“What’s the matter, Honey?” Ralph Forrester asked six year old Janet as she lay there in bed, crying. He was there to read to read her a bedtime story as usual and was surprised to find her in her present state. When he sat down on the bed, she sat up and hugged him. He gently patted her on the back, trying to soothe her until the sobs subsided. “Now tell me what’s the matter,” he coaxed when she drew back to look up at him.
“Aunt Agnes called me a Gremlin,” she wailed. “Gremlins are ugly, horrid creatures.”
“They are also very mischievous,” he told her, relieved that it wasn’t anything serious although to her it was. “Did you get yourself into trouble again?”
She hung her head. “Yes,” she admitted reluctantly. “It was my idea to bathe the dog in the bathtub because he was so dirty. Matthew helped me to put him in the bath. While I was washing the dog, he went to get a towel to dry him off and that’s when Aunt Agnes walked in. She was really mad and that’s when she called me a Gremlin.”
“Honey, she was understandably angry because you were bathing a dirty animal in her nice, clean bathtub. And you must have made quite a mess.”
“She said that I was a bad influence on Matthew. What does influence mean?”
“It means you make Matthew do things that he wouldn’t usually do.”
She looked contrite. “I don’t mean to make Matthew do bad things,” she said, “or to get him into trouble. He’s my best friend.”
Ralph patted her hand. “I know. We never mean to get others in trouble but sometimes we do. I think it would be best for now if you didn’t visit Matthew at the manor. He could come here instead. Beth and I will make sure you don’t get into any mischief.”
“I don’t think Aunt Agnes likes me very much,” she said, surprising him. “Is it because I’m adopted?”
He stared at her. “Who told you that you’re adopted?” he asked.
“Aunt Agnes. She told me that you and Beth adopted me when I was a baby. What happened to my real parents?”
“They died and you were placed in an orphanage. Beth and I always wanted to adopt a child from Africa. We chose South Africa because we were there once on a mission trip and loved it. As soon as our application was approved, we went the orphanage where you were. We loved you the very first moment we saw you. I remember you staring up at me with those big, beautiful brown eyes of yours and I promised God and myself that I would take very good care of you. We named you Janet which means ‘God’s gracious gift’ because you were a gift from God.”
She smiled. “I’m happy that you and Beth adopted me,” she said, hugging him. Then, she settled back on the pillows and waited for him to read to her. When he was done, he kissed her goodnight, switched off the bedside lamp and left the room.
Beth was in the kitchen fixing them a pot of tea when he went downstairs. He went over to the table and sat down. Beth turned and looked at him. “What’s the matter, Honey?” she asked.
He grimaced. “Agnes told Janet that she’s adopted. What right did she have to do so?”
Beth brought over the two cups of steaming tea and after setting one in front of him, she sat down. “While I agree that it should have been left to us to tell Janet that she’s adopted, it must be obvious to her by now that she’s different. You remember the other day when she came home from school, very upset because some children had asked her how she could have white parents when she was black.”
“I wish people would mind their own business,” he muttered crossly. “Janet doesn’t think that Agnes likes her because she’s adopted.”
“There are very few people whom Agnes likes,” Beth said dryly. “She didn’t approve of you marrying me. I was a bad influence on you. It was on account of me that you gave up your rather cushy job to become a missionary.”
“For as long as I live, I will never regret marrying you, becoming a missionary and adopting Janet. Agnes has always been a controlling woman but she has never been able to manipulate me, though she tried to. She objected to my marriage, change in career and decision to adopt but her objections fell on deaf ears. I’m happy with the life I have made for myself and will not tolerate any interference from her. She’s my sister not my mother.”
“Sometimes, she acts like she has two sons instead of one.”
“Poor Matthew. She’s always doting on him. I pity the girl he ends up marrying. Unless, Matthew and his bride moved far away from Yorkshire and his mother’s influence, they will never get a moment’s peace.”
“I’m very fond of Matthew. He’s such a loving and considerate child. No doubt he takes after his father, God rest his soul.”
“Yes, if I had a son, I would have wanted him to be like Matthew.”
Beth looked at him. “Do you still regret not having children of you own?” she asked. They had tried to conceive but couldn’t. It turned out that he had an undescended testicle when he was a baby. He was devastated because he was looking forward to raising a family with Beth. Beth had pushed aside her own disappointment and sought only to console him. Several years went by before they considered adopting and six years ago, they welcomed Janet into their lives.
“Yes, sometimes,” he admitted. “But I have since realized that things happen for a reason. If we had been able to have our children, that precious little girl upstairs would not be here. She has brought so much joy in our lives. I can’t imagine not having her around. I thank God every day for her. She is truly a blessing.”
Tears pricked Beth’s eyes and she reached out and covered his hand with hers. “Yes, she is.”
Twelve years later, they were gathered in the living-room watching and smiling as Janet blew out the nineteen candles on her cake. Ralph and Beth watched her. It was hard to believe that it was same girl they had brought home from the orphanage. She had grown into a lovely young lady. They watched as she put a piece of the cake in Matthew’s mouth, laughing as he got some of the icing on his nose. “Do you suppose that those two will end up falling in love?” Beth asked in a low voice so that the others couldn’t overhear.
Ralph glanced at her. “I wouldn’t object if that were to happen but you know Agnes…”
“Yes,” she sighed. “She will do her best to sever any romantic attachment that may develop between them.”
Just then the doorbell rang. “I wonder who that could be,” Ralph said.
“I’ll and see who it is.” Beth hurried from the room and down the corridor to the front door. She peered through the keyhole and her eyes widened in surprise and delight. She opened the door. “Blaine,” she exclaimed, hugging him. “It’s so good to see you.”
He smiled. “It’s good to see you too, Beth.”
“When did you get back?”
He went in and glanced toward the living-room where he heard voices and laughter. “It sounds like you’re having a party.”
“Yes. We are celebrating Janet’s birthday.”
“How old is she now?”
“The last time I saw her, she was ten.”
“Yes, well, she’s all grown up now. Wait till you see her. Come and let me introduce you to everyone.”
He removed his shoes and followed her to the living-room. Beth introduced him to Janet’s friends, some of the girls cast admiring glances at him. He shook hands with Matthew. “You’ve gotten tall,” he said, grinning. Matthew smiled.
Blaine’s attention shifted to the girl standing next to Matthew. “Janet?”
She nodded. “Yes.”
He stared at her. “I can’t believe how much you have changed since the last time I saw you,” he said.
She smiled. “I’m not a child anymore. I’m a woman.”
“A young lady,” Beth interjected. “Are you hungry?” She asked Blaine.
He shook his head. “I had a late lunch.”
“Would you like a slice of cake?” Janet asked.
“Yes, thank you.” He knew he was staring but he couldn’t help it. She had changed so much. Gone was the little girl with the pigtails who used to follow him around, chatting incessantly about school, beg him to push on her on the swing and give her a piggyback ride. Standing before him was a very attractive young lady in a pretty blue dress with a smile that melted his heart.
She cut a slice of cake and gave it to him. “How long will you be staying?”
“Only two weeks?” She couldn’t hide the bitter disappointment she was feeling. In the past his visits had been sporadic but she never had to wait for more than a year to see him. This last time, nine years had passed before she saw him again and it would be for only two weeks. He was a Management Consultant. How she wished that he had a different job—one that would not take him out of the country and away from her. She missed him terribly. “Will you come again tomorrow?” she asked, hopefully.
He nodded. “Yes,” he said quietly. “We have a lot of catching up to do.”
Just then one of her friends pulled her away to take photos and Matthew joined him. For the rest of the evening, they were apart, mingling with other people and at the end of the evening as things were winding down, he went over to her. “I’ll be leaving now,” he said.
“You promise you will come tomorrow?”
He nodded. “Yes.” He reached down and hugged her. “Happy birthday, Janet.”
She saw him to the door and stood there watching his tall, slender figure stride briskly to his parked Aston Martin car and climb in. She waved and waited until the car disappeared before going back into the house. She couldn’t wait to see him the next day.
He showed up the following afternoon as promised and subsequently every day for the two weeks he was in London. She would sit there and listen to Ralph and Beth ask him countless questions about his travels, patiently waiting for her time alone with him. As soon as that time came, she would take him outside where they would spend most of the afternoon. Once, when they were standing by the swing, he said, “You’re too grown up now for me to give you a piggyback ride, but I can still push you on the swing. She sat down and laughed as he pushed her. It brought back memories. Other times they sat on the deck talking for hours or go for walks.
Then, it was his final evening and they were out in the backyard. The sun was setting. It cast an orange glow on them as they stood there facing each other.
He studied her face. “I must be leaving now,” he said quietly. “Are you sorry to see me go?”
She glanced up at him. “Yes,” she answered, surprised that he would ask such a question. I don’t know when I will see you again.
“May I kiss you goodbye?” he asked, moving closer to her.
She looked up at him, her heart racing. “Yes,” she said breathlessly. She lowered her head so that he could kiss her on the forehead like he used to when she was a child. Instead, she felt his hand under her chin raising her face up so that she was staring up into his. She watched, mesmerized as he bent his head slowly towards hers and his lips get closer. Her breathing was quick and unsteady now. She felt his mouth on hers and readily responded. Blaine’s hands cupped her face as the kiss became more intense.
She clutched his arms, her fingers digging into the fabric of his jacket as she felt herself going weak in the knees. Eyes squeezed shut as if to blot out the world, she savored her first kiss, wishing that it would last. It lasted for several minutes and then Blaine drew back, his face flushed. She reluctantly opened her eyes and looked up at him. They were both breathing heavily.
“I have to leave now,” he muttered thickly.
“Why?” she asked. “Why can’t you stay a little longer?”
“If I stay, I will kiss you again.”
“I want you to kiss me again—”
“No,” he groaned, pushing his fingers through his hair, his eyes darkening. “I can’t.”
She looked bewildered. “But why?”
“I’m too old for you, Janet. You need to be with a guy your own age like Matthew.”
“But, I don’t want to be with Matthew or anyone else,” she cried. “Why can’t I be with you? You’re only ten years older than me. You’re not like Maxim DeWinter who was forty-two and married a girl my age.”
“You’re right, I’m not Maxim DeWinter. I can’t be with a girl so much younger than me. In September, you will be attending university. That means you will around people your age. Sooner or later, you will meet someone, fall in love with him and forget about me.”
She shook her head. “No, I won’t,” she cried. “I love you,”
A muscle throbbed along his jaw line. “You’re infatuated not in love.”
“Do you think because I’m young, I don’t know what love is?”
“I shouldn’t have kissed you,” he said. “I don’t know what I was thinking. It was an utterly foolish thing to do–” he broke off when she started to cry. He pulled her into his arms and held her closely. “Don’t cry,” he begged, as she buried her face in his chest.
The feel of her body against his was his undoing. Unable to help himself, he gripped the hair at the nape of her neck and pulled her head back so that he stare down into her wet face before his lips closed feverishly over hers. Her impassioned response to his kisses inflamed him. It was no use. He couldn’t walk away from her now. She was in his blood and in his heart.