The Age Difference

He traced his fingers over the heart with the initials TB + CH.  Eight years ago, he had carved them there.  Toby Barrington and Celeste Holmes.  Celeste.  Sighing heavily, he leaned against the tree as he recalled the first time they met.  It was eight years ago, just before the summer holidays began.

instead of going straight home, after leaving the college campus, he went to his mother’s office but she wasn’t there.  Instead, a woman he didn’t recognize was at the desk, sorting papers with her back to the door.  He stood there for a moment watching her.  Her hair was cropped short like a boy’s but when she turned around, her figure in the white blouse and pencil skirt was anything but boyish.  She smiled and walked over to him.  “You must be Toby,” she said, extending her hand.

He stared at her.  She had the most exquisite face he had ever seen.  She looked to be in her mid to late twenties.  Swallowing hard, he took her hand which felt small and soft in his.  “Yes,” he managed to say.

“I’m Celeste, your mother’s new assistant.  She told me that she was expecting you.  Please come in and have a seat over there by her desk.  She’s in a meeting right now but should be here shortly.”

He went over to the desk and put his knapsack on the floor beside the chair.  He didn’t sit but remained standing, watching her.  She finished the task she was doing before he interrupted and when she was done, she turned to face him.  “Would you like me to get you anything?” she asked.

He shook his head.  “No, thank you.”

“All right.  If you change you need anything, just stop by my desk.  It’s nice meeting you.  I have heard so much about you.”

“It’s nice meeting you too.”  He wondered if his face was red.  It felt hot.  He knew he was staring but he couldn’t help it.

“Excuse me,” she said with a smile and quickly walked away.  He watched her until she disappeared.

He sat down on the chair and as he waited for his mother, he thought about Celeste.  When his mother finally joined him, apologizing profusely for keeping him waiting he nodded abstractedly, wondering when he was going to see Celeste again.  “Mother, do you mind if I were to pop by here again tomorrow?” he asked.

“Not at all, Dear.”

After the following day, he found excuses to stop by the office just so he could see Celeste until one day, his mother said to him, “Since you seem to like coming by the office so often, how would you like to work here for the summer?”

His face brightened.  “I would like that very much,” he assured her.  What a stroke of luck.  He was going to see Celeste all summer.  He was to start on the following week.   When he arrived bright and early on his first day on the job, it was Celeste who walked him through what his responsibilities were.  She was to be his supervisor which pleased him tremendously.

For the first couple of days, she sat with him and then, he was faring well on his own but it thrilled him whenever she stopped by to check his progress.  As she leaned over him to check something on his computer screen, he caught a whiff of her perfume and he turned his head slightly so that he could look at her.  After a while it was becoming increasingly hard being around her because his feelings for her were growing stronger.   He knew she didn’t have a boyfriend because his mother had divulged that information in passing.

One afternoon they were alone in the kitchenette.  She was rinsing her coffee mug and he was refilling his water bottle.  She looked incredible in the blue top with the V neck, revealing her long, slender neck and the tan skirt.  His gaze lingered on her shapely calves before returning to her face.  He blushed when he caught her looking at him.  It was not the first time that she had espied him staring at her.  She didn’t seem to mind, though.  He was sure that she must be used to men admiring her.

She leaned against the counter, studying him and making him very nervous.  “How old are you?” she asked.

“Eighteen.”

“Do you have a girlfriend?”

He shook his head.  “No.”

“What about the girls at college?”

“I’m not interested in any of them,” he said.  I am interested in you.

She seemed to be pondering something for a moment and then, she said, “I have a cousin about your age and—”

His expression darkened.  “I don’t want to go out with your cousin,” he told her curtly.  “I—I want to go out with you.”

That startled her and for a few minutes, she seemed at a loss for words.  “You’re too young for me,” she said finally.

That stung.  “I may be young but I’m very mature for my age,” he said.

“Yes, you are very mature for your age, but it doesn’t change the fact that you’re eighteen and I’m—I’m nine years older than you.  Besides, your mother would not approve.”

“She doesn’t have to know.  We can see each other on the quiet until—until I’m at least twenty-one.”

She shook her head.  “No.  I can’t do it, Toby.  You should be with a girl your age.”

He opened his mouth to protest but she excused herself and walked away, leaving him feeling like he had been kicked in the stomach.  After that painful rejection, she avoided being alone with him.  And when his summer job was over, they hardly saw each other, except on occasions when his mother invited her over for tea or to work on some project.  And they didn’t say much to each other, except exchange pleasantries.  For eight years, he pined for her, longing for the day when she would give him a chance.

He roused himself from his reverie and moved away from the tree.  He didn’t come out here to dwell on the past or wish for something that may never happen.  It was a beautiful day but very hot.  When it was this hot, he always went for a swim in the lake.  He turned to look at the water as it shimmered in the sun, seeming to beckon to him.

Without any hesitation, he stripped down to his underwear and ran down to the water, wading in until it was up to his waist.  It felt nice and cool on his skin.   He swam to the other side of the lake and climbed on to the embankment.  He lay on his back in the shade with his arms folded behind his head.  He could stay out here all afternoon.

Unaware that he was being observed so when he turned to swim back to the grassy slope opposite, he started when he emerged and saw Celeste standing by the tree where his clothes lay.  His face grew crimson at the thought of climbing out, dripping wet, clad only in his underwear in front of her.  He wouldn’t be able to hide his attraction for her.

Her eyes travelled over his bare shoulders and torso before she turned away, her heart racing.  He went over to where his jeans lay and quickly pulled them on.  His shirt soon followed and after he buttoned it, he went and stood in front of her, his eyes riveted on her averted face.  “Why are you here, Celeste?” he asked.

“Your mother invited me to tea and to update me on all that happened while I was away,” she said, avoiding his searching gaze.  She couldn’t stop thinking about the way he looked when he came out of the water, dripping and the passions it evoked in her.

“I meant out here.”

“I-I wanted to give you this,” she said, showing him a beautiful wooden carved giraffe.  “I brought it back from Kenya for you.  Your mother told me that you were out here.  I—I didn’t know that you would be swimming.”

He took the souvenir from her, his fingers brushing against hers, sending a jolt of electricity through his body.  His eyes flew up to her face and found her watching him.  The expression on her face made his heart somersault.  What he saw in her eyes made him drop the giraffe and pull her roughly into his arms, making her gasp.  He kissed her hungrily, feverishly as the years of pent up emotions were released and groaned when he felt her cling to him as she responded wildly to his kisses.

She felt the rough bark of the tree pressing into her back and her head was tilted far back under the onslaught of his lips as he relentlessly plundered hers.  Her fingers gripped his hair, digging into the scalp as the emotions she had denied for so long raged in her like a fire.

This continued for a while and then, he raised his head, his breathing harsh and unsteady.  He gazed down into her face, his eyes dark and stormy.  “I love you,” he muttered thickly.  “I have loved you for eight long and agonizing years.”

She tried to catch her breath.  “I love you too,” she gasped.  “All the time I was in Kenya, I thought about you and wished that you were there with me.  I missed you so much, Toby.  I had to come by today and see you.  When I asked your mother where you were I was afraid that she would tell me that you were out with some girl.  She knows that I love you.  I couldn’t hide it from her and she wasn’t upset or anything.  Instead she told me where to find you and I ran down here to see you.”

He reached up and cupped her face between his hands.  “Does this mean that you will go out with me?” he asked huskily.

“Yes,” she whispered.  “As they say, when you truly love someone, age doesn’t matter whether it’s a difference of two years, fifteen years or in our case, nine years. Love is love…” her voice trailed off as she felt his lips against hers.

 

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Getting Away

He had just walked out of the synagogue when he saw them.  Arrested, he stood there watching Brittney with her ex-boyfriend, Andre, his heart breaking.  Burning jealousy swept through him.  They were standing a few yards away but she didn’t see him.

His sister, Anna joined him, saw his face and followed his gaze to where the couple stood talking.  Then, she looked back at him, concerned.  “Who is she?” she asked.

It took a moment for him to speak because he was so upset.  “Brittney.”

“Is she a friend of yours?”

“Yes.”  He turned away, unable to watch them any longer.  He started walk away and Anna followed him.

“Are you in love with her?”

“Yes.”

“Does she know how you feel?”

“No.”

“Are you going to tell her?”

“What’s the point?” he snapped.  “She doesn’t feel the same way.”

“How do you know that?”

“We just saw her with Andre, her ex.  It’s clear that she hasn’t gotten over him and I was a fool to believe that she had.”

“Oh, Paul, I’m so sorry.  What are you going to do?”

“I don’t know.  I need time to think.”

“Why don’t you go to Paris for a few days?  You haven’t taken a vacation in ages.  You’re long overdue for one.”

He glanced down at her.  “You’re right,” he said.  “I need to get away and try to figure out what I’m going to do.  If I stay here in London, I will be tempted to go to her and I can’t bear to see her right now.  It hurts too much.”  A muscle began to throb along his jawline and he quickly turned away.

Anna reached for his hand and held it tightly.  It hurt to see her brother like this.  He was a brilliant businessman but when it came to matters of the heart, he lacked good judgment.  This wasn’t the first time a woman broke his heart but it seemed that he fell really hard for this one.  Hopefully, he would get over her as soon as possible.  He deserved better.  The trip to Paris would do him good.  She went back to his flat with him and while he changed, she got his lunch ready.  She had just put a plate of food she had prepared yesterday and brought on the table for him when the phone rang.

“Do you mind answering that for me?” he called from the bedroom.

“Hello?” she listened for a moment.  “No, you have the right number.  This is Anna speaking.  Hold one moment, please.”  She placed her hand over the mouthpiece.  “It’s Brittney,” she said when he came into the living-room.

He shook his head, indicating that he didn’t want to talk to her.

“I’m afraid he’s not available at the moment.  Perhaps he will call you back later.  Goodbye.”  She replaced the receiver into the cradle and turned to look at him.  “Are you sure you don’t want to talk to her?”

He shook his head.  “I can’t right now.  I need to clear my head first.  I’ll call her when I come back from Paris.”

“All right.  Do you need me for anything?”

He smiled.  “No, Anna.  I’ll be fine.  You should go home to Peter and the kids.  I will call you tomorrow when I check into the hotel.”

She hugged him tightly.  “I love you,” she said drawing back to look up at him.

“I love you too.  And thanks for the food.”  He followed her to the door and they said goodbye.  He shut the door and leaned against it for a moment.  Why did Brittney call him? Was it to tell him that she was back with Andre.  He closed his eyes in despair.  It would kill him if she was.

Brittney stared at the phone, her mind swirling with all sorts of thoughts and questions.  A woman named Anna had answered Paul’s phone.  Who was she?  Red, hot jealousy surged through her and she was tempted to go over to his place right now and find out.  Then, she remembered that he had a sister and her name was Anna.  Relief washed over her.  Paul wasn’t seeing another woman.  But why hadn’t he come to the phone?  She looked at the clock above the mantelpiece, debating whether she should call again or wait for him to call.  It was after seven.  She decided that she would let him call her.  In the meantime, she fixed herself a light dinner and ate it in front of the television.

When ten o’clock came and she still hadn’t heard from him, she began to worry.  It wasn’t like him not to call.  It was too late for her to call him.  She would have to wait until the morning to do so.  Disappointed, she turned off the television and went to bed.

The next morning, she got up, showered, dressed and had breakfast.  After she was done, she hurried to the phone and called Paul but there was no answer.  When the machine came on, she left a message.  She went to church and as soon as she got home, she called but still no answer.  She tried his cell but it was turned off.  She tried all day calling both his home number and his cell until finally, in the evening, she decided to go over to his flat.  She rang the bell and knocked but it was clear that Paul wasn’t there.  Where could he be?  After standing there for a while, she left.  She was worried and had a restless night.

The next morning, she called him but got the same results.  She got ready for work.  On her way to the office, she called his cell but it was still turned off.  Intermittently, throughout the day, she tried to reach him but to no avail and by the time the workday was over, she was very anxious.  Why wasn’t he answering his phone and why hadn’t he called her back? When she got home, she decided that she would call his sister.  She took out the phone directory and searched for her name. She remembered that Paul said that she lived in South Kensington, twenty minutes from where he lived and that she was married to Peter Goldstein, the reporter from the Times.  She searched under Goldstein and found the number.

A woman answered and she recognized her voice.  “Hello, Anna, this is Brittney.  I spoke to you yesterday evening when I called for Paul.  Do you know where he is?  I have been trying since Saturday to reach him.  I’m out of my mind with worry.”

“Hello Brittney.  Paul is in Paris.”

“Paris?” Brittney exclaimed.  “What is he doing there?  Is he there on business?”

“No.  He needed to get away.”

“What did he need to get away from?” she asked, bewildered.  “It’s not like him to go away and not tell me.  And he didn’t return my call on Saturday.  Is-is he seeing someone?”

“No.  He went to Paris alone.  Brittney, I was with him on Saturday when he came out of the synagogue and saw you with Andre.  It upset him so much that I suggested that he should take a break and go to Paris.”

“Oh no,” Brittney groaned.  “He saw me with Andre and thought—”

“That you were back with him.  He was devastated.  I probably shouldn’t even be telling you this but Paul is in love with you.”

“And I’m in love with him.  I have been for a long time.”

“He thinks that you’re still in love with Andre.”

“I’m over Andre.  I have been for a long time now and it’s because of Paul.  Meeting Paul and his friendship has changed my life.  And seeing Andre again made me realize that the feelings I had for him are nothing compared to my feelings for Paul.  Andre wanted us to pick up where we left off but I told him that I was in love with someone else.  I wished him well and then, I walked away.  My past with Andre is over and done with.  My future is with Paul.  Anna, please tell me where he’s staying.  I want to go to him.”  Her life felt so empty without him.  She missed him so much it ached.  How she longed to be with him.

There was a brief moment of silence and then, Anna told her the name of the hotel where he was staying.  After Brittney thanked her profusely, she said, “I’m very relieved to know that you love my brother and I wish you two all the happiness in the world.”

Brittney thanked her again and rang off.  She quickly called the office and informed her assistant that she was taking the rest of the week off.  Then, she dialed the number to book the first available flight for the following day to Paris.  She packed a bag, her heart thudding with excitement.  She was going to see Paul in a matter of hours.  I can’t wait to see him.

Paul stood on the terrace looking at the city bathed in the crimson glow of the setting sun, wishing she was there with him.  “Oh, Brittney,” he whispered brokenly, dragging his fingers through his hair as he ached for her.  Paris was a city for lovers.  If only Brittney and he were lovers instead of just friends.  If only she were with him instead of Andre…

Frustrated, he went back into the room and was going over to the bed to lie down when he heard a knock on the door.  Frowning, he went to answer it.  Opening it he was startled to see Brittney standing there, luggage in tow.   He blinked, thinking he was imagining things.  She couldn’t possibly be here in Paris.  Then, she said, “Hello Paul.” She reached up and touched his face, her gaze almost a caress.

He eyes darkened and he caught her hand to draw her into the room.  “What are you doing here?” he asked when he had closed the door and was facing her.

“I had to come.  I called your sister and she told me where you were.  I had been calling for you since Saturday but when I couldn’t reach you, I got really worried.  I went by your flat but you weren’t there so when I got home.  I called your sister on Monday and we spoke for a while.  She told me that you were here in Paris and explained why.  You saw me with Andre.”

His expression became drawn at the memory.  “When I saw you with him, I felt as if someone had pushed their hand into my chest and ripped out my heart.”

She moved closer to him.  “I’m so sorry that you saw us,” said, wringing her hands.  “It wasn’t at all what you thought.  Andre wanted to resume our relationship but I told him that I was in love with someone else.”

“And what did he say?” he asked as he moved closer, his heart pounding.

“Nothing but I wished him well and walked away.”

“So, it’s over between him and you.”

“Yes and it has been over for a long time now.”

He was standing right in front of her now, their bodies inches apart.  Wordlessly, he pulled her against him and his head lowered towards hers.

She watched transfixed as his face drew closer to hers, her gaze dropped to his mouth.  Her eyes closed as waves of indescribable pleasure undulated through her body when she felt his lips brush against her.  Putting her arms around his neck, she responded passionately to his kisses.  They stood there in the room in the dappled shade of the setting sun as it streaked through the windows, exchanging feverish kisses.

“I love you,” he muttered when at length, he raised his head to gaze down into her upturned face.  “I love you so very much.”

She smiled at him.  “I love you too,” she told him.  “That’s what I came to Paris to tell you.”

“It’s funny but just a few minutes ago, I was wishing that you were here with me in the City of lovers and then you show up.”

“Yes.  You came to Paris to get away from me and here I am.”

“Yes, here you are.  I never want us to be apart again.  It was foolish of me to think that coming here would help in some way.  I missed you so much even when I thought you had gone back to him.”

“Let’s not think about when we were apart but enjoy being together now,” she suggested huskily.  “We are in the city of love so let’s do what lovers do.”

“Yes,” he whispered and picked her up in his arms.

 

 

 

 

New Year’s Eve

“Am I making you nervous?” Nadine asked Colm as she leaned over in her olive green strapless taffeta dress to watch him play pool.  He seemed a little distracted and edgy.  Not the usual calm demeanor she was so familiar with.  He had taken off his tuxedo jacket and tie.  It was after a rather extravagant New Year’s Eve dinner that while everyone was in the drawing-room having after dinner drinks, he had slipped in here to unwind.  She followed him.

He straightened up and looked at her.  There was a tense expression on his face.  If she only knew how much he wanted to walk over there and take her in his arms.  She looked so beautiful in that dress and with her hair swept over one shoulder.  The moment she walked into the room, his heart started to pound and he was nervous as hell.  She had such an effect on him.  It had been that way since the first time they met last year in the summer when he went to his brother, Parker’s graduation.  Nadine and he attended the same university and graduated on the same day.  She had captivated him then and more so now.

“Why are you in here?” he asked tautly.  “Why aren’t you with Parker?”  He tried to ignore the pang of jealousy that stirred within him as he mentioned his brother’s name.

“I want to be here,” she told him simply.  I want to be with you.  She wanted to be close to him.  “Could you teach me how to play pool?  I’ve always wanted to learn.”

He stared at her.  “You’re not serious.”

“I’m very serious,” she assured him as she straightened up and walked over to where he was watching her warily.  “Show me how to play pool so that the next time I come here, we can play a friendly game against each other.”

A muscle was pulsating along his jawline and his pulse was racing.  She was very close to him now and he swallowed hard when she gazed up at him before she turned toward the table.  He showed her how to stand and how to hold the cue stick.  His body was touching hers and she could smell his aftershave and cologne.  She closed her eyes as she felt his hand on hers as they both held the cue stick.  There was a white ball directly in front of her but she couldn’t concentrate.  All she could think about was how much she wanted to kiss him.

Unable to help herself, she turned and her eyes met his.  They were dark and stormy and he was breathing heavily.  Her gaze lowered to his lips and she saw them part.  She reached up and pulled his head down to hers.  His arms went round her waist, pulling her tightly against him while he responded wildly to her kisses.

They kissed for a long time as the feelings they had suppressed rose to the surface, refusing to be quelled any longer.  Then, he drew back to gaze down into her face, his own flushed.  “What about Parker and you?” he panted.

“There’s nothing between Parker and me,” she gasped.  “We’re just friends.”

“All this time I thought that you and he…”

She shook her head, her eyes wide as they met his.  “It’s never been him or anyone else,” she told him huskily.  “It’s always been you since the first time we met.”

“I fell in love with you the moment I saw you,” he confessed,  “but when I thought that you were Parker’s girlfriend, I tried to fight my feelings but as you can see, it was a losing battle.”

She smiled and brushed his hair back from his forehead.  “It looks like we’re going to have ourselves a very happy New Year,” she murmured before she pulled his head down to hers.

As they kissed, the clock struck twelve and the voices in the drawing-room began to sing, Auld Lang Syne.

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.”

 

 

A Sobering Lesson

She fluffed the pillows and then reached for the mystery novel she bought yesterday, feeling nice and snug under the thick, downy comforter while it flurried outside.  Just as she opened the book and began reading, the doorbell rang.  At first she ignored it, thinking that someone had made a mistake.  It happened sometimes.  When it rang persistently, she sighed irritably, closed her book and climbed out of bed.  She glanced at the time on her alarm radio.  It was ten-thirty.  Who could be calling at her flat at this time?

She slipped her feet into her slippers, pulled on her robe and hurried from the bedroom.  After switching on the light in the hall, she went to the front door and peered out.  Her eyes widened in surprise and dismay.  Immediately, she unlocked the door and flung it open, her expression censorious as she met the sheepish gaze of her teenage nephew.  “Christopher Holloway, what on earth are you doing here?  Do you have an idea what time it is?”

He shifted from one foot to the other, hands shoved in the pockets of his coat which was lightly dusted with snow.  “I’m sorry, Aunt Bev,” he said.  “But, I had to see you.”

“Come in,” she said, stepping aside to let him pass.  After she closed and locked the door, she turned to face him.  “Does your Dad know that you’re here?”

He shook his head.  “He wasn’t even home when I left.  Sometimes he stays out late.”

“Well, we’re going to call him right now so that he can come and get you.  Do you have his cell number on you?”

He nodded and reluctantly gave her his cell after speed dialing the number.  She took the phone from him.  It ran a few times and then a deep voice answered.  “Christopher?”

“No, it’s not Christopher.  It’s Beverley.  He’s with me.”

“What?” was the incredulous exclamation.   “What on earth is he doing there?”

“I’m about to find that out.  Can you please come and get him?”

“Yes, yes, of course.  Where do you live?”

She gave him the address.

“I should be there in less than half-hour.”

“See you then.”

She handed Christopher his cell.  “Give me your coat,” she said.  He had already removed his boots.  “Your Dadis coming to get you.  Would you like something hot to drink?”

He shook his head.  “No thanks.  I grabbed a hot chocolate on my way over.”

“Let’s go into the living-room.  I want to know why you’re here and on a school night.”  While he went over to the sofa, she hung his coat up in the closet.  Then, she went and sat down beside him.  “What’s going on?  Did you have a fight with your uncle?

He shook his head.  “No,” he said.  “Dad is cool.  No, this isn’t about him.”

She could see that something was troubling and she became concerned.  “Tell me what’s on your mind,” she said gently.

“I’m in trouble,” he disclosed after a few minutes passed.  “I mean we’re in trouble.”

“Who’s we?”

“Tasha and me.”

“Who’s Tasha?”

“She’s a girl at school.  We hang out together.  I really like her.”

“What did you mean when you said that you were in trouble?”

“Well, you see, Tasha and I went to her house after school a few weeks ago.  No one was home.  We went down in the basement and hung out there.  We were talking and then we started kissing which led to—“

“You and Tasha had sex,” she said, trying not to get upset.  “You’re only sixteen years old.  You shouldn’t be having sex at your age.”

“Most of my friends have already had sex.  One of them had sex when he was fourteen.”

She closed her eyes almost afraid to ask.  “Is Tasha pregnant?”

“We don’t know.  Her period was late.”

“Has she done a pregnancy test as yet?”

He shook his head.  “That’s why I’m here, Aunt Bev.  Tasha’s too nervous to go to the drugstore.  She’s afraid of someone seeing her and telling her mother.  I was wondering—we were both wondering if you could pick up one for her and then we can come over here and she takes the test.”

Bev didn’t know what to do.  She felt like she would be going behind Tasha’s mother’s back if she were to agree to get the pregnancy test but Christopher was her nephew and he came to her for help.  “All right,” she said.  “I’ll pick the test up.  Can you bring Tasha here tomorrow after school?  I’m not working this week.”

He looked relieved.  “Yes, I can,” he said.  “She usually walks home from school but we can take the bus here.  Thank you, Aunt Bev.”

She looked at him.  “I hope for your sake that she’s not pregnant.  You’re way too young to be a father.”

He hung his head.  “I know.  Things got out of hand.”  He looked up at her.  “You won’t tell Dad, would you?”

“No, I won’t.  I will leave that up to you.”  The doorbell rang.  “That must be him.”  She got up from the sofa and went to answer the door.  It was Warner.  She opened the door and after they greeted each other, she led him into the living-room where Christopher was.

He went over to his nephew and hugged him.  “Are you all right?” he asked.

Christopher nodded.  “I’m all right.  I had to see Aunt Bev about something.”

“It’s getting late,” Warner said.  “And you have school tomorrow.”

Bev went and got Christopher’s coat and as he pulled it on, she turned to Warner.  “I told Christopher that he can come by again tomorrow after school, if that’s okay with you.”

He nodded.  “That’s fine.”  He took out a business card and scribbled something on the back.  “My cell number,” he said, handing the card to her.

She took it and put it in the pocket of her robe.  Christopher joined them and she hugged him.  “Goodnight,” she murmured.

“Goodnight, Aunt Bev.  And thank you.”

They drew apart and she preceded them to the door.  Christopher stepped out into the hallway and waited for his uncle.   Warner paused to look at her.  “Goodnight,” he said quietly, his eyes lingering on her face.  She wished she knew what he was thinking.  At that moment, her heart was burning with a love she longed to express but couldn’t.   The memory of her sister was between them as a reminder that she could never take her place.

“Goodnight,” she said, forcing a smile before she closed the door and leaned against it.  It was just her luck to fall in love with her sister’s husband.  She remembered the first time Gail brought him round to their parents’ home to meet the family.  She introduced him and then announced that they were getting married.  It was a small ceremony at a chapel and the reception was held at a banquet hall.  Seven months later Christopher was born.  Bev wondered why Gail never told her about Warner or that she was pregnant.  She never got the chance to ask her because just 24 hours later after giving birth to Christopher, Gail died.  Her untimely death was caused by a pulmonary embolism which stopped her heart instantly.

The memory of Warner holding their son who would never again be held by his mother remained with her.  Tears pricked her eyes even now.  She watched as Warner became both parents to Christopher and it was during that time when she realized that she was in love with him.  For years she kept her feelings to herself and was content to be there for both of them whenever they needed her.  And as a result, Christopher and she developed a very strong bond.

When he was a baby, she would sit in the rocker and feed him while humming or talking to him about his mother or his father.  She enjoyed those times when she bathed him and held him in her arms as she rocked him gently to sleep.  Sometimes, she would take time off from work just to be with him.  As he lay in his crib, she would play with him or read stories.  She was the closest thing he had to a mother.  She watched him grow up into a fine young man.  It was just too bad that this situation with Tasha came up now.

Sighing, she moved away from the door, turned off the hall light and headed back to her room.  She hoped that everything would work out for his sake and Tasha’s.  The last thing either of them needed was an unplanned pregnancy.  Yawning, she climbed into bed and after putting the mystery novel on the bedside table, she switched off the lamp.

The following day she made soup and when it was close to time for Christopher and Tasha to drop by, she turned the stove on so that it would simmer.  It looked very cold outside.  Nice, hot homemade soup would do them very well.  Earlier that morning she had gone to the drugstore to pick up the pregnancy test.  It was one of the most highly recommended ones.

At four-thirty, Christopher and Tasha showed up at her flat.  The minute she saw the girl, her heart went out to her.  She looked scared and worried. Putting her arm around her shoulders, she drew her over to the sofa where they sat down.  Taking her hands in hers, she spoke to her.  “I know you are scared but we don’t know for sure if you’re pregnant.  Here’s the test.  Take it and then we will go from there.  Come, I will take you to the bathroom.”  She helped her up and took her to the bathroom and after making sure she knew what to do, she left her, closing the door behind her.

Christopher was hovering about, looking anxious.  She reached out and took his hand, giving it a gentle squeeze.  “Whatever happens, we will deal with it together,” she said.

He nodded.  While they waited for Tasha, he held his aunt’s hand.  Several minutes passed and then Tasha came into the living-room.  She showed them the display.  There was one line.  “One line means I’m not pregnant,” she said.

Bev smiled.  “Well, that’s encouraging,” she said.

“What should I do now?” Tasha asked.

“Wait to see when your period will come.”

“And what if it doesn’t?”

“Hopefully, it does but if it doesn’t, then, you will have to go and see you family doctor.”  She put her arm around her.  “This test is known to be extremely accurate.  It could be that your period is late because your cycle has changed.”

“I hope so.”

“Come you, two, I have some hot, homemade soup ready for you.  Have a seat around the table.  And after you finish eating, you can stay a while and then, I’ll take you home.”

They seemed to be in better spirits and they spent a pleasant afternoon together before she dropped them to their respective homes.  A couple days later, she got a call from Tasha telling her excitedly that she got her period.  “I never thought I would be so happy to see it,” she exclaimed.  “Thank you so much, Miss Martin for your help.  Now I know why Chris talks so much about you.  You’re really cool.  I told my Mom and she was upset, of course.  Chris and I talked about it and we’re not going to see each other outside of school.  We will be just friends.  Thanks again for everything.”

After she hung up the phone, Bev went over to the sofa and sank down heavily, relief washing over her.  She offered a silent prayer of thanks.  Now Tasha and Christopher could put the whole ordeal behind them and get on with their lives.  This pregnancy scare put things into perspective for both of them and they had made the wise decision to keep things platonic between them.  She wondered if Christopher had gotten around to telling Warner.  She hoped so.

The doorbell rang and she got up, her head still spinning from the good news.  It was Warner.  She opened the door, smiling.  “Hello,” she said.

He wasn’t smiling.  He looked very serious. “I came over to talk to you about two very important matters,” he said.

“Okay.  Come in.  Where’s Christopher?”

“He’s gone to the cinema with some friends.”

“Would you like something to drink?”

“No, thank you.”

“What did you need to talk to me about?”

“Christopher told me about Tasha last night.  I didn’t lecture him because I think he learned a very valuable lesson but we had a long and very frank talk.”

“I’m happy that he told you.  I didn’t think it was my place to do so.”

“I’m just thankful that things turned out well.  Thanks for being there for Christopher as always.”

She smiled.  “He knows he can count on both of us.”

His expression changed again.  “The other thing I wanted to talk to you about is far more personal.”

Something about the way he was looking at her made her heart race.  “What is it?”

He took a deep breath.  “I will just come out and say it,” he muttered.  “I love you, Beverly. I wanted to tell you that for very long time but just never worked up the courage until now.”

He was the only one who called her Beverly.  When he said her name, it felt like a caress.  She stared at him now, hardly able to believe that he was telling her that he loved her.  “I love you too,” she murmured.  “I fell in love with you the first time we met but kept it hidden because of Gail.”

“I cared for Gail but I didn’t love her.  I married her because she was pregnant.  I wanted to do the honorable thing.  When I met you it was hard but I was committed to Gail and our marriage.  If she were still alive I would still be married to her all the while loving you.”

“And I would have spent the rest of my life loving you,” she said.  “So, where do we go from here?”

He reached for her hand and drew her toward him.  “I want you to marry me.  Christopher needs you and I need you.  What do you say, Beverly, will you marry me?”

She nodded, “Yes,” she said through tears.  And then, her hand flew up to her mouth when he produced a box which he was holding in his other hand.

“Christopher helped me to choose this one,” he said opening the box and taking out the ring.  He slipped it on her finger.

“It’s beautiful,” she said.

He reached up and cupped her face between her hands.  “Yes, but not half as beautiful as you,” he muttered before he lowered his head and kissed her.  She put her arms around his neck and kissed him back, thinking how true the saying was that good things come to those who wait.

Sources: People.com; Check Pregnancy

 

 

 

Sources: People.com; Check Pregnancy;

A Misunderstanding

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

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

“How long were he and your aunt married?”

“Fifteen years.”

“And they never had any children?”

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

“How did she die?”

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

“What was she like?”

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

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

“Why do you think so?”

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

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

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

“I know.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes,” she admitted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you love her?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I know.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:  Fantasy Name Generator; Pinterest

Friends and Co-Workers

Alain and Andrea were co-workers who became fast friends because they got along very well and enjoyed each other’s company.  Sometimes they went out for lunch at a bistro just around the corner from the office.  It became their favorite place.

Soon their time together wasn’t limited to lunch at the bistro.  Alain invited her to a concert and then treated her to dinner afterwards.  At the office she won two tickets in a draw to the exclusive screening of the first episode of season three of Outlander UK and asked him to go with her.  Over dinner, they talked animatedly about the show and how they got to see some of the cast.

They saw each other practically every day and on the odd day when they couldn’t see each other, they would talk for hours on the phone.  Andrea cherished the five years of friendship she was enjoying with Alain.

It was a late Saturday afternoon and she was just about to ring the doorbell to Alain’s flat when the door opened and a man she had never seen before but who looked a bit familiar stepped out into the hallway.  Alain was standing behind him. The stranger smiled at Andrea.  “Hello,” he said, pleasantly, looking her over and clearly liking what he saw.  He held out his hand.  “I’m Henri, Alain’s baby brother.”

She smiled and shook his hand.  “It’s nice to meet you, Henri.  I’m Andrea.”

Alain pursed his lips.  “Henri was just leaving,” he said, looking at his brother.

Henri rolled his eyes.  “That’s my cue,” he said.  “And just when things are starting to get interesting.”

Andrea laughed.  “Well, I hope we meet again,” she said before she walked past him and into the flat.

“I thought you said you didn’t have a girlfriend,” Henri said in a low voice.

“Andrea’s not my girlfriend.  She’s a very close friend.”

Henri’s face brightened.  “She’s cute and hot,” he commented.  “Do you think she would go out with me?”

Alain’s expression darkened.  “She has a boyfriend,” he told him abruptly.

Henri looked surprised.  “If she has a boyfriend, what is she doing here alone with you in your flat?”

“Her boyfriend trusts me.  Goodbye, Henri.”  He went back inside the flat and closed the door quietly behind him.

Henri stood there for a moment, looking puzzled, and then he shrugged his shoulders and walked away.

Andrea was standing at the window looking out when Alain joined her.  She turned and smiled at him, thinking how good he looked in the black shirt and light blue jeans.  “So, that’s your brother.  There is a slight resemblance.  Which one of you was the troublemaker?  Let me guess, you?”

Alain laughed.  “I was a bit of a rebel growing up but I wised up when I turned fifteen.  Henri was the quiet one who didn’t get into any trouble.  Now, it seems like we have switched personalities.  Now, I’m the quiet one and he’s the outgoing one.”

Andrea shook her head.  “I never would have pegged you for a bad boy,” she said.  “I bet all the girls were into you.  I know I would have been.”

“You were into bad boys?”

“Yes, because they were more exciting.  It was true that the nice guys finished last.”

“What about now?” he asked.  “Is there a particular type of man you are attracted to?”

She wanted to say you.  “I’m attracted to the introverted man—he’s easy to be around, intellectually stimulating, has a sense of humor and self-assured.

He turned away so that she couldn’t see the expression on his face.  “Sounds interesting.  Have you met anyone like that as yet?”

Yes…you.  “I’m not looking.” That was the truth.  “So, what would you like to do now?”

“Let’s go to the cinema and then afterwards have dinner at one of those riverside restaurants.”

“Sounds great.”

The weather was so pleasant that they went for a walk before going into the cinema.  A couple of hours later, they sat enjoying a tasty meal on the riverside terrace of a restaurant with an unobstructed view of the Tower Bridge.  It was while they were walking back to the car that she asked him, “What type of woman are you looking for?”

He glanced at her but she was facing straight ahead.  “I’m not looking,” he said quietly.  I have already found her.

“If you were looking, what would you look for?”

“I would look for a woman who is outgoing, intelligent, assertive and resourceful.”

“Sounds interesting.” And they walked on in silence until they got into a discussion about the foreign film they went to see.

It was Monday and Andrea was in high spirits.  She was still thinking of yesterday when Alain and she took a full day trip to Windsor, Stonehenge and Oxford.  It was while they were having dinner on Saturday night that he told her about the trip.  He remembered that she had always wanted to visit Windsor Castle and Stonehenge.  Touched, she got up, went round to where he sat and leaning over she hugged him.

She wanted to thank him again so she left her desk and was heading toward his office when she overheard someone ask for Sophie.  Sophie was a pretty blonde who recently started working there.  She heard the other person say, “She mentioned something about lunch and then I saw her leave with Alain.”

Andrea froze in her tracks.  Alain went for lunch with Sophie?  She had seen them talking a couple of times but had thought nothing of it.  Yet, the thought of them having lunch together made her jealous.  She went back to her office and sank heavily down into the chair behind her desk.  She was staring out the window but not seeing anything when there was a knock on her door.  She swung her chair around to see who it was.  It was Henri.

“Henri,” she greeted him and getting up from the behind the desk, she went over to where he stood in the doorway.  “Come in.  It’s good to see you.  Come and have a seat.”

“I hope I’m not disturbing you,” he said as he followed her over to the desk.  He waited until she was seated before he took the chair in front of her desk.

“Not at all.  What brings you here?”

“I’m here to meet Alain.” He glanced at his watch.  “I made sure I got here at least ten minutes early.  I didn’t want to keep him waiting.”

“I’m sorry but Alain is not here.  He’s gone out for lunch with Sophie.”

Henri looked surprised and a little put out.  “Well, how do you like that?  He and I were supposed to grab lunch.  I guess he forgot, although it’s not like him to do so.”  He glanced at her.  “I would ask you to have lunch with me in his place but I doubt that your boyfriend would like that.”

She stared at him.  “I don’t have a boyfriend.  Who told you that I did?”

“Alain.”

She looked puzzled. “Why would he say that?” she wondered.  “He knows that I’m not seeing anyone.”

“That’s what he told me when I asked him if you would go out with me.  Maybe he doesn’t want me to take you out because he likes you himself.”

She shook her head.  “I don’t think so.  He sees me as a very good friend, nothing more.  Besides, he went out for lunch with Sophie.”

“You’re in love with him, aren’t you? I can see it on your face and when you mentioned Sophie.”

“Yes, I am,” she admitted, sighing heavily.  “A lot of good it’s doing me.”

“Why don’t I take you out for lunch and we can talk more about this?” he suggested.  “I’m a great listener.”

At first she hesitated but he was so persuasive that she gave in.  They walked to the nearby bistro and over tasty pasta dishes they talked about Alain.

“It’s possible that you’re wrong about Alain and Sophie.  They may not even be together now.”

“Someone said she saw them leave together.”

“They may have left together but that doesn’t mean that they are together.  Don’t jump to conclusions before talking to Alain first.  I still think he lied about you having a boyfriend because he has feelings for you.”

“Well, I hope you’re right.”  She glanced at her watch.  “I should be heading back to the office now.  Thanks for lunch and for being such a good listener.  I’ll let Alain know that you came by the office.”

After a warm hug, they parted company.  When she got back to the office, she went directly to Alain’s office to see if he was there.  He was.  She went in and closed the door behind her.  He looked up from what he was doing as she crossed the carpet to stand in front of his desk.  He smiled and gave her his trademark wink.  Usually, she would respond with a wink and smile but this time she didn’t.  She was miffed with him.

“Did you have a good lunch with Sophie?” she demanded.

He frowned.  “Sophie?” he repeated.  “Why do you think I had lunch with her?”

“One of the women, I think it was Sharon, said that she saw the two of you leave together and seemed to think that you were going out for lunch together.”

“Well, Sharon or whoever said that was mistaken.  Sophie and I left at the same time, yes.  We rode the lift together but then she went off with Tony from Accounting and I went in the opposite direction.  I had an errand to run.”

Relief washed over her.  Henri was right.  “Henri came by,” she told him.  “You two were supposed to have lunch together.”

“The errand took longer than I anticipated.  I didn’t get back here until around twelve-forty-five.  We were supposed to meet at twelve-thirty.  I thought he would have waited.  Was he terribly upset?”

“He was surprised and a little put out.”

“I’ll call him later and apologize.  So, what did you do for lunch?”

She hesitated, suddenly feeling guilty.  “I went for lunch with Henri…” Her voice trailed off when she saw the expression on his face.

He got up from the desk and came round to where she was standing, his face glowering.  There was anger and something else in his eyes.  “You went out for lunch with Henri?”

She involuntarily stepped back, her eyes wary as they met his.  “I didn’t have any plans so when he asked me, I—I accepted.”

“Where did you go?”

“To the bistro around the corner—”

“You took him to our place?”

“I’m sorry.  I didn’t want to go too far.”

“Instead of having lunch with him, why didn’t you have him wait here in my office until I got back?”

“I thought you went for lunch with Sophie, remember?”

“Then, you should have let him leave instead of going for lunch with him.”

“Why are you so upset?” she asked.  “And why did you tell him that I have a boyfriend?”

“I don’t want you to see my brother.”

“Why not?” she asked.  “He’s nice and very good-looking.” She knew she was goading him now but she wanted to find out if Henri was right about his brother’s feelings for her.

Alain’s eyes darkened.  “Are you trying to get a rise out of me?” he demanded, the jealousy eating up his insides.

“I’m sorry,” she said, contrite.  “I just want to know why you’re so upset.”

“Do you want me to tell you or show you?”

She swallowed.  “Show me?”

“Yes, show you,” he muttered thickly and then, he reached out and pulled her roughly against him, making her gasp.  His mouth found hers and hungrily devoured it while his hands held her tightly against him.

Andrea closed her eyes and kissed him back, savoring the moment she had dreamed of for so long.  It made her heart sing to know that Alain returned her feelings.

After several minutes, Alain raised his head to look at her, his face flushed and his breathing labored.  “I’m in love with you,” he confessed.  “I have been for quite a long time.”

She gazed up at him, her eyes misty.  “I have been in love with you for a long time too,” she told him.

“Dinner at my place tonight?”

She nodded and then reached up and pulled his head down to hers.

 

 

Sources:  Telegraph; Good Men Project; Trip Advisor;