A Little Bit Brave

Charmaine was waiting at the bus stop on her way home when a sleek black Rolls Royce drew up.  As she stared curiously at it, the window rolled down and Dorian Breckenridge stuck his head out.  Immediately, her heart began to pound wildly.  He had that effect on her.  He was her best friend, Ella’s uncle.  They met last year at Ella’s brother’s wedding.

For Charmaine the attraction was immediate.  All evening she watched him, thinking how foolish she was to set her sights on a man who was out of her league.  He was very handsome, sophisticated and much older than her. He was seen in the company of beautiful and elegant women.  She was just a university student still living at home with her parents.  There was no way that a man like him would be attracted to her.  To him, she was just a girl, the same age as his niece.

She walked over to the car now and stared down at him, her heart melting when he smiled up at her.  “Where are you heading?” he asked.

“I’m on my way home.”

“Hop in,” he said, “I’ll give you a lift.”  He quickly got out of the car and held open the door for her to climb in.  He slid in beside her and closed the door.  As the car merged into the traffic, he tapped on the glass partition.  “Henry, we’re going to be making a stop.”  He turned to her, “What’s your address?”  After she gave it to him, he relayed it to Henry who nodded before closing the partition.

She glanced shyly at him, wondering if her heart would fall out of her chest because it was beating so hard and fast.  Her hands were clasped tightly together in her lap because she was afraid that he would notice that they were trembling.  “Thank you for the lift,” she said.

He smiled.  “It’s my pleasure,” he assured her.  His eyes flickered over her small frame, thinking how lovely she was.  Straight, long hair framed a beautiful face with the most amazing eyes he had ever seen.  His fingers itched to caress her face, curious to see if the skin felt as soft and smooth as it looked.  Forget it, he chided himself, she’s too young for you.  He quickly turned his head and gazed out of the window, a muscle throbbing along his jaw-line.  “How have you been?”

“I’ve been busy with my studies,” she said, looking at him, unable to help herself.  He had thick dark auburn hair with grey at the sides, making him even more attractive.

“What are you studying?” he asked.  He turned to look at her.

“Journalism.”

“Which area of journalism are you interested in?”

“Print.  I’m like writing.  Ella was encouraging me to do Broadcast but I’m way too shy to be in front of a camera.”

He smiled.  “When do you graduate?”

“Next year June.”

“So, what do you like to do when you’re not studying?”

“I read a lot.  I just finished reading a book about Rube Goldberg.  One of the things that struck me about him was how badly he wanted to go to New York City because it was the perfect place for cartoonists.   It took a lot of courage for him to leave the West Coast where his cartoons were growing in popularity to go to New York City although he hadn’t received an offer from a publisher there.  I don’t think I could just leave my family and friends and move to another city without any job offers.”

“I personally believe that if you want something badly enough, you must be willing to take a chance for it.  Are you free Saturday evening?” he heard himself ask.  He had to see her again.  It wasn’t enough seeing her occasionally at parties, dinners and barbecues.  He wanted to see much more of her.  In fact, in spite of their age difference, he was seriously considering having a relationship with her.

She nodded, her eyes questioning as they met his.

“Would you like to go with me to see Carmen?”

Pulse racing, she nodded again, unable to hide the excitement in her eyes.  “Yes.”

“Good.  I’ll pick you up at five.”

They had reached her house and he got out of the car to hold the door open for her.  As she climbed out, their eyes met and held for several minutes.  “Th-thank you for the ride,” she stammered, her heart racing.

His eyes darkened on her face.  “Don’t mention it,” he said quietly.  “I’ll see you on Saturday.”

“Yes.”  She turned and walked quickly to the front door, pausing to watch the Rolls Royce as it drove away.  A big smile broke out on her face.  Dorian Breckenridge had asked her to go to the opera with him.  He had asked her out on a date.  She couldn’t believe it.  When she let herself in, she had to turn on the light beside the door.  Her parents were on vacation in Miami so she had the house all to herself.  As she climbed the stairs to her room, she kept replaying in her mind, the words, would you like to go with me to see Carmen?  Then her thoughts turned to what she was going to wear.

As soon as she got to her room, she made a beeline for the wardrobe and looked through the clothes hanging there until she came across a burgundy lace dress with long sleeves.  This would do nicely, she thought.  It reached her just above the knees.

She wanted to call Ella and tell her about the date but decided that it would be best to keep it to herself.   Besides, she didn’t know if anything would come of it.  For all she knew he had intended to take someone else but she couldn’t make it so he asked her instead because he didn’t want the tickets to go to waste.  She brushed aside the negative thoughts and after taking a quick shower, she went downstairs and fixed herself dinner.  Afterwards, she relaxed on the sofa, the television on but her mind elsewhere.  She willed Saturday to come quickly so that she could see Dorian again.  She didn’t know how she would be able to concentrate on her work.  At eleven, she went to bed but lay awake for a while before finally falling asleep.

The following day, she went through the motions and was relieved when it was over and she went home.  She washed her hair and set her dress out and the shoes she was going to wear with it.  That night she was too excited to sleep and it was after one in the morning when she drifted off.  She got up early and busied herself with cleaning the house and laundry.  The day seemed to drag but soon it was time to get ready.  Excited, she showered and put on her dress.  It fitted her snugly and she pulled her hair back in a French twist with a few strands across her forehead.  No makeup, only lip-gloss.  Tiny gold earrings studs in her ears were the only pieces of jewelry she wore.

Satisfied with how she looked, she grabbed her handbag and went downstairs.  She opened the coat closet and was just buttoning her coat when the doorbell rang.  Heart racing, she went into the foyer and opened the door.  Dorian stood there, smiling at her.  “Good evening,” he said.

“Good evening.”  She turned and locked the front door before she preceded him down the steps.  As she got closer to the parked car, she realized that it wasn’t the Rolls Royce.  It was a different car.

“It’s just the two of us this time,” he remarked as he held the door open for her.  “And I thought it would be nice to drive my own car for a change.”

She smiled as she climbed into the car, delighted that they were going to be alone.  As she settled in the seat and fastened her seat-belt, she was tempted to pinch herself.  She still couldn’t believe that she was going out with him.

Carmen is over three hours long so I made reservations for dinner first at a nearby restaurant,” he said when he got in the car.  “I hope you don’t mind.”

She shook her head at once.  “No, I don’t mind at all.”   It thrilled her to no end that she was going to have dinner with him. He took her to a classic French brasserie in the heart of Covent Garden’s opera quarter.  Its true Parisian style décor and warm welcoming atmosphere made the restaurant an instant favorite for her.

She smiled when she saw his eyes travel over her after he helped her off with her coat.  As they followed the waiter to a table near the window, she felt his hand on her elbow and when he held her chair out for her, he murmured quietly, “You look very lovely.”

“Thank you.”  His compliment stirred all sorts of feelings in her and she fit a curious sensation at the pit of her stomach and she was thankful to sit down because her knees felt weak.  When he sat down, she couldn’t help admiring how he looked in the charcoal grey suit and a black turtleneck sweater.  He oozed class and sophistication.

“I’m afraid we have only an hour to have our dinner,” he said apologetically after the waitress brought the menus.  “Fortunately, it’s less than a five minute walk to the theatre.”

They had only the main course from the theater menu and skipped dessert.  It was a quarter to seven when they reached the theater.  Charmaine had never been to the theater before so she was very excited when she walked into the auditorium and saw the red curtains of the stage, the stunning ceiling, the glittering gold of the proscenium arch and the red and gold lights.  Dorian smiled when he saw her gazing around her in wonderment.  “This is the first time I’ve ever been in a theater,” she told him as she saw down.

He settled his tall frame beside her.  It pleased him that her first experience at the theatre was with him.  There were so many wonderful things he wanted her to experience with him but for the present, he wanted her to enjoy this moment.  The lights began to dim and he settled back in his seat.  The curtains rose and the show began.

During the intermission, he leaned over and inquired, “So, are you enjoying it?”

She turned to him, her eyes shining.  “Yes,” she said.  “I love the singing, the story, the costumes—everything.”

He smiled.  “Good.”

They talked a little about the show and then it was time for it resume.  At the end, there was thunderous applause and a standing ovation.  Charmaine blinked back the tears as she clapped.  As Dorian helped her with her coat, she remarked, “Although it ended in tragedy, next to Romeo and Juliet, Carmen has become one of my favorite love stories.  I felt sorry for Micaëla who loved Don Joséand I felt sorry for him because of how Carmen treated him.”

“Yes, it would have been best for the three of them if Don José and Carmen had never met.”

They walked to the car which, thankfully, was not parked far from the theater.  The temperature seemed to have dropped and she was grateful for the warmth of the car.  When they were standing outside of her parents’ home, she turned to face him after unlocking the door and turning on the porch light so that they could see each other clearly.  “Thank you for a lovely evening,” she said huskily.

He looked her, “It was my pleasure,” he told her quietly.  “Charmaine, how do you feel about being in a relationship with a man who is much older than you?”

She swallowed hard, her heart pounding.  “On top of the world,” she informed him.

He reached for her hands and drew her closer to him, his eyes gazing into hers.  “I’ve wanted to be in a relationship with you ever since we met but our age difference prevented me but this evening I made up my mind that I was going to follow my heart.”

“I’m happy you did,” she confessed.  “For the longest time, I’ve wanted you to notice me but didn’t think I stood a chance—not when you were used to be around older and more glamorous women.”

“The first time I saw you, my heart skipped a beat and whispered to me, ‘she’s the one’.  When I was with those other women, my mind was filled with thoughts about you and my heart ached to see you again.  And every time we saw each other, we never had a chance to be alone.  It was quite by chance that I saw you on Tuesday.  Usually, I would have my face buried in a newspaper or papers but I didn’t feel like doing anything except to relax and enjoy the ride.  When I spotted you at the bus-stop, I couldn’t believe my luck and seized the opportunity to be with you.  And as for the tickets to Carmen, I ordered those after we dropped you home.  Fortunately, the seats hadn’t filled up as yet.  Carmen was my excuse to see you again.”

“It was by pure chance that I was waiting at the bus-stop.  Usually, I would take the tube because it was faster but I decided to take the bus instead because it was a nice, mild day.  When I saw you, I was so thrilled because I didn’t know how long I would have to wait before I saw you again.”

“Well, we don’t have to wait to see each other,” he said huskily.  “If you’re free tomorrow, I would like to take you to the British Museum and then for lunch afterwards.”

“I’m free tomorrow and every afternoon during the week,” she told him. “I’ve never been to the British Museum.”

“Then, it’s settled.  I’ll pick you up at eight.  Goodnight, Charmaine.”

“Goodnight, Dorian.”  He was holding her hands and staring into her eyes.  Was he going to kiss her?  With all her heart, she hoped so.  It would be the perfect end to a perfect evening.

As if he had read her mind, he lowered his head and kissed her.  It was tentative at first but when he felt her eager response, it deepened.  He released her hands to cup her face as his lips moved passionately on hers.  She put her arms around his waist and pressed against him, her senses spinning.  How true the words, “No one ever fell in love without being a little bit brave.”  She concluded that she must be very brave because when she fell in love with Dorian she had no clue that he felt the same way.

Sources:  Rube Goldberg: Inventions; Royal Opera House

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The Letters

Her eyes went straight to the desk where she expected to see it and there it was.  Heart thudding, she walked into the classroom and picking it up, she examined it.  It was the same long, plain white envelope with her name written neatly on the front.  She got one every Thursday since the beginning of the semester and found herself looking forward to receiving them.  They were beautiful, heartfelt and honest outpouring of his feelings and she longed to find out who was writing them.

The mystery person was obviously a student who attended her Tuesday and Thursday classes.  She taught on Mondays and Wednesdays as well and had Fridays off.  He got there early so that no one would see him leave the envelope on her desk.  Perhaps this letter will give her more clues.  She put the envelope in her handbag, promising herself to read it as soon as she got a chance.

As she got ready for the class to begin, her gaze swept over the faces of the young men in the room while in her mind she asked the question, Is it you?  She knew which one of them she wanted her mystery man to be.  Her eyes shifted to him and caught him watching her.  He blinked and blushed before he looked away. Clive Bennington.  He sat in the front row.

The first time he walked into the classroom, she noticed him.  In all of her years of teaching never once did she ever notice a student until that moment.  He was tall and athletic.  Well dressed, he had the word preppy written all over him.  The combination of sensuality and studiousness added to his appeal.  It wasn’t long before she became strongly attracted to him.

She was careful to hide her feelings because if she were suspected of having a romantic interest in a student, her job could be in jeopardy.  Outside of the university and in her private time, she permitted herself to daydream about him and when she started getting the letters, she wished that they were from him.  She kept them in her bureau and read them every night before she went to bed.

Presently, she schooled herself to concentrate on teaching and the time went by very quickly.  As usual, he was the last to leave and as he was packing up, she went over him.  “I enjoyed your paper,” she said.  “You’re an excellent writer.  You have a remarkable way of expressing yourself.  Your writing is down to earth and engaging.  You should think of publishing some of your work.”  As she spoke to him about his writing, it dawned on her, not for the first time how much it reminded her of the penmanship of the letters.  It had to be him.

He looked shyly at her, his face a little flushed.  “Thank you, Professor Williams.”

She wanted to reach up and brush the lock of hair back from his forehead.  “You’re welcome, Clive.”  Would it be wrong for her to ask him to go with her for a cappuccino?  She decided that it probably wouldn’t be a good idea.  Walking back to the desk, she gathered the papers together and put them in her folder.  “Good night, Clive.”

“Good night, Professor Williams.”  He grabbed his bag and after glancing at her, he walked out of the classroom.

After he was gone, she finished packing up and left.   Thirty minutes later she let herself into her flat.  Not bothering to fix something to eat, she took the letter from her handbag and headed straight over to the sofa, her heart beating fast with excitement.   Her hands trembled as she unfolded the sheets of paper.  Leaning against the soft cushions, she began to read.

Dear Rose,

This is the first time I have addressed you by your first name.  I hope you don’t mind.  Whenever I see a rose, I think about you.  To me you’re more beautiful.  I will always remember the first time I saw you.  It was during my second year at Oxford.  I was sitting outside with Samantha, my girlfriend, enjoying the weather when you walked by.  My heart stopped and I couldn’t stop staring at you.  You took my breath away.  I saw there, bewildered because I really believed that I loved Samantha and always thought she was the girl for me.  And yet, when I looked at you, it seemed as if time stood still and nothing and no one else existed.  In that instance, I felt like Romeo when he was at the ball.  First he couldn’t take his eyes off Rosaline but when Juliet appeared, Rosaline faded into obscurity.  All Romeo saw was the lovely maiden who had captured his attention and his heart.  For me you were Juliet and Samantha was Rosaline.

You didn’t notice me that day because you were talking to a student, giving her your undivided attention.  I found myself wishing I were that student but I knew that if you talked to me I would be tongue-tied and probably make a fool of myself.  I wanted to know your name, which course you taught so that I could be one of your students.  I watched as the girl walked away and then another student call out to you, “Professor Williams.” And you turned and smiled as he ran over to you.  I knew your last name. Behind me I heard Samantha say, “Clive, I have to be getting to class now.  I’ll see you later.”  She reached over and kissed me on the cheek before leaving me.  I sat there, watching you talk to the student and I made up my mind that I was going to find out more about you from him.  It felt as if I were sitting there for hours and then you left.  As soon as you were gone, I went over to the student and asked him, “I’ve never seen that professor before, is she new?”

He shook his head.  “No, that’s Professor Williams.  She’s been at Oxford for about ten years now.”

“What does she teach?”

“English Language and Literature.  She teaches 4th year students like me.”

“Is she a good teacher?”

“The best.  Make sure that when you do your enrollment for your last year, that you sign up for her class. Before I took her class, I wasn’t keen on writing but now I find that I like it very much.” After I thanked him for his time, I went to my class but I was hardly paying attention to a word Professor Ayers was saying.  All I could think about was you and how much I wanted to see you again.  I discovered that you were a creature of habit.  Every day, at a certain time of the day, you went to the library to read.  I made sure I was there when you were.  You didn’t notice me as I sat there with my books open on the table watching you and wishing that I had the courage to walk over there and introduce myself to you. 

For two years, I have watched and admired you from afar.  I am ashamed to say that I broke up with Samantha but didn’t admit the real reason.  I simply told her that I didn’t love her the way she wanted me to.  She was heartbroken.  I felt like a heel, especially when she transferred to another university. I never meant to hurt her but I couldn’t help that I had fallen in love you.  Many nights I lay awake whispering the words, I love you.  I sit in your class, longing for the day when I could say it to your face.  Yes, I took the student’s advice and signed up for your class and I am so happy that I did.  The first day I walked into your class and you smiled at me, I was on cloud nine.  When you first spoke to me, I couldn’t think straight.  I was so nervous and I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to hide my feelings.  Sometimes I noticed the way you looked at me and that encouraged me.  I started to believe that you were attracted to me too and that made my heart dance with joy.

I graduate in three weeks and I have mixed feelings.  I’m happy to be moving on bigger things but at the same time, I will miss being in your class.  It has been the highlight of my whole university experience.  I look forward to seeing you every week and can’t wait for the weekends to end.  I am hoping that you will want to stay in touch with me.  I will even dare to say that I hope that you would be open to the idea of going out with me.  Nothing would make me happier than to be in a relationship with you.  My family will not approve for obvious reasons but when you’re in love, it doesn’t matter what others say or think.  On Tuesday, I will stay after class and ask you to go to the café with me.  I hope that you will say yes.

This is my last letter but before I close, I wanted to say that when I first saw you, I never imagined that I would fall so hard.  I dream about you, think about you and long to be with you every day.  My heart pounds when I see you and I get butterflies in my stomach when someone mentions your name.  Even if you don’t end up falling in love with me, I want you to know that I love you now and I will love you for the rest of my life.

Clive

Rose didn’t realize that she was crying until a teardrop fell on the page.   Finally, she knew who the mystery man was.  It was Clive.  This was the only letter he signed his name to.  In all the other letters, he simply wrote Anonymous.  This letter was by far the most precious one and after reading it a second time, she clutched it to her heart.  Clive loves me.  He wants to be in a relationship with me.  On Tuesday, I will let him know how I feel.

Tuesday came and all through class she thought of nothing else but going out with him.  As soon as they were alone, Clive went over to her as she was gathering the papers together and putting them in her briefcase.  She paused and looked up at him.  He looked so shy and unsure of himself that her heart melted.  Reaching for his hand, she said, “It’s a beautiful afternoon.  Let’s walk to the café.”

His heart was racing and he couldn’t think straight because she was holding his hand.  “Thank you,” was all he could manage to say and she smiled.

She finished packing up and then preceded him to the door.  They walked to the café and sat at a table in the corner.  They chatted for a while about different things including what his plans were after he graduated.   “I’m going to miss your letters,” she told him.  “I loved reading them.  I read them every night.”

“Really?” he asked, looking thrilled.  “I’m relieved to hear that.  I was afraid that I was being too forward but I couldn’t keep my feelings bottled up inside.”

“You were right about me,” she admitted.  “I was attracted to you the first time I saw you but I tried not to show it.  There were times when I couldn’t help looking at you.  I had to be careful that no one else noticed.  When I started getting the letters, I hoped that they were from you.”

“Does this mean that you will go out with me?” he asked, looking anxious.

She nodded.  “Yes, but we have to keep it on the quiet until you graduate.”

“All right,” he agreed, holding her hand, relishing the feel of it in his.  “We’ll do whatever you think is best just as long as we are together.”

“Are you free tomorrow evening?” she asked, unable to think with him caressing her hand.

“Yes,” he said. “I am.”  Even if he had another engagement, he would cancel it for her.

“How would you like to have dinner at my place?”

“I’d like that very much, Rose.”

“Come at six-thirty.   Let me give you my address.”  She had to extricate her hand from his in order to write down the information.

He took the folded piece of paper and put it in his wallet.  “I’m looking forward to dinner,” he told her.

“I’m afraid I have to leave now,” she said, sounding regretful.  “I have to attend my niece’s recital this evening.”  She finished her cappuccino, paid for both and then quickly wrote down her address for him.

He was disappointed that they weren’t going to stay longer but at least he was going to see her tomorrow.  He stood up when she did and they left the café.  They walked back to the parking lot of the university.  When they beside her car, he wanted to kiss her but thought better of it.  Someone might see them.  “See you tomorrow,” he said.

“See you tomorrow,” she replied, smiling up at him.  She got into her car and waved before she drove off.

He watched until her car disappeared from view before walking to his.  He couldn’t sleep that night.  All day in school, he thought about Rose and when it was time to go home, he scooted out of there.  Promptly at six-thirty he was outside of her flat.  She opened the door, smiling when she saw him.  “Good evening, Clive. Come in.”

“Good evening, Rose.”  He went in and turned quickly so that she couldn’t see what he was holding behind his back.  After she closed and locked the door, he produced a bouquet of orange roses.  “Roses for a Rose,” he said huskily.

“They are gorgeous,” she exclaimed.  She took them and put them on the table nearby.  “Thank you, Clive.”

Touched, she reached up and kissed him.  When she would have pulled back, his arms went around her waist and his eyes met hers in a passionate gaze before they dropped to her lips.  They darkened with desire when he saw hers part and then he was kissing her, feverishly, wildly.  All the pent up emotions came gushing out and she matched his kisses with the same intensity, her arms going around his neck as he pressed her against him.

Several minutes went by as they exchanged hungry kisses and then he released her to remove his jacket while still kissing her.  She moved her arms from around his neck to help him to pull the dress tee shirt off.  Then, she was backing him over to the hearth where a rug was spread.  They were lying on the rug, his hands were holding her face between his hands as he plundered her lips.  “I love you, Rose” he muttered thickly when she drew back to look at him and to catch her breath.  “Let me show you how much.” And then she was lying on her back, staring up into his flushed face.

“I love you too, Clive,” she whispered before she reached up and pulled his head down to hers.

They ended up having a late dinner and that night marked the beginning of a relationship which led to marriage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Heart Speaks

“I sympathize with your situation but I’m afraid you don’t fit what we are looking for.  You have the qualifications but you just don’t fit what we are looking for.  I’m sorry.  I hope things work out for you.”

These words played over and over in Shannon’s mind as she walked down the sidewalk, tired from job hunting and interviews that ended the same–rejection.  What was wrong with her?  Was it her appearance, her color?  Was it her hair which was very short and natural?  She had the qualifications and when they called her for an interview, they sounded enthusiastic but when they saw her in person, the reception was lukewarm.  And the interview didn’t last long at all.  She was in and out of there in less than half-hour.

What on earth was she going to do now?  If she didn’t get a job soon, she would be evicted from her flat.  That meant she would have to move back in with her parents until she could find a job.  She didn’t relish the idea of moving back with her parents after being on her own for a while.  Sighing heavily, she decided to go to the park and sit there and try to figure out what to do.  First, she would grab a cappuccino.  Maybe she could try an employment agency.  A temporary job was better than nothing.

It was after twelve and the cafe was filling up.  As she joined the line to place her order, she felt a tap on her shoulder and turned around.  Her heart skipped a beat when she found herself staring up into the handsome face of Arran Carter, her ex-boyfriend’s uncle.

His hazel eyes were riveted to her face which he thought was exquisitely beautiful. “Hello, Shannon,” he said quietly.  Since the first time they met, he hadn’t been able to get her out of his mind.

“Hello, Mr. Carter,” she said trying to sound calm when her heart was pounding and her pulse was racing.  He had this effect on her.  After meeting him, she knew she couldn’t continue to see Hugh.  It wouldn’t have been fair to him continue their relationship when she had fallen for his uncle.

“Please call me Arran.  It’s so good to see you.  How have you been?”

“Well, I haven’t been so good,” she told him.  “I have been out of a job for about a year now and haven’t found anything as yet and time is running out.  I could lose my flat if I don’t find something soon.”

“Have you had lunch?”

She shook her head.  “No.  I just came from an interview and was going to get a cappuccino.”

“Let me buy you lunch and we can talk more.”

She smiled, grateful.  “Thank you.”  He put a hand under her elbow and led her to a table in the corner by the window.  She removed her coat to reveal a navy blue skirt suit and a white shirt.  As she sat down, she couldn’t help thinking about how she used to dress when she first attended university.

During the summer, she wore top with spaghetti straps, bulky and cheap chains and necklaces and too much makeup.  And in the winter, she wore mostly black and leather, torn jeans and impossibly high pointed toe boots.  In her senior year, she underwent a complete make-over.  Her style went from edgy to elegant so that her friends and parents were shocked and pleased at the transformation.  She wondered what Arran would have thought if he had known her then.

She studied him as his six foot two inches frame settled in the seat opposite her.  He was wearing a tan colored jacket which he removed, a black shirt and pants.  His dark hair was thick and spiky, giving him a rugged look which she found very attractive.  She wanted to reach over and ruffle it.  Realizing that she was staring, she turned and looked out of the window.

The waitress brought menus and after they browsed through them and placed their orders, he said, “You mentioned that you had an interview earlier.  I don’t imagine that it went as you’d hoped.”

She shook her head as she played with the folded napkin on the table.  “No.  They said I didn’t fit what they were looking for even I had the qualifications.”

He pursed his lips.  “That was an unethical thing to say,” he remarked tersely.  “If you have  the qualifications, they should have hired you.”

She glanced up at him.  “Perhaps, they had a problem with the way I look.”

“What ‘s wrong with the way you look?” he wondered in surprise.  You look amazing. 

“Nothing as far as I’m concerned.”

“Do you have a copy of your resume with you?”

“Yes, I do.”  She reached for her handbag and produced a copy which she gave to him.  She watched anxiously as he read it.

“May I hold on to this?” he asked.

She nodded.  Just then, the waitress brought their orders.  She toyed with her salad, wondering if he was going to give her resume to someone he knew.

“You have all the qualifications I’m looking for,” he said.  “My assistant Loretta is going on maternity leave in two weeks so I’ll be needing someone to fill her position.  How would you feel about working for me?”

She stared at him for several minutes.  “I would like that very much,” she managed to say.  “Thank you, Arran.”

“You’re welcome.”  He had done it for himself as much as he had done it for her.  Hiring her as his assistant meant that he would get to see her on a regular basis.  “I’d like you to start on Monday.”  He took out his wallet and pulled out a card which he handed to her.  It was a business card.  “When you get there, have the receptionist call me and I will come and get you.”

She put the card in her wallet, grateful to him for his kindness.  Her appetite was back and she tucked into the salad.  “I haven’t asked you how you’ve been,” she said, sounding a bit apologetic.

“I’ve been fine, thanks,” he said, studying her.  Her eyes captivated him.  “Work keeps me busy.”

She wanted to find out if he was seeing anyone but instead she asked, “Do you go out on the weekends?”

“Sometimes.  What about you?”

“Sometimes I go out but most times I stay in.”

“I ran into Hugh the other day.”

“How is he?”  She hadn’t seen him since the break-up.

“He seemed fine.  He mentioned that you broke up with him.”

“That’s true,” she acknowledged.

“Are you seeing anyone now?” he asked.  His expression was inscrutable as he watched her.

“No, I’m not seeing anyone now,” she said, looking at him.  “What about you?”

“I’m not in a relationship,” he said.  Their eyes met and held for several minutes, then he asked, “Will you have dinner with me tomorrow evening?”

She nodded.  “Yes.”  Nervousness and excitement filled her at the prospect of having dinner with him.  “My address and number are on my resume.”

He smiled.  “I know.  I’ll pick you up at seven.”

They spoke about other things and then it was time for him to head back to the office.  “Thank you so much for lunch and the job,” she said putting on her coat while he paid the bill.  “I really appreciate it.”

“It was my pleasure,” he replied.  “May I give you a ride somewhere?”

“You can give me a ride to the tube if it’s not out of your way.”

“It isn’t.”  He pulled on his jacket and they walked out of the cafe.  They walked a short distance to where his BMV was parked.  He held the door open for her and their eyes met briefly before she got in.

As she strapped herself in, she couldn’t help but marvel at how her day was turning out.  She promised herself that she would get down on her knees as soon as she got home and thank God for turning things around for her.  Arran got in beside her and soon the engine purred to life and they pulled into traffic.  It was twenty minute ride to the train station and after she climbed out of the car, she turned to him.  “Thanks again for everything.”  She held out her hand and her senses swam when she felt his fingers wrap around hers.

“Don’t mention it,” he said quietly.  “I look forward to seeing you tomorrow evening.”

“Me too.”  She was sorry when he released her hand.  She waved at him before she turned and quickly walked away.

He stood there and watched her until she disappeared into the underground before he got back into his car and drove off.

It was five minutes to seven and she was ready.  She stood in front of the full length mirror looking at herself.  The V Neck Jersey Long Sleeve Red Mini Dress accentuated her figure and complimented her coloring.  The pearl necklace and tiny pearl earrings added a touch of elegance.  Satisfied, she walked out of the room and was just getting her coat of the closet when the doorbell rang.  She glanced at the clock.  Exactly seven.  Arran was punctual.

She pulled on her coat, quickly buttoned it and grabbed her the nude handbag which perfectly matched her nude pointed toe pumps as she walked to the door.  Her heart pounding with excitement, she eagerly opened and her face broke into a big smile when she saw Arran standing there.  His hair was slicked back, giving him a polished look.  “Good evening,” she said, holding out her hand.

“Good evening,” he replied, taking her hand, his gaze never leaving her face as he raised it to his lips.

The smile faded as she felt all sorts of sensations run through her body at the feel of his warm lips against the back of her hand.  Her chest began to rise and fall quickly and her heart was beating wildly.  She found herself wondering what it would be like to feel those lips on hers.  When he released her hand, she turned and locked the door, her hand trembling slightly.  She almost dropped the key on the floor instead on in her handbag.  Her legs felt a bit wobbly as they walked to the lift.

He took her to a French restaurant where the view of the city was breathtaking and ambience was warm and cozy.  She felt shy when she saw the way he looked at her when she removed her coat.  And he looked gorgeous in the charcoal grey dress suit, matching tie and light blue shirt.

Over white non-alcoholic wine  and amazing dishes, they talked and laughed.  She learned that his father was British and his mother was French.  He had one sibling–an older sister who was Hugh’s mother.  His father died five years ago from a stroke and his mother lived with her widowed sister in Manchester.  Arran told her that he had dated on and off over the years, but nothing serious ever came of those relationships.  He loved his job and couldn’t imagine doing anything else.  When he wasn’t working, he enjoyed watching sports or for long drives in the countryside.

“Perhaps you would like to come with me for a ride in the countryside tomorrow,” he said.  “We can go to Richmond Park and walk along the trails.  It’s beautiful at this time of the year.  You’ll see the deer that live there and we can have lunch afterwards at the lodge.”

“That sounds great,” she said, her eyes sparkling.  She was going to see him again tomorrow.

They spent a very pleasant evening together and when they got to her flat two hours later, they lingered outside the door, reluctant to part even though they were going to see each other the next day.

“I had a wonderful time this evening,” he said quietly, his eyes restless on her face.

“Me too.”  A pause.  “Would you like to come in and we can talk some more?”

He nodded.  “Yes, I’d like that very much.”

She unlocked the door and held it open for him to go inside and then she locked it.  After sliding of her shoes, she took his coat and went to the closet where she hung it along with hers.  “Would you like something to drink?” she asked.

He shook his head.  “No thank you.  You have nice place.”

“Thank you.”  She sat down on the sofa beside him.

“I guess Hugh has been here.”

“Yes.”  There was a long pause and then, she said, “You know he and I never—”

He stared at her.  “You mean you and he never–?”

“We kissed but that was as far as it went.  I told him that I didn’t want to have sex outside of marriage anymore.  I didn’t always feel that way.  When I was in university I was a bit wild and my first and only time was with a senior at the back of his bright yellow pick-up truck when we went on a camping trip.  I was curious and most of my friends were sleeping with their boyfriends.  I was a little tipsy and we were alone.  The others had gone skinny dipping.  I couldn’t swim so I didn’t go and he stayed with me.  We started kissing and one thing led to the other.  I felt awful the next morning and I avoided him.  We never hooked up again after that.  After that night, I promised myself that I will never sleep with a man unless I loved him.  Every time I think of that night I feel ashamed and wish it had never happened.”

Arran reached for her hand.  “We’ve all done things that we regret,” he said.  “When I was sixteen I slept with my best friend’s mother.  I met her when I went over to my friend’s house for a barbecue.  She and his father were separated at the time.  I thought she was hot and she made it clear that she liked me.  One afternoon I dropped by my friend’s house to hang out but he wasn’t there.  He went to the library to return some books.  She was alone at home and she invited me to go in.  She offered me a glass of lemonade because it was hot outside.  We sat on the sofa and talked about all sorts of things and then she leaned over and kissed me.  I was shocked and excited at the same time.  Well, one thing led to another and we ended up doing it right there on the sofa.  Afterwards, I felt awful and I left before my friend got home.  I never went back to his house.  He never found out about his mother and me.  His parents got divorced the year after and he and his mother moved to Liverpool.”

Shannon stared at his long fingers as they played with hers, hardly able to concentrate.  “I have a confession to make,” she said.  “I broke up with Hugh because of you.  When I met you I knew that I couldn’t continue to see him.  It wouldn’t have been right to be with him when you were the one I wanted to be with.”

His eyes darkened.  “This may sound corny but the moment I laid eyes on you, my heart belonged to you.”

“You know the heart speaks,” she said huskily.  “That night at the campsite it spoke to me.  It told me to get away from that campsite before I did something I would regret but I didn’t listen to it.  It told me not to date Hugh but I didn’t listen.  I listened to it when it told me to break up with Hugh because I knew I was in love with you.”

“Is your heart speaking to you now?” He asked.  She nodded. “What is it saying?”

“It’s telling me to let go of the past and all of the regrets and hold on to the love that is right here in front of me.”  She moved closer to him and groaning, he cupped her face between his hands and kissed her.  Her hands were on his thighs, her fingers digging into the material as she kissed him back.  They exchanged passionate kisses and then he was lying on his back and she was stretched out on top of him.  That night marked the beginning of the rest of their lives together.

Nothing speaks louder than your heart.  Listen to what it’s telling you – Georgia Cates

 

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 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

The Admission

She turned on the radio and tried to listen to a talk show her friend had told her about but there was so much static, that after five minutes of endless crackling, she changed it to another station.  As the smooth sounds of R&B filled the car, she tried to relax but she couldn’t.  All she could think about was Mac and the redhead she saw him with last night at the café.  Red, hot jealousy had burned in her as she watched them.  Thankfully, he didn’t see her and she managed to slip out unnoticed.

After leaving the café, she had fumed all the way home, chiding herself for feeling the way she did.  Never once did she entertain the thought that she would fall for the very same guy she had pegged as conceited.  All the women at the office fawned over him but she had remained aloof, or so it appeared.  She treated him professionally but kept him at a distance, making it crystal clear that she wasn’t interested.  Yet, deep down, she couldn’t deny that she was strongly attracted to him and seeing him with another woman last night, forced her to acknowledge that she was in love with him.

Gripping the steering wheel, she fought back the angry tears and tried to figure out what she was going to do.  How was she going to continue to act indifferently toward him when she was in love with him?  Of all the men at the company, why did she have to fall for him?  Everyone kept raving about what a nice guy he was but to her he came across as cocky.  It was probably a bruise to his ego that she didn’t go for him.  Well, the joke was on her now because she wanted him too and it was driving her crazy.

Two days ago they were in the last two to leave the office and as she was clearing off her desk, he went over to her.  She didn’t look up but was painfully aware of him and the whiff of his cologne was tantalizing.  He looked incredible in the striped navy blue suit, black shirt and tie.  His spiky hair gave him an edgy look which she found very attractive.  He was sexy and he knew it and that irritated her.  She tried to ignore her pounding heart and busied herself with putting away papers and signing off the computer.  She could feel him watching her and she resisted the urge to look up.

“It’s been a very hectic week,” he commented.

“Yes.”

“Any plans for tonight?”

“No.”

There a brief pause and then, “Have dinner with me, then.”

Her head shot up then and she stared at him.  He couldn’t possibly be serious.  Why would he think that she would have dinner with him?  Of all the conceited—“No, thank you,” she said curtly.  “Perhaps you should ask Joan or Nancy or one of the other women.  I’m sure they would love to have dinner with you.”

“I don’t want to have dinner with any of them, Brianna.  I want to have dinner with you.”

“I’m sorry but I can’t—”

“Why not?”

“I—I just can’t.”

“That’s not a good enough reason.”

“It’s the only one I can give you,” she retorted.

“What are you afraid of?” He asked, startling her.

“I’m not afraid of anything,” she said quickly, too quickly.

“I think you’re afraid of being alone with me.”

“Why should I be afraid to be alone with you?” she demanded, wishing she didn’t want to kiss him so badly.

“You’re afraid because you want me as much as I want you.  I wanted you from the moment I first met you—”

“This is exactly why I can’t stand you,” she cried, her voice sounding a little high-pitched.  She wanted so desperately to get out of there now.  It was becoming increasingly hard to stand there so close to him and not want to tear off his clothes.

“What do you mean?” he asked, frowning.

“I think you’re conceited and that you think you’re God’s gift to women.”

“You mistake self-confidence for conceit and you’re wrong about how I see myself when it comes to women.  I don’t think that I’m God’s gift to them.  Women find me attractive just as men find you attractive.  That is something neither of us can prevent.”

She quickly lowered her gaze, feeling chastised.  He certainly put her in her place and in a very gracious way too.  “I’m sorry,” she mumbled.

He reached out and touched her arm, making her jump.  Her eyes were wide as she stared up at him and her heart was beating at an alarming rate.  Somehow she found herself trapped between him and the desk.  And she stood there, helpless, watching mesmerized as his face got closer.  Her eyes dropped to his lips and hers parted in anticipation.

Then, he was kissing her and she was kissing him back ravenously, her arms going around his neck, clinging to him as she was leaning back over the desk under the onslaught of his kisses.  At one point he lifted her on top of the desk and continued to kiss her and then his cell phone rang.  He ignored it.  It stopped ringing.  They continued kissing and then, it rang again.

Groaning in frustration, he pulled away from her, fumbled for the cell and answered it.  “Hello?” he panted.  He listened for a moment.  And then, he said to her, “I have to take this call.”

Well, when he turned walked away a little distance to talk, she used that as an opportunity to leave.  She slid off the desk, grabbed her handbag and ran out of there.  She knew that if she had stayed there, she would have made love to him right there in the office.  She still had reservations about him and was afraid of getting hurt.  That night, she couldn’t sleep.  All she could think about was how his lips felt and how it thrilled her to know that he wanted her as much as she wanted him.

The next day, she avoided him as much as she could and when he managed to ask her why she had run out on him, she replied, “It was getting late and I had errands to run,” before she walked away.  At the end of the day, she made sure she left before he did.  After picking up her winter coat and some suits from the laundry, she decided to treat herself to a cup of hot chocolate with whipped cream and sandwiches.  She had just finished her second sandwich when Mac walked in.

The blare of a car horn jolted her back to the present and she saw that the light had changed to green.  As she drove off, she was sorely tempted to go over to Mac’s flat and confront him.  No, I won’t give him the satisfaction, she decided, her mouth tightening.  I won’t give him the satisfaction of knowing how much it hurt to see him with her.  No, I’m going home and take a nice, hot bath.  I’m not going to let Mac ruin my weekend.

She turned down the street that would take her home.  Ten minutes later, she let herself in her flat.  After hanging her coat in the closet and putting her handbag away, she got undressed.  The hot water felt good against her skin but it couldn’t erase him from her mind.  She donned a pair of pajamas and went over to the sofa to watch some TV.  She stared at the screen but nothing registered.  All she could think about was Mac.  Closing her eyes in despair she leaned her head against the back of the sofa.  They soon opened again when she heard the doorbell.

Glancing at the clock above the mantelpiece, she wondered who would be stopping by to see her at nine-thirty.  She got up from the sofa and went to answer the door.  Her eyes widened when she peered through the keyhole and saw Mac standing there.  Immediately, her heart began to race. What is he doing here?  She opened the door.  He looked so good in the white shirt and jeans.

His expression was serious as he met her gaze. “I’m sorry to be dropping by at this time but you and I need to talk.”

“Okay.”  She moved aside to let him in and closed the door behind him.  After he removed his shoes, she preceded him to the living-room.  They sat down on the sofa and he turned so that he was facing her.

“Why did you run off that afternoon when we were together?” he asked.

“I told you—”

“Yes, I know what you told me but I want to hear the real reason, Brianna.”

She looked down at her hands.  “I was afraid that if I stayed, I would have let you make love to me.”

His eyes darkened.  “Why would something so incredible make you afraid?”

“I just didn’t want to get hurt.  You could have any woman you want and you say you want me but that could change…”

“Since I met you, I haven’t looked at another woman—”

“Then, who was the redhead I saw you with at the café?” she demanded, rising to her feet.

He looked up at her, startled.  “Redhead?” he repeated, knitting his brow.  “Oh, you mean Amber.”

“Yes.” She couldn’t hide the jealousy that was raging inside her.  “I was in the café and I saw when you came in.  I sat there and watched the two of you.”

“Why didn’t you come over and say hello?” he asked, looking perplexed.

She turned away.  “I didn’t want you to see me.”

He got up and taking her by the shoulders, he turned her around to face him.  She kept her eyes downcast, not wanting him to see what was in them.  “You’re jealous,” he realized.  “There’s no reason for you to be.  Amber is my cousin.  She was having boyfriend problems and needed my advice.  We decided that we would go to the café and talk there over cappuccinos and sandwiches.”

Brianna raised her eyes then.  “When I saw you with her, I thought…”

He released her shoulders and slipped his arms around her waist, pulling her against him.  “You thought I was seeing someone.  Oh, Brianna, after what happened between us at the office, how could you think that?  I told you how I feel about you that evening.”

“You said you wanted me—”

“Yes, and I do very, very much but desire isn’t all I feel for you, Brianna.  What I’m trying to say is that I love you.”

“You love me?” she could hardly believe it.

“Yes!”

She reached up and cupped his face.  “I love you too,” she confessed.  “Admitting to myself that I was in love with you was the hardest thing for me to do because of the man I thought you were.  Perhaps, I painted that unflattering picture of you because I was afraid to let myself fall in love with a man who could have any woman he wanted.”

“You’re the only woman I want and love,” he declared huskily before he lowered his head and kissed her.

As she responded to his kisses, she thought how true these words were: You can’t stop the feelings you have for someone.  You can’t lie to yourself either.  Your heart knows the truth all too well.

 

The Age Difference

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

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

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

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

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

He shook his head.  “No, thank you.”

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

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

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

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

“Not at all, Dear.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Eighteen.”

“Do you have a girlfriend?”

He shook his head.  “No.”

“What about the girls at college?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I meant out here.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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