A Love Meant to Be

Serena stood there on the Staten Island Ferry, watching the choppy, frigid waters, her emotions churning inside her.  She leaned against the rail and wrapped her arms about her.  I’m pregnant.  She found out that morning when she went to a walk-in clinic.  After leaving there, she decided to come on the ferry ride to get away for a bit so that she could process the news that she was five weeks pregnant.

Robin was the father.  Robin.  She closed her eyes as she thought about him and the night they spent together.  They hadn’t meant for it to happen.  He was still dating her friend, Connie at the time.  It was on a Saturday afternoon and she was on her way home from the movies when she bumped into him.  He was just coming out of the barbershop where he had gone and to get a haircut.

His face broke into a big smile.  He looked handsome as usual dressed in a blue jersey, jeans and a leather jacket with a fur trimmed collar.  The haircut suited him.  “Hello, Serena.”

She smiled up at him, thinking what beautiful eyes he had.  “It’s good to see you, Robin.”

“Do you live around here?” he asked.

“Yes, I live over there,” she said, pointing to a set of buildings behind him.  “So, what are you doing around these parts?”

“I was visiting my brother.  He lives around here too.  Then, I decided to get a haircut.  What about you?  Are you going somewhere?”

“Actually, I just came from the movies and am heading home.”

“Did you go to the movies alone?”

“Yes.”

“What did you go to see?”

“The Black Panther.”

He raised his eyebrows.  “The Black Panther?”

She laughed.  “I know.  I’m not into those kinds of movies but I heard such great reviews about this one that I finally decided that I would go and see it.”

“And what did you think?”

“I actually liked it.”

“Listen, are you in a hurry to get home?”

She shook her head.  “I’m just going home to a leftover dinner and Masterpiece Theater,” she replied.

“What do you say we grab a bite to eat at the bistro across the street?”

“Sure.”

They crossed over the street and went into the bistro which was filled with the sounds of laughter, glasses tinkling and mouthwatering aromas.  They sat at the back in the corner.  She had never been in there before.  The atmosphere was very cozy and relaxed.  He ordered the Fillet Mignon and she ordered the Wild Salmon.

Over dinner they did a lot of catching up because it had been a while since they last saw each other.  He was dating her friend, Connie.  They met at the gym but interestingly enough, Serena knew him much longer than Connie because they used to go to the same university.  Since then she had been attracted to him but nothing had come of it.  He was always in a relationship with someone she knew.  She couldn’t help wondering why he never asked her out and reluctantly came to the conclusion that he just wasn’t interested in being more than friends with her.

“Are things getting serious between Connie and you?”

“Not for me,” he replied quietly.  “Are you seeing anyone?”

She shook her head.  “No.”  It was hard sitting across from him and not stare at him.  Nothing had changed.  She was still madly in love with him.  “How come you never asked me out?” She had to ask.  Her heart began to beat faster as she waited for his answer.

He looked straight at her as he replied, “I was attracted to you the very first time I saw you on campus and I wanted to ask you out but I wasn’t sure you’d want to go out with me.”

She gaped at him.  “Why would you think that?”

“Well, I wasn’t sure you’d want to go out with me because—well, because I’m white.”

“And that’s why you dated other women instead.”

“Yes.”

The check came then and after paying it, he pulled on his jacket.  She put her coat on and they left the bistro.  It was dark outside now.  The temperature seemed to have dropped slightly.  He walked her home and when they were standing outside of her unit, she said, “Thanks for dinner.”

He smiled.  “It was my pleasure,” he said.

“Would you like to come in for a while?” she asked hopefully.

He nodded.  “I’d like that.”

She unlocked the door and they went inside.  After they removed their coats, she led him into the living-room.  “I’ll fix us some hot chocolate,” she said and went into the kitchen.

When she joined him, he was standing at the window, looking out.  She put the two mugs on the coffee table and went over to him.  He turned to face her.  “You have a spectacular view,” he remarked.

“Yes, I do.”

He was staring at her and then the next thing she knew she was in his arms and he was kissing her.  She wound her arms around his neck and clung to him as she kissed him back.  They exchanged wild kisses for several minutes and then he picked her up and carried her over to the sofa.

After he put her down, he drew back to remove his sweater, his eyes stormy as they met hers and he was breathing heavily.  She pulled her top over her head and then reached for him, her fingernails digging into his flesh as they kissed feverishly.  They made love and hours later, he left.  She showered and went to bed where she lay staring up at the ceiling for a while, reliving her night with Robin before finally falling asleep.

In the days that followed, she couldn’t stop thinking about him and aching for him but she couldn’t help feeling guilty because of Connie.  When he called her and asked to see her again, she put him off, telling him that it wasn’t a good idea.  It wasn’t long before she started experiencing nausea and other strange symptoms.  She decided to go to a walk-in clinic.

She had to tell Robin.  Taking a deep breath, she dialed his number and when he answered, she said simply, “I need to see you.”  She arranged where they would meet and then she ended the call.

After she got off the ferry, she walked to Battery Park to the spot where she arranged to meet him.  As she waited, she couldn’t help feeling nervous.  How was he going to react to the news that she was pregnant?  Would he be thrilled or feel trapped?  Perhaps he would want to do the honorable thing and marry her or give her financial support to raise the child on her own.  She didn’t want him to feel obligated to her.  And what about his relationship with Connie?

She sighed when she thought about her friend.  She could kiss their friendship goodbye once Connie found out about the baby.  One night of passion had changed three lives forever.  She was determined, however, that no matter what happened, this baby was going to be showered with lots of love and know that he or she is a gift from God.  She placed her hand protectively on her stomach.  Still, it would be so wonderful if Robin and she could be together…She heard her name and turned to see Robin coming towards her.

Her eyes ran eagerly over his tall frame.  It was a little over a month since they last saw each other.  He stood in front of her now.

“I go here as soon as I could,” he said, studying her face.  “Are you all right?”

She nodded.  “Yes, I’m all right.  How are you?”

His eyes darkened.  “Much better now that I’m seeing you.  I haven’t been able to think about anything else but you.  I wanted to see you, Serena.  I wanted to be with you but you told me that it would be best if we didn’t.  So, when you called me today, I was thrilled.”

“I thought it would be best not to see you because of Connie.”

“I broke up with her,” he informed her.

Her eyes widened.  “You did?” she exclaimed.  “Why?”

“After what happened between you and me, I had to end our relationship.”

“Did you tell her about–?”

“No, I didn’t but I told her how I feel about you.”

She swallowed hard, her heart racing.  “How do you feel about me, Robin?” she asked.  She knew he wanted her.  That was obvious the night they made love.  He was like a made man, his hands and lips were all over her, driving her wild.  At one point, he had her hands pinned above her head while he buried his face in her neck, his breath hot and heavy on her skin.  She felt her body respond now to the memories and looking at him now she could tell that he was remembering too.

“I showed you how I feel about you that night,” he told her huskily.  “I’m madly in love with you, Serena.  I have been in love with you since university.”

She couldn’t believe what she was hearing.  Robin loved her.

“I’ve loved you for sixteen years but it seems more like a few days.  It’s like Jacob who served seven years for Rachel’s hand in marriage but to him it was like a few days because of his love for her.”

She felt the tears prick her eyes.  “Oh, Robin,” she cried huskily.  “I love you too.  I have loved you since the day you walked into my English class and sat down next to me.”

He smiled and taking her hands, he drew her toward him.  “One look at you and I knew I was in love.”

“I wish we had told each other how we felt back then.”

“Me too.  Serena…”

She glanced down at their hands.  “Robin, I have something to tell you.”

“What is it?”

Raising her head, to look at him, she announced quietly, “I’m going to have a baby–our baby.”

He stared at her for a long moment.  “You’re pregnant?”

“Yes.  Five weeks.  I found out this morning.”

“You’re going to have a baby.”

We’re going to have a baby.”

“How are you feeling?  Are you okay?  Do you want us to sit down on the bench over there?”

She smiled.  “I’m fine,” she assured him.  “I don’t need to sit down.  Are you okay with this?”

His face brightened.  “I’m ecstatic.  Oh, Serena.”  He bent his head and kissed her.

She responded, her heart almost bursting with joy and relief because his reaction to the news was way better than she could have ever hoped for.  “I’m so relieved that you’re happy about this,” she said a few minutes later when she drew back to gaze up at him.

“How could I be otherwise?  We love each other and we’re going to have a baby.  Do you know what that means?”

“No, what?”

“We’ll have to find a bigger place.  After we get married, we can go house hunting.”

“Married?”

“Yes, I want to marry you, Serena.  I’ve waited for over sixteen years for you.”

She put her arms around his neck.  “I can’t wait to marry you and to raise our child in our dream home,” she murmured.

“I told my mother about you.  Before she died, she said that a love meant to be will be, no matter how much time passes or how many obstacles it faces.  I wish—I wish she were here to see this—to see us together and you carrying her grandchild.”  Tears welled up in his eyes as he got choked up.

She reached up and put her arms around his neck, hugging him tightly, blinking back her own tears.  His arms went around her waist, holding her close.  They stood like that for several minutes before she drew back to look up at him.  She brushed the tears away from his cheeks.  “Let’s go to my place where it’s nice and warm.  We can snuggle under the covers as we make plans for our future.”

He nodded and with their arms around each other, they walked to where his car was parked.

Sometimes when it comes to love you may be in for the long haul but in the end, it’s worth the time and effort when it turns out to be the real thing.

 

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Christ’s Suffering

But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man – Hebrews 2:9

Today is a very emotional day for me.  The waterworks began this morning soon after I got up.  I mentioned the suffering of Jesus to my husband and he said, “He suffered all the way to the cross and even while He was suffering He thought only about you and me.”  As I made up the bed, his words hit home and the tears flowed as the enormity of the suffering Jesus endured for our salvation dawned on me.

Yes, Jesus suffered that day.  He was beaten.  He was spat on. He was mocked.  He heard the religious leaders and some in the crowd call for Him to be crucified although Pilate wanted to release Him because he saw no reason for Him to be put to death.  He was treated like a common criminal.  He hung on the cross between two thieves and heard the people mock Him.  He witnessed His mother weeping uncontrollably at the foot of the cross and He felt forsaken by His Father.  That morning He was denied three times by Peter.  The night before He was betrayed by Judas and abandoned by the other disciples after they had all sworn that they would never leave Him.

He suffered indignity as He hung on the cross.  The Bible said, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree (Galatians 3:13).  Yet, He remained on the cross, even though passers-by called for Him to come down from the cross if He were the Son of God and the religious leaders told Him to do the same thing so that they would believe in Him (Matthew 27:39-43, Jesus remained where He was for our sake.  He wanted to accomplish what He said to Nicodemus, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:14, 15). 

Staying on that cross brought salvation into the world and eternal life to all who believe.  There was no other way for us to be saved except for Jesus to die on the cross.  He didn’t go through all that suffering just to abandon us to our fate.  A lot was at stake and hedged on Him.  He was sent into the world to save us and in spite of the agony He suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane when He asked the Father if it were possible to take the cup away, He determined, nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).  He was obedient to the Father even unto death.

Even as He hung on the cross, in excruciating pain, Jesus didn’t think about Himself.  He looked down on the people who were mocking Him and prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34).  He promised one of the thieves on the cross who asked Him to remember him when He came into His kingdom, ““Assuredly, I say to you today, you will be with Me in Paradise.” He promised this repentant sinner that one day he will enter the kingdom. 

He looked upon His mother as she stood next to the disciple John and He said to her, “Woman, behold your son!” and to John, He said, “Behold your mother!” He was placing Mary into John’s care.  He was looking out for her.  And it said that from that hour, John disciple took her to his own home.  Even in His suffering, Jesus was more concerned for the well being of others.

What can we learn from all of this?  No matter what we are going through, we must continue to remain faithful and obedient to God and to minister to others.  Jesus suffered but the story doesn’t end there.  He died on the cross, was buried but as He promised, on the third day He rose from the dead.  He ascended to His Father after spending time with his disciples and is now sitting at the right hand of God.  And one day, He will return to take us with Him.  As we go through trials, suffering, pain and difficulties, let us look “for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ (Titus 2:13).

A Father’s Wish

The arias which always helped him to relax and enjoy his evenings did nothing to quell the uneasiness plaguing him.  He switched off the radio and the silence which followed was a painful reminder that he was alone.  It was near mid-night and she wasn’t home as yet.  Where on earth could she be?  He had tried calling her cell many times but it was turned off.  When he came home that afternoon, she wasn’t there but he thought nothing of it.  She was probably with her friends or at the library.  However, as it got late and she hadn’t come home or called, he began to get worried.  A couple of hours earlier, he looked across the street and saw a group of young people congregate outside of his neighbor’s home but she wasn’t among them.

He put off calling her friends because he didn’t want to come across as overprotective but eventually, he had no choice.  None of them knew where she was but promised to call him if they heard anything.  He closed his eyes in despair.  Tonight was supposed to be a special one.  He was going to tell her that he loved her but first they were going to enjoy the dinner he had prepared for them.  It was probably cold by now.  Oh, Rebecca, where are you?  Why don’t you call me?  It was not like her to do this.  He was out of his mind with worry.

The last time he felt like this was nine years ago when they were in the shopping mall and somehow they got separated.  One minute she was right there beside him and the next she was gone.  Frantic, he went through the mall, looking for her until finally, he went to the courtesy desk and asked them to make an announcement.

Ten minutes later, the embarrassed and distressed twelve year old showed up.  After hugging her tightly, they left the mall with him holding her hand in a firm grip.  He didn’t lecture her right away because she was visibly upset.  Suffice to say, they never got separated again whenever they went out together.

He would never forget the first time he met Rebecca.  She was eight at the time and it was at the company’s annual summer picnic.  Her father brought her with him that year.  It was two years after her mother died.  She and her father have moved out of the house and to a flat in the old neighborhood where he grew up.  He and her father worked together and over the years, they had become very good friends.  He always used to tell him, “I hope that Becky ends up marrying a good man like you, Noel.”

Rebecca stared up at him with those huge brown eyes and stole his heart.  So, three years later on that fateful day in the hospital when Clyde asked him to become her guardian he said yes.  Clyde died two days later and was buried next to his beloved wife.  Noel took Rebecca home and raised her as if she were his own daughter.  He was thirty at the time.

They had a very close and loving relationship. He took her to museums, concerts, operas, on day trips and the movies.  His life was never the same and he was thankful for that.  She filled his heart and home with such joy.  Whenever they visited her parents’ graves, he would silently thank Clyde for bestowing such an awesome responsibility on him and promised him that he would make sure that Rebecca married a good man.

He knew that she still missed her father, especially when it was his birthday or Father’s Day and she always talked about how conversant he was with movie classics and that it was from him that she developed her love for them.  So, whenever it was her father’s birthday or Father’s Day, they would watch old movies on TCM in his memory.

Things continued in much the same vein until Rebecca turned eighteen.  That’s when his feelings toward her began to change.  It became increasingly hard for him to be around her and not want her.  He continued to kiss her on the forehead as they bid each other goodnight every evening but how he ached to kiss her on the lips.  He considered sending her away to college in Washington, but quickly squashed the idea because their separation would be unbearable for him.  They still spent a lot of time together but he encouraged her to hang out more with people her own age.  At first, she protested, preferring to be with him like old times but he insisted so, she acquiesced.

He remembered one night when she came home from a friend’s birthday party and was aghast at the dress she was wearing.  Her hair was pulled up in a ponytail, she wore makeup, the gold earrings he had given her as a birthday present and the dress–if you could call it that, was short, hugged her figure and had fine straps.  Her cleavage was there for the entire world to see.

His face suffused with color and he took a deep breath before he muttered, “Please go and take off that dress.”

She went and ten minutes later, she was wearing a pair of pajamas, her face was scrubbed clean and her hair fell about her shoulders.  She watched him warily.  “You’re angry with me,” she said.

He dragged his fingers through his hair as he struggled to remain calm.  His heart was racing.  He wasn’t upset with her only but with himself because of his body’s response to seeing her in that dress.  He was relieved to see her in the pajamas because they were a bit loose on her.  “Rebecca, what were you thinking wearing a dress like that?”

“I’m sorry,” she mumbled.  “I wanted to look good.”

“Wanting to look good doesn’t mean you should expose yourself like that.  That dress was tacky.  You’re a beautiful young woman, Rebecca.  You don’t need to flaunt yourself in order to fit in.  I don’t care if your friends are wearing those kinds of dresses, I only care about you and so, I don’t ever want to see you in a dress like that ever again.”

She nodded.  “All right, Noel.  I won’t dress like that again, I promise.”

“Do you still have the receipt?”

“Yes.”

“Okay.  Tomorrow, I would like you to return it.  I’m surprised they sold it to you.”

“I’ll return it right after school.”  She went over to him, her eyes wide as they met his.  She put her arms around his neck and hugged him, burying her face in his chest.

At first he stood there, stiff as a board, unresponsive and then he put his arms around her waist and hugged her tightly, closing his eyes as strong emotions washed over him like a tidal wave.  After several tortuous minutes, he extricated himself and put a little distance between them, his eyes dark and stormy as they returned her gaze.  “Goodnight, Rebecca,” he said quietly.

“Goodnight, Noel.” She hesitated for a moment and then turned and walked out of the room.  He watched her go.  He had dared not give her the usual kiss on the forehead because he might have ended up devouring her lips instead.

The loud peal of the phone jolted him back to the present and he grabbed the receiver, his heart thudding.  “Hello?”

It was Chloe, one of Rebecca’s friends.  “Hello, Mr. Harding.  I’m sorry to be calling at such a late hour but I thought you might want to know that one of our friends saw Becky talking to a woman right outside of the university campus.  She said they looked like they were having words and then Becky ran off, very upset.”

“Did you friend describe what this woman looked like?”

“She said that she was blonde, stunning and drove a red Porsche.”

His fingers tightened around the phone.  Emma.  “Thank you, Chloe, for calling and letting me know.”

“Has Becky come home as yet?” She sounded very concerned.

“No, I’m afraid not.  When she does, I will have her call you in the morning.  Goodnight, Chloe.”

“Goodnight, Mr. Harding.”

As soon as he rang off from Chloe, he dialed Emma’s number, fuming.

“Hello, Noel.  Why are you calling me instead of coming over?”

He ignored her question.  “Why were you here this afternoon?”

“I stopped by to see you, of course.  Where were you?”

“What do you say to Rebecca?”

“Why what did she tell you?”

“I haven’t seen her since this morning and I’m out of my mind with worry.”

“Well, she’s probably doing this to spite you.  When I came by, she looked at me as if I were trespassing and when I told her that we were seeing each other, she as much as called me a liar.  So, I showed her a photo of the two of us together–you know the one I asked the waitress to take of us when were having dinner at that Italian restaurant? You should have seen her face.  I told her that she was only there because of the promise you made to her father–”

“How dare you tell her that?” he demanded furiously.  “I agreed to be her guardian because I loved her.   She means the world to me.  Damn you, Emma.  Don’t ever show your face around here again.”  He slammed the phone, shaking.  He could kick himself for ever getting involved with her.

He went to the window and looked out, his forehead pressing against the glass.  It was then in a moment of sheer desperation, that he mouthed a silent prayer, his eyes squeezed shut.

“Noel?” a timid voice called behind him.

Swinging around, he found himself staring at Rebecca.  For a moment, he thought it was a figment of his imagination.  Had God answered his prayer that quickly?  In a flash, he was across the room and pulling her roughly in his arms.  “Oh, Rebecca,” he moaned.  “Where have you been?  Have you any idea of the torment you’ve put me through?”  He drew back to stare down into her face.  She had been crying.  Her eyes were red and swollen.  Even now, tears were glistening in them.

“I’m-I’m sorry,” she cried.  “I didn’t mean to worry you but I was so upset this afternoon.  I had just come home from the library when I heard the doorbell.  It was a woman I’d never seen before.  She asked for you and when I asked her who she was, she told me that the two of you had been seeing each other.  I didn’t want to believe her and told her that she was lying.  She showed me a photo of the two of you and I realized that she was telling the truth.  I got so jealous and upset that after she left, I left too.  I couldn’t stay here.  I had to get out and go somewhere–anywhere.

“I went to Daddy’s grave and stayed for a long time, telling him about you and how much it hurt that you were with someone else.  On the day after my eighteenth birthday, I told him that I was in love with you and that I’d loved you since I was eight.  That day when I first saw you, I thought that you were the tallest and handsomest man I’d ever seen.   And you were so kind to me.  Next to my father, you were the only other person I really and truly loved.   I love my mother but I didn’t know her.

“Anyway, I told my father things that I never told another soul.  I know he can’t hear me but it helps to talk about things whenever I visit his grave.  I imagine that he’s listening.  This afternoon being at his grave didn’t help so I left there and went to the park you used to take me to when I was a child.  I sat in the same bench we used to sit on and I wished that you were there so that I could yell at you, let you see how much I was hurting inside.

“After I left the park, I just wandered all over the place, trying to forget about you and her but I couldn’t get the photo out of my mind.  You had your arm around her shoulders and you were smiling.  You looked happy…” her voice broke and a sob rose from her throat.  Tears fell afresh down her cheeks and she tried to push him away.

He caught her hands and held her immobile, his own emotions evident on his face.  “She doesn’t make me happy,” he told her thickly.  “You do.  My life wasn’t complete until you came into it, Rebecca.  You filled it with so much joy.  The moment I met you, my heart belonged to you.  I loved you as a father loves his beloved child but when you grew up, that love changed.  It turned into the love a man has for a woman.  What I’m trying to say, Rebecca, is that I love you and I want to spend the rest of my life with you–not as your guardian but as your husband.”

She blinked at him.  “You want to marry me?” she asked.

He nodded.  “Yes.”

“Oh, Noel,” she cried, her heart in her eyes which were sparkling now.  She reached up and kissed him on the mouth.

Groaning, he released her hands and cupped her face between his hands as he kissed her passionately, letting go of all the pent up feelings he had kept bottled up inside for so long.  For several minutes, they exchanged hungry kisses and then, he raised his head to gaze down at her, his face flushed and his eyes dark with desire.  “I won’t make love to you now although I want to very badly,” he muttered, breathing heavily.  “I want us to wait until we are married.”

Disappointment clouded her face.  She was on fire and ached for him.  “I don’t know if I can wait,” she admitted, trying to catch her breath.

“We’ve waited for four years, so six months wouldn’t hurt–”

Six months,” she exclaimed.  “That’s too long.”

“That’s when you turn twenty-two,” he reminded her.

“I can’t wait until then.”

“What about three months?”

“Two weeks.”

“A month.”

“What about three weeks?”

He smiled.  “All right, three weeks, it is.”

She smiled because they had reached a compromise.  In three weeks, she was going to marry the man she had loved for most of her life.  “I love you, Noel,” she whispered.

“I love you too, Rebecca,” he replied before he lowered his head and kissed her.

Three weeks later, as they faced each other at the altar in front of their friends and his family, he smiled as he imagined Clyde saying to him, “I got my wish, Noel.  My girl is marrying a good man.”

A New Relationship

Paulette walked into Antonio’s office to place some files on his desk.  He wasn’t there.  It was half-past eight.  He usually got in around eight forty-five.  She went over to the windows and looked out at the bustling city below.  Five years ago, fresh out of university, she had stood there on the sidewalk staring up at this very building, nervous and excited about starting her first day here.  It was hard to believe that so much time had passed.  She loved working at the company but she knew that the main reason was Antonio why she looked forward to going into the office every weekday.

She didn’t kid herself that he would show any interest in her other than professional because of their age difference.  At the age of thirty-nine, he was twelve years older than her.  She wanted him to see her as a woman—a woman who loved him so much it ached.  Until she met him, she had no clue of what it meant to be in love.

When her friends talked about falling in love, she couldn’t relate because it hadn’t happened for her.  She envied them, though, wondering what it would be like to experience what they were experiencing.  And then, she met Antonio and it was then that she realized that love at first sight wasn’t a myth.  She knew that she loved him the first time she saw him.  It was a surreal experience. Everything seemed to be at a standstill and it felt as if they were the only two people in the world.  Everything else faded in the background and all she could see was him, coming toward her, his hand extended and an incredible smile on his face.

And that deep, sexy voice of his and the way he said her name still made her shiver.  She could almost hear it now and then she started when she realized that he had walked into his office and was standing beside her at the window.  Feeling embarrassed, she turned toward him, hugging the files which she was supposed to have left on his desk.  “I’m sorry,” she apologized.  “I-I didn’t hear you come in.”

He looked so good in his navy blue suit, black shirt and matching tie.  His thick dark hair glistened damply in the light and she caught a whiff of his aftershave.  Yes, he looked and smelled good…She realized she was staring and looked away.

“Something out there really got your attention,” he said as he walked over to his desk.  “I was calling you but you didn’t hear me.”

“I was just watching the people below and thinking about when I first joined this company.  I can’t believe it has been five years.”

“Yes, you’ve been with us for that length of time.  I hope you still like working here.”

“I do, very much.”  I can’t imagine being anywhere else.  Working with you is sheer bliss. She realized that she was staring again and that she really ought to be getting back to her desk.

Walking over to his desk, she set the files down.  She could feel him watching her and raised her head to look at him.  Her heart skipped a beat when she saw his gaze leave her face and travel over her before returning to her face.  She hoped she looked fine in the light grey long sleeved top, black pencil skirt and black knee high boots.  “I’d-I’d better get to back to my desk.”

“Are you going to Rita’s Christmas dinner?” he asked as she was about to turn away.

Rita was a retiree who used to at the firm.  She retired two years after Paulette starting working there.  Paulette was sorry to see her go but they kept in touch.  She was like a mother to her.  This year she was having a dinner and dance party at a banquet hall in London.  Paulette had received her invitation in the mail a week ago and had started shopping around for a dress to wear.  She wanted to wow Antonio, if he was going. “Yes, I’m going.  Are you?”

“Yes, I am.”

She wondered if he was taking anyone.  It would ruin her night to see him with another woman.

“Are you going with anyone?” he asked, glancing up from the papers he had been going through.

She shook her head.  “No.”

“Why don’t we go together?” he suggested much to her surprise.

“Together?” she repeated.  The thought of going with him thrilled and made her nervous at the same time.  It would be the first time that they would be seeing each other outside of the office.  What were they going to talk about on the ride over to Rita’s place?  Would there be an awkward silence?  She heard herself say, “Sure.  That’s a great idea.”  No chance of him showing up with someone else.  Tomorrow evening she was going to dazzle him.

“Good.  I’ll pick you up at seven.”  He returned to sorting through the papers which was her cue that she should get to work.  She turned and walked quickly out of his office, her heart pounding with excitement.  She couldn’t wait for tomorrow to come.

The day went by very quickly and it was like a blur for her.  All she could think about was seeing Antonio tomorrow.  She imagined them staring at each other across the table and slow-dancing afterwards.  Oh, stop daydreaming and concentrate on your work, she chided herself.  It was hard concentrating but she forced herself to do it and in no time it was the end of the work day.  She cleared her desk, turned off her computer, locked her drawers and stood up to pull on her scarf and coat.  After turning off the lamp on her desk, she grabbed her handbag and walked over to Antonio’s office to say goodbye.

He was typing something and stopped when she poked her head in.  “Goodnight.”

“Goodnight.  See you tomorrow.”

She smiled as she walked to the lift.  Yes, I don’t have to wait until Monday to see you.  When she got home, she took out the dress she was going to wear.  It was perfect.  When she tried it on and examined herself in the mirror, it looked great on her.  The champagne color suited her complexion and the style of the dress flattered her figure.  She didn’t bother trying on any other dresses.  This was the one.  She hung it carefully back in her wardrobe and slid the doors shut.

After fixing herself a sandwich and salad, she sat down and ate while watching the news on TV.  She decided to turn in early although she knew that it would be a while before she fell asleep because she was so excited about tomorrow.  It was around mid-night when she finally drifted off, a smile on her face.

Saturday came and she spent the day, cleaning the flat, doing laundry and grocery shopping.  Then, it was time to get ready for the dinner/dance.  Excitement filled her as she got dressed.  For a few minutes she looked at herself in the mirror before she left her room.  She had just put on her coat and grabbed her clutch purse when the doorbell rang promptly at seven.  Immediately, her heart began to beat fast and she felt a little nervous as she opened the door.

Antonio smiled.  “Good evening,” he said.  His eyes lingered on her face before shifting to her hair which was in an updo with a few tendrils framing her face.  She saw what looked like admiration flicker in them.  She couldn’t wait to see his reaction when he saw her dress.

“Good evening.”  She stepped out into the passageway, closing the door behind and turned to lock it.  She turned and saw that he was still watching her and she smiled.  This was going to be a very exciting evening.  They walked to the lift and as they rode down in the lift, they exchanged glances but didn’t say anything.  It was a bit cold when they got outside but she soon felt warm in his car as they drove off.  Smooth jazz filled the car.

“How come you don’t have a boyfriend?” he asked suddenly, startling her.

“I don’t know.  My mother has asked me the same thing.”

“Speaking of family, are you an only child or do you have siblings?”

“I’m the younger of two daughters.  My older sister, Pam is married and has three children.  She was with my mother when she took in ill.  I was away on a trip at the time and had to fly back immediately.”

“What happened?”

“This was a few years ago—during my senior year at university.  My mother suddenly collapsed and had to be rushed to the hospital.  We weren’t sure that she was going to make it but her pastor encouraged us to pray for her and she made what could only be called a miraculous recovery.”

He glanced at her.  “I’m happy to hear that your mother recovered.  Are the two of you close?”

“Growing up, I was closer to my father but after he died, my mother and I became close.  Almost losing her has made me cherish every moment I have with her now.”

“Yes, family is very important.  Both of my parents are dead but I have two brothers and a sister.  They are all back in Italy.  I try to visit them when I can.”

They talked more about his family and why he left Naples to come to London, especially since he had many fond memories of growing up there.  She laughed as he imitated his father who was very strict and his mother who was always complaining about something or the other.  He still missed them although they had died over ten years ago.  His father died of a heart attack and his mother was devastated.  She couldn’t survive without him and died the following year.  “I have a photo of them in my wallet,” he told her.  “It was taken the year before Dad died.”

Paulette stared at him, touched that he carried a photo of his parents in his wallet.  She didn’t say anything.  She didn’t know what to say and they had reached the banquet hall.  He parked the car, got out and walked around to open the door for her.  As they walked to the entrance, she felt the nervous excitement rising in her.  They went to the coat room to check in their coats.  With trembling fingers, she unbuttoned hers and removed it.  After she handed it to the girl there, she turned and looked at Antonio who was staring at her.  She saw his gaze travel slowly over her– the beaded bodice, the plain long skirt with the side slit which reveal her leg as she stood there.  He looked amazing in the black dinner suit and as he walked over to her, she felt her mouth go dry when she saw the expression on his face.

“You look amazing,” he said quietly, his eyes meeting hers.

“So do you,” she said, sounding a little breathless.

They stood there staring at each other and then he extended his arm.  She took it and they walked to the hall where they heard voices and laughter.  Rita was at the entrance greeting everyone.  She was delighted to see them.  “You look handsome as usual,” she said to Antonio before hugging him.  Then, she turned to Paulette, her eyes widening.  “And you, my Dear, you look absolutely stunning.  That dress was made for you.”  They hugged.  “I think Antonio agrees with me,” she said in a low voice so that he couldn’t hear.  “He can’t stop staring at you.” She drew back and addressed them both.  “It’s great to see you both.  You’re both sitting at my table but not next to each other.  I hope you don’t mind.”

They both assured her that they didn’t mind although Paulette was disappointed but it turned out that he was sitting directly opposite her.  She was seated next to Rita’s grandson while Antonio was sitting next to Marissa, a co-worker.

Every now and then, when Paulette looked over at Antonio she found him staring at her.  She wished it were just the two of them having a romantic, candlelight dinner with soft R&B music playing in the background.  Rita’s grandson, Mark was talking to her and she tried to be attentive but she couldn’t help being distracted.  When dinner was over, she excused herself and went to the bathroom to freshen up.  When she returned, people were dancing and Mark asked her to dance.  She was about to open her mouth to turn him down when, she felt a hand on her arm and turned to find herself staring up at Antonio.  “I believe you owe me this dance?” he said.

Heart thudding, she allowed him to escort her to the dancefloor.  He turned after finding a spot and his hand found the small of her back as they moved to the music.  It was a slow number, one of her favorite songs.  She couldn’t imagine dancing it with anyone else.  She put her arm round his shoulder and just allowed her body to follow his lead.  It felt so good being in his arms.  She felt like Eliza Doolittle, wishing she could dance with him all night.

They danced until the slow music ended and faster music replaced it.  The rest of the night was spent at the table talking and having non-alcoholic drinks.  When it was time to go, she had mixed feelings.  She was beginning to feel a little tired and wanted to go home but it meant that her evening out with Antonio was over.  Rita hugged them and wished them a Merry Christmas.  She hoped to see them again soon.

It had gotten colder so Paulette was huddled in her coat as she followed Antonio across the parking lot to where his car was parked.  She was thankful when she climbed in and sank down against the soft leather.  The car was soon suffused with warm air.  On the drive home, they talked about the dinner party and both agreed that they it was a success.  She planned on calling Rita tomorrow to thank her for a wonderful evening.

Twenty minutes later, they were standing outside of her flat.  She had unlocked the door and stood on the threshold, facing him.  The place was quiet because it was near one in the morning.

“Goodnight,” he said softly.

“Goodnight,” she replied, wishing he would stay.  They stared at each other and then she was in his arms and he was kissing her.

She threw her arms around his neck and they tightened as she kissed him back passionately for several minutes.  Then, she broke off the kiss, grabbed his hand and pulled him inside the flat, closing the door behind them.  She fumbled with the lock before turning to face him, her eyes feverish as they met his.  She reached for him and felt his arms encompass her waist, pressing her into him as she pulled his head down to hers, her fingers gripping his hair.  He was kissing her like a mad man, unable to contain himself.  They stood there kissing for a long time and then they released each other long enough to remove their coats and discard them on the floor.  She kicked off her shoes while he removed his.

“I want us to start seeing each other outside of the office,” he muttered thickly as he removed his dinner jacket and tossed it on the floor.  His tie soon followed.

She nodded.  “Yes,” she gasped when he scooped her up and strode through the living-room.  “Third door on the left.”

That was the beginning of their new relationship.

 

Bundles of Joy

For with God nothing will be impossible – Luke 1:37

As she sat by the window, looking out, she recalled those turbulent years when Mark and she were trying in vain to have children.  They have been married for twelve years.  They met through a mutual friend and it was love at first sight.  They dated for a year and the following year they got engaged.  It was a small Spring wedding and after returning from their honeymoon in Montego Bay, they decided that they would buy a town house at Bayview Village.

After settling into their new home and adjusting to married life, they decided that it was time to try having a child.  She was late twenties when they got married and was hoping to have at least two children before she turned thirty.  A teacher at a Christian daycare, she loved children and longed for the day when she would have her own.  She knew that Mark would be a wonderful father.  She had seen him with his nieces and nephews.  They adored him.  Her friends were having children so she attended many baby showers.  As she had shopped for onesies and other gifts for their babies, she dreamed of one day buying for her own children.

Her heart yearned to hold her own baby when she held her friends’ babies.  At first, she was excited as she and Mark tried to conceive but as time went by and she wasn’t able to get pregnant, hope turned to despair.  Her faith began to waver and she questioned why God would deny Mark and her children.  Mark was her rock during those tough times, encouraging her not to give up and that God had a plan.

At night when he was asleep, she would lie awake and think about other women who had trouble conceiving.  She thought of Sarah, Hannah and Elizabeth who were barren but were blessed with sons.  Was it possible for the same thing to happen to her?  As she lay there one night, she was impressed to pray as Hannah did.  Sliding quietly out of the bed so as not to disturb Mark, she knelt at the side of the bed and prayed.

Like Hannah, she poured her heart out.  She ended the prayer by saying, “Lord, I know that nothing is impossible for you.  Thank you for hearing my prayer and for answering it.”  A peace that she had never felt before came over her and she climbed back into bed, believing that God had finally come through for her.

She was in very high spirits after that and waited patiently for God to do His part.  When she missed her period, she went to the drugstore and bought a home pregnancy test.  While Mark waited anxiously in the living-room, she went into the bathroom and took it.  Minutes, later, she emerged.  She showed him the results and he hugged her.   She made an appointment with their doctor who was happy to give her tests just to make sure.  And when the results confirmed that she was pregnant, she couldn’t prevent the tears of joy from falling.  She raised her eyes heavenward and gave thanks to God.

That night, Mark and she hugged and held each other for a while.  They were finally going to be parents.  Family, friends and church members were delighted for them and the next baby shower she attended was her own.  At the age of forty, exactly ten years after she had planned to have children, she gave birth to twins–a boy and a girl.  They named the boy, Jaden (Jehovah has heard) and the girl, Eliana (My God has answered).

And as she held the girl and Mark held the boy, she mouthed the words, “I love you.”

“I love you too,” he said, before he leaned over and kissed her.

 

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 Cafeteria

He was always having lunch by himself every time she went to the cafeteria.  She would pass his table and he would look up.   Their eyes would meet and then she would smile.  He smiled back and she continued walking until she reached the table where she usually sat with Angie, her co-worker.

On day, Angie wasn’t there, so she was sitting at the table alone.   She was about to tuck into the Fettuccine with Spinach, Ricotta, and Grilled Eggplant when she heard someone ask, “May I join you?”

She looked up and her heart leapt when she saw that it was him.  Up close, he really was very attractive.  He had beautiful eyes and a pleasant face.  “Sure,” she said.

He pulled out the chair opposite her and sat down.  “That looks really good,” he said, looking at her plate.

She nodded.  “Yes, it does.  I couldn’t decide between it and the BBQ Chicken Salad.”  He was having the Greek Yogurt Chicken Salad Sandwich which looked very appetizing.  She made a mental note to try it the next time it was on the menu.

“How long have you been working at the company?” he asked.

“For a year and a half.”

“Really?” He sounded surprised.  “How come I haven’t seen you before?”

“It’s only recently that I started coming to the cafeteria to have lunch.  I eat at my desk until my co-worker encouraged me to have it here instead.”

He smiled.  “You must thank your co-worker for me,” he said.  “I wouldn’t be having lunch with you now if it weren’t for him or her.”

“Her.  What about you?  How long have you been working here?”

“About five years.”

“Which department are you from?”

“Engineering.  And you?”

“Marketing.”

“What’s your name?”

“Samantha.  My friends call me Sam.”

“Graham.  May I ask you a question?”

“Sure.”

“Are you seeing someone?”

She shook her head.  “No.”

“I’m not seeing anyone either.”

The rest of their time together went pleasantly now that they were each aware that the other was not already in a relationship.  He asked her questions about herself and she learned that he was the fourth of six children.  His mother was Argentinian and his father was British.  He still had relatives in Italy and visited them every year in the summer.  He used to play soccer but stopped when he turned thirty.  In his spare time he liked to watch sports, especially English football or going for long walks or spending time with his family or playing video games with his nephews. They shared the same birthday in November and love for classical movies, art, food and travel.

Then it was time to go back to work.  “Will you have lunch again with me tomorrow?” he asked as they cleared the table.

She nodded.  “Yes.  I’ll be here at the usual time.”

He walked with her to the elevator.  “It was really nice meeting you, Sam.”

“It was really nice meeting you too, Graham.”

The doors to the elevator opened and she stepped in.

“See you tomorrow,” he said.

“See you tomorrow.”  The doors closed and she was on her way back to her cubicle.

Suffice to say, she couldn’t wait for the following day to come.  This time she was there before him.  “Sorry,” he apologized.  “I had a meeting at eleven.  I rushed out of there as soon as it was over.”

“I got here a couple of minutes ago,” she told him.  They went to buy lunch and sat at his table which was in a better area.  She had a salad and a chicken burger while he had soup.  They talked about all sorts of things.  At one point he made her laugh so hard that tears came to her eyes.  She thoroughly enjoyed his company.

They met for lunch every day that week and the subsequent weeks.  When her Angie returned from vacation, Samantha told her that she was having lunch with someone else.  Angie was thrilled for her.  “I know him and he’s a really nice guy.”

One day at lunch, he asked her, “Do you like dancing?”

She nodded.  “I love it.”

“I’d like to take you out for dinner and dancing on Saturday.”

“I would like that very much,” she told him, her eyes bright with excitement.  Finally, they were going to see each other outside of the cafeteria.

“Good,” he said smiling.  And they continued talking and eating until it was time to go back to work.

On Friday, she gave him her address and phone number.  That night she sorted out what she was going to wear and then turned in early.  Saturday came, bright and sunny and she got up, her thoughts immediately falling on Graham.  She wondered if he was as excited about tonight as she was.  She couldn’t wait for seven o’clock to come and when it did, she was ready and waiting.

When she opened the door and saw him standing there, she couldn’t help but exclaim, “You look amazing.”  He did in the black silk dress shirt and black dress pants, no tie or jacket.  The top button of the shirt was undone, exposing his throat and the area just above where his chest hairs would begin.  He looked sexy.

He smiled and allowed his eyes to travel slowly over her.  The red cap sleeved dress fitted her nicely and flattered her coloring.  The elegant black dance shoes with the low heels completed the outfit.  His gaze lingered on her legs before they returned to her face.  “You look beautiful,” he said, looking serious now.  “I wouldn’t be able to take my eyes off you.”

She laughed.  “That’s the idea,” she told him before locking the door behind her.  As they walked down the hallway, she could feel him staring at her.  When they were in the lift, she looked at him and her heart began to pound when she saw the expression on his face.  He moved closer to where she was, his eyes lowering to her lips which had parted and for one heart stopping moment she thought that he was going to kiss her but just then the doors opened.   She preceded him out of the lift on trembling legs.

It was a warm evening.  The sun was going to set in about an hour.  His car was parked on the street.  He held the door open for her to climb in before he walked round to the driver’s side and got in.  And off they went to restaurant where they served up good food and salsa for those who loved to dance.  She had the Chicken Escalope while he opted for the Chimichurri Half Chicken.  She ordered a virgin Pena Colada and he had Sangria made with pomegranate juice instead of wine.  Like her, he didn’t drink alcohol.  They talked as they ate and afterwards, they went downstairs to the nightclub where the music was pumping.  Samantha was ready to let loose.  After they secured a table, they went on to the dance floor.

Graham took her hand and twirled her around, their bodies moving to the pulsating Latin beat.  He was a terrific dancer and made it easy for her to follow him.  She watched his hips, their movement almost hypnotic and moved hers to match them.  They danced for a while until she needed to take a break.  While she sat down at the table to catch her breath he went to the bar and ordered two virgin Chi Chi drinks.

As they nursed their drinks, they watched other people dance.  Then, they danced a couple more songs before calling it a night.  It was near two in the morning when he took her home.  It had been ages since she had stayed out so late and it was obvious.  At the door, when they said goodnight, he leaned over and kissed her on the cheek.  She closed her eyes as the feel of his warm lips against her skin awoke all sorts of sensations.  When he drew back, his eyes were dark.  “Good night, Sam,” he said quietly.

“Goodnight, Graham.”  She watched him walk away and then went inside, leaning against the door after she locked it.  It had been a lovely evening, one she would always remember.

The next day, he called her and they spoke on the phone for hours before he rang off.  She busied herself with housework, laundry, cooking and getting ready for work the following day.  That night, she lay in bed, thinking about him and their night together.  She couldn’t wait to see him tomorrow.

As soon as the time display on her monitor read 12:00, she got up from her desk and rushed down to the cafeteria.  He was already there.  “Hello,” he said when she joined him.

“Hello,” she said.

They went and bought their lunches and then sat down.  “I wrote you a poem,” he said, pushing a neatly folded piece of paper across the table toward her.  “Please don’t read it now.  I shall be very embarrassed if you do.”

She smiled and put it in her handbag.  “I look forward to reading it.”

They talked about their evening at the restaurant and made plans to go out again.

As soon as she got home, she took the note out of her bag and eagerly unfolded it.  She didn’t get past the first couple of lines before she began to cry.

Into my boring life you came,

your beautiful smile and face I see.

My world will never the same

because of the joy you bring me.

 

There’s not a day that goes by

when I don’t think about you

which lifts my spirit up high

fills my heart with love anew.

 

Words alone cannot express

what I feel for you in my heart

They fill my thoughts to excess

but are difficult for me to impart.

 

I have written a poem to tell you

how much you mean to me

I hope that in time you too

Will see that we are meant to be.

 

She read it over and over, the page becoming a blur as the tears ran down her cheeks then she folded it and held it against her chest.  I have to see him now, she thought.  I have to let him know that I read this and that I love him too.  Brushing aside the tears, she rushed over to the phone and called for a taxi.  After hanging up, she hurried into the bathroom, hurriedly got undressed and took a quick shower.  She dragged on a shirt and pair of jeans.  After putting the poem in her handbag, she left the flat and went downstairs to wait for the taxi.

On the way over to Graham’s flat, she read the poem again and when the tears threatened to fall again, she put it back in her handbag.  After paying the taxi driver, she ran up the steps and pushed open the doors, anxious to get to him.  Thankfully, there was no one else in the lift so she went straight up to his floor.  She rang the bell and waited, her heart racing.  The door opened and Graham stood there, staring at her in surprise.

“Hello,” he said.  “What a lovely surprise.”

“I had to see you,” she said in a choked voice.

He stepped aside for her to go in and closed the door.  When he turned to face her, she was crying again and he became alarmed.  “What’s the matter?” he asked.

She took out the poem and showed it to him.  “I read this,” she said.  “It’s so beautiful.”

“I didn’t mean for it to upset you,” he said, looking troubled.

“I’m not upset,” she told him as she put the poem back in her bag and pulled out a tissue to wipe her eyes.  “I came over here to tell you that I read it and that I love you too.”

Graham’s eyes darkened and he moved closer to her.  “You love me?”

“Yes, I do.”  She dropped her handbag on the floor and went up to him.  Reaching up, she pulled his head down to hers.

He groaned against her lips and his arms went round her waist, pulling her tightly against him as he kissed her back.   They stood there for a long time, hungrily exchanging kisses.  Then, he raised his head to gaze down into her upturned face.  “I love you, Sam,” he said huskily.  “I think I loved you the first time I saw you.  When you smiled at me my heart stopped.”

“I have to remember to thank Angie for encouraging me to have lunch in the cafeteria.  It changed my life.”

“And mine,” he rejoined before kissing her again.

 

 

 

Source:  Bar Salsa