A Memorable Birthday

Todd had finally provoked her into ending their relationship.  She refused to continue to tolerate his wandering eye and embarrassing behavior in public.  He tried to sweet talk her into taking him back but it didn’t work this time.  She was fed up with him and wanted a break from relationships.  She was just going to concentrate on her career.  Right now she was at her beach house in Devon, enjoying the solitude and the sound of the waves was very soothing.

One afternoon she was walking on the beach when she saw a stranger sitting on sandy mound, watching her.  She stopped and stared at him, wondering who he was and why he was there.  Curious, she approached him.  He stood up, his six feet plus frame making her feel small.  Well dressed in a dark blue suit over a purple shirt, he was extremely handsome and was most likely in his mid to late twenties.  “What are you doing here?  This is a private beach.”

“Miss Flanning, I’m sorry to be trespassing but I had to see you,” he explained.  “You see, my mother is a big fan of yours and she’s celebrating her fiftieth birthday this Saturday.  I was hoping that if you weren’t otherwise engaged, you would come and sing for her as a surprise.  It would be a real treat for her and most likely the best gift she has ever had.”

Lola was touched by his request.  “I don’t have any engagements this weekend so I will be more than happy to do this for your mother.”

He looked very relieved and smiled.  “Thank you, Miss Flanning,” he said.

She smiled.  “Please call me Lola,” holding out her hand.  “What’s your name?”

“Julian Mortimer.”  They shook hands.

“What time is the party?” she asked.

“At seven.  Here are the particulars,” he added, reaching into the breast pocket of his jacket and taking out an invitation which he gave her.   “I’d like you to come at eight.  By then everyone will be there.”

She took the invitation.  “I’ll be there at eight,” she promised.  “This is a very thoughtful thing you’re doing for your mother.”

“Thank you.  Every year I give her flowers or take her to the opera or ballet but this year I wanted to do something different for her fiftieth birthday.  I surfing the Internet for ideas when I came across a recent interview you had on the BBC.  And the thought occurred to me what a wonderful treat it would be for my mother to have you sing at her birthday party.  The only problem was I didn’t know how to get close to you.  Then, I remembered that one of my friends knows your publicist and he spoke to her on my behalf and here I am.  I hope you don’t mind and that your publicist doesn’t get into trouble because of me.”

“Don’t worry.  No one’s going to get fired or anything like that.  Besides,  I trust my publicist’s judgment and obviously, she believed that this was a worthy cause.  And I must admit that singing at a private venue is a welcome change.”

“Well, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you doing this.  My mother will be thrilled.”

“Are you and she close?”

He nodded.  “Yes, we are.  I’m an only child and after my father died, we became closer because I was all she had.  She doted on and still does.  I love her dearly and would do anything for her.”

“She’s a very lucky woman to have a son like you,” she remarked.

“I believe that I’m the lucky one.”  He glanced at his watch.  “I must be going,” he said apologetically.  He held out his hand.  “It was a pleasure meeting you, Lola.”

She shook his hand.  “It was a pleasure meeting you too, Julian.”

“I look forward to seeing you on Saturday.”

“I look forward to being there.  Goodbye.”

“Goodbye.”  He smiled, making her heart skip a beat before turning and walking away.

She stood there watching his retreating back until he was no longer visible before she turned and walked along the water’s edge.  Truthfully, she was looking forward to seeing him again too.

Saturday came.  She opted to wear a black pant suit with a white sequin top.  Her only jewelry were a pair of pearl earrings.  After examining herself in the mirror and satisfied with the results, she grabbed her handbag and left the house.

Twenty minutes later she was driving up a long, winding driveway flanked by imposing trees until the mansion suddenly came into view.  Her mouth dropped open.  It was was magnificent and it reminded her of one of those mansions she saw in the show, Hidden Mansions or something out of a Jane Austen novel.  The stately home made her beach house look like a doll’s house in comparison.  She parked her car where she saw other cars parked and got out.

Heart racing, she went up the short flight of stairs to the enormous door and stared at the antique lion door knocker before lifting it to alert someone inside that she was there.  A few minutes later, the door opened an gentleman stood there.  She presumed that he was the butler.  “Good evening,” he said.  “You must be Miss Flanning.”

“Yes, I am.”

“Master Julian informed me that you would be coming at this time.  Please come in and I will take you directly to the drawing-room where they are.”

“Thank you,” she said, stepping inside and followed him through an impressive entrance hall with two side by side winding staircases to an exquisitely beautiful drawing room with antique furniture, rug, decorative walls, paintings, high ceiling, gigantic hanging chandelier and enormous windows through which light streamed and afforded one an unobstructed view of lush and immaculate green lawns.  She didn’t have time to really appreciate her surroundings as she was aware that there were over thirty people in the room watching her.  To her relief, Julian was one of them and he immediately came over to her, looking extremely pleased to see her.  “Hello,” he said.  “It’s good to see you again.”

“Hello,” she said, feeling a bit nervous.

“Don’t be nervous,” he said.  “You look very beautiful.”

“Thank you.  And you don’t look bad yourself.”  He looked amazing and very elegant in the black suit and black tie and with his hair slicked back.

He smiled.  “Thank you.  Come let me introduce you to my mother.”  Taking her arm, he escorted her over to the group.

“Which one is she?” she asked.

“The one in the wheelchair,” he answered, startling her.  “My mother has Multiple sclerosis.”

She glanced up at him.  “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I didn’t want you to feel obligated to come tonight.”

“I would have come regardless.  How is she doing?”

“Her symptoms come and go in phases.  There are times when she suffers from fatigue and other times when she seems fine.  Right now, she seems fine.”

“Does she live here on her own?”

“No, I live here too and she has a live-in nurse.  Between the two of us, we take care of her.  I can’t wait to see the look on her face when she sees you.”

Lola blinked back the tears that sprang to her eyes and put on a bright smile as she stood behind him.

“Mother, I have a big birthday surprise for you.”

She glanced up at him.  “What is it?” she asked.

“Here she is.” He stepped aside while she stepped forward.

“Happy birthday, Mrs. Mortimer.”

She saw the woman’s eyes widened in shock.  “Lola Flanning?” she exclaimed, turning to look up at Julian.  “You brought Lola Flanning to my party?”

Julian beamed.  “Yes, Mother.  I wanted to surprise you.”

Mrs. Mortimer’s returned to Lola who held out her hand.  The older woman grasped it, her eyes welling with tears.  “I can’t believe that you’re here,” she said.  “Thank you.”

Lola covered her hand with her other one and leaned over to kiss her on the cheek.  “It was my pleasure,” she said when she drew back, her own eyes moist.

“Yes, Mother, Lola graciously agreed to come and sing for you on your birthday.”

“I look forward to hearing you sing,” Mrs. Mortimer said, “but first, sit beside me.  Have you had anything to eat?”

“Actually, no, but–”

“Julian, please have Sophie fix a plate for Miss Flanning.”

“Please call me Lola and I really don’t want to put you to any trouble–”

“It’s no trouble at all,” Mrs. Mortimer insisted.

Julian excused himself and quickly left the room.  After he was gone, Mrs. Mortimer introduced Lola to the rest of the guests, some of whom were also fans and asked for her autograph.  They were excited that she was going to sing.  One of the women, remarked, “I was so relieved when I read that you had broken up with that womanizer, Todd Collins.  You deserve better.”

Lola smiled but didn’t answer.  Just then, Julian returned with a plate of a variety of delicious looking and mouth-watering smelling food.  Feeling a bit self-conscious, she began to eat it while the conversation kept going, touching on all sorts of topics ranging from her career to hot vacation spots and favorite charitable organizations.

After she finished eating and was ready, Julian sat behind the piano while she stood beside it and began to sing, her voice smooth and soulful as she belted out her popular ballads while the others watched rapt.  Mrs. Mortimer relaxed in her chair with a smile on her face.  Julian’s eyes were on her the whole time as his fingers ran over the keys.  An hour later, the room was filled with thunderous applause and after bowing graciously, Lola resumed her seat next to Mrs. Mortimer who thanked her, her expression one of deep gratitude.

“You’re more than welcome, Mrs. Mortimer.”

“Please call me, Olivia.  You’ve made this birthday the happiest I have ever had.”

“You owe it all to Julian.”

“Yes,” she agree, looking over to where he stood talking to a couple.  “He’s my pride and joy.  Besides God, he has been my rock through the rough moments of this terrible disease.  I don’t know how much longer I have but I hope and pray that before I go, I will see him settle down with a good woman.”

“Whoever she is, she’d be very lucky to have him,” Lola commented, her eyes wandering over to where Julian was.  Too bad I’m not ten years younger, she thought regretfully.

Just then Julian turned and their eyes met.  Mrs. Mortimer observed them and a smile tugged at her lips.  “It seems like I don’t have to wait long to get my wish,” she remarked and Lola turned to look at her inquiringly.

“I beg your pardon?”

Mrs. Mortimer.  “I was just saying that it has been a long time since I’ve had so much fun.”  That was true.  Tonight was a wonderful evening—one that she would never forget.  And she wished it would last longer but she suddenly felt very tired and she couldn’t prevent the yawn she had been trying to stifle.  In a flash, Julian was at her side.

“Mother, you’re tired.”

“No, I’m not,” she protested.  “Stop fussing.”

“You’re tired,” he insisted.  “I can see it on your face.  It’s after ten.  You should be going to bed now.  I will take you up to your room and Margaret will take care of you.  Please don’t argue with me, Mother.  Say goodnight to Lola and your other guests.”

Mrs. Mortimer sighed.  “Sometimes I wonder who is the parent and who is the child.  Very well, Son, I will say goodnight to these good people and then retire.”  Everyone in the room took turns wishing her all the best and made plans to visit when she was ready.  After they said goodnight to Lola, they left.

Lola took the older woman’s hands in hers.  “Olivia, it was a real treat for me to be here tonight.  You’re one of the most gracious and strong women I have ever met.  And it is my hope that we will see each other again.”

Olivia squeezed her hands.  “Have tea with me one afternoon,” she said.  “I will have Julian get in touch with you.  Thank you for making this birthday a memorable one.  God bless you.  Goodnight.”

“Goodnight,” Lola released her hands and straightened up.  She looked at Julian who was watching her, his expression inscrutable.

“Don’t leave,” he said.  “I will be back shortly.”

“I’ll wait here,” she promised.  After watching him wheel his mother out of the room, she turned and walked over to the windows.  It was dark outside but the lights from the house illuminated the grounds.  She had once considered buying a stately home not far from here but decided to get the beach house instead because it required less maintenance and she liked being close to the ocean.   She wondered what it was like for Julian to grow up in this house and if it was ever lonely for him.  As a child, she had lots of friends and family to play and spend time with so she never experienced loneliness.

She turned when she heard Julian come into the room.  He joined her at the window.  “How is she?” she asked.

“She seems fine.  I left Margaret reading the Bible to her.”

“Your mother is a remarkable woman.  I admire her.”

He smiled.  “Yes, I’m a great admirer of her too.  Her inner strength is all due to her faith and it was one of the qualities that my father loved about her.  Would you like to take a short walk around the grounds before you leave?”

“Sure.  I was admiring them earlier when I first walked into this room.”

They went outside.  It was a balmy night.   He took her around the grounds, showing her the tennis court, the swimming pool and the Garden fountain where they paused for a little while as she admired its details.

As they made their way back to the front of the mansion, she asked,  “Was living here ever lonely for you?”

“Sometimes,” he admitted.  “But, I tried not to show it because I didn’t want Mother to know because she tried so hard to make my life here as content as possible.  As I got older, life got better and attending university helped because I made lots of friends whom my mother invited to spend the summer and Christmas holidays.  I could tell that she loved having a house filled with young people but after I left university, we decided that we wanted it to be like it used to be.  So, we spend quiet summers and Christmases.  And that’s fine for me.  We enjoy each other’s company.”

“I can tell that the two of you have a special bond which I don’t think it will change when you get married—”

He stopped abruptly and turned to face her.  “So, she has been talking to you about my future.”

She nodded.  “Yes, she expressed her wish to see you settle down with a good woman while she’s still around.”

“Do you wish to see me marry a good woman?”

She lowered her eyes.  “It doesn’t matter what I wish.”  The thought of him getting married bothered her more than she cared to admit.  How was it possible for her to care so much about a man she’d only met once before now?

“It matters to me, Lola.  Do you know that all during the week, I have thought of nothing else but seeing you again?  I couldn’t concentrate on my work.  I kept seeing your lovely face.  And tonight, I couldn’t take my eyes off you.  You take my breath away, Lola…”

Her head shot up then, her eyes wide as they met his and her heartbeat accelerating at an alarming rate when she saw the expression on his face.  “We-we shouldn’t be having this conversation,” she stammered.

“Why not?” he asked.

“Well, because…How old are you?”

“Twenty-eight.”

“I’m thirty-nine.  Next year May, I’ll turn forty.”

He seemed unfazed.  “It doesn’t matter that you’re older than me.”

“Wouldn’t you prefer to be with a woman closer to your age?”

“I’ve dated women my age but I was never attracted to any of them the way I’m attracted to you.  So, the answer to your question is no.  I would rather be with you.”

“Well, you can’t be with me,” she told him in frustration because for one maddening moment, she wanted to grab the lapels of his jacket, pull him against her and plant one on him.  She was so attracted to him that it drove her crazy and scared her at the same time.  “I–I need to go now.”  She started to walk away when he caught her by the shoulders.

“Why?” he demanded, his eyes searching her averted face, his grip tightening as she struggled to break free.  “Are you afraid of what would happen between us if you stayed, Lola?  Are you afraid that if I were to kiss you, you wouldn’t want to leave?”  He was breathing heavily now and she could feel his body against her, awakening a desire in her that was so strong it made her gasp and then, his mouth was on hers, devouring it feverishly.  And for one unguarded moment, she responded wildly as she tried desperately to assuage the hunger that was raging inside her.

Then, she came to her senses and with supreme effort she pushed him away and ran to her car, panting.  She got in, slammed the door and after fumbling for the key, she put it in the ignition and the engine roared to life.  When she saw him coming towards her, she frantically put the car in reverse and then sped off.  As soon as she got home, she took a cold shower before she went to bed.  Sleep evaded her.  Her mind was spinning.  All she could think about was the kiss and how much she wanted him.  She closed her eyes in despair.   Julian Mortimer had breached the fortress she had built around her heart.

Three weeks passed since that night.  She was restless.  Her thoughts were filled with Julian.  Every time she closed her eyes, she saw his face and her longing for him clawed at her relentlessly, driving her crazy.  Sleep was fitful and it was hard to concentrate on anything because her mind was constantly on him.  She gave up trying to write the new lyrics and went out on the balcony.  The water was calm and she envied it.  The sun was high, bathing the sea and sand in its golden light.  Seagulls soared in the sky.  What a glorious day.  Too bad she couldn’t enjoy it.

Something caught her eye and she started when she realized that it was Julian.  Heart thudding, she ran down the steps and down the grassy slope to the water’s edge where he stood, hands in pockets, facing the ocean.  He was less formally dressed this time, clad in a white shirt and tan slacks.  There wasn’t a wrinkle of crease anywhere on his clothes.  As usual, they looked like they had just come straight off the rack.

“Julian, what are you doing here?” she called out just before she reached him.

He turned at once to face her, his gaze traveling slowly over her figure in the light green top and denim shorts, his gaze lingering on her bare legs.  “Mother wants you to have tea with her tomorrow afternoon at two–that if you aren’t busy.”

“You could have called or emailed me,” she told him.  “You didn’t have to come in person.”  Although I’m thrilled to see you. 

“All right,” he sighed.  “I came because I can’t stay away any longer.  I had to see you, LolaI can’t stop thinking about the last time we saw each other.  When we kissed…”  His eyes dropped to her mouth, his darkening at the memory.

“Julian, we can’t do this,” she protested.  “I’m much older than you.”  The truth was he scared her because the feelings he aroused in her were so powerful and unlike anything she had ever experienced.  What she once felt for Todd paled in comparison.  Her heart urged her to throw caution to the wind and give into her feelings but her mind resisted.

“Lola, please don’t let our age difference prevent us from being together.  Ever since we met, I haven’t stopped thinking about you and longing to be with you.”

“Julian, please…” She felt her resolve weakening fast, especially as he pulling her against him.  The expression on his face mirrored the emotions that were raging inside her, making so hard for her to resist him.  She wanted him with every fiber of her being but…Her hands came up to push him away.

“I know you feel the same way,” he persisted, his eyes darkening on her face.  “I felt it when we kissed and I can see it in your eyes right now.  Oh, Lola…” he moaned thickly before he bent his head and kissed her.

Powerless against her feelings and him, the hands that had tried to push him away gripped the back of his shirt as she kissed him back feverishly, blindly and with total abandon.

They entered into a relationship.  In April of the following year, they got married, much to the delight of Mrs. Mortimer.  Nine months later, she held Olivia, her first grandchild in her arms and as she smiled down into the red, crinkly face, she silently thanked God for granting her far more than she had expected.

 

Source:  NHS Choices;

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The Cabin

Bethany lay there, thinking about Lysander and his winsome smile.  Groaning, she turned over in the bed, burying her face in the pillow.  She was mad at him yet, she missed him so much.  She knew that if she weren’t laid up here in bed, her body covered in hives, she would be driving up to the cabin to see him.  Why on earth did she have the chocolate dipped strawberries for dessert, knowing that she was allergic to them?  She blamed it on what happened between Lysander and her.   Depressed, she thought having what used to be her favorite comfort food would help her to feel better.  It didn’t.  She was still depressed.  Sighing heavily, she allowed her thoughts to drift back to that last visit to the cabin…

It was a mild winter day so she decided that she would drive up to the cabin.  She had a proclivity for showing up unannounced, especially after she had a row with her sister-in-law.  Her teeth gritted when she thought of Cicely.  Who was she to tell her that she shouldn’t go about throwing herself at Lysander, a man who was so much older than her?  She wished Cicely would stop telling her to date a guy at her university or trying to set her up with her friends’ sons.  She was old enough to know what she wanted and she wanted Lysander.

She had known him since she was a child but fell in love with him when she became a teenager.  He was her brother’s best friend and best man at his wedding.  Lysander was always very nice to her but he treated her like a little sister which frustrated her.  Sometimes she felt like they were Almonzo and Laura Ingalls Wilder from Little House on the Prairie before Almonzo noticed Laura.  Would the same thing happen for her?  Would there come a time when Lysander would see her as a woman instead of a little girl?

All of these thoughts were running through her mind as she made her way to the cabin which was about an hour’s drive from the city.  It was a cozy place in the woods and very peaceful.  It was no wonder that Lysander spent so much of his time there.  He was there every weekend and during the holidays.  When she visited they would go for long walks and then return to sit outside for hours, talking, having lunch or playing card games.  She was looking forward to seeing him and her foot pressed down a little harder on the accelerator.

Soon the cabin was in sight and her heart began to pound.  As she pulled up, she saw his jeep and the door on the driver-side was open.  He was either on his way out or had just arrived home.  She stopped the car a little distance away and turned off the engine.  After fixing her hair and checking her face in the mirror, she grabbed her handbag and got out of the car.  He was still sitting in his jeep so she walked over to him.  “Hello, Ly,” she called out, smiling.  Her smile soon faded, though, when she saw the expression on his face.  He wasn’t smiling at all.

“What are you doing here, Beth?” he asked.  She couldn’t tell if he was getting in or out of the vehicle when she showed up.  She hoped that it was the latter.

“I came to see you, of course,” she replied flippantly although she was wary.  She had hoped that he would be pleased to see her. They hadn’t seen each other in about two weeks.  He had been out of town on business and got back yesterday.  Didn’t he miss her?  She had missed him like crazy.  Her gaze slipped over him as he got out of the jeep.  He looked sexy in the tan colored jacket with the fur trimmed hood and collar and the leather pants.  How she longed to run over and throw her arms around him but his demeanor was not forthcoming and she doubted that he would welcome such a display of emotion.   “Aren’t you happy to see me?”

“You can’t keep dropping by unexpectedly like this,” he said.  “What if I had company?”

She stiffened.  “What do you mean?” she asked.  “Are you seeing someone?”  The thought of him seeing another woman was unbearable.

He sighed.  “Beth, you and I can’t continue seeing each other like this.”

“Why not?” she asked in a trembling voice.  This couldn’t be happening.

His eyes darkened as he gazed down into her face.  “My feelings for you have changed.”

She swallowed hard, her heart pounding.  “They have?”

“Yes.  I’m deeply attracted to you.” His gaze lowered to her lips and his parted.  Dragging his fingers through his hair, he said to her, “I think it would be best if you go now.”

Shaking her head, she reached up and held his face between her hands.  “Don’t send me away, Ly,” she pleaded huskily.  “Let me stay.  I want to be with you.”  Before he could say anything, she pulled his head down to hers and kissed him.  She moaned when she felt his response and his hands go around her waist, pressing her tightly against him.  They stood there in the crisp wintry air with the sun bathing them, exchanging passionate kisses.  She loved and wanted him so much it ached.

Lysander continued to kiss her and then he pulled away, his face flushed.  It took a moment for him to catch his breath.  “We can’t do this,” he muttered thickly.  “Please go.”

“But, I don’t want to go,” she protested, reaching for him again but he stepped back.  “I love you, Ly.  I love you so much.  Please let me stay.”

“No!” he cried, startling her.  “I’m too old for you.  You should be with someone your own age.”

“I wish you would stop using our age difference as an excuse,” she retorted.  “I’m twenty-four years old and you’re forty.  So, we have sixteen years between us, why is that such a big deal?”

“You should be with someone your own age,” he insisted.

“So, you are willing to throw away what you and I could have because of something as stupid as our age difference?” her voice was trembling now.  She was hurt and angry.

“I doing what I think is the only viable thing to do.  In time you will get over me.”

“Fine,” she cried.  “I will go away and leave you alone–” her sob rose to her throat before she could stifle it and she turned and ran back to her car, ignoring him as he called after her.  She yanked open the door and got in, slamming it behind her.  Her fingers shook as she put the key in the ignition and turned it.

The tears were falling now and almost blinded her.  She saw him coming towards the car and she quickly reversed and raced off down the gravel.  When she got back to the city, she went to a secluded spot where she broke down and cried.  Her heart ached for Lysander.  Her lips still felt tender from his kisses and she knew that if he were to call her on her cell then and asked her to go back, she would in a heartbeat.

That was three weeks ago.  She hadn’t seen nor heard from him since that awful day.  And now she was stuck in the house because of a bowl of strawberries.  The antihistamine she had taken seemed to be working because the headache was gone and the swelling was going away.  In a matter of hours or in a day or two she should be back to normal.  Until then, she didn’t want to see anyone.  She closed her eyes.  When she opened them again, it was morning.

She sat up and stretched.  It looked like another beautiful sunny day.  I wonder what Lysander is doing now.   Is he thinking about me?  Probably not.  She felt her eyes well with tears at the thought but she quickly blinked them back.  I’m not going to cry.  The hives on her body were fading, thank goodness.  She threw back the covers.  The hives on her body were fading, thank goodness.  She got out of bed.  After soaking in a warm, oatmeal bath, she got dressed in loose clothing and went downstairs to have breakfast.  Cicely was sitting at the kitchen table having hers.  “Good morning,” she greeted her sister-in-law.

“Good morning,” Cicely said, watching her as she helped herself to some scrambled eggs, toast and tea.  “How are you feeling?”

“Much better, thanks.  By tomorrow, the swelling and the hives will be completely gone.  Where’s Derek?”

“He had to take the car to the mechanic.  It has been giving trouble again.  I have been telling him to get rid of it and buy a new one”

“He loves that car.  He’s had it for years.  I can’t see him buying a new one any time soon.”

“Buying a new car would be better than wasting money on a beaten up old one but it’s his decision, I guess.  So, do you have any plans for today?”

Bethany shook her head.  “I don’t plan on going anywhere until my skin clears up.  I’ll just catch up on my reading and do some studying.”

There was a pregnant pause and then, “Lysander was here last night.”

Bethany stared at her.  “Ly was here?” she exclaimed.  “When?” It must have been when she was sleeping.

“Around eight-thirty.  He stopped by to see Derek but he asked for you.”

“What did you tell him?” she asked, her heart racing.  How she wished she had been awake when he came by.  She would have gotten out of bed, dressed and gone downstairs just to see him.

“I, um—told him that you weren’t at home—”

“Why did you tell him that?” she demanded.  “He must have seen my car parked in the driveway.”

“Well, I told him that you were on a date—”

Bethany glared at her.  “Why did you do that?” she demanded.  “Are you trying to ruin my life?  You know I love Lysander and that he’s the only man I want to be with.  Why did you make him believe that I was seeing someone?  Do you dislike me that much, Cicely?”

“I don’t dislike you, Bethany and I’m not out to ruin your life.  I still think that Lysander is too old for you but after seeing his reaction to what I said, I realize that your feelings for him are not one-sided.”

“What do you mean?” Bethany was on the edge of her chair now.

“I believe that Lysander is in love with you.  I saw the look on his face when I told him that you were on a date.  He looked hurt, devastated.  I felt bad for lying to him and wanted to tell him the truth but he said he had to go and to give his apologies to Derek and then he left.”

Bethany pushed back her chair and got up.  She had lost her appetite.

Cicely looked up at her.  “Where are you going?” she asked.

“Where do you think?” Bethany retorted, giving her a withering look.  “To see Lysander.”

“Do you think you should drive all that way now—so early in the morning?”

“When do you think I should go or do you even think I should go at all?”

“Well, I think it would be best for you to see him somewhere else rather than driving over to his place.  A girl your age shouldn’t be alone with a man as experienced as Lysander—”

“I’m not a girl and this isn’t the 1800s.  Now, you have interfered in my life for the last time, Cicely.  As soon as I graduate in the summer, I will find a job and move out.” She turned and marched out of the room, her expression thunderous.

In ten minutes, she was on her way to the cabin.  She had no idea of what kind of reception she would get but she had to see him and clear up the misunderstanding.  What he must think of her now, especially after her declaration of love.  How could she say she loved him and then go out on a date just three weeks later?

She gripped the steering wheel as fresh anger toward Cicely consumed her.  When Lysander asked for her, why couldn’t she have told him that she was not feeling well or come and let her know that he was there?  No, she decided to take it upon herself and tell him an outright lie.  Oh, Ly, she cried, tears stinging her eyes.  I hope Cicely is right and that you love me too.

When she got there, his jeep was parked outside. Relieved, she quickly parked her car and ran to the front door, letting herself in.  It was nice and toasty in the living-room.  She removed her coat and boots and then went over to the fire to warm her hands.  She looked around.  Why was Lysander?  It was so quiet.  Perhaps he was still sleeping or maybe he was outside getting more wood for the fireplace.

She went to the window and looked out.  There was no sign of him.  It was such a beautiful sunny day, albeit a bit nippy.  Perhaps he went for a walk.  Then, she heard a sound in the bedroom and she hurried to investigate.  The door was ajar and she opened it wide enough to go in.  Her breath caught in her throat when she saw Lysander.

He was standing in front of the bureau.  His broad, bare back was toward her and she allowed her gaze to travel slowly over his muscular frame clad only in a pair of jeans.  He had taken a sweater out of the drawer and was about to pull it on.  She watched him, her heart pounding wildly.  How she longed to go up behind him and put her arms around him while she buried her face in his smooth skin…

He turned around and started when he saw her standing there, gawking at him.  Dragging on the sweater, he demanded, “What on earth are you doing here?”

“I—I came to see you.”

He pulled the sweater down, covering his torso as he watched her, his expression inscrutable.  “When did you get here?  I didn’t hear your car.”

“I came about ten minutes ago.  You were probably in the shower when I arrived.”  His hair was glistening damply in the light coming through the windows.  Her fingers itched to run themselves through the silky strands.  “It has been three weeks since we last saw each other, Ly.  How have you been?”

“I’m fine,” he said curtly.  “I don’t have to ask you how you’ve been.”

Her eyes widened.  “What do you mean?”

“You’ve been dating.  You don’t waste any time, do you?” His face was glowering now.

“That’s not true,” she protested, crossing the carpet to stand a few feet away from him.  “I’m not dating.”

“When I stopped by last night, Cicely told me that you were out on a date.”

“She lied to you, Ly.  I was upstairs in my room sleeping when you stopped by.  I came down with hives because I ate too many strawberries.  If you don’t believe me, I will show you the rashes on my arms.  They are going away but you can still see them.  I haven’t been anywhere since I got them a couple of days ago.”

“Why would she lie to me?”

“She lied to you because she thinks that I should be with someone my own age.”

“Perhaps she’s right—”

“No, she isn’t.  I don’t want to be with anyone else, Ly.  I love you and I want to be with you.  If you don’t feel the same way about me, tell me now and–and I will go away.”  She moved closer and her mouth went dry when she saw the expression on his face.

He reached for her and pulled her roughly against him.  “I can’t let you go,” he told her thickly.  “I love you, Beth.  That’s why I came to see you last night.  I wanted to tell you that I was sorry about the way I acted that day at the cabin.  As soon as you drove away, I was afraid that I was making a terrible mistake.  I wanted to come after you but I decided that it was probably the best thing for us not to see each other for a while until I could really think things through.  During the time when we didn’t see each other, I nearly went out of my mind thinking about you and missing you.  Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore and that’s why I decided to come to you.  When Cicely told me that you were on a date, I was blindsided.  It was the last thing I expected to hear, especially after you told me that you loved me.  I realized then that in spite of what I said to you, the last thing I wanted was for you to be with someone else.”

She put her arms around his neck and pressed against him, loving the feel of his firm body against hers.  “The important thing is that we’re together now,” she told him huskily before she pulled his head down to hers.  They exchanged hungry kisses and then, he picked her up and carried her over to the bed.

The following week, they got engaged and in the summer after she graduated from university, they got married in a small, intimate wedding ceremony.  Derek was the best man.  After they returned from their honeymoon in Nice, Lysander sold his flat in London and they moved into the cabin.

 

Jesus’s Birth

For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder.  And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace – Isaiah 9:6

Jesus’ birth didn’t happen exactly as one would expect.  Matthew tells us how it came about.  Mary, Jesus’ mother was a virgin.  In fact, Matthew makes a point of showing that in having Jesus, Mary was fulfilling prophecy.  “Now all this occurred to fulfill what the Lord had spoken through the prophet, saying,  “A virgin shall be with child, and will bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is interpreted, “God with us.”

Mary was engaged to a carpenter named Joseph.  It was around that time that she was found with child by the Holy Spirit.  Matthew doesn’t go into the details as to how her pregnancy came about but Luke does.  The angel Gabriel visited her to tell her that she was highly favored and blessed among women.  She was told that she would have a Son and call His name Jesus.  He explained how this would happen seeing that she was still a virgin.  “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you” (Luke 1:35).

It is not a surprising  thing for the Holy Spirit to create life in Mary.  He was part of the creation of the world where things that didn’t exist came into existence.  Jesus’ birth was to be different from the rest of humanity’s.  He was to be both Divine and Human and this could only be accomplished the way Gabriel explained.

At the risk of ruining her reputation and even her life, Mary agreed to the Lord’s plan for her life.  In those days, if a woman betrothed to another  man was discovered to be pregnant and the child was not the man’s whom she is promised to in marriage, she could be stoned to death for committing adultery.  And this is what was weighing on Joseph’s mind when he found out that Mary was pregnant and knew that it wasn’t his child.

Joseph was a decent man.  He didn’t want to publicly expose Mary but he couldn’t go through with their impending marriage.  He had to break things off quietly.  No doubt his sleep was fitful and it was while he was thinking this predicament, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for He who is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.  She will bear a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.”

What a relief that must have been for Joseph.  Mary hadn’t two-timed him and he could go ahead and marry her as he had planned.  When he woke up, he did as the angel told him and he took Mary to be his wife.  And he named her Son, Jesus.

God knew exactly what He was doing when He chose Mary to be the mother of Jesus and Joseph to be her husband.  He knew that everything would work out as it should.  Mary trusted God when she accepted His will for her life and as a result she was blessed with Jesus who would her Savior and the world’s.

Sources:  Matthew 1; Luke 1

The Announcement

Ingrid wished she hadn’t come here tonight.  She felt so out of place.  The black lace off the shoulder dress looked great on her but she felt too exposed in it and chided herself for not wearing a shawl to cover her back and shoulders.  People were milling around, talking and laughing.  She stood in a corner watching them, purse clutched in one hand and a glass of mock-tail held in the other.

Why did Amanda invite her to this shindig?  The two of them didn’t get along because Amanda was condescending and made it painfully obvious that didn’t like her.  She had no idea what she had done to make the older woman so hostile toward her.  This is why she was shocked when she received an invitation in the mail two weeks ago.   She knew that Seth was the only reason why she was there.  Seth was Amanda’s younger brother.  Unbeknownst to Amanda, Ingrid and he were seeing each other.

They started seeing each other the day after they met.  They met at the company’s picnic and were immediately attracted to each other.  He was alone and so was she.  He was leaning against the wall, watching her before he walked over to where she stood and introduced himself.   They got to talking and then they arranged to have dinner the following evening.  Dinner was at a popular French restaurant where they enjoyed a delectable meal before heading to a nightclub.  It was a wonderful evening and the first of many dates.  Last night when he was at her place, she meant to tell him that she would be here tonight but she never got around to it.

Since she arrived at the party, not once did Amanda go over and talk to her.  She was going about the room, chatting with the other guests but she seemed to ignore her.  On one occasion she walked right past her to say greet a couple standing nearby.  It was humiliating.  I don’t need this, Ingrid decided after standing there alone for half-hour.  She put her glass down on the window seat.  I’m going home.  I’m sure no one will even notice that I’m gone.  I was really hoping to see Seth tonight but he can come over to my place later.

Just as she was heading for the door, she heard Amanda call for everyone’s attention.  After asking people to gather closer she said she had an announcement to make.  Curious, Ingrid stood still to hear what she had to say.  Amanda invited Seth to join her.  Ingrid stared at Seth.  When did he get here?  She hadn’t noticed him until now.

Amanda looked very pleased.  “I’m very pleased to announce my baby brother’s engagement to…Brooke–where are you?  Come up here and join us.”

Ingrid felt sick.  She didn’t wait to see who this Brooke was.  She stumbled to the door and found her way to the bathroom where she dissolved into tears.  The door to bathroom opened and she tried to compose herself.  She felt two hands on her shoulders turning her around.  It was Seth and his face was pale.  “You can’t be in here,” she protested.  She tried to pull away but his grip was firm.  “Please let me go.”

“Let’s go somewhere quiet where we can talk.”  He took her hand and led her out of the bathroom.  Curious eyes followed them as they left the building and went to his car.   When they were seated in the car, he gave her his handkerchief which she used to wipe her eyes.  “I didn’t know that you were going to be here,” he said.

“I meant to tell you last night but I forgot.”  The pain was unbearable and she wanted to get as far away from him as possible.  It hurt too much to be with him knowing…”Why didn’t you tell me about Brooke?” she demanded tearfully.

“Brooke and I used to date but we broke up long before you and I met.”

“Why did Amanda announce that you are engaged to your ex?”

“That was for your benefit.”

She was confused.  “What do you mean?”

“Amanda knows about us.  A friend of hers saw us together and reported back to her.  When Amanda confronted me about it I admitted that we are in a relationship.  She was livid and tried to convince me that Brooke was better for me but I made it very clear to her that I loved you.  I told her that I was going to ask you to marry me.  She stormed out of my flat and I thought that was the end of it.  Then, she pulls this stunt, making everyone believe that Brooke and I are engaged.  I should have known she was up to something when she said she had an announcement to make and invited me to join her.  I saw her looking across the room at you and the smug smile on her face.  When I saw you leave the room, I had to follow you and undo the damage she did.”  His eyes darkened on her face and he reached out and held her hands in his.  “I’m sorry about what Amanda did.  I love you and I want to spend the rest of my life with you if you’ll have me.”

Tears welled in her eyes and she put her arms around his neck.  “Of course, I’ll have you,” she said huskily.  “I love you too.”

He reached into his pocket and took out a box.  “I was going to propose later when I came by your place but now is a good time, I think.  Will you marry me, Ingrid?”

“Yes,” she cried and she drawing back as he took the ring out of the box and placed it on her finger.  The sun hadn’t set as yet so she could see the ring and how exquisitely beautiful it was.  Then, it became a blur.

Seth reached out and cupped her face between his hands.  “I love you so much,” he murmured before he lowered his head and kissed her.

She put her arms around his waist and returned his kisses, her heart bursting with joy.  Just a few moments ago, her world was torn apart by an announcement.

The Plane Ride

He sat there on the plane, the open magazine on his lap, his head resting against the back of the seat and his face turned towards the window, watching the clouds and knowing that the distance between Natalie and him was getting wider.  He closed his eyes in despair.  Walking away from her was the most painful and hardest thing he had ever done in his life but things couldn’t continue as they were.  He had to end their relationship.

After a night of torrid lovemaking, he woke up very early the next day and quickly got dressed while she was still sleeping.  He wrote a note for her and left it propped up against the lamp on the bedside table next to her.  He stood for several minutes staring down at her, longing to bend down and kiss her bare shoulder but was afraid that he would wake her.

He tiptoed to the door and slowly opened it.  He stepped into the hall and closed the door behind him.  The place was silent except for the clock ticking and the sound of his heavy breathing as he fought the temptation to turn around and climb back into bed with her.  Once he was outside of the flat, he released a shaky breath and hastily headed for the lift.  In his car, he told himself that he was doing the right thing even though his heart felt heavy.  He went home, packed his bags and booked the next available flight out of Detroit and heading to London.  It was an impromptu vacation.  He couldn’t be in Detroit right then or his resolve would crumble.  He hoped that the distance would somehow ease the pain and that being with his family would help as well.

So, here he was on the plane heading for London.  He wondered if she had read the note and how she was taking the news.  He remembered every word he had written.

Dear Natalie,

I never imagined that I would fall in love again but I have.  I knew that I loved you the first time we met.  I tried to fight it not because I found out that you’re Darnell’s sister.  I forgave Darnell for being responsible for Jody’s death.  It wasn’t easy because it was his reckless driving which resulted in her death but God helped me to get over the bitterness I was feeling toward your brother and to come to the place where I could not only find it in my heart to forgive him but to share His love with him.  

My healing came from talking to Darnell about God and sharing the Bible with him and as I watched him accept God’s love and forgiveness, it brought a peace to my heart which I hadn’t felt in a long time.  Visiting Darnell was a much of a blessing for me as it was for him.  Then, I met you. 

When you walked into the room, my heart stopped.  I couldn’t believe that another woman could have such an effect on me.  I felt as if I was being unfaithful to Jody’s memory.  Jody was my best friend before she became my wife.  We had known each other since college but didn’t start dating until years later when we were in our thirties.  Two years after we started dating, we got married.  We were married for two and a half years when she died.   I had lost my wife and my best friend.  We had planned to have children but that dream died with Jody.

Falling in love again was not something I imagined would happen and when it did, I tried to fight it.  You stirred in me feelings and passions that I have never experienced in my life–not even with Jody and that scared me.  I wanted you so much that it was all I could think about.  And when I realized that you were attracted to me too, it was only a matter of time before we became lovers.  

Loving you has consumed me to the point where I have turned my back on what I know to be right and acceptable in God’s sight.  As a man of faith, I can’t continue to be in a relationship with a woman I am not married to.  It goes against what I believe.  I have to choose between my love for you and my faith.  It pains me to do this but I must choose my faith.  By the time you read this letter, I will be out of the country.  

We cannot attempt to see each other anymore.  Please believe me when I say that I love you and will always love you.   Sometimes doing the right thing hurts but in the end, we have to be able to live with ourselves.

Andrew

“Oh, Natalie,” he moaned under his breath, aching for her.   Life without her was going to be unbearable.

Natalie read the note again, the tears streaming down her face.   She hadn’t seen this coming.  She thought they were happy but when she read the note, she realized that how hard it was for him to go against his religious convictions.  She herself came from a Christian family and had been taught that sex outside of marriage was wrong.  She had drifted from her faith, not going to church as often as she should.  Her makeup and choice in clothes were evidence that she was not as devout when it came to religion as the rest of her family but after meeting Andrew, those things had changed.  She had stopped wearing the makeup and had opted for the more natural look and her wardrobe had changed too.  And she had begun to read her Bible more lately.  She even began going back to church and then this morning she found this note.

Thankfully, it was a Sunday morning and she didn’t have to worry about going to work.  There was no way that she would have been able to function.  Heartbroken and depressed she didn’t even feel like getting out of bed.

When Andrew got to Heathrow, his brother was waiting for him.  He went up to him and after hugging him, said to him, “I know that this is going to sound crazy, but I must return to Detroit.  There’s a woman there whom I am going to ask to marry me.”

Stuart stared at him.  “Are you serious?  You just got here and now you’re going to leave?”

“Yes!  I’m been an utter fool.  I can’t believe that I didn’t think of this before.  I walked out of her life when I could have asked her to marry me.”

“Does she love you?”

“Yes and I love her.”

“Then, go to her.  I’ll explain everything to the folks.  I’m happy that you have found someone after losing Jody.  I wish you all the best, Andy.”

“Thanks, Stuart.”  They hugged again and then Stuart left.

Andrew found his way to the departure terminal where he booked the next available flight to Detroit.

The following evening, Natalie was sitting on the sofa, despondent when the doorbell rang.  She was not in the mood for seeing anyone but she got and went to answer the door.  Her eyes widened when she saw Andrew standing there.  Opening the door at once, she exclaimed, “What are you doing here?”

“Where’s the note I wrote you?” he asked as he stepped inside the foyer.

She closed and locked the door behind him before she reached into the pocket of her dressing-gown and handed the note to him.  He tore it up.  “Why did you do that?” she asked, bewildered.

“It doesn’t matter anymore,” he told her.  “I was a fool to write it in the first place and I was a bigger fool for walking out of your life.  I love you, Natalie and I want to spend the rest of my life with you.  Marry me.”

She gaped at him.  “Marry you?” she repeated, her heart thudding.  He looked dead serious.

“Yes.  Let’s get married on Saturday.  We’ll go and get the ring today.”

Her mind was spinning at this turn of events.  Just a few moments ago, she felt as if her world had been pulled out from under her and here, she was on the verge of being blissfully happy.  “Are you sure?” she asked.

“Yes, I’ve never been surer of anything in my life.  Today we get engaged and on Saturday we get married.  In between that time, you and I have to abstain.  We will not make love until we are on our honeymoon.”

Her heart bursting, she put her arms around his neck.  “I love you, Andrew Clarke and I will marry you.”

His arms slipped around her waist and he held her tightly against him, his eyes darkening on her upturned face.  “I’m sorry it had to take a plane ride to London to make me realize that marrying you is the right and best thing to do.”

She smiled.  “And this is a decision that we can both live with.”

 

 

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.