that no sacred vows could quench?”

She nodded, reaching for his hands.  “There’s nothing to forgive.  I know that it must have been hard for you to leave an institution you have known and served for most of your life but I truly believe that God has a great plan for your life.”

He pulled her closer and bent his head so that his forehead was resting against hers.  “Yes, I believe that He does and you are a big part of that plan.”

She closed her eyes as they stood there in the sunshine, silently thanking God for granting her the desires of her heart.

 

 

 

Sources:  American Magazine; Catholic Answers; Vox; EWTN; Catholic.com; Diocese of Trenton

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Taking a Chance

Valerie and her younger sister, Chloe were at the café having lunch.  “I think moving to Berlin would be good for you,” she said.  “It’s a great opportunity for you to broaden your horizons.  I chose to study here in London because I wanted to be close to home but if I were to do it all over again, I would have opted to study in Berlin and then move back here after graduation.  It’s cheaper to study in Germany than here and the scholarship you applied for and got allows you to study there for free.  What more could you ask for?”

Chloe sighed.  “I’m excited to go but scared at the same time,” she confessed.  “I’ve never been away from home before and I don’t know what it would be like living on campus in a strange city.  Maybe I’ll get homesick and want to come back at the end of the first semester.”

“Or maybe you’ll love it there and we won’t see you except during the summer and Christmas holidays.  Don’t assume the worst.  Just have faith that everything will work out.  And who knows, you might meet a cute guy.”

Chloe smiled.  “If he’s as cute as Colin, I wouldn’t mind at all.”

Colin was Valerie’s boss.  “Yes, Colin is very good-looking, isn’t he?”

“You like him, don’t you?”

“Yes, I do.”

“What about him?  Does he like you?”

“I don’t know.  I really can’t tell.”

“Why don’t you ask him out?”

Valerie balked at the idea.  “I can’t do that,” she exclaimed.

“Why not?  Is there an office policy that says you can’t date?”

“No, there isn’t but—”

“Val, I think you should ask him out.  The worst thing that could happen is that he turns you down.”

“And it could affect our working relationship.  I don’t know, Chloe, I have to think really hard about this one.”  She glanced at her watch.  “I have to be getting back to the office.  I’ll give you a lift to the train station.”  She signaled to the waitress for the bill.

When they stepped outside, she blinked in the bright sunshine and chided herself for not having her sunglasses.  They walked to where her car was parked and drove to the train station which was about twenty minutes away.  Outside of the station, they hugged and Chloe promised to call her over the weekend.

As Valerie drove to the office, she thought about what Chloe said.  The idea of asking Colin out on a date both thrilled and terrified her.  They have been working together for six years yet she still couldn’t say with any degree of certainty that the attraction she felt for him was mutual.  There were times when she thought that it was but since nothing came of it, she dismissed it as wishful thinking.  Well, there was only one way to find out but she was afraid to take that chance.  She didn’t want to jeopardize the great working relationship they had.  So, if she couldn’t be with him romantically, at least, she could be with him professionally for now.

By the time she got to the office, she had made up her mind that she wasn’t going to ask Colin out on a date.  She went to her desk and put her handbag away.  After logging on to her computer and checking emails, she was about to reply to some of them when her phone rang.  It was Colin.  He wanted to see her.  She got up immediately and went to his office.  After closing the door behind her, she walked over to where he stood looking out of the window.  He turned when he heard her.

He looked amazing in the grey striped suit and white shirt which was unbuttoned at the neck, exposing his throat.  Like clockwork, her heart was pounding and her pulse was racing.  She tried to appear nonchalant by tucking her hands in her pants pockets.  She saw his gaze travel over the short grey jacket, white blouse and black pants she was sporting before it returned to her face.  “Did you have a good lunch?” he asked.

She nodded.  “Yes.  Chloe got the scholarship to study in Berlin in September.  She is nervous about living away from home.”

“It was the same thing with my sister, Kathleen when she got accepted to the University of Edinburgh to study medicine.  She was nervous about living away from home but after the first week, she loved it.  She had made new friends and was getting used to the student life.  Joining different clubs helped.”

“The next time I speak to Chloe, I will tell her about Kathleen.”

“I can do better than that.  I can have Kathleen get in touch with her.”

“That would be great.  Thanks, Colin.”

“Do you have plans for tomorrow?” he asked suddenly, startling her.

“No.”

“Good.  I’d like you to have dinner with me at my place.”

She stared at him for several minutes.   Did he just ask her out?

“What’s the matter?” he asked when she didn’t answer.  “Don’t you want to have dinner with me?”

“Yes, I do,” she said.  “It’s just that you caught me by surprise.”

“You and I have been working together for a long while now, don’t you think that it’s time we pursued a more personal relationship with each other?”

“Yes,” she agreed, sounding a little breathless.  He was staring at her and the expression on his face made her mouth go dry.  “What-what time would you like me to be there?”

“Seven. Val…” he reached out and caught her by the hand, pulling her toward him, his eyes darkening on her face. Then, he was kissing her and she eagerly responded. His hands pressed her against him and her arms wound themselves tightly around his neck as they exchanged kisses. This lasted for several minutes before he raised his head, his breathing unsteady. “I’ve wanted to do that for a long, long time,” he admitted huskily.

“What prevented you?” she asked, trying to catch her breath.

“I wasn’t sure how you felt about me and I didn’t want to put you in a bad spot.”

“It’s funny but just today, Chloe was encouraging me to ask you out but I was afraid to because I didn’t know how you felt about me and I didn’t want to ruin our working relationship.”

“Well, I’m glad that one of us took Chloe’s advice.  I wish I didn’t have to go to a meeting now but I do.” He reluctantly released her and went over to his desk to get a notebook and some papers.  They walked together to the door.  He opened it and before they parted he said in a low voice, “I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”

For the rest of the afternoon, she was on cloud nine and all that evening she thought of nothing else but having dinner with Colin.  She called Chloe and her sister was thrilled.  “Good for him,” she said.  “He took a gamble and it paid off.  Well, have fun and call me on Sunday with the juicy details.”  Valerie chuckled and ended the call.

Saturday evening came and she was on her way to Colin’s flat over at Canary Wharf.  She fixed her hair and smoothed her dress before she rang the doorbell.  Colin opened the door, his eyes brightened when he saw her.  “Hello,” he greeted her before stepping aside to let her in.  He removed her coat and his eyes slipped admiringly over her slim figure in the long sleeved Cranberry colored dress with the scooped neck.  Her hair was pulled back at her nape with a clasp with a few tendrils framing her face.  “You look great,” he remarked.

“Thank you. So do you.”  He looked incredibly sexy in the black shirt and black jeans.  His hair was slightly damp with a few strands brushing against his forehead.  She handed him a bottle of non-alcoholic white wine before she followed him into the living-room.  “You have a beautiful place,” she remarked, her eyes sweeping over the spacious room with its muted shades of titanium and brown.

It was very stylish, decidedly masculine décor and cozy.  There was a large balcony which faced the tall office buildings in the Financial District.  It was too cold to go on there now but she could imagine how pleasant it would be to sit out there during the summer.  In the centre was a rug that looked like wall tiles with a low table on it and adjacent were the stereo system and television set.  Opposite was a large brown leather sofa with four decorative cushions and a gorgeous antique chair faced the balcony.  Behind the sofa was the dining-room and on the table were dinnerware, two glasses and unlit candles.

“Have a seat at the table,” he suggested before he disappeared into the kitchen.

She sat down in the chair facing the balcony and watched the skyscrapers.  A delicious and mouthwatering smell wafted into the room and she found herself eagerly looking forward to what he was preparing.  “Something smells really, really good,” she commented when he brought out two bowls of salad.

He smiled.  “We’re having Crispy Chicken with Shallots served over wild rice.” When he came back, he lit the candles and sat down at the table.  After she prayed, they tucked into the Green Salad with Cranberry Vinaigrette.  It was delicious and she made a mental note to get the recipe from him.  When they were done, she wanted to take the bowls in and help him to bring out the dinner but he said, “I can manage, but thanks for offering to help.”

He brought out the plates, set them on the table and then went back to get the bottle of wine which she had brought.  “Thanks for bringing this,” he said as he poured some in her glass and then his.  He raised his glass in a toast.  “Here’s to the first of many dinners together.”

She smiled and raised her glass.  Over the mouth-watering main course, they talked about different things, including making plans to see each other.  A long while after, he asked, “Do you have room for dessert?”  She nodded, although she didn’t think she could eat another morsel.

When he brought two glasses of chocolate mousse, her eyes brightened.  “I love anything with chocolate,” she exclaimed and picking up her spoon and dived into it, savoring the thick, creamy richness.  When she was done, she looked up at him.  He looked amused.  “Thank you for a wonderful dinner.”

He smiled.  “It was my pleasure.  Make yourself comfortable on the sofa while I clear the table and chuck everything in the dishwasher.”

She got up from the table and went into the living-room.  Instead of settling down on the sofa, she went over to the glass door and stood, looking out at the city skyline.   The buildings loomed like giants above the streets and the wharf, silent and the lights that dotted their structure reminded her of diamonds.  What a magnificent view and to be greeted by it every night must be a real treat.

Colin joined her in the living-room.  He turned on the stereo and the sound of R&B filled the room.  He went over to her, and taking her by the hand, he danced with her in front of the sliding doors.  She put her arm around his neck and gazed up at him as they moved to the music.  His eyes searched her face before he lowered his head and kissed her.  It was a light caress at first and then it deepened.  They stopped moving to the music as they kissed wildly, passionately.

Then he picked her up and as he carried her through the living-room, the following quote came to her mind, “Nothing important was ever achieved without someone taking a chance”.  Colin took that chance and here they were.

Office Romance

Source:  Scholars 4 Dev

Falling in Love

Gloria was walking down the sidewalk after visiting her grandmother in the nursing home when she ran into David Mansfield.  He was heading into a café when he spotted her.  Smiling, he walked over to her.  “Hello, Gloria,” he said.

She smiled at him.  “Professor Mansfield.”

“Please call me David.  It makes me feel less old,” he said.  “How are you?”

“I’m fine, David,” she said.   Dressed in a black shirt and tan colored slacks, he looked very attractive.  He was twenty years her senior and a widower with a teenage son.  He used to be her History professor.  “I just came from visiting my grandmother.”

“How is she?”

“It’s hard to see a woman who was once very active confined to a wheelchair.”

“I was just about to grab a cappuccino.  Would you like to join me?”

She nodded and followed him into the café.  They found a table at the back by the window.   “The good thing is her mind is still agile and she can remember things I have forgotten.”

“That’s good.  My mother had Alzheimer’s.  It was sad seeing her mind deteriorate.  It was tough on my father.  He died soon after.  They had been married for over sixty years.”

“Sixty years.  That’s wonderful.  My parents got divorced ten years ago.  My father remarried and lives in Seattle and my mother has started dating again.  I hope that when I get married, it will last.”

“In my case it was death, not divorce.”

“How did she die?”

“It happened quite suddenly.  She was running up the stairs to answer the phone when she missed a step, fell and struck her head.  Mrs. Moore, our housekeeper found her.  Mark was at school.  It was a great shock for all of us.  This happened a week shy of her fortieth birthday.”

“I’m so sorry.  I can’t imagine what it must be like to lose a spouse or a parent.  How is your son doing?”

“Oh, he’s doing well.  He’s studying in Germany.”

“Good for him.  I always wondered what it would have been like to study abroad.  Sometimes I wished I had.”

“I’m happy you didn’t,” he said quietly.  “I wouldn’t have met you if you had.”

“Now that you mention it, I’m happy I didn’t study abroad either.” She returned his gaze, feeling her heart beat a little faster.  “I guess there’s no harm in me telling you this now, but I was very attracted to you.  I used to look forward to seeing you twice a week.  I was very sorry when the semester was over and when I graduated I wondered if I would ever see you again.  I was tempted to email you and ask you to have a cup of cappuccino with me.”

“And here we are having that cup of cappuccino.” A pause and then, “So, where do we go from here?”

“Wherever you would like,” she said.  She was flirting with him and it was exhilarating.

“I have a confession to make,” he said, leaning over.  “I was attracted to you too but I couldn’t allow myself to entertain any thoughts of having a relationship with you because it was against the university’s policy.  It was tough, though, walking into the classroom and seeing you.  After you graduated, I thought about you and wondered how you were doing.  I was sorry that I didn’t ask you to keep in touch.”

“Bumping into each other like this wasn’t an accident.  I believe it was God’s doing.”

“I’m very thankful to Him.  Are you free this evening?”

“Yes.”

“Have dinner with me.”

“Yes.” She took out a slip of paper, wrote her number and address on it and handed it to him.

“You know after Alice died, I never thought I would be interested in anyone else.”

“You must have loved her very much.”

He nodded.  “Yes, I did.  She was my first love.”

“I have heard it said that it is your first love that is very difficult to forget and that it will never die.” If he decides that he wants to have a relationship with me, will he always compare Alice and me? She wondered, her heart sinking at the thought.

“The memory of a first love never fades.  It stays with you.”

“Yes, I suppose it does.” She finished her cappuccino and stood up.  “I’m afraid I have to go now.”

“I’ll pick you up at seven,” he said, rising to his feet and looking down at her, his expression inscrutable.  “It was really nice seeing you again, Gloria.”

She smiled and held out her hand.  “It was nice seeing you again, David.”

He took her hand.  “You don’t mind going out with a man almost twice your age, do you?”

She shook her head, her pulse racing.  His hand felt warm against hers and his thumb was rubbing against the back, stirring all sorts of sensations in her.  “No, I don’t,” she assured him breathlessly.  The waitress came over to the table at that moment and he released her hand.  “I’ll see you later,” she said before turning and walking away.

As she walked to the subway, she wondered if she was not making a mistake getting involved with a man who was still in love with his deceased wife.  She wrestled with herself.  Her mind was warning her that she could get hurt but her heart was urging her to go for it.  Her heart won the battle.  The desire to be with him outweighed her reservations and she made up her mind that she would go out with him.  Her friends would probably have a lot to say about it but she didn’t care.  It was her life to do what she wished with it.

As soon as she got home, she went to her wardrobe to see which outfit she could wear and settled on the red jersey dress.  After she straightened the place, she took a shower and got ready.  She opted to wear her hair up, with a few tendrils framing her face.  A pair of red high heeled boots and matching handbag completed the outfit.  She paused in front of the mirror and was satisfied with how she looked.  Just as she left the bedroom, the doorbell rang and her heart skipped a beat.  Nervous, she hurried to answer the door.

David stood there, his coat open to reveal a charcoal grey suit with a black shirt, no tie and a light scarf draped loosely around his neck.  He looked incredibly handsome.  She saw his gaze travel slowly over her and the admiration in their depths when they shifted back to her face.  “You look beautiful,” he said quietly.

“Thank you,” she said, suddenly feeling very shy.  Dragging her eyes away from him, she hurried inside to grab her coat, put it on before she pulled the door in and locked it.

They went to a French restaurant in a historic former men’s club across from the Yale campus.   She used to walk past this place and never once did she imagine that one evening she would be having dinner with Professor David Mansfield.  She looked around, her face beaming.  The restaurant was elegant, not stuffy as so many of these fancy types of restaurants tended to be.  She was impressed with the high ceilings and beautiful woodwork.  When she looked at David, she found him watching her with an amused expression on his face.  “Have you been here before?” she asked.  “It’s beautiful.”

“No, I’ve never been here before but I know a few people who have and they all had great things to say about it.”

She didn’t know why but she was glad that he had never been here before.  They were experiencing something new together.  She hoped to have many other such experiences with him.

They shared the appetizer, ordered the same salad and while he had the grilled lamb chops, she had the roasted duck breast.  They passed on dessert and had coffee instead.  It was a very enjoyable evening.  She learned that his parents were in Berlin during the 1936 summer Olympic Games.  “The highlight for them was seeing Jesse Owens win four track and field gold medals.”

“Yes, it must have been wonderful seeing history unfold right before them.  Have you ever been to Germany?”

“Yes, I have been couple of times.  My mother’s family is German.  She told me that her parents risked their lives during World War II by hiding Jewish friends from the Nazis.  Their names are listed in a museum among other Germans who helped Jews to stay alive under Nazi dictatorship.”

“You must be so proud of them,” she said.  “They risked their lives to save lives.  I’m thankful that they weren’t caught.”

“Yes.  They would have been executed.”

“And you wouldn’t be here with me,” she said.  She couldn’t imagine a world without David Mansfield.  She thanked God for watching over his parents and protecting them from being discovered by the Germans.

David’s eyes darkened and he covered her hand with his.  “I’m happy with the way things turned out,” he agreed.  “It would have been a shame if you and I hadn’t met.”

They talked about other, lighthearted things and then it was time to go.  When they got back to her apartment, she invited him in.  After she locked the door and turned to face him, they watched each other as they removed their coats, not saying anything.  The air was suddenly filled with tension—a tension that had begun that afternoon in the café when he held her hand and had been building up all evening beneath the surface and now it was at the surface.

Compelled by a desire too strong to contain, she reached out and dragged off his jacket.  Fingers trembling, she unbuttoned his shirt.  She couldn’t tell whether it was his harsh breathing she heard or her own.  The rest of his clothes followed and he was standing there, with only the scarf draped around him.  She removed it and tossed it on the floor at his feet.  Then, she stripped and took the pins out of her hair, letting it down so that it fell in unruly curls about her face.

Muttering under his breath, he reached for her pulled her roughly against him, his mouth finding her and plundering it feverishly.  She clung to him, kissing him back wildly.  For several minutes they stood there, exchanging fiery kisses and then, he scooped her up and carried her over to the rug in front of the electric fireplace where they made passionate love.

After that night they became romantically involved.  When the summer holidays came, his son Mark visited and Gloria invited them both over to her place for dinner.  She was nervous about meeting Mark but David assured her that it would be fine.  Mark was a splitting image of his father, a few inches shorter and lanky.  He was very pleasant and he spoke about his studies and how he liked living in Germany.  Dinner was a success.  They enjoyed it and while she was in the kitchen cleaning up, they relaxed on the sofa.

“So what do you think?” David asked him.

“She’s a lot younger than I expected,” Mark said.

“She was my student,” David told him.  “She graduated last year.”

“I like her.  Do you love her?”

“Yes.”

“And does she love you?”

“Yes.”

“Then, I’m happy for you.”

“That’s good to know.  I never thought that I would fall in love again.  I still think about your mother and I will always cherish the life I had with her.”

“Mom would want you to be happy and it is obvious that Gloria makes you happy.”

David smiled and hugged him just as Gloria joined them.

Mark stood up, looking apologetic as he announced that he had to leave.  “I have an early and very busy day tomorrow,” he explained.  “Gloria, thanks for the dinner.  I enjoyed it.  And it was really nice meeting you.”

Gloria hugged him warmly.  “It was nice meeting you too,” she said.  “I hope to see you again very soon.”

“You’ll see me before I head back to Germany.  Dad, let’s do lunch on Friday.”

“Sure thing, Mark.”  They clapped each other on the back.  “See you on Friday.”

Gloria saw him to the door.  When she rejoined David in the living-room, he pulled her down on his lap.  “We have his blessing,” he told her.

She smiled, putting her arms around his neck.  “I’m relieved to hear that.”

“You’re a bit young to be his step-mother but that can’t be helped.”

Her eyes widened.  “His step-mother?”

“Yes.”  He reached into the back pocket of his jeans and pulled out a box.  He opened it and took out the ring.  She stared at it.  It was a white gold diamond rose engagement ring.  It took her breath away.  Her eyes flew up to his face which was becoming blurry.  “Will you marry me, Gloria?”

She didn’t trust herself to speak so she nodded vigorously, the tears falling now.  And she watched as he slid the ring onto her finger.  It was exquisitely beautiful.

David put his arms around her waist.  “When I met Alice, I fell in love with her once but with you, it’s different,” he confessed.  “Every time I look at you, I fall in love with you all over again.  And I will keep falling in love with you for the rest of our lives.”

“Falling in love with you is the best thing that has ever happened to me,” she whispered before she cupped his face between her hands and kissed him.

 

 

 

Source:  Union League Cafe

The Attraction

Ben Hughes turned on his side and watched the sleeping form in the bed next to him.  I must be out of my mind,” he thought for the umpteenth time.  It’s the only explanation for why I’m lying here in bed with Penny, a student I met just last month.  He could lose his job if their relationship were discovered.  Every time he resolved to end it but the moment they were together, all reason fled and passion took its place.  It was like madness seized him when he was with her, rendering him powerless against the fierce emotions she aroused in him.  She captivated him.  His world as he knew it changed the day when he met her.

It was during a free period and he decided that instead of going the library to read which he normally did, he would go outside instead.  It was a beautiful and mild sunny day.  He inhaled deeply, savoring the clean, fresh air.  As he set off, he thought of how fortunate he was to be doing what he loved.  This year marked ten years since he was teaching at the university.  Teaching was his life.  It was in his blood.  He couldn’t see himself doing anything else.

That was his professional life but as far as his love life was concerned…he was fine with the way things were for now.  He dated occasionally—nothing serious.  Tonight he was going to the theatre with Erin, a long-time friend.  He enjoyed her company and they had a lot in common but he wasn’t attracted to her.  She was aware that their relationship would never evolve into anything beyond friendship and was fine with that arrangement.

As far as marriage was concerned, it was the farthest thing from his mind.  He wasn’t ready to settle down as yet.  He had been single for so long, it was hard to imagine sharing his life with someone else.  He just couldn’t see himself doing it but if the right woman, if she existed, were to come along, then he would seriously consider it.  His life was not an exciting one or even interesting but it suited him well.  The less complicated it was the better.

He came upon the bench in front of the building and he went over to it.  He sat down and looked around him, thinking how peaceful it was.  The warmth of the sun felt great.  There wasn’t a cloud in the sky.  He was glad that he wasn’t cooped up in the library but was out here enjoying the weather.  He glanced at his watch.  He had lots of time left before his next class.  Settling back against the bench, he opened his book and began to read.

A few minutes elapsed and then someone came and sat down beside him.  He glanced up and found himself staring into the largest and most beautiful pair of brown eyes he had ever seen.

She smiled at him.  “Hello, Professor Hughes.”

He had never seen her before.  He would have remembered if he had.  “What is your name?” he asked.

“Penny Jones.”

“What are you studying?”

“English because I love reading and am thinking of becoming a writer.”

“How long have you been here at Yale?”

“Two years.  I transferred from Cornell to here.  I graduate in June.”

That explained why she wasn’t in any of his classes.  She was a transfer student about to graduate and he taught Freshmen.  Too bad.  He would have liked to have had her in his class.  Or maybe, it was just as well.  She would have been a distraction for him.  Right now, he couldn’t take his eyes off her.  She fascinated him.  He closed the book he was reading.

She glanced down at the book and when she read the cover, she picked it up.  Flipping through the pages, she said, “The One Man.  Is this Andrew Gross’s latest book?  I’ve read most of his books.  The last one I read was Everything to Lose.”

“Actually, this is the first novel by this particular author I’m reading.  A friend of mine lent it to me because he knows how much I enjoy reading or watching anything to do with World War II.  I can lend this to you when I’m done with it, if you’d like.”

She nodded.  “I’d like that, thanks.” There was a brief pause then, “I have a writing assignment and I was hoping that you would be able to help me.”

“How could I help you?” he asked.

“I have to interview a professor and I was hoping that you would let me interview you.”

Ordinarily he would have flatly turned down the request for an interview but he heard himself say, “All right, I will do it.”  He knew that he was only agreeing to it because it was an excuse for him to see her again.

She smiled, looking very relieved.  “Thank you, Professor Hughes.”

“When is the assignment due?”

“It’s due on Monday.”

“Would you like to do the interview tomorrow?” he asked and she looked a little surprised.  Perhaps, she didn’t expect that he would want to do it so soon.  Today was Tuesday.

“Sure, tomorrow is fine.  What time would you like us to meet and where?”

“We can meet in my office tomorrow.  I’m available between 1 and 2.” He found himself eagerly looking forward to seeing her again much like a young man anticipating his first date.  How ridiculous he was being.  “Does that work for you?”

She nodded.  “Yes. My class finishes at 12:50.”

They talked a while longer.  He learned that she loved poetry and went skydiving on a dare from a friend.  “When I was in the air, I was both terrified and thrilled,” she recalled, laughing.  “The funny thing is I would do it again.”

“I went skydiving on my eighteenth birthday.  It was an exhilarating experience.  Have you ever gone rock-climbing?”

She shook her head.  “But, I have always wanted to.”

“Perhaps, we could—” he had been about to suggest that they go together when he caught himself.  Glancing at his watch, he noted the time and rose to his feet.  “I’d better head back.  My class is in twenty minutes.”

She looked up at him. “It was nice meeting you, Professor Hughes,” she said.  “And thank for doing the interview.”

“It was nice meeting you too, Miss Jones.”

“Your book,” she held it out to him.  He took it, his eyes riveted to her face.

He lingered.  “Are you going to sit here for a while longer?”

She nodded.  “For about ten minutes before I head to my next class.”

“Goodbye, Miss Jones.”

“Goodbye, Professor Hughes.”

The rest of the afternoon went quickly and soon he was on his way home.  He couldn’t stop thinking about Penny and the following day, he was sitting at his desk, waiting for her.  As soon as his class was over, he had hurried to his office.  His eyes kept going to the clock above his door.  At ten minutes past one, he heard a knock on the door.  His heart leapt in his chest.  “Come in.”

The door opened and Penny walked in.  He got to his feet, his heart thudding.  “Hello,’ he said when she was standing in front of his desk.

She smiled up at him.  “Hello.  I’m sorry I am late.  My class went a little over time.  I rushed over here as soon as I could.”

“No need to apologize.”  His eyes were restless on her face.  His gaze traveled over her slim figure clad in the black turtleneck sweater and jeans, swallowing hard when he felt his body react.  He waited until she was seated before he sat down, trying to appear more relaxed than he was.

She took out a tape recorder.  “Ready?” she asked, looking at him.  He felt as if he could get lost in her eyes.  He nodded.  She switched the recorder on.  “Where did you go to College?”

“Here at Yale,” he told her.  “My experience here was such a positive and rewarding one that I decided to teach here.”

“What do you like best about teaching here?”

“Sharing my love for literature with others.”

“What other subjects interest you?”

“History and Art.  I’m particularly interested in European History and Renaissance Art.”

She asked him more questions about his academic life and took notes.   When asked what his hobbies were he named several such as chess, rock and mineral collecting, reading, writing, rock sports but the one which caught her attention was thrifting.  “What’s that?” she asked, quizzically.

“It’s browsing the flea markets and antique shops and identifying authentic antiques and treasures from cheap junk.  I started doing it just last year.”

“What is the hardest part of your job as a professor?”

He had to think about that one for a moment.  “I guess it’s unmotivated students.  Some semesters I have had to deal with poor attendance, tardiness, lack of communication, poor test results and missed assignments.”

“And the best part of being a professor?”

“Interacting with the students and encouraging them.  Sometimes, I act as a mentor and a coach to them, drawing out the talent they didn’t know they had.”

She turned off the tape recorder, signaling that the interview was over.  “Thank you, Professor Hughes for taking the time to do this interview.”

“It was my pleasure.”  He watched as she closed her notebook and put it in her bag along with the tape recorder.  “Do you have a boyfriend?” He had to ask.  It had been on his mind throughout the interview.

She paused and looked up at him.  “No, I don’t.”

“I don’t have a girlfriend.  When can I see you again?”

“Any time you want.”  He knew at that moment that she was interested in him.

“What about tomorrow evening?”

“I can’t,” she said, looking regretful.  “I’m staying with my sister and her family until I can afford my own place.  Tomorrow evening, they are going to a concert so I have to babysit the kids.  I’m sorry.”

He was bitterly disappointed but it couldn’t be helped.  “What about Friday evening?”

“Yes, Friday evening is good for me.”

“Penny, I’d like you to call me Ben whenever we are alone.”

She smiled and stood up.  “All right, Ben.  I can call you tomorrow night after I put the kids to bed.”

He grabbed a sheet of paper and scribbled down his phone number.  “I look forward to hearing from you,” he said as he handed it to her.

She took it and put it in her bag.  “Goodbye, Ben.”

“Goodbye, Penny.”  He watched as she turned and walked out of his office, closing the door quietly behind her.

True to her word, she called him the following evening and they talked for hours.  On Friday night they went for dinner at a family owned Italian restaurant where they enjoyed what she believed was the best pasta she had ever tasted.  Afterwards, they went to his flat.

She was standing at the window, looking out when he went up behind her and pulled her against him.  He bent his head and kissed her on the neck.  She spun around and her eyes met his.  The desire that was raging in him burned in her eyes.  He pulled her roughly against him, making her gasp and his mouth closed hungrily over hers.  She reached up and gripped his hair as she kissed him back.  As they exchanged feverish kisses, he released her to remove his jacket, tossing it on the floor.  His shirt followed and her hands left his hair to claw at his bare skin.  He scooped her up and carried her into the bedroom.  That night was the beginning of a very torrid affair.

And here they were now, several weeks later in his flat and him lying awake, his mind in turmoil.  He couldn’t let his attraction for Penny to get in the way of his job.  Two days ago when he was in the middle of teaching a class, an image of her looking down at him as they made love flashed across his mind and for a moment, he lost his train of thought.  Yesterday he was late for class, something which had never happened to him before because Penny decided to join him in the shower.  He had to stop seeing her until after she graduated in June.  That was four months away.  He couldn’t imagine not seeing her for four months but it was necessary—if he wanted to keep his job and his sanity.

She stirred beside him and he snuggled against her, closing his eyes as he imagined how empty his bed would be without her during those months of separation which would seem to him an eternity.

“We have to stop seeing each other, Penny,” he told her the next morning, “for a while,” he added quickly when he saw the expression on her face.

“But why?” she asked, looking bewildered.

“The university has banned professor-student relationships so there are no loopholes.  I could lose my job if someone were to find out about us.”

“The last thing I want is for you to lose your job,” she said quietly.  “How long do you want us to stop seeing each other?”

“Until after you graduate–”

“But that’s four months from now.”

“I know,” he sighed.  “Four months is a long time.”

“It’s going to be so hard for me to be on the campus and not see you.  I’m going to miss coming here.”

“Yes, it’s going to be tough but we need to do this.

I’m going to miss you terribly.  This flat, my bed are going to feel so empty without you.”

“Do-do we separate today?”

Shaking his head, he reached for her and pulled her against him.  “No, not today,” he muttered thickly.  “I want us to spend the weekend together.”

She nodded.  “All right, Ben.”  As she slipped her arms around his neck, he picked her up and carried her to his room.

After he laid her on the bed, he stretched out beside her, gazing down into her face.  “When we are apart, I want you to remember one very important thing,” he said huskily.  “I love you.”

She reached up brushed the hair back from his forehead.  “I love you too.  And I will cherish this moment and all the special moments we have had until we are together again.”

He bent his head and kissed her.  They spent a quiet weekend, talking and making love and then it was over.  She left on Sunday night.  He walked her to her car.  They hugged and kissed and then, she quickly climbed into the car.  He stood there watching her drive away, his heart aching.  He had no idea how he was going to get through the next moment, much less four months.  Slowly, he went back to the empty flat.  It felt cold and empty without her.  He went over to the sofa and sank heavily down, raking his fingers through his hair.

The next few days were torture.  He couldn’t sleep, think, concentrate or eat.  All he could think about was Penny and how much he missed her.  By the end of the week, he had reached the breaking point.  Grabbing his keys, he dashed out of the flat.  Fifteen minutes, he was standing outside of the house where Penny lived.   A little girl answered the door.  She looked curiously up at him.  He smiled down at her.  “Is your Aunt Penny at home?” he asked.

Just then, he heard Penny call out, “Jesse, how many times have you told you not to open the door–?  She appeared and stopped short when she saw him.  “Ben, what are you doing here?” she exclaimed, her eyes eagerly drinking in the sight of him.

He stared at her, longing to take her into his arms.  “I had to see you,” he told her simply.

“Come in.  I’m alone with the kids.  Jesse, why don’t you go and finish doing your homework?”  The little girl ran off, leaving them alone.  She turned to Ben who couldn’t stop staring at her.

He pulled her into his arms.   “Oh Penny,” he groaned, “I miss you so much.  I want us to continue seeing each other as we were before and then get married after you graduate.”

Her eyes widened.  “Married?” she exclaimed.

“Yes, I want to marry you.  What do you say?”

“I say, yes!” She threw her arms around his neck and kissed him.

A month after she graduated, they got married and honeymooned in Frankenjura, Germany where he took her rock climbing.

 

Sources: University of Pittsburgh; CSUS; Next Luxury; Chron

The Admission

She turned on the radio and tried to listen to a talk show her friend had told her about but there was so much static, that after five minutes of endless crackling, she changed it to another station.  As the smooth sounds of R&B filled the car, she tried to relax but she couldn’t.  All she could think about was Mac and the redhead she saw him with last night at the café.  Red, hot jealousy had burned in her as she watched them.  Thankfully, he didn’t see her and she managed to slip out unnoticed.

After leaving the café, she had fumed all the way home, chiding herself for feeling the way she did.  Never once did she entertain the thought that she would fall for the very same guy she had pegged as conceited.  All the women at the office fawned over him but she had remained aloof, or so it appeared.  She treated him professionally but kept him at a distance, making it crystal clear that she wasn’t interested.  Yet, deep down, she couldn’t deny that she was strongly attracted to him and seeing him with another woman last night, forced her to acknowledge that she was in love with him.

Gripping the steering wheel, she fought back the angry tears and tried to figure out what she was going to do.  How was she going to continue to act indifferently toward him when she was in love with him?  Of all the men at the company, why did she have to fall for him?  Everyone kept raving about what a nice guy he was but to her he came across as cocky.  It was probably a bruise to his ego that she didn’t go for him.  Well, the joke was on her now because she wanted him too and it was driving her crazy.

Two days ago they were in the last two to leave the office and as she was clearing off her desk, he went over to her.  She didn’t look up but was painfully aware of him and the whiff of his cologne was tantalizing.  He looked incredible in the striped navy blue suit, black shirt and tie.  His spiky hair gave him an edgy look which she found very attractive.  He was sexy and he knew it and that irritated her.  She tried to ignore her pounding heart and busied herself with putting away papers and signing off the computer.  She could feel him watching her and she resisted the urge to look up.

“It’s been a very hectic week,” he commented.

“Yes.”

“Any plans for tonight?”

“No.”

There a brief pause and then, “Have dinner with me, then.”

Her head shot up then and she stared at him.  He couldn’t possibly be serious.  Why would he think that she would have dinner with him?  Of all the conceited—“No, thank you,” she said curtly.  “Perhaps you should ask Joan or Nancy or one of the other women.  I’m sure they would love to have dinner with you.”

“I don’t want to have dinner with any of them, Brianna.  I want to have dinner with you.”

“I’m sorry but I can’t—”

“Why not?”

“I—I just can’t.”

“That’s not a good enough reason.”

“It’s the only one I can give you,” she retorted.

“What are you afraid of?” He asked, startling her.

“I’m not afraid of anything,” she said quickly, too quickly.

“I think you’re afraid of being alone with me.”

“Why should I be afraid to be alone with you?” she demanded, wishing she didn’t want to kiss him so badly.

“You’re afraid because you want me as much as I want you.  I wanted you from the moment I first met you—”

“This is exactly why I can’t stand you,” she cried, her voice sounding a little high-pitched.  She wanted so desperately to get out of there now.  It was becoming increasingly hard to stand there so close to him and not want to tear off his clothes.

“What do you mean?” he asked, frowning.

“I think you’re conceited and that you think you’re God’s gift to women.”

“You mistake self-confidence for conceit and you’re wrong about how I see myself when it comes to women.  I don’t think that I’m God’s gift to them.  Women find me attractive just as men find you attractive.  That is something neither of us can prevent.”

She quickly lowered her gaze, feeling chastised.  He certainly put her in her place and in a very gracious way too.  “I’m sorry,” she mumbled.

He reached out and touched her arm, making her jump.  Her eyes were wide as she stared up at him and her heart was beating at an alarming rate.  Somehow she found herself trapped between him and the desk.  And she stood there, helpless, watching mesmerized as his face got closer.  Her eyes dropped to his lips and hers parted in anticipation.

Then, he was kissing her and she was kissing him back ravenously, her arms going around his neck, clinging to him as she was leaning back over the desk under the onslaught of his kisses.  At one point he lifted her on top of the desk and continued to kiss her and then his cell phone rang.  He ignored it.  It stopped ringing.  They continued kissing and then, it rang again.

Groaning in frustration, he pulled away from her, fumbled for the cell and answered it.  “Hello?” he panted.  He listened for a moment.  And then, he said to her, “I have to take this call.”

Well, when he turned walked away a little distance to talk, she used that as an opportunity to leave.  She slid off the desk, grabbed her handbag and ran out of there.  She knew that if she had stayed there, she would have made love to him right there in the office.  She still had reservations about him and was afraid of getting hurt.  That night, she couldn’t sleep.  All she could think about was how his lips felt and how it thrilled her to know that he wanted her as much as she wanted him.

The next day, she avoided him as much as she could and when he managed to ask her why she had run out on him, she replied, “It was getting late and I had errands to run,” before she walked away.  At the end of the day, she made sure she left before he did.  After picking up her winter coat and some suits from the laundry, she decided to treat herself to a cup of hot chocolate with whipped cream and sandwiches.  She had just finished her second sandwich when Mac walked in.

The blare of a car horn jolted her back to the present and she saw that the light had changed to green.  As she drove off, she was sorely tempted to go over to Mac’s flat and confront him.  No, I won’t give him the satisfaction, she decided, her mouth tightening.  I won’t give him the satisfaction of knowing how much it hurt to see him with her.  No, I’m going home and take a nice, hot bath.  I’m not going to let Mac ruin my weekend.

She turned down the street that would take her home.  Ten minutes later, she let herself in her flat.  After hanging her coat in the closet and putting her handbag away, she got undressed.  The hot water felt good against her skin but it couldn’t erase him from her mind.  She donned a pair of pajamas and went over to the sofa to watch some TV.  She stared at the screen but nothing registered.  All she could think about was Mac.  Closing her eyes in despair she leaned her head against the back of the sofa.  They soon opened again when she heard the doorbell.

Glancing at the clock above the mantelpiece, she wondered who would be stopping by to see her at nine-thirty.  She got up from the sofa and went to answer the door.  Her eyes widened when she peered through the keyhole and saw Mac standing there.  Immediately, her heart began to race. What is he doing here?  She opened the door.  He looked so good in the white shirt and jeans.

His expression was serious as he met her gaze. “I’m sorry to be dropping by at this time but you and I need to talk.”

“Okay.”  She moved aside to let him in and closed the door behind him.  After he removed his shoes, she preceded him to the living-room.  They sat down on the sofa and he turned so that he was facing her.

“Why did you run off that afternoon when we were together?” he asked.

“I told you—”

“Yes, I know what you told me but I want to hear the real reason, Brianna.”

She looked down at her hands.  “I was afraid that if I stayed, I would have let you make love to me.”

His eyes darkened.  “Why would something so incredible make you afraid?”

“I just didn’t want to get hurt.  You could have any woman you want and you say you want me but that could change…”

“Since I met you, I haven’t looked at another woman—”

“Then, who was the redhead I saw you with at the café?” she demanded, rising to her feet.

He looked up at her, startled.  “Redhead?” he repeated, knitting his brow.  “Oh, you mean Amber.”

“Yes.” She couldn’t hide the jealousy that was raging inside her.  “I was in the café and I saw when you came in.  I sat there and watched the two of you.”

“Why didn’t you come over and say hello?” he asked, looking perplexed.

She turned away.  “I didn’t want you to see me.”

He got up and taking her by the shoulders, he turned her around to face him.  She kept her eyes downcast, not wanting him to see what was in them.  “You’re jealous,” he realized.  “There’s no reason for you to be.  Amber is my cousin.  She was having boyfriend problems and needed my advice.  We decided that we would go to the café and talk there over cappuccinos and sandwiches.”

Brianna raised her eyes then.  “When I saw you with her, I thought…”

He released her shoulders and slipped his arms around her waist, pulling her against him.  “You thought I was seeing someone.  Oh, Brianna, after what happened between us at the office, how could you think that?  I told you how I feel about you that evening.”

“You said you wanted me—”

“Yes, and I do very, very much but desire isn’t all I feel for you, Brianna.  What I’m trying to say is that I love you.”

“You love me?” she could hardly believe it.

“Yes!”

She reached up and cupped his face.  “I love you too,” she confessed.  “Admitting to myself that I was in love with you was the hardest thing for me to do because of the man I thought you were.  Perhaps, I painted that unflattering picture of you because I was afraid to let myself fall in love with a man who could have any woman he wanted.”

“You’re the only woman I want and love,” he declared huskily before he lowered his head and kissed her.

As she responded to his kisses, she thought how true these words were: You can’t stop the feelings you have for someone.  You can’t lie to yourself either.  Your heart knows the truth all too well.

 

The Age Difference

He traced his fingers over the heart with the initials TB + CH.  Eight years ago, he had carved them there.  Toby Barrington and Celeste Holmes.  Celeste.  Sighing heavily, he leaned against the tree as he recalled the first time they met.  It was eight years ago, just before the summer holidays began.

instead of going straight home, after leaving the college campus, he went to his mother’s office but she wasn’t there.  Instead, a woman he didn’t recognize was at the desk, sorting papers with her back to the door.  He stood there for a moment watching her.  Her hair was cropped short like a boy’s but when she turned around, her figure in the white blouse and pencil skirt was anything but boyish.  She smiled and walked over to him.  “You must be Toby,” she said, extending her hand.

He stared at her.  She had the most exquisite face he had ever seen.  She looked to be in her mid to late twenties.  Swallowing hard, he took her hand which felt small and soft in his.  “Yes,” he managed to say.

“I’m Celeste, your mother’s new assistant.  She told me that she was expecting you.  Please come in and have a seat over there by her desk.  She’s in a meeting right now but should be here shortly.”

He went over to the desk and put his knapsack on the floor beside the chair.  He didn’t sit but remained standing, watching her.  She finished the task she was doing before he interrupted and when she was done, she turned to face him.  “Would you like me to get you anything?” she asked.

He shook his head.  “No, thank you.”

“All right.  If you change you need anything, just stop by my desk.  It’s nice meeting you.  I have heard so much about you.”

“It’s nice meeting you too.”  He wondered if his face was red.  It felt hot.  He knew he was staring but he couldn’t help it.

“Excuse me,” she said with a smile and quickly walked away.  He watched her until she disappeared.

He sat down on the chair and as he waited for his mother, he thought about Celeste.  When his mother finally joined him, apologizing profusely for keeping him waiting he nodded abstractedly, wondering when he was going to see Celeste again.  “Mother, do you mind if I were to pop by here again tomorrow?” he asked.

“Not at all, Dear.”

After the following day, he found excuses to stop by the office just so he could see Celeste until one day, his mother said to him, “Since you seem to like coming by the office so often, how would you like to work here for the summer?”

His face brightened.  “I would like that very much,” he assured her.  What a stroke of luck.  He was going to see Celeste all summer.  He was to start on the following week.   When he arrived bright and early on his first day on the job, it was Celeste who walked him through what his responsibilities were.  She was to be his supervisor which pleased him tremendously.

For the first couple of days, she sat with him and then, he was faring well on his own but it thrilled him whenever she stopped by to check his progress.  As she leaned over him to check something on his computer screen, he caught a whiff of her perfume and he turned his head slightly so that he could look at her.  After a while it was becoming increasingly hard being around her because his feelings for her were growing stronger.   He knew she didn’t have a boyfriend because his mother had divulged that information in passing.

One afternoon they were alone in the kitchenette.  She was rinsing her coffee mug and he was refilling his water bottle.  She looked incredible in the blue top with the V neck, revealing her long, slender neck and the tan skirt.  His gaze lingered on her shapely calves before returning to her face.  He blushed when he caught her looking at him.  It was not the first time that she had espied him staring at her.  She didn’t seem to mind, though.  He was sure that she must be used to men admiring her.

She leaned against the counter, studying him and making him very nervous.  “How old are you?” she asked.

“Eighteen.”

“Do you have a girlfriend?”

He shook his head.  “No.”

“What about the girls at college?”

“I’m not interested in any of them,” he said.  I am interested in you.

She seemed to be pondering something for a moment and then, she said, “I have a cousin about your age and—”

His expression darkened.  “I don’t want to go out with your cousin,” he told her curtly.  “I—I want to go out with you.”

That startled her and for a few minutes, she seemed at a loss for words.  “You’re too young for me,” she said finally.

That stung.  “I may be young but I’m very mature for my age,” he said.

“Yes, you are very mature for your age, but it doesn’t change the fact that you’re eighteen and I’m—I’m nine years older than you.  Besides, your mother would not approve.”

“She doesn’t have to know.  We can see each other on the quiet until—until I’m at least twenty-one.”

She shook her head.  “No.  I can’t do it, Toby.  You should be with a girl your age.”

He opened his mouth to protest but she excused herself and walked away, leaving him feeling like he had been kicked in the stomach.  After that painful rejection, she avoided being alone with him.  And when his summer job was over, they hardly saw each other, except on occasions when his mother invited her over for tea or to work on some project.  And they didn’t say much to each other, except exchange pleasantries.  For eight years, he pined for her, longing for the day when she would give him a chance.

He roused himself from his reverie and moved away from the tree.  He didn’t come out here to dwell on the past or wish for something that may never happen.  It was a beautiful day but very hot.  When it was this hot, he always went for a swim in the lake.  He turned to look at the water as it shimmered in the sun, seeming to beckon to him.

Without any hesitation, he stripped down to his underwear and ran down to the water, wading in until it was up to his waist.  It felt nice and cool on his skin.   He swam to the other side of the lake and climbed on to the embankment.  He lay on his back in the shade with his arms folded behind his head.  He could stay out here all afternoon.

Unaware that he was being observed so when he turned to swim back to the grassy slope opposite, he started when he emerged and saw Celeste standing by the tree where his clothes lay.  His face grew crimson at the thought of climbing out, dripping wet, clad only in his underwear in front of her.  He wouldn’t be able to hide his attraction for her.

Her eyes travelled over his bare shoulders and torso before she turned away, her heart racing.  He went over to where his jeans lay and quickly pulled them on.  His shirt soon followed and after he buttoned it, he went and stood in front of her, his eyes riveted on her averted face.  “Why are you here, Celeste?” he asked.

“Your mother invited me to tea and to update me on all that happened while I was away,” she said, avoiding his searching gaze.  She couldn’t stop thinking about the way he looked when he came out of the water, dripping and the passions it evoked in her.

“I meant out here.”

“I-I wanted to give you this,” she said, showing him a beautiful wooden carved giraffe.  “I brought it back from Kenya for you.  Your mother told me that you were out here.  I—I didn’t know that you would be swimming.”

He took the souvenir from her, his fingers brushing against hers, sending a jolt of electricity through his body.  His eyes flew up to her face and found her watching him.  The expression on her face made his heart somersault.  What he saw in her eyes made him drop the giraffe and pull her roughly into his arms, making her gasp.  He kissed her hungrily, feverishly as the years of pent up emotions were released and groaned when he felt her cling to him as she responded wildly to his kisses.

She felt the rough bark of the tree pressing into her back and her head was tilted far back under the onslaught of his lips as he relentlessly plundered hers.  Her fingers gripped his hair, digging into the scalp as the emotions she had denied for so long raged in her like a fire.

This continued for a while and then, he raised his head, his breathing harsh and unsteady.  He gazed down into her face, his eyes dark and stormy.  “I love you,” he muttered thickly.  “I have loved you for eight long and agonizing years.”

She tried to catch her breath.  “I love you too,” she gasped.  “All the time I was in Kenya, I thought about you and wished that you were there with me.  I missed you so much, Toby.  I had to come by today and see you.  When I asked your mother where you were I was afraid that she would tell me that you were out with some girl.  She knows that I love you.  I couldn’t hide it from her and she wasn’t upset or anything.  Instead she told me where to find you and I ran down here to see you.”

He reached up and cupped her face between his hands.  “Does this mean that you will go out with me?” he asked huskily.

“Yes,” she whispered.  “As they say, when you truly love someone, age doesn’t matter whether it’s a difference of two years, fifteen years or in our case, nine years. Love is love…” her voice trailed off as she felt his lips against hers.

 

Getting Away

He had just walked out of the synagogue when he saw them.  Arrested, he stood there watching Brittney with her ex-boyfriend, Andre, his heart breaking.  Burning jealousy swept through him.  They were standing a few yards away but she didn’t see him.

His sister, Anna joined him, saw his face and followed his gaze to where the couple stood talking.  Then, she looked back at him, concerned.  “Who is she?” she asked.

It took a moment for him to speak because he was so upset.  “Brittney.”

“Is she a friend of yours?”

“Yes.”  He turned away, unable to watch them any longer.  He started walk away and Anna followed him.

“Are you in love with her?”

“Yes.”

“Does she know how you feel?”

“No.”

“Are you going to tell her?”

“What’s the point?” he snapped.  “She doesn’t feel the same way.”

“How do you know that?”

“We just saw her with Andre, her ex.  It’s clear that she hasn’t gotten over him and I was a fool to believe that she had.”

“Oh, Paul, I’m so sorry.  What are you going to do?”

“I don’t know.  I need time to think.”

“Why don’t you go to Paris for a few days?  You haven’t taken a vacation in ages.  You’re long overdue for one.”

He glanced down at her.  “You’re right,” he said.  “I need to get away and try to figure out what I’m going to do.  If I stay here in London, I will be tempted to go to her and I can’t bear to see her right now.  It hurts too much.”  A muscle began to throb along his jawline and he quickly turned away.

Anna reached for his hand and held it tightly.  It hurt to see her brother like this.  He was a brilliant businessman but when it came to matters of the heart, he lacked good judgment.  This wasn’t the first time a woman broke his heart but it seemed that he fell really hard for this one.  Hopefully, he would get over her as soon as possible.  He deserved better.  The trip to Paris would do him good.  She went back to his flat with him and while he changed, she got his lunch ready.  She had just put a plate of food she had prepared yesterday and brought on the table for him when the phone rang.

“Do you mind answering that for me?” he called from the bedroom.

“Hello?” she listened for a moment.  “No, you have the right number.  This is Anna speaking.  Hold one moment, please.”  She placed her hand over the mouthpiece.  “It’s Brittney,” she said when he came into the living-room.

He shook his head, indicating that he didn’t want to talk to her.

“I’m afraid he’s not available at the moment.  Perhaps he will call you back later.  Goodbye.”  She replaced the receiver into the cradle and turned to look at him.  “Are you sure you don’t want to talk to her?”

He shook his head.  “I can’t right now.  I need to clear my head first.  I’ll call her when I come back from Paris.”

“All right.  Do you need me for anything?”

He smiled.  “No, Anna.  I’ll be fine.  You should go home to Peter and the kids.  I will call you tomorrow when I check into the hotel.”

She hugged him tightly.  “I love you,” she said drawing back to look up at him.

“I love you too.  And thanks for the food.”  He followed her to the door and they said goodbye.  He shut the door and leaned against it for a moment.  Why did Brittney call him? Was it to tell him that she was back with Andre.  He closed his eyes in despair.  It would kill him if she was.

Brittney stared at the phone, her mind swirling with all sorts of thoughts and questions.  A woman named Anna had answered Paul’s phone.  Who was she?  Red, hot jealousy surged through her and she was tempted to go over to his place right now and find out.  Then, she remembered that he had a sister and her name was Anna.  Relief washed over her.  Paul wasn’t seeing another woman.  But why hadn’t he come to the phone?  She looked at the clock above the mantelpiece, debating whether she should call again or wait for him to call.  It was after seven.  She decided that she would let him call her.  In the meantime, she fixed herself a light dinner and ate it in front of the television.

When ten o’clock came and she still hadn’t heard from him, she began to worry.  It wasn’t like him not to call.  It was too late for her to call him.  She would have to wait until the morning to do so.  Disappointed, she turned off the television and went to bed.

The next morning, she got up, showered, dressed and had breakfast.  After she was done, she hurried to the phone and called Paul but there was no answer.  When the machine came on, she left a message.  She went to church and as soon as she got home, she called but still no answer.  She tried his cell but it was turned off.  She tried all day calling both his home number and his cell until finally, in the evening, she decided to go over to his flat.  She rang the bell and knocked but it was clear that Paul wasn’t there.  Where could he be?  After standing there for a while, she left.  She was worried and had a restless night.

The next morning, she called him but got the same results.  She got ready for work.  On her way to the office, she called his cell but it was still turned off.  Intermittently, throughout the day, she tried to reach him but to no avail and by the time the workday was over, she was very anxious.  Why wasn’t he answering his phone and why hadn’t he called her back? When she got home, she decided that she would call his sister.  She took out the phone directory and searched for her name. She remembered that Paul said that she lived in South Kensington, twenty minutes from where he lived and that she was married to Peter Goldstein, the reporter from the Times.  She searched under Goldstein and found the number.

A woman answered and she recognized her voice.  “Hello, Anna, this is Brittney.  I spoke to you yesterday evening when I called for Paul.  Do you know where he is?  I have been trying since Saturday to reach him.  I’m out of my mind with worry.”

“Hello Brittney.  Paul is in Paris.”

“Paris?” Brittney exclaimed.  “What is he doing there?  Is he there on business?”

“No.  He needed to get away.”

“What did he need to get away from?” she asked, bewildered.  “It’s not like him to go away and not tell me.  And he didn’t return my call on Saturday.  Is-is he seeing someone?”

“No.  He went to Paris alone.  Brittney, I was with him on Saturday when he came out of the synagogue and saw you with Andre.  It upset him so much that I suggested that he should take a break and go to Paris.”

“Oh no,” Brittney groaned.  “He saw me with Andre and thought—”

“That you were back with him.  He was devastated.  I probably shouldn’t even be telling you this but Paul is in love with you.”

“And I’m in love with him.  I have been for a long time.”

“He thinks that you’re still in love with Andre.”

“I’m over Andre.  I have been for a long time now and it’s because of Paul.  Meeting Paul and his friendship has changed my life.  And seeing Andre again made me realize that the feelings I had for him are nothing compared to my feelings for Paul.  Andre wanted us to pick up where we left off but I told him that I was in love with someone else.  I wished him well and then, I walked away.  My past with Andre is over and done with.  My future is with Paul.  Anna, please tell me where he’s staying.  I want to go to him.”  Her life felt so empty without him.  She missed him so much it ached.  How she longed to be with him.

There was a brief moment of silence and then, Anna told her the name of the hotel where he was staying.  After Brittney thanked her profusely, she said, “I’m very relieved to know that you love my brother and I wish you two all the happiness in the world.”

Brittney thanked her again and rang off.  She quickly called the office and informed her assistant that she was taking the rest of the week off.  Then, she dialed the number to book the first available flight for the following day to Paris.  She packed a bag, her heart thudding with excitement.  She was going to see Paul in a matter of hours.  I can’t wait to see him.

Paul stood on the terrace looking at the city bathed in the crimson glow of the setting sun, wishing she was there with him.  “Oh, Brittney,” he whispered brokenly, dragging his fingers through his hair as he ached for her.  Paris was a city for lovers.  If only Brittney and he were lovers instead of just friends.  If only she were with him instead of Andre…

Frustrated, he went back into the room and was going over to the bed to lie down when he heard a knock on the door.  Frowning, he went to answer it.  Opening it he was startled to see Brittney standing there, luggage in tow.   He blinked, thinking he was imagining things.  She couldn’t possibly be here in Paris.  Then, she said, “Hello Paul.” She reached up and touched his face, her gaze almost a caress.

He eyes darkened and he caught her hand to draw her into the room.  “What are you doing here?” he asked when he had closed the door and was facing her.

“I had to come.  I called your sister and she told me where you were.  I had been calling for you since Saturday but when I couldn’t reach you, I got really worried.  I went by your flat but you weren’t there so when I got home.  I called your sister on Monday and we spoke for a while.  She told me that you were here in Paris and explained why.  You saw me with Andre.”

His expression became drawn at the memory.  “When I saw you with him, I felt as if someone had pushed their hand into my chest and ripped out my heart.”

She moved closer to him.  “I’m so sorry that you saw us,” said, wringing her hands.  “It wasn’t at all what you thought.  Andre wanted to resume our relationship but I told him that I was in love with someone else.”

“And what did he say?” he asked as he moved closer, his heart pounding.

“Nothing but I wished him well and walked away.”

“So, it’s over between him and you.”

“Yes and it has been over for a long time now.”

He was standing right in front of her now, their bodies inches apart.  Wordlessly, he pulled her against him and his head lowered towards hers.

She watched transfixed as his face drew closer to hers, her gaze dropped to his mouth.  Her eyes closed as waves of indescribable pleasure undulated through her body when she felt his lips brush against her.  Putting her arms around his neck, she responded passionately to his kisses.  They stood there in the room in the dappled shade of the setting sun as it streaked through the windows, exchanging feverish kisses.

“I love you,” he muttered when at length, he raised his head to gaze down into her upturned face.  “I love you so very much.”

She smiled at him.  “I love you too,” she told him.  “That’s what I came to Paris to tell you.”

“It’s funny but just a few minutes ago, I was wishing that you were here with me in the City of lovers and then you show up.”

“Yes.  You came to Paris to get away from me and here I am.”

“Yes, here you are.  I never want us to be apart again.  It was foolish of me to think that coming here would help in some way.  I missed you so much even when I thought you had gone back to him.”

“Let’s not think about when we were apart but enjoy being together now,” she suggested huskily.  “We are in the city of love so let’s do what lovers do.”

“Yes,” he whispered and picked her up in his arms.