The Retreat

She stood there admiring the bright yellow mixed in with flaming orange and red leaves on the trees as they dotted the green landscape and stood proudly over the still water of the lake, seeming to admire their reflections.  It reminded her of a giant water color painting.  It was so peaceful there.  Coming to this retreat for a week was a blessing.

It was her friend Maura who suggested it.  She and her husband were there last year and absolutely loved it.  She had watched videos on the website, the acres of land with its natural beauty and the promise of refuge and renewal and peace and presence sold her.  And here she was, away from the hustle and bustle of the city and enjoying quiet time with the Lord and nature.

She got up early and came down here just before sunset.  After she finished praying, she glanced up and saw the sun rise.  It was the first time she had ever seen a sunrise.  For several moments, the sun appeared to be sitting on the water before it rose higher in the sky.  What a breathtaking scene and display of God’s power.  She lingered there for a while longer and then headed back to the lodge to have breakfast.

When she was leaving the dining room, a tall and very handsome man walked in.  He was alone.  He was wearing a blue sweater and jeans.  As she approached him, he turned and looked at her.  Their eyes met and held for several moments.  He smiled at her and she smiled back.  This close she saw that he had beautiful brown eyes.  “Good morning,” he said.

“Good morning,” she replied and then she walked past him and out of the dining-room.  She could feel him watching her.  He really was quite good-looking and seemed very nice.  Then, she chided herself.  You’re here to commune with God. Don’t get distracted.  She went to her room to freshen up and then to the bench facing the stream where she planned to spend the rest of the morning.

This time she took her Bible and a notebook.  The warm sunshine on her face felt good and a sigh of satisfaction, she sat down.    After she finished reading the first two chapters of the Gospel of Mark and taking notes, she set her Bible and notebook aside.  As she sat there, gazing at the lake, her thoughts drifted to the guy she saw in the dining-room.  Who was he?  Was he single?  Was he here alone?

He was the first man she was attracted to since Reuben.  It was strange but when she thought about Reuben, she didn’t feel anything.  He was like a distant memory now.  She could hardly remember what he looked like and when she tried, she saw the other guy’s face instead.  It was five years since Reuben broke up with her.  They had been dating and everyone thought they would have gotten married.  She did too and then, he shocked her by telling her that he was in love with someone else.

It turned out that while they had been dating, he had been giving Bible studies to a woman who lived in his building.  Feelings developed between them and he realized that she was the one he wanted to be with.  She was devastated but with the love and support of her church family, she was able to pick up the pieces and get on with her life.  Reuben transferred to another church and the last she heard of him, he and the woman were married and had two children.  She wished them well.   It was clear to her now that Reuben and she were not right for each other.  He was with the person he was meant to be with and one day, she would be with the person she was meant to be with.

“Do you mind if I join you?” a voice broke into her reverie and she looked around, her heart skipping a beat when she saw that it was the guy from the dining-room.

She shook her head.  “No, not at all.”  She moved her Bible and notebook closer to her, leaving enough room on the bench for him to sit down.  When he lowered his tall frame on to the seat beside her, she caught a whiff of his aftershave.  Her heart was pounding and her pulse was racing.  She realized then that Reuben never had such an effect on her.  Her hands were clasped tightly in her lap to stop them from trembling.  She could feel him watching her and she turned her head.  Their eyes met and held.  She wondered if she looked as nervous as she felt.

He held out his hand, “Brandon Lee.”

She took his hand and felt his firm clasp.  “Esther Richards.”

“Nice to meet you, Esther.  Is this your first time to the retreat?”

“Yes.  A friend of mine was here last year with her husband and she encouraged me to come.   I’m very happy I did.  It’s a beautiful place and it’s nice to get away from the city.  What about you?” She knew she sounded a little breathless but she couldn’t help it.  His closeness had that effect on her.  She couldn’t decide as yet if he was a Godsend or if he was a distraction.  She truly hoped that it was the former.

“I was here once with a group of people from my church.  It is a great place–so much to see and enjoy.  This is actually my favorite spot.  I could sit here for hours.”

“What church do you go to?” she asked.  He told her and she told him the name of her church.  “Are you involved in any ministries?”

“Yes, I am the leader of our Youth Ministry. ”

“I am involved in the Women’s Ministry and I sometimes lead out in our weekly Bible Study group meetings.  For our next Women’s Ministry retreat, I will recommend that we have it here.”

“Are you here alone?”

“Yes.  And you?”  Do you have a girlfriend?

“Yes.”  I hope she doesn’t have a boyfriend.  “Do you have family here?”

“Yes, I have lots of aunts and uncles and cousins here but my parents live in Florida.  They moved there after I graduated from university.   I usually spend Christmas with them.”  I’m glad I didn’t move to Florida too or I wouldn’t have met you.

“No siblings?”  Thank You, God for keeping her here in London or I wouldn’t have met her.

“No, I’m an only child.  What about your family?”

“My parents live in Yorkshire and I visit them on the weekends.  I live in London and my sister and her family live in Manchester.  We spend the Christmas holidays in Yorkshire.  Speaking of Christmas, have you finished your shopping as yet?”

She laughed.  “I haven’t even started.   I have no clue what I will get everyone.”

“I’m done.  My advice to you is to get gift cards.  Once you know what people like, you just get gift cards instead of trying to figure out what they would like.  For my nieces and nephew, though, I don’t mind spending hours browsing toy stores.”

“Gift card?  I never thought of that.  Thanks for the suggestion.”

Talking to him had relaxed her to some degree.  He was easy to talk to.  She enjoyed his company.  They sat there, chatting about other things and then it was time to go for lunch.  They sat next each other at a table and continued talking to each other and some of the people around them.  After lunch, he invited her to go for a walk with him.

From that day on, they spent time together, going for walks, praying, worshipping, studying the Bible and joining in fun activities with other singles such as Finish the Sentence, Bible Pictionary, True or False, Bible Telephone, Bible Hangman, Name Game, Who Am I, Bible Bingo, Bible Scavenger Hunt, Name That Hymn and Bible Scene.  Her favorite was Finish the Sentence and when it was her turn to finish the sentence, I am blessed, she said, “I am blessed because God has shown me favor.” and she looked at Brandon when she said this.  I’m blessed because God has brought us together.  His answer was, “I am blessed because God has brought new joy into my life.”  His eyes were on her when he said that.

They spent the evenings alone together–talking or going for walks.  On the last evening before they were to leave the retreat and return to London, Brandon stopped and turned to her as they strolled the grounds.  It was beautiful night.  The full moon cast a ghostly light on them and the still water of the lake.  He reached out and took her hands in his.

“Esther, these past few days with you have been the happiest of my life.  I had planned to come to the retreat next week but I felt a very strong impression to come this week and I am thankful that I did because I met you.  I don’t want to say goodbye to you.  I want to continue to see you.  I’m not in a relationship.  Am I safe to assume that you’re not in one either?”

She shook her head.  “I’m not in a relationship,” she confirmed.

“I want to be in a relationship with you, that is if, it’s what you want too.”

“I-I want to be in a relationship with you too.”

“Good.  Tomorrow, we drive back to London together.”  He raised her hands to his lips and kissed them before they continued their stroll.

She raised her head to the starry sky and silently mouthed a prayer of thanks.  Coming to he retreat had changed both of their lives.

 

Sources: Ashburnham Place; Christian Camp Pro

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Harvard

She noticed him during her second year at Harvard.  He was standing outside the entrance talking to a pretty brunette.  She was probably his girlfriend.   Daphne had to pass them to go inside.

As she went up the steps, she saw him turn his head and their eyes met.  She expected him to look away soon after because she knew she wasn’t the type of girl who would attract someone like him.  She didn’t kid herself about her looks.  She knew she wasn’t pretty but she had a lot going for her intellectually.  To her surprise, he didn’t look away but his gaze locked with hers.  Her heart began to pound at the realization that he was taking notice of her.

For a long moment everything and everyone around them faded into the background.  It was as if only the two of them existed.  Then, the spell was broken when she almost walked straight into another student who was coming down the steps.  Embarrassed, she turned and mumbled an apology and then quickly let herself into the building.

As soon as she was out of earshot, Nora looked at Hayden.  “Did you see the way that girl was staring at you?” she asked disdainfully.  “She almost walked straight into that poor girl.  You would think she’s never seen a good-looking guy before.”

Hayden was hardly paying attention to what she was saying.  He was thinking about the girl.  She was obviously attracted to him and he was attracted to her.  He wanted to find out who she was but knew it would be better not to ask any of his friends.  They would make fun of him and chastise him for being interested in this girl when there were so many pretty girls on campus, including Nora who made no secret of the fact that she liked him.  Yet, as lovely as she was, he was not attracted to her and was quite content with being just friends with her.  “You say that about all of the girls who look at me,” he said to Nora.  “You can’t stop them from looking.”

“Well, you don’t usually take any notice of them but this time, you did.  Don’t tell me you find her attractive.”

He glanced at his watch.  “We should be heading to our classes now,” he said as he took up his satchel and slung it over his shoulder.

Nora’s mouth tightened.  She walked up the stairs with him and as he held open the door for her, she glanced up at him.  “She’s not your type,” she told him emphatically.  “She’s plain and dull looking.”

Hayden didn’t answer.  She may be plain and dull to you but not to me.  He and Nora parted ways and he walked to his class.  He tried to focus on what the professor was saying but his thoughts were elsewhere.  The next time I see her, I will talk to her.  

All morning Daphne thought about him.  She saw him again and this time her friend, Susan was with her.  “Who’s that very handsome guy over there wearing the very expensive looking blue sweater?”

“That’s Hayden Marsden.  He transferred to Harvard from Oxford this semester, that’s why you never saw him on campus before.  He lives with his mother and step-father in Berkshires.  I once saw photos of the estate featured in The Boston Living Magazine.  It is absolutely beautiful and huge.  Forget about him, Daphne.  He’s way out of your league.  Besides, his mother is very particular about the kind of girls he associates with.”

Daphne told her about the time she saw Hayden and ended her account with a sigh.  “I guess it was wishful thinking on my part.”

“Ah, not necessarily,” Susan said, looking over her shoulder.  “Brace yourself.  We’re about to have company.”

Alarmed, Daphne glanced around to see what she was talking about and her heart lurched when she saw Hayden approaching them.  She glanced down at her white top and knee length denim skirt and ankle boots, thinking how unsophisticated she must look compared to the brunette she had seen him with the last time.  Her heart was pounding like crazy.  Hayden looked first at Susan and then he turned to her, his tawny eyes riveted to her face.  “Hello, Daphne,” he said, holding out his hand.

She stared at him.  He knows my name.  She put her hand in his large one, feeling his fingers clasp hers in a firm handshake.  “Hello, Hayden.”

It pleased him that she knew his name.  This close, she was stunning.  His heart was beating so fast that it felt as if it was going to fall out of his chest.  He was very nervous.  No girl ever had such an effect on him before and it scared him.  Her hand felt soft and small in his and he wanted to continue holding it but had to release it in order to shake her friend’s hand when she introduced them.  He smiled at Susan as he shook her hand.  “Nice to meet you,” he said.

She smiled.  “Likewise.”  Turning to Daphne, she said, “I am going to the library.  See you later.”  She excused herself and walked away.

Alone now, Daphne and Hayden stood there, looking at each other, feeling shy and nervous.  “Do you have a boyfriend?” he asked.  He had to know.

She shook her head.  “Do you have a girlfriend?” she asked.  She was thinking about the girl she had seen him with.

“No, I don’t have a girlfriend and the girl you saw me with is just a friend.”

“She’s very pretty.”

“Yes, she is,” he agreed, “but, she’s not the one I’m interested in.  Are you busy later?”

She shook her head.

“How would you like to go for dinner and a movie with me?”

“I’d like that very much,” she replied, sounding a little breathless.  He’s asking me out.

He smiled and looked relieved.  “I’ll meet you right here after class this evening.”

“All right.”

They talked for a while longer and then he walked her to her class.  For the rest of the day, she was on cloud nine.  And as soon as her last class was over, she hurriedly packed her bag and almost fled from the room.  He was waiting for her.  How he longed to hold her hand but he decided it was too soon.  He didn’t want to overwhelm her.  He was so excited that they were going out on their first date.  As they walked across the campus grounds to the parking lot where his car was, he told her where they were going to have dinner and which movie they were going to see.  It was a Friday night so they didn’t have to worry about staying out late on a school night.

They had dinner at Amelia’s Trattoria before they headed over to Kendall Square Cinema to watch The Man Who Invented Christmas.  It was a very pleasant evening and first date.  She was sorry when it was over and it was time for him to take her home.  He walked her to the door of her parents’ home.  “I’d like to see you again tomorrow,” he said.  “We can spend the day together, doing different things.”

She nodded at once.  “Yes, we can do that.”

“I’ll pick you up around nine, if you think that’s too early for a Saturday.”

“Nine is fine.” She wished it were already nine.

“See you tomorrow.”  I want to kiss her so badly.

“See you tomorrow.”  I guess he thinks it’s too soon for us to kiss. She watched him as he walked to his car and waved as he drove off.  Suffice to say, she hardly slept a wink that night because she was thinking about their first date and excited about seeing him the next day.  The next morning, she got up early and had breakfast.  It was about eight-fifteen when she went upstairs and had her bath.  She wasn’t sure what to wear at first but then decided that a sweater and a pair of jeans and dressy but comfortable ankle boots would work.  Her mother was in the living-room when she walked in, surprised to see her up and about when usually on a Saturday morning she was still in bed.  When she noticed that she was dressed, she asked, “Where are you off this early?”

“I have a date,” Daphne told her gleefully.  “Hayden and I are going to spend the day together.  This is our second date.”

Her mother’s eyes widened.  “Is this is the same guy you told me about?”

“Yes.  It is.  He will be here any minute.  Would you like to meet him?”

“Yes, I’d like to meet the young man who has achieved something I have been trying to for years—get you out of bed on a Saturday before noon.”

Daphne pursed her lips.  Just then, the doorbell rang.  Her heart skipped a beat.  “He’s here.  How do I look?”

“You look fine.  Now, you’d better go and answer the door before he changes his mind.”

Daphne hurried to the door and opened it.  Her face brightened when she looked up into Hayden’s.  He looked amazing in a striped shirt with a green pullover and a pair of jeans.  Even when he was dressed casual, he looked elegant.  “Good morning,” he said with a smile.

“Good morning,” she beamed at him.  “Come in and meet my mother.  You don’t have to take off your shoes,” she added when he started to.  She took him to the living-room where her mother was.  “Mama, this is Hayden.  Hayden, this is my mother.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Williams,” Hayden said holding out his hand which was clasped in a warm handshake.

Mrs. Williams smiled at him.  “The pleasure’s all mine,” she said.  “I’ve heard so much about you.”

“So, what do you have planned for today?” Daphne asked him, her eyes sparkling.

“We are going to spend the day exploring Boston.”

“That sounds like fun.”  Daphne grabbed her handbag and kissed her mother.  “See you later,” she said.

“Goodbye, Mrs. Williams.”

“Goodbye, Hayden. I hope you will stop by again for a longer visit.”  She watched them as they almost ran to the car.  She had never seen Daphne so happy.  Hayden seemed like a decent young man and it was obvious that he liked Daphne.  She wasn’t sure how his family would feel about him dating her.  She couldn’t speak for the rest of her family, but personally, she had no objections.  Daphne’s happiness was all that mattered to her and she seemed to have found it with this young man.

“I like your mother,” Hayden commented as they drove off.

“She likes you too.”

“Is it just the two of you living in such a big house?”

“No.  I have a brother and a sister but they are spending the weekend with my grandmother.”

“What about your father?”

“He died of a heart attack when I was twelve.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.  So, your mother’s the breadwinner.”

“Yes.  She has worked very hard to raise us and make sure that we have a good education.  I’m in Harvard because of her.  She’s a phenomenal woman.  I hope to be like her one day.”

He glanced at her.  “I think you’re already there,” he said quietly.

She turned her head and smiled at him.  “Thank you.”

It was a beautiful, sunny and mild day, perfect day for a walk on the Freedom Trail which is where they began their day tour of the Boston.  With so much to see and do, the time seemed to go very quickly and before she knew it, it was evening and they were having dinner at an Italian restaurant.   They lingered over their pasta, recapping the places they had seen.  When she told him that she was going to download the photos they had taken and post them on her Facebook page, he didn’t object.

As they walked along the bridge, admiring the scenery, he reached for her hand and she felt her heart begin to race when his laced his fingers through hers.  She glanced up at him and he stopped, leaned over and kissed her.  She closed her eyes and kissed him back.  When he felt her response, he deepened the kiss and his arms went around her waist, holding her tightly against him.  They were oblivious to the passersby who watched them in amusement, annoyance, displeasure or indifference.

At length, he raised his head.  “I want to see you again tomorrow and every day after that,” he said huskily.  “I want to be your boyfriend, Daphne.”

“And I want to be your girlfriend,” she replied.

He kissed her again and then he put his arm around her shoulder as they continued walking down the bridge.  She slipped her arm around his waist, her face upturned to the setting sun.

They began to date exclusively from that day but their relationship met with some opposition from his friends and he almost punched one of them for his remarks about Daphne.  Nora refused to have anything more to do with him.  He was relieved when the Christmas break rolled around.  His step-father and mother were out of town, preferring to spend their holidays in Florida.  He declined to go with them.  The weekend before Christmas, he invited Daphne up to the house.  She couldn’t get over how huge it was and she enjoyed the tour he took her on, marveling at the number of rooms.  One could easily get lost in a place like this, she thought, as she followed him along endless corridors, up winding staircases and in and out of countless rooms.

After having dinner, they went into the drawing-room where they sat cross-legged on the hearth, the glow of the fire illuminating their faces.  They had the place all to themselves.  “You are invited to have Christmas dinner with us,” she told him.

“I gladly accept,” he said, smiling.  “I’m looking forward to enjoying more of your mother’s cooking.”  He had been over to her house several times for dinner.  “Watching Transformers’ Prime with Terrence and seeing Rhea’s photos of the Jingle Ball.”  He and her nine year old brother got along famously and her fifteen year old sister thought he was the bomb for getting her those Jingle Ball tickets.  It was nice to see how easily he fitted in with her family.

“What about me?” she asked, punching him playfully.

He got serious and the expression on his face made her swallow hard.  “Right now, I want to take you upstairs to my room and make mad, passionate love to you but I won’t until you’re ready.”

She reached out and touched his face.  “I’m ready.”

His eyes darkened.  “Are you sure?”

She nodded.  “Yes.” And to leave him in no doubt that she meant what she said, she got to her feet and stood looking down at him.  He scrambled to his feet and scooping her up, he carried her out of the drawing-room and in the direction of the staircase leading up to the bedroom.

Sometime later, they lay wrapped in each other’s arms, spent.  Daphne raised herself up on her side and gazed down at him.  “Is attraction all you feel for me?” she asked.  Nora’s remarks still plagued her.  The encounter happened a week ago when she was waiting for Susan and Nora approached her.  She had a nasty expression on her face.  After she looked her up and down in disgust, she said, “Don’t kid yourself that Hayden Marsden is serious about you.  All he wants is sex from you and once he’s had his fill, he will dump you just like.   She snapped her fingers and then she walked off, leaving Daphne staring after her.  She told Susan about it.  “She’s just jealous,” her friend said dismissively.  “Paid no attention to her.”

Hayden looked at her, frowning.  “Why do you ask?” he wondered.

“Well, it’s just something Nora said to me last week.”

“What did she say?”

She told him.  “I shouldn’t let her get to me,” she added with a sigh.

Hayden reached up and caressed her cheek with his knuckles.  “What I feel for you is much more than physical attraction, although you drive me wild with desire,” he added, his eyes darkening.  “I’m madly in love with you, Daphne Williams.”

She stared at him, hardly able to believe what she was hearing but she could see the sincerity in his eyes and her heart melted.  “I’m mad about you too,” she said huskily.  “I have been since the first time I saw you.”

“I have so many plans for us.  How would you like to relocate to Seattle after we graduate?”

“Seattle?  I never thought of moving there but I’ll go wherever you want to go.”

“We’ll get married first and then move to Seattle.”

“Married?”

“Yes.  You want to marry me, don’t you?”

“Of course, I do, but what about your family?”

“I’m now estranged from all of them except my father.  It was his idea to move to Seattle.  He offered me a job at his company at least until I could find something more in line with my major.  I told him about you and emailed him a photo.”

“And he doesn’t object to our relationship?”

“No, he doesn’t.  My father is nothing like the rest of my family.  He’s excited about seeing me and is looking forward to meeting you.”

“Your friends will definitely have a problem with you marrying me.”

“They are not my friends any more.  I broke all ties with them when they started making derogatory remarks about you.  When it comes to choosing between you and my family or my friends, I will always choose you.  I knew from the moment I first saw you that you were the girl for me and I have promised myself that I would never let anyone come between us.”

She smiled and put her arms around his neck.  “I can’t wait to marry you and move to Seattle where we can begin a new life together.”

His arms went around her waist, pressing her close against him.  “I can’t wait to put a ring on your finger,” he murmured softly.  “I love you so much.”

“I love you very much too.” She closed her eyes when he bent his head and kissed her.  Her heart was filled with so much joy that it felt as if it would burst.  She was about to embark on an exciting future with the man she loved and it all began that day on the steps of Harvard.

 

 

Sources:  Boston.Com; Boston in a Day; Harvard University

 

Summer in Surrey

It was summer and Diane was spending it in Surrey with Maggie, her friend from university.  Maggie’s parents had gone to Florida for their vacation but her brother, Rupert remained at the mansion.  The first time Diane and he met, it was quite by accident.

It was on the morning after she arrived from London.  She was trying to find the drawing-room but found herself in the library.  Forgetting her dilemma at the moment, she walked over to the shelves of books, her eyes traveling over the thick volumes, textbooks, Encyclopedias and literature. Her eyes spotted a collection of writings by Jane Austen. She was about to pull it out when she became aware that someone else was in the room. She turned.

It was Rupert. “I don’t believe I know you,” he said, quickly closing the distance between them.  He stopped a short distance from her, his green eyes searching her face, his expression quizzical.

For a moment she was distracted by his looks. Tall, slender, thick dark hair with a few strands falling across his forehead. He was incredibly handsome. He was dressed casually in a white shirt and grey slacks. “I’m Diane, Maggie’s friend from university.” She held out her hand and it was clasped in a firm grip. “It’s good to meet you, Rupert. Maggie has told me so much about you.”

He released her hand but his eyes stayed on her face. “She did mention that she was bringing a friend to spend the summer holidays here.”

She glanced around the room. “You have a very fine library here,” she commented. “I was on my way to the drawing-room but ended up here instead. I’m glad I did. I was looking at the books when you came in. I saw several that I would like to read. I hope you don’t mind me being here.”

He turned away then. “You are free to come in here whenever you like,” he said. “This is the time when I usually come to catch up on my reading.  To get to the drawing-room, just turn right and it’s at the end of the hallway.”

He went over to one of the book shelves and took down a large book and walking over to the armchair, he sat down. He opened the book, signaling that their conversation was over. She turned and walked out of the room, thinking to herself that he and Maggie were as different as night and day.  That was several weeks ago. Since then, they hadn’t interacted much and when they did it seemed stilted.

On Saturday evening she and Maggie were standing in the circular driveway, waiting for a taxi when the front door opened and Rupert stepped out.  He paused when he saw them.   “Diane and I are going to the theater with Andrew and William,” Maggie informed him.  “We are going for dinner afterwards.”

Rupert stiffened, his gaze shifted to Diane.  “I hope you enjoy your date,” he said coldly.  “I too have an engagement.  Good evening.”  He strode off, his back straight as a rod.  A couple of minutes later, his Rolls-Royce drove past them.

Diane watched the car until it was out of sight, her heart heavy.  She wondered whom he had an engagement with.  Was it Ava?  Ava was the beautiful blonde she had seen at the mansion with Rupert a few times.  Maggie had assured her that they were just friends.  Still, the thought of him going out with Ava now filled her with pain and jealousy.

Of course, she didn’t enjoy the theater or dinner. All she could think about was Rupert and how he looked when Maggie told him about their double date.  On the ride home, Diane hardly said a word.  A couple of times, Maggie asked her what was wrong but she told her that she was tired.  She left Maggie in the drawing-room and headed for her room.  She was at the foot of the stairs when she heard the key turn in the lock.  It was Rupert.  She waited and her heart somersaulted when she saw him.  He opened the door and stepped into the foyer.  He didn’t noticed her until he closed the door and turned.

He stiffened.  She saw his eyes travel over her this time as she stood there in her simple, strapless dress in the becoming shade of cherry.  It accentuated her color and shape.  Her hair was pulled back at the nape with a clasp and several loose strands framed her face.  “Did you enjoy your date?” he asked, his expression darkening.  “Which one was he?”

“William.”

“Did you enjoy William’s company?  Are you going to see him again?”

She wanted to tell him that she didn’t enjoy herself at all and that she had no intention of seeing William or any other man for that matter.  She wanted to tell him that he was the man she wanted to be with.  Taking a step toward him, she began, “Rupert…” but he interrupted her.

“It’s of no concern to me.  Good night.”  And he walked past her.  She turned and ran up the stairs, anxious to get to her room before she dissolved into tears.

This morning, she got up after tossing and turning.  It looked beautiful outside.  After a quick shower and light breakfast, she went outside for a walk.  She headed to her favorite spot, away from the mansion, where it was quiet.  She needed to clear her head.

She came to an abrupt stop when she saw Rupert standing a few feet away from her, staring off into the distance.  The sunlight glinted on his dark hair and the light blue shirt complimented his olive skin.  He looked so regal, so autocratic and so…She started when she realized that he was looking at her.  She had no choice but to continue heading in that direction.  She felt as if she were intruding.

“Good morning, Rupert.”  She attempted a smile but it wavered then disappeared altogether when he remained aloof.

His eyes flickered over her.  “Good morning,” he replied in a clipped voice, turning his head away.

“It’s a beautiful morning,” she commented.  He was wearing a pair of dark blue jeans, something she had never thought she would see.  They looked great on him.

He noticed her looking at him and his eyes darkened.  There was a moment of silence for several minutes as their eyes were locked in a gaze.  “Are you going to see him again?” he asked suddenly, startling her.

“Who?”

“Your date from last night.  Are you going to see him again?”

“No,” she mumbled, confused by his question and the anger she heard in his voice.  “I don’t plan to.”

“Why not?” he asked.  “Maggie’s seeing his friend this evening.  I thought that you and he would be joining them.”

“William’s a nice man but I’m not interested in him.  I’m happy for Maggie, though.  She’s really into Andrew.”

“Why did you go out with William if you weren’t interested in him?”

“It was Maggie’s idea.  She wanted to make it a double date.”

“Last night I asked you if you enjoyed his company and if you planned to see him again.  You were about to answer but I didn’t give you a chance to do so.  I was afraid that you were going to tell me that it was none of my business so I saved you the trouble. What were you going to say?”

“I was going to tell you that I didn’t enjoy myself at all.”

“Why not?”

Her courage was beginning to fade but she couldn’t allow that to stop her.  She had to level with him. It was now or never. “I didn’t because I was thinking about you.”

He looked surprised.  “You were thinking about me?”

“Yes and feeling miserable because I know you don’t like me.”

Now his expression was incredulous.  “Not like you?” he muttered.  “You think I don’t like you?”

“Yes, because you are always so cold towards me.  Even just now, you didn’t seem at all pleased to see me and I felt as though I were intruding.”

He released his breath in an unsteady sigh.  “Oh, Diane,” he cried, his eyes darkening on her face as he raked his fingers through his hair.  “You have no idea of how I really feel about you, do you? Let me give you an idea.  The first time we met, I was blown away.  I couldn’t get over how stunning you were.  I was so besotted with you, it scared me.  So, I reacted by dismissing you on the pretext that I wanted to read.

“After you left, I closed the book and sat there for a long time, just thinking about you.  In spite of myself, my feelings for you grew and that evening when Maggie told me about your date, I was livid.  I acted as if I didn’t care but I was mad with jealousy.  I couldn’t bear the thought of you with someone else.  I mentioned that I had an engagement too.  That wasn’t true.  I didn’t have any plans but pride made me say that I did.  I ended up going to the movies which was a waste of time and money.  I was just sitting there in the dark theater, thinking about you with him.”

“I thought you were with Ava,” she confessed.  “And that’s why I was miserable all evening.”

“Ava is just a friend.  She was there for me when I went through a really tough time after I broke up with my ex.  I will tell you about it some other time but it’s what made me indisposed to having another relationship.   And when I met you and you aroused feelings in me that I thought had died, I got scared.  I didn’t want to fall in love again—not after I got burned the last time I did.  So, I tried to fight my feelings for you but it was no use.  For the second time in my life, I have fallen in love and this time, I have fallen hard.  I think that’s what scared me.  My feelings for my ex pale in comparison to my feelings for you.”

“I’m so sorry that you got hurt,” she said.  “but, I promise you that you don’t have worry about me.  I will never hurt you.  I love you so much, Rupert.”  She reached up and touched his face, her heart in her eyes as they met his.

“Oh, Diane,” he groaned, pulling her into his arms.  His head swooped down and he kissed her.  Then, he buried his face in her hair.  “I love you so very much.”  He held her tightly as if he were afraid to let her go.

She whispered, “I’m not going anywhere, my love.”

 

Zora Neale Hurston

Dubbed “America’s favorite black conservative” and “Genius of the South”, Zora Neale Hurston was an American folklorist, anthropologist, and author during the time of the Harlem Renaissance.  She is best known for her 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God.  Zora was born on January 7, 1891.  She was was the fifth of eight children.  Her father, John Hurston was a Baptist preacher, tenant farmer, and carpenter and her mother, Lucy a school teacher.  She was born and grew up in Notasulga, Alabama.  When Zora was three, the family moved to Eatonville, Florida, one of the first all-Black towns to be incorporated in the United States.  Life was great in Eatonville.  It was the place Zora felt more at home and sometimes called her birthplace.  It was the town where her father became the mayor and the place where African Americans could live as they desired, independent of white society.

In 1901, some northern schoolteachers visited Eatonville and gave Zora a number of books which opened her mind to literature which explains why she sometimes describes her “birth” as taking place in that year. She spent the remainder of her childhood in Eatonville, and describes the experience of growing up in Eatonville in her 1928 essay “How It Feels to Be Colored Me”.

Three years later in 1904, Zora’s mother died and her father remarried.  The immediacy of this second marriage to Matte Moge caused a bit of a scandal and it was even rumored that John had relations with Matte before his first wife died. Zora and her step-mother violently quarrelled.  She was sent away to a boarding school in Jacksonville, Florida.  Eventually her father and step-mother stopped paying her tuition and she was expelled.  To survive, Zora worked as a maid to the lead singer in a traveling Gilbert & Sullivan theatrical company.

In 1917, Zora attended Morgan Academy, the high school division of the African American Morgan College in Baltimore, Maryland.  It was at this time that the 26 year old began to claim 1901 as her date of birth possibly to qualify for a free high-school education and to reflect her literary birth.  She graduated from Morgan Academy in 1918.  That same year Zora began undergraduate studies at Howard University, where she became one of the earliest initiates of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority and co-founded The Hilltop, the university’s student newspaper.  While she was there,  she took courses in Spanish, English, Greek and public speaking and earned an Associate’s Degree in 1920.  In 1921, she wrote a short story, John Redding Goes to Sea, which qualified her to become a member of Alaine Locke’s literary club, The Stylus.  Zora left Howard University in 1924 and a year later she was offered a scholarship to Barnard College, Columbia University where she was the college’s sole black student.  In 1927, at the age of 36 Zora received her B.A. in anthropology.  She worked with the likes of  Franz Boas of Columbia University, Ruth Benedict and Margaret Mead.  After graduating from Barnard, Zora spent two years as a graduate student in anthropology at Columbia University.

On a more personal note, Zora was married twice.  In 1927, she married Herbert Sheen, a jazz musician and former classmate at Howard who would later become a physician, but the marriage ended in 1931.  In 1939, while Hurston was working for the WPA, she married Albert Price, a 23-year-old fellow WPA employee, and 25 years her junior, but this marriage ended after only seven months. 

Zora’s love for anthropology took her on some extensive trips to the Caribbean and the American South.  In 1936 and 1937, she traveled to Jamaica and to Haiti with support from the Guggenheim Foundation from which her anthropological work Tell My Horse published in 1938 emerged.  She also lived in Honduras, at the north coastal town of Puerto Cortés from October 1947 to February 1948.  She travelled to Central America fuelled by the idea of locating either Mayan ruins or ruins of an undiscovered civilization. While in Puerto Cortés, she wrote much of Seraph on the Suwanee, a a story of two people at once deeply in love and deeply at odds, set among the community of “Florida Crackers” at the turn of the twentieth century.  Zora was noted for writing primarily about blacks in Florida yet in this book, her characters were a “cracker” couple.  Perhaps it was being in a Honduras, surrounded by a culture different from her own that inspired her to write this book.  She was interested the Miskito Zambu,  a mixed-race (African-Indigenous American) population group occupying the Caribbean coast of Central America, focused on the region of the Honduras-Nicaragua border.and Garifuna, descendants of Carib, Arawak and West African people.

Little did Zora know that when she returned to her native country in 1948, she would face a terrible scandal.  She was falsely accused of molesting a ten-year-old boy (another writeup says there were three boys) and even though the case was dismissed after she presented evidence that she was in Honduras when the alleged crime took place in the U.S., her personal life was seriously disrupted by the scandal.

Zora was a Republican.  She supported the presidential campaign of Senator Robert A. Taft.  They both were opposed to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal policies and Roosevelt’s and Truman’s interventionist foreign policy.  In the original draft of her autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road, she compared the United States government to a “fence” in stolen goods and to a Mafia-like protection racket and thought it ironic that the same “people who claim that it is a noble thing to die for freedom and democracy … wax frothy if anyone points out the inconsistency of their morals…. We, too, consider machine gun bullets good laxatives for heathens who get constipated with toxic ideas about a country of their own.” She had a lot to say about those who sought “freedoms” for those abroad, but denied it to people in their home countries: Roosevelt “can call names across an ocean” for his Four Freedoms, but he did not have “the courage to speak even softly at home.” When Truman dropped the atomic bombs on Japan, she called him “the Butcher of Asia.”

She opposed the Supreme Court ruling in the Brown v. Board of Education case of 1954 because she was of the opinion that if separate schools were truly equal, educating black students in physical proximity to white students would not result in better education.  She worried that integration would bring about the demise of black schools and black teachers which were the means through which cultural tradition would be passed on to future generations of African Americans.  She wrote of her opposition in  in a letter, stating, “Court Order Can’t Make the Races Mix”.  She opposed preferential treatment for blacks.  “If I say a whole system must be upset for me to win, I am saying that I cannot sit in the game, and that safer rules must be made to give me a chance. I repudiate that. If others are in there, deal me a hand and let me see what I can make of it, even though I know some in there are dealing from the bottom and cheating like hell in other ways.”  She opposed what is now referred to as Affirmative Action.

Zora has had her share of criticism from her literary contemporaries, most notably, Richard Wright. In his review of Their Eyes Were Watching God, he wrote: … The sensory sweep of her novel carries no theme, no message, no thought. In the main, her novel is not addressed to the Negro, but to a white audience whose chauvinistic tastes she knows how to satisfy. She exploits that phase of Negro life which is “quaint,” the phase which evokes a piteous smile on the lips of the “superior” race.  For decades,  Zora’s work slid into obscurity due to a number of cultural and political reasons but thanks to Alice Walker’s article,  “In Search of Zora Neale Hurston”, published in the March 1975 issue of Ms. magazine interest in Zora’s work has been revived.

Zora spent her later years as a freelance writer for magazines and newspapers.  When she moved to Fort Pierce, she took jobs where she could find them, such substitute teacher and maid.  During a period of financial and medical difficulties, Zora was forced to enter St. Lucie County Welfare Home where she suffered a stroke.  She died of hypertensive heart disease on January 28, 1960, and was buried at the Garden of Heavenly Rest in Fort Pierce, Florida.  Her remains were in an unmarked grave until 1973, when novelist Alice Walker and literary scholar Charlotte Hunt found an unmarked grave in the general area where Hurston had been buried, and decided to mark it as hers.  What a sad end for this remarkable woman whose true happiness came from her work.

In celebration of Black History Month, Notes to Women salute Zora Neale Hurston who had the courage to disagree with the philosophies supported by many of her colleagues in the Harlem Renaissance.  Her hometown of Eatonville, Florida, celebrates her life in an annual festival.  Her home in Fort Pierce is a National Historic Landmark.  In 2002, scholar Molefi Kete Asante listed Zora Neale Hurston on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans.  She poured herself into her work and left a legacy of literary work that would hail her as one of the most important black writers of the 20th century.

Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It’s beyond me.

When one is too old for love, one finds great comfort in good dinners.

Someone is always at my elbow reminding me that I am the granddaughter of slaves. It fails to register depression with me.

I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background.

“I don’t know any more about the future than you do.  I hope that it will be full of work, because I have come to know by experience that work is the nearest thing to happiness that I can find. . . I want a busy life, a just mind and a timely death.”

Sources:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zora_Neale_Hurston; http://zoranealehurston.com/; http://www.legacy.com/ns/news-story.aspx?t=zora-neale-hurston-genius-of-the-south&id=211

Donna Summer

I was shocked and saddened when I learned that Donna Summer was dead at the age of 63.   When you think disco, you think of the queen of disco who belted out songs like “I Need Love”, “Hot Stuff” and “Bad Girls”.  Of course, when you ask men which song they like best by her, the contender is more often than not, “Love to Love You, Baby”.  They love the groans and moans.  Not everyone was receptive.  In fact, some American and European radio stations, including the BBC, refused to play it.   “Love to Love You Baby” found chart success in several European countries, and made the Top 5 in the United Kingdom despite the BBC ban.  Among her other disco hits was the song she did with Barbra Streisand, “No More Tears (Enough is Enough)”.  Donna was a five-time Grammy Award winner and the first artist to have three consecutive double albums reach number one on the U.S.Billboard chart.  She also charted four number-one singles in the United States within a 13-month period.

She was born LaDonna Adrian Gaines  on December 31, 1948.  Donna Summer was her stage name.  She came from a Christian African American family.  She first became involved with singing through church choir groups before joining a number of bands influenced by the Motown Sound.  Donna was one of seven children.  Her father was a butcher and her mother a schoolteacher.  Mary Gaines later recalled that from the time she could talk, her daughter would often sing: “She literally loved to sing. She used to go through the house singing, singing. She sang for breakfast and for lunch and for supper.”

Donna made her singing debut in church at the age of ten when a vocalist failed to show up.  She recollects:   “I started crying, everybody else started crying. It was quite an amazing moment in my life and at some point after I heard my voice came out I felt like God was saying to me ‘Donna, you’re going to be very, very famous’ and I knew from that day on that I would be famous.”  

Later Donna auditioned for the role in the musical Hair but Melba Moore was cast instead.  Donna agreed to take the role in the Munich production and moved to Munich, Germany with her parents’ reluctant approval.  Donna became fluent in German, singing various songs in the language.  She lived there for several years before moving to Austria where she married Austrian actor Helmut Sommer, whose surname she adopted as her stage name.  They met on the set of Godspell.  The couple had a daughter, Mimi but the marriage ended as a result of her affair with German artist (and future live-in boyfriend) Peter Mühldorfer.  Donna kept Helmut’s surname but anglicized it to “Summer”.

Becoming known as the “Queen of Disco”, Donna Summer regularly appeared at the Studio 54 club in New York City.  Her music gained a particularly large following within the gay community, for whom she became a gay icon.  There was, however, some controversy surrounding comments she made which angered the gay community.  In the mid-1980s, she allegedly made anti-gay remarks regarding the then-relatively new disease, AIDS.  This had a significantly negative impact on her career and saw thousands of her records being returned to her record company by angered fans. At the time, Donna was a born-again Christian and was alleged to have said that AIDS was a punishment from God for the immoral lifestyles of homosexuals.  However, she denied that she had ever made any such comment and, in a letter to the AIDS campaign group ACT UP in 1989, she said that it was “a terrible misunderstanding. I was unknowingly protected by those around me from the bad press and hate letters… If I have caused you pain, forgive me.” She went on to apologize for the delay in refuting the rumours and closed her letter with Bible quotes (from Chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians).

Also in 1989, she told The Advocate magazine that “A couple of the people I write with are gay, and they have been ever since I met them. What people want to do with their bodies is their personal preference.” A couple of years later she filed a lawsuit against New York magazine when it reprinted the rumours as fact just as she was about to release her album Mistaken Identity in 1991.

Donna remarried 1n 1980.  Her second husband Bruce Sudano.  The two met in 1978 while Donna was working on the hit track, “Heaven Knows” which featured Brooklyn Dreams member Joe “Bean” Esposito on vocals.  Bruce was a fellow member.  A year later, Summer gave birth to another daughter (her first child with Sudano),Brooklyn Sudano, named after Sudano’s group. (Brooklyn would grow up to star in the hit ABC production My Wife and Kids.) A year after that, Summer and Sudano had their second child, Amanda.  In 1994, Summer and her family moved from Los Angeles to Nashville, where she took time out from show business to focus on painting, a hobby she began in 1985. In 1995, Summer’s mother died.

Donna had a lot going for her in the 2000s.  She continued to score top ten hits on Billboard’s Dance Chart in the new millennium. In 2000, she also appeared on the third annual Divas special, dedicated to Diana Ross, though Summer sang mostly her own material for the show.  In 2004, Donna was inducted to the Dance Music Hall of Fame alongside the Bee Gees and Barry Gibb as an artist. Her classic song, “I Feel Love”, was also inducted that night.  On December 11, 2009, Summer performed at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert in Oslo, Norway, in honor of United States President Barack Obama. She was backed by theNorwegian Radio Orchestra.

Before becoming a born again Christian, Donna struggled with drug drug addiction and depression.  Diagnosed with lung cancer, Summer died on the morning of May 17, 2012, at her home in Florida after a battle with the disease.  Singers and music industry professionals reacted to Donna Summer’s death   Gloria Gaynor, a famous Disco performer during the late 1970s,  said that she was “deeply saddened” and that Donna was “a fine lady and human being”.  Speaking on the CNN Headline News, Gaynor said she was devastated by the death of her longtime friend, and that she had not known about Summer’s cancer.  Harry Wayne Casey of KC and the Sunshine Band said he and Donna “ran in the same circles and are part of the same generation”.   Barbra Streisand wrote on Twitter: “I loved doing the duet with her. She had an amazing voice and was so talented. . . It’s so sad.”  Quincy Jones, on Twitter, wrote that Donna’s voice was “the heartbeat and soundtrack of a decade”. Aretha Franklin said, “It’s so shocking to hear about the passing of Donna Summer. In the 70s, she reigned over the disco era and kept the disco jumping. Who will forget ‘Last Dance.’ A fine performer and a very nice person.”  Chaka Khan said: “Donna and I had a friendship for over 30 years. She is one of the few black women I could speak German with and she is one of the few friends I had in this business.”

President Obama expressed his sadness at the passing of such a great talent and icon, “Michelle and I were saddened to hear about the passing of Donna Summer. A five-time Grammy Award winner, Donna truly was the ‘Queen of Disco.’ Her voice was unforgettable, and the music industry has lost a legend far too soon. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Donna’s family and her dedicated fans.”  Fans paid tribute to the singer by leaving flowers and memorabilia on her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Notes to Women salute this amazing and talented woman whose legacy will live on.  Our thoughts and prayers are with her family.

Because I’m just an ordinary person that did some extraordinary things.

But I like to know that someone is stronger than I am. I want to be able to know that if I get tired, somebody is there to hold up the fort. I like knowing that I can’t pick a refrigerator alone. God did not make me strong enough to do that.

God had to create disco music so I could be born and be successful.

I don’t care if I’m beautiful; I don’t care what I am on the outside. It isn’t about the outside.

I don’t really try to predict what can and will happen with things. Sometimes you think something’s gonna be a huge success, and it isn’t. And sometimes you pay no attention to something whatsoever, and God just makes it into everything.

I want a private life, I truly do. I’m not just pretending to want one like lots of celebrities.

Donna Summer

Source:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donna_Summer