Venice

Friends since they were children, Monica and Russell were inseparable.  They went to the same schools and university and moved from Manchester to London after they graduated from university.  Whenever people saw them together, they always assumed that they were a couple and they would quickly inform them, “We’re just friends.”

They dated other people but the relationships never worked out and their respective exes always blamed their friendship.  Once, Monica’s ex-boyfriend accused her of sabotaging their relationship because she was secretly in love with Russell.  She had a run in once with Samantha, a model he was dating who informed her that she didn’t believe that they were just friends.  “A person would have to be blind not to see that there is something going on between you two,” she said.  “And which woman in her right mind could be just friends with a guy like Russell?”

Russell and Monica laughed about it but as time passed, they realized that there was some truth to what others were saying.  They stopped dating other people because they didn’t feel any connection with them and it was beginning to affect their friendship.  Russell found himself getting jealous of the men Monica dated and she hated seeing him with other women.  So, to safeguard their friendship, they remained unattached.   Instead of going to dinner with other people they went each other.  They went to the theatre, concerts and now, here they were in Italy for a three week vacation.

Monica stood now on the Spanish Steps as Russell snapped photos of her.  He looked so handsome in the white shirt and light blue jeans.  She noticed women walking by and casting admiring glances his way.  Jealousy gnawed at her although he seemed oblivious to them.  She knew she was being ridiculous but she couldn’t help it.  She always worried that one day he would meet someone else and fall in love with her.  Not wanting to spoil the moment, she smiled and posed for the photos.

The day went pleasantly as they visited the Pantheon and had lunch at a trattoria near the Piazza Navona.  After sharing a pizza, she went to the washroom.  On her way back to the table, a local looked up at her and said, “Ciao Bella ragazza.”  She glanced at him and then continued to where Russell was.

He stood up when she reached him.  “What did that man say to you?” he asked.  His expression was guarded.

“It sounded like, ‘Ciao bella ragazza,’” she told him.

Russell didn’t answer.  Instead, he put on his sunglasses and preceded her out of the trattoria.  They went for a walk along Castel Sant’Angelo before they went back to the hotel.  They went to their respective rooms until it was time for dinner.  The following day, they left Rome and went to Florence where they spent their second week.  The following day, they took a trip to Milan and after visiting the Santa Maria delle Grazie where Da Vinci’s Last Supper hung, they stopped by the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. Russell took a photo of Monica outside of Prada.  From Florence, they went on a day tour to Pisa, Siena and San Gimignano.  They had dinner in Siena in a trattoria in Piazza del Campo.

The week went by very quickly and Monica was sorry when they left Florence but looked forward to seeing Venice.  They took the train early in the morning and while Russell read a magazine, she took a nap.  When they arrived in Venice, they found out that they had to share a room because the hotel was fully booked.  That made Monica very nervous but she was relieved when she saw that there were two separate beds.

They spent their first day in Venice at Piazza San Marco, reputed to be one of the most beautiful squares in the world.   They visited the Basilica of San Marco.  Monica was enthralled by the dome and could have stood there all day just staring up at it.  When they came out of the basilica, Russell pointed to the one of the arches above the entrance where there was a marble statue of an old man biting his hand.  “The legend says that he was relieved of his duties when he said that he would be able to build it even more beautiful.”

They had lunch at a restaurant in the square, enjoying the sunshine and watching other tourists.  They finished their sightseeing for the day climbing the Campanile for the breathtaking view of the city and the lagoon.   They stayed there for a while.

It was late afternoon when they returned to the hotel.  They relaxed on the terrace and then it was time to get ready for dinner.  It felt strange getting dressed in the bathroom while Russell got dressed in the bedroom.  She had to make sure it was safe to come out once she was finished.  He looked handsome as usual.  And she saw his gaze travel over her.  “You look great,” he remarked before turning away.  “I was thinking that after dinner, we can go to a church concert.”

She smiled.  “That sounds great.”  Venice was beautiful at night so it was nice walking to the square.  How she longed to hold Russell’s hand, especially when they passed other couples who were holding hands.  They had dinner at an elegant restaurant.  Afterwards, they walked to the church where they spent the next hour or so listening to uplifting music in a lovely atmosphere.

It was late when they got back to the hotel and she was tired.  On the way up to their room, she kept yawning and as soon as they got in she took out a nightgown from her suitcase and headed straight for the bathroom.  She quickly changed out of her dress and into her nightgown and brushed her teeth.

She walked into the room and stopped short when she saw Russell standing there half-naked, holding his pajama shirt.  She turned away, flustered but not before her gaze swept irresistibly over the broad shoulders and wide chest.  He watched her, his expression tense and a muscle throbbed alongside his jaw line.  It took every ounce of willpower on his part not to go over there and take her in his arms.  Instead, he went into the bathroom and closed the door quietly behind him.

As soon as he was gone, Monica hurried over to her bed and climbed in, pulling the cover up to her throat.

A few moments later, the door to the bathroom opened and Russell stepped into the room.  She watched as he walked past her bed to his.

“Goodnight, Russell,” she said, looking over at him as he pulled back the cover and got in.  His back was turned to her.

“Goodnight.”  He closed his eyes as his body reacted to the memory of her in the champagne colored silk nightgown.  He didn’t know how much longer he could continue being just friends with her when he wanted her.

She lay there on her back, staring up at the ceiling, unable to fall asleep.  She couldn’t get the image of him out of her mind.  When she saw his bare torso, her mouth went dry and what felt like a bolt of electricity surged through her.  She had turned away because she was afraid that her feelings would betray her.  She wished she had the courage to tell him how she really felt about him but she didn’t want to jeopardize their friendship.

Sometime later, she heard him stir and then get up.  In the faint light, she watched him tiptoe over to the chair where his shirt and pants were draped.   As he started to get dressed, she sat up, alarmed.  “Where’re you going?” she asked, turning on the lamp beside her.

He didn’t turn around.  “I thought you were asleep.  I can’t sleep so, I’m going out for a bit.”  After he pulled on his shirt and tucked it in his pants, he turned to face her, his eyes wary.  “I’ll try not to disturb you when I come back.”

“How long will you be gone?”

“I don’t know,” he replied shortly.

“Where will you go?”

“I don’t know.  Maybe I’ll go to Piazzale Roma or the Rialto or San Marco.”  He was about to walk past her when she quickly climbed out of the bed and stood in front of him.

“What’s wrong, Russell?” she asked.  “You seem upset.”

He kept his eyes on her face, not daring to let them go lower.  “I’m not upset.”

“I think you are, “she insisted.   “Please tell me what’s wrong.  We’re supposed to be friends—”

His expression darkened.   “I know we’re supposed to be friends,” he snapped.  “But right now, I don’t feel like a friend.”

She looked nonplussed.  “What do you mean?”

This is what I mean,” he muttered before he grabbed her by the shoulders and pulled her roughly against him, making her gasp.  His head swooped down and his mouth closed hungrily over hers.

Monica clung to him, kissing him back eagerly, feverishly.  As they exchanged kisses, he picked her up and carried her over to her bed.  He put her gently down on it and then drew back to remove his shirt.  She reached for him, pulling him down to her, her fingers digging into his back as he pressed his lips hotly against her neck.

They made mad, passionate love and the next morning when she woke up, she was alone in the bed.  She lay there for a moment thinking it had all been a dream.  Then she sat up and realized that she wasn’t wearing anything under the cover.  She looked over and saw Russell standing by the window.  He was wearing a robe.   He turned when he heard her.

He left the window and came and sat down on the bed beside her.  His expression was serious when he met her gaze.  “Do you regret what happened between us?” he asked.

She shook her head.  “No,” she murmured huskily, reaching out and brushing the hair back from his forehead.

He leaned over and kissed her on the shoulder, making her shiver.  “Me neither,” he said.  “I’ve wanted to make love to you for a very, very long time but you insisted on us being just friends—”

“I thought that was what you wanted,” she said.  “You never came out and said otherwise.”

“Do you have any idea how hard it is to be a friend to you when I want to be more?  That’s why I couldn’t sleep last night.  When I saw you in that nightgown, I wanted you so much.  I had to get out of here before I lost my mind.”

“I couldn’t sleep either because I couldn’t stop thinking about how you looked shirtless…”

His eyes darkened and cupping her face between his hands he lowered his head and kissed her.  “I love you, Monica,” he whispered, raising his head to look into her face.  “I wanted to tell you that so many times but my courage failed me.”

“I love you too.”

“I just wish we hadn’t wasted so much time dating other people when we should have been dating each other.”

“Let’s not waste any more time having regrets.  Things are different between us now.”

“Yes, they are.”

“You know, if anyone were to ask me what the most memorable part of my vacation is, I would tell them that it was Venice.”

“Why Venice?” he asked.

“It’s where we finally declared our true feelings for each other.”

His eyes darkened.  “Let’s have a late breakfast,” he suggested as he removed his robe.

“Or we can order room service,” she said, settling back against the pillows.

“Room service, then,” he agreed before his mouth found hers.

A year later, they returned to Venice for their honeymoon.

 

Sources:  Cabragadin Hotel; Ciao Florence; Italy Guides; Veneto Inside; Bistrot de Venise; Classic Tic; Rick Steves

 

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Three Years

“Where are you going this time?” Tami asked Justin as he was packing his bag.  She hated when he went away.  She missed him like crazy.  They kept in touch by phone, email and text messaging but that wasn’t enough.  She missed seeing and being with him.

“Milan.”

“For how long?”

“A week.”  He stopped what he was doing to look at her.  “Are you going to miss me”

“Of course I am.  I always do.  What about you?  Are you going to miss me, especially as you will be around beautiful models.”

He went over to her and reached for her hand, lacing his fingers through hers, his eyes intent on her upturned face.  “I’ll miss you very much as I always do,” he told her.  “I wish I could take you with me but you have to be at school and your parents won’t approve.  They already don’t because of our age difference.  Before you introduced me to them, they thought you were dating a boy from school, not a twenty-seven year old international model.”

“They like you but don’t know what your intentions toward me are and they fear that I’d get hurt.  You’re my first serious boyfriend.”

“I never imagined that I would be in a relationship with a high-school senior but when I first laid eyes on you, I was hooked.  I told myself that it was crazy to have feelings for a girl so much younger than me but it was no use.  I fell for you and I fell hard.”

She reached up and brushed his hair back from his forehead.  “I fell for you the moment I first saw you but I didn’t think that you would be interested in me.  I wasn’t beautiful or glamorous like the women you’re used to being around.”

“You’re beautiful to me, Tami,” he murmured huskily.  “You take my breath away.”  He raised her hand and pressed his lips into the palm, making her tremble.

“Call me as soon as you check into the hotel,” she told him, breathlessly.

He released her hand to cup her face.  “I will,” he promised before he lowered his head and kissed her.  They exchanged passionate kisses for several minutes before he raised his head and said, “It’s getting late.  I’d better take you home now.”

Reluctantly, she removed her arms from about his waist and stepped back.  Whenever things got hot and heavy between them, he put the brakes on.  She knew he was doing it because he respected her decision to wait until she was married to have sex.  He didn’t react like other guys did.  Instead of calling her a prude, he said, “I think it’s wonderful that you want to stay pure until marriage, especially in this day and age.”

It was frustrating, though when in the heat of the moment, he pulled away like just now.  It was like a someone threw a bucket of cold water on her.  Still, she ought to be grateful that he acted responsibly.  On the drive over to her house, she had the window cracked so that the cold air would cool her down.

Twenty minutes later they stood outside her home, holding hands.  They hugged and kissed.  He waited until she let herself inside before he went to his car.  She was standing at the window looking out.  He waved before getting into his car and driving away.

All week in Milan he thought about her and on the last day before heading to the airport, he went to Tiffany & Co to buy an engagement ring.  When he returned to London, he arranged to stop by Tami’s house to see her father.  After a long, heart to heart conversation, Mr. Miller gave his consent but was adamant that the wedding not take place until after Tami graduated from university.  So, Justin agreed to a three year long engagement.

That evening, he invited Tami over to his place for a home cooked dinner.  It was when they were relaxing on the sofa, that he got down on one knee and proposed.  She gaped at him and then teared up when she saw the ring.  He took her hand.  “Tami, this afternoon, I took the liberty of asking your father’s permission to marry you.  He gave us his blessing on the condition that we wait until after you graduate from university.  Do you mind being engaged for three years?”

She shook her head.  “No.”

He smiled.  “Good.  Will you marry me?”

“Yes!”  Her response sounded like a laugh and sob at the same time.

He slipped the ring onto her finger before rising to his feet.  He reached down and pulled her up.  “I love you,” he murmured as he held her against him.

She put her arms around his neck.  “I love you too.”  As his lips descended on hers, she wished that the three years would go very quickly.

When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possibleNora Ephron

 

 

 

 

 

 

Buenos Aires

Ayana sat there staring at the computer screen, still reeling from her run in with Inga, Rolf’s girlfriend a few hours ago in the parking lot.  The unpleasant incident happened when she was on her way to meet a friend for lunch.  She was about to open the car door when she heard someone yell her name and turned to see Inga marching toward her.  Startled, she stood there, wondering what the blonde wanted with her and why she looked so livid.

When she reached her, she said rather nastily, “Is it because you don’t have a man of your own that you’re trying to move in on mine?”

It took a few minutes for Ayana to recover from her surprise.  Why would she make such an assumption?  “I’m not trying to move in on Rolf,” she said finally.  “He and I work together, that’s all—”

“Since when does work include the two of you flying off to Argentina?”

“Our trip to Buenos Aires is purely business, Inga.  I’m Rolf’s secretary so I have to go with him.”

“You expect me to believe that you and he are going to work all the time you’re there?  What about at nights when you don’t have any meetings?  What will you do then?”

Ayana shrugged her shoulders.  “I don’t know,” she said.  “I haven’t thought that far ahead.”

“I can’t imagine that you would be eating alone.  Knowing Rolf, he will invite you to join him for dinner.  My concern is what will happen after dinner.”

“Inga, you don’t have anything to worry about.  Rolf and I have been working together for about four years now and nothing has ever happened between us.  Besides, you’re mistaken about me not having a man of my own.”

“You have a boyfriend?”

“Yes.”

“But, Rolf said that you didn’t—”

“Well, I just started dating him.  Rolf doesn’t know about him.”

“And it sounds like you don’t want him to.”

“I don’t see why it should be any concern of his.  We just work together.”

Inga studied her for a few minutes.  “Well, I’m glad to hear that it’s strictly business between the two of you.  And I won’t say anything to him about your boyfriend.  And you won’t say anything to him about our little conversation.”

“He won’t hear about this from me,” Ayana promised.  She just wanted to get out of there.  She had never been accosted by a jealous woman before and it was very unsettling.

“Good.”  Inga looked her over, her expression one of disdain before she turned and walked away.

Ayana quickly opened her door and got into the car.  She started the engine and drove off.  Her head and heart were pounding.  She hated confrontations.  Fortunately, no one had observed them.  Why did Inga think that she had designs on Rolf?  Did she sense that she had feelings for Rolf?  How could she not?  Rolf was an extremely attractive man.  No woman could resist him. Just thinking about him now made her pulse race.  There were times when they were alone in his office, working and she could hardly concentrate because she was painfully aware of him.

While he was poring over some papers, she would sneak a peek at him, noting the way, he furrowed his brow when he was concentrating.  His hair would fall rakishly across his forehead making her ache to brush the strands back.  He would remove his jacket and tie and loosen the top buttons of his shirt.  Underneath the shirt sleeves she could see the chiseled muscles of his arms.  She wanted to reach out and touch them.  The smell of his aftershave tantalized her senses and his eyes when he looked at her made her heart flutter.  And when he absentmindedly stroked his jaw as he focused, she found herself imagining what it would be like to have those long fingers caressing her face.

Sighing now as she sat in her cubicle, Ayana had to admit that Inga had every reason to distrust her.  She had lied to her about having a boyfriend.  She wasn’t dating anyone.  None of the men out there or in the office interested her.  She was stuck on Rolf, which was unfortunate for her.  How was she going to manage being in Buenos Aires with him for twelve days?  They were to leave tomorrow night and arrive in Buenos Aires the following morning.  The flight was over ten hours long.  What were they going to talk about?  Should she take a novel?  How could she read, though with him there?  Her head was beginning to hurt from all of these questions and she rubbed her temple.

Just then her phone rang, startling her.  She glanced at the display.  It was Rolf.  She quickly picked up the receiver.  “Yes, Rolf.”

“Do you have a minute?”

“Yes.  I’m on my way.”  She hung up and got up from her desk.

He was putting on his jacket when she went into his office.  “I’m heading out now,” he informed her.  “I have errands to run.  Are you all set for tomorrow?”

She nodded.  “I have the plane tickets, the files we will need and the itinerary for each day.  Was there anything else you needed me to take care of?”

He glanced around before shaking his head.  “No, I think we’re good.  I will pick you up at seven.”

“I’ll be waiting in the lobby.”

“See you tomorrow evening.”  He grabbed his briefcase and preceded her out of the office.

She went back to her cubicle to finish up some work.  The next few hours went by quickly and soon it was time to go home.  After showering and having dinner, she made sure she had packed everything she needed, including the new outfits she had bought earlier in the week.   When she was finished, she watched the News and then went to bed.

The following day went quickly and soon it was time to go to the airport.  She quickly showered, got dressed in a pair of dressy jeans, a red blouse and a denim jacket.  She was ready and waiting outside on the steps leading to the front entrance of her building when the company car pulled up and the chauffeur went round to the trunk to open it.  She wheeled her luggage over and he hoisted it into the back along with her carry-on.  She thanked him as he held the passenger door open for her to climb in beside Rolf who looked very attractive in the black shirt and grey slacks.

She saw his eyes flicker over her before he smiled.  “Excited about going to Buenos Aires?” he asked as the car drove off.

“It’s the first place I’ve been to outside of the United States,” she told him.  “I’m a little nervous, I guess.”

He reached out and gently squeezed her hand, making her heart skip a beat.  “There’s nothing to be nervous about,” he assured her.  “I’m sure you’ll like it.”

“Have you ever been there before?”

“No, but I’ve heard great things about it.  A female friend of mine who has been there said that it’s a city that is alive and sexy and gets under your skin.”

“Sounds exciting,” she remarked.  Her heart was racing now because he was still holding her hand.

“It does,” he agreed, withdrawing his hand.  “I hope you brought a camera because we will have time for some sightseeing.”

“I did,” she said.  And she brought a book to read as well.  It turned out that she didn’t need it.  They talked and then she watched a movie while he looked over some papers.  It was just after mid-night when she went to sleep.

Buenos Aires was beautiful.  She loved the colorful buildings mixed in with the faded European grandeur.  She stared out of the window of the taxi, her eyes drinking in the sights.  Their hotel was located in the most stylish neighborhood of La Recoleta and surrounded by the best city´s restaurants and shops.  After they checked in, they went up to their rooms.  “We have time to unwind, shower and go over some notes before the meeting,” Rolf told her as they rode the elevator.  “I’ll meet you by the front desk.”

“All right.”  She couldn’t wait to shower and change.  It was going to be a long day.    Her room was bright and spacious.  The bed looked so good that she wanted to throw herself on it.  Instead, she took out what she was going to wear, stood for a moment, looking out the sliding doors at the buildings opposite before going into the bathroom to undress and take a long, hot shower.  Rolf wasn’t by the front desk when she went down but a very handsome young man was there.  He smiled when he saw her.  “Buenos dias,” he said.

“Buenos dias,” she replied.  “I’m afraid I don’t speak much Spanish.”

“That’s okay.  Most people who come here don’t.  My name is Ramon.”

“Ayana.”

“Is this your first time to Buenos Aires?”

“Yes.  On my way over here, I saw a little of the city and it’s beautiful.”

“Yes, it is a very beautiful city.”

Just then the elevator doors opened and Rolf stepped out.  She turned to Ramon, “Excuse me, Ramon.”

“It was nice meeting you, Ayana.”

“It was nice meeting you too, Ramon.”

She walked away and joined Rolf.  They had breakfast and then they went through the papers until it was time for the meetings.  The day went quickly.  The attendees were from Europe, America and Asia.  They were about two women in attendance.  During the breaks, she spoke with them.  Annette, the one from Cleveland nudged her saying, “You have a very attractive boss.  Is he married?”  She herself was married and had three children.

Ayana shook her head.  “No.  He has a girlfriend, though.”

“Too bad.  I think you and he would have made a very nice couple.”

Ayana didn’t answer.  She just smiled.  Over the next couple of days, when they had spare time, Rolf and she went sightseeing.  She loved Buenos Aires and hoped that she would visit it again someday.   The days went by very quickly and it was their last evening before they flew back to New York in the morning.  Tonight, Rolf was taking her for dinner at a popular restaurant where they would be treated to a Tango show.

After she finished getting ready, she went downstairs to the lobby to wait for Rolf.  Ramon was on duty and he smiled broadly when she walked over to the reception desk to give him her key.  “Buenos noches, Ayana.” he greeted her, his dark brown eyes traveling appreciatively over her figure in the black cocktail dress.

“Buenos noches, Ramon.”

“The man you’re with, is his your boyfriend?”

She shook her head.  “No, he’s my boss.  We’re here on business.”

Ramon smiled.  “Bueno.  Then, he won’t mind if I took you dancing later.  I can teach you the tango, if you like.”

He was very nice man but she wasn’t interested in him.  Smiling apologetically, she said, “I’m sorry, Ramon but I can’t go dancing with you tonight.  I already have plans.”

“What about tomorrow night?”

She opened her mouth to tell him that she was leaving in the morning when Rolf joined them.  He looked at her and then at Ramon who said to him, “Your taxi is waiting outside, Senor.”

“Thank you.”  Rolf handed him his key and then turned to Ayana.  “Are you ready?” he asked abruptly.

“Yes.  Goodnight, Ramon.”

“Goodnight, Ayana.”

She didn’t notice Rolf grimace but when he started to walk away, she followed him.

He held the door open for her and when she climbed into the back, she caught a whiff of his cologne.  After he got in and told the driver where they were going, he leaned back in the seat.  For several minutes neither of them said anything.  They were both looking out of the window.  Then, she heard him say, “You and the guy at reception seem to be on very friendly terms.”

She looked at him but his head was still turned toward the window. “Ramon is a really nice guy.  Very friendly.”

“A little too friendly,” he replied.  “Tonight wasn’t the first time I’ve seen him flirting with you.”

“He wasn’t flirting with me.  He was just being friendly.”

“I saw the way he was looking at you, Ayana.  He wants to be more than friends.”

“Well, he invited me to go dancing with him tonight but I told him that I already had plans.”

Rolf looked at her then.  “If you and I weren’t going to dinner and a show, would you have gone dancing with him?”

She shook her head at once.  “No, I wouldn’t have.  I like Ramon but I’m not interested in him.”

“Is there someone you’re interested in, Ayana?” he asked quietly.

“Yes, but you’re already in a relationship.”

He reached for her hand, making her heart leap in her chest.  “I ended my relationship with Inga last year.”

Ayana stared at him.  “Last year?”

“Yes.  I thought you knew.”

“No, I didn’t.  When I saw her in the parking lot on the day before we flew out, she made it sound like you were still seeing each other.”

“You saw her in the parking lot?”

Ayana told him what happened.  “To diffuse the situation, I told her that I had a boyfriend,” she concluded.

“I’m sorry that you had such a nasty run in with her.”

“She heard about our trip to Buenos Aires and jumped to conclusions.”

“I wonder how she found out about it.  I will have a word with her when we return.  I don’t want her accosting you anymore.”

“I have to admit that it was very unnerving.”

“Let’s not think about the incident any more.  It’s our last evening in Buenos Aires. Let’s enjoy every moment.”

She nodded.  “Yes, let’s enjoy every moment.”

He raised her hand to his lips.  “And I hope that tonight will be the first of many enjoyable nights you and I will spend together.”

The brush of his lips against her hand made her pulse race and her stomach flip flop. Yes, the evening was off to a very exciting start.

 

Sources:  Smart Meetings; Prokerala; Four Seasons; CTrip

 

Paradise

They met in Paradise Island.  She had taken a spontaneous trip to the island.  It was to get away for a while.  She had just broken up with Lemarr, the treacherous cur.  He two-timed her with her best friend.

She saw them one morning outside of his building, holding hands and kissing.  Not wanting to make a scene, she stood there in the cold, her heart breaking.  The tears spilled down her cheeks and she brushed them away with a gloved hand.  She watched as they walked away, oblivious to the pain their treachery caused. They never even noticed her standing there.

When Lemarr had to nerve to drop by her flat the following day, she coldly told him that their relationship was over and slammed the door in his face.  After she had a good cry, she picked up the phone and booked a flight to Paradise Island.  It was by pure luck that she was able to book a room at a luxury hotel, notable for its elegance and relaxing atmosphere.  She had read about it on line and the glowing reviews and looked forward to spending seven fabulous days there.

It felt good to get away from the lingering cold and Lemarr.  Soon after she arrived at the hotel, she donned a swimsuit, a pair of sunglasses and went down to the beach.  The sun felt great and she breathed in the tangy salt air.  It had been years since she was anywhere tropical.  And if it hadn’t been for Lemarr and Wanda, she wouldn’t be here.  Wanda.  She still couldn’t believe that her best friend had stabbed her in the back like that–the same friend whom she was so proud of when she saw the mayor bestow a plague of appreciation for her outstanding work as a volunteer.   She hoped she never saw the miserable wretch ever again.

It wasn’t until she was walking along the beach when she noticed him standing there at the water’s edge, gazing out at the sea.  She tried not to notice.  The last thing she wanted was to get involved with another man.  It was way too soon and she would be doing it to get back at Lemarr.  Yet, she couldn’t help but stare at him.  He was absolutely gorgeous.

As if he sensed that he was being watched, he turned his head and their eyes met.  She saw his gaze travel over her and then return to her face.  The raw feelings that his appraisal stirred inside her both shocked and disturbed her. How could she be experiencing these sensations so soon after her break up with Lemarr?  Didn’t she love Lemarr and was heartbroken over his betrayal?  Then why was she getting hot and bothered over a guy she had never seen before in her life?

What should she do? Walk past him as if he weren’t there?  That was unlikely.  Should she smile and say hello and continue walking?  Or should she turn around and walk in the opposite direction.  As she agonized over what to do, he started to walk toward her.  Her heart began to pound wildly against her ribs.  Oh, dear, what am I going to do now?

He walked right up to her and extending his hand, he introduced himself.  “Hi, I’m Sean.”

She hesitated for a moment and then she put her hand in his, feeling a jolt of electricity at the contact.  His fingers clasped hers in a firm hand shake.  “Dinny.”

This close, he was even more handsome.  His thick dark hair glistened wetly and rivulets of water ran down his broad chest and flat stomach.  He must have just come out of the water.  She saw the towel in his hand and swallowed hard when she imagined him drying his skin with it.  She was thankful that she was wearing sunglasses.  He couldn’t see the look in her eyes.

“Did you just arrive, Dinny?” he asked.

She nodded.  “Yes.”  He was still holding her hand.

“I thought so.  I would have noticed you if you were here before.  Where did you fly in from?”

“New York.”

“I’m from Seattle.  Are you here alone?”

“Yes.”

“Me too.  Is this your first time to Paradise Island?”

“Yes.”  She knew she kept giving him one word answers but she couldn’t think straight with him holding her hand.

As if he had read her mind, he released her hand, much to her relief.  “How long are you here for?”

“A week.  What about you?”  It was the first time she had asked him a question.  Did that mean she was warming up to him?  No, she was just being polite.

“Eight days.  I got here yesterday.  It looks like we will be leaving on the same day.  I know this may seem a bit forward but I was wondering if we could spend time together or at least sit at the same table for dinner.”

“I don’t think so.”

“Why not?  What harm could there be in us getting to know each other better?  Are you married?”  He couldn’t see if she was wearing a ring because she was carrying a beach towel.

She shook her head at once.  “No, I’m not married.  Are you?”

“I wouldn’t be here by myself or talking to you if I were.”

“Sorry,” she mumbled.

“Are you in a relationship?”

“I was but now it’s over.  I’d rather not talk about it.”

“All right.  I’ll respect your privacy.  Are you going to go for a swim?  The water is great.”

“I want to walk first and then go into the water afterwards.”

“All right, I’ll leave you to your walk.  If you change your mind about spending time together, let me know.  I’ll be over there.”  He pointed to an area on the beach, further up where there was a beach chair under an umbrella.  A beach towel was rolled up in the chair with a book next to it.

She looked at him, tempted beyond belief but she needed to think about it.  “I’ll think about it,” she said and he smiled.  She excused herself and walked away.  She could feel his eyes on her and she turned once to look back.   Yes, he was watching her.  She turned away and continued along the beach as far as she could go before she stopped somewhere, removed her wrap skirt and put it down on the dry sand with her beach towel and flip-flops.  She walked towards the water, anxious to feel it on her skin.

She spent about half hour in the water, soaking in the tranquility which surrounded her.  It was at that moment that she felt God’s presence and a peace came over her.  The anger, hurt and bitterness that had eaten her up seem to ebb away with the gentle waves.  And Sean’s face swam into focus.  Was it by pure chance that they met or was it by Providence?  She wasn’t sure.

She knew was that it would be foolish to find herself in another relationship so soon after her breakup with Lemarr but Sean was so intriguing.  It was very obvious that he found her attractive.  And to be quite honest, she was attracted to him too.  Was there really any harm in them spending time together?  It would be nice to have someone to talk to and was better than eating alone.

By the time she came out of the water, she had made up her mind to take Sean up on his offer.  She was a free woman now and didn’t have to answer to anyone, least of all–Lemarr.  She dried her skin and hair before putting on the wrap skirt.  Taking up her flip-flops, she made her way back to where Sean said that he would be.

He looked even more disturbing reclining on the lounging chair.  He smiled when she approached him and closed the book he was reading.  “Have a seat,” he invited, indicating the chair beside him.  “Had a good swim?”

“Yes, I did.”  She realized that he had set up another chair because she remembered seeing only one.  “You seem very sure that I would come,” she remarked, sitting down.

“I was hopeful.  We can sit here for a while and then have lunch.”

“Is this your first time in Paradise Island?”

He nodded.  “Yes.  I’ve been to the Bahamas before, though.  I went to Nassau about five years ago.”

“Were you alone that time too?”

“No.  I was with my then girlfriend.”

“What happened to her?”

“We broke up.  There was too much interference from her friends in the relationship.  I got tired of it and walked away.”

“I have seen a lot of my friends’ relationships end because they listened to their single girlfriends.   Some of them tried to get into my relationship but I refused to let anyone who had never been in a long term relationship give me advice.”

“So, what was the cause of your breakup?”

She turned to look at the ocean.  “He cheated on me with my best friend.”

Sean reached out and covered her hand with his.  “I’m so sorry to hear that.  I can’t imagine how you must have felt.”

His hand on her arm was comforting and thrilling at the same time.  “I was very angry and very hurt,” she admitted.  “I saw them together when I went by his place. They didn’t see me.  I stood there watching them until they walked away.  The next day when he came by my place, I told him that it was over and slammed the door in his face.  Then, I picked up the phone and made travel arrangements.  And here I am on Paradise Island.”

“Well, I wish we could have met under better circumstances.   I know this is easier said than done, but what do you say we forget about the past and just enjoy the present.  We came here to relax and have fun.  Let’s not think about broken relationships or the people who have hurt us.  They have moved on with their lives and we should do the same.”

She glanced at him.  “I’m willing to try,” she said.  “Sometimes, these things happen for a reason.  Maybe Lemarr and I weren’t meant to be.”

“Maybe.”  He agreed and then he changed the subject.  “Tomorrow morning, I am going on the Atlantis , would you like to come?”

She looked at him in alarm.  “Is that where they go scuba and shark diving?”

He chuckled.  “We don’t have to do either of those things,” he said.  “We can go snorkeling or snuba diving.”

“What’s snuba diving?”

“Snuba diving is like scuba diving but without the tank.  Instead, you get oxygen from a tube.”

“Which would you recommend?  Snorkeling of snuba diving?”

“I recommend snuba diving because it gives you more freedom to explore and enjoy your surroundings than snorkeling.  It’s easy and it’s for people who have never snorkeled.”

“All right, I’ll come.  I’m sure you would have preferred to go scuba diving, though.”

“I prefer to do whatever makes you comfortable, Dinny.  Besides, I’ve never been snuba diving before so it will be a new experience for me too.”  He glanced at his watch.  “Let’s go and have something to eat.  We can come back here again afterwards.”  He got up and helped her up.  Their eyes met briefly and then he turned away.  They walked back to the hotel, agreed to meet in the lobby after getting changed and freshening up.  Ten minutes later, they were having lunch.  They talked about different things and she began to feel very relaxed with him.  And he watched her, thinking how lovely she looked when she smiled.

She learned a lot about him.  He had two brothers–one older and one younger and a younger sister.  He was the Founder and CEO of Zanoah, a non-profit organization which caters to the “cast off” of society like prostitutes, prisoners, young offenders and the disenfranchised.  His church had a partnership with other non-profit organizations and he was a part of the delivery team which delivered pre-made meals once a week to individuals living with or at risk of HIV/AIDS and/or other chronic diseases.  When he wasn’t busy working or doing community work, he liked to go cycling or hiking to keep fit.  He liked to travel and did so once every year.  After he told her everything he could about himself, it was her turn to talk about herself.

She had a younger sister who lived in Atlanta with her husband. Her parents moved to Fort Lauderdale after they retired.  She was a Computer and Information Systems Manager.  At church, she was involved in Women’s Ministry and participated in the Downtown Feeding Ministry.  In her spare time, she liked to read, go for walks, shop, hang out with friends or take in a performance at Lincoln Center.  Most of the time, though, she stayed at home.

After lunch, they went back to the beach where they spent the rest of the afternoon, relaxing, talking, walking along the water’s edge and then going for a swim.   It was after six when they left the beach and headed back to the hotel.  Before they parted ways, they arranged to have dinner at seven.  He was going to stop by her room this time instead of meeting in the lobby.  Compared to his, her life sounded boring.

Once she got to her room, she spread the dress she was going to wear out on the bed.  It was a sleeveless black dress with a scooped neckline, a keyhole cut-out back and a flare skirt ending above the knees.  A pair of strappy black sandals would complete the outfit.  After taking a long, hot shower, she got dressed and when she was finished, she examined herself in the mirror in the bathroom.  Satisfied, she switched off the light just as she heard a knock on the door.

Heart pounding, she went and answered it.  Sean stood there, looking extremely handsome in the black suit and white dress shirt with no tie.  His eyes traveled slowly over her and when they returned to her face, she saw admiration and something else shimmering in their depths.  Swallowing hard, she stepped outside and closed the door behind her.  “You look amazing,” she heard him say as she turned to lock the door.

When she turned to face him, he was looking at her, a serious expression on his face.  “Thank you,” she said quietly.  “So do you.”  She walked beside him on shaky legs, wondering if he could hear how fast her heart was beating.  She wondered what Lemarr would do if he were to see her now.  It was the first time in hours that she thought about him and that was a good thing.

They had dinner at Café Martinique which didn’t quite look like the old one made famous by its appearance in the James Bond movie, Thunderball.  Over Sesame Crusted Salmon and Spiced Rack of Lamb, they talked about their excursion to Stuart’s Cove in the morning.  She was both nervous and excited at the prospect.  After dinner, they went the Joker’s Wild Comedy Club before they called it a night.

The next morning, Dinny went to Poseidon’s Table where an elaborate breakfast buffet awaited her.  She stood there, not knowing where to start.  Everything looked so appetizing.  Sean joined her, looking refreshing in a white tee shirt and jeans.  She was dressed in a yellow tee shirt and a denim Capri pants.  After some time passed, she finally settled for fresh fruit, toast, veggie omelet and tea.  He had fruit, blueberry pancakes and a coffee.

When they were finished they hurried back to their rooms to get what they needed for their trip and twenty minutes later they were on their way.  There were a lot of people on the boat, couples, families, seniors and singles but it wasn’t overcrowded.  The captain and his assistant were very nice and tended to everyone.  After they were shown basic skills, they were in the water.

Dinny stayed close to Sean, holding his hand as they explored the reefs, her eyes widening when she spotted a lion fish among the coral reef.  She liked the yellow and black striped fish.  They spent a while in the water and then they went back on the boat.  It was a wonderful experience and they made plans to go on a snorkel trip and while Sean swam with the sharks, she would remain on the boat and watch.

When they got back to the hotel, they had lunch before heading to the beach to relax for the rest of the afternoon until it was time for dinner.  During the week, they visited Dolphin Cay where they interacted with sea lions and swam with the dolphins.  It was the first time Dinny had ever worn a wet-suit.  They went snorkeling among the ruins of Atlantis where they spotted rays and colorful tropical fish.  She got nervous when she saw sharks and held on tightly to Sean’s hand.  They went down the Challenger Water slide of the Mayan Temple and Sean won.

One day, they went the spa and each got a massage.  Dinny got a facial as well.  And while he went to the fitness center to get a workout, she went shopping.   They went on a tour of galleries to get a taste of Bahamian art and culture.  Afterwards they had lunch at Hillside House.

It was their last night at the resort and they were having dinner at Sip Sip, a beach front restaurant.  The mood at the table was very solemn.  She toyed with her salad, her expression downcast.  She was going to miss him terribly.

He raised his head to look at her.  “I wish I could take you back to Seattle with me,” he said quietly.

“I wish we could stay here for another week.”

“I know that we said that we will keep in touch by phone and email but that isn’t the same as seeing each other like we are now.”  His eyes darkened.  He was going to miss being with her.  The time they spent together was the happiest he had ever experienced in his life.  He couldn’t bear the thought of not seeing her.  “May I visit you in the summer?”

She nodded at once.  “Yes.  I’d like that very much.”

“And you could visit me at Christmas.”

“Yes, I could do that.”

“Dinny, my IT Manager is retiring at the end of the month.  The position is yours if you would consider moving to Seattle.”

She stared at him.  “Move to Seattle?”

“If I didn’t have Zanoah, I would move to New York in a heartbeat.”

“I was born and grew up in New York.  I’ve never thought of leaving.”

“Please think about it.  I will give you until the end of the month.  If you show up at my flat before then, I’ll know that you have decided to leave your life in New York behind to start a new one with me.”

“And if I don’t show up?”

“Then, the position will be filled and I’ll know that we’ll have a long distance relationship until we eventually end up in the same city.”

She smiled.  “I’ll think about it.”

He smiled too.  “Now, how about we try to enjoy our last dinner together here in paradise?”

They tucked into their food with relish.  Afterwards, they went to Aura Nightclub but sat in a VIP parlour where they talked over non-alcoholic drinks late into the night.  It was close to midnight when he walked her to her suite.  She opened the door and then turned to face him.  Their eyes met and held for a long moment.  “Good night, Dinny,” he said quietly, his expression tense.  He wanted to kiss her so badly.

She swallowed hard.  “Good night, Sean.”  She wanted him to kiss her so badly.

Neither of them moved.  They just continued standing there, gazing at each other for a long, heart palpitating moment and then she was in his arms and he was kissing her.  She put her arms around his neck and kissed him back.  They exchanged passionate kisses as the longing they had been kept in check rose to the surface.  This continued for several minutes until he broke off the kiss and buried his face in her neck.

“I want you so much,” he moaned thickly.  “But, not now like this.  I’m willing to wait until the time is right.”  He raised his head, his eyes dark with desire as they met hers.  Reluctantly, he released her and stepped back.  “Good night, Dinny.  I’ll meet you for breakfast at the usual time.”

She nodded, her voice barely above a whisper when she bid him, “Goodnight.”  She was trembling so badly that she had to hold onto the door frame.  She watched him walk away and then she went into the suite, closing the door behind her.  For a moment she leaned against it, trying to catch her breath before she walked rather unsteadily into the bathroom where she got ready for bed.

As soon as Sean got to his suite, he stripped and took a cold shower.  When he was done, he pulled on a pair of silk pajamas and knelt beside the bed.  “Lord, You know how I feel about Dinny,” he murmured.  “I never thought it was possible to fall in love with someone I’ve known for only nine days but it has happened.  I didn’t come to Paradise Island looking for love but it found me that day on the beach when I saw this incredibly beautiful woman walking towards me.  Lord, it’s hard for me to part from her.

“A few minutes ago, I was really, really tempted to show her how I feel about her but You helped me to exercise self-control.  It wasn’t easy, though.  I want Dinny in my life.  Is it selfish for me to want her to move to Seattle?  If I didn’t believe that it is Your will for me to continue the work I’m doing through Zanoah, I would move to New York, no problem.  Lord, if Dinny moves to Seattle before the end of the month to be with me, then I will know that we have Your blessing.”  He got up off his knees and climbed into bed.

The next morning they had breakfast and then she waited with him in the lobby for the shuttle to take him to the airport.  When it came, she followed him outside and they hugged tightly before he climbed into it.  She waved until it disappeared out of sight and then returned to the hotel, dejected.

Soon she was on her way back to New York.  Life seemed very dull after being on Paradise Island and she missed Sean like crazy.  Talking to him on the phone and emailing him was not enough.  She wanted to see him.

Sean was standing at the window, looking out, thinking about Dinny when the doorbell rang.  He went to answer it.  His heart skipped a beat when he looked through the keyhole.  His face braking into a broad smile, he opened the door, his eyes eagerly running over her.  He pulled her inside and closed the door.  “Hello,” he murmured before bending his head to kiss her.

She wound her arms around his neck and kissed him back.  After a while, she drew back to look up at him.  “So, when do I start my new job?” she asked.

“On Monday,” he said.

“You were very sure that I would come.”

“I was hopeful,” he said with a smile.

“If you are up to it, I was hoping that you would take me sightseeing.”

“Sure,” he said.  “Where’s your luggage?”

“At the hotel.  Staying here with you wouldn’t be a good idea.  Things could get tricky.”

“You’re right,” he agreed.  “The first thing you and I are going to do is buy a ring.  Then, we will get married as soon as possible and you can move in here with me.”

“Sounds good,” Dinny murmured as he lowered his head towards her.  When she felt his lips on hers, she thought that paradise wasn’t just about places but about moments like this one.  She was with the man who loved her and whom she loved.  What could be better than that?

 

Sources:  Atlantis Bahamas; Your Tango; Girls Love Style; Simply Dresses; Cafe Martinique; Trip Advisor; Blue Letter Bible; Grace Seattle; Seattle Church; Reader’s Digest; Pinterest

The Autograph

He was walking down a busy street in downtown Manhattan, heading back to his hotel room when he saw her.  She was coming toward him–a very pretty girl in a white jacket over a black top and blue jeans.  He wasn’t looking for anything because he was already in a relationship which he was having serious misgivings about, especially now that Claudia was pressuring him to get married.  The last thing he wanted was to be distracted by another woman.

Yet, as they approached each other, he couldn’t look away.  She was staring at him too and that thrilled him.  Since Claudia and he began dating four years ago, he had never once looked at another woman until now…His heart thudded as they got closer to each other and as they passed each other, she looked right up at him.  He was tempted to look back but continued walking.

“Excuse me,” she called and he stopped.  When he turned around, she went closer, her eyes searching his face.  “Aren’t you Bernard Forbes, the British stage and independent film actor?”

He nodded.  “Yes, I am.”

She smiled broadly, her eyes bright with excitement.  “I’m a big fan of yours,” she told him.  “I have seen all of your films.  And last month when I was in London, I went to see you in the latest stage production of Macbeth.  It was the only reason I visited England.  I wanted to go backstage and get your autograph but my aunt was in a hurry to leave.”

“I’m flattered that you went all the way to London just to see me in a play.  The least I can do is to give you my autograph for your trouble.”

“It just so happens, I have the program with me.  This is the handbag I had with me when I went to see the play.  I just never got around to taking it out and I’m happy I didn’t.”  She took it out along with a pen and handed them to him, her heart racing.  He was even more handsome in person and gracious too.  She couldn’t wait to call her aunt in London and tell her.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

“Kimani Jones.”

“Kimani.  What an unusual name,” he commented.  “What does it mean?”

“’Beautiful’ and ‘sweet’”, she replied.  “My mother saw it somewhere and decided that she would call me that.”

“It suits you,” he said, his eyes meeting hers in a steady gaze before he turned his attention to signing his autograph.  He wrote:  To: Kimani, my warmest regards and my very best to you always.  Bernard Forbes.  He handed the program back to her.

She read what he wrote.  “Thank you,” she gushed, beaming at him.  “I really appreciate this.

“It was my pleasure,” he said quietly.  “How come you’re not in school?”

“I’m on March break,” she said.  “And I’m in my third year at New York University.”

“Are you in a hurry to get somewhere?”

She shook her head.  “I was just window shopping.  Spring is around the corner so I was thinking of buying some new clothes.”

They were standing close to a café.  “Let’s move our conversation from the sidewalk to in there,” he suggested.  There wasn’t any harm in talking to one of his fans, was there?  She was a welcome change from the movie and theatre crowd and the people he usually associated with.  Besides, this was better than going back to his hotel room to brood over his relationship with Claudia.

She readily acquiesced and they went into the café.  He found a table at the back and by the window.  It was after ten o’clock so the place was almost empty save for a few people and aside from curious stares in his direction, no one bothered them.  After they ordered two hot chocolates, he leaned forward in his chair, arms on table and studied her.  “You mentioned that you’re in your third year in university.  What is your area of study?”

I can’t believe I’m sitting here having a conversation with Bernard Forbes.  “I’m studying Psychology.”

“Why Psychology?”

“I want to help people.”

“That’s commendable,” he said.  “I have a feeling that you will do very well in the field.”

“Thank you.”

“Have you always lived in New York?”

“Yes.  And I can’t imagine living anywhere else.”

He asked her all sorts of questions about herself and in no time an hour had passed.  “Spend the rest of the day with me, Kimani,” he heard himself say.

“All right,” she said, thrilled.  And after he paid for the hot chocolates, they left the cafe and walked up the road where he hailed a cab.

They went to Central Park where they spent a fun afternoon.  They went up to the Belevdere Castle to check the temperature and to enjoy the panoramic view around them.  Afterwards, they visited the Conservatory Garden and watched people sail their boats at Conservatory Water before they grabbed lunch.  After lunch they went to see a puppet show at the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre.  They ended the day at Bethesda Fountain where they each made a wish.

The sun was setting as they walked to the exit of the park.  He hailed a cab and she gave the driver her address.

“Thank you for an incredible day,” he told her when they were outside of her apartment building.  “I haven’t enjoyed myself so much in a very long time.”

She smiled.  “I had a wonderful time too.  I never knew there were so many fun things to do in Central Park.”  I hope we can see each other again.

“Kimani, I want to see you again.” This was madness but he couldn’t seem to get enough of her.  He had to see her again.   “Have dinner with me tomorrow night.”

“I’d like that,” she said.

“Good.  I’ll pick you up at seven.”  He took her hand and raised it to his lips, making her tremble.   “Have a good evening.”  He reluctantly released her hand and climbed back into the back of the cab.

Her flesh tingled.  “You too,” she replied breathlessly.  She wave at him before she turned and walked to the entrance of her building on rather shaky legs, her mind spinning.  She hoped this wasn’t all a dream.

Dinner was at the Empire State Building.  As soon as they walked in they were greeted with a smile before being shown to a table with a magnificent view.  Over Burrata and Shave Kale salads, Scottish Salmon and Roasted Farm Chicken and non-alcoholic wine, they talked about many different things.  She learned that Bernard began acting on stage when he was eleven at the encouragement of his father who used to be renown theatre actor himself.  His mother was an opera singer.  Both parents were still alive and living in the South of France.  They recently celebrated their sixtieth wedding anniversary.  He flew out for the occasion.  He was an only child like her.

“Do you ever wish that you had brothers or sisters?” she asked.

“Sometimes.  It would have been nice to have an older brother whom I could go to for relationship advice and the one I’d call instead of one of my parents when I got into trouble.  And of course, be each other’s best man at our weddings.”

“Yes, I wish I had an older sister that I could share secrets with whose closet I could raid when I didn’t have anything to wear and someone to hang out with whenever we are forced to attend a family get together and go shopping with.”

He smiled.  “And what would happen if you both ended up liking the same guy?” he teased.

“I would like to think that if the guy liked her instead of me, I would bow out gracefully.”

His expression grew serious.  “If I were that guy you would be the sister I liked.”

She smiled shyly at him.  “And if you had a brother, I would like you instead of him.”

“Kimani, I’m here in New York for a week.  Can I see you everyday until it’s time for me to fly back to London?”

She nodded.  “Yes.  I just have to figure where we can go that you haven’t already been.  I read on line that you have been to New York many times because it’s one of your favorite cities in the world after London and Paris.”

He looked intrigued.  “What else have you read about me?”

“That you like going to museums, for long walks, traveling, cooking, volunteering, you prefer theatre acting to film acting and prefer dating actresses.”

“I’m guilty of all of those things except the bit about my preference for actresses.  You’re not an actress, are you?”

She laughed.  “I was in drama class once in high school and I managed to get through it but I knew then and there that acting was not for me.”

“I love it,” he said simply.  “I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

“What about when the opposite sex throw themselves at you?”

“Yes, that ‘s the part of my career which I truly dislike,” he agreed.  “but it has brought us together.”

“I never imagined that I would bump into you in the street or that when I asked you for your autograph we would end up spending the day together or having dinner.  I still can’t believe that this is really happening.  I’m afraid that this is all a very long and wonderful dream.”

He reached over and grasped her hand.  “This is no dream, Kimani,” he assured her, gently squeezing her fingers to make his point.  “I’m real, you’re real and what is happening between us is very real.”

She blinked, finding it hard to think with him holding her hand.  Just then, a couple approached their table.  They smiled apologetically before the woman said hesitantly, “I’m so sorry to disturb your dinner but know that my husband nor I wouldn’t be able to forgive me if I passed up this opportunity to get your autograph.  We saw you in Macbeth, Hamlet, Absent Night and Secrets in the Dream, your latest independent film.  We are huge fans.  Do you mind signing the front of this photo of my husband and me?” she handed it to him with a pen.   She smiled at Kimani.  “Sorry for the interruption.”

Kimani smiled.  “Don’t worry about it,” she said.  One of the things she had to get used to when being with him was having interruptions like this.

“What are your names?” Bernard asked the woman who was pretty and looked to be in her late thirties.

“Kevin and Angela.”

He scribbled something on the photo and gave it back to her with the pen.  “Have a good evening,” he said with a smile.

“Thank you so much,” she said, looking at the signed photo in appreciation before she put it in her bag.  “Enjoy the rest of your evening.”  She turned and walked away.

“Do you ever get used to people coming up to you wherever you go for your autograph?” she asked.

“Actually, I have gotten used to it but not tired of it.  I will always be happy to sign autographs long after I’ve retired from acting which wouldn’t be for a very long while.   I hope you didn’t mind.”

She shook her head.  “I didn’t.  She’s a fan just like me.  I can relate.”

He glanced at his watch.  “The night is still young.  Would you like to go for a carriage ride in Central Park?”

Her eyes brightened.  “Yes!”

His lips twitched and he signaled to the waitress.  Ten minutes later, they were on their way to Central Park.

The carriage ride was a remarkable and romantic experience.  The Park was transformed at night, a perfect escape from the bustle and noise of the city, making it easy for them to enjoy the spectacular views of the city skyline.  It was the perfect end to a perfect evening.  He took her home and they saw each other for the rest of the week going to the museum, the theatre, the movies, a gondola ride in Central Park, Atlantic City and Coney Island.

On Sunday afternoon, she went with him to the airport, sorry to see him go.  They faced each other general area before he went to the terminal where he would catch his plane.  He took her hands in his.  “I will be back in a week,” he promised.

She nodded and then reached up and hugged him tightly.  “I’ll see you in a week.”

He bent his head and kissed her.  It lasted for a few minutes and when they broke apart, his face was flushed.  “I’ll be back before you know it,” he said before he turned and walked away.  She watched him until he was out of sight before she left the airport, her heart heavy.

The day after he returned from New York, Bernard went to see Claudia.  She was expecting him.  She opened the door, dressed in a long black negligee leaning and her mouth raised for a kiss but after a light brush of his lips against her cheek, he walked past her and into the living-room.  There was a time, not so long ago, when he would have dragged that negligee off.  It was amazing how a man could look at the same woman who used to drive him wild with desire and feel nothing.

Frowning, she closed the door.  “Is something wrong?” she asked when she joined him and noted the expression on his face.

“Please sit down,” he said.  When she did, he sat beside her.  He took a deep breath.  “Claudia, I can’t marry you.”

She stared at him, her face going pale.  “Why not?” she asked.

He hesitated for a moment and then he confessed, “I don’t love you.”

“So, for the four years we have been together you never once loved me?”

He nodded, feeling awful.  “I cared about you, but I wasn’t in love with you.”

“Is that why every time I broached the subject of marriage you shut down?”

He nodded again.  “Yes.  When it comes to marriage, a person has to be very sure before taking that step.  And since I wasn’t sure about us, I couldn’t take that risk.  I went to New York to sort things out and I realized that what was troubling me from the very beginning were my feelings for you.  You loved me but I had to admit to myself that I didn’t love you.  Claudia, you deserve to be with a man who will love you back.  I’m not that man.  I’m sorry…”

She got up from the sofa and began to pace, her arms folded tightly as the enormity of what he was saying hit her.  Tears sprang in her eyes but she blinked them back.  “You came to this conclusion when you were in New York?”

“Yes.”

“Did you meet someone else while you were there, Bernard?”

He sighed, “Yes, but—”

“Is she the reason why you have now decided that you don’t want to be in a relationship with me anymore?”

“Before I met her, I was filled with so many doubts about you and me which I couldn’t shake off.  And being with her helped me to realize that it wouldn’t be fair to either you or me to continue our relationship when it would not lead to what you want—marriage.”

“So, who is she? Another actress or one of your adoring fans?”

He didn’t answer.  “Claudia, the last thing I wanted to do was hurt you but I have to be true to myself and I cannot in all honesty and good conscience, continue to be with you when I can’t give you what you want.  Marriage between us will not work.  I’m sorry.  I hope that in time you will see that I’m right.”  He got up from the sofa and would have gone over to her but the expression on her face deterred him.  “I’m sorry,” he said again.

“So, what are you going to do now that you’re no longer tied to me?” she demanded.  “Go back to New York to be with her?  Well, I hope for your sake that it works out but if it doesn’t don’t think you can come crawling back to me.  I won’t take you back even if you begged me—” her voice broke into a sob.

Contrite, he took a step toward her, “Claudia—”

She held up her hand, glaring at him.  “Bastardo.  Don’t come near me,” she cried.  “I want you to leave.”

He hesitated for a moment and then he turned and walked out of the room.  The last sound he heard was her crying before he closed the door behind him.

Kimani was relaxing on the sofa, reading a book when the doorbell rang.  Putting down her book, she quickly got up and went to answer the door.  Her heart somersaulted when she saw who it was.  Eagerly, she unlocked the door and flung it open, a big smile on her face.

“Do you have room for a weary traveler?”

“Yes, one in particular,” she said as she reached out and grasped by the hand to pull him inside before locking the door. After he set his luggage down on the floor, she hugged him tightly, closing her eyes as she felt his arms go about her waist, holding her close against him.  “I’ve missed you like crazy. One week seemed like a year.”

“I’ve missed you too,” he muttered thickly.  “I couldn’t wait to come back to you.” As soon as she drew back to look up at him, he kissed her.  They stood there for several minutes kissing passionately, happy to be together again and determined never to be apart again.  At length, he drew back to gaze down into her face.  “I have to talk to you about something,” he said quietly.

Frowning, she took his hand and led him over to the sofa.  She curled up on the cushion beside him, with one arm resting along the back of the chair and the other on his thigh.  “What’s on your mind?”

“When you and I met, I was already in a relationship.  When I came to New York, my only intention was to clear my head—figure out what I was going to do about my relationship because I was having so many doubts about it.  And then, I met you.  I tried so hard to fight my attraction for you but it was hopeless.  I had to get to know you better and that’s why I suggested we talk more in the café.  And that time we spent together wasn’t enough so I suggested that we spend the rest of the day together.  By the time we left Central Park, I knew that I was hooked.  I had to see you again.  Being with you made what could have been a complicated situation worse made it bearable.  Those hours I spent with you were the happiest and most relaxed I’ve ever had and it helped me to make up my mind about what I was going to do about my relationship.”

“I knew that you were dating someone,” she said.  “Remember, I’m a fan so I have read every article there is about you.  She’s Claudia Riaz, the beautiful Venezuelan actress who co-starred with you in The Stone of the Predator.  Everyone kept going on about what an attractive couple you made but I didn’t think so–for obvious reasons.  You dated her the longest–four years but there was no news about any engagement which I dreaded because I had developed such a crush on you.  No woman would have been suitable for you.”

“Is it still just a crush that you have on me?”

She shook her head.  “No, by the time I saw you in Macbeth, I had fallen madly in love with you.”

“I never believed in love at first sight until that morning when you stopped me on the sidewalk.”

“I’m glad I asked you for it.”

He reached out and caressed her cheek with his knuckles.  “And do you still think no woman would be suitable for me?”

She nodded.  “Yes.”

“What about you?”

“I’m the exception,” she said huskily.  “I think I’m very suitable for you.”

“Yes, you are,” he groaned and cupping her face between his hands, he kissed her.  As she kissed him back, she thought of what Walt Disney said, all our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.

 

 

Sources:  City Parks FoundationNYC Carriages; Ruggenberg; Very Well Mind

 

Getting Away

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

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

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

“Is she a friend of yours?”

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

“Are you in love with her?”

“Yes.”

“Does she know how you feel?”

“No.”

“Are you going to tell her?”

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

“How do you know that?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hello Brittney.  Paul is in Paris.”

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

“No.  He needed to get away.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So, it’s over between him and you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

The Move Back

After moving to Montreal in search of more employment opportunities and living there for four years, Elise decided to move back to Paris.  Living in Montreal made her nostalgic for the little cafes she used to haunt in the Latin Quarter.  She missed her family and friends.  Most of all, she missed Jules.

She found out from his mother that he was living in Marais.  When she looked at the address, she saw that it was within walking distance from her parent’s home.  His mother was happy to see her and they had a nice, long chat.  Elise asked her not to let Jules know that she was back.  She wanted to surprise him.  After promising to visit again, she left.

She went home and took a quick shower.  As she got dressed, she wondered how Jules would react when he saw her.  The night before she left for Canada, they had dinner at a restaurant which offered a spectacular view of the Eiffel Tower.  They talked about her move to Canada and after dinner, they went for a walk along the Seine River.  It was a beautiful night.  “Where will you stay?” he asked.

“I have an aunt who lives in Montreal.  I will stay with her until I find a job.”

He looked at her.  “I will miss you,” he said quietly.

She looked up at him.  “I will miss you too.”

“You will keep in touch, won’t you?”

“Of course, I will.”

They stood there for a moment, facing each other.  For a brief and maddening moment, she wanted him to kiss her.  “I’d better take you home,” he said.  “You have an early flight in the morning.”

Disappointed, she turned and fell into step beside him as they walked to his car.  They didn’t say much on the ride over to her house.  He walked her to the door and when they were standing out there, he reached down and hugged her.  She closed her eyes and hugged him back.  When he drew back, he stared down into her face for a long moment during which her heart was pounding fast and hard.  Then, he leaned over and kissed her.

It began as a tentative caress and then turned into a passionate kiss.  She reached up and gripped the sides of his jacket as she kissed him back.  This lasted for several minutes and then he pulled back and muttered, “Goodbye, Elise.”  Before she could say anything, he turned and quickly walked away from her.

She watched him go, her heart breaking.  Her parents were still up but she went straight up to her room and didn’t leave it until it was time to have breakfast before heading to the airport.

The next time she saw him it was in the summer of the following year.  She had no idea that he was in Montreal until he called her one afternoon from his hotel room.  Excited, she dropped everything and took a taxi over to the hotel.  She knocked on the door and it was opened immediately.  He smiled at her as she stood there in her tan colored jacket over a white dress, arms folded and grinning broadly.  Then she was throwing her arms around him, almost knocking him over.  “It’s so good to see you,” she exclaimed as they hugged.

“It’s good to see you too,” he said when they drew apart.  He pulled her into the room and closed the door.  Before she had a chance to look around the suite, his arms were around her waist and he was pulling her roughly against him.  “I’ve missed you so much,” he muttered thickly before he lowered his head and kissed her.  Elise’s arms traveled over his arms and found their way around his neck as she responded to his fiery kisses.

They ended up spending the rest of the afternoon in his suite and he ordered room service.  He spent three weeks which went by very quickly.  After that they saw each in the summer and over the Christmas holidays.

The knock on her bedroom door interrupted her daydreaming and she went and opened the door.  It was her mother.  “Your Aunt Lourdes invited us for dinner tonight,” she said.  “Would you like to join us?”

“Sorry, Maman, but I have other plans.  I’m going to see Jules.”

“So it is serious between Jules and you?”

Elise nodded.  “Yes, it is.”

“Well, I’m happy for you.  Jules is a very nice young man.  His mother did a very good job raising him.  I’ll see you later then.”  She turned to leave and then paused.  She looked over her shoulder.  “It is good to have you home again.”

“It’s good to be home, Maman,” she said.  When she was alone again, she quickly fixed her hair and checked herself in the mirror before hurrying out of the bedroom.  Five minutes later she was walking to Jules’ apartment building.

It was the last day in April so the weather was beginning to warm up somewhat.  The cashmere sweater she wore with the skinny jeans kept her warm and they looked great with her ballerina apartments.  As she hurried down the sidewalk, she hoped Jules was home.  He was.  When she rang the doorbell, she heard his footsteps and then the sound of the latch being pulled back.

He opened the door and started when he saw her.  His eyes grew wide.

“Surprise,” she said, laughing.

He stood there staring at her.  “What are you doing here?” he asked.  Then collecting himself, he took her arm and pulled her inside the apartment.  After closing and locking the door, he turned to look at her.  “Why didn’t you call or email me to tell me that you were going to be in Paris.”

“I wanted to surprise you.”

“Well, you succeeded.  How long are you here for?”

“I’m here for good.  I’m not going back to Montreal.  I moved back to Paris.”

“When did you move back?”

“This morning.  I’m staying at my parents’ house for now.”  He looked so cute in his white polo tee shirt and blue jeans.  “How many of these things do you have?” she asked, tugging at the sleeve.

“Too many,” he replied dryly.  He reached for her and pulled her against him, his eyes dropping to her lips, his parting in anticipation.  “Kiss me.”

“I thought you’d never ask,” she murmured huskily before she reached up and pulled his head down to hers.

Several hours later, they were relaxing on the sofa.  She was wearing his robe.  She turned to look at him, reaching over and running her fingers through his hair which was still a bit damp from the shower.  He rested his hand on her thigh.  “Why did you really move to Montreal?” he asked.

“I was trying to prove something to myself.  Growing up, I always felt so unsure of myself.  I was the gawky kid who didn’t think she was particularly good at anything.  In high school, I wanted to be daring like some of the girls but I didn’t have the guts to do it.  It changed when I was in college.  I was more confident because my academic excellence.  In a sense, I’m happy that I went to Montreal.  Being there made me realize that my identity is more than my accomplishments or my failures.  It’s who I am as a person.  I don’t see myself as awkward any more, just unique.”

“And I see you as the incredible woman I love and want to spend the rest of my life with,” he said reaching into the pocket of his robe and pulling out a small box.

Elise gaped as he opened it and revealed an exquisitely beautiful diamond ring.  “When did you…?”

“I bought it in January and was planning to give it to you when I saw you in June.  But, now that you’re here, I see no reason why I shouldn’t give it to you now.”  He slid off the sofa and got on one knee.  “Elise, will you marry me?”

She nodded, not trusting herself to speak.  The tears in her eyes made him a big blur.  She felt rather than saw him slip the ring on her finger.  She brushed the tears away.  He got up from the floor and sat beside her again.  He pulled her onto his lap and his mouth found hers.  She put her arms around his neck, closing her eyes as she kissed him back.  She couldn’t wait to see her mother’s face when she showed her the ring.

 

Sources:  Interstude; Paris Insider’s Guide;