No More

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She rubbed the condensation from the window and looked out.  It was an overcast day, perfect for what she planned to do.

Today was going to be the last day of her pathetic life.  No more bullying at school.  No more self-recrimination and self-hate.  No more pain.  No more love.  Love–it was what Josh, her half-brother called it when they were doing it in her room or his while everyone else was sleeping or out.  She called it wrong because the Bible said that it was sinful for blood relatives to have relations with each other.  Yet, even though it made her feel dirty, she continued to let Josh “love” her because it was better than feeling rejected or neglected.  For two years, she believed that love, even the wrong kind was better than none, but not today.  Today, she was going to be free of it.

They found her dead, an empty pill bottle on the bed beside her.  She was only seventeen.  A week later, nineteen year old Josh took his life.

174 Words

This was written as part of Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers hosted by Priceless Joy. For more information visit Here.  To read other stories based on this week’s prompt, visit Here.

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The Beach

She ran all the way to the beach and didn’t stop until she saw the silhouette of his house but instead of running up the stairs, she collapsed on the sand, the tears almost blinding her.  Why had she come here?  She should be as far from here as possible.  She had promised herself that she would never see or talk to him again–not after what happened this evening at the award ceremony.

She, along with the other volunteers and the staff were there to cheer on Mitchell Ryan, the founder and director as he accepted the award for outstanding community service on behalf on his non-profit organization.  He deserved it because it was he who played a dominant role in creating and implementing several after-school and summer programs geared toward keeping the youth off the streets.

Through his unwavering efforts and the support of staff and volunteers, many lives were transformed.  Youth who were taking or selling drugs, came clean and began talking to others about the effects of drug use.  There counseling services and programs for those who were victims of bullying and those who bullied.  “We’re here to help the victim and the bully,” Mitchell always said.  Many of the youth who were helped by his organization later became volunteers.

Vanessa met Mitchell ten years ago when she was a senior in high-school.  She was going through a tough time at home.  Her parents were always fighting.  To escape she went to the beach where she spent hours just sitting or standing in the sand, depending on the weather and watch the gentle swell of the ocean as it ebbed and flowed, wishing that she could go with it.  Before she left, she walked along the water’s edge, trying to imagine what it would be like to live on the beach with nothing but the sounds of the waves and the tangy salt air to fill her days.  It was better than living in the city with the constant sounds of traffic, sirens and chatter and of course, her parents bickering.  How she longed to escape it all.

One afternoon she walked farther than she normally did and came upon a lone beach house.  It stood tall above the grassy slope which led to the beach.  It was adequate for one or two occupants with a wide deck and a long flight of wooden steps leading down to the sand.  She wondered who lived there and thought how lucky they were to wake up every morning to a sunrise over the ocean.  As she stood there admiring the property, she heard a voice remark behind her, “It’s a beautiful place, isn’t it?”

Startled, she swung round and found herself facing a very attractive man who looked to be in his early to mid-thirties.  He smiled at her.  “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you.  It has been a while since someone has come along this part of the beach.”

“Do you live there?” she asked.

He nodded.  “Yes, I do.”

“It must be nice having this part of the beach to yourself.”

“Yes, it is.”

She glanced at her watch.  “I’d better be heading back home,” she said.

“Where’s home and how did you get here?”

“I live in the city and I drove here.  I come to this beach a lot.  This is the first time I have walked to this part of it.”

“You know, when I was younger and I had a lot on my mind, I used to come to the beach and just sit and stare at the ocean.  Is that why you come here?”

“Are you a psychiatrist?” she asked.

“No,” he chuckled.  “I run a community organization which helps youth.  My name is Mitchell Ryan, by the way.”  He held out his hand.

“Vanessa Rivers,” she told him as she shook his hand.  He seemed like a really nice man.  “I really should be getting back home before my parents begin to wonder where I am–if they even notice that I’m gone.”

“I’m not going to press you but if you need to talk, you can get in touch with me.  Here’s my card.”  He handed her a business card.  “It was nice meeting you, Vanessa. And any time you want to drop by just to say hello, don’t hesitate.  It’s quiet out here but sometimes, a bit too quiet.  I’m always grateful for some company.”

Vanessa smiled.  “It was nice meeting you too.  ‘Bye, Mitchell.”

“‘Bye, Vanessa.” He stood there with his back to the house, watching her.

She waved at him before she retraced her steps until she reached familiar ground and her car.  As she drove home, she thought of how it would be nice to see him again even if she didn’t want to talk to him about her problems.  Perhaps, she could find out more about his organization and see if she could volunteer.  It would be better than being around her bickering parents.  When she got home, the place was quiet.  Her father was in the basement watching TV while she and her mother were in the kitchen.  “Mama, why do you and Dad fight so much.  Don’t you love each other anymore?” she asked as she was having her dinner.

Her mother sighed.  “Baby, we still love each other but it’s just that we seem to get on each other’s nerves.”

“I hate it when the two of you fight.  That’s why I go to the beach so often.  Are you and Dad going to get a divorce?”

“No, Baby.  We’re not going to get a divorce.  Sure, we bicker a lot but we have been married for a long time and only death will separate us.  So, that’s where you were this evening–at the beach?”

“Yes and I met Mitchell–”

Her mother stared at her.  “Who’s Mitchell?”

“A really nice man who lives in the only house on the beach.”

“How old is this Mitchell character?  Does he know that you’re still in high school?”

“He’s in his thirties and I didn’t tell him that I was in high-school but he knows that I live with my parents.  He gave me his card–”

“What for?”

“He runs a community organization and thought that I might be interested in learning more about it.  I think I will drive over there tomorrow after school and see if I would like to volunteer during March break and the summer.”

“Well, I don’t suppose there’s any harm in visiting the place but make sure you don’t spend too much time alone with this Mitchell character.  Remember you’re a very pretty girl and men get ideas.”

Vanessa shrugged and dropped the subject.  In her mind, she thought, I wouldn’t mind if Mitchell noticed me.  He’s very attractive and although, I don’t know anything about him except that he runs an organization and lives on the beach, I like him.  Who am I kidding?  He’s in his thirties.  There’s no way, he would be interested in a high-school girl although I graduate next month.  He probably has a girlfriend anyway.

The next day after school, she dropped by the historic building and was taken to Mitchell’s office.  He was pleased to see her and invited her to have a seat.  “So, how are things with you?” he asked after they exchanged pleasantries.

She told him about her parents and her concerns about their marriage.  “My family has a history of broken marriages.  I’ve seen my cousins going through a tough time because their parents got divorced.  I’m afraid that the same thing will happen with my parents although my mother assured me that she and my Dad will not split up.”

“Well, based on what your mother said, I don’t think you have anything to worry about.  I’ve known couples who are always bickering but they have managed to stay the course.  There will always be conflicts in relationships but it depends on the couple if they will let those conflicts affect their marriage to the point where they want to split up.  I read somewhere that arguments can lead to a greater understanding between the two people.  I have heard people say that learning how to argue strengthened their marriages.  The good thing is that your parents don’t run from fights like some couples who are afraid to address issues because they don’t want any conflicts which can later lead to bigger problems in the relationship.”

“My parents are not afraid to discuss sensitive issues.  They don’t sweep things under the rug.  And I guess that’s a good thing.  Get things out in the open and deal with them.  I guess my fear is that their constant arguing would lead to a split up because I had seen it happen to other family members.  They were always fighting even when they had company.  My parents don’t fight in front of other people, thank goodness.  I’m the only one who hears them.  I love them very much and hope that they will always be together.”

He smiled.  “I hope so too.”

“It felt good talking to you about it,” she told him.  He was wearing a nice shade of blue tee shirt with the top two buttons undone and tan trousers.  His dark brown hair was tousled but it was becoming for him.  She started when she realized that he had noticed her staring at him.  She couldn’t tell what he was thinking, though.  His expression was inscrutable.  Perhaps he was used to the opposite sex staring at him.  “I-I was thinking that it would be nice to volunteer here during March break and the summer but I’ve decided that I could do it before.”

“We always need volunteers,” he told her.  “Do you have a particular area of interest?”

“I’m interested in fundraising.”

“You can join our fundraising and event planning committee.”

“I’d like that.”

“When are you available?”

“During the week after school for four hours.”

“That’s great.  I will have Melanie our Volunteer Coordinator set you up.  How soon could you start?”

She wanted to say now.  “Monday.”  She hoped the weekend would go by quickly so that she could see him again.

“Monday’s fine.  I’ll take you to meet Melanie now and she will take care of you.”  He rose from behind the desk and she preceded him to the door.  Melanie wasn’t at her desk when they got there.  “She’s probably with one of the volunteers.  You can sit over there and wait for her.  On Monday when you arrive and after you see her, come and see me in my office.  I want to give you a personal tour of the place and introduce you to the staff.  Thanks for volunteering with us, Vanessa.  I look forward to seeing more of you and you being a part of the team.”

She smiled.  “I look forward to being here on a regular basis,” she said.  It means that I will get to see you every week.

They shook hands and then he left.  She went and sat down in the chair by the window and waited for Melanie who breezed into the office ten minutes later.  She was a very pleasant young woman who made Vanessa feel very welcome.  She had her fill out a volunteer form and they chatted for a while before Vanessa left there, confident that she was going to like working there.

When she told her parents that she was going to volunteer at the organization, her father thought it was a great idea and her mother wasn’t so enthusiastic.  “Make sure it doesn’t interfere with your school work,” she admonished.

As soon as school ended on Monday, she was heading over to the organization.  After checking in with Melanie, she was taken to Mitchell’s office.  Her heart began to beat fast when she saw him and when he smiled at her.  After they spent a few minutes in his office chatting, he took her on a tour as promised and introduced her to the staff.  Then, he left her with Berta, the chairperson of the fundraising committee.

Berta was a Jamaican woman was in her late fifties.  She was a very affable woman and Vanessa liked her immediately.  Berta took her under her wing.  She was a widow with two grown children, married and with their own families.  Vanessa loved being on the fundraising committee and brainstorming with the other volunteers.  Her first week went very well.

At the end of some evenings before she went home, Mitchell and she would walk over to the café and have cappuccinos.  They talked about the day and other things.  She enjoyed his company and knew that he enjoyed hers too.  One evening when they were standing in the parking lot, he said to her, “If you were ten years older, I would go out with you.”

Her heart began to pound.  “I’m going to be nineteen next month,” she told him.

“That’s too young,” he said.  “I’m thirty-four.”

“What about ten years from now when I’m twenty-eight?” she asked hopefully.  “Will you reconsider then?”

He pondered that for a moment.  “I might,” he said quietly.  “Goodnight, Vanessa.  I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Goodnight, Mitchell.”  She walked to her car, her heart fluttering with excitement.  There was still hope for her.

Ten years later, she reminded him of their conversation that evening in the parking lot and he admitted that he had thought of nothing else.  They began to see each other discreetly.  No one at the organization knew about it and he was determined to keep it that way.  They went for dinner, to the theatre, the movies and spent a lot of time at his beach house.

They arrived separately to the award ceremony and were careful not to spend any time alone together.  For all appearances, their relationship was the same as it always was, platonic.  She was enjoying the evening until she spotted Mitchell talking to a woman she had never seen before.

“Who’s that with Mitchell?” She asked Caroline, a fellow volunteer. Whoever she was, she was very beautiful.  Tall and striking in the cream pants suit and thick chestnut hair falling about her shoulders.  They seemed to know each other very well and she felt a sharp pang of jealousy.

“Oh, that’s Linda, Mitchell’s wife.  They are separated but from the way things look now, I wouldn’t be surprised if they get back together.”

Vanessa looked at her, shocked and devastated.  “Mitchell’s married?”

“Yes.  I thought you knew.”  Caroline stared at her.  “Are you all right?” she asked, looking concerned.

“I–I have to get out of here–” the words were strangled as a large lump rose in her throat as she fought to keep back the tears.  She ran out of the room and out of the building.  When she got to her car, she fumbled in her bag for the keys, almost dropping them.  She climbed into the car, slammed the door, started the engine and sped off.  Her fingers gripped the steering wheel as waves of pain washed over her.  Mitchell was married.  Why didn’t he tell her?  Since he didn’t wear a ring, she assumed that he wasn’t married.  What about those times when they were together why didn’t he say anything?  If she had known that he was married she wouldn’t have gotten involved with him no matter how much she loved him.  And she loved him so much it hurt.  Anger, hurt warred inside her and she wanted to scream. 

She didn’t know where she was going.  She couldn’t go home and let her parents see her like this.  They would have a fit.  She didn’t want to go to her friend, Nicole.  The beach.  She would go to the beach.  It was the only place where she wanted to be right now…Ten minutes later, she was running like a wild animal down the beach which, thankfully, was deserted, until she reached his house.  She collapsed in a heap on the sand and buried her wet face in her hands.

The sound of her name and a pair of hands lifting her up broke into her reverie.  It was Mitchell.  She struggled vigorously, trying to push him away as he picked her up in his arms and carried her up to the house.  Once they were inside he put her down and immediately she began to pummel him, the tears falling afresh.  He caught her hands by the wrists, his grip firm but gentle and restrained her. “What’s wrong, Vanessa?” he asked.  “Why are you so upset and why did you leave the award ceremony?  I looked for you but you weren’t there.”

She struggled to control her emotions, her chest heaving at the effort.  “Why didn’t you tell me that you’re married?”

He stared at her.  “Married?”

“Yes, I saw the two of you together this evening at the award ceremony and I asked Caroline who she was and she told me that it was your wife.  She said that you were separated.”

“Oh, Vanessa.  I’m so sorry.  I don’t know why Caroline told you that I’m separated when she should know that I’m divorced.  Linda and I got divorced shortly before I met you.  Our problem was lack of intimacy.  We didn’t feel connected to each other anymore.  She was there this evening because she was also going to receive an award for her commitment to volunteering.  When you saw us together we were just congratulating each other and catching up.”

“Caroline said that you might back together with her.”

“She is mistaken.  I will have a talk with her on Monday when I see her.  I have no desire to get back together with Caroline.  Why would I go back to her when I love you, Vanessa?  How could you think that I would have a relationship with you when I was still married to her?  You should know the kind of man I am by now.”

She started to cry.  “I’m sorry,” she sobbed.  “When I saw you with your ex and how friendly you were with her, I got jealous.  And when Caroline told me that she was your wife…”

He cupped her face and used his thumbs to wipe the tears away, his eyes darkening on her face.  “So, that’s why you ran out on me this evening.  I was going to invite you and the other volunteers on to the platform with me.  Don’t cry, my darling.  There’s no need for tears.  I love you and I want to be with you.”  He kissed her tenderly, almost like a caress.

She responded, putting her arms around his neck.  “I love you too,” she whispered.  “And I’m sorry I ran away instead of facing you.  I would have saved myself a lot of heartache.”

“Don’t beat yourself up about it.”

“Based on how I reacted and my hasty exit, Caroline probably put two and two together and figured out that I’m in love with you.”

“It doesn’t matter anymore.  I don’t want us to continue to hide our relationship, especially since I am going to marry you.”

She gaped at him.  “Marry me!” she exclaimed.

“Yes.”  He reached into the back pocket of his jeans and produced a red velvet box.  He flipped it open and took out the sparkling diamond ring.  He raised his eyes to look her straight into her moist ones.  “Will you marry me, Vanessa?”

“Yes!” She kissed him enthusiastically on the mouth before she watched enthralled as he slid the ring on her finger.  It was the most exquisite thing she had ever seen.  She couldn’t wait to show it to her mother—and Caroline.

He pulled her into his arms, his eyes met hers before he bent his head and kissed her.  As she responded, she remembered a quote that she once heard.  Heaven seems a little closer at the beach.

 

Sources:  Eva’s; Marriage.com; Daily Mail; Huffington Post; Next Avenue

The Precinct

“How’s Viola?” Franco Manetti asked his friend and partner of twelve years, Joe Martin, as he was getting ready to leave for the night.

Joe stopped writing his report to look at him, his expression was one of exasperation.  “Why don’t you ask her out already?” he demanded.  “You’re always asking about her and she’s always asking about you.  You’re not dating anyone and she’s not dating anyone.  Why don’t you two date each other?  Look, the precinct is having its Christmas party is next month, why don’t you ask her to go with you?”

Franco considered his suggestion.  “That’s a great idea,” he said.  “Are you sure you don’t mind me asking your little sister out?”

Joe rolled his eyes.  “If I minded you asking her out, would I be encouraging you to?”

Franco laughed.  “I guess not.  I’m sorry, pal.  I just thought it might be awkward for your partner to be taking your sister out, that’s all.  Well, have a good night.  I’ll see you in the morning.  Say hello to Dora for me.”

“You have yourself a good night too.  By the way, Viola is coming over for dinner at our house tomorrow night.  You’re welcome to drop by.  You can ask her to the Christmas party then.”

“I can’t come by tomorrow, I’m afraid.  I am having dinner over at my parents’ place.  Could I call you instead and talk to Viola?”

“Sure.  She’ll be there until ten.”

Franco pulled on his jacket and grabbed his keys.  “‘Night, Joe.”

“‘Night, Franco.”

On his way home, Franco recalled the first time he met Viola.  It was on a Tuesday, around noon.  She came to the precinct to see Joe.  They were going out for lunch.  He was at his desk doing paperwork when she walked in.  He looked up as she went over to where Joe sat.  Joe was away from his desk.

Franco stared at her.  She was dressed in a black pants suit over a red blouse and her hair was pulled back at the nape of her neck.  For several minutes, he just sat there staring at her.  She smiled and held out her hand.  “Hi, I’m Viola, Joe’s sister.  You must be Franco.”

He got up and shook her hand.  “Pleased to meet you,” he managed to say.  He waited for her to sit down in the chair beside Joe’s desk before resuming his seat.

“Joe has told me a lot about you,” she said.  “You and he have been partners for a long time.”

“Yes, for twelve years.”  He knew he was staring but he couldn’t help it.  She was so beautiful.

“I remember when Joe joined the force our mother was terrified at first.  She feared that he would get shot or killed but Dad encouraged her to have faith.  He told her that Joe was serving God and his community.  It took some time to convince her but now instead of worrying she prays a lot.  What about you?  Did your family have a problem with your choice of career?”

He shook his head.  “My parents were just relieved that I wanted to be in law enforcement instead of ending up like some of the kids I used to hang out with in our old neighborhood.”

He wanted to ask her if she had a boyfriend.  He could hear his mother saying to him, “I hope that before I die, you meet a nice Italian girl and marry her.  Nearly all of your cousins are married and have children.  Guido is married and has blessed your father and me with two grandchildren.  Your little sister, Sophia is married.  You’re the eldest and you’re still single.  What are you waiting for?”

He noticed that Viola glanced at his hand to see if he was wearing wedding ring.  Just then Joe returned to his desk.

“I see that you two have met,” he said with a smile.  He grabbed his jacked and pulled it on.  “Ready?” he asked Viola who was looking at Franco.

She glanced up at her brother and nodded.  As she stood up, she turned to Franco who was on his feet, watching her.  “It was nice meeting you,” she said, smiling at him.  “I hope we see each other again.”

“Me too.”  He watched her walk away, thinking he had just met his dream woman.

As he pulled into his parking space, Franco promised himself that he was going to ask her to have dinner with him on Saturday and then invite her to go with him to the Christmas party.

They were having dinner when out of the blue, his mother asked, “So, have you met a nice Italian girl as yet?”

Franco was about to lift the fork to his mouth but he paused to look over at his mother who was watching him very intently.  “I met a nice girl, Mama,” he said quietly, “but, she’s not Italian.”

She wrinkled her brow.  “She’s not Italian?  What is she?”

“She’s Joe’s sister.  You remember Joe.  I’ve brought him here for dinner once before when his wife, Dora was visiting her parents in Florida.”

“Yes, I remember Joe,” his father said.  “He’s a very nice guy.”

“How come you never mentioned his sister to me before?” Mrs. Manetti asked.

“I did. I told you about the time when she and I first met.”

“Oh yes, but that was last year.  You mean to tell me you haven’t been dating anyone since then?”

“No.  After meeting her, I don’t want to date anyone else.”  He glanced at his watch.  It was eight-thirty.

“Why do you keep looking at your watch?” his mother asked irritably.  “Are you going somewhere after you leave here?”

He shook his head.  “No, Mama.  I’m going straight home after I leave here.”

“Why do you keep looking at your watch, then?” she insisted.

“Oh, Carmela, leave the boy alone,” Mr. Manetti snapped.  “If he wants to look at his watch, that’s his business.”

“If you must know, Mama, promised Joe that I would call over at his house tonight.”

“Oh.  Eat your spaghetti before it gets cold.”

It was nine o’clock by the time, they finished eating and he helped to clear the table.  He excused himself and went down into the basement to make the call.  Joe answered.  They spoke for a while and then he went to call Viola.  Franco’s heart began to pound.  He was really nervous now.  When he heard her voice, his heart leapt in his chest.  “Hello, Viola,” he said, sounding a bit breathless.  “How are you?  Good.  I’m fine too.  I—I was wondering if you would have dinner with me on Saturday evening.  You would?  That’s great.  I’ll pick you up at seven.  Sure, I’ll take down your address.  Just hold on while I find something to write on.”  He put the receiver gently on the sofa and got up.

He looked around wildly for some paper and a pen.  He saw an old newspaper on the coffee table and a pen beside it.  It was opened to the Crossword section.  Dad, he thought, with a grin.  He tore a piece of paper and grabbed the pen.  He hurried back to the phone.  “Sorry about that,” he apologized.  He wrote down her telephone number and address and put the piece of paper in the breast pocket of his shirt.  “I’ll see you on Saturday.”  He sat down in the sofa and talked with her for a while before he said, “Good night, Viola,” and hung up.

His parents were in the living-room.  His father was watching TV in his favorite chair while his mother was on the sofa mending his shirt.  She glanced up when Franco entered the room.  “How is Joe?” she asked.

“He’s fine.”

“You were on the phone for a long time.” She looked at him, suspicious.  “Are you sure it was Joe you were talking to all this time?”

“Carmela, leave the boy alone.”

Mrs. Manetti clucked her tongue and continued mending the shirt.

Franco sat down on the sofa beside her and spent an hour with them before he left.

“Viola told me that you invited her out for dinner tomorrow night,” Joe said to him the next morning as soon as he sat down at his desk.

“Yes, I did.  I wanted to go out with her before the Christmas Party.”

“Good for you.”

Franco smiled and got to work, although every now and then his mind went on Viola.  He couldn’t wait to see her the following night.

He took her to the River Café, nestled under the Brooklyn Bridge with stunning views of the New York skyline and the Statue of Liberty.  They got a table beside a window where she could see the East River.  For the appetizer, they both had the summer salad and for the main course, she had the Organic Chicken while he opted for the Lamb.  And for dessert, they shared the Chocolate Brooklyn Bridge.  The conversation between was easy and they felt very comfortable with each other.  He learned that she was a Community Outreach Coordinator at a government agency in the Bronx and that she was bullied in high-school because of her weight.

“I was overweight,” she said.  “I ate a lot of junk food and spent most of my time sitting around the house, reading or watching TV.  I wasn’t active except when I was doing gym at school.  So, I was teased at school because of my weight and height.  I didn’t fit in with the other girls who were tall and skinny.  In grade ten, I decided that I wasn’t going to change my habits.  I stopped eating unhealthy foods, went on a diet and walked home from school instead of taking the bus.  It worked.  I dropped to and maintained a weight that worked for me.  As you can see, I’m not skinny but I’m not overweight either.”

He looked at her.  “I think you’re beautiful,” he said.

She smiled, feeling a little shy.  “Thank you.”

“We are having our annual Christmas party on December 16 and I was wondering if you would like to go with me.”

“Yes, I’d like that.”

After dinner, they went for a walk, enjoying the warm night air and the views of the bridge over the River.  Then, it was time to take her home.  When they were standing outside of her condo in Queens, he said to her, “I had a great time tonight with you.  Viola, I really, really like you and I want to be in a relationship with you.  Do you feel the same way about me?”

She nodded.  “Yes, I do, Franco.”

He smiled, looking relieved.  “Good.  I’ll call you tomorrow.  Goodnight.”

“Goodnight.”

He leaned over and kissed her on the cheek.  She watched him as he walked away, her pulse racing and her heart pounding.  Things were really looking up now.

They began dating and by the time the Christmas party rolled around, things had gotten very serious between them.  He took her to meet his parents one Sunday afternoon.  Viola was nervous about meeting his mother.  Mr. Manetti was very warm and friendly.  At first, Mrs. Manetti didn’t say much.  She was busy sizing her up.  Then, when the men went out into the backyard, leaving the two of them in the living-room, Mrs. Manetti cleared her throat.

“Come and sit beside me,” she said, patting the empty seat on the sofa.

Viola went over and sat down next to her, trying to act calm when there were butterflies in her stomach.  She turned to look at the older woman who was studying her with those sharp eyes of hers.

“I had my reservations when Franco told me about you,” she began.  “I wanted him to find and settle down with a good Italian woman because my other two children married outside of their culture.  Franco is my first born.  He will always have a special place in my heart.  I want him to be happy.  And I can see that he is very happy because of you.  I can tell that you love him and I know that he loves you.  So, you’re not Italian but as long as you’re good for my Franco, that’s all that matters.”

Viola breathed a sigh of relief.  “Thank you, Mrs. Manetti.  It means a lot to me that you feel this way.”

“Good.”  Mrs. Manetti smiled and patted her hand.  “Now, why don’t I cut you a nice big slice of cake?  I baked it just this morning.”

When Franco and his father joined them a while later, they were chatting as if they had known each other for years.  “It looks like you’ve won over my mother,” he said when they were alone.

“Yes.  She’s a wonderful woman who wants what’s best for her son.”

He reached for her hands and held them, his expression serious as he gazed down into her face.  “You’re the best thing that has ever happened to me.  I love you, Viola.”

“I love you too.”

“Marry me,” he said as he released one of her hands to reach into his pants pocket for the box.  Then, he got down on his knee and opened the box to show her the engagement ring.  She gasped when she saw it.  It was an elegant 3 carat oval shaped diamond.

“Yes, I will marry you,” she replied, her eyes wide and watery.  She watched as he put it on her finger and then he was on his feet.  He pulled her into his arms and kissed her.

A short while later, he announced their engagement to his parents.  “This calls for a celebration,” Mr. Manetti said and he disappeared into the kitchen.  He was back with a tray four glasses and a bottle of wine.  After he filled each glass he raised his in a toast.  “To Franco and Viola,” he said.

They all raised their glasses in merriment.  And in Spring of the following year, Franco and Viola got married at her family’s church and had the reception at Prince George Ballroom.  It was a glorious night.  “We never thought we would see Franco settle down,” Guido said to her, laughing.

Sophia said to her, “It’s good to see Franco so happy.  I wish you two a lifetime of happiness.”

“Happy?” Franco asked as Viola and he danced.

“Very,” she replied.

He smiled and then twirled her around the dance floor as his mother watched them, happy to see that her son had finally found and married a nice girl.

Sources:  River Cafe; Marisa Perry; Prince George Ballroom

The Fashion Show

Martin glanced at his friend, Albert and was amused when he saw him staring at Brenda who was strutting down the runway, hands on hips and big smile on her face as she modeled the black and white 50’s looking dress.  The fashion show was actually a charitable event and sponsored by Martin’s company.  After much cajoling, he managed got his friend to come.  Until now, Albert had seemed unimpressed and rather bored with the fashion show.  None of the beautiful women who walked past him got his notice.  And then, Brenda walked out.  Albert glanced up with the same bored expression on his face which immediately changed when he saw her.  His eyes followed her up and down the runway.

Martin leaned over and said in a low voice.  “She’s a stunner, isn’t she?”

Albert didn’t answer.  He watched as she paused at the end of the runway before heading back in his direction.  As she drew nearer, he sat forward, anxious to see her.  She stopped right in front of him.  After acknowledging Martin, she shifted her attention to Albert.  Their eyes met and he felt his heart stop when she smiled at him.   Then, she was gone.

“Would you like to meet her?” Martin asked him.

Albert watched her retreating figure until she disappeared from view before he turned to his friend.  “Yes.”

Martin grinned.  “Good,” he said.  “You’ll meet her after the show.”

“Is she going to come out again?”

“I don’t believe so.”

Albert looked disappointed.  He sat back in his seat, anxious for the show to be over so that he could meet the model who had captivated him.

She was standing on the terrace, looking down at the gardens when they joined her half hour later.  She was wearing a simple orange pant suit which complimented her complexion and flattered her figure.  As she watched them approach, her gaze went to the tall and attractive man with the thick dark brown hair, dressed in the dark grey sweater over a white shirt and dark grey trousers.  The glasses he wore suited him.  She didn’t usually go for the preppy, nerdy type but something about his guy made her pulse race and heart do somersaults.  He looked shy.  She liked that. He would be a welcome change to the obnoxious and overbearing men who usually hit on her.

“Brenda, thank you for being a part of a very worthy cause,” Martin said when they joined her.  “You looked really great out there.  Have you ever considered modelling for a new career?”

She laughed.  “No, the thought never occurred to me.  Besides, I’m too short.  Thank you for giving me the opportunity.  I had fun.” Unable to resist, her gaze shifted to his friend who was watching her.  Behind the eyeglasses, she could see that he had beautiful, expressive eyes.

Martin observed them, smiling.  “Brenda, this is my good friend, Albert.”

Albert was nervous.  He tried not to stare but he couldn’t help himself.  His gaze was riveted to her face.  “Hello,” he said when what he really wanted to say was, I’m so very pleased to meet you.  He took the hand she offered and clasped it in a firm handshake.  Her fingers felt small and delicate in his, yet they had the power to stir feelings in him which he never experienced before.  His heart was pounding and he began to worry that he might make an utter fool of himself.  In all of his forty years, not once had he had ever been tongue-tied or nervous around a woman.

She smiled at him.  “I’m very pleased to meet you, Albert,” she told him.  “Did you enjoy the fashion show?”

He realized that he was still holding her hand and he released it.  He put his hands behind his back in an attempt to appear relaxed.  “The last bit of it,” he said.  He didn’t want to admit that until she walked out, he was bored out of his mind.

“I’m not into fashion shows but I don’t mind doing them if it’s for charity.”

Martin chimed in.  “If you two will excuse me, I have to go and find Margot.” He left them and headed off to find the fashion photographer whom he was currently dating.  Margot used to be a model until she decided that she liked being behind the lens better.

Alone together, Albert and Brenda became intensely aware of each other.  They couldn’t hide their attraction for each other even if they tried.  “You really are very beautiful,” Albert said to her, his expression tense.

She had been paid many compliments before but she was never affected by them as she was by his.  Albert made her feel beautiful just by the way he said it and the way he looked at her as he said it.  “Thank you,” she replied.

“I’m not usually this bold,” he sounded apologetic, “but I was wondering if perhaps, we can go for a walk in the gardens?”

“Yes, I’d like that.”

“What do you do when you’re not modeling for charity?” he asked as they strolled across the well manicured lawn.

“I work at a law firm.  When I’m not working, I like to curl up with a good book.  What about you?”

“I’m a Financial Director at Shadoworks Company.  I like to write essays in my spare time.  Just recently, I wrote how the words of Christ, Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, would be the panacea for the social ills plaguing our society such as abuse, bullying, racism, violence, oppression, sexual harassment.”

“And gender inequality, rape and human trafficking.  This world would be such a different place if we all were to follow the teachings of Christ.  I’d like to read your essay.”

He smiled, flattered that she wanted to read something he had written.  “It’s in the Opinion section of the April 4 issue of the Daily Observer.

“I like the Daily Observer.  It has great articles and it’s not afraid to address sensitive issues.  Yesterday I read a very frank and informative article on sexual harassment in the workplace.  At my firm, we deal with hundreds of cases of sexual discrimination and harassment and bullying in the workplace.”

“I would imagine that it becomes overwhelming sometimes, having to deal with such cases.”

“It does.  I still remember the case of a lawyer whose was being sexually harassed by one of the partners at the law firm where she used to work.  She sued him and the firm and won.  Now she has her own practice helping women who are victims of sexual harassment, discrimination in the workplace, including law firms.”

“It’s unfortunate but sometimes people have to go through terrible experiences so that they could turn around and help others.  But, you like what you do.”

“Yes.  I like being a part of the solution.  Although I have been working there for four years, compared to the others, I am still the neophyte of the firm but every day I am learning and growing.”

They found somewhere to sit and talked for a long while about different things, learning more about each other and finding that they have a lot in common.  Then, he glanced at his watch and an expression of deep regret came over his face as he looked at her.  “I’m afraid that I must go,” he said apologetically.  “I have a pressing engagement.  It’s my niece’s piano recital,” he added quickly when he saw the look on her face.

She smiled, relieved and stood up.  “How old is your niece?” she asked as they started back to the building where the crowd was starting to disperse.

“She’s fourteen.”

“What is she playing?”

“I believe it’s a piece by Mozart.”

“I wish I learned how to play the piano.  It’s my favorite musical instrument.  I am a big fan of Chopin.”

“I’m more partial to the violin and Bach.”  They were standing at the foot of the steps now.  “Do you need a lift to anywhere?” he asked.

She shook her head.  “Thank you, but my sister, June is meeting me here in about fifteen minutes.  I’m spending the rest of the day with her and her family.”

“I really enjoyed our time together,” he said quietly, his eyes serious on her face.

“Me too.”

There was a pause as he seemed to be contemplating something. “Will you have dinner with me tomorrow evening?” he asked, his expression hopeful and apprehensive at the same time.

“Yes, I will,” she said.  She opened her handbag and after tearing out a sheet of paper from the back of her address book, she wrote her address and phone number.  She folded it and gave it to him.

“I’ll pick you up at seven” he said as he took the paper and tucked it in his wallet.  “I’ll see you tomorrow then.”

“See you tomorrow.”  She watched him ascend the steps and waved when he stopped to glance back at her.  When he disappeared from her sight, she stood there for a moment, thinking about him and how much she had enjoyed his company.  Then, she went to meet her sister at the front entrance of the building.  As soon as she got into the car, she said to her, “I met him today.”

June stared at her.  “Who’re you talking about?” she asked, pulling away from the curb.

“The man I’m going to marry.”

June laughed.  “Really?” she exclaimed, sounding very skeptical.  “And what made you come to that conclusion?”

“I used to think that love at first sight was a foolish romantic notion but today it happened to me.”

June glanced at her and realized, “You’re serious, aren’t you?”

“Yes, I am.  We spent about an hour just talking and getting to know each other.  I loved being with him. He’s so different from the men I usually go for.  We had the most stimulating conversation and I could have sat there all day just talking to him but he had to go to his niece’s recital.  He asked me to have dinner with him tomorrow evening.”

“Wow.  I wish I’d come earlier to meet him.”

“Don’t worry.  You’ll meet him.”

“Does he know that he’s going to marry you?” June teased her.

“Maybe not as yet”

She thought about him for the rest of the day, wondering how his niece’s recital went and if he was thinking about the time they spent together.  She looked forward to seeing him the following evening and was thankful when it arrived.

He showed up at promptly seven wearing a black suit over a white shirt and no tie.  His hair was slightly damp, a few tresses falling across his forehead and he was not wearing his glasses.  He looked so handsome that she couldn’t stop staring.  “I’m wearing contacts,” he said unnecessarily.  Perhaps he was as nervous as she.

Her heart was pounded wildly, especially when she saw his eyes travel over her and the expression in them when they returned to her face.  She was wearing a Burgundy Long Sleeve Shift Dress with rounded neckline and long sleeves with lightly puffed shoulders.  Long, shapely legs clad in sheer hosiery, peeped out from under the hem and black dress pumps completed the outfit.  “I didn’t think it was possible for you to be even more beautiful than you already are.”

“Thank you,” she said, sounding a little breathless.  He offered her his arm which she took and they walked to the lift.  Fortunately, for her it was a balmy evening but she had brought her shawl just in case.  On the way to the restaurant she asked him about his niece’s recital and as he talked about it, she could tell that he was very proud of her.

They went to a modern French restaurant in Covent Garden.  It was reputed to be the world’s most romantic restaurant.  They started with the Crispy Parmesan Polenta & Saint Marcellin Cheese and for the main course, she had the Oven Roasted Free Range Chicken Leg Stuffed with Duck Liver & Truffle while he had the Pan Roasted Organic Irish Sea Trout as they each enjoyed a glass of white wine.  They had a lively conversation and made plans to see each other again.  For dessert, they had both had the Greek Yogurt & Lemon Zest Mousse, Yuzu Curd & Honey Comb.

After dinner, they drove to Canary Wharf.  He parked the car and took her on a little tour of the office district, showing her the building where he worked.  The place looked beautiful at night and the tall office buildings reminded her a little of Manhattan.  “How long does it take you to drive to work?” she asked as they walked back to the car about half-hour later.

“Approximately 35 minutes, depending on the traffic.  Longer during the winter.”

“I like it here.  Very busy, upscale and lots to see.”

“I will bring you here again another time and we can spend a longer time, walking around and perhaps go to a concert, if you like that sort of thing.  We can grab dinner afterwards.”

“That sounds wonderful,” she said smiling as she got into the car.  “Thank you for dinner.”

“It was my pleasure.  Do you have any plans for tomorrow?”

“No.”

“I was thinking that we can go on the Little Venice to Camden Walk.  Someone at work mentioned it to me a while ago and I have been meaning to look into it.  Afterwards, we can visit the Waterside Café before the walk.

“I didn’t know that there was a Little Venice in London.  Sounds very interesting.  I would love to go.”

“I read online that it was named such by the poet Robert Browning who lived overlooking the canal in the 1800s. I’ve never been to Venice but hope to one of these days.”

On the drive to her flat, they talked more about their plans for the following day.  Outside of her door, he said goodnight and then leaned over and kissed her on the cheek.  They held each other’s gaze for several minutes before he turned and walked away.  She watched him go, touching the side of her face where his lips had been before she went inside her flat.

They went for the Little Venice to Camden Walk and had a wonderful time.  After that, they started seeing each other on a regular basis and by the end of the year, they were dating each other exclusively.  Spring of the following year came and it was when they were in walking in St. James’ Park that he turned to her and said, “I have been meaning to say something to you all morning.”  They were standing at the western end of the park from where they had a clear view of Buckingham Palace.

She stared up at him, wondering what was on his mind.  He looked very serious, nervous.  He took her hands in his and clasped them.

“I love you, Brenda,” he confessed.  “I fell in love with you the first time I saw you.  You came into my life and changed it completely.  The times you and I have spent together have been the happiest for me.  I can’t imagine my life without you in it.  So, if you have no objection and I hope and pray that you don’t, I am asking you to marry me.”

Tears sprang to her eyes.  She raised their entwined hands to her lips and kissed his.  Her heart was in her eyes when she raised them to his face.  “I love you too, Albert,” she admitted huskily.  “Until I met you, I didn’t believe in love at first sight.  Of course, I will marry you.  You’re the man for me.”

Albert released an unsteady breath and letting go of her hands, he hugged her around her waist and pulled her against him.  He bent his head and kissed her.  She put her arms around his neck and kissed him back.  For several minutes they stood there, kissing while the ducks waddled about the grass before some of them headed for the pond.

At length, he drew back and said, “I have something for you.”  He reached into his pants pocket and took out the box with the ring.  He opened it and her eyes widened when she saw the exquisite diamond.  He took it out and taking her hand, he gently slid it down her finger.  It was a perfect fit.  When he raised his eyes to look at her, they were filled with emotions.  “I love you.”

She swallowed.  “I love you,” she managed to say and then he kissed her again.  They left that spot a few minutes later, his arm was around her shoulder and hers was around his waist.

They had a summer wedding.  June was her matron of honor.  When they had a chance to speak, Brenda said to her with a smile and a wink, “I told you that I was going to marry him.”

June laughed.  “Yes, you did.  And after meeting him and getting to know him, I can see why he’s the one you ended up with.” She hugged her younger sister tightly.  “I wish you both the very best and God’s many blessings.”

“Thank you.”

It was a lovely reception and afterwards, they left for their honeymoon in Venice.  They did return to Canary Wharf and it was when they were sitting on a bench, having sandwiches that she told him they were going to have their first child.  She laughed when he almost choked on his.  He quickly put it back in the paper and put it down on the seat beside him before turning to hug her tightly, burying his face in her neck.  She hugged him back as she felt his tears wet her neck.  They sat like that for a long time.

Sources:  Fantasy Names Generator; Findlaw; Lulu’s Fashion; YouTube; Trip Savvy