The Moth and the Flame

jhc-clock

Photo: J Hardy Carroll

She sat there, eyes fixed on the Cathedral clock as it stood between them.  They were alone.  She felt his piercing gaze and the mixed emotions it stirred in her.  A part of her recoiled from his attention and the other part craved it.  He was the most dreadful man she had ever met and yet, she was drawn to him like a moth to a flame.  She could almost feel the heat…

Agitated, she rose to her feet.  She stiffened when he stood.  Panicking, she sought to escape because she knew that if he touched her, she wouldn’t resist…

100 Words

This was written as part of the Friday Fictioneers challenge hosted by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields.  For move details, visit HERE.   To read other stories based on this week’s prompt, visit HERE.

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Harvard

She noticed him during her second year at Harvard.  He was standing outside the entrance talking to a pretty brunette.  She was probably his girlfriend.   Daphne had to pass them to go inside.

As she went up the steps, she saw him turn his head and their eyes met.  She expected him to look away soon after because she knew she wasn’t the type of girl who would attract someone like him.  She didn’t kid herself about her looks.  She knew she wasn’t pretty but she had a lot going for her intellectually.  To her surprise, he didn’t look away but his gaze locked with hers.  Her heart began to pound at the realization that he was taking notice of her.

For a long moment everything and everyone around them faded into the background.  It was as if only the two of them existed.  Then, the spell was broken when she almost walked straight into another student who was coming down the steps.  Embarrassed, she turned and mumbled an apology and then quickly let herself into the building.

As soon as she was out of earshot, Nora looked at Hayden.  “Did you see the way that girl was staring at you?” she asked disdainfully.  “She almost walked straight into that poor girl.  You would think she’s never seen a good-looking guy before.”

Hayden was hardly paying attention to what she was saying.  He was thinking about the girl.  She was obviously attracted to him and he was attracted to her.  He wanted to find out who she was but knew it would be better not to ask any of his friends.  They would make fun of him and chastise him for being interested in this girl when there were so many pretty girls on campus, including Nora who made no secret of the fact that she liked him.  Yet, as lovely as she was, he was not attracted to her and was quite content with being just friends with her.  “You say that about all of the girls who look at me,” he said to Nora.  “You can’t stop them from looking.”

“Well, you don’t usually take any notice of them but this time, you did.  Don’t tell me you find her attractive.”

He glanced at his watch.  “We should be heading to our classes now,” he said as he took up his satchel and slung it over his shoulder.

Nora’s mouth tightened.  She walked up the stairs with him and as he held open the door for her, she glanced up at him.  “She’s not your type,” she told him emphatically.  “She’s plain and dull looking.”

Hayden didn’t answer.  She may be plain and dull to you but not to me.  He and Nora parted ways and he walked to his class.  He tried to focus on what the professor was saying but his thoughts were elsewhere.  The next time I see her, I will talk to her.  

All morning Daphne thought about him.  She saw him again and this time her friend, Susan was with her.  “Who’s that very handsome guy over there wearing the very expensive looking blue sweater?”

“That’s Hayden Marsden.  He transferred to Harvard from Oxford this semester, that’s why you never saw him on campus before.  He lives with his mother and step-father in Berkshires.  I once saw photos of the estate featured in The Boston Living Magazine.  It is absolutely beautiful and huge.  Forget about him, Daphne.  He’s way out of your league.  Besides, his mother is very particular about the kind of girls he associates with.”

Daphne told her about the time she saw Hayden and ended her account with a sigh.  “I guess it was wishful thinking on my part.”

“Ah, not necessarily,” Susan said, looking over her shoulder.  “Brace yourself.  We’re about to have company.”

Alarmed, Daphne glanced around to see what she was talking about and her heart lurched when she saw Hayden approaching them.  She glanced down at her white top and knee length denim skirt and ankle boots, thinking how unsophisticated she must look compared to the brunette she had seen him with the last time.  Her heart was pounding like crazy.  Hayden looked first at Susan and then he turned to her, his tawny eyes riveted to her face.  “Hello, Daphne,” he said, holding out his hand.

She stared at him.  He knows my name.  She put her hand in his large one, feeling his fingers clasp hers in a firm handshake.  “Hello, Hayden.”

It pleased him that she knew his name.  This close, she was stunning.  His heart was beating so fast that it felt as if it was going to fall out of his chest.  He was very nervous.  No girl ever had such an effect on him before and it scared him.  Her hand felt soft and small in his and he wanted to continue holding it but had to release it in order to shake her friend’s hand when she introduced them.  He smiled at Susan as he shook her hand.  “Nice to meet you,” he said.

She smiled.  “Likewise.”  Turning to Daphne, she said, “I am going to the library.  See you later.”  She excused herself and walked away.

Alone now, Daphne and Hayden stood there, looking at each other, feeling shy and nervous.  “Do you have a boyfriend?” he asked.  He had to know.

She shook her head.  “Do you have a girlfriend?” she asked.  She was thinking about the girl she had seen him with.

“No, I don’t have a girlfriend and the girl you saw me with is just a friend.”

“She’s very pretty.”

“Yes, she is,” he agreed, “but, she’s not the one I’m interested in.  Are you busy later?”

She shook her head.

“How would you like to go for dinner and a movie with me?”

“I’d like that very much,” she replied, sounding a little breathless.  He’s asking me out.

He smiled and looked relieved.  “I’ll meet you right here after class this evening.”

“All right.”

They talked for a while longer and then he walked her to her class.  For the rest of the day, she was on cloud nine.  And as soon as her last class was over, she hurriedly packed her bag and almost fled from the room.  He was waiting for her.  How he longed to hold her hand but he decided it was too soon.  He didn’t want to overwhelm her.  He was so excited that they were going out on their first date.  As they walked across the campus grounds to the parking lot where his car was, he told her where they were going to have dinner and which movie they were going to see.  It was a Friday night so they didn’t have to worry about staying out late on a school night.

They had dinner at Amelia’s Trattoria before they headed over to Kendall Square Cinema to watch The Man Who Invented Christmas.  It was a very pleasant evening and first date.  She was sorry when it was over and it was time for him to take her home.  He walked her to the door of her parents’ home.  “I’d like to see you again tomorrow,” he said.  “We can spend the day together, doing different things.”

She nodded at once.  “Yes, we can do that.”

“I’ll pick you up around nine, if you think that’s too early for a Saturday.”

“Nine is fine.” She wished it were already nine.

“See you tomorrow.”  I want to kiss her so badly.

“See you tomorrow.”  I guess he thinks it’s too soon for us to kiss. She watched him as he walked to his car and waved as he drove off.  Suffice to say, she hardly slept a wink that night because she was thinking about their first date and excited about seeing him the next day.  The next morning, she got up early and had breakfast.  It was about eight-fifteen when she went upstairs and had her bath.  She wasn’t sure what to wear at first but then decided that a sweater and a pair of jeans and dressy but comfortable ankle boots would work.  Her mother was in the living-room when she walked in, surprised to see her up and about when usually on a Saturday morning she was still in bed.  When she noticed that she was dressed, she asked, “Where are you off this early?”

“I have a date,” Daphne told her gleefully.  “Hayden and I are going to spend the day together.  This is our second date.”

Her mother’s eyes widened.  “Is this is the same guy you told me about?”

“Yes.  It is.  He will be here any minute.  Would you like to meet him?”

“Yes, I’d like to meet the young man who has achieved something I have been trying to for years—get you out of bed on a Saturday before noon.”

Daphne pursed her lips.  Just then, the doorbell rang.  Her heart skipped a beat.  “He’s here.  How do I look?”

“You look fine.  Now, you’d better go and answer the door before he changes his mind.”

Daphne hurried to the door and opened it.  Her face brightened when she looked up into Hayden’s.  He looked amazing in a striped shirt with a green pullover and a pair of jeans.  Even when he was dressed casual, he looked elegant.  “Good morning,” he said with a smile.

“Good morning,” she beamed at him.  “Come in and meet my mother.  You don’t have to take off your shoes,” she added when he started to.  She took him to the living-room where her mother was.  “Mama, this is Hayden.  Hayden, this is my mother.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Williams,” Hayden said holding out his hand which was clasped in a warm handshake.

Mrs. Williams smiled at him.  “The pleasure’s all mine,” she said.  “I’ve heard so much about you.”

“So, what do you have planned for today?” Daphne asked him, her eyes sparkling.

“We are going to spend the day exploring Boston.”

“That sounds like fun.”  Daphne grabbed her handbag and kissed her mother.  “See you later,” she said.

“Goodbye, Mrs. Williams.”

“Goodbye, Hayden. I hope you will stop by again for a longer visit.”  She watched them as they almost ran to the car.  She had never seen Daphne so happy.  Hayden seemed like a decent young man and it was obvious that he liked Daphne.  She wasn’t sure how his family would feel about him dating her.  She couldn’t speak for the rest of her family, but personally, she had no objections.  Daphne’s happiness was all that mattered to her and she seemed to have found it with this young man.

“I like your mother,” Hayden commented as they drove off.

“She likes you too.”

“Is it just the two of you living in such a big house?”

“No.  I have a brother and a sister but they are spending the weekend with my grandmother.”

“What about your father?”

“He died of a heart attack when I was twelve.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.  So, your mother’s the breadwinner.”

“Yes.  She has worked very hard to raise us and make sure that we have a good education.  I’m in Harvard because of her.  She’s a phenomenal woman.  I hope to be like her one day.”

He glanced at her.  “I think you’re already there,” he said quietly.

She turned her head and smiled at him.  “Thank you.”

It was a beautiful, sunny and mild day, perfect day for a walk on the Freedom Trail which is where they began their day tour of the Boston.  With so much to see and do, the time seemed to go very quickly and before she knew it, it was evening and they were having dinner at an Italian restaurant.   They lingered over their pasta, recapping the places they had seen.  When she told him that she was going to download the photos they had taken and post them on her Facebook page, he didn’t object.

As they walked along the bridge, admiring the scenery, he reached for her hand and she felt her heart begin to race when his laced his fingers through hers.  She glanced up at him and he stopped, leaned over and kissed her.  She closed her eyes and kissed him back.  When he felt her response, he deepened the kiss and his arms went around her waist, holding her tightly against him.  They were oblivious to the passersby who watched them in amusement, annoyance, displeasure or indifference.

At length, he raised his head.  “I want to see you again tomorrow and every day after that,” he said huskily.  “I want to be your boyfriend, Daphne.”

“And I want to be your girlfriend,” she replied.

He kissed her again and then he put his arm around her shoulder as they continued walking down the bridge.  She slipped her arm around his waist, her face upturned to the setting sun.

They began to date exclusively from that day but their relationship met with some opposition from his friends and he almost punched one of them for his remarks about Daphne.  Nora refused to have anything more to do with him.  He was relieved when the Christmas break rolled around.  His step-father and mother were out of town, preferring to spend their holidays in Florida.  He declined to go with them.  The weekend before Christmas, he invited Daphne up to the house.  She couldn’t get over how huge it was and she enjoyed the tour he took her on, marveling at the number of rooms.  One could easily get lost in a place like this, she thought, as she followed him along endless corridors, up winding staircases and in and out of countless rooms.

After having dinner, they went into the drawing-room where they sat cross-legged on the hearth, the glow of the fire illuminating their faces.  They had the place all to themselves.  “You are invited to have Christmas dinner with us,” she told him.

“I gladly accept,” he said, smiling.  “I’m looking forward to enjoying more of your mother’s cooking.”  He had been over to her house several times for dinner.  “Watching Transformers’ Prime with Terrence and seeing Rhea’s photos of the Jingle Ball.”  He and her nine year old brother got along famously and her fifteen year old sister thought he was the bomb for getting her those Jingle Ball tickets.  It was nice to see how easily he fitted in with her family.

“What about me?” she asked, punching him playfully.

He got serious and the expression on his face made her swallow hard.  “Right now, I want to take you upstairs to my room and make mad, passionate love to you but I won’t until you’re ready.”

She reached out and touched his face.  “I’m ready.”

His eyes darkened.  “Are you sure?”

She nodded.  “Yes.” And to leave him in no doubt that she meant what she said, she got to her feet and stood looking down at him.  He scrambled to his feet and scooping her up, he carried her out of the drawing-room and in the direction of the staircase leading up to the bedroom.

Sometime later, they lay wrapped in each other’s arms, spent.  Daphne raised herself up on her side and gazed down at him.  “Is attraction all you feel for me?” she asked.  Nora’s remarks still plagued her.  The encounter happened a week ago when she was waiting for Susan and Nora approached her.  She had a nasty expression on her face.  After she looked her up and down in disgust, she said, “Don’t kid yourself that Hayden Marsden is serious about you.  All he wants is sex from you and once he’s had his fill, he will dump you just like.   She snapped her fingers and then she walked off, leaving Daphne staring after her.  She told Susan about it.  “She’s just jealous,” her friend said dismissively.  “Paid no attention to her.”

Hayden looked at her, frowning.  “Why do you ask?” he wondered.

“Well, it’s just something Nora said to me last week.”

“What did she say?”

She told him.  “I shouldn’t let her get to me,” she added with a sigh.

Hayden reached up and caressed her cheek with his knuckles.  “What I feel for you is much more than physical attraction, although you drive me wild with desire,” he added, his eyes darkening.  “I’m madly in love with you, Daphne Williams.”

She stared at him, hardly able to believe what she was hearing but she could see the sincerity in his eyes and her heart melted.  “I’m mad about you too,” she said huskily.  “I have been since the first time I saw you.”

“I have so many plans for us.  How would you like to relocate to Seattle after we graduate?”

“Seattle?  I never thought of moving there but I’ll go wherever you want to go.”

“We’ll get married first and then move to Seattle.”

“Married?”

“Yes.  You want to marry me, don’t you?”

“Of course, I do, but what about your family?”

“I’m now estranged from all of them except my father.  It was his idea to move to Seattle.  He offered me a job at his company at least until I could find something more in line with my major.  I told him about you and emailed him a photo.”

“And he doesn’t object to our relationship?”

“No, he doesn’t.  My father is nothing like the rest of my family.  He’s excited about seeing me and is looking forward to meeting you.”

“Your friends will definitely have a problem with you marrying me.”

“They are not my friends any more.  I broke all ties with them when they started making derogatory remarks about you.  When it comes to choosing between you and my family or my friends, I will always choose you.  I knew from the moment I first saw you that you were the girl for me and I have promised myself that I would never let anyone come between us.”

She smiled and put her arms around his neck.  “I can’t wait to marry you and move to Seattle where we can begin a new life together.”

His arms went around her waist, pressing her close against him.  “I can’t wait to put a ring on your finger,” he murmured softly.  “I love you so much.”

“I love you very much too.” She closed her eyes when he bent his head and kissed her.  Her heart was filled with so much joy that it felt as if it would burst.  She was about to embark on an exciting future with the man she loved and it all began that day on the steps of Harvard.

 

 

Sources:  Boston.Com; Boston in a Day; Harvard University

 

A Misunderstanding

“Is your uncle at home?” Ashley asked casually as they walked the grounds on a beautiful, sunny spring afternoon.  She was wearing a denim jacket because it was still a bit cool.  They were at Eastwell Manor where Bradley was staying with his uncle until he found his own flat.  It was a magnificent place surrounded by acres of land, immaculate gardens and rolling hills.  She had been here several times and loved it here.  It was peaceful and the air was crisp and fresh.

Bradley glanced at her.  “You’ve got a thing for him, haven’t you?” he teased. “Most women who meet him do.  My uncle is cordial toward them but expresses no romantic interest whatsoever in any of them.”

“How long were he and your aunt married?”

“Fifteen years.”

“And they never had any children?”

“No.  Aunt Carol couldn’t have any.  What a great pity.  She would have been an excellent mother.”

“How did she die?”

“It was a car accident.  She was on her way home when an intoxicated teenager ran the red light and plowed into her as she was leaving the intersection.  She died instantly.  Uncle Anthony was a wreck.”

“What was she like?”

“She was a lovely woman, kind and very generous.  She adored Uncle Anthony and he adored her.  She was my favorite aunt.  She was like a mother to me.  I adored her.”

“How very sad.  I don’t think your uncle approves of our friendship.”

“Why do you think so?”

“I see the way he looks whenever we are together.  There’s disapproval written all over his face.  I can’t imagine why he should have any objections.  Perhaps he thinks you spend too much time with me and should be in the company of a girl closer to your age.”

“I haven’t met any girls my age that I am interested in as yet and besides, I enjoy your company.  We have known each other for some time now and I can’t imagine not having you around.  I can talk to you about anything.  You’re like a sister to me.  I don’t know why my uncle would disapprove of me having a friend such as you—unless, he thinks we are more than friends, though, I still can’t imagine why that should be any concern of his.  He’s not my father and I’m not a child.”

“Your uncle just wants what’s best for you.”

“I know.”

They continued walking and talked about other things.  Then it was time for her to leave.  As they walked toward the mansion, Bradley suddenly grabbed and dipped her before he bent his head and kissed her squarely on the mouth.  She clung to him to keep her balance.  It lasted a few seconds and then he raised his head, straightening and then releasing her.  She glared at him, her chest heaving in indignation.  “What on earth did you do that for?” she demanded.

“It was for my uncle’s benefit,” he told her.  “He was in the study watching us through the window.”

She swung round and looked up at the window where she knew the study to be.  There was no one there.  She turned back to Bradley.  “What you did was childish and very insulting to me.”

He looked contrite.  “I didn’t mean to upset you, Ash.  I was miffed at him for thinking that he can control my life simply because I am living under his roof.  When it comes to my friendship with you, I will not put up with his interference.”

“What will he think of me now?” she wondered.

“What does it matter?  He already thinks that we are a couple.”

“But, we’re not.  We’re just friends.”

“Why does it matter so much to you what he thinks?” Bradley pressed.  “Is it because you’re in love with him?”

“Yes,” she admitted.

“All right.  Would you like us to go and clear up this misunderstanding right now?”

Her heart lurched at the idea of seeing Anthony Eastwell after what just happened.  She couldn’t imagine how he would look at her now.  She shook her head.  “I can’t face him right now,” she said.  “I’m going home.” She turned and walked away.

Bradley followed her.  “I’m sorry, Ash,” he said, his expression apologetic.  “Please forgive me for acting like a fool.  I will straighten things out with Uncle Anthony, I promise.”

She looked at him.  “I’m very upset with you right now,” she said.  “But, I’ll get over it.  Call me later.” She was about to walk off when she froze.  Anthony Eastwell was walking toward them.

Immediately, her heart began to pound wildly and her breath quickened.  He always had that effect on her.  In spite of her distress, she couldn’t prevent her gaze from traveling over his tall frame and thinking how disturbingly attractive he looked in the tan ribbed sweater and navy blue slacks.

He stopped abruptly in front of Bradley who watched him warily.  “Please wait for me in the study,” he instructed in a tight voice.

Without saying a word, his nephew turned and walked toward the house.  Anthony waited until he was gone before he turned his attention on Ashley.  To say that he was angry would have been an understatement.  His brown eyes were dark with fury and his face was flushed.  “What do you mean by making a spectacle of yourself with my nephew out here in plain view for everyone to see?” he demanded.

She swallowed hard.  “He kissed me and I—”

“Don’t tell me that you put up a fight.  I saw you from the window and it was clear to me that you welcomed his advances which leads me to believe that your relationship is not platonic as you would have me believe.”

“Please, you don’t understand—”she protested.

“I understand perfectly,” he muttered thickly.  “You would rather be with him than—” He broke off and turned away, dragging his fingers through his hair as he struggled to compose himself.  Several minutes passed before he faced her again.  “If you are going to throw yourself at my nephew, I would prefer if you did it somewhere else.”

That was when she got upset.  “For your information, I’m not throwing myself at your nephew,” she retorted.  “I don’t make it a habit of throwing myself at any man, no matter how attracted I am to him.”

“So, you admit that you’re attracted to Bradley?”

“I’m not admitting anything.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, Mr. Eastwell, I have to go.”  She turned and strode off.

He stood there watching her, his face now pale and his eyes filled with torment.  How he longed to go after her and tell her how he really felt but pride kept him where he was.  He remained there for a while before he went back to the manor.

Bradley was standing by the window when he joined him in the study.  “Uncle, I hope you weren’t too hard on Ashley,” he said.  “The kiss was my idea not hers.  She was very upset with me.”

Anthony looked unconvinced.  “What are you talking about?” he demanded.  “From where I was standing the kiss looked mutual.  I saw her clinging to you.  That was not the action of a woman who didn’t want to be kissed.”

Something about the way he spoke and the expression on his face made Bradley stare at him closely.  “It upset you to see us together, didn’t it?” The look in his uncle’s eyes was all the confirmation he needed.  “Uncle Anthony, this has all been a terrible misunderstanding.  You see, Ashley and I are just friends.  I kissed her because I was angry with you.  I didn’t like you interfering in my friendship with her.  Ashley is not interested in me.  I’m like a little brother to her.  She’s in love with you.”

Anthony looked stunned now.  “In love with me?” he exclaimed.  “Are you sure?”

“Yes, I am.  I can tell from the way she talks about you and when she’s around you. I’m surprised you haven’t noticed.  Besides she admitted it to me.”

“I thought it was you she cared for,” he said.  “I had hoped but never imagined that she would have feelings for me.”

“Do you love her?”

“Yes.  I have loved her since the day we met.  I didn’t think it was possible to fall in love again after losing your Aunt Carol but it has happened.”

“Why don’t you invite Ashley over for dinner tonight and tell her how you feel?”

“After what I said to her earlier, I’m not sure she would want to see me. I’m afraid I wasn’t very pleasant.  I was acting out of jealousy.”

“Then, you can go over to her flat and see her.  She won’t refuse to see you once you turn up.  I’ll give you her address.”

“All right.  I’ll go and see her this evening and hopefully straighten things out with her.”

“I’m sorry, Uncle Anthony, this was entirely my fault.”

Anthony patted him on the shoulder.  “Don’t worry about it,” he said.  “All is forgotten.  I have been interfering in your life and I’m sorry.  You’re free to do as you wish as long as it doesn’t get you into any trouble. No hard feelings?” He held out his hand.

Bradley smiled and shook it.  “No hard feelings,” he said.  “I’m happy that you’ve found love again.  Ashley is a remarkable woman.”

“I know.”

It was after seven when Anthony showed up at Ashley’s flat.  In his arms he carried a box of red roses which he handed to her when she opened the door.  “These are for you,” he said simply as she stood there gaping at him.  “May I come in?”

She blinked.  “Yes, yes.  Come in.” She moved aside so that he could step inside and she closed the door behind him, hardly able to believe that he was here.  She opened the box and gasped when she saw the big, beautiful red roses.  There were a dozen of them.  “They’re beautiful,” she exclaimed.  “Please make yourself comfortable while I go and put them in some water.” As she hurried to the kitchen, she couldn’t deny that she was thrilled to see him, in spite of their earlier exchange.  She hadn’t expected to see him again.

She filled a vase with water, cut the ends of the roses and then placed them in the vase.  She went back into the living-room and put the vase on top of the faux fireplace mantle, stepping back to admire them.  They added more color and a pleasant aroma to the room. She turned to find Anthony standing by the sofa watching her.  She allowed her gaze to travel over him.  He was wearing a navy blue suit, blue tie and white shirt.  His hands were in his pockets and his expression was both serious and sheepish as he looked at her.

“I owe you an apology,” he said quietly.  “I acted like an unreasonable fool this afternoon.  My only excuse is that I was jealous.”

Her eyes widened in surprise.  “Jealous?” she cried.

“Yes.  When I looked out of the window and saw Bradley and you kissing, I was consumed with jealousy.  I couldn’t bear to watch so I moved away from the window.  I didn’t know what to do.  For a few minutes, I just paced up and down in the study and then I decided that I would confront the two of you.”

She watched him, her heart pounding. This seemed so surreal.  “I always thought you disapproved me because of my friendship with Bradley,” she said.  “I thought it was my age which made me unsuitable for him.”

“You’re right.  I disapproved of your relationship with him but not for the reason you thought.  I didn’t know that you were just friends.  I thought you were romantically involved.  In the garden this afternoon, I said the things I did out of jealousy and when you walked away, I wanted to come after you and tell you how I felt but pride prevented me.  I didn’t want to throw myself at the woman whom I thought cared for my nephew.”

“I do care for Bradley but I don’t love him.  What I feel for him is affection and what I want from him is friendship, nothing more.”

Anthony’s countenance changed.  Hope flickered in his eyes.  “I didn’t come over here just to apologize,” he said, moving closer.  “I came to tell you that I love you.  I’ve loved you since the first time we met.”

She moved closer.  “I love you too.  I have since the first time I saw you.  I didn’t think I stood a chance, though, because of your wife.  I feared that I would end up like those other women whose feelings for you were not reciprocated.”

“I didn’t think I could love again until I met you.  You stirred feelings in me that I thought had died with Carol.  What I feel for you is a deep and consuming love.”  By now he had closed the distance between them and was standing in front of her.  He reached out and caught her by the waist, pulling her against him.  His smoldering eyes met hers before he lowered his head and kissed her.  She clung to his shoulders, her fingers gripping the material of his jacket as she responded to his hot, searing kisses.

After a while he raised his head to gaze down into her face, his eyes dark and stormy and his face flushed with desire.  “Do you think you could get used to being Bradley’s aunt?” he asked.

She nodded, smiling.  “It would feel weird at first but I can get used to it,” she said breathlessly.

“Good,” he murmured before he kissed her again.

Sources:  Fantasy Name Generator; Pinterest

The Nutcracker

It was on a Saturday night at the London Coliseum where Alexis and her sister Gwen ran into Mrs. Bannister, Alexis’ music teacher, a wonderful lady who didn’t look as if she had aged very much at all.

She was delighted to see her former pupil, her face beaming and her light blue eyes sparkling.  “Hello My Dear,” she said, “What a lovely surprise and on my birthday too.  How are you?  Are you still practicing on the piano?  You were a very promising student and one of my favorites.”

“It’s so good to see you, Mrs. Bannister,” Alexis said as they hugged.  “Happy birthday.”

Mrs. Bannister turned to the young man who was standing beside her.  “This is my grandson, Jeremy.  He brought me to the ballet this evening for my birthday.  He has always been a very thoughtful young man.  Jeremy, this is Alexis.”

Alexis’ attention shifted to the older woman’s companion.  He was tall and very handsome.  His thick brown hair was a bit long but it suited him.  He was wearing a fine and rather expensive looking dark grey suit, blue shirt and tie.  His light green eyes met hers and she thought she saw admiration shining in them.

He took the hand she proffered and shook it.  “A pleasure,” he said with a cultured English accent.

She smiled.  “It’s nice to meet you.   This is my sister, Gwen,” she said.  He acknowledged Gwen with a smile and shook her hand.  Then, he returned his attention to Alexis.

“Did you enjoy the ballet?” he asked.  “Grandmother has always wanted to see The Nutcracker and I promised her that one year I take her for her birthday.”

“Yes, I enjoyed it very much.  I’ve always wanted to see it too.  It was my good fortune that my brother-in-law is not a fan of ballet or musicals so Gwen asked me to come with her.”

“I should thank your sister for bringing you tonight,” he said quietly.  “I got to meet you.”

She smiled, not sure of how to respond to that remark.  He was staring at her making her feel both nervous and flattered.  She had never had a man this young interested in her before.  He had to be at least ten years younger than her.  “Are you and your grandmother close?” she asked.

“Very,” he said.  “She always says that I’m her favorite.”

“Do you have any brothers or sisters?”

“I have an older brother and a younger sister.  Do you have other siblings?”

“No, Gwen is the only one I have.  We were very close growing up.  Now she is married with two girls and a boy.”

He glanced down at her hand.  “I see that you’re not wearing a ring,” he said.  “I guess you’re not married.”

“No, I’m still single.”  She didn’t mention that she was once engaged but she broke it off when she found out that her fiancé was two-timing her with his new assistant.

Just then, Mrs. Bannister said to her, “Alexis, how would you like to have tea with me tomorrow afternoon, if you have no other plans, of course.”

Alexis smiled.  “I would be delighted,” she said with a big smile.

“Splendid.  So, I shall see you tomorrow afternoon at two.  Gwen, it was a pleasure to meet you.   Come, Jeremy, it is past my bedtime.  Thank you, Dear, for a lovely evening.  I shall never forget it.”

Jeremy said goodnight to Alexis and Gwen, his eyes lingering on the former before he took his grandmother’s arm and led her away.

Gwen looked at her.  “Mrs. Bannister seems like a really nice lady, very gracious and friendly.  I had a rather nice chat with her.  Her grandson is very handsome.  I noticed him paying you a lot of attention.  What did you think of him?”

“He’s very handsome and polished.”

“Were you attracted to him?”

It was no use denying it.  “Yes, very attracted, a lot good it would do me.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Well, for one thing, he’s younger and another, he’s upper crust.”

“It seemed like neither of those two things mattered to him and if he’s anything like his grandmother, I don’t see any reason why you shouldn’t at least entertain to idea of dating him.  Don’t allow what happened with Sidney prevent you from having a love life.  I never did like him.  Good riddance to him, I say.  You can do much better.  So, if you happen to see Jeremy again and he asks you out, don’t turn him down.”

Alexis looked unconvinced.  “I don’t know if I will see him again and even if I do, I don’t think he’ll ask me out.  No, I’m not going to get my hopes up.  I’ll go and see his grandmother tomorrow and we will spend a pleasant afternoon together, catching up.  Now, what do you say, we grab a bite to eat before you head home to your brood?”

The next day, Alexis drove over to Mrs. Bannister pretty cottage, nestled among thick foliage and surrounded by immaculate gardens.  She had a live in housekeeper who opened the door and showed Alexis to the drawing-room where the lady of the house was seated.

Mrs. Bannister’s face lit up when she saw her.  “Hello, my Dear.  Come and sit beside me and by the fire.  It must be cold outside and grey too.”

Alexis went over to her and after hugging her warmly, she sat down on a chair close to the one the elder woman was occupying.  “What a lovely home you have,” she remarked.  “I couldn’t help admiring your gardens.  I imagine that your grandchildren must have loved playing in them when they were young.”  She wanted to ask her so many questions about Jeremy and what he was like as a boy but thought better of it.

Mrs. Bannister nodded, smiling.  “Oh yes, they loved playing in the gardens which they were children.  Jeremy’s favorite spot was the lake. He would swim there sometimes.  He was always scampering about the place, vexing his mother who thought he was a bit too wild.  I always told her that he was a boy and boys were supposed to be a little unruly.  When he comes he could take you for a walk on the grounds and show you the lake.”

Alexis’ heart lurched.  “Jeremy’s coming here?” she asked.  The thought of seeing him again thrilled and terrified her at the same time.  She couldn’t believe that she was behaving like this over a younger man.

“Yes, he said that he would stop by around three.  He doesn’t usually come and see me on a Sunday so I was quite surprised when he called me this morning to tell me that he was coming over this afternoon.  I’ll ring for our tea now.”

They had their tea and sandwiches as they talked about old times and other things.  The time went by very quickly and Alexis had just finished drinking her tea when Jeremy walked into the drawing room.  He went over to his grandmother and hugged her.  When he drew back she looked up at him, beaming.  “It’s good to see you, Dear.”

“I couldn’t think of a better way to spend a Sunday afternoon,” he said, smiling at her.  Then he turned to Alexis.  “Have you had a chance to see the gardens?” he asked.

She shook her head.  “I saw them when I was coming up the driveway.  They look amazing.”

“I told Alexis that you would take her for a walk in the gardens and show her the lake where you used to swim as a child.”

“I’d be happy to,” he said, his gaze still on Alexis.  “Shall we?”

She got up and after excusing herself, she followed him out to the foyer.  She got her coat and scarf from the closet.

“I won’t keep you outside too long,” he promised.  “It’s very nippy.”

They walked through the gardens and to the path which led to the lake.  She looked around her in wonder.  Autumn in Surrey was breathtaking.  The thick foliage on the opposite side of the lake was cloaked in rich, bright colors.  The air was cold but very fresh.  “I can see why you loved coming here,” she commented as they stood there watching two swans gliding through the gold lake.  It was so peaceful out there.   It was a nice change from the city.

“Yes.  I used to come out here all the time and swim or feed the swans.  I loved being here more than at my parents’ estate in Yorkshire.  Yorkshire is even more beautiful in the autumn but I prefer being here in Surrey.  You’re right about it being peaceful here and that’s why this is still my favorite place to relax and think about things.”

“Do you still swim in the lake?”

He smiled and shook his head.  “I stopped doing that when I turned thirteen.  Besides, I don’t want to scare away the swans.”

“This is a nice way to spend a Sunday afternoon,” she remarked.  “Your grandmother was surprised that you visited her today.  She said that you don’t usually visit her on a Sunday.”

“She’s right.  I’m usually at home or out with my friends but I came here today because of you.”

She swallowed.  “Me?”

“Yes, I wanted to see you again.”

A slight breeze started blowing and she shivered.  She pulled the hood over her head and shoved her hands in the pockets of her coat, wishing she had worn her gloves.

“You’re cold,” he observed.  “Let’s go back to the cottage.”

He helped her remove her winter gear and then he took off his coat and hanged everything in the closet.

When they went into the drawing-room, Mrs. Bannister was not there.  She went over to the fireplace to warm her hands.  He joined her.  He turned toward her and took her cold hand in his and rubbed it between his.  Her heart was pounding as she watched his long fingers move slowly but vigorously to warm hers.  Then, she raised her head to look up at his face and her breath caught in her throat when she met his smoldering gaze.  “I want to kiss you,” he muttered thickly.

She trembled at the thought.  “Your grandmother could return at any minute,” she said, trying to remain rational in spite of her senses which were screaming at her to let him kiss her.

“You’re right,” he admitted.  “It would be awkward if she were to walk in and find us kissing.  Have dinner with me tonight, Alexis.”

“Yes,” she said simply.  She gave him her address and he made a mental note of it.  “I think she’s coming.”  He released her hand and moved away from the fireplace just as his grandmother entered the room.

“Did you enjoy your walk?” she asked as she went over to the chair she had vacated and sat down.

“Yes, I did.”

“Good.  You must come in the summer.  It’s really nice then.”

“Mrs. Bannister, I must be leaving now.  Thank you for inviting me to tea.  I had a wonderful time.”  She went over and kissed her on the cheek.

“Goodbye, Dear.  Jeremy will see you off.”

He walked with her to her car and held open the door for her to get in.  As she was about to, he leaned down and kissed her on the cheek.  She closed her eyes at the sensation of his warm lips against her skin.  When he drew back, their eyes met and held for a while.  “I’ll pick you up at seven,” he said quietly.  She nodded and got in the car.  He stepped back and watched as she drove off.

When he returned to the drawing-room, he sat down in the chair Alexis had occupied and looking at his grandmother, he said, “Grandmother, I’m in trouble.”

“You are attracted to Alexis, aren’t you?” she asked.  “I noticed the way you looked at her last night.”

“I couldn’t help it.  That’s why I’m here today.  I wanted to see her again and I asked her to have dinner with me tonight.”

“Now, that wasn’t a wise thing to do.”

“I know and I feel like such a fraud,” he muttered, exasperated.  “She has no idea that I am engaged.”

“Well, from where I’m sitting, you have only two options—break off your engagement to Bridget or forget about Alexis.”

“I can’t forget about Alexis.  And I can’t marry Bridget.”

“It seems then, that you have made your decision.  I never did think that Bridget was the right girl for you.  I imagine that the engagement was all your mother’s doing.  Well, it’s time you started making your own decisions.  You’re old enough now.  You should go and deal with Bridget right now.  And when the time is right, you can tell Alexis everything.”

He got up and hugged her.  “Thanks, Grandmother.  I’ll go and see Bridget now.”

“Be gentle, Dear.”

“Yes, Grandmother.”

His meeting with Bridget went better than he expected.  She too had been having second thoughts about their engagement but didn’t know quite how to tell him.  They parted on amicable terms.  They realized that what all this time their feelings for each other had been platonic rather than romantic.  He let her keep the ring.

Over dinner at a trendy and romantic French restaurant, he told Alexis everything.  “I’m so thankful I met you,” he said.  “If I hadn’t, I would have married the wrong woman.”

“So, the two of you never slept together?”

“No.  We had decided that we would wait until we were married but I never wanted her.  Yet, I wanted you from the moment I saw you.  After I took my grandmother home, I went down to the lake to figure out what I was going to do.  I was engaged to one woman but had fallen hard for another.  I didn’t want to hurt Bridget but I couldn’t get you out of my mind.  When I saw you again the next day, I knew that I couldn’t give you up.”

“Where do we go from here?” she asked.

“I want to see you—go out with you,” he said, covering one of her hands with his, his expression earnest.  “I want to be in a relationship with you.”

She covered his hand.  “I want that too,” she admitted.

After dinner that night, they became romantically involved and a year later, they got married.  His father, brother, sister, grandmother and Bridget attended the simple wedding but his mother was conspicuously absent.

 

World Mental Health Day

“The deepest pain I ever felt was denying my own feelings to make everyone else comfortable.”

Today is World Mental Health Day and the theme for this year is Mental health in the workplace.

It is so important for those who are living with mental illness work in environments that are supportive and conducive to their well being and productivity.  We spent more time with our co-workers during the week than we do with our families so it helps when employers and managers put initiatives in place that would promote mental health.  A negative working environment can lead to physical and mental health problems, drive people to abuse substances, alcohol, skip work or perform their jobs poorly.

A friend of mine was working in a negative environment which may have contributed to her relapse.  The last time I saw her, it was obvious that she was not taking her medication.  She suffered from bipolar disorder.  She had personal issues as well which could have also been a contributing factor.  Another woman who used to work in the same department also suffered from mental illness.

You can look at people and not know that they have mental illness until something happens and they have a breakdown.  We can’t tell who is living with depression, anxiety disorders or other mental issues.  There is still a stigma attached to mental health and those suffering with it may not feel comfortable disclosing their struggles.  The platform for them to do so may not be there.  This is why World Health Day is observed on October 10 every year to raise awareness and mobilize efforts in support of better mental health.

What can you do to support mental health in your workplace?  The Mental Health Foundation offers helpful tips for those who have mental illness and for those who work with them.

1. Talk about your feelings

2. Keep active

3. Eat well

4. Drink sensibly

5. Keep in touch

6. Ask for help

7. Take a break

8. Do something you’re good at

9. Accept who you are

10. Care for others

 

You can support a colleague by:

  • Asking the person how they are doing.  Be warm and sincere.
  • Setting a time and place that is most comfortable for the person.
  • Active listening.  Give your undivided attention.
  • Managing your own feelings.  You want the person to feel that they can talk to you about anything without fear of judgment.

If your co-worker says that he or she is having suicidal thoughts or you suspect that they are thinking of committing suicide, it is very important that you encourage the person to get help.

You can keep in touch with co-worker who has been away from work by calling or sending cards.  When they return, you could help them to get back into their work routine.  For the co-worker who you see on a day to day basis, you can check up on them informally and find out how they are doing.  You can offer to help them as a mentor or coach or friendly support on an ongoing basis.  You could ask them if there is any way you can support them as they manage their condition such as spotting signs that they may have missed which indicate that they are becoming unwell.

My sister suffers from bipolar disorder.  I will never forget the time when she was having a breakdown and she just clung to me.  I held onto her.  It was heartbreaking. Mental illness affects not only those who have it but those around them.  We have to be there to offer them our love, support and whatever they may need.  We have to be sensitive to what they are going through.

 “We feel alone because due to the illness we have lost loved ones, families, friends, jobs, and it has created broken hearts & shattered dreams. We feel extremely unwanted for something we didn’t ask for and trying so hard to cope with. Believe us, if we could snap our fingers and make it disappear, it would be a wish come true. But that only happens in fairy tales.”

“Those who suffer from mental illness are stronger than you think. We must fight to go work, care for our families, be there for our friends, and act ‘normal’ while battling unimaginable pain.”

“Ignore those who say just get over it. Healing is a process.”

“The only thing more exhausting than having a mental illness is pretending like you don’t.”

“You keep a lot to yourself because it’s difficult to find people who understand.”

“This disease comes with a package: shame. When any other part of your body gets sick, you get sympathy.”

“The strongest people are not those who show strength in front of the world but those who fight and win battles that others do not know anything about.”

Quotes on Mental Health Stigma by Healthy Place

 

confident black career woman

Sources:  World Mental Health Organization; Mental Health Foundation; Healthy Place;

In the Office

She straightened her desk, brushing off the lingering crumbs from the delicious lemon cake she had brought back with from the restaurant where she had lunch.  It was after seven. Everyone had left.  It was just the two of them.  She wondered if she wait until he came out to tell her she was free to leave or if she should go in and tell him that unless he needed anything else, she was going to take off.  They hadn’t spoken to each other much all day.  She had been down in the dumps because he had spent most of the afternoon behind closed doors with one of their clients.

Jealousy surged through her as she recalled seeing him laughing with the beautiful Nicola Andretti.  She was quite exotic and made her feel plain in comparison.

She had tried to hide her frustration by busying herself in her work but always, her attention was lacking and her gaze would inevitably drift over to the glass panel of his office through which she had a clear view of them.  When they came out of the office, they were laughing and her grip tightened on the pen when she saw Nicola playfully touch Lucas’ arm before she sauntered off.  What on earth does he see in her?  She’s so superficial.  She looked away when his gaze shifted to her before he went back into his office.

Presently, she got up from her desk and walked tentatively to the open doorway.  He was standing at the window, arms folded, looking out.  He turned when he heard her step.  As she went closer to him, she was distracted by the fact that his shirt sleeves were rolled up at the elbows and several buttons were undone, exposing his chest.  She tried to ignore the racing of her pulse and the pounding of her heart.  She could feel his penetrating gaze on her and was afraid to raise her eyes to his face.  But, unable to resist, she did and her mouth went dry when she saw the expression on his face.

“Why are you standing there?” he asked. “Are you afraid to come closer?”

She shook her head.  “No.  I was—I was wondering if you needed anything else before I leave.”

“What I need right now has nothing to do with work.”

“And—and what is that?”

“I need to know who the man was I saw you with.” He was moving away from the window and toward her.  He reminded her of a panther—strong, magnificent and dangerous…

“It was Alan.  He called this morning and asked me out to lunch.”

“You were gone for over an hour.”

“I’m surprised that you noticed that I was gone,” she blurted out before she could stop herself.  “I mean you were so busy with Miss Andretti.”

There was a flicker in his eyes.  “Did it bother you to see us together?” he asked, stopping a few feet away from her.  His hands were in his pockets, drawing her eyes to his well-defined thighs.

She didn’t answer but her expression gave her away.  He went closer.  “Even if you won’t admit it, I will admit that seeing you with Alan bothered me,” he muttered tautly.  “I was insanely jealous.  I could hardly concentrate on my meeting with Nicola.  She didn’t guess what was troubling me but she knew that something was.  I saw when you returned and noted the time.   Believe me, if Nicola were not there, I would have called you into my office and berated you for nearly driving me out of my mind. Instead, I had to sit there and suffer in silence.”

“You didn’t act as if you were suffering.  The two of you were laughing when you came out of your office and I saw the way she flirted with you, touching your arm and you didn’t seem to mind.  I guess it’s because she’s so beautiful.” She couldn’t hide the resentment that stirred in her at the memory.

“You are jealous,” he exclaimed.  He moved closer, his eyes darkening.  “You have no reason to be, Kendra. Nicola may be a very beautiful woman but I’m not attracted to her.  She doesn’t excite me, you do.  You have, since the day you walked into this office.”

She stared at him, hardly able to believe that he was saying these things to her.

“Am I shocking you?” he asked.  “I’m merely telling you the truth.  I wanted you the moment I saw you but I had to keep our relationship professional.  Now, it’s really hard for me to do so.  You have no idea how much I want you right now.”  His dark gaze slid over her slim figure, the raw emotions on his face, making her head spin.  She realized then that she wasn’t wearing her jacket over the violet top with the fine straps.  He reached out now and gently caressed her right shoulder, making her shiver.

She closed her eyes when he bent his head and pressed his lips against the side of her neck. Then, he was kissing her feverishly and her hands went up and buried themselves in his thick hair, gripping it as she responded wildly and with total abandon to his kisses.

This lasted for a long time until she pulled away, panting for air.  “We can’t,” she gasped.  “Not here.”

He nodded, his face flushed and his eyes stormy.  “Not here,” he agreed.  “And not tonight.”  He released her and raked his fingers through his hair.  “It’s getting late.  I’d better take you home.”  He went over to his desk.  He rolled down his shirt sleeves and buttoned them and the top buttons and then pulled on his jacket.

She turned and went to her desk, her legs trembling.  With shaking hands, she put on her jacket and got her handbag.   He stepped out of his office and locked the door.  She followed him to the lift, still dazed and tingling all over from what happened a few moments ago.

In the car, he didn’t say anything at first but when they were pulling out of the parking lot, he said, “Have dinner with me tomorrow night.”

She nodded.  “Yes.”

“Now that you and I are going to be seeing each other outside of the office, it wouldn’t be presumptuous of me to ask that you don’t have lunch with Alan or any other man, would it?”

She shook her head.  “And it wouldn’t be forward of me to ask that you don’t let Nicola or any other woman get touchy feely with you, would it?”

He grinned.  “No, it wouldn’t be.”  He reached over and kissed her long and hard on the mouth before he drove out on to the street.