Todd had finally provoked her into ending their relationship. She refused to continue to tolerate his wandering eye and embarrassing behavior in public. He tried to sweet talk her into taking him back but it didn’t work this time. She was fed up with him and wanted a break from relationships. She was just going to concentrate on her career. Right now she was at her beach house in Devon, enjoying the solitude and the sound of the waves was very soothing.
One afternoon she was walking on the beach when she saw a stranger sitting on sandy mound, watching her. She stopped and stared at him, wondering who he was and why he was there. Curious, she approached him. He stood up, his six feet plus frame making her feel small. Well dressed in a dark blue suit over a purple shirt, he was extremely handsome and was most likely in his mid to late twenties. “What are you doing here? This is a private beach.”
“Miss Flanning, I’m sorry to be trespassing but I had to see you,” he explained. “You see, my mother is a big fan of yours and she’s celebrating her fiftieth birthday this Saturday. I was hoping that if you weren’t otherwise engaged, you would come and sing for her as a surprise. It would be a real treat for her and most likely the best gift she has ever had.”
Lola was touched by his request. “I don’t have any engagements this weekend so I will be more than happy to do this for your mother.”
He looked very relieved and smiled. “Thank you, Miss Flanning,” he said.
She smiled. “Please call me Lola,” holding out her hand. “What’s your name?”
“Julian Mortimer.” They shook hands.
“What time is the party?” she asked.
“At seven. Here are the particulars,” he added, reaching into the breast pocket of his jacket and taking out an invitation which he gave her. “I’d like you to come at eight. By then everyone will be there.”
She took the invitation. “I’ll be there at eight,” she promised. “This is a very thoughtful thing you’re doing for your mother.”
“Thank you. Every year I give her flowers or take her to the opera or ballet but this year I wanted to do something different for her fiftieth birthday. I surfing the Internet for ideas when I came across a recent interview you had on the BBC. And the thought occurred to me what a wonderful treat it would be for my mother to have you sing at her birthday party. The only problem was I didn’t know how to get close to you. Then, I remembered that one of my friends knows your publicist and he spoke to her on my behalf and here I am. I hope you don’t mind and that your publicist doesn’t get into trouble because of me.”
“Don’t worry. No one’s going to get fired or anything like that. Besides, I trust my publicist’s judgment and obviously, she believed that this was a worthy cause. And I must admit that singing at a private venue is a welcome change.”
“Well, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you doing this. My mother will be thrilled.”
“Are you and she close?”
He nodded. “Yes, we are. I’m an only child and after my father died, we became closer because I was all she had. She doted on and still does. I love her dearly and would do anything for her.”
“She’s a very lucky woman to have a son like you,” she remarked.
“I believe that I’m the lucky one.” He glanced at his watch. “I must be going,” he said apologetically. He held out his hand. “It was a pleasure meeting you, Lola.”
She shook his hand. “It was a pleasure meeting you too, Julian.”
“I look forward to seeing you on Saturday.”
“I look forward to being there. Goodbye.”
“Goodbye.” He smiled, making her heart skip a beat before turning and walking away.
She stood there watching his retreating back until he was no longer visible before she turned and walked along the water’s edge. Truthfully, she was looking forward to seeing him again too.
Saturday came. She opted to wear a black pant suit with a white sequin top. Her only jewelry were a pair of pearl earrings. After examining herself in the mirror and satisfied with the results, she grabbed her handbag and left the house.
Twenty minutes later she was driving up a long, winding driveway flanked by imposing trees until the mansion suddenly came into view. Her mouth dropped open. It was was magnificent and it reminded her of one of those mansions she saw in the show, Hidden Mansions or something out of a Jane Austen novel. The stately home made her beach house look like a doll’s house in comparison. She parked her car where she saw other cars parked and got out.
Heart racing, she went up the short flight of stairs to the enormous door and stared at the antique lion door knocker before lifting it to alert someone inside that she was there. A few minutes later, the door opened an gentleman stood there. She presumed that he was the butler. “Good evening,” he said. “You must be Miss Flanning.”
“Yes, I am.”
“Master Julian informed me that you would be coming at this time. Please come in and I will take you directly to the drawing-room where they are.”
“Thank you,” she said, stepping inside and followed him through an impressive entrance hall with two side by side winding staircases to an exquisitely beautiful drawing room with antique furniture, rug, decorative walls, paintings, high ceiling, gigantic hanging chandelier and enormous windows through which light streamed and afforded one an unobstructed view of lush and immaculate green lawns. She didn’t have time to really appreciate her surroundings as she was aware that there were over thirty people in the room watching her. To her relief, Julian was one of them and he immediately came over to her, looking extremely pleased to see her. “Hello,” he said. “It’s good to see you again.”
“Hello,” she said, feeling a bit nervous.
“Don’t be nervous,” he said. “You look very beautiful.”
“Thank you. And you don’t look bad yourself.” He looked amazing and very elegant in the black suit and black tie and with his hair slicked back.
He smiled. “Thank you. Come let me introduce you to my mother.” Taking her arm, he escorted her over to the group.
“Which one is she?” she asked.
“The one in the wheelchair,” he answered, startling her. “My mother has Multiple sclerosis.”
She glanced up at him. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I didn’t want you to feel obligated to come tonight.”
“I would have come regardless. How is she doing?”
“Her symptoms come and go in phases. There are times when she suffers from fatigue and other times when she seems fine. Right now, she seems fine.”
“Does she live here on her own?”
“No, I live here too and she has a live-in nurse. Between the two of us, we take care of her. I can’t wait to see the look on her face when she sees you.”
Lola blinked back the tears that sprang to her eyes and put on a bright smile as she stood behind him.
“Mother, I have a big birthday surprise for you.”
She glanced up at him. “What is it?” she asked.
“Here she is.” He stepped aside while she stepped forward.
“Happy birthday, Mrs. Mortimer.”
She saw the woman’s eyes widened in shock. “Lola Flanning?” she exclaimed, turning to look up at Julian. “You brought Lola Flanning to my party?”
Julian beamed. “Yes, Mother. I wanted to surprise you.”
Mrs. Mortimer’s returned to Lola who held out her hand. The older woman grasped it, her eyes welling with tears. “I can’t believe that you’re here,” she said. “Thank you.”
Lola covered her hand with her other one and leaned over to kiss her on the cheek. “It was my pleasure,” she said when she drew back, her own eyes moist.
“Yes, Mother, Lola graciously agreed to come and sing for you on your birthday.”
“I look forward to hearing you sing,” Mrs. Mortimer said, “but first, sit beside me. Have you had anything to eat?”
“Actually, no, but–”
“Julian, please have Sophie fix a plate for Miss Flanning.”
“Please call me Lola and I really don’t want to put you to any trouble–”
“It’s no trouble at all,” Mrs. Mortimer insisted.
Julian excused himself and quickly left the room. After he was gone, Mrs. Mortimer introduced Lola to the rest of the guests, some of whom were also fans and asked for her autograph. They were excited that she was going to sing. One of the women, remarked, “I was so relieved when I read that you had broken up with that womanizer, Todd Collins. You deserve better.”
Lola smiled but didn’t answer. Just then, Julian returned with a plate of a variety of delicious looking and mouth-watering smelling food. Feeling a bit self-conscious, she began to eat it while the conversation kept going, touching on all sorts of topics ranging from her career to hot vacation spots and favorite charitable organizations.
After she finished eating and was ready, Julian sat behind the piano while she stood beside it and began to sing, her voice smooth and soulful as she belted out her popular ballads while the others watched rapt. Mrs. Mortimer relaxed in her chair with a smile on her face. Julian’s eyes were on her the whole time as his fingers ran over the keys. An hour later, the room was filled with thunderous applause and after bowing graciously, Lola resumed her seat next to Mrs. Mortimer who thanked her, her expression one of deep gratitude.
“You’re more than welcome, Mrs. Mortimer.”
“Please call me, Olivia. You’ve made this birthday the happiest I have ever had.”
“You owe it all to Julian.”
“Yes,” she agree, looking over to where he stood talking to a couple. “He’s my pride and joy. Besides God, he has been my rock through the rough moments of this terrible disease. I don’t know how much longer I have but I hope and pray that before I go, I will see him settle down with a good woman.”
“Whoever she is, she’d be very lucky to have him,” Lola commented, her eyes wandering over to where Julian was. Too bad I’m not ten years younger, she thought regretfully.
Just then Julian turned and their eyes met. Mrs. Mortimer observed them and a smile tugged at her lips. “It seems like I don’t have to wait long to get my wish,” she remarked and Lola turned to look at her inquiringly.
“I beg your pardon?”
Mrs. Mortimer. “I was just saying that it has been a long time since I’ve had so much fun.” That was true. Tonight was a wonderful evening—one that she would never forget. And she wished it would last longer but she suddenly felt very tired and she couldn’t prevent the yawn she had been trying to stifle. In a flash, Julian was at her side.
“Mother, you’re tired.”
“No, I’m not,” she protested. “Stop fussing.”
“You’re tired,” he insisted. “I can see it on your face. It’s after ten. You should be going to bed now. I will take you up to your room and Margaret will take care of you. Please don’t argue with me, Mother. Say goodnight to Lola and your other guests.”
Mrs. Mortimer sighed. “Sometimes I wonder who is the parent and who is the child. Very well, Son, I will say goodnight to these good people and then retire.” Everyone in the room took turns wishing her all the best and made plans to visit when she was ready. After they said goodnight to Lola, they left.
Lola took the older woman’s hands in hers. “Olivia, it was a real treat for me to be here tonight. You’re one of the most gracious and strong women I have ever met. And it is my hope that we will see each other again.”
Olivia squeezed her hands. “Have tea with me one afternoon,” she said. “I will have Julian get in touch with you. Thank you for making this birthday a memorable one. God bless you. Goodnight.”
“Goodnight,” Lola released her hands and straightened up. She looked at Julian who was watching her, his expression inscrutable.
“Don’t leave,” he said. “I will be back shortly.”
“I’ll wait here,” she promised. After watching him wheel his mother out of the room, she turned and walked over to the windows. It was dark outside but the lights from the house illuminated the grounds. She had once considered buying a stately home not far from here but decided to get the beach house instead because it required less maintenance and she liked being close to the ocean. She wondered what it was like for Julian to grow up in this house and if it was ever lonely for him. As a child, she had lots of friends and family to play and spend time with so she never experienced loneliness.
She turned when she heard Julian come into the room. He joined her at the window. “How is she?” she asked.
“She seems fine. I left Margaret reading the Bible to her.”
“Your mother is a remarkable woman. I admire her.”
He smiled. “Yes, I’m a great admirer of her too. Her inner strength is all due to her faith and it was one of the qualities that my father loved about her. Would you like to take a short walk around the grounds before you leave?”
“Sure. I was admiring them earlier when I first walked into this room.”
They went outside. It was a balmy night. He took her around the grounds, showing her the tennis court, the swimming pool and the Garden fountain where they paused for a little while as she admired its details.
As they made their way back to the front of the mansion, she asked, “Was living here ever lonely for you?”
“Sometimes,” he admitted. “But, I tried not to show it because I didn’t want Mother to know because she tried so hard to make my life here as content as possible. As I got older, life got better and attending university helped because I made lots of friends whom my mother invited to spend the summer and Christmas holidays. I could tell that she loved having a house filled with young people but after I left university, we decided that we wanted it to be like it used to be. So, we spend quiet summers and Christmases. And that’s fine for me. We enjoy each other’s company.”
“I can tell that the two of you have a special bond which I don’t think it will change when you get married—”
He stopped abruptly and turned to face her. “So, she has been talking to you about my future.”
She nodded. “Yes, she expressed her wish to see you settle down with a good woman while she’s still around.”
“Do you wish to see me marry a good woman?”
She lowered her eyes. “It doesn’t matter what I wish.” The thought of him getting married bothered her more than she cared to admit. How was it possible for her to care so much about a man she’d only met once before now?
“It matters to me, Lola. Do you know that all during the week, I have thought of nothing else but seeing you again? I couldn’t concentrate on my work. I kept seeing your lovely face. And tonight, I couldn’t take my eyes off you. You take my breath away, Lola…”
Her head shot up then, her eyes wide as they met his and her heartbeat accelerating at an alarming rate when she saw the expression on his face. “We-we shouldn’t be having this conversation,” she stammered.
“Why not?” he asked.
“Well, because…How old are you?”
“I’m thirty-nine. Next year May, I’ll turn forty.”
He seemed unfazed. “It doesn’t matter that you’re older than me.”
“Wouldn’t you prefer to be with a woman closer to your age?”
“I’ve dated women my age but I was never attracted to any of them the way I’m attracted to you. So, the answer to your question is no. I would rather be with you.”
“Well, you can’t be with me,” she told him in frustration because for one maddening moment, she wanted to grab the lapels of his jacket, pull him against her and plant one on him. She was so attracted to him that it drove her crazy and scared her at the same time. “I–I need to go now.” She started to walk away when he caught her by the shoulders.
“Why?” he demanded, his eyes searching her averted face, his grip tightening as she struggled to break free. “Are you afraid of what would happen between us if you stayed, Lola? Are you afraid that if I were to kiss you, you wouldn’t want to leave?” He was breathing heavily now and she could feel his body against her, awakening a desire in her that was so strong it made her gasp and then, his mouth was on hers, devouring it feverishly. And for one unguarded moment, she responded wildly as she tried desperately to assuage the hunger that was raging inside her.
Then, she came to her senses and with supreme effort she pushed him away and ran to her car, panting. She got in, slammed the door and after fumbling for the key, she put it in the ignition and the engine roared to life. When she saw him coming towards her, she frantically put the car in reverse and then sped off. As soon as she got home, she took a cold shower before she went to bed. Sleep evaded her. Her mind was spinning. All she could think about was the kiss and how much she wanted him. She closed her eyes in despair. Julian Mortimer had breached the fortress she had built around her heart.
Three weeks passed since that night. She was restless. Her thoughts were filled with Julian. Every time she closed her eyes, she saw his face and her longing for him clawed at her relentlessly, driving her crazy. Sleep was fitful and it was hard to concentrate on anything because her mind was constantly on him. She gave up trying to write the new lyrics and went out on the balcony. The water was calm and she envied it. The sun was high, bathing the sea and sand in its golden light. Seagulls soared in the sky. What a glorious day. Too bad she couldn’t enjoy it.
Something caught her eye and she started when she realized that it was Julian. Heart thudding, she ran down the steps and down the grassy slope to the water’s edge where he stood, hands in pockets, facing the ocean. He was less formally dressed this time, clad in a white shirt and tan slacks. There wasn’t a wrinkle of crease anywhere on his clothes. As usual, they looked like they had just come straight off the rack.
“Julian, what are you doing here?” she called out just before she reached him.
He turned at once to face her, his gaze traveling slowly over her figure in the light green top and denim shorts, his gaze lingering on her bare legs. “Mother wants you to have tea with her tomorrow afternoon at two–that if you aren’t busy.”
“You could have called or emailed me,” she told him. “You didn’t have to come in person.” Although I’m thrilled to see you.
“All right,” he sighed. “I came because I can’t stay away any longer. I had to see you, Lola. I can’t stop thinking about the last time we saw each other. When we kissed…” His eyes dropped to her mouth, his darkening at the memory.
“Julian, we can’t do this,” she protested. “I’m much older than you.” The truth was he scared her because the feelings he aroused in her were so powerful and unlike anything she had ever experienced. What she once felt for Todd paled in comparison. Her heart urged her to throw caution to the wind and give into her feelings but her mind resisted.
“Lola, please don’t let our age difference prevent us from being together. Ever since we met, I haven’t stopped thinking about you and longing to be with you.”
“Julian, please…” She felt her resolve weakening fast, especially as he pulling her against him. The expression on his face mirrored the emotions that were raging inside her, making so hard for her to resist him. She wanted him with every fiber of her being but…Her hands came up to push him away.
“I know you feel the same way,” he persisted, his eyes darkening on her face. “I felt it when we kissed and I can see it in your eyes right now. Oh, Lola…” he moaned thickly before he bent his head and kissed her.
Powerless against her feelings and him, the hands that had tried to push him away gripped the back of his shirt as she kissed him back feverishly, blindly and with total abandon.
They entered into a relationship. In April of the following year, they got married, much to the delight of Mrs. Mortimer. Nine months later, she held Olivia, her first grandchild in her arms and as she smiled down into the red, crinkly face, she silently thanked God for granting her far more than she had expected.
Source: NHS Choices;