Chantrea’s Crusade

photo-20180806154657691

“Thanks for doing this interview, Chantrea. It can’t be easy for you.” They were sitting by the lake just steps from the organization where the Cambodian woman worked as a social worker.

Chantrea smiled slightly. She had sad eyes and although she was in her late thirties, she looked much older which wasn’t surprising, considering the kind of life she once had. “I don’t want to do what’s easy for me,” she said. “I will do whatever is necessary to help the children.”

“What’s your story?”

“I was eleven when my father put me in an orphanage because they promised him that I would receive a good education and opportunities for the future. Instead, I was beaten, raped, starved and forced to work on the orphanage director’s rice paddies and farms without pay.

“And now you’ve dedicated your life to fighting such institutions.”

“Yes. I’m fighting to prevent the separation of vulnerable children from their families and orphanages that attract funding, volunteers and donations from well-meaning tourists.”

“What’s your biggest goal?”

“Shutting down these orphanages.”

 

175 Words

This story is inspired by true stories of children who are taken from their families and homes and placed in orphanages “where they may be exploited, even abused, malnourished, forced to work, and sometimes trafficked to other orphanages and forms of exploitation in order to repeat the cycle and elicit further funding.”

Written as part of Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers hosted by Priceless Joy. For more information visit Here.  If you would like to read other stories based on this week’s prompt, visit Here.

Sources:  Freedom United; Cambodian Children’s Trust

Advertisements

God, the Restorer

adult blur bouquet boy

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

He remembered the day he proposed to her as if it happened just yesterday.  She was waiting for him on the train tracks where they met one fine summer day.  As he approached, holding the wild flowers behind his back, she turned and smiled that smile that melted his heart.  She looked beautiful in the sundress and her hair fell in thick, dark tresses down her back.

Slowly, his heart racing, he walked over to her.  Still holding the flowers behind his back, he leaned down and kissed her.  Then, he held out the flowers. “Happy birthday, Emily Rose.”

Her eyes lit up and she took them.  “Thank you,” she exclaimed, reaching up to kiss him in delight.  She breathed in the sweet, fresh fragrance of the flowers.  “They are beautiful.”

“I have something else for you,” he said.  He reached into his back pants pocket and kneeling down on the dry leaves in between the tracks, he produced a red, velvet box and opened it.  He saw her eyes widen.  “Emily Rose, I have loved you since we were children but that love changed to what it is now.  You are the love of my life–my soulmate.  You are my heaven on earth.  When I look at you, I am amazed not only because you are the most beautiful girl I know but because everything I have ever wanted or dreamed is right in front of me.  When I look at you, I believe that God really loves me because He blessed me with you.  I want to spend the rest of my life loving and taking care of you.  Emily Rose Carter, will you make me the happiest man on the planet by saying that you will marry me?”

Emily was crying now.  In between sobs, she managed to gasp, “Yes, I will marry you.”

After he slipped the ring on her finger, he stood up and picking her up, he swung her around, making her laugh before setting her back down on her feet.  He cupped her face and kissed her for several minutes.  “Let’s celebrate over dinner,” he murmured after raising his head to gaze down into her radiant, tear streaked face.  She nodded and they walked, arms wrapped around each other to their favorite eatery.  It was a balmy afternoon.

Over dinner, they planned the wedding which they wanted to take place as soon as possible.  They didn’t want a long engagement.  They decided to have a fall wedding which was about three months away.  Arrangements were made for a vintage country wedding in a church hall.  The weeks went by quickly and the day which seemed a long way off was nigh.  Then, the unthinkable happened…

Emily and her roommate, Rita were driving home from Emily’s bridal shower when a car ran a red light and slammed into the passenger-side of the car.  Emily died at the scene but Rose was taken to the hospital in critical condition.  When he heard the news, he was devastated, inconsolable and he lashed out at God.  Emily was only twenty-five–in the prime of her life and looking forward to their future together.  How could God have allowed this tragedy to happen?

It was the first day of Fall, just a couple of days before what would have been their wedding ceremony, was Emily’s funeral instead.  He sat there, stone faced still bitter but no longer angry with God.  He had reached the place where he could seek God in prayer and ask him to help him with his anger.

After the funeral, he went home where he remained until the next day when he forced himself to get up and go to work.  He went through the day like an automaton, trying to keep it together but a couple of times, he had to go to the washroom and pull himself together as waves of emotions swept over him.  He missed her so much.  How was he going to function without her?  Her beautiful, expressive face filled his thoughts and her winsome smile tugged at his heart strings, making him ache for her.

It was during one of these meltdown moments that he decided that he had to leave New York and move to another state where he wouldn’t be reminded everyday of his loss.  It took months for him to get everything sorted out and before he left for Seattle, he visited Emily’s grave where he left fresh wild flowers.

Moving to Seattle was the best decision he made, although, it still took five years for him to recover from his grief.  Teaching at the university, going to church and making new friends helped tremendously.  His friends invited him out to different venues and he went.  It was better than being cooped up in his apartment.  However, he made it clear to them that he didn’t want to get fixed up with anyone.  The idea of dating didn’t appeal to him.  He was quite content to be single.

They say love finds you when you’re not looking.  And it did one afternoon when he was walking in the park.   It was a pleasant day.  The sun was high in the cloudless sky and there was a slight breeze.  He went to the lawn flanked by trees and sat on the bench.  There was a group of young people playing Frisbee and he watched them.  They seemed to be having a great time.

The Frisbee landed close to where he was sitting and one of the young women ran over to get it.  She looked to be about twenty or twenty-one–attractive with long chestnut hair which streamed behind her as she ran towards him.  She was dressed in a white tee shirt and denim shorts, exposing long defined legs.  It was obvious that she worked out.

She stooped down and picked up the Frisbee.  When she straightened up, she paused.  For several minutes she just stood there, staring at him, making him uncomfortable and then, she approached him, an inquiring look on her face.  When she stood in front of him, she asked, “Daniel Miller?”

He nodded.  “Yes.  Have we met before?” This close, she looked vaguely familiar now.

She nodded.  “Yes.  We met at my brother’s barbecue.”

“What’s your brother’s name?”

“Mark Brown.  I’m his sister, Cheryl.”  Just then her friends started yelling and waving.

“Oh, yes.  I remember now.  You were in charge of the bean darts.”

She laughed.  “Yes, I was.  And you got the highest score.”

“I got lots of practice from throwing darts.  Um, I think your friends are trying to get your attention.”  They were yelling and waving.

She looked over at them and then back at him.  “I’ll be right back,” she said before bounding off.

He watched as she gave the Frisbee to one of the guys, say something to the group before walking away.  It seemed that Cheryl would rather talk to him than continue playing Frisbee with her friends and for some reason which he couldn’t quite understand, that pleased him immensely.  When she sat down, he asked, “Are you attending university?”

“Yes, Seattle Pacific University.”

“How long have you been attending there?”

“This coming semester will be my second year.”

“What are you studying?”

“Applied Human Biology.  I’ve always wanted to find out how the human body works and why it works the way it does.  Plus, I’m thinking of doing a therapy doctoral degree program after I graduate.”

“It sounds like you have your future well planned.”

“Yes, as far as my academic future is concerned.  When it comes to my personal life, well, that’s a different story.   What about you?  What line of work are you in?”

“I’m a director of Communications and Marketing at Companier.”

“You’re from New York,” she remarked suddenly, startling him.  “Sorry, don’t mean to be nosy.  It’s just that I recognize the accent.”

“You’re right.  I’m from New York.  I moved here to Seattle almost six years ago.”

“How do you like it here?”

“I like its natural beauty, mild winters and the people.  I have more friends here than I know what to do with.”

She smiled.  “All very good reasons,” she said.  “And I heard that it’s cheaper living here than in New York and other cities.”

He smiled.  “That’s true.”

“Are you doing anything later?” she asked.

He shook his head.

“My friends and I are going to the Amusement Center to play their Ultimate Real Life Escape Games.   This is my first time.  It’s supposed to be a lot of fun.  You get to solve real puzzles.  Afterwards, we’ll grab a bite to eat.  Why don’t you come with us?”

The idea of hanging out with a group of university students, most of them probably ten years his junior, didn’t appeal to him but he wanted to see her again.  He enjoyed talking with her.  She was so easygoing and he felt completely relaxed with her.   “All right,” he said.

She looked pleased.  “Great.  We’ll be there for seven.  I’ll wait outside for you.”

“I’ll be there.”

They talked for a while longer and then she returned to her friends.  Shortly afterwards, they left the park.  As he watched them go, he felt a flutter of excitement in his stomach when he thought about seeing her again that evening.

True to her word she was waiting for him and he couldn’t prevent the smile from spreading across his face as he quickly closed the distance between them.  She looked great in a floral top and jeans complete with low heel sandals.  Her hair was pulled back in a ponytail, making her look even younger.  Her face lit up when she saw him and grabbing his hand, she took him inside to meet her friends.  They turned out to be a rather nice bunch and he enjoyed interacting with them.

There were two games and they chose the Bourne Mission.  The object of the game was to recover the documents and get out of the abandoned bunker undetected. No one should know you were ever here and if you got caught, there was no rescue mission.  They had a blast even though they fell short of completing the mission.  They made plans to try the Bio-Hazard Room the next time.  They went to a family run Greek restaurant nearby where they enjoyed generous portions of delicious food.  Lively conversation and laughter flowed late into the night.

Daniel offered to take Cheryl home and she readily accepted.  On the way over to her apartment building, they talked animatedly about different things and by the time he walked her to her door, they had arranged to see each other the following day.  It was a beautiful sunny day so they decided to go to Woodland Park Zoo where they spent the entire day.  They bought food from the food truck and then went for a walk in the Rose Garden.  They lingered at the Reflecting Pool and Sculptural Fountain.  It was sunset by the time they left.

As they stood outside of her apartment, he knew that he was ready to be in a relationship again.  “Have dinner with me tomorrow,” he said and she nodded.  He gently brushed her cheek with his knuckles before he walked away.  They began dating.

One evening, they took the ferry to Whidbey Island where they planned to have dinner.  As they stood on the Deception Pass Bridge as it ran suspended over the swirling water, Daniel turned to Cheryl.  He cupped her face between his hands and gazed down into her face.  “Before meeting you, I never thought that I could ever fall in love again,” he said huskily.  “We may not be each other’s first love but I want to be your last and forever love.”

Tears sprang to her eyes.  “You are my first love,” she told him.  “And my last and forever.”

“I love you, Cheryl,” he whispered.

“I love you too, Daniel.”

He smiled slightly before he lowered his head and kissed her. When their lips touched, he felt a fire stir deep inside him.  He felt alive again.  He had heard about people feeling fireworks when they kissed that special someone but when he kissed Cheryl, her lips set his whole heart on fire.

That night over dinner, he asked her to marry him.  Five months later, they got married in the Woodland Rose Garden witnessed by family and friends.  As he gazed into her shining eyes as they danced their first dance, thinking how true the words, God wants to restore everything that’s been stolen from your life. He wants to heal every hurt and every pain.  It took five years but God had restored his life and now he was experiencing love and inexpressible joy once again.  Very few people could say that they were twice blessed but he was–first with Emily Rose and now with Cheryl.

 

Image by © Jamie Grill/Corbis

 

Sources:  Seattle Pacific University; The University of Western Australia; Lake Union Movers; City-Data; Livestrong; NameLix; Trip Advisor; Flee Escape; Woodland Rose Park; The Culture Trip; CBS Seattle; Feels Like Home

Lost and Found

Claudine and Duke were at a diner having lunch. The last time they saw each other was a couple of weeks ago at his younger brother, Alan’s funeral.  Duke had called her last night to ask her to have lunch with him today.  She was happy to see him.

“It’s good to see you, Duke,” she said.  “How have you been?”

“I’m doing all right, I guess.  I’m still trying to deal with Alan’s untimely death.”

She reached out and put her hand on his.  “I know how hard it is when we lose someone we love.  I went to see Doreen yesterday and she’s still having a really tough time coping.  The kids are staying with their grandparents for a while.”

“Since the funeral I haven’t been to see Doreen and the kids.”

“Why not?”

“I can’t face them right now.”  A pause and then, he blurted out, “I can’t face them because I feel guilty.”

She stared at him, concerned now.  “You feel guilty?  Why?” she asked.

Instead of answering her question, he countered with, “God is love, right?”

“Yes.”

“Then, why did He let Alan die and me live?  Not once when we were kids, did I ever see him throw a tantrum.  And he was the most religious guy I knew.   He was always reading His Bible, active in church and involved in community service.  I, on the other hand, am not a practicing Christian.  I don’t go to church often and I hardly read the Bible.  As far as community service is concerned, I give donations when I can.  I don’t pray often.  And to top it all, I had an affair with a married woman.  Why did the God whom we say is love, let a godly man like Alan who served him all of his life and never did anything wrong, die, leaving a wife and two children behind and let me live? I should have been the one to die in that boating accident, not Alan.”

His words cut into her like a knife and she withdrew her hand from his, lowering her eyes so that he couldn’t see the anguish in them. The thought of losing him in that accident was unbearable.  She was overcome with compassion for Alan’s family but she was thankful that Duke had survived.  She was still thanking God for sparing his life. “Is this why you feel guilty?”

“Yes.  I keep asking myself over and over why God didn’t take me instead of Alan.  Why did He let me live?”

“It is because He loves you.”

“He loves me?” he exclaimed. “What about Alan?  Didn’t He love him too?”

“Yes, He did.”

“Then explain to me why He chose to let me live when He could have saved Alan instead?”

“God doesn’t always do what we expect,” she said. “He had His reasons for sparing your life.  Let me give you an illustration.  Let’s say that you have two children.  One is at home with you and the other is lost.  Which child would you be more concerned about–the one who is safe or the one who is lost?”

“The lost child, of course.”

“So, if you are more concerned about the lost child, does this mean that you love that child more than the other?”

He shook his head. “No.  I would do the same thing for the other child if he were lost too.”

“Exactly! It’s the same thing with Alan and you.  God didn’t spare your life because He loved you more than Alan.  Alan was already saved but God spared you in order to save you,”

“But, I’m a sinner.”

“We’re all sinners but the Bible teaches that God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.”

“How could God still love me after some of the things I’ve done and the way I’ve treated Him?”

“God is not like us. He loves us in spite of how we are.  His love is unconditional.  He doesn’t stop loving us when we do bad things or turn away from Him.  He keeps reaching out to us like the shepherd who went to find the lost sheep, the woman who searched the house until she found the lost coin or the father who ran to meet his lost son when he saw him coming home because he was so overjoyed to see him.  Jesus said that’s how God feels about the lost.  He rejoices when He finds them.”

“So, what should I do now?” he asked.

“First, you need to thank God for sparing your life so that you have the opportunity to get to know him. This act of mercy and grace demonstrate the loving nature towards us.  He doesn’t want you to die without making a conscious decision to know Him.  In realizing that God saved in your life, I hope that you will see now His love for you and that He wants you to spend time with in a Father and son relationship.”

“One of my favorite scriptures is Jeremiah 29:11 which says, ‘For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.’ God promised that when you call on Him and pray to Him, He will listen to you.”

“Thank you, Claudine,” he said quietly. “I really appreciate you being here and helping me to understand things that don’t make any sense to me.”

She smiled.  “That’s what friends are for.”

They finished eating and after he paid the bill, he asked, “Are you seeing anyone?”

She shook her head.  “No.” I want to be with you.

It would kill me if you were seeing someone.  “Do you need a lift anywhere?”

“A ride to the subway would be great,” she said.  “I’m going to the nursing home to visit my father.”

“How is he doing?”

“He’s doing all right.  His mind is still very active and alert it’s just his body is worn out.  I still haven’t gotten used to seeing him in a wheelchair.”

“Why is he in a wheelchair?”

“He suffers from intense episodes of Asthma.”  She wrapped the scarf around her neck before pulling on her coat.  She got up from the table and followed him out of the diner as he dragged on his jacket.  She squinted as they stepped into the bright sunshine.  It was a lovely day. They walked to where his car was parked and after he held the door open for her to get in, he slid behind the wheel.  He turned on the radio and classical music played.

“I have a cousin who suffered from asthma since she was a child.  I read somewhere that, Once you have asthma, you have it for life. You might not always be symptomatic. You might have it as a kid and grow out of it. But it may revisit at some point, usually when you have a stress in your life.  Have you ever seen your father have one of his attacks?”

“Yes, more than once and each time it was very scary.  It made me realize how we can take something as such as breathing normally for granted.  But, my Dad is a trooper.  He doesn’t let his bout with asthma get him down.  He’s one of the most upbeat people I know and he always says that God is good to him, one breath at a time.”

“Your father is a very wise man.  I like him.”

“He likes you too,” she said.  “Whenever I visit him, he asks about you.”

“Please say hello to him for me.”

“I will.  Maybe the next time I visit him you can come with me.”

“I’d like that.”

They reached the subway and he pulled over to the side of the road.  He got out and walked around to open the door for her.  As she got out, she stumbled and he moved quickly to steady her.  His hands were on her waist and they were standing very close.  She raised her eyes to look at him and he looked down at her.  For several minutes they stood there looking at each other, their bodies inches apart.  She wondered if he could hear how fast her heart was beating and he wondered what she would say if she knew how badly he wanted to kiss her at that moment.  He released her and stepped aside for her to step on to the curb.

“Thanks for the ride,” she said quietly.  “I’ll call you during the week.”

“Thanks again for having lunch with me and your advice.  I really appreciate it.”

“You’re welcome, Duke.”  She hesitated for a split second and then she reached up and kissed him on the cheek.  He closed his eyes as he felt an intense longing surge through his body and it took all of his will power not to turn his head so that their lips touched.  When she drew back, his eyes were dark and smoldering.  She felt her body respond and turning, she quickly walked away.  He watched her go before he got back into the car and drove off.

All the way to the nursing home, Claudine thought about that unguarded moment between Duke and her.  For the first time since they have known each other, she saw clearly that he was attracted to her too.  She saw the desire she felt shining in his eyes.  Since they met, she had known that she loved him and had prayed that they would end up together.  Was God beginning to answer her prayers?

Her father was in his room when she got to the nursing home and he grinned when he saw her.  “Hello, sunshine.”

She smiled and went over to hug and kiss him.  “Hello, Dad.  How are you feeling?”

“I feel great.  What about you.  How are you doing?”

“I’m fine.  I had lunch with Duke.”

“How’s that young man doing?” She told him about their conversation.  “It sounds like he’s suffering from survivor’s guilt.”

“Yes.  I told him that he has nothing to feel guilty about.”

“Where’s he now?  Why didn’t you bring him with you?”

“He has stuff to do, I guess.  However, I invited him to come with me the next time I visit.”

“Good.  Take off your coat and sit down.”

She removed her coat and draped it over a chair and placed her scarf on top before settling down in a chair by the window.  The room looked bright and cheerful with lots of natural light.    “Have you gone for a walk as yet?” she asked.  “It’s beautiful outside.”

He shook his head.  “Not yet.  I’m watching Premier League football.  Manchester United and Arsenal are playing.”

Claudine shook her head, smiling.  Her father was a football fanatic.  He could sit there and watch it all day if it were possible.  “All right, finish watching your game and then, you and I will go for a walk and sit outside in the garden for a while.  A bit of fresh air will do you a lot of good.”

“Claudine, you’re worried about Duke, aren’t you?”

She nodded.  “Yes.”

“Don’t because God is going to sort him out and after He’s through sorting him out, you can tell him that you love him.”

She looked at him in astonishment.  “But, how did you–?”

“Guess that you’re in love with Duke?  It’s written all over your face every time you talk about him.  These eyes don’t miss anything.  I like Duke but he’s not the right man for you yet but he will be when God is through with him.”  Shouting on the television caught his attention and he watched as they showed a replay of Manchester United scoring its second goal.

Claudine sat there, trying to make sense of what her father just told her.  His words gave her hope.  Duke was the man for her and when the time was right, they would be together with God’s blessing.  Tears sprang to her eyes and she quickly blinked them back.  Thank You, God for answering my prayers.  And thank You for taking care of Duke.

For the rest of the afternoon, Duke couldn’t stop thinking about Claudine and what almost happened between them outside the subway station.  And that night before he went to bed, he got down on his knees and prayed.

Lord, today when Claudine kissed me on the cheek, I wanted so much to show her how much I love her.  I’ve loved her for eight years.  I knew from the moment we met that she was the right woman for me although I knew that I wasn’t the right man for her.  I’ve asked you to remove the love I have for her from my heart but it just keeps growing stronger.  I tried to get her out of my system by having an affair with Heather who was separated from John at the time.  I know what I did was wrong but I wasn’t thinking at the time.  I was hurting because I couldn’t be with the woman I loved.  It was sheer torture loving someone I couldn’t have because I was wrong for her. Even now it’s hard to be around her knowing that I could never be more than friends with her.  Lord, please help me.  Please help me to get over her.

He remained there beside the bed on his knees for a while longer, in the quietness of the room, waiting.  Before you could be the right man for Claudine, you need have a right relationship with Me. The words filled him with hope.  He could be with Claudine but first, he had to make things right with God.  He had to put his relationship with God first.

The following morning he got an email from Claudine.  It read, Hi, Duke,

I found two links that I thought may be very helpful to you. The first is about God’s Pursuit of Man and the second is about having a personal relationship with God.  God longs to have a loving relationship with you.  James 4:8 says, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.”  God promised in Jeremiah 29:13 that when you seek Him you will find Him when you search for Him with all your heart.  I pray that when you come to know God, you will see how valued you are in His sight and the guilt you feel about surviving the boat accident will be resolved.  I’ll be in touch.  Blessings, Claudine.

He replied to her email and then clicked on the first link.  Eagerly, he read it and by the time he was finished, he was in tears.  After he opened and read the second link, he turned off the laptop and got ready for work.  As he showered and got dressed, he would follow the six simple steps Alan once shared with him on how to build a relationship with God:

  1. Take the time to touch bases with God
  2. Invite Him to come close
  3. Talk
  4. Listen
  5. Make contact throughout your day
  6. Take action when you hear God’s voice

The next several weeks, he spent time reading the Bible, praying and reflecting.  When Claudine invited him to go to church with her one Sunday, he readily accepted her invitation.  From the moment he walked through the doors, he knew that this was the church he wanted to be a part of.  The love and warmth of the parishioners filled his heart with such comfort and joy that it brought tears to his eyes.  It wasn’t long before he got baptized.  Doreen and the children were there.  After the service, she hugged Duke and said, tearfully, “Alan would have been so proud.”

That evening, Claudine and he went out for dinner at one of his favorite restaurants.

“So how does it feel to be part of a church family?” she asked, smiling across the table at him.

He beamed.  “It feels wonderful,” he said.  “Now I understand why Alan loved the church community so much.”

“It was good to see Doreen and the kids.”

“She told me that Alan would have been proud.”

“Yes, he would have been.  His brother was lost and now he’s found.”

He reached over and covered her hand.  “I owe this all to you too,” he said quietly.  “I’m who I am and where I am now because of you.  Thank you for pushing me gently toward God.”

“You’re welcome.  I’m so thankful that things have worked out the way they have.”

“There’s one more thing.”  His expression was tense now.  “I have something to tell you.  It’s something that has been on my mind for a very long time but now is the right time to tell you.”

Frowning, she asked, “What is it you want to tell me?”

Taking a deep breath, he said, “I love you, Claudine.  I’ve loved you since the first time we met but I never told you because I didn’t believe that I was the right man for you.”

Heart racing, Claudine looked him straight in the face and replied, “I love you too, Duke.  I’ve loved since the first time I saw you.  My Dad was right.  That day when I visited him after you and I met for lunch, he said that you weren’t the right man for me yet but that when God was through with you, you will be.”

“Wow, that’s profound.”

“That had to be God revealing His plan to him to encourage me because I’d been praying and it seemed like God wasn’t answering or taking a long time to.”

“So, now that we know that we’re right for each other, I don’t want to waste any more time.”  He reached into his pocket and produced a small black box.  Then, he got up from the table and walked around to where she was and got down on one knee.  He opened the box, took out the ring and asked, “Claudine Bradshaw, will you marry me?”

Laughing and conscious of eyes on them, she nodded.  “Yes, I will marry you, Duke Addington.”  Through tears, she saw him slip the exquisite ring with its single heart shaped diamond on her finger before he reached up and kissed her.

Amidst the applause, he rose to his feet and went back to his seat, grinning broadly.  He raised his mock-tail and said, “To us.”

After dabbing her eyes with the napkin, she raised her glass. “To us.  And to God be the glory.”

 

 

Sources:  Our Daily Bread; Karman Healthcare; Yearning Hearts; Wise Old Sayings; Heart Spoken;

A Love Meant to Be

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

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

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

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

“Do you live around here?” he asked.

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

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

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

“Did you go to the movies alone?”

“Yes.”

“What did you go to see?”

“The Black Panther.”

He raised his eyebrows.  “The Black Panther?”

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

“And what did you think?”

“I actually liked it.”

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

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

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

“Sure.”

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

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

“Are things getting serious between Connie and you?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes.”

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

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

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

He nodded.  “I’d like that.”

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

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

“Yes, I do.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Did you tell her about–?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Me too.  Serena…”

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

“What is it?”

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

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

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

“You’re going to have a baby.”

We’re going to have a baby.”

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

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

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

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

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

“No, what?”

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

“Married?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Last Session

He glanced at his watch.  She was late.  Sighing, he got up from the chair and walked over to the window where he stood gazing out at the street below.  Where was she?  She was supposed to be there ten minutes ago.  Was she with him again?  The last time she was late, she had run into Devon who persuaded her to have a coffee with him and she didn’t show up here until almost half-hour later, apologizing profusely.  Fortunately for her, he didn’t have any other appointments for the afternoon so he was able to see her but he had advised her not to be late again.  And now, she was late again and most likely, Devon was the reason.

He closed his eyes as jealousy ripped through him.  Dragging his fingers through his hair, he made up his mind that he couldn’t continue seeing her.  Today they would have their last session and then he would refer her to a colleague.

It was his sister who had referred her to him and when she walked into his office, he should have realized that he was heading straight toward the slippery slope.  He tried to remain detached and professional as he listened to her talk about her relationship troubles with Devon, a young man she had been dating since high-school but as the weeks went by, he found himself wishing that she would do them both a favor and end her relationship with Devon.  She deserved better.  She was beautiful, smart and had so much going for her.  She didn’t need to be in this dead-end relationship with a man who clearly didn’t appreciate her.  She had so much love to give but she was giving it to the wrong person and that drove him crazy.  Whenever he thought of Devon, anger and jealousy consumed him.  He doesn’t know how lucky he isIf I had an incredible woman like Ramona, I would treat her like a queen.

He turned when he heard the door open and his heart leapt when he saw her standing there.  She came over to where he was.  “You’re late,” he said unnecessarily.

“I’m so sorry I’m late,” she said, looking anxiously at him as she quickly removed her leather jacket.

He couldn’t prevent his gaze from traveling over her.  She was wearing a black turtleneck sweater, a knee length red skirt with knee high black boots.  Her hair fell in thick waves of curls about her face and shoulders and for one maddening moment, he wanted to bury his face in them.  Abruptly, he walked over to the chair where he remained standing until she sat down on the sofa.  “We only have twenty-five minutes for the session so we’d better get started.”

She sat with her hands in her lap.  “Twenty-five minutes isn’t much time,” she said.

“You were supposed to be here thirty-five minutes ago.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Let’s not waste any more time with apologies and talk about why you’re here today.”

“I saw Devon at the café yesterday afternoon and—”

“Did you arrange to meet him there?”

“No, I went to get a cappuccino and he was there.”

“Did you leave the café after you bought the cappuccino?”

“I was about to when he came over to me.”

“What did he want?”

“He just wanted to say hello.”

“And after he said hello, did you leave?”

She shook her head, beginning to look uncomfortable now.  “Well, we left the café together.”

“Where did you go?”

“We walked back to my flat.”

“What happened when you got there?”

“He wanted to come upstairs but I told him that it wasn’t a good time.”

He tried to remain calm and pragmatic.  “So, the only reason he didn’t go up to your flat is that it wasn’t a good time.  The last time we spoke, you indicated that you wanted to end your relationship with him but it seems to me that you had an opportunity to do so yesterday but you didn’t take it.  It is obvious that you still have feelings for him and don’t want to make a clean break.”  He glanced at his watch.  “Your time is up.”

She looked upset.  “Already?”

“I’m afraid so.  Before you leave, I have something to tell you.”

“Yes?”

“This is our last session.  I will arrange for you to see my colleague, Mike Harris.”

She looked at him as if he had just given her devastating news.  “But why?” she asked.  “I’ve gotten so used to talking to you and you know so much about me.  Why do you want me to see someone else?”

“I don’t think I can help you.  You need someone who would be more objective.”

She got up from the sofa and went over to him.  “Jackson, please, I need to continue seeing you.  I promise I won’t be late again.”

He felt himself weakening when he stared up into those beautiful brown eyes and he wanted to reach up and pull her head down to his…Muttering under his breath, he sprang to his feet and went to stand behind the desk, putting as much distance between them as possible.  “I’m sorry, Ramona, but I think you would be better off seeing another therapist.  I will have the office get in touch with you.”

She stared at him for a long moment and then, stifling a sob, she grabbed her jacket and handbag and bolted from the room.  He stood there, trembling as he fought the temptation to go after her.  He believed he had done the right thing–the sensible thing yet why did he feel rotten?  He had to take a few moments to collect himself before he was able to see his next client.

He was packing up to leave when the door opened and his sister walked in, her expression a mixture of censure and concern.  He looked at her in surprise.  “What are you doing here?” he asked.

“Jackson, what happened between Ramona and you this morning?” Noreen asked him.  “She came to my office in tears.”

He continued what he was doing.  “I told her that I couldn’t continue with our sessions and I recommended that she started seeing Mike.”

“Why did you do that?”

Without looking up, he confessed quietly, “I’ve done something that a therapist should never do.  I fell in love with her.”

“And your solution to this problem is to send her to someone else?”

“I can’t continue seeing her when there’s a conflict of interest.  Do you have any idea how hard it is to sit in that chair and listen to her talk about another man?  I get so jealous that I can’t think straight.  She deserves to be helped by someone who can be objective.”

“She said that you were upset with her for being late.”

“Yes, I was.  I thought that she was with him—”

“Well, you were wrong.  It’s my fault that she was late.  I offered to give her a lift but wanted to stop by the cemetery first to put flowers on Tom’s grave.  Today is his birthday, you know.  He would have been fifty-three.  I spent a longer time than I intended and we had to rush over here.  Poor Ramona was mortified and was afraid that you wouldn’t see her.  I wanted to come up with her and explain why she was late but she declined my offer.”

“Okay, I was wrong about why she was late today but the fact remains she’s still hung up on her boyfriend even though he treats her like…” he broke off as he found himself getting upset.  “Let’s face it, Noreen, I’m in love with a woman who wants to be with a man who doesn’t deserve her.  Such is life.”

“Is that what you believe?  You believe that Ramona wants to be with Devon?”

“Yes.” The word came out as a strangled whisper.  It was torture loving and longing for someone he couldn’t have.

Noreen touched his arm, her eyes searching his face and seeing the pain etched in its features.  “You’re wrong about this too,” she told him quietly.  “Ramona doesn’t want to be with Devon.  She broke up with him weeks ago.”

Jackson stared at her.  “She broke up with him?” he repeated, looking puzzled.  “But why did she continue to come here and talk to me about him if she ended their relationship?  It doesn’t make any sense.”

“People do strange things when they’re in love, Jack.”

“In love?  Are you saying that–?”  He shook his head.  “No, you must be mistaken.  She may have broken up with him but she’s still carrying a torch for Devon.  That’s why she’s been coming and talking to me about him.”

“I’m not mistaken.  She told me herself.  She kept coming to your sessions because she wanted to continue seeing you.  And when you told her that you were referring her to another therapist, she was devastated.  She didn’t tell you how she felt about you because it would be another reason for ending your sessions.  She was in quite a state when she came to my office.  I gave her a lift home.”

He raked his fingers through his hair, trying to digest what he was hearing.  His heart wanted to believe that Ramona loved him but his mind kept resisting.  “This is probably transference.  You know when a patient transfers his or her feelings to the therapist…”

“I know what transference means, Jack.  I don’t believe that it applies here, though.  Ramona is in love with you.  Why don’t you go over to her flat and tell her how you feel?  Put both of you out of your misery.”

“I’m afraid, Noreen,” he confessed, his voice a bit unsteady. “I’m afraid to hope and believe that she could love me when she has loved him since high-school. I’m afraid that he will always be between us.”

“Jack, love is a funny thing.  We can’t help whom we fall in love with. Sometimes, it works out and sometimes it doesn’t.  But, love is like the ocean.  It can be calm or rough, shallow or deep but we can’t know unless we venture out and get our feet wet.  Don’t let fear prevent you from following your heart.  Life is too short for fears and doubts…and regrets.”  She sighed.  “What I wouldn’t give to have my Tom alive and with me.”  Tom, her husband of thirty years had passed away five years ago, leaving behind their three children and her.  “Go to her, Jack.”

Heart racing, he decided to take her advice.  “All right,” he said.  “I’ll go and see her now.  Thank you, Noreen.”

Noreen smiled and her eyes seemed a bit moist.  She reached up and hugged him tightly.  “Don’t mention it.”  They walked out the office together and parted ways in the parking lot.

He sat in his car for a few minutes, wrestling with himself and then he pulled out of the parking lot, heading for the highway which would take him to Ramona.  Twenty minutes later, he was standing outside of her flat, his heart pounding hard.  His hand shook as he raised it to ring the bell.  The door opened and she stood here, staring at him.  How he longed to take her in his arms.

“I didn’t think I would see you again,” she said in a trembling voice.  Her eyes were red from crying.  She stepped aside so that he could go in.

“I’m sorry about today,” he said after she had closed the door and was facing him.  “Noreen came to see me and she explained why you were late.”

“I wanted to be early,” she said.  “I couldn’t wait to see you.  I was looking forward to spending an hour with you but because I was so late, I got to spend only twenty-five minutes which went by so quickly.”

“My next appointment was in ten minutes.  Noreen told me that you broke up with Devon.  Why didn’t you tell me?”

She glanced down at her hands which were twiddling with a crumpled tissue.  “I was afraid that if I did you would stop seeing me and—and I couldn’t bear that.”

“Why Ramona?” he asked huskily.

“I love you,” she murmured, still holding her head down.  Her heart was racing.  She wanted to throw herself in his arms but uncertainty about his feelings for her held her in check.

His fingers clenched into fists as he fought the urge to take her in his arms.  “What about Devon?” His faceless rival hovered between them.  “Did you see him yesterday?”

She nodded.  “Yes, I did but it didn’t transpire the way I told you.  I went to the café to meet my friend, Brandi and he was there.  We spoke for a while and then he left.”

“So, all that stuff about him wanting to go up to your flat, that wasn’t true?”

“It’s true but it didn’t happen yesterday.  It happened a long time ago when we were on and off and before I started seeing you.”

“What about now?” he asked, his expression tense.  “Do you still have feelings for him?”

She looked up then, her eyes wide as they met his.  “No.  He and I are finished.  I don’t love him.  I don’t believe I ever did.  It was an infatuation which died when I met you.”

He swallowed hard.  “I want to hear you say that you love me again.”

“I love you.”

“Say my name.”

“I love you, Jackson.” She moved closer to him.  “I love you so much that the thought of never seeing you again was unbearable.”

He pulled her into his arms, his eyes dark and stormy.  “I love you too, Ramona,” he muttered thickly.  “You have no idea how much it pained me when you ran out of my office.  I wanted to come after you but I thought about Devon and…”

She raised her hand and touched him gently on the lips.  “Let’s not talk about Devon anymore.  He’s my past and you’re my future.  And now we have the present.”  She trembled when he held her hand and pressed his lips into the palm before he bent his head and kissed her.  Cupping his face between her hands, she responded wildly.

For several minutes, they exchanged hungry kisses and then she drew back to gaze up at his flushed face.  “Does this mean that you’re no longer my therapist?” she gasped.

“Yes.  Today was your last session.”

“Being with you is all the therapy I need,” she murmured before she pulled his head down to hers.

 

From Abuse to Abundance

She sat on the porch, an open book

in her lap but she wasn’t reading it.

Her eyes were on the street.  She was

waiting for her daughter to come home

from school.  Somewhere in the back-

yard, she heard the piercing trill of a bird.

 

It was a beautiful spring afternoon.  Quite

peaceful as there was hardly any traffic or people

in the street.  This was the kind of life she

had always wanted and she thought she

would have had it with Joe…Joe.  She

hadn’t thought about him for years.

 

It seemed like a lifetime ago when she met

and fell in love with the handsome and

charming construction worker.  It was a

whirlwind romance.  Within a few weeks

of meeting they got married.  There were

no red flags–at least she didn’t see them.

Everything seemed to be going so well…

And then, the honeymoon was over.

 

First the insults came and they stung

but she put on a brave face and kept

on loving him, thinking things would

get better.  Then came the blows.

At first they were followed by tearful

apologies and gifts.  And she held him

in her bruised arms and rocked him

like a baby, believing his promises that

he would never hit her again.

 

The blows continued and more frequently.

No more tears.  No more “I’m sorry, Honey.”

Instead, she was blamed for what was

happening to her.  After a while she began to

believe that it was her fault.  Something about

her brought out the worst in him.  When they

first met and even after they got married, he

was so charming and loving.  She didn’t think

he could harm a fly.  But, underneath that boy

next door veneer, lurked an abusive and unstable

monster.

 

After years of being battered and verbally and

mentally abused, she got the courage to leave.

She went to a women’s shelter where she felt safe and

cared for.   She received the counseling and

support she so desperately needed.  No more

of looking out the window for Joe and wondering

what kind of mood he would be in.  Three months

after leaving the shelter, she learned that Joe had

died from a fall at a construction site.  The news

devastated her.  In spite of everything, she still

loved him.

 

She visited his grave and stood there, tears falling

down her cheeks, wishing with all her heart that

their life together had been different.  She never

knew why he became abusive toward her.  All

she had ever done was love him and try to be a

good wife to him.  And all she got for her trouble

were blows, bruises and belittling remarks.

 

Thirteen years have gone by since she left Joe and now

she was married again.  Bill was a terrific husband

and father to their ten year old daughter.  They

met when she started attending church.  It wasn’t a

whirlwind romance this time.  It took a while for her

to open herself and her heart to someone else.  The

physical scars had healed but the emotional scars were

still there.  She marveled at Bill’s patience.  Other men

would have given up.  When she broached this with

him, he said simply, “Love is patient.  I’m not going

anywhere.”

 

It was one rainy afternoon when she was walking home

from the subway and saw him coming toward her with

an umbrella that she realized that she was in love with

him.  She married him a week later in a simple ceremony.

And now, she sat in the shade on the porch of their home,

looking out for their daughter, Annie.

 

Being married to Bill made her face up to the glaring truth

that Joe didn’t really love her.  If he had, he wouldn’t have

hurt her.  Love doesn’t batter, belittle or blame.  She had

forgiven Joe and wanted to believe that if he were still alive,

he would have sought help.

 

She saw a familiar figure coming up the street and

she stood up, smiling.  God had brought her from

a dark and painful past to this moment.  During one

of those moments when she wondered if she ever feel

safe or happy again that He assured her, “There is hope

in your future.”  Yes, from where she stood, that hope

was the life she was now enjoying.  God had brought

her from abuse to abundance.

 

 

Sources: YMCA; Domestic Shelter

Living Together

“How long are Cameron and you going to continue living together?” Mrs. Brown asked her daughter, Nara when they were sitting at the kitchen table on a Saturday afternoon.  Nara was spending the weekend with her family in Manchester.  Her father and brothers had gone on a camping trip.  It was just her mother and her.

Nara shrugged her shoulders.  Every time she saw her mother, she was asked the same question.  “I don’t know,” was the reply she always gave.  She wouldn’t admit that for the past three years, she had asked herself the same question.

“Has he ever said anything about getting married?”

Nara shook her head. “No, he hasn’t.”

“Is he ever going to?  I mean it has been five years since the two you have been dating and three years since you have been living together.  Don’t you think it’s about time that you started thinking about your future?”

“I know that Cameron loves me.”

“Does he love you enough to marry you?”

“I think so…”

“But, you’re not sure.  Honey, I think that it’s time you talked to Cameron about marriage.  Find out once and for all what his plans are.  If he doesn’t want to get married, you need to know that.”

“What if he’s not ready?”

“You can’t continue living with him until he’s ready for marriage.” Her mother reached out and covered her hand.  “I think you should move out.  It’s not right for you to be living with someone who’s not your husband.  I didn’t say anything before because I felt that you were old enough to make your own decisions even if they are wrong and go against what you were taught growing up in a Christian home.  I don’t suppose you go to church anymore.”

Nara shook her head, lowering her eyes unable to return her mother’s penetrating stare.  Instead of going to church on a Sunday morning, she would spend most of it in bed with Cameron.  Surely, the way he made love to her was evident of his love for her.  There were times after their lovemaking, she would just stare at him, thinking how lucky she was to have him in her life.  And he wouldn’t have asked her to move to London with him if he didn’t love her.

“Well, tomorrow, you will come to church with me.  Everyone will be happy to see you.  And don’t worry, no one will ask any prying questions.”

Nara felt nervous about going to church because she had not attended since she and Cameron moved to London.  She didn’t feel right going for that reason.

“I believe that God has a plan for your life,” her mother said.

“I hope Cameron is a part of the plan,” Nara said, “because I love him so much.  I can’t bear have a future without him.”

“I hope so for your sake.  He is a nice young man.  I remember when he used to come over to our house every Sunday after church.  The two of you were inseparable as children.  I always suspected that one day, your feelings for each other would grow into something serious but I never imagined that the two of you would go off to London and live together.   I always thought that you would get married first.   Nara, it’s high time that he makes an honest woman out of you.”

Nara felt the tears spring to her eyes and she quickly blinked them back.  She got up from the table.  “I going to go for a walk,” she said.  “I have a lot to think about.”

The following day, they went to church and the moment she stepped through the doors, she felt such a warm welcome.  She was moved by the beautiful music and the sermon was exactly what she needed to hear.  Afterwards, her mother and she were invited to a member’s home for lunch.  They spent the afternoon with her and then returned to the cottage.

After promising her mother that she would have a serious talk with Cameron about their future and that she would start going back to church, Nara took the train back to London.

Cameron was home she got to the flat.  Something smelled really good.  When he heard the door close, he came out of the kitchen and went over to her, smiling.  “I missed you,” he said, pulling her into his arms and kissing her.

She kissed him back and for several minutes, they eagerly exchanged kisses and then she pulled away to stare up into his flushed face.  “I missed you too,” she said.  She reached up and brushed the strands of hair back from his forehead.  “Something smells really good.”

“I just finished preparing dinner.  I made your favorite.

“You made Chicken Milano,” she said with a smile.  It was then, that she noticed that the table was set with their finest dinnerware.  “What’s all this?” she asked.

“I’ll explain in a little while.  Just have a seat at the table while I get everything ready.”

She opened her mouth to tell him that she had to talk to him about something really important but decided that it could wait until after dinner.  “I’ll take a quick shower and change into something else,” she said and walked away.

When she came back he was just lighting the candles on the table.  She watched him, thinking how handsome he looked in the black shirt and dress jeans.

She saw his gaze travel over her slim figure in the floral sundress.  “You look beautiful,” he murmured before he went over and kissed her on the shoulder then he pulled out the chair for her to sit on.  She trembled, feeling the skin tingle where his lips had been.

He sat down and he raised a glass of their favorite non-alcoholic wine in a toast.  “To us,” he said and touched his glass to hers.  His eyes shimmered as they met hers.  “We’ll have the salad first and then the main course,” he said.

Before they began, Nara said a prayer and then tucked into the tasty Caprese salad.  One of the things she loved about Cameron was that he was such an excellent cook.  The Chicken Milano was to die for.  For dessert, they had lemon ice which was very refreshing.   He encouraged her to relax on the sofa while he cleared the table and washed up.

As she sat there, listening to the sound of running water coming from the kitchen, she wondered how she was going to broach the subject that had been on her mind all the train ride from Manchester to London.  She closed her eyes at the thought of it all going terribly wrong.

He joined her just then.  “Did you have a good visit with your family?” he asked.

“Yes.  Dad and my brothers were on a camping trip so it was just Mom and me,” she said.  “I went to church this morning.”

“How was it?”

“I was nervous about going because it had been years since the last time I went but everyone made me feel so welcome.  Some of them asked about you.  They don’t know that we’re living together.”

“Nara, there’s something I want to say to you.  Please bear with me.  I’m a little nervous.”

Her heartbeat accelerated.  Her mind was racing. What did he want to say to her?

He took her hands in his, his eyes meeting hers in a steady gaze.  “You and I have known each other for years.  We grew up together and have been inseparable since we were children.  My feelings for you changed when we became teenagers but nothing came of it because I went off to Oxford while you remained in Manchester.  We kept in touch through letters and saw each other when I visited during the summer and Christmas holidays.  After I left university, I went to London where I found a job and a flat.  That’s when I sent for you to come and live with me.  I wanted us to be together.  I still do but not like this.”

Her eyes widened.  “What do you mean?”

“I don’t want us to continue living together like this,” he said.  He reached into breast pocket of his shirt and took out a little red velvet box.  He opened it and her mouth dropped open when she saw the beautiful diamond ring.  “I have been saving for this ring for the past two years.  The three stones represent the past, present and future.  You and I have experienced the first and the second now I would like us to experience the third.”  He got down on one knee, his eyes tender as they met hers.  “Nara, will you marry me?  Will you spend the rest of your life with me as my wife and not my live-in girlfriend?”

Nara was crying now.  The tears just poured down her face and it took a moment for her to say, “Yes!”

He took the ring out of the box and holding her hand in his, he slipped it on her finger. Then, he reached up and cupped her face, bringing it down so that he could cover her lips in passionate kisses.  “I love you,” he murmured in between the kisses.

She clung to him, kissing him back, her heart filled with joy.  She couldn’t wait to call her mother and tell her the news.  God did have a plan for her life and Cameron was a very big part of it.

young interracial couple sitting on steps