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 Cabin

Bethany lay there, thinking about Lysander and his winsome smile.  Groaning, she turned over in the bed, burying her face in the pillow.  She was mad at him yet, she missed him so much.  She knew that if she weren’t laid up here in bed, her body covered in hives, she would be driving up to the cabin to see him.  Why on earth did she have the chocolate dipped strawberries for dessert, knowing that she was allergic to them?  She blamed it on what happened between Lysander and her.   Depressed, she thought having what used to be her favorite comfort food would help her to feel better.  It didn’t.  She was still depressed.  Sighing heavily, she allowed her thoughts to drift back to that last visit to the cabin…

It was a mild winter day so she decided that she would drive up to the cabin.  She had a proclivity for showing up unannounced, especially after she had a row with her sister-in-law.  Her teeth gritted when she thought of Cicely.  Who was she to tell her that she shouldn’t go about throwing herself at Lysander, a man who was so much older than her?  She wished Cicely would stop telling her to date a guy at her university or trying to set her up with her friends’ sons.  She was old enough to know what she wanted and she wanted Lysander.

She had known him since she was a child but fell in love with him when she became a teenager.  He was her brother’s best friend and best man at his wedding.  Lysander was always very nice to her but he treated her like a little sister which frustrated her.  Sometimes she felt like they were Almonzo and Laura Ingalls Wilder from Little House on the Prairie before Almonzo noticed Laura.  Would the same thing happen for her?  Would there come a time when Lysander would see her as a woman instead of a little girl?

All of these thoughts were running through her mind as she made her way to the cabin which was about an hour’s drive from the city.  It was a cozy place in the woods and very peaceful.  It was no wonder that Lysander spent so much of his time there.  He was there every weekend and during the holidays.  When she visited they would go for long walks and then return to sit outside for hours, talking, having lunch or playing card games.  She was looking forward to seeing him and her foot pressed down a little harder on the accelerator.

Soon the cabin was in sight and her heart began to pound.  As she pulled up, she saw his jeep and the door on the driver-side was open.  He was either on his way out or had just arrived home.  She stopped the car a little distance away and turned off the engine.  After fixing her hair and checking her face in the mirror, she grabbed her handbag and got out of the car.  He was still sitting in his jeep so she walked over to him.  “Hello, Ly,” she called out, smiling.  Her smile soon faded, though, when she saw the expression on his face.  He wasn’t smiling at all.

“What are you doing here, Beth?” he asked.  She couldn’t tell if he was getting in or out of the vehicle when she showed up.  She hoped that it was the latter.

“I came to see you, of course,” she replied flippantly although she was wary.  She had hoped that he would be pleased to see her. They hadn’t seen each other in about two weeks.  He had been out of town on business and got back yesterday.  Didn’t he miss her?  She had missed him like crazy.  Her gaze slipped over him as he got out of the jeep.  He looked sexy in the tan colored jacket with the fur trimmed hood and collar and the leather pants.  How she longed to run over and throw her arms around him but his demeanor was not forthcoming and she doubted that he would welcome such a display of emotion.   “Aren’t you happy to see me?”

“You can’t keep dropping by unexpectedly like this,” he said.  “What if I had company?”

She stiffened.  “What do you mean?” she asked.  “Are you seeing someone?”  The thought of him seeing another woman was unbearable.

He sighed.  “Beth, you and I can’t continue seeing each other like this.”

“Why not?” she asked in a trembling voice.  This couldn’t be happening.

His eyes darkened as he gazed down into her face.  “My feelings for you have changed.”

She swallowed hard, her heart pounding.  “They have?”

“Yes.  I’m deeply attracted to you.” His gaze lowered to her lips and his parted.  Dragging his fingers through his hair, he said to her, “I think it would be best if you go now.”

Shaking her head, she reached up and held his face between her hands.  “Don’t send me away, Ly,” she pleaded huskily.  “Let me stay.  I want to be with you.”  Before he could say anything, she pulled his head down to hers and kissed him.  She moaned when she felt his response and his hands go around her waist, pressing her tightly against him.  They stood there in the crisp wintry air with the sun bathing them, exchanging passionate kisses.  She loved and wanted him so much it ached.

Lysander continued to kiss her and then he pulled away, his face flushed.  It took a moment for him to catch his breath.  “We can’t do this,” he muttered thickly.  “Please go.”

“But, I don’t want to go,” she protested, reaching for him again but he stepped back.  “I love you, Ly.  I love you so much.  Please let me stay.”

“No!” he cried, startling her.  “I’m too old for you.  You should be with someone your own age.”

“I wish you would stop using our age difference as an excuse,” she retorted.  “I’m twenty-four years old and you’re forty.  So, we have sixteen years between us, why is that such a big deal?”

“You should be with someone your own age,” he insisted.

“So, you are willing to throw away what you and I could have because of something as stupid as our age difference?” her voice was trembling now.  She was hurt and angry.

“I doing what I think is the only viable thing to do.  In time you will get over me.”

“Fine,” she cried.  “I will go away and leave you alone–” her sob rose to her throat before she could stifle it and she turned and ran back to her car, ignoring him as he called after her.  She yanked open the door and got in, slamming it behind her.  Her fingers shook as she put the key in the ignition and turned it.

The tears were falling now and almost blinded her.  She saw him coming towards the car and she quickly reversed and raced off down the gravel.  When she got back to the city, she went to a secluded spot where she broke down and cried.  Her heart ached for Lysander.  Her lips still felt tender from his kisses and she knew that if he were to call her on her cell then and asked her to go back, she would in a heartbeat.

That was three weeks ago.  She hadn’t seen nor heard from him since that awful day.  And now she was stuck in the house because of a bowl of strawberries.  The antihistamine she had taken seemed to be working because the headache was gone and the swelling was going away.  In a matter of hours or in a day or two she should be back to normal.  Until then, she didn’t want to see anyone.  She closed her eyes.  When she opened them again, it was morning.

She sat up and stretched.  It looked like another beautiful sunny day.  I wonder what Lysander is doing now.   Is he thinking about me?  Probably not.  She felt her eyes well with tears at the thought but she quickly blinked them back.  I’m not going to cry.  The hives on her body were fading, thank goodness.  She threw back the covers.  The hives on her body were fading, thank goodness.  She got out of bed.  After soaking in a warm, oatmeal bath, she got dressed in loose clothing and went downstairs to have breakfast.  Cicely was sitting at the kitchen table having hers.  “Good morning,” she greeted her sister-in-law.

“Good morning,” Cicely said, watching her as she helped herself to some scrambled eggs, toast and tea.  “How are you feeling?”

“Much better, thanks.  By tomorrow, the swelling and the hives will be completely gone.  Where’s Derek?”

“He had to take the car to the mechanic.  It has been giving trouble again.  I have been telling him to get rid of it and buy a new one”

“He loves that car.  He’s had it for years.  I can’t see him buying a new one any time soon.”

“Buying a new car would be better than wasting money on a beaten up old one but it’s his decision, I guess.  So, do you have any plans for today?”

Bethany shook her head.  “I don’t plan on going anywhere until my skin clears up.  I’ll just catch up on my reading and do some studying.”

There was a pregnant pause and then, “Lysander was here last night.”

Bethany stared at her.  “Ly was here?” she exclaimed.  “When?” It must have been when she was sleeping.

“Around eight-thirty.  He stopped by to see Derek but he asked for you.”

“What did you tell him?” she asked, her heart racing.  How she wished she had been awake when he came by.  She would have gotten out of bed, dressed and gone downstairs just to see him.

“I, um—told him that you weren’t at home—”

“Why did you tell him that?” she demanded.  “He must have seen my car parked in the driveway.”

“Well, I told him that you were on a date—”

Bethany glared at her.  “Why did you do that?” she demanded.  “Are you trying to ruin my life?  You know I love Lysander and that he’s the only man I want to be with.  Why did you make him believe that I was seeing someone?  Do you dislike me that much, Cicely?”

“I don’t dislike you, Bethany and I’m not out to ruin your life.  I still think that Lysander is too old for you but after seeing his reaction to what I said, I realize that your feelings for him are not one-sided.”

“What do you mean?” Bethany was on the edge of her chair now.

“I believe that Lysander is in love with you.  When I saw the look on his face when I told him that you were on a date, he looked hurt, devastated.  I felt bad for lying to him and wanted to tell him the truth but he said he had to go and to give his apologies to Derek and then he left.”

Bethany pushed back her chair and got up.  She had lost her appetite.

Cicely looked up at her.  “Where are you going?” she asked.

“Where do you think?” Bethany retorted, giving her a withering look.  “To see Lysander.”

“Do you think you should drive all that way now—so early in the morning?”

“When do you think I should go or do you even think I should go at all?”

“Well, I think it would be best for you to see him somewhere else rather than driving over to his place.  A girl your age shouldn’t be alone with a man as experienced as Lysander—”

“I’m not a girl and this isn’t the 1800s.  Now, you have interfered in my life for the last time, Cicely.  As soon as I graduate in the summer, I will find a job and move out.” She turned and marched out of the room, her expression thunderous.

In ten minutes, she was on her way to the cabin.  She had no idea of what kind of reception she would get but she had to see him and clear up the misunderstanding.  What he must think of her now, especially after her declaration that she would never get over him.  How could she say she would love him for the rest of her life and she was out on a date just three weeks later?

She gripped the steering wheel as fresh anger toward Cicely consumed her.  When Lysander asked for her, why couldn’t she have told him that she was not feeling well or come and let her know that he was there?  No, she decided to take it upon herself and tell him an outright lie.  Oh, Ly, she cried, tears stinging her eyes.  I hope Cicely is right and that you love me too.

When she got there, his jeep was parked outside. Relieved, she quickly parked her car and ran to the front door, letting herself in.  It was nice and toasty in the living-room.  She removed her coat and boots and then went over to the fire to warm her hands.  She looked around.  Why was Lysander?  It was so quiet.  Perhaps he was still sleeping or maybe he was outside getting more wood for the fireplace.

She went to the window and looked out.  There was no sign of him.  It was such a beautiful sunny day, albeit a bit nippy.  Perhaps he went for a walk.  Then, she heard a sound in the bedroom and she hurried to investigate.  The door was ajar and she opened it wide enough to go in.  Her breath caught in her throat when she saw Lysander.

He was standing in front of the bureau.  His broad, bare back was toward her and she allowed her gaze to travel slowly over his muscular frame clad only in a pair of jeans.  He had taken a sweater out of the drawer and was about to pull it on.  She watched him, her heart pounding wildly.  How she longed to go up behind him and put her arms around him while she buried her face in his smooth skin…

He turned around and started when he saw her standing there, gawking at him.  Dragging on the sweater, he demanded, “What on earth are you doing here?”

“I—I came to see you.”

He pulled the sweater down, covering his torso as he watched her, his expression inscrutable.  “When did you get here?  I didn’t hear your car.”

“I came about ten minutes ago.  You were probably in the shower when I arrived.”  His hair was glistening damply in the light coming through the windows.  Her fingers itched to run themselves through the silky strands.  “It has been three weeks since we last saw each other, Ly.  How have you been?”

“I’m fine,” he said curtly.  “I don’t have to ask you how you’ve been.”

Her eyes widened.  “What do you mean?”

“You’ve been dating.  You don’t waste any time, do you?” His face was glowering now.

“That’s not true,” she protested, crossing the carpet to stand a few feet away from him.  “I’m not dating.”

“When I stopped by last night, Cicely told me that you were out on a date.”

“She lied to you, Ly.  I was upstairs in my room sleeping when you stopped by.  I came down with hives because I ate too many strawberries.  If you don’t believe me, I will show you the rashes on my arms.  They are going away but you can still see them.  I haven’t been anywhere since I got them a couple of days ago.”

“Why would she lie to me?”

“She lied to you because she thinks that I should be with someone my own age.”

“Perhaps she’s right—”

“No, she isn’t.  I don’t want to be with anyone else, Ly.  I love you and I want to be with you.  If you don’t feel the same way about me, tell me now and–and I will go away.”  She moved closer and her mouth went dry when she saw the expression on his face.

He reached for her and pulled her roughly against him.  “I can’t let you go,” he told her thickly.  “I love you, Beth.  That’s why I came to see you last night.  I wanted to tell you that I was sorry about the way I acted that day at the cabin.  As soon as you drove away, I was afraid that I was making a terrible mistake.  I wanted to come after you but I decided that it was probably the best thing for us not to see each other for a while until I could really think things through.  During the time when we didn’t see each other, I nearly went out of my mind thinking about you and missing you.  Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore and that’s why I decided to come to you.  When Cicely told me that you were on a date, I was blindsided.  It was the last thing I expected to hear, especially after you told me that you loved me.  I realized then that in spite of what I said to you, the last thing I wanted was for you to be with someone else.”

She put her arms around his neck and pressed against him, loving the feel of his firm body against hers.  “The important thing is that we’re together now,” she told him huskily before she pulled his head down to hers.  They exchanged hungry kisses and then, he picked her up and carried her over to the bed.

The following week, they got engaged and in the summer after she graduated from university, they got married in a small, intimate wedding ceremony.  Derek was the best man.  After they returned from their honeymoon in Nice, Lysander sold his flat in London and they moved into the cabin.

Moving to Canada

“You’re leaving?” Robyn asked Patrick, her heart pounding and a feeling of dread overcame her.  “When?” He had just told her the awful news that he was leaving London and moving to Toronto.  The two cities were worlds apart.  The thought of never seeing him again was unbearable.  They had known each other since she was in high school.  He was there for her when her parents died in a tragic hit and run accident.  They were on their way to a restaurant for dinner.  They were going to celebrate their fortieth wedding anniversary.  She had made the reservation for them just that morning.

At the time it happened, she was in a café having hot chocolate with him.  It was after he took her home and had left that she received the devastating news.  When the doorbell rang soon after Patrick left, she thought it was him and ran excitedly to the door and froze when she saw a police officer standing there instead.  She felt numb after he broke the news and after he left, she walked stiffly over to the phone.  She picked up the receiver and dialed Patrick’s cell number.  He answered on the second ring.  She had no memory of what she said to him but in about ten minutes he was at the house, holding her as she finally broke down.  The pain she experienced then at the sudden loss of her parents was similar to the pain she was feeling now at the thought of losing him.

“I leave in three weeks,” he told her quietly, his expression tense as he studied her face.  “I’m going to miss our conversations.”

“Is that all you’re going to miss?” she asked in a trembling voice.  The tears threatened to come and she blinked them back.  “Our conversations?”

His eyes darkened.  “No,” he muttered thickly.  “I’m going to miss you like crazy.”

“Then, why are you leaving me?” The tears were rolling down her cheeks now.

He reached out and cupped her face, his heart aching as he gazed down into her face.  “Robyn, please don’t cry.”

He must be out of his mind, thinking that he could fly off to another part of the world and leave her behind.  How could he when he loved her so desperately?  He had fallen helplessly in love with her five years ago when she went to the office to take her father to lunch and he introduced them.  He and her father enjoyed a good working relationship and after he retired, they kept in touch.  Several times Patrick was invited to their home for dinner.

After her parents died, Robyn and he became very close.  He loved her but didn’t know how she felt about him.  He knew she cared about him but it could be the kind of love she would feel toward a dear friend.  It tortured him to think that one day she would fall in love with someone else and he seized the first opportunity to leave London before that eventuality happened.  He chose Toronto because it was so far away.  And now, as she stood here, crying, he felt his resolve to leave weakening.

“I can’t help it,” she cried.  “I love you, Patrick.”

Groaning deeply and unable to help himself, he lowered his head and began to kiss her, his mouth moving hungrily on hers when he felt her response.  She hugged him tightly around the waist and pressed against him as she kissed him back wildly, her love for him gushing out.

The frenzy exchange of kisses lasted for several minutes and then he raised his head to look down at her.  “Come with me to Canada.”

She stared at him.  “Do you mean it?” she asked.  It was hard to imagine leaving the city where she was born and raised but she was willing to leave it for him.  She would go anywhere with him.  He was her life.

He nodded.  “Yes, I do,” he muttered thickly.  “I love you, Robyn and now that I know that you love me too, I can’t go to Canada without you.”

Her heart leapt with joy and Canada which just a few moments ago was the place that was going to take him away from her was to be their new home.   She put her arms around his neck, her eyes shining.  “I never thought I’d be happy to leave London.”

“Before we leave, I want us to get married.”

Her eyes widened.  “Married?”

“Yes.  I don’t want us to be shacking up.  We will get married on Saturday.”

Her head was spinning.  He loved her and wanted to marry her before he took her to Canada with him.  Her world which had seemed dark and dismal a few moments ago was bright and beautiful again.   Smiling through her tears, she pulled his head down to hers, closing her eyes as their lips touched.

 

The Winter Coat

It was a bit mild today, compared to yesterday, he mused as he walked briskly down the sidewalk.  He was making his annual visit to the homeless youth shelter.  As he was approaching the nondescript building, he noticed a young woman sitting on the steps.  She wasn’t wearing a coat.  Instinctively, he thought of the coats he was going to donate to the shelter.  There had to be one that would fit her.

He went over to her and she watched him warily.  “Don’t be afraid,” he said.  “I won’t hurt you.  It’s cold and you’re not wearing a coat.  I’m on my way to the shelter to drop off some coats and clothes.  I think I have a coat here which I could give you. ”  He set down the bags and searched through one with the coats.  He spotted the black coat with the hood and took it out.  He handed it to her.  “Try this on,” he suggested.

At first she hesitated and then she took it from him, stood up and put it on.  It fit perfectly.  “Thank you,” she said as she pushed her cold hands deep in the pockets.

He smiled.  “You’re welcome,” he said.  Then, he held out his hand.  “I’m Jake.  What’s your name?”

She took his hand.  It felt small and cold in his.  “Daisy.”

“Daisy, could I take you to the coffee shop down the street for a hot chocolate and sandwiches?”

Again, she hesitated but he sounded so kind and she was very hungry.  She nodded and came down the steps.

“Wait here,” he said.  “I’ll just go and drop off these things and I’ll meet you back here.”  He hurried off and five minutes later he was back.  She was still there.  Relieved, he started down the sidewalk and she fell into step with him.  They didn’t speak.  There was plenty of time for that, he thought to himself.  She looked to be in her mid-twenties.  Homelessness among the youth was nothing new here in the city but it still troubled him whenever he encountered one of them in the street.

The coffee shop was buzzing as usual but they managed to find a table at the back in a corner.  He helped her off with her coat and then removed his.  It was nice and warm inside.  Daisy looked around.  He studied her.  There were so many questions he wanted to ask her but he had to go slow.  “You should try the hot chocolate topped with whipped cream,” he said, breaking the silence.  She looked at him.  What beautiful eyes she had.

“Why are you being so kind to me?” she asked.  “What’s in it for you?”

He wasn’t offended at all by her questions.  “I have no ulterior motive.  I just want to help you.  What I get out of it is knowing that I am making a difference in someone’s life.”

His answer seemed to satisfy her.  Just then the waitress came and took their orders.  As he suggested, she ordered the hot chocolate with whip cream along with a turkey sandwich.  When the hot chocolate came, she took a sip and licked her lips.  She looked over at him, her eyes shining.  He smiled.  “It’s very good, isn’t it?”

She nodded and smiled for the first time.  What a lovely smile she had.  It made his heart skip a beat.  They ate while in the background voices mingled with Christmas music.  “Do you usually donate to homeless shelters?” she asked.

“Yes.  I collect donations from my church at Christmas time and drop them off the week before Christmas Day.”

“What church do you go to?”

He told her.  “We had our Christmas concert last Saturday evening.  Afterwards, we gathered in the hall downstairs and had treats.”

“Sounds nice,” she said, a bit wistful.  “I used to go to church but stopped after I ended up on the streets.”

“Daisy, how did you end up on the streets?” he asked gently.

“I lost my job and couldn’t afford to pay my rent.”

“How long have you been homeless?”

“About three months.”

“What about family?”

“My mother died when I was ten and my father died a couple of years ago.  I don’t have any brothers or sisters.”

“Do you have other relatives you can go to for help?”

“No.”

“What about a homeless shelter?”

She shook her head at once.  “I have heard a lot of terrible things about shelters, that they are dangerous places, full of drugs and drug dealers, that people will steal your shoes, and there are bedbugs and body lice.  I would rather take my chances on the street.  I just have to find a different place each night and be careful.”

“Daisy, you can’t remain on the streets.  It’s cold and it isn’t safe.”

She shrugged.  “It’s all I have.  I have no where else to go.”

He thought about it for a moment and then he heard himself say, “You have another option.”

She stared at him.  “Another option?”

“Yes.  You can stay with me until you find a job and a flat of your own.”

“You want me to stay with you?”

“Yes.  Just until you get back on your feet.  It’s better than sleeping on the streets.”

She mulled it over.  “Are you sure?”

“Yes.  You’ll have a room all to yourself.”

She thought about it some more and then she said, “All right.”

“Good.  After we leave here, I have one more stop to make and then we go home.”  He believed that he was doing the right thing but he doubted that Siobahn would agree.  Speaking of Siobahn, she was supposed to be popping by his flat tomorrow evening.  He would definitely have to make new arrangements.

Daisy and he talked about other things.  He learned that she was twenty-four and had graduated from a two-year college with an Associate degree.  She had been working at a computer firm when she got laid off.  Job hunting had been horrendous and unsuccessful.  She soon got behind in her rent and was evicted.  During the time she was homeless, she read the job ads to see what was available.   There were charitable places where she was able to shower and get free toiletries.   “Things could have been worse, but somehow, I managed to survive.”

“I think we can thank God for that,” Jake said as he helped her on with the coat before putting his on.  “He has been watching over you all this time.”  They walked out of the warm place and into the biting cold.  The temperature seemed to have plummeted within a short space of time.  Taking her by the elbow, he hustled her to his car which was parked in the parking lot of the shelter.  He opened the door and she got in.  He slid in behind the wheel and after he started the engine, he turned on the heat.  It felt good to be in the warm car and she settled against the leather seat and gazed out of the window as they left her life on the streets behind.

He turned on the radio so that she could listen to the Christmas carols.  He stopped at the grocery store and came back with two bags which he put in the trunk.  Fifteen minutes later, they were riding up in the lift to his flat.  She took one of the bags from him so that he could unlock the door.  After she stepped inside and he locked the door, the light in the foyer was turned on.  He took the bag from her and set the bags on the ground.  He helped her off with her coat.

“Where’s the bathroom?” she asked after removing her boots.  She kept on the socks.

“Let me show you,” he offered.  He led her through the living-room and into the hallway.  He opened the second door on the left and switched on the light.  “Here you go.”

“Thank you.”  She smiled at him shyly before she went inside and closed the door behind her.

While she was in there, he hung up the coats and busied himself with going the electric fireplace going, packing away the groceries and making sure the bedroom was in order.  He was in the living-room when she joined him.  “I’m going to put up the Christmas tree now.  Would you like to help me?”

She smiled, nodding.  He went and got the boxes and he set up the tree.  It was a tall, white Christmas tree.  She stared at it because she had never seen one like it before.  It looked like its branches were covered in snow.  It was beautiful.  She helped him to string the red and silver ornaments on the tree.  Then, he reached up and stuck the star at the time.  Both of them stepped back to admire their handiwork.  “Now, for the lights.”  He switched off the foyer light and the lamp in the living-room and plugged in the tree.  It lit up and so did her face.  “Only the presents are missing,” he said.  “I will take care of that during the week.  Make yourself comfortable while I put on some music.”

She sat down on the sofa and looked around her.  It was a warm and stylishly decorated room, very masculine and very modern.  It needed a female touch.  She could imagine putting a poinsettia on top of the mantle-piece to give that area a little color and a vase of flowers on the center table.  “You have a beautiful place,” she remarked when he sat down beside her.  “It’s so warm and cozy.”

“Thank you.  It’s like a sanctuary for me.”  It felt different and nice having her there.

She seemed relaxed and began to ask him questions about himself.  They talked until it was time to go to bed.  “I put a pajama shirt on the bed for you.”

“Thank you.  I used to have my own clothes when I first went on the streets but they got stolen when I was in the shelter.  All I have are the ones I’m wearing and in my carry on bag.  They don’t smell because I went to a laundromat where homeless people get to wash their clothes for free.”

“I have a washer and dryer here which you are more than welcome to use.”

She got up from the sofa and went into the bedroom and changed into the pajama shirt.  It reached just above her knees.  She went into the bathroom to brush her teeth.  When she went to the living-room to say goodnight to him, she was surprised to see him spreading a blanket on the sofa.  She frowned.  “What are you doing?” she asked.

“I’m sleeping on the sofa.”

She shook her head, protesting, “I can’t ask you to sleep on the sofa while I sleep in your room.”

He smiled.  “You didn’t ask and I insist.  You will sleep in there and I will sleep out here.  I hope you have a good night’s sleep.  Goodnight, Daisy.”

“Goodnight, Jake.”  She turned and walked back to the room, closing the door quietly behind her.

Alone, he pulled back the blanket and lay down on the sofa.  He wore a tee shirt and a pajama pants.  It felt strange sleeping out here but he didn’t mind at all.  He thought about Daisy and how thankful he was that he was able to help her.  She didn’t have to spend another night on the streets.  She had a roof over her head and a warm bed to sleep in.  Yes, God had been good to her.  He closed his eyes and thanked Him.

The next morning he woke up to the smell of breakfast and he sat up, rubbing his eyes.  He glanced at the clock over the mantle-piece.  It was half-past eight.  His guest was an early riser.  Usually, he would be in bed until ten on a Saturday morning.  He sat up and stretched.  Throwing off the blanket, he got up from the sofa.  As he was folding it up and straightening the cushions, Daisy came into the room.  She had already had a bath and was dressed.  She smiled at him.  “Good morning.  Breakfast is ready.”

“Good morning.  Did you sleep well?”

She nodded.  “I slept like a baby.  How about you?”

“I had a good sleep too.  I’ll go and take my shower now and join you.  Thanks for making breakfast.”

“It was the least I could do considering what you have done for me.”

He took up the blanket and went into the bedroom.  The bed was neatly made and the pajama shirt was folded and lying at the end.  He put the blanket away in the cupboard, got himself underwear and clothes before heading into the bathroom.  After brushing his teeth, he took a quick, hot shower.  She had just finished putting the plates on the table when he went into the dining-room.  Breakfast consisted of broccoli and cheese omelet with tea, orange juice with slices of oranges, strawberries and blueberries.  The omelet smelled and looked delicious.  He couldn’t wait to bite into it but he said a prayer first.

Over breakfast, they discussed what they were going to do during the day and decided that they would go to the shopping mall.  After breakfast, Daisy washed the dishes and then got ready to go on the road.  “Thank you for breakfast,” Jake said to her as they his place.  “I enjoyed it very much.”

She smiled.  “I’m happy you did.  While I’m staying with you, I’d like to cook for you.”

That sounded good to him.  It had been a while since a woman cooked for him.  The last one to do that was his mother when he had come down with the flu a couple of years ago.  It was really nice having breakfast with Daisy this morning.  She seemed to have settled in very nicely.  They spent the morning at the mall and then they went to an Italian restaurant for lunch.  Afterwards, they drove around the city, stopping to look at the Christmas displays in the store windows before spending a while at the skating rink to watch others skating.  The sun was setting by the time they returned to his place.  They spent the evening watching Christmas movies while eating the delicious stew chicken she made.

The following day he went to church while she remained at the apartment, making lunch and doing the laundry.  It felt good to be useful again.  When Jake got home, lunch was ready and waiting on the table for him.   During the week, while he was at work, she searched the Internet for job openings and sent in her resume which she had updated, using Jake’s address as he had advised her to do.

After applying to tons of jobs, she finally got one response.  She had an interview but didn’t want to say anything to Jake as yet.  After he left for the office on the Wednesday, she got dressed in the suit he bought for her.  She planned on paying him back for it as soon as she could.  It looked rather nice on her.  She pulled her hair back in a bun and wore no make up except lip gloss.  She called for a taxi and left, her heart racing.

The interview went very well and she was hopeful.  A week passed before she got the call informing her that she had gotten the job.  She was so excited that she couldn’t wait to tell Jake.  When she heard the key turn in the lock, she rushed to greet him, her heart racing and her eyes sparkling.  They were going to celebrate tonight with a candlelight dinner.  The door opened and she stopped short when she found herself staring at a tall, slender blonde who looked just as surprised to see her.  She went in and closed the door behind her.  She looked Daisy up and down.  “Who are you?  And what are you doing in Jake’s apartment?”

“I’m Daisy.  And Jake is letting me stay here until I can get back on my feet.  Who are you?”

“I’m Siobahn, his girlfriend.  I see he forgot to mention that to you.  How long have you been staying here?”

“A couple of weeks.  I had no place to go so Jake brought me here.”

Siobahn rolled her eyes.  “I should have known.  Do you think you are the first charity case?  I’ve warned him about taking in strays.  Why don’t you do yourself a favor and find somewhere else to stay?”

Daisy could feel the tears pricking at the backs of her eyes but she willed herself to keep them in check.  “I will pack my things and leave,” she said quietly.  She turned and went into the kitchen first to put the dinner in the oven.  She didn’t want Siobahn to see it.  She doubted that the woman knew her way about a kitchen.  It was hard to believe that Jake could be in a relationship with someone like that.  Then, she went into the bedroom and packed her things in her bag.  She found stationary in the top drawer beside the bed and wrote Jake a note which she hid in his bedroom slippers.

Siobahn was reclining on the sofa when Daisy went back into the living-room.  She got to her feet at once and followed her to the door.  “Don’t even think about coming back here again,” she told her before shutting the door in her face.  Daisy stood there for several minutes, trembling.  The tears came then.  It hurt that she wasn’t going to see Jake.  Siobahn would be waiting for him instead of her.  Turning blindly, she hurried to the elevator.  As the doors closed behind her, she felt as if they were closing a chapter in her life that she never wanted to end.

It was after seven when Jake let himself into the apartment.  He was late because he had made a stop.  He felt in breast pocket of his jacket to make sure it was there.  Tired, he removed his coat and hung it in the closet.  The light was on in the living-room and he could hear the television.  Daisy.  How he looked forward to seeing her every evening after a long and busy day at the office.  Eager to see her, he strode into the living-room, stopping short when he saw Siobahn lying on the sofa.  She sat up when she saw him.  “Hi Jake,” she said, “I’ve been waiting for you.”

“Where’s Daisy?” he asked.  He went into the kitchen, then the bedroom and the other rooms but there wasn’t any sign of Daisy.  He strode back into the living-room.  “Where’s Daisy?” he demanded, his face glowering.

Siobahn got up from the sofa and went over to him.  She tried to put her arms around his neck but he pushed her away.  Her expression changed.  “You mean your little stray?  I sent her packing.  She had no business being here with you.”

His hands tightened into fists as he tried to control his temper.  “I’m going to look for her and when I come back, don’t let me find you still here.”

“But, I’m your girlfriend, you should be concentrating on me instead of that—that vagabond.”

“You and I are through, Siobahn.”  He took her by the arm and escorted her to the front door.

“But—But,” she sputtered, her face red.

At the door, he let her arm go and held out his hand.  “My spare key,” he said.

She pressed it into his palm and was about to say something when he closed the door.

He leaned against the door for several minutes, his mind whirling.  Where could Daisy be?  He hurried over to the closet and grabbed his coat.  In a flash he was out of the apartment and heading down to the garage.  He drove to the place by the shelter where he first saw her but she wasn’t there. He searched all of the areas close by, including the coffee shop but no sign of her.  He spent a long time searching for her until tired and heartbroken, he returned home.

He was hungry but didn’t feel like eating.  He went into the bedroom and undressed.  He sat on the bed and pushed his feet in his bedroom slippers.  He felt something in the left slipper and took his foot out.  He picked it up and saw what looked like a piece of paper shoved in it.  He pulled it out and unfolded it.  It was a note from Daisy.  He read it, his heart thudding.

Dear Jake,

Please don’t worry about me.  I will be all right, thanks to God and thanks to you.  I have the money you have given me and the coat.  I cannot tell you how much the coat means to me.  Whenever I wear it, I think about you and how good and kind you were to me.  I will always cherish it and will never part with it.  I hope that I will see you again–just to thank you in person for opening your home to me–a stranger whom you saw and had compassion for. 

Meeting you reminded me of God’s love for me.  During the three months on the street, He kept me safe and sustained me and just when the money I had ran out, you walked into my life.  I thank God for you and I will always remember the time we have spent together.  It was hard for me to leave but it was something I believed I had to do.  Please take care of yourself.  You are wonderful man with a big and beautiful heart.  I love you.  God bless you.

Daisy

He closed his eyes.  “Oh, Daisy,” he groaned.  How he longed for her to be there with him right at that moment.  The apartment felt so empty without her.  It felt cold and dismal.  He ran trembling fingers through his hair as he tried to imagine how he was get through the next few minutes without her.  He heard the front door close.  His eyes flew open.  His first thought was that it was Siobahn but then he remembered that he had taken the key back from her.  Unless she had made a copy of the spare key…He sprang up from the bed and raced into the living-room, stopping short when he saw Daisy coming toward him.

“I had to come back,” she murmured.  “I went all the way to the subway.  I watched the trains come and go.  I had no idea where I was going and then I decided to come back.  I had to come back and tell you that I got a job.  It’s not the sort of news I wanted write in a note.  I wanted to see your face when I told you.”

He quickly closed the distance between them and she was in his arms.  “Oh, Daisy,” he moaned, his eyes darkening on her face.  “I was out of my mind with worry.”

“Did you see my note?”

“I saw it after I went looking for you.”

“Was Siobhan here when you came?”

“Yes.  She told me what happened before I threw her out.  It’s over between her and me, Daisy.”

“I’m glad to hear that.  She wasn’t right for you.”

“No, but you are, Daisy.  You belong here with me.  I love you.”

She put her arms around his neck.  “I love you too and this is where I want to be.”

“Welcome home, Daisy,”  he murmured before he kissed her.

 

Sources:  Care2; NPR; Our Everyday Life; Los Angeles Times;

The Christmas Present

It was Christmas Day and she was sitting by the tree, going through the presents.  There were several–from family, friends, co-workers and…Kevin.  Kevin.  He was her brother in-law’s youngest brother and eleven years younger than her yet she felt like a lovesick schoolgirl whenever she was around him.  Every year they exchanged Christmas presents.  His were always so creative and unique.  She loved them.  Last year he had given her a box of chocolate soaps which she truly enjoyed.  She couldn’t wait to see what he got for her this year.

She reached for the neatly wrapped present, read the card which said, “Having you in my life has given me a reason to celebrate every day.  Merry Christmas.”  What a lovely sentiment.  Setting the card aside, she eagerly unwrapped the present, anxious to see what was inside.  There was a little box inside and she opened it.  Her eyes widened when she saw the sterling silver heart necklace.  She examined the heart closely.  On it were written the words, “Be Mine”.

Her heart was pounding now.  There was no mistaking what this meant.  She had seen those words on dozens of Valentine’s cards.  It was something a person would say to the one they loved.   Was Kevin telling her that he loved her and wanted to be with her?  She sincerely hoped so because she felt the same way.  Yes, in spite of their age difference, she was in love with Kevin.  She held the heart in her hand and stared at it, thinking it was the most precious present she had ever received.  Putting it carefully back in the box, she got up and went over to the phone to call.  She picked up the receiver and was about to dial his number when the doorbell rang.

Hanging up the phone, she went to answer the door.  It was Kevin.  She opened the door, her heart racing as she met his gaze.  He looked a bit nervous as he stood there in the hallway.  “Good morning,” she greeted him and stood aside for him to go in.  After she closed the door behind him, she turned to face him.  “Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas,” he answered quietly.

She showed him the box and opening it, she took out the necklace.  “Thank you for your beautiful present,” she said.  She handed it to him and turned around, lifting her hair so that her neck was exposed.  “Would you mind putting it on for me?”

She felt him put it around her neck, his knuckles brushing against her skin, making her shiver.  When he was done, she turned to face him.  He was staring at her, his expression no longer tense.  She returned his gaze.  “I’ve been yours since the first time we met,” she told him huskily, reaching up to brush his hair back from his forehead.

His eyes darkened and he caught her hand.  He pressed his lips into the palm, making her tremble.  “I’ve wanted to tell you for such a long time how I feel about you but never worked up the courage until now.  I decided that the necklace would say what I couldn’t say.  I couldn’t sleep last night because I was so nervous.  I wasn’t sure how you felt about me and worried that you might not accept this present. That’s why I came over as soon as I could to find out if you like the necklace.  Then, when you asked me to put it on, it gave me hope.”

“All those times when we were together, I wanted to tell you how I felt but I kept thinking that you should be with someone younger.”

“Do you still think that?” he asked thickly as he pulled her against him.

“No,” she groaned and reaching up she pulled his head down to hers.  They exchanged passionate kisses for a while then, she drew back to look up at him, her breath unsteady.  “There’s a communal service at my church today at eleven.  We can go to that first and then go and celebrate Christmas with the family.  What do you say?”

He nodded, his face flushed.  “I say it’s a good idea.”

“Have you had breakfast?”

He shook his head.  “As soon as I got up, I showered, dressed and came straight over here.  Breakfast was the last thing on my mind.”

She took his hand and led him over to the table.  “Let’s have breakfast and then head over to the church.”  While he sat at the table, she shared out the breakfast and he smiled as she set a plate in front of him.  It was the Egg Croissant Casserole, his favorite.  His mother used to make it at Christmas time too.  His mouth watered just at the sight of it and he was ready to dig into it.  But first, she said a prayer.  Afterwards, she raised her glass of orange juice.  “Here’s to a wonderful Christmas.”

He raised his.  “Here’s to joy, peace and…love.”  They touched their glasses.  “Thank you for making this Christmas the best one ever.”

She reached over and covered his hand with hers.  “And thank you for the Christmas present which has changed my life forever.”  He smiled and gently squeezed her hand before they began to enjoy their first Christmas breakfast together.

Source:  Uncommon Goods

A New Relationship

Paulette walked into Antonio’s office to place some files on his desk.  He wasn’t there.  It was half-past eight.  He usually got in around eight forty-five.  She went over to the windows and looked out at the bustling city below.  Five years ago, fresh out of university, she had stood there on the sidewalk staring up at this very building, nervous and excited about starting her first day here.  It was hard to believe that so much time had passed.  She loved working at the company but she knew that the main reason was Antonio why she looked forward to going into the office every weekday.

She didn’t kid herself that he would show any interest in her other than professional because of their age difference.  At the age of thirty-nine, he was twelve years older than her.  She wanted him to see her as a woman—a woman who loved him so much it ached.  Until she met him, she had no clue of what it meant to be in love.

When her friends talked about falling in love, she couldn’t relate because it hadn’t happened for her.  She envied them, though, wondering what it would be like to experience what they were experiencing.  And then, she met Antonio and it was then that she realized that love at first sight wasn’t a myth.  She knew that she loved him the first time she saw him.  It was a surreal experience. Everything seemed to be at a standstill and it felt as if they were the only two people in the world.  Everything else faded in the background and all she could see was him, coming toward her, his hand extended and an incredible smile on his face.

And that deep, sexy voice of his and the way he said her name still made her shiver.  She could almost hear it now and then she started when she realized that he had walked into his office and was standing beside her at the window.  Feeling embarrassed, she turned toward him, hugging the files which she was supposed to have left on his desk.  “I’m sorry,” she apologized.  “I-I didn’t hear you come in.”

He looked so good in his navy blue suit, black shirt and matching tie.  His thick dark hair glistened damply in the light and she caught a whiff of his aftershave.  Yes, he looked and smelled good…She realized she was staring and looked away.

“Something out there really got your attention,” he said as he walked over to his desk.  “I was calling you but you didn’t hear me.”

“I was just watching the people below and thinking about when I first joined this company.  I can’t believe it has been five years.”

“Yes, you’ve been with us for that length of time.  I hope you still like working here.”

“I do, very much.”  I can’t imagine being anywhere else.  Working with you is sheer bliss. She realized that she was staring again and that she really ought to be getting back to her desk.

Walking over to his desk, she set the files down.  She could feel him watching her and raised her head to look at him.  Her heart skipped a beat when she saw his gaze leave her face and travel over her before returning to her face.  She hoped she looked fine in the light grey long sleeved top, black pencil skirt and black knee high boots.  “I’d-I’d better get to back to my desk.”

“Are you going to Rita’s Christmas dinner?” he asked as she was about to turn away.

Rita was a retiree who used to at the firm.  She retired two years after Paulette starting working there.  Paulette was sorry to see her go but they kept in touch.  She was like a mother to her.  This year she was having a dinner and dance party at a banquet hall in London.  Paulette had received her invitation in the mail a week ago and had started shopping around for a dress to wear.  She wanted to wow Antonio, if he was going. “Yes, I’m going.  Are you?”

“Yes, I am.”

She wondered if he was taking anyone.  It would ruin her night to see him with another woman.

“Are you going alone?” he asked, glancing up from the papers he had been going through.

She shook her head.  “No.”

“Why don’t we go together?” he suggested much to her surprise.

“Together?” she repeated.  The thought of going with him thrilled and made her nervous at the same time.  It would be the first time that they would be seeing each other outside of the office.  What were they going to talk about on the ride over to Rita’s place?  Would there be an awkward silence?  She heard herself say, “Sure.  That’s a great idea.”  No chance of him showing up with someone else.  Tomorrow evening she was going to dazzle him.

“Good.  I’ll pick you up at seven.”  He returned to sorting through the papers which was her cue that she should get to work.  She turned and walked quickly out of his office, her heart pounding with excitement.  She couldn’t wait for tomorrow to come.

The day went by very quickly and it was like a blur for her.  All she could think about was seeing Antonio tomorrow.  She imagined them staring at each other across the table and slow-dancing afterwards.  Oh, stop daydreaming and concentrate on your work, she chided herself.  It was hard concentrating but she forced herself to do it and in no time it was the end of the work day.  She cleared her desk, turned off her computer, locked her drawers and stood up to pull on her scarf and coat.  After turning off the lamp on her desk, she grabbed her handbag and walked over to Antonio’s office to say goodbye.

He was typing something and stopped when she poked her head in.  “Goodnight.”

“Goodnight.  See you tomorrow.”

She smiled as she walked to the lift.  Yes, I don’t have to wait until Monday to see you.  When she got home, she took out the dress she was going to wear.  It was perfect.  When she tried it on and examined herself in the mirror, it looked great on her.  The champagne color suited her complexion and the style of the dress flattered her figure.  She didn’t bother trying on any other dresses.  This was the one.  She hung it carefully back in her wardrobe and slid the doors shut.

After fixing herself a sandwich and salad, she sat down and ate while watching the news on TV.  She decided to turn in early although she knew that it would be a while before she fell asleep because she was so excited about tomorrow.  It was around mid-night when she finally drifted off, a smile on her face.

Saturday came and she spent the day, cleaning the flat, doing laundry and grocery shopping.  Then, it was time to get ready for the dinner/dance.  Excitement filled her as she got dressed.  For a few minutes she looked at herself in the mirror before she left her room.  She had just put on her coat and grabbed her clutch purse when the doorbell rang promptly at seven.  Immediately, her heart began to beat fast and she felt a little nervous as she opened the door.

Antonio smiled.  “Good evening,” he said.  His eyes lingered on her face before shifting to her hair which was in an updo with a few tendrils framing her face.  She saw what looked like admiration flicker in them.  She couldn’t wait to see his reaction when he saw her dress.

“Good evening.”  She stepped out into the passageway, closing the door behind and turned to lock it.  She turned and saw that he was still watching her and she smiled.  This was going to be a very exciting evening.  They walked to the lift and as they rode down in the lift, they exchanged glances but didn’t say anything.  It was a bit cold when they got outside but she soon felt warm in his car as they drove off.  Smooth jazz filled the car.

“How come you don’t have a boyfriend?” he asked suddenly, startling her.

“I don’t know.  My mother has asked me the same thing.”

“Speaking of family, are you an only child or do you have siblings?”

“I’m the younger of two daughters.  My older sister, Pam is married and has three children.  She was with my mother when she took in ill.  I was away on a trip at the time and had to fly back immediately.”

“What happened?”

“This was a few years ago—during my senior year at university.  My mother suddenly collapsed and had to be rushed to the hospital.  We weren’t sure that she was going to make it but her pastor encouraged us to pray for her and she made what could only be called a miraculous recovery.”

He glanced at her.  “I’m happy to hear that your mother recovered.  Are the two of you close?”

“Growing up, I was closer to my father but after he died, my mother and I became close.  Almost losing her has made me cherish every moment I have with her now.”

“Yes, family is very important.  Both of my parents are dead but I have two brothers and a sister.  They are all back in Italy.  I try to visit them when I can.”

They talked more about his family and why he left Naples to come to London, especially since he had many fond memories of growing up there.  She laughed as he imitated his father who was very strict and his mother who was always complaining about something or the other.  He still missed them although they had died over ten years ago.  His father died of a heart attack and his mother was devastated.  She couldn’t survive without him and died the following year.  “I have a photo of them in my wallet,” he told her.  “It was taken the year before Dad died.”

Paulette stared at him, touched that he carried a photo of his parents in his wallet.  She didn’t say anything.  She didn’t know what to say and they had reached the banquet hall.  He parked the car, got out and walked around to open the door for her.  As they walked to the entrance, she felt the nervous excitement rising in her.  They went to the coat room to check in their coats.  With trembling fingers, she unbuttoned hers and removed it.  After she handed it to the girl there, she turned and looked at Antonio who was staring at her.  She saw his gaze travel slowly over her– the beaded bodice, the plain long skirt with the side slit which reveal her leg as she stood there.  He looked amazing in the black dinner suit and as he walked over to her, she felt her mouth go dry when she saw the expression on his face.

“You look amazing,” he said quietly, his eyes meeting hers.

“So do you,” she said, sounding a little breathless.

They stood there staring at each other and then he extended his arm.  She took it and they walked to the hall where they heard voices and laughter.  Rita was at the entrance greeting everyone.  She was delighted to see them.  “You look handsome as usual,” she said to Antonio before hugging him.  Then, she turned to Paulette, her eyes widening.  “And you, my Dear, you look absolutely stunning.  That dress was made for you.”  They hugged.  “I think Antonio agrees with me,” she said in a low voice so that he couldn’t hear.  “He can’t stop staring at you.” She drew back and addressed them both.  “It’s great to see you both.  You’re both sitting at my table but not next to each other.  I hope you don’t mind.”

They both assured her that they didn’t mind although Paulette was disappointed but it turned out that he was sitting directly opposite her.  She was seated next to Rita’s grandson while Antonio was sitting next to Marissa, a co-worker.

Every now and then, when Paulette looked over at Antonio she found him staring at her.  She wished it were just the two of them having a romantic, candlelight dinner with soft R&B music playing in the background.  Rita’s grandson, Mark was talking to her and she tried to be attentive but she couldn’t help being distracted.  When dinner was over, she excused herself and went to the bathroom to freshen up.  When she returned, people were dancing and Mark asked her to dance.  She was about to open her mouth to turn him down when, she felt a hand on her arm and turned to find herself staring up at Antonio.  “I believe you owe me this dance?” he said.

Heart thudding, she allowed him to escort her to the dancefloor.  He turned after finding a spot and his hand found the small of her back as they moved to the music.  It was a slow number, one of her favorite songs.  She couldn’t imagine dancing it with anyone else.  She put her arm round his shoulder and just allowed her body to follow his lead.  It felt so good being in his arms.  She felt like Eliza Doolittle, wishing she could dance with him all night.

They danced until the slow music ended and faster music replaced it.  The rest of the night was spent at the table talking and having non-alcoholic drinks.  When it was time to go, she had mixed feelings.  She was beginning to feel a little tired and wanted to go home but it meant that her evening out with Antonio was over.  Rita hugged them and wished them a Merry Christmas.  She hoped to see them again soon.

It had gotten colder so Paulette was huddled in her coat as she followed Antonio across the parking lot to where his car was parked.  She was thankful when she climbed in and sank down against the soft leather.  The car was soon suffused with warm air.  On the drive home, they talked about the dinner party and both agreed that they it was a success.  She planned on calling Rita tomorrow to thank her for a wonderful evening.

Twenty minutes later, they were standing outside of her flat.  She had unlocked the door and stood on the threshold, facing him.  The place was quiet because it was near one in the morning.

“Goodnight,” he said softly.

“Goodnight,” she replied, wishing he would stay.  They stared at each other and then she was in his arms and he was kissing her.

She threw her arms around his neck and they tightened as she kissed him back passionately for several minutes.  Then, she broke off the kiss, grabbed his hand and pulled him inside the flat, closing the door behind them.  She fumbled with the lock before turning to face him, her eyes feverish as they met his.  She reached for him and felt his arms encompass her waist, pressing her into him as she pulled his head down to hers, her fingers gripping his hair.  He was kissing her like a mad man, unable to contain himself.  They stood there kissing for a long time and then they released each other long enough to remove their coats and discard them on the floor.  She kicked off her shoes while he removed his.

“I want us to start seeing each other outside of the office,” he muttered thickly as he removed his dinner jacket and tossed it on the floor.  His tie soon followed.

She nodded.  “Yes,” she gasped when he scooped her up and strode through the living-room.  “Third door on the left.”

That was the beginning of their new relationship.

 

The Plane Ride

He sat there on the plane, the open magazine on his lap, his head resting against the back of the seat and his face turned towards the window, watching the clouds and knowing that the distance between Natalie and him was getting wider.  He closed his eyes in despair.  Walking away from her was the most painful and hardest thing he had ever done in his life but things couldn’t continue as they were.  He had to end their relationship.

After a night of torrid lovemaking, he woke up very early the next day and quickly got dressed while she was still sleeping.  He wrote a note for her and left it propped up against the lamp on the bedside table next to her.  He stood for several minutes staring down at her, longing to bend down and kiss her bare shoulder but was afraid that he would wake her.

He tiptoed to the door and slowly opened it.  He stepped into the hall and closed the door behind him.  The place was silent except for the clock ticking and the sound of his heavy breathing as he fought the temptation to turn around and climb back into bed with her.  Once he was outside of the flat, he released a shaky breath and hastily headed for the lift.  In his car, he told himself that he was doing the right thing even though his heart felt heavy.  He went home, packed his bags and booked the next available flight out of Detroit and heading to London.  It was an impromptu vacation.  He couldn’t be in Detroit right then or his resolve would crumble.  He hoped that the distance would somehow ease the pain and that being with his family would help as well.

So, here he was on the plane heading for London.  He wondered if she had read the note and how she was taking the news.  He remembered every word he had written.

Dear Natalie,

I never imagined that I would fall in love again but I have.  I knew that I loved you the first time we met.  I tried to fight it not because I found out that you’re Darnell’s sister.  I forgave Darnell for being responsible for Jody’s death.  It wasn’t easy because it was his reckless driving which resulted in her death but God helped me to get over the bitterness I was feeling toward your brother and to come to the place where I could not only find it in my heart to forgive him but to share His love with him.  

My healing came from talking to Darnell about God and sharing the Bible with him and as I watched him accept God’s love and forgiveness, it brought a peace to my heart which I hadn’t felt in a long time.  Visiting Darnell was a much of a blessing for me as it was for him.  Then, I met you. 

When you walked into the room, my heart stopped.  I couldn’t believe that another woman could have such an effect on me.  I felt as if I was being unfaithful to Jody’s memory.  Jody was my best friend before she became my wife.  We had known each other since college but didn’t start dating until years later when we were in our thirties.  Two years after we started dating, we got married.  We were married for two and a half years when she died.   I had lost my wife and my best friend.  We had planned to have children but that dream died with Jody.

Falling in love again was not something I imagined would happen and when it did, I tried to fight it.  You stirred in me feelings and passions that I have never experienced in my life–not even with Jody and that scared me.  I wanted you so much that it was all I could think about.  And when I realized that you were attracted to me too, it was only a matter of time before we became lovers.  

Loving you has consumed me to the point where I have turned my back on what I know to be right and acceptable in God’s sight.  As a man of faith, I can’t continue to be in a relationship with a woman I am not married to.  It goes against what I believe.  I have to choose between my love for you and my faith.  It pains me to do this but I must choose my faith.  By the time you read this letter, I will be out of the country.  

We cannot attempt to see each other anymore.  Please believe me when I say that I love you and will always love you.   Sometimes doing the right thing hurts but in the end, we have to be able to live with ourselves.

Andrew

“Oh, Natalie,” he moaned under his breath, aching for her.   Life without her was going to be unbearable.

Natalie read the note again, the tears streaming down her face.   She hadn’t seen this coming.  She thought they were happy but when she read the note, she realized that how hard it was for him to go against his religious convictions.  She herself came from a Christian family and had been taught that sex outside of marriage was wrong.  She had drifted from her faith, not going to church as often as she should.  Her makeup and choice in clothes were evidence that she was not as devout when it came to religion as the rest of her family but after meeting Andrew, those things had changed.  She had stopped wearing the makeup and had opted for the more natural look and her wardrobe had changed too.  And she had begun to read her Bible more lately.  She even began going back to church and then this morning she found this note.

Thankfully, it was a Sunday morning and she didn’t have to worry about going to work.  There was no way that she would have been able to function.  Heartbroken and depressed she didn’t even feel like getting out of bed.

When Andrew got to Heathrow, his brother was waiting for him.  He went up to him and after hugging him, said to him, “I know that this is going to sound crazy, but I must return to Detroit.  There’s a woman there whom I am going to ask to marry me.”

Stuart stared at him.  “Are you serious?  You just got here and now you’re going to leave?”

“Yes!  I’m been an utter fool.  I can’t believe that I didn’t think of this before.  I walked out of her life when I could have asked her to marry me.”

“Does she love you?”

“Yes and I love her.”

“Then, go to her.  I’ll explain everything to the folks.  I’m happy that you have found someone after losing Jody.  I wish you all the best, Andy.”

“Thanks, Stuart.”  They hugged again and then Stuart left.

Andrew found his way to the departure terminal where he booked the next available flight to Detroit.

The following evening, Natalie was sitting on the sofa, despondent when the doorbell rang.  She was not in the mood for seeing anyone but she got and went to answer the door.  Her eyes widened when she saw Andrew standing there.  Opening the door at once, she exclaimed, “What are you doing here?”

“Where’s the note I wrote you?” he asked as he stepped inside the foyer.

She closed and locked the door behind him before she reached into the pocket of her dressing-gown and handed the note to him.  He tore it up.  “Why did you do that?” she asked, bewildered.

“It doesn’t matter anymore,” he told her.  “I was a fool to write it in the first place and I was a bigger fool for walking out of your life.  I love you, Natalie and I want to spend the rest of my life with you.  Marry me.”

She gaped at him.  “Marry you?” she repeated, her heart thudding.  He looked dead serious.

“Yes.  Let’s get married on Saturday.  We’ll go and get the ring today.”

Her mind was spinning at this turn of events.  Just a few moments ago, she felt as if her world had been pulled out from under her and here, she was on the verge of being blissfully happy.  “Are you sure?” she asked.

“Yes, I’ve never been surer of anything in my life.  Today we get engaged and on Saturday we get married.  In between that time, you and I have to abstain.  We will not make love until we are on our honeymoon.”

Her heart bursting, she put her arms around his neck.  “I love you, Andrew Clarke and I will marry you.”

His arms slipped around her waist and he held her tightly against him, his eyes darkening on her upturned face.  “I’m sorry it had to take a plane ride to London to make me realize that marrying you is the right and best thing to do.”

She smiled.  “And this is a decision that we can both live with.”