The Age Difference

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

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

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

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

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

He shook his head.  “No, thank you.”

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

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

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

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

“Not at all, Dear.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Eighteen.”

“Do you have a girlfriend?”

He shook his head.  “No.”

“What about the girls at college?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I meant out here.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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The Secret Relationship

Douglas was in the kitchen, stacking the dishwasher while she was in the living-room, admiring the décor and the beautiful patina of the antique table beside the fireplace and below a painting of a person walking along a tree-lined path in the rain.  She paused to admire it.

The myriad of bright oranges, reds and yellows suggested that it was in the fall.  The path and the bench were soaked from the pouring rain.   Yet, the walker looked dry underneath the umbrella and in no hurry to get out of the rain.  She wondered if she should come out of the rain before she got wet.  Douglas and she had been seeing each other for months now.  This was the first time they were at his place.  So far they had been going out but avoided places where they might run into people they knew.  They couldn’t afford to allow anyone to find out about them or Douglas could lose his job.  He was her Economics professor.

The moment she walked into his class and saw him, she knew she was in trouble.  She tried not to stare but it wasn’t easy.  She would shoot him furtive glances every opportunity she got and when the class was over, she would linger, spending a little long packing up her bag. Thankfully, his was the last class for the day so she didn’t have to rush off to the next one.

One afternoon when she was packing up her bag, he went over to her desk.  She glanced up and their eyes met.  He had the most incredible green eyes and his face–she realized that she was staring and quickly looked away.

“I’m going to grab a cappuccino,” he said quietly.  “Would you like to join me?”

She looked at him, her heart racing.  He was asking her outGet a hold of yourself, girl.  It’s just a cappuccino.  “Yes, I’d like to,” she answered.

He smiled.  “Good.  I’ll meet you at the front entrance.”

She zipped up her bag and left the classroom.  She waited on the steps, watching the sun set.  Five minutes later he drove up and stopped at the side of the curb.  She ran down the steps and got into his car.  They drove off.  On the way over to the coffee shop, he asked her what her major was.  “Sociology,” she said.  “I want to make a difference when it comes to the social problems that we face in our society and around the world such as poverty, race relations, gender inequality, globalization and environmental change.”

“When I tell people that I teach Economics, they look at me as if I were crazy.  Most people remember it as a very boring subject but when I explain to them that the course I teach is Urban Economics they become interested.”

They continued talking about university and courses until they arrived at an Italian cafe in Greenwich Village.  Over a Hazelnut Cappuccino and a Hot Chocolate, they talked about other things.

“Do you ice-skate?” he asked an hour and a half later when he was taking her home.

She nodded.

“Do you have any plans for tomorrow evening?”

She shook her head.

“We can go skating at Bryant Park and then have dinner at the restaurant there.”

They went to Bryant Park and she had a wonderful time.  It had been a while since she last skated and after a few shaky steps and falls, she was fine.  Afterwards they had dinner in the restaurant where it was nice and warm.  He asked to take her out the following evening and they began seeing each other regularly after that.

The sound of his footsteps behind her brought her back to the present.  She joined him on the sofa.  They were going to watch an old movie classic but she couldn’t concentrate.  She was intensely aware of him and the fact that they were sitting very closely together so that his knee was touching hers.  At one point she could sense that he was looking at her.  As the movie progressed, she was on tenterhooks, wondering if at any point, he was going to make a move and longing for him to.

Finally, unable to bear it any longer, she turned to look at him when she knew that he was watching her.  Their eyes met and held.  Deliberately, she lowered her gaze to his mouth and parted her lips.  Without saying a word, he reached for her and pulled her across his lap.  His head swooped down and he was kissing her.  Her arms went around his neck and held him tightly as they exchanged passionate kisses.

After a while, he raised his head and gazed down into her face, his own flushed.  “I’ve been a professor for ten years now and not once have I ever been attracted to any of my students.  Then, you walked into my classroom.  I didn’t want to be attracted to you but I couldn’t fight it.  I approached you at the risk of losing my job.”

She reached up and touched his face.  “I was never attracted to any of my teachers but the moment I saw you, I was in trouble.  Common sense told me to transfer to another class but I listened to my heart instead.”

“Robyn, I want us to continue seeing each other but under the quiet until you graduate.”

She nodded.  “Okay.”

“By the way, who was that guy I saw you talking to in the hallway on Thursday before you came to class?”

She tried to remember who he was talking about for a moment.  “Oh, that was Eric.”

“What did he want?” he asked tightly.

“He wanted to know if I was free Saturday night.”

His eyes darkened in jealousy.  “And what did you tell him?”

“I told him that I wasn’t.  I also told him that I was seeing someone.”

“I hate the idea of other guys asking you out.”

She reached up and kissed him.  “You don’t have to worry about any of them,” she murmured against his lips.  “They don’t stand a chance.”

Groaning, he kissed her back and then, putting his hands under her knees, he stood up and carried her to his room.

They managed to keep their relationship a secret and on the day of her graduation in June, he asked her to marry him.

 

Sources:  Thought.co; Huffington Post; University of Kent; NYU; Cafe Reggio;

The Orphan

“What’s the matter, Honey?” Ralph Forrester asked six year old Janet as she lay there in bed, crying.  He was there to read to read her a bedtime story as usual and was surprised to find her in her present state.  When he sat down on the bed, she sat up and hugged him.  He gently patted her on the back, trying to soothe her until the sobs subsided.  “Now tell me what’s the matter,” he coaxed when she drew back to look up at him.

“Aunt Agnes called me a Gremlin,” she wailed.  “Gremlins are ugly, horrid creatures.”

“They are also very mischievous,” he told her, relieved that it wasn’t anything serious although to her it was.  “Did you get yourself into trouble again?”

She hung her head.  “Yes,” she admitted reluctantly.  “It was my idea to bathe the dog in the bathtub because he was so dirty.  Matthew helped me to put him in the bath.  While I was washing the dog, he went to get a towel to dry him off and that’s when Aunt Agnes walked in.  She was really mad and that’s when she called me a Gremlin.”

“Honey, she was understandably angry because you were bathing a dirty animal in her nice, clean bathtub.  And you must have made quite a mess.”

“She said that I was a bad influence on Matthew.  What does influence mean?”

“It means you make Matthew do things that he wouldn’t usually do.”

She looked contrite.  “I don’t mean to make Matthew do bad things,” she said, “or to get him into trouble.  He’s my best friend.”

Ralph patted her hand.  “I know.  We never mean to get others in trouble but sometimes we do.  I think it would be best for now if you didn’t visit Matthew at the manor.  He could come here instead.  Beth and I will make sure you don’t get into any mischief.”

“I don’t think Aunt Agnes likes me very much,” she said, surprising him.  “Is it because I’m adopted?”

He stared at her.  “Who told you that you’re adopted?” he asked.

“Aunt Agnes.  She told me that you and Beth adopted me when I was a baby.  What happened to my real parents?”

“They died and you were placed in an orphanage.  Beth and I always wanted to adopt a child from Africa. We chose South Africa because we were there once on a mission trip and loved it.  As soon as our application was approved, we went the orphanage where you were.  We loved you the very first moment we saw you.  I remember you staring up at me with those big, beautiful brown eyes of yours and I promised God and myself that I would take very good care of you.  We named you Janet which means ‘God’s gracious gift’ because you were a gift from God.”

She smiled.  “I’m happy that you and Beth adopted me,” she said, hugging him.  Then, she settled back on the pillows and waited for him to read to her.  When he was done, he kissed her goodnight, switched off the bedside lamp and left the room.

Beth was in the kitchen fixing them a pot of tea when he went downstairs.  He went over to the table and sat down.  Beth turned and looked at him.  “What’s the matter, Honey?” she asked.

He grimaced.  “Agnes told Janet that she’s adopted. What right did she have to do so?”

Beth brought over the two cups of steaming tea and after setting one in front of him, she sat down.  “While I agree that it should have been left to us to tell Janet that she’s adopted, it must be obvious to her by now that she’s different.  You remember the other day when she came home from school, very upset because some children had asked her how she could have white parents when she was black.”

“I wish people would mind their own business,” he muttered crossly.  “Janet doesn’t think that Agnes likes her because she’s adopted.”

“There are very few people whom Agnes likes,” Beth said dryly.  “She didn’t approve of you marrying me.  I was a bad influence on you.  It was on account of me that you gave up your rather cushy job to become a missionary.”

“For as long as I live, I will never regret marrying you, becoming a missionary and adopting Janet.  Agnes has always been a controlling woman but she has never been able to manipulate me, though she tried to.  She objected to my marriage, change in career and decision to adopt but her objections fell on deaf ears.  I’m happy with the life I have made for myself and will not tolerate any interference from her.  She’s my sister not my mother.”

“Sometimes, she acts like she has two sons instead of one.”

“Poor Matthew.  She’s always doting on him.  I pity the girl he ends up marrying.  Unless, Matthew and his bride moved far away from Yorkshire and his mother’s influence, they will never get a moment’s peace.”

“I’m very fond of Matthew.  He’s such a loving and considerate child.  No doubt he takes after his father, God rest his soul.”

“Yes, if I had a son, I would have wanted him to be like Matthew.”

Beth looked at him.  “Do you still regret not having children of you own?” she asked. They had tried to conceive but couldn’t.  It turned out that he had an undescended testicle when he was a baby.  He was devastated because he was looking forward to raising a family with Beth.  Beth had pushed aside her own disappointment and sought only to console him.  Several years went by before they considered adopting and six years ago, they welcomed Janet into their lives.

“Yes, sometimes,” he admitted.  “But I have since realized that things happen for a reason.  If we had been able to have our children, that precious little girl upstairs would not be here.  She has brought so much joy in our lives.  I can’t imagine not having her around.  I thank God every day for her.  She is truly a blessing.”

Tears pricked Beth’s eyes and she reached out and covered his hand with hers.  “Yes, she is.”

Twelve years later, they were gathered in the living-room watching and smiling as Janet blew out the nineteen candles on her cake.  Ralph and Beth watched her.  It was hard to believe that it was same girl they had brought home from the orphanage.  She had grown into a lovely young lady.  They watched as she put a piece of the cake in Matthew’s mouth, laughing as he got some of the icing on his nose. “Do you suppose that those two will end up falling in love?” Beth asked in a low voice so that the others couldn’t overhear.

Ralph glanced at her.  “I wouldn’t object if that were to happen but you know Agnes…”

“Yes,” she sighed.  “She will do her best to sever any romantic attachment that may develop between them.”

Just then the doorbell rang.  “I wonder who that could be,” Ralph said.

“I’ll and see who it is.”  Beth hurried from the room and down the corridor to the front door.  She peered through the keyhole and her eyes widened in surprise and delight.  She opened the door.  “Blaine,” she exclaimed, hugging him.  “It’s so good to see you.”

He smiled.  “It’s good to see you too, Beth.”

“When did you get back?”

“Yesterday.”

“Come in.”

He went in and glanced toward the living-room where he heard voices and laughter.  “It sounds like you’re having a party.”

“Yes.  We are celebrating Janet’s birthday.”

“How old is she now?”

“Nineteen.”

“The last time I saw her, she was ten.”

“Yes, well, she’s all grown up now.  Wait till you see her.  Come and let me introduce you to everyone.”

He removed his shoes and followed her to the living-room.  Beth introduced him to Janet’s friends, some of the girls cast admiring glances at him.  He shook hands with Matthew.  “You’ve gotten tall,” he said, grinning.  Matthew smiled.

Blaine’s attention shifted to the girl standing next to Matthew.  “Janet?”

She nodded.  “Yes.”

He stared at her. “I can’t believe how much you have changed since the last time I saw you,” he said.

She smiled.  “I’m not a child anymore.  I’m a woman.”

“A young lady,” Beth interjected.  “Are you hungry?” She asked Blaine.

He shook his head.  “I had a late lunch.”

“Would you like a slice of cake?” Janet asked.

“Yes, thank you.”  He knew he was staring but he couldn’t help it.  She had changed so much.  Gone was the little girl with the pigtails who used to follow him around, chatting incessantly about school, beg him to push on her on the swing and give her a piggyback ride.  Standing before him was a very attractive young lady in a pretty blue dress with a smile that melted his heart.

She cut a slice of cake and gave it to him.  “How long will you be staying?”

“Two weeks.”

“Only two weeks?”  She couldn’t hide the bitter disappointment she was feeling.  In the past his visits had been sporadic but she never had to wait for more than a year to see him.  This last time, nine years had passed before she saw him again and it would be for only two weeks.  He was a Management Consultant.  How she wished that he had a different job—one that would not take him out of the country and away from her.  She missed him terribly.  “Will you come again tomorrow?” she asked, hopefully.

He nodded.  “Yes,” he said quietly.  “We have a lot of catching up to do.”

Just then one of her friends pulled her away to take photos and Matthew joined him.  For the rest of the evening, they were apart, mingling with other people and at the end of the evening as things were winding down, he went over to her.  “I’ll be leaving now,” he said.

“You promise you will come tomorrow?”

He nodded.  “Yes.”  He reached down and hugged her.  “Happy birthday, Janet.”

She saw him to the door and stood there watching his tall, slender figure stride briskly to his parked Aston Martin car and climb in.  She waved and waited until the car disappeared before going back into the house.  She couldn’t wait to see him the next day.

He showed up the following afternoon as promised and subsequently every day for the two weeks he was in London.  She would sit there and listen to Ralph and Beth ask him countless questions about his travels, patiently waiting for her time alone with him.  As soon as that time came, she would take him outside where they would spend most of the afternoon.  Once, when they were standing by the swing, he said, “You’re too grown up now for me to give you a piggyback ride, but I can still push you on the swing.  She sat down and laughed as he pushed her.  It brought back memories.  Other times they sat on the deck talking for hours or go for walks.

Then, it was his final evening and they were out in the backyard.  The sun was setting.  It cast an orange glow on them as they stood there facing each other.

He studied her face.  “I must be leaving now,” he said quietly.  “Are you sorry to see me go?”

She glanced up at him.  “Yes,” she answered, surprised that he would ask such a question.  I don’t know when I will see you again.

“May I kiss you goodbye?” he asked, moving closer to her.

She looked up at him, her heart racing.  “Yes,” she said breathlessly.  She lowered her head so that he could kiss her on the forehead like he used to when she was a child.  Instead, she felt his hand under her chin raising her face up so that she was staring up into his.  She watched, mesmerized as he bent his head slowly towards hers and his lips get closer.  Her breathing was quick and unsteady now.  She felt his mouth on hers and readily responded. Blaine’s hands cupped her face as the kiss became more intense.

She clutched his arms, her fingers digging into the fabric of his jacket as she felt herself going weak in the knees.  Eyes squeezed shut as if to blot out the world, she savored her first kiss, wishing that it would last.  It lasted for several minutes and then Blaine drew back, his face flushed.  She reluctantly opened her eyes and looked up at him.  They were both breathing heavily.

“I have to leave now,” he muttered thickly.

“Why?” she asked.  “Why can’t you stay a little longer?”

“If I stay, I will kiss you again.”

“I want you to kiss me again—”

“No,” he groaned, pushing his fingers through his hair, his eyes darkening.  “I can’t.”

She looked bewildered.  “But why?”

“I’m too old for you, Janet.  You need to be with a guy your own age like Matthew.”

“But, I don’t want to be with Matthew or anyone else,” she cried.  “Why can’t I be with you?  You’re only ten years older than me.  You’re not like Maxim DeWinter who was forty-two and married a girl my age.”

“You’re right, I’m not Maxim DeWinter.  I can’t be with a girl so much younger than me.  In September, you will be attending university.  That means you will around people your age.  Sooner or later, you will meet someone, fall in love with him and forget about me.”

She shook her head.  “No, I won’t,” she cried.  “I love you,”

A muscle throbbed along his jaw line.  “You’re infatuated not in love.”

“Do you think because I’m young, I don’t know what love is?”

“I shouldn’t have kissed you,” he said.  “I don’t know what I was thinking.  It was an utterly foolish thing to do–” he broke off when she started to cry.  He pulled her into his arms and held her closely.  “Don’t cry,” he begged, as she buried her face in his chest.

The feel of her body against his was his undoing.  Unable to help himself, he gripped the hair at the nape of her neck and pulled her head back so that he stare down into her wet face before his lips closed feverishly over hers.  Her impassioned response to his kisses inflamed him.  It was no use.  He couldn’t walk away from her now.  She was in his blood and in his heart.

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Sources:  Gov.UK; International Adoption Guide; Evening Standard;  The Guardian; London City Mission

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;

The Funeral

It was a gloomy day with intermittent spurts of rain.  It was as if nature itself was mourning the loss of a great woman.  Tracy was not surprised at the large turnout. The church was packed as many came to pay their respects and pay homage to Mrs. Gladys Townsend, the dear lady whom she had nursed for over five years.   She was a remarkable lady with a magnetic personality.   Although her body had succumbed to the Parkinson’s, her mind was still alert.  In the end, she had died in her sleep.

Tracy remembered how Mrs. Townsend had loved it when she read to her before she went to bed.  She loved Charles Dickens and Jane Austen.  Tracy enjoyed reading to her and couldn’t wait to see what would happen next in the story.  She had Aiden to thank for the position which had been a tremendous blessing for her.  Aiden was Mrs. Townsend’s son.  It was his idea to have his mother remain in the comforts of her home but be attended by a live-in nurse.  He contacted the live-in care agency a friend had recommended.

Tracy was selected for the position because of her experience and qualifications.  It also helped that she and Mrs. Townsend hit it off right away.  Whatever misgivings Aiden might have had, they were squashed when he saw how his mother received her warmly, remarking, “What kind eyes you have.”

Aiden.  Her gaze moved exactly where she knew he was standing.  Tall and regal in the black coat, his expression somber as he watched the coffin being lowered into the ground.  He seemed oblivious to the rain that was falling.  His dark hair glistened in the pale light.  She wanted to go over to him and shelter them both with the umbrella but she remained where she was, off to the side like an onlooker.

At the church, they hadn’t spoken to each other.  He was flanked by family and friends and Caitlin Brown.  Caitlin made no secret of the fact that she wanted to be more than friends with Aiden.  Tracy saw her tuck her arm in his and rest her head against his shoulder.  She looked away, feeling ashamed of the jealousy that stirred in her when she was supposed to be mourning the lost of a dearly departed one.

It was no use denying that she was in love with Aiden.  It might have happened the first time she met him or during those visits to his mother’s home on the weekends. He lived in London close to his office and work kept him busy.  So, visiting during the week was not feasible.  She found herself looking forward to those weekends.  Over the years, feelings developed between them but Tracy had to keep things on a professional level because of her job.  She could get fired if she were to become romantically involved with a family member.

Mrs. Townsend was very fond of Tracy and knew that she and Aiden had feelings for each other but she understood Tracy’s reasons for not doing anything about it.  So, to be on the safe side, Tracy avoided being alone with him as much as was possible. She had watched him throughout the funeral service and when she saw him and Caitlin get into his car, it stung.  She got a ride with a friend.

Now, here she was watching him and Caitlin huddled together.  The coffin was being covered with dirt as the priest said the final words.  Then it was over.  She turned and was walking back to where the cars were parked when she heard Aiden call her name.  She stopped and turned.  Her fingers gripped the handle of the umbrella tightly as she tried to appear untroubled at the sight of him and the beautiful redhead at his side.  She noticed the look of disdain Caitlin gave her and how her long red nails curled into the sleeve of his coat.

Aiden was looking at Tracy who met his gaze, wondering if he could tell how much she wished that the two of them were alone.  Her fingers itched to reach out and run themselves through the thick tresses of his hair.  For his part, his expression was drawn.  “How are you holding up, Tracy?” he asked.

“As well as expected,” she said, touched that he was concerned about her when he must be going through hell.  He and his mother were close.  Mrs. Townsend adored him and was always singing his praises.  “How about you?”

“I’m coping,” he said.  He gently disengaged his arm from Caitlin’s, removed his coat and draped it over his arm as he stepped closer to Tracy.  “Will you let me take you back to the house?” he asked.

She nodded.  It had stopped raining.  She closed the umbrella.

He took her arm and was about to walk away when Caitlin, who looked rather put out, exclaimed, “What about me?”

“Jake will give you a ride home,” Aiden told her before he turned walked away, taking Tracy with him.

“I don’t think she likes me,” Tracy commented as they walked to his car.  She had to almost run to keep up with him.  It seemed like he wanted to get out of  there and fast!

Aiden didn’t answer.  In fact he said nothing all the way to the car or even when they were leaving the cemetery.  It wasn’t until they were a good way from there, that he spoke.  “Tracy, what Caitlin thinks is of no importance to me.”

She looked at him in surprise.  “But, I thought that you and she—”

“How could you think that there is anything between Caitlin and me when I have waited for five years for you?  I haven’t dated her or any woman since I met you.  I know that your job prevented you from getting involved with me but now you are not longer employed by me.  So, what is stopping us now from being together?  I love you, Tracy.  And I know that you love me.”

She nodded.  “I do.  You don’t know how hard it was for me to push my feelings aside all these years.”

“Let’s go away,” he said.  They were at a stop light.  He turned to look at her, his eyes intense as they met hers.  “I want to be alone with you somewhere far away from here.”

“Where would you like to go?” she asked.

“It doesn’t matter as long as we are together.  Perhaps somewhere tropical.  It would be good to get away from this dreary weather and the cold.”

“When would you like to go?”

“As soon as possible.  Perhaps as early as Friday.”  Friday was four days away.  “No one will object, and even if they did, I really don’t care.  It’s what Mother would have wanted.  She was rather fond of you, you know.  She knew how I felt about you and always encouraged me to hang on.  I would have waited for you, Tracy, no matter how long it took.  My only regret is that I couldn’t be with you while my mother was still alive.”

“I know.  I also know that we have her blessing.  Jamaica.”

“Jamaica?” he looked puzzled.

She smiled.  “You said somewhere tropical.”

He laughed.  “Jamaica, it is.”  He reached over and kissed her before the light turned green.

It was on the Friday, their first evening in Montego Bay, as they stood on the beach, watching the setting sun as it hovered over the ocean when Aiden proposed to Tracy. As he got down on his knee, Tracy’s hand flew up to her face as the sound of a sob mingled with a gasp rose from her throat.  Aiden took out the box and opened it, displaying the exquisite ring he had bought the year after they met and which he had shown his mother the night before she passed away.  He had kept it hidden in a drawer just as he had kept hidden in his heart the hope of one day putting it on her finger.

And here they were, on a beautiful beach, bathed with the crimson glow of the sun and the sound of the waves as they rolled on to the sand.  It couldn’t have been more romantic.  As he looked at Tracy’s face which glistened with tears, he thought he had never seen her look more beautiful and his heart swelled with the love he felt for her.

He took the ring out of the box and reached for her hand.  He slowly slipped the ring on, savoring the moment.  It was a perfect fit.  He stood up, his eyes held hers for a moment before he took her in his arms and kissed her just as the sun disappeared into the sea.

Sources:  Christie’s CareHilary’s Agency

A Model Moment

She stood there watching as the evening unfurled, a solitary figure in a room filled with people from the fashion and business world.  She was there by invitation from her friend, a fashion photographer.  She felt so out of place.  She wasn’t used to be around such glamorous people.  Several people thought she was a model.  A few photographers snapped her photo, much to her chagrin.  It reminded her of the time when she had to recite a poem in front of her classmates.  She managed to get through it but it was nerve-racking.

She wasn’t one for socializing and at the first opportunity, she slipped out and escaped to the brightly lit garden.  It was a beautiful evening.  A slight breeze blew, gently rustling the trees.  It was early summer when the weather was comfortable.

She had no idea of how long she would stay outside but for now it was where she felt most comfortable.  She slowly walked along the path, her gaze sweeping over the sprawling grounds and in the background, she could hear peals of laughter and the clinking of glasses. She paused at the rose bush.  Unable to resist, she leaned over and breathed in the sweet fragrance.

“Good evening.”

The voice startled her and she swung round.  A tall figure approached her.  As he drew nearer, she recognized him from the photos her friend had taken and which were featured in the Spring issue of GQ.  Her heart began to beat fast and she wondered what she could say to him.  “Good evening,” she replied.

He smiled as he held out his hand.  “Adrian Barlow.”

She shook his hand.  “Simone Jackson.”

“I see you had the same idea,” he remarked.  “Getting away from the crowd, I mean.”

“Yes,” she looked away, feeling self-conscious because of his penetrating stare.

“I hope you don’t mind me joining you, Simone.”

She shook her head.  “No, I don’t mind.”

“Shall we take a walk?”

She nodded.  And they walked along the path.

“Are you a model?” he asked.

She shook her head.  “No.  I’m the Assistant Art Director of a children’s publisher.”

“Do you like what you do?”

“Yes.  I like my job very much.  As a child, I loved to read.  I still do.  I know that you are a model.  I have seen your photos in GQ.  Do you like modelling?”

He shrugged.  “It’s something I do when I am not too busy.  I don’t see myself doing it for much longer.  I have my own business which I enjoy running.”

“You know my friend, Erin.  She’s the reason why I am here tonight.”

“I saw when you arrived and watched you all evening, waiting for an opportunity to speak to you.  I saw you slip out and followed.  You really are quite beautiful, you know.”

She didn’t know what to say.  It wasn’t often that she had a gorgeous man tell her that she was beautiful.  They had come upon a fountain.  There was a bench nearby and she went toward it.  She sat down and he sat beside her, turning so that he was facing her.

“I didn’t mean to embarrass you just now,” he said.   “Surely I’m not the first man to pay you such a compliment.”

“No, you aren’t the first but you have been around so many beautiful women.”

“Yes, I have,” he acknowledged.  “But none of them hold a candle to you.  Have dinner with me tomorrow evening, Simone.”

She stared at him and saw that he was very serious.  His amazing eyes were unwavering as they met her startled ones.  “Dinner with you,” she repeated, somewhat dazed.  This moment was almost surreal.

“Yes, unless you have other plans.”

“No, no.  I don’t have any other plans.”

“Then, you will have dinner with me?”

“Yes.”

She gave him her address which he scribbled on the back of a business card and placed in his breast pocket.

They sat there a while longer, talking.  She found herself becoming very relaxed with him and opening up.  Then they heard the sound of cars leaving and realized that it was time to go.  Reluctantly, she got up from the bench.  “Do you have a ride home?” he asked.

“Yes, I will get a ride with Erin.”

They headed back to the mansion and stopped at the foot of the steps where they were to part company.  “I’ll pick you up at seven tomorrow,” he told her before he took her hand and raised it to his lips.  His eyes held hers as he kissed it.  Her heart was pounding and her skin tingled. “Good night, Simone,” he said softly when he raised his head.

“Good night, Adrian.”

He released her hand and walked away.  Just then Erin joined her.  “I was wondering where you had gone off to,” she said, watching Adrian go.  “I see that you were in good company.”

Simone smiled.  “Thanks for inviting me tonight, Erin.  I had a wonderful time.”

“I can see that,” her friend teased before she took her arm and they headed to her car.

Source:  The Guardian Jobs

The Photo Shoot

She had photographed many men but this one took the cake.  This was her first trip to Scotland for a photo shoot for the fashion magazine she worked for.  She had never seen a man in a kilt before but this guy looked incredible in the traditional garb.  He wore it extremely well.  And those smoldering eyes and rugged looks didn’t hurt.

She willed herself to remain professional and just do the job at hand.  However, she couldn’t help wishing that she could exchange places with the glamorous woman standing beside him.  Perhaps, she could ask the woman to take a photo of her with him after the shoot and…

Don’t be silly, she chided herself.  You are here to do a job.  Just do it.  

She continued clicking away and was relieved when it was over.  She was packing up her gear when he joined her.  She tried not to give away the fact that she was as nervous as a schoolgirl with a crush and smiled sedately.

“Callum,” he said with that Scottish lilt that was as disarming as his smile.

She held out her hand.  “Holly.”  He clasped it in firm but warm handshake.  She felt a bolt of electricity course through her body.  Their eyes met and held for what seemed like eternity.  He was holding her hand a lot longer than was necessary, not that she minded, of course, but she could feel her face grow hot.  He seemed to realize it too and released her hand, almost apologetically.

“Is this your first time in Edinburgh?” he asked, after clearing his throat.

“It’s my first time in Scotland.”

“How long are you here for?”

“I’m here for another two weeks.  I’m here for the International Fashion Festival and after that I’m off to Glasgow to check out the boutiques.  Then it’s back to London.”

“If you’re not busy tomorrow, I’d like to take you out for lunch and then on a tour around the city.”

She couldn’t believe it.  He wanted to take her out to lunch and show her around Edinburgh.  “I’d like that,” she said.  “I’ll get a chance to try your national dish.”

He laughed.   “I’ll take you to best place where they serve Haggis,” he promised.

“It’s a deal.”  Not only was he handsome but he was really friendly and easygoing.  She felt very relaxed with him and was looking forward to seeing him the next day.  She wrote down the name of the hotel where she was staying and handed it to him.  “Bye.”

“See you tomorrow, Holly.”  Oh, how good her name sounded in the Scottish accent, she thought as she walked away.  She made a mental note to thank Margo for assigning her to the photo shoot here in Scotland instead to the one in Paris.

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Sources:  Culture Trip; Edinburgh International Fashion Festival