Anabella

piano-anshu

PHOTO PROMPT © Anshu Bhojnagarwala

He was in the study about to light his pipe when he heard it. Rising slowly to his feet, he left the room and went towards the sound of the piano. The haunted melody filled the house. It had been years since he last heard that song. Who was playing it? He reached the drawing-room. The door was slightly ajar and he pushed it open.

A woman sat with her back to him. He went up behind her. “Who the devil are you?” he demanded.

The music stopped abruptly and she turned around. His face whitened. “Anabella? It can’t be.”

100 Words

This was written for the Friday Fictioneers challenge hosted by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields For more details, visit Here.  To read other stories based on this week’s prompt, visit Here.

Choosing Love Over Fear

man playing piano

He sat at the piano, running his fingers over the keys.  His heart was heavy and his mind muddled.  Music was elusive.  He couldn’t concentrate.  All he could think about was her and how much he missed her.  What a fool he had been to let her walk out of his life.  He had allowed fear to get the better of him.

What was he so afraid of?  Of falling in love?  Too late.  He was already madly in love with her.  It wasn’t lack of trust.  He trusted Odeta implicitly which was more than he could say about other women he had been involved with.  Did it have to do with her last relationship?  After they had been together for two years, the guy suddenly decided that he didn’t want to be tied down to one woman.  She later told him that it hurt like hell and it took a while for her to get over it.  And it was when she was starting to pick up the pieces that he came into her life.

They met at a trendy restaurant in Soho.  The usual piano player couldn’t make it because he was sick so as a favor to his friend, the club’s manager, he filled in.   He would never forget the first time he saw her.  She walked in alone, tall and beautiful, her hair cut short like a boy’s, wearing a red, off the shoulder dress which flattered her slender figure.  No jewelry.  Only a touch of red lipstick.  Her dark skin was flawless.  She looked like a model.  Their eyes met.  He wanted to stop playing and walk over to her but he stayed put.  Besides, she was meeting someone.  She walked past him and to a table where an African man was sitting.

african woman in dress bw

He kept an eye on her all evening as he played.  Was the man her boyfriend or husband?  Or were they meeting for the first time?  Was this their first date?  He shook his head.  Forget about it, Man.  You’re out of her league.  She looks like she’s used to being with men like the one she was with now–elegantly dressed, used to dining in expensive establishments like this, drove fancy cars and wealthy.

Still, he couldn’t help himself.  She intrigued him.  And when he took a break and went to the bar to have a drink, he passed by her table.  She looked at him.  He smiled and left the room.

As he sat down at the bar and ordered his drink, he saw the man she was with leave.  He didn’t look upset or anything.  A few minutes later, she came out of the dining-room.  When she saw him, she walked over to the empty stool beside him and sat down.  She ordered a virgin cocktail.  Turning to him, she said, “You play the piano very well.”

This close, she was even more stunning.  “Thank you,” he replied.  “Didn’t your date enjoy my playing?  Is that why he left?”

She smiled.  “He left because he flying back to Cape Town tonight.  And he wasn’t my date.  He’s my brother.”

He couldn’t hide the relief on his face.  “Your brother.  I thought he was your boyfriend or husband.”

“I’m single.  And you?”

“Single.  Are you a model?”

She laughed.  “No.  I’m a Marketing Director.”

“When I saw you, I thought you were a model.  I’m sure I’m not the first man to think that.”

“You’re right.  I have been approached by people in the modelling industry and they always are surprised when I tell them that I’m not interested and that I’m perfectly happy with being in the Marketing business.”

“It’s easy to see why they approach you.  You’re a very stunning woman.”

She smiled.  “Thank you…I don’t know your name.”

“It’s Ian.”

“Nice to meet you, Ian,” she said holding out her hand.  “Odetta.”

“Likewise, Odetta.  My break will be over in ten minutes.  Would you be able to stick around for half hour?”

She nodded.  “Sure.  I’ll just sit here at the bar until you’re done.”

“Good.  We can go somewhere else and talk.”

“So, what do you do when you’re not playing the piano?”

“Structural Engineering.”

“Sounds interesting.  Tell me about it.”

The ten minutes went quickly and he reluctantly left her at the bar to finish his session.  Half hour later, they were sitting at a cafe, continuing their conversation.  It was after mid-night when he finally gave her a ride home.  They saw each other the following night.  They began dating and things were going well until he got cold feet and told her that he they should take a break because things were moving too fast.  Hurt and angry, she walked out of the apartment.

That was a month ago.  Many times he wanted to go over to her place and apologize.  His life was empty without her.  What a fool he was to ruin a good thing because he was afraid.  And now, here he was alone and miserable, tinkering with the piano and missing her like crazy.

Finally, he got up from the piano and went over to the window.  He stood there for several minutes and then he quickly left the room.  He went into his study, sat down behind the desk and taking out stationary and a pen, he wrote her a letter, pouring out his heart.  By the time he was done, the letter was three pages long.  He folded them and stuffed into an envelope.   After sealing it and adding postage, he got up and left the house.  He walked to the mailbox and after a slight hesitation, he pushed the letter through the slot.

A week later, he was sitting at the piano again trying to play something–anything when the doorbell rang.  Thankful for the interruption, he got up and went to answer the door.  His heart lurched when he saw Odeta standing there.  She must have gotten his letter.  “Hello,” he said when he opened the door.  His eyes eagerly ran over her.  She looked beautiful in the denim dress.

“Hello, Ian.”

“Please come in.”

She went in and he closed the door.  “I got your letter.”

“I figured that’s why you’re here.”

“Thank you for writing it,” she said quietly.  “It explained a lot.”

“Let’s go into the living-room and talk.”

“I was so hurt and angry when you said that you wanted us to take a break from each other.” she said when they were sitting on the sofa.  “You said that things were moving too fast.”

“I’m sorry, Odeta.  The last thing I wanted to do was to hurt you but I was scared.  I was falling fast and hard for you.  I’ve been hurt before and I was afraid of getting hurt again.  And as I mentioned in my letter, I was afraid that you were on the rebound.”

“I can’t blame you for thinking that since we met just a few months after the breakup.  I wasn’t looking for anything.  Believe me, having another relationship was the last thing on my mind but that night when I walked into the restaurant and saw you I was immediately attracted to you.  That’s why I came over to the bar soon after my brother left.”

“I was immediately attracted to you to and was thrilled when you joined me at the bar.”

“Ian, I know you’re afraid of getting hurt.  So am I.”

“I’m still afraid but it’s nothing compared to the emptiness I feel inside without you in my life.”

“Do you want to give us another chance?”

“Yes, Odeta, I do.”

She touched his face.  “I was hoping that you would say that.”

This time I chose love over fear,” he murmured, his eyes searching hers and what he saw in them made his heart sing.  He had nothing to fear now.

Source:  Paired Life

Venice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How long will you be gone?”

“I don’t know,” he replied shortly.

“Where will you go?”

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

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

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

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

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

She looked nonplussed.  “What do you mean?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I love you too.”

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

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

“Yes, they are.”

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

“Why Venice?” he asked.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

The Queen of Soul

“When God loves you, what can be better than that?” ~ Aretha Franklin

There is so much I could write about Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul but I decided to concentrate on the highlights of her music career and her “social and civic contributions”.

Aretha Louise Franklin was  born on March 25, 1942 in Memphis, Tennessee.  Her father, Clarence LaVaughn “C. L.” Franklin was a Baptist minister and a circuit preacher while her mother, Barbara was an accomplished piano player and vocalist.  Theirs was a troubled marriage because of her father’s philandering.  The couple separated in 1948.  Before her tenth birthday, Aretha’s mother died from a heart attack.  Several women, including her grandmother and Mahalia Jackson alternated helping the children at the Franklin home and it was during this time that Aretha learned to play the piano by ear.

Following her mother’s death, Aretha began singing solos at New Bethel, debuting with the hymn, “Jesus, Be a Fence Around Me.”  When she was twelve, her father became her manager, bringing her on the road with him during his “gospel caravan” tours for her to perform in various churches.

Her music career found Aretha signing on with big recording giants such as Columbia, Atlantic, Arista and RCA.  She belted out many hits such as You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman, I Say A Little Prayer, Hold On, I’m Comin’.  And she thrilled the younger generation with Who’s Zoomin’ Who and Freeway of Love.  Hearing Freeway of Love transported me back to the ’80s which were a great time for me when I was living in New York.  And who could forget I Knew You Were Waiting For Me, her number one duet with George Michael?

In 1980, she gave a command performance before the Queen at Prince Albert’s Hall, in 2009 she sang at the 2009 inauguration of President Barak Obama.  In the following year, she received an honorary degree from Yale University.  In 2014, she received honorary degrees from Harvard University and New York University as well as honorary doctorates in music from Princeton, Yale, Brown, Pennsylvania, Berkeley, New England Conservatory of Music and University of Michigan.  She was the recipient of other honors such as Doctor of Humane Letters and Doctor of Law degree.

Aretha was dubbed “one of the giants of soul music, and indeed of American pop as a whole.  More than any other performer, she epitomized soul at its most gospel-charged.”  Her voice was described as being a “powerful mezzo-soprano voice” and she was praised for her arrangements and interpretations of other artists’ hit songs.  At the age of 14 when she recorded her first album, Songs of Faith, Jerry Wexler declared that her voice “was not that of a child but rather of an ecstatic hierophant.”  A hierophant is a person who brings religious congregants into the presence of that which is deemed holy.  Aretha’s explanation for that would have likely been, “Being a singer is a natural gift. It means I’m using to the highest degree possible the gift that God gave me to use. I’m happy with that.”

Singing and music weren’t her only passions.  Aretha was a civil rights activist.  Throughout her life, she was involved in the struggle for civil rights and women’s rights.  When Angela Davis was jailed in 1970, Aretha told Jet Magazine that, “Angela Davis must go free… Black people will be free. I’ve been locked up (for disturbing the peace in Detroit) and I know you got to disturb the peace when you can’t get no peace. Jail is hell to be in. I’m going to see her free if there is any justice in our courts, not because I believe in communism, but because she’s a Black woman and she wants freedom for Black people.”  Not surprisingly, her songs “Respect” and “Natural Woman” became anthems of these movements for social change.  She was also a staunch supporter of Native American rights, supporting their struggles worldwide and movements which fostered their cultural rights.

“We all require and want respect, man or woman, black or white. It’s our basic human right” ~ Aretha Franklin

It was a sad day when it was announced that the great Aretha Franklin passed away after losing her battle with pancreatic cancer.  She leaves behind a world touched by her music, her incomparable voice and her effortless work in championing human, civil and women’s rights.  She was the first woman to be inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005.  In 2013, she was again ranked first in Rolling Stone magazine’s “100 Greatest Singers” list.

“American history wells up when Aretha sings.  Nobody embodies more fully the connection between the African-American spiritual, the blues, R&B, rock and roll—the way that hardship and sorrow were transformed into something full of beauty and vitality and hope” – President Obama in response to her performance of “A Natural Woman” at the 2015 Kennedy Center Honors.

Notes to Women salutes the woman with “the voice of the civil rights movement, the voice of black America” and a “symbol of black equality”  She was an inspiration not only for those in the music world but for all of us.  Although she is no longer with us, her music, her legacy will live on.

“It really is an honor if I can be inspirational to a younger singer or person. It means I’ve done my job” ~ Aretha Franklin

aretha-franklin.png

Sources:  Wikipedia; Brainy Quote

Luis

Nichelle watched Luis as he sat at a table by the window of a Tapas restaurant having lunch with a very beautiful woman.  She had thick black hair and olive skin.  Who is she and what is he doing with her? she wondered jealously.  She wanted to go over there and find out but she didn’t want to make a fool of herself.  Instead, she grabbed the takeout and quickly walked out.

All the way back to the office, she fumed.  Was he playing her?  Didn’t last night mean anything to him?  It was the first time they made love since they met last month and it had been explosive.  She felt her body react as she had flashbacks.  He was like a wild animal.  And afterwards, they lay spent, arms and legs wrapped around each other.

When she woke up this morning, he had already left but on the kitchen table was a covered plate.  When she lifted the lid, it was a Spanish Omelet.  It was hot and delicious.  She finished it in no time and washed it down with a cup of hot chocolate.  He was an excellent cook and it warmed her heart that he had taken the time to make breakfast for her.  Wasn’t that an indicator that he had feelings for her?  If that’s the case, why was he having lunch with another woman? a traitorous voice inquired.

The take out sat unopened on her desk as she didn’t have an appetite because she was so upset.  The tears threatened to come but she blinked them back, determined not to lose it at work.  There would be plenty of time to break down and let the tears flow like the rapids when she got home later.

Somehow, she managed to get through the rest of the afternoon but as soon as it was five o’ clock, she packed up and was out of the office like a flash.  She turned the radio in her car but turned it off immediately when she heard a slow jam she and Luis had danced to when they went to a nightclub on their fourth date.  Things had gotten hot and heavy between them on the dance-floor.  She was acutely aware of him.  Their bodies were touching.  The smell of his aftershave filled her nostrils and his hand pressed into the small of her back as they moved to the music.

When the music ended, they walked back to the table, his hand around her waist.  She noticed the admiring glances several woman tossed his way but he seemed oblivious to them.  And when he took her home, he gazed down at her, his dark eyes searing her before he bent his head and kissed her.  His lips moved hungrily on hers, making her head spin and her knees go weak.  She clung to him, her fingers gripping the sleeves of his jacket as she responded feverishly to his kisses.  And then, he broke it off, breathing heavily, his eyes smoldering with desire.  “I’d better leave,” he panted, releasing her.

She stared at him, bereft, longing for him to take her in his arms again but he was stepping away, his hands clenched into tight fists at his sides as though he were trying to control his emotions.  “All right,” she said, unable to hide the disappointment on her face.

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” he said before he turned and walked away.

She closed the door and leaned against it, frustrated.  After she took a cold shower, she went to bed.

Now, she was frustrated but for a totally different reason.  She let herself into her flat and headed straight for the bathroom where she took a hot shower.  After donning a pair of pajamas, she was about to fix herself a salad when the doorbell rang.  Sighing she left the kitchen and walked to the foyer.  She really wasn’t in the mood for company.  She peered through the keyhole, her heart skipping a beat when she saw that it was Luis.

Taking a deep breath, she opened the door.  He looked so good in the white silk shirt which accentuated his swarthy complexion and the jaded jeans which hugged his narrow hips and muscular thighs.  His hair, dark as a raven was slightly tousled.  How she longed to run her fingers through its soft thickness.  Focus, she chided herself.  Don’t get distracted.  She opened the door wider for him to go in.

He was smiling but when he saw her expression, the smile faded.  “What’s the matter?” he asked after she locked the door and turned to face him.  He reached for her but she moved away.

“Let’s go into the living-room,” she suggested and started walking towards it.  He followed her, looking perplexed.  “Before I tell you what’s on my mind, I wanted to thank you for breakfast this morning.”

“Did you enjoy the omelet?”

She nodded.  “Yes, I enjoyed it very much.  You’re an excellent cook.”

“I learned from my mother.  What’s wrong, Nichelle?  You won’t let me touch you and you’re avoiding my gaze.”

She hoped she could get through this without making a fool of herself.  “Luis, are you seeing another woman?” she asked and saw his bewildered look.

He shook his head.  “No, I’m not seeing another woman,” he replied.  “Why would you think that?”

“I-I saw you today having lunch with a beautiful dark-haired woman at the Tapas restaurant.  Who was she?”

He looked thoughtful for a moment and then said, “You’re referring to Consuela.”

“Consuela?  What is she to you?”

He studied her closely now.  “You’re jealous,” he concluded.

She raised her chin, her eyes flashing at him.  “You haven’t answered my question.”

He ran his fingers through his hair, his features relaxed now.  “Consuela is my sister.”

She stared at him, thinking she must be hearing things.  “Your sister?” she repeated.

He nodded.  “Yes.  Consuela is my younger sister.  She invited me to have lunch with her today because it has been a while since we’ve seen each other.”

“When I saw the two of you together, it never occurred to me that she was your sister.  I thought…”

“You thought that I was two-timing you.”

She nodded, her eyes downcast.  “I’m sorry,” she mumbled.

He reached out and pulled her towards him.  “Nichelle, look at me.”

She raised her eyes to his face and trembled when she saw his expression.

“I thought I had made my feelings for you very clear last night and this morning but I guess I was wrong.  Would you like me to spell them out for you?”

She nodded.

“I love you, Nichelle,” he muttered thickly, his eyes darkening on her upturned face.   “I love you so much.”

Her heart was racing now and her eyes were brimming with tears as they met his.  “I love you too,” she cried and gasped when his mouth covered hers in a passionate kiss.  She put her arms around his neck as he picked her up and carried her to her room where they spent the next several hours.  It was after mid-night when they emerged to enjoy a late but very light dinner which he quickly prepared while she made the salad.  They toasted to their future.

It wasn’t until she took the last sip of the wine when she felt something touch her lips.  Startled, looked into the glass and her eyes widened when she saw what looked like a ring.  She reached in and took it out.  It was an exquisite ring with a heart shaped diamond.  She looked at Luis who was grinning.  “I slipped it in when you weren’t looking,” he said.

She brushed aside the tears.  “It would have served you right if I’d swallowed it,” she scolded him.  She looked at the ring again.  “It’s beautiful.”

“It would look even more beautiful on your hand,” he said and he took it from her.  Getting down on his knee, he took her left hand in his.  “Nichelle, will you marry me?”

She nodded.  “Yes, Luis.”

He slipped the ring on her finger before he raised her hand to his lips.  “You’ve just made me a very happy man,” he murmured softly before he rose to his feet and resumed his seat.  “More wine?”

She nodded, not trusting herself to speak.

True love doesn’t have a happy ending, because true love never ends.

 

 

The New Song

music-room

PHOTO PROMPT © Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

She saw the sheet of music with written lyrics on it.  Curious, she sat down at the keyboard and began to play.  As she began to sing, tears sprang to her eyes.  What a beautiful, heartfelt song.  The words were those of a man deeply in love.  Her own heart swelled with reciprocal love for him and when she heard his key turn in the lock, she flew into the hallway. “It’s beautiful,” she exclaimed, hugging him.

“What is?” He asked when they parted.

“The song you wrote for me.”

He sighed.  “I didn’t write it for you.”

98 words

This was written in response to the Friday Fictioneers challenge hosted by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields.  For more details, see Here).  To read stories of 100 words based on this week’s prompt, visit Here.

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 with anyone?” 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.

 

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