Sami finished his conference call and when it was finished, he stood up and stretched. Sometimes, those calls could be so tedious. He was hungry. Perhaps he should have Thai food delivered. He picked up his phone and called his secretary. “Hannah, could you call Mengrai Thai, order my usual and have it delivered at reception here instead of at security? And please tell Shanika that I need to see her. Thanks.”
He stood at the window looking out when minutes later, there was a knock on the door. “Come in.”
The door opened and Shanika walked in. He turned to face her, hands in pockets, leaning against the wall as he watched her close the door before she joined him at the window. “Have you had lunch as yet?” he asked.
She shook her head. “No.”
“Have lunch with me.”
“I hope you like Thai.”
“So, do you have any plans for the weekend?”
“Well, aside from going to church tomorrow as usual, I don’t have any other plans.”
“Are you a Seventh-day Adventist?”
“Yes. I’m a Seventh-day Adventist. What gave me away? Is it because I said I was going to church tomorrow which is a Saturday?”
“That plus the fact that you’re not wearing any makeup or jewelry.”
She smiled. “So, you are a bit familiar with our ways.”
She shook her head. “No. Not all of us are.”
“One of my aunts is a Vegetarian but she isn’t an Adventist.”
“Do you go to church?”
“Only at Easter and Christmas, I’m afraid. When I was a child, I went to church every Sunday because my parents insisted.”
“Which church did you go to?”
“I went to Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral in Manhattan.”
“You lived in New York?”
“Yes. In Soho. Before that I lived in Washington, DC with my parents after we left Algiers. I went to St. Anselm’s Abbey School an all-boys preparatory school for grades six through twelve. After I graduated from there, I left Washington and headed for Massachusetts to study at MIT. After I graduated, I moved to New York where I lived for ten years.”
“And now you’re here in Tampa.”
“Yes. I didn’t want to go through any more New York winters.”
“Have you been back to Algeria since you left?”
“No. I don’t plan on ever going back.”
“Why did you leave?”
“I read just last month that your country’s blasphemy laws are making it difficult for Christians to share their faith because they are afraid that their conversation may be considered blasphemous and used against them.”
“Yes. While we were there, they closed our church. My relatives who are still there have to meet in homes to worship.”
“It’s really sad what they are going through. Maybe we should say a special prayer for them on Saturday. You are still coming to my church on Saturday right?”
“Yes. And to the Christmas concert afterwards.”
Just then Hannah called his extension to let him know that his take-out order had arrived. He excused himself and went to get it. When he returned, he removed the containers from the bag and put everything out on the table beside the windows. Shanika said a prayer before they tucked into the mouthwatering food.
“It’s good to know that you celebrate Christmas,” Sami commented.
“Yes, we celebrate it even though we know that Jesus wasn’t born on December 25th.”
“Since you will be celebrating Christmas with your family, I was wondering if you would celebrate New Year’s with me? I was thinking that we could have dinner first and then go to Busch Gardens and watch the fireworks.”
“I would like that very much.”
“Great. This will be the first time I have gone anywhere on New Year’s Eve. Usually I would stay home and watch the ball drop at Times Square and ring in the New Year alone.”
“Usually, I would be at my parents’ house. What about Christmas? Are you spending it with your family?”
“Not this year. I wanted to have a warm Christmas.”
“So, this is your first Christmas in Tampa?”
“Why don’t you spend it with my family and me? My parents would love to have you.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. They are dying to meet you.”
His eyebrows arched. “They are?” he exclaimed. “How come?”
“I’ve told them so much about you that they feel like they know you.”
He laughed. “Wow. Well, I hope they wouldn’t be disappointed when they actually meet me.”
“Not if you work that charm of yours.”
“Yes. Your charm and your smile and not to mention your eyes…”
“You’re making me blush.”
Shanika laughed. “You are blushing.”
“Would your parents have a problem with you dating your boss?”
“What about the fact that I’m a Catholic?”
“They may have some reservations about it although they acknowledge that there are sincere Christians in other denominations, including Roman Catholicism.”
“I know that my parents wouldn’t approve of my dating a non Catholic but it doesn’t matter.”
“Let’s talk about something else,” Shanika suggested. “What languages do they speak in Algeria?”
“Arabic and Berber are the native languages. Algerians can read and write in French and English is taught in schools.”
“You speak English with a French accent.”
“French is my first language and English my second.”
“Do you speak Arabic?”
“A little. And I don’t speak Berber at all.”
Interesting. I learned French in high-school and university and I really liked it. I would like to be fluent in it.”
“I can teach you.”
“That would be nice. So, what do you in your spare time?”
“Working out, reading, cycling, hiking and photography.”
“Wow. I enjoy long walks, reading, cooking and baking, blogging and playing tennis.”
“I play tennis sometimes. Maybe we can have a friendly match one of these days.”
She smiled. “You’re on,” she said. She rose to her feet. “Thanks for lunch. It was really tasty.”
He stood up. “You’re welcome.
They cleared the table and then stood facing each other. “I’d better be getting back to work.”
“You have a little sauce at the corner of your mouth here.” He reached up and rubbed his thumb against the corner of her mouth.
“Oh,” she said, feeling a bit self-conscious.
He smiled. “It’s gone.” Then, his expression became serious. His eyes darkened as they studied her upturned face. “Tu es si belle,” he murmured.
She blinked. Her heart was racing. “Pardon?” she asked, sounding a bit breathless.
“I said that you are lovely.”
“Th–thank you.” Her breath caught in her throat when he lowered his head and kissed her. She put her arms around his neck and kissed him back. They kissed for several minutes and then his phone rang.
Reluctantly, he broke off the kiss and released her. He went and answered it. Putting his hand over the mouthpiece, he said, “I’m sorry but I need to take this call. Stick around after work. I’ll give you a ride home.”
“All right,” she said. “I’ll see you later.” She turned and walked on rather wobbly legs out of his office. Yes, Christmas in Tampa this year was going to be a very special one. She smiled at the thought as she closed the door behind her.