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.
“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.