Affairs of the Heart

When Bianca went out on to the balcony of her friend Connie’s spacious flat, she was pleasantly surprised to see Chandler sitting there.  He looked so elegant although he was dressed very casually in a tan colored jacket, denim shirt and jeans.  The brown belt he wore matched the spiffy shoes she saw on the mat by the front door.  He was so handsome, she thought, her eyes eagerly drinking in each feature—the thick, silky dark hair, the incredible light grey eyes, olive skin and his lips…She started when she realized that she was staring.

For his part, he was staring at her too.  “It’s good to see you, Bianca,” he said as he got up and went over to her.  He put his arms around her and hugged her.  She hugged him back, closing her eyes and breathing in his fragrance.  He smelled so good.  It felt so wonderful being in his arms and held closely against him.  She put hers around his waist and wished that they could stay like that for a long while.  But just then, Connie’s voice reached them and Chandler drew back, releasing Bianca, his expression tense as he looked at her.  He moved away from her and stood leaning against the rail with his hands shoved in his pockets, a muscle pulsating along his jawline as he watched Connie approach.

Bianca sat down in the chair closest to her, her legs trembling.  She had to pull herself together before Connie saw her.  It was a hug between two friends but there was something else.  She felt it and sensed it.  At one point, she felt his arms tighten around her and his face in her hair.  What would have happened if Connie hadn’t been there?

She joined them now, her gaze going immediately to Chandler, her regard for him very evident on her face.  Then she turned to Bianca, her expression changing.  She doesn’t seem very pleased to see me, Bianca realized in surprise.  Perhaps it is because I didn’t call to tell her that I was coming over.

“Bianca, what are you doing here?” she asked.

Bianca got up from the chair, feeling a little embarrassed now.  “I’m sorry I didn’t call before I popped over but it was when I was on the tube, that I decided I would stop by your flat and ask you if you wanted to go with me to the Jazz concert in Chelsea.  It’s free and it sounds like fun.”

Connie shook her head at once.  “No thank you, Bianca.  I will pass.  Besides, I have already made plans.  Chandler and I will be spending the afternoon together.”

Chandler spoke up, “The Jazz concert sounds like a good idea.”

Connie pursed her lips.  “Jazz gives me a headache.  I prefer to go somewhere less crowded and I know the perfect place.  Well, Bianca, I guess you had better be heading off to your concert.  Call me later and let me know how it was.”

Bianca got up from the chair, wishing now she hadn’t bothered to come but then, she wouldn’t have seen Chandler.  Her eyes sought him and her heart lurched when she found him looking at her.   She went over to him and said, “It was good seeing you as usual, Chandler.”

“I hope we see each other again soon,” he replied.  And he reached out and caught her hand.  From where Connie stood she couldn’t see what he was doing but it was all Bianca could do to keep her composure.  It was hard when his thumb was caressing the back of her hand, stirring up all sorts of sensations.  The expression on his face made her mouth go dry. His light grey eyes were dark and stormy.  It was so obvious that he was attracted to her.  And it must be obvious to him that she was attracted to him too.  What about Connie?  Her gaze shifted to her friend and was mortified when she saw the hostility and jealousy in her countenance.  Yes, Connie had noticed the attraction between Chandler and her.

“I’d better go,” Bianca murmured looking away.  “I don’t want to be late for the concert.”

He released her hand with some reluctance and watched as she hurried past Connie. They heard the door close.  “You were a bit rude to her,” he said with some displeasure.

Connie glared at him.  “I saw the way you were looking at her,” she cried.  “You want her don’t you?  Well, you are wasting your time.”

He frowned.  “What do you mean?”

“She has a boyfriend.”

He grew pale.  “Are you sure?” he asked.

“Of course, I’m sure.  His name is Darnell.”

Chandler ran his fingers agitatedly through his hair.  “I had no idea,” he said in disbelief.

“Well, now you know.”

Chandler turned away and his hands gripped the rail as bitter disappointment filled him.  He closed his eyes but they soon opened when he saw Bianca’s face and remembered the look on her face when he was caressing her hand.  She could not have been in any doubt that I have feelings for her, he thought, and I could tell that she has feelings for me too but how could I pursue a relationship with her when she’s already in one? What a wretched business this thing called love is. He swung round to face Connie.  “I’m afraid I will have to cancel our plans,” he told her.

Connie stared at him in dismay.  “But, why?” she cried.

“I don’t feel up to going anywhere now,” he said simply.  “I’ll call you tomorrow.”

“You’re cancelling on me because of Bianca?” she demanded.  “I knew her showing up here unexpectedly today was going to be a problem.   Now what am I going to do for the rest of the afternoon?”

“I’m sorry, Connie.  I’ll take a rain check.”  He walked past her and a few minutes later the door closed behind him.

Her face beet red, Connie marched into the living room, took up a vase of flowers and threw it on the floor.

Bianca sat at the concert, oblivious to the turmoil she was causing elsewhere.  Her mind and attention were not on the smooth sounds she was hearing but on Chandler.  This was the first time Connie and she wanted the same man.   They had been friends since high school but that friendship was in serious jeopardy now.  She would never forget the look on Connie’s face when she saw the attraction between Chandler and her.  Bitter resentment and jealousy marred her features.  She wondered what happened after she left.

She left the concert feeling that it was a waste of an afternoon.  When she got home, she was surprised to hear a message from Connie on her answering machine.  It said, “Well, Bianca, I hope you’re happy.  Chandler canceled our plans.  I can’t imagine why.  I saw the way you were looking at him.  If you want to remain my friend, you will forget about Chandler and set your sights on someone else.  Goodbye.”

Bianca stared at the machine.  All this time she thought Chandler and Connie were spending the afternoon together.  As she removed her jacket, she couldn’t help wondering why the sudden change of plans.  Connie didn’t seem to know or if she did, she wasn’t saying.  Perhaps, something unexpected came up and Chandler had to be somewhere else.  Whatever the reason, she couldn’t deny that she was relieved that they weren’t together now.  I wonder when I will see him again.  Then, she reproached herself for thinking such thoughts.  I must forget about him.  Connie met him first and they are more suitable for each other.  They are from the same pedigree.  I’m way out of my league.  What he feels for me may just be a physical attraction—nothing more.” The thought that his interest in her might just be purely sexual hurt but she had to be sensible about this. 

So that very day, she resolved to stay away from Chandler, not only because Connie requested it but to spare herself any heartbreak.  For the next several weeks, she avoided the usual crowd where she was sure to run into him.  She and Connie met for lunch once and she heard nothing but how much time Chandler and her friend were spending with each other.  She had to sit there and listen to Connie talk about how amazing Chandler looked in his swimming trunks and how wonderful it felt when he put sunscreen on her back.  “His hands felt so good on my skin,” she said, her eyes almost glazed over at the memory.  Bianca smiled but inside she was hurting.  The jealousy stabbed at her like a knife.  After that lunch, whenever Connie wanted them to meet up again, she always found an excuse not to.  She wasn’t going to sit there and listen to Connie talk  incessantly about her relationship with Chandler.

During the day, it was easy to occupy her mind but in the nights, her thoughts were filled with him, wondering if he ever thought about her.  Nothing had changed for her. She still loved and wanted him and it pained her to no end.  She lay awake for hours before drifting off into a fitful sleep.  How she longed to get away—go somewhere far but she knew that it wouldn’t make a difference.  No place existed where she could go and forget about Chandler.

One night, she was lying on the sofa, watching the television but not paying attention.  It was just background noise.  The doorbell rang and she sat up, wondering how it was.  She hoped it wasn’t Connie.  She really wasn’t in the mood for one-sided conversations.  She got up from the sofa and went to the door.  Her eyes widened and her heart somersaulted when she saw Chandler standing there.  How on earth did he find out where she lived?  It couldn’t have been from Connie.  She would never do that.

Taking a deep breath, she opened the door, her heart pounding.  How good he looked in the black shirt and dark blue jeans.  His face looked drawn and it seemed to her that he had lost a little weight.  Alarmed, she asked, “You’re not ill, are you?”

He shook his head.  “No, I’m not ill,” he told her.  “It’s nice to know that you still care.”

She stared at him, looking confused.  “What do you mean?”

“Each time Connie told me she saw you, I asked if you inquired after me and she said no.”

“She never gave me a chance.  All she talked about was your relationship and all the great things you were doing together.”

“We don’t have a relationship.  I admit that I tried to get forget you with her and she was quite willing to help.  One night at her flat after dinner, we started to get undressed—“

Bianca turned away, agitated.  “I don’t want to hear this,” she cried as the pain and jealousy tore through her.

He moved so that he was standing in front of her, his eyes dark and tormented.  “I thought that making love to her would get you out of my system,” he muttered tightly.  “But, I couldn’t go through with it. When I was kissing her, all I could see was your face.  I put my shirt back on and ran out of there as if the devil were chasing me.  I haven’t been in touch with Connie since.  This was about a month ago.  These past few weeks have been hell for me, Bianca.  I can’t stop thinking about you and wanting you.  I tried to stay away out of respect for Darnell but I had to see you one last time.”

She looked at him then, “Darnell?” she repeated.  “What do mean out of respect for him?”

“You have no idea how much the mere sound of his name torments me,” Chandler told her, his eyes were haunted as they met hers.  “Ever since I found out about him, I haven’t stopped thinking about how lucky he is to have an exceptional woman like you.  Many times I have wished that I could trade places with him.”

She was really confused now.  “What are you talking about, Chandler? “

He looked frustrated now.  “I’m talking about Darnell,” he muttered tightly.  “Connie told me about him.”

“What exactly did Connie tell you about my brother?”

He stared at her as if he hadn’t heard correctly.  “Darnell is your brother?”

“Yes.  He’s my older brother who lives in Manchester with his wife, my niece and nephew.  What did Connie tell you about him?”

He muttered something under his breath, his expression thunderous.  “She told me that he was your boyfriend.”

“My boyfriend?” she was aghast.  “Why would she do that?”

“No doubt, she did it out of jealousy.  She knew how I felt about you so she wanted to make sure that nothing would come of it.   It never occurred to me that she was lying.  All this time, I thought you were in a relationship and that drove me mad because I wanted you so much.”

“Chandler, is it just desire you feel for me?” she asked warily.

He shook his head and she could see the sincerity in his eyes as he answered, “No.  I feel a deep and consuming love for you, Bianca.  I have never experienced love before but I know that what I feel for you real.”

She reached up and touched his face, her eyes filled with the love which burned in her heart.  “I love you, Chandler.  I tried to get over you because of my friendship with Connie and because I was afraid of getting hurt.  I wasn’t sure that your feelings for me were more than physical.”

He lowered his head to kiss her.  She closed her eyes when she felt his warm lips on hers and her arms went around his waist, holding him closely against her.  They exchanged hungry kisses and then he raised his head to gaze down in her face.  “I love you, Bianca but as much as I am dying to show you how much, I think we should wait.”

She nodded.  “Why don’t we go for a walk in the park,” she suggested.  “It’s safer and it looks lovely outside.”

He smiled.  “Okay.  And we can stop somewhere and have a bit to eat as well.”

A couple weeks later they got engaged and after six months of trying to abstain from lovemaking, they got married.  Connie was not invited.  Bianca’s friendship with her ended the day when she found out about the lie she told Chandler.

They spent their honeymoon in Sorrento.  On the first night there, they went for a walk after dinner, holding hands and strolling through the little streets lined on both sides with shops.  They walked to a quiet spot where they stood watching the silent and looming Mount Vesuvius in the distance and the setting sun as it hovered over the Bay of Naples.  They sat on the bench for a little while just enjoying the pleasant evening and the view.  Then, they bought two gelati and ate them on the way back to the hotel.

As soon as they got back to their room, Chandler picked Bianca up and carried her over to the bed.  “Now, I finally get to show you how much I love you,” he murmured, his eyes darkening on her face.

She reached up and pulled his head down to hers, thinking no one else in the world could be as blissfully happy as she was at that very moment.

 

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The Birthday Gift

Today was her birthday.  It was a sunny, pleasant day, not as muggy as yesterday. Too bad she couldn’t treat herself an iced tea.  She was late, thanks to a delay on the tube. It was ten minutes after nine.  She hurried down the sidewalk and arrived at the office building seven minutes later.  She took the lift instead of the stairs.  As she walked through the work area to her cubicle, she caught a few people staring and smiling at her.

She stopped short when she got to her desk and saw the white box tied with a red ribbon lying in the center.  There was an envelope tucked underneath the ribbon.  She pulled it out and opened it.  She took out the card.  It was a pretty card with a bird and flowers on it with the words, “Happy Birthday.” She opened it and read the neat handwriting which simply said, “Best wishes on your birthday”.  There was no name.  Curious, she opened the box and gasped when she saw a dozen beautiful orange roses.  She had never seen roses this color before.  Their sweet scent filled the air.

By now, a few of her co-workers had gathered around her desk, admiring the roses and teasing her about having a secret admirer when she told them that she had no clue who gave them to her.  “Are you absolutely sure that you don’t know who sent you these?” Stella asked.

She shook her head.  “I honestly don’t know who sent me these.”

“You know I read somewhere that orange roses express admiration and attraction,” Ruth commented, looking enviously at the roses.  “These are definitely from an admirer.”

She stood there trying to figure out who it could be.  There was one person she wished they were from but dismissed the thought.  When everyone returned to their desks, she went to the kitchen to fill a vase with water.  She took the roses out of the box and put them in the vase.  She set the vase on the shelf above her desk.  It was hard concentrating on her work as she kept wondering who sent her the roses.  The card offered no clues.

When her friend Irene called to let her know that she was on her way to pick her up for lunch, she asked her to come upstairs.  She wanted to show her the roses and the card.

After Irene wished her a happy birthday, hugged her and gave her a small gift bag, she showed her the roses and the card.  “I have no idea who sent me them.”

Irene read the card and then handed it back to her.  “I do,” she said.

She looked at her.  “You do?” she asked, incredulous.

“Those roses are from my garden and this is Edward’s handwriting.”

She shook her head in disbelief.  “No, that’s not possible.  You’re pulling my leg.”

Irene looked amused.  “I assure you, I am not.  I saw him in the garden this morning, picking the roses and when his pants leg got caught on the thorny bush.  Then, I saw him get into his car and drive off.  He didn’t even bother to pop his head in to say hello.”

She looked at her friend dazed.  “I can’t believe it,” she murmured.  Well, you wanted the roses to be from him, didn’t you?

“Come along now, my Dear.  We will talk more about it over lunch.” She took her by the arm and escorted her out of the office.

“Why would he send me roses for my birthday?” she asked when they were sitting in the restaurant.

“Why do men usually send roses to women?” Irene asked dryly.  “Obviously, he is besotted with you.”

“But, he can’t be,” she protested.  “He’s never let on that he is.”

“Edward was always good at hiding his feelings, too well, if you ask me.  He’s the male equivalent of Elinor Dashwood.  I had no clue that he harbored any feelings for you until this morning.”  Just then their orders arrived.  Irene raised her glass in a toast.  “Here’s to many more happy birthdays,” she said.

She raised her glass, her mind still reeling from what she had just learned.  The plate of flavorful Chicken Biryani sat in front of her but she hardly tasted it.  Could it really be true?  Did Edward have feelings for her?  How she hoped that were true.

“Edward’s coming over to my place this evening,” Irene informed her.  “Why don’t you come over and thank him personally for the roses?”

Her heart did a somersault at the thought of seeing him.  “Won’t he wonder how I know that they are from him?

“Leave that to me.  Come around 7:30.”

“All right, I’ll come.” Knowing that the roses were from Edward made them even more precious.  She would take half of them home with her.  They would look lovely on the mantelpiece and definitely brighten up the flat.

They spent the rest of lunch talking about other things and then Irene gave her a ride back to the office.

It was 7:30 and she was walking up driveway to Irene’s quaint cottage.  Her eyes fell on the rose bush.  She tried to picture Edward picking twelve roses from it, getting pricked and entangled but it seemed so fanciful.  She rang the doorbell, her heart pounding.  She heard footsteps and then Irene opened the door.  She smiled at her.  “Come in,” she said.  “Frank and the kids are at the playground and Edward’s out in the backyard.

“Thank you for the lovely scarf and funny card,” she said, hugging her friend.

“You’re welcome.  Would you like something to drink?”

“Not right now, thanks,” she said as she stepped into the foyer, thinking what a lovely and cozy home it was.  It was warm and welcoming.  She removed her sandals and carried them.  She followed Irene through the living-room and through the kitchen.  Her heartbeat accelerated with each step and when she saw Edward sitting in a chair with his back to the door, she felt nervous.  She put on her sandals, feeling three inches tall again.  Irene stood at the door while she went onto the deck and down the steps.

“Hello, Edward,” she called as she approached him.

He turned around at once when he heard her and then got to his feet.  His eyes were wary as they met hers.  “Hello, Anne,” he said quietly.

She rested her handbag on the table and put her hands behind her back so that he wouldn’t see that they were shaking.  “I—I wanted to thank you for the beautiful roses,” she stammered.

“You’re welcome.  It was rather remiss of me not to sign my name in the card. It would have saved you the trouble of trying to figure out who sent the roses.  I’m sorry.”

“No need to apologize.  Everyone thought that they were from a secret admirer…” her voice trailed off as she immediately wished she hadn’t said that but she was so nervous and he seemed so rigid.

“Do you know why I chose orange roses instead of red?”

She shook her head, her eyes wide as they met his.  Her mouth went dry as he moved closer, looking intense.

“Not only do I feel a deep love for you but a wild passion.  I know that to you I may seem stiff and aloof but that’s just on the surface.  Underneath, I am like a volcano, ready to erupt.  Am I scaring you?” His eyes were dark now and stormy with the emotions he was feeling inside.

She shook her head again, moving closer.  His words shocked and thrilled her at the same time.  She never imagined that beneath that reserved exterior such feelings existed.

He reached up and cupped her face between his hands and his lips covered hers, moving passionately on them, not seeming to care that they might be seen.  He kissed her like a man who had long been restrained from showing his feelings and was now breaking free from those restraints.  She responded to his fiery kisses, her arms tight about his waist.  This continued for several minutes until the sound of voices reached their ears.  Frank and the kids had returned.  They broke apart. Edward pushed his fingers through his hair as he tried to steady his breathing while Anne gripped the top of the chair next to her, her chest heaving as she struggled to catch her breath.

“Let me take you out for dinner,” he asked, his eyes earnest as they met hers.  “I want to celebrate what’s left of your birthday with you.”

“I’d like that very much,” she managed to say.  What could be more perfect way to celebrate her birthday than a romantic dinner with Edward?  She walked around the table to where her handbag was.  Opening it, she took out her lip gross and with a trembling fingers, applied it to her lips.  After she placed it back in her bag, she went back to where Edward stood, waiting for her.

As they walked toward the house, the children came bounding out, followed by Frank and Irene.   While the two girls chatted excitedly with Uncle Edward about their afternoon in the playground, Irene came over to her.  She put her arm around her shoulders.  “How did it go?” she asked.

Anne smiled.  “He’s taking me out for dinner,” she said.

“Well, have fun,” Irene said and hugged her.  “I’ll call you during the week.”

Anne went over to Edward who was talking to his brother-in-law.  The children had darted back inside the house.  Frank smiled at her.  “Happy birthday,” he said, hugging her.  “How was your day?”

“Thank you.  It has been a wonderful day,” she remarked, looking at Edward.

Frank gave them both a knowing look.  “Well, enjoy the rest of it,” he said.

“I will.”  She turned and waved to Irene before she and Edward walked away, his hand reaching for hers.

 

 

Source:  Teleflora