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

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Sources:  Wikipedia; Brainy Quote

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God, the Restorer

adult blur bouquet boy

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

He remembered the day he proposed to her as if it happened just yesterday.  She was waiting for him on the train tracks where they met one fine summer day.  As he approached, holding the wild flowers behind his back, she turned and smiled that smile that melted his heart.  She looked beautiful in the sundress and her hair fell in thick, dark tresses down her back.

Slowly, his heart racing, he walked over to her.  Still holding the flowers behind his back, he leaned down and kissed her.  Then, he held out the flowers. “Happy birthday, Emily Rose.”

Her eyes lit up and she took them.  “Thank you,” she exclaimed, reaching up to kiss him in delight.  She breathed in the sweet, fresh fragrance of the flowers.  “They are beautiful.”

“I have something else for you,” he said.  He reached into his back pants pocket and kneeling down on the dry leaves in between the tracks, he produced a red, velvet box and opened it.  He saw her eyes widen.  “Emily Rose, I have loved you since we were children but that love changed to what it is now.  You are the love of my life–my soulmate.  You are my heaven on earth.  When I look at you, I am amazed not only because you are the most beautiful girl I know but because everything I have ever wanted or dreamed is right in front of me.  When I look at you, I believe that God really loves me because He blessed me with you.  I want to spend the rest of my life loving and taking care of you.  Emily Rose Carter, will you make me the happiest man on the planet by saying that you will marry me?”

Emily was crying now.  In between sobs, she managed to gasp, “Yes, I will marry you.”

After he slipped the ring on her finger, he stood up and picking her up, he swung her around, making her laugh before setting her back down on her feet.  He cupped her face and kissed her for several minutes.  “Let’s celebrate over dinner,” he murmured after raising his head to gaze down into her radiant, tear streaked face.  She nodded and they walked, arms wrapped around each other to their favorite eatery.  It was a balmy afternoon.

Over dinner, they planned the wedding which they wanted to take place as soon as possible.  They didn’t want a long engagement.  They decided to have a fall wedding which was about three months away.  Arrangements were made for a vintage country wedding in a church hall.  The weeks went by quickly and the day which seemed a long way off was nigh.  Then, the unthinkable happened…

Emily and her roommate, Rita were driving home from Emily’s bridal shower when a car ran a red light and slammed into the passenger-side of the car.  Emily died at the scene but Rose was taken to the hospital in critical condition.  When he heard the news, he was devastated, inconsolable and he lashed out at God.  Emily was only twenty-five–in the prime of her life and looking forward to their future together.  How could God have allowed this tragedy to happen?

It was the first day of Fall, just a couple of days before what would have been their wedding ceremony, was Emily’s funeral instead.  He sat there, stone faced still bitter but no longer angry with God.  He had reached the place where he could seek God in prayer and ask him to help him with his anger.

After the funeral, he went home where he remained until the next day when he forced himself to get up and go to work.  He went through the day like an automaton, trying to keep it together but a couple of times, he had to go to the washroom and pull himself together as waves of emotions swept over him.  He missed her so much.  How was he going to function without her?  Her beautiful, expressive face filled his thoughts and her winsome smile tugged at his heart strings, making him ache for her.

It was during one of these meltdown moments that he decided that he had to leave New York and move to another state where he wouldn’t be reminded everyday of his loss.  It took months for him to get everything sorted out and before he left for Seattle, he visited Emily’s grave where he left fresh wild flowers.

Moving to Seattle was the best decision he made, although, it still took five years for him to recover from his grief.  Teaching at the university, going to church and making new friends helped tremendously.  His friends invited him out to different venues and he went.  It was better than being cooped up in his apartment.  However, he made it clear to them that he didn’t want to get fixed up with anyone.  The idea of dating didn’t appeal to him.  He was quite content to be single.

They say love finds you when you’re not looking.  And it did one afternoon when he was walking in the park.   It was a pleasant day.  The sun was high in the cloudless sky and there was a slight breeze.  He went to the lawn flanked by trees and sat on the bench.  There was a group of young people playing Frisbee and he watched them.  They seemed to be having a great time.

The Frisbee landed close to where he was sitting and one of the young women ran over to get it.  She looked to be about twenty or twenty-one–attractive with long chestnut hair which streamed behind her as she ran towards him.  She was dressed in a white tee shirt and denim shorts, exposing long defined legs.  It was obvious that she worked out.

She stooped down and picked up the Frisbee.  When she straightened up, she paused.  For several minutes she just stood there, staring at him, making him uncomfortable and then, she approached him, an inquiring look on her face.  When she stood in front of him, she asked, “Daniel Miller?”

He nodded.  “Yes.  Have we met before?” This close, she looked vaguely familiar now.

She nodded.  “Yes.  We met at my brother’s barbecue.”

“What’s your brother’s name?”

“Mark Brown.  I’m his sister, Cheryl.”  Just then her friends started yelling and waving.

“Oh, yes.  I remember now.  You were in charge of the bean darts.”

She laughed.  “Yes, I was.  And you got the highest score.”

“I got lots of practice from throwing darts.  Um, I think your friends are trying to get your attention.”  They were yelling and waving.

She looked over at them and then back at him.  “I’ll be right back,” she said before bounding off.

He watched as she gave the Frisbee to one of the guys, say something to the group before walking away.  It seemed that Cheryl would rather talk to him than continue playing Frisbee with her friends and for some reason which he couldn’t quite understand, that pleased him immensely.  When she sat down, he asked, “Are you attending university?”

“Yes, Seattle Pacific University.”

“How long have you been attending there?”

“This coming semester will be my second year.”

“What are you studying?”

“Applied Human Biology.  I’ve always wanted to find out how the human body works and why it works the way it does.  Plus, I’m thinking of doing a therapy doctoral degree program after I graduate.”

“It sounds like you have your future well planned.”

“Yes, as far as my academic future is concerned.  When it comes to my personal life, well, that’s a different story.   What about you?  What line of work are you in?”

“I’m a director of Communications and Marketing at Companier.”

“You’re from New York,” she remarked suddenly, startling him.  “Sorry, don’t mean to be nosy.  It’s just that I recognize the accent.”

“You’re right.  I’m from New York.  I moved here to Seattle almost six years ago.”

“How do you like it here?”

“I like its natural beauty, mild winters and the people.  I have more friends here than I know what to do with.”

She smiled.  “All very good reasons,” she said.  “And I heard that it’s cheaper living here than in New York and other cities.”

He smiled.  “That’s true.”

“Are you doing anything later?” she asked.

He shook his head.

“My friends and I are going to the Amusement Center to play their Ultimate Real Life Escape Games.   This is my first time.  It’s supposed to be a lot of fun.  You get to solve real puzzles.  Afterwards, we’ll grab a bite to eat.  Why don’t you come with us?”

The idea of hanging out with a group of university students, most of them probably ten years his junior, didn’t appeal to him but he wanted to see her again.  He enjoyed talking with her.  She was so easygoing and he felt completely relaxed with her.   “All right,” he said.

She looked pleased.  “Great.  We’ll be there for seven.  I’ll wait outside for you.”

“I’ll be there.”

They talked for a while longer and then she returned to her friends.  Shortly afterwards, they left the park.  As he watched them go, he felt a flutter of excitement in his stomach when he thought about seeing her again that evening.

True to her word she was waiting for him and he couldn’t prevent the smile from spreading across his face as he quickly closed the distance between them.  She looked great in a floral top and jeans complete with low heel sandals.  Her hair was pulled back in a ponytail, making her look even younger.  Her face lit up when she saw him and grabbing his hand, she took him inside to meet her friends.  They turned out to be a rather nice bunch and he enjoyed interacting with them.

There were two games and they chose the Bourne Mission.  The object of the game was to recover the documents and get out of the abandoned bunker undetected. No one should know you were ever here and if you got caught, there was no rescue mission.  They had a blast even though they fell short of completing the mission.  They made plans to try the Bio-Hazard Room the next time.  They went to a family run Greek restaurant nearby where they enjoyed generous portions of delicious food.  Lively conversation and laughter flowed late into the night.

Daniel offered to take Cheryl home and she readily accepted.  On the way over to her apartment building, they talked animatedly about different things and by the time he walked her to her door, they had arranged to see each other the following day.  It was a beautiful sunny day so they decided to go to Woodland Park Zoo where they spent the entire day.  They bought food from the food truck and then went for a walk in the Rose Garden.  They lingered at the Reflecting Pool and Sculptural Fountain.  It was sunset by the time they left.

As they stood outside of her apartment, he knew that he was ready to be in a relationship again.  “Have dinner with me tomorrow,” he said and she nodded.  He gently brushed her cheek with his knuckles before he walked away.  They began dating.

One evening, they took the ferry to Whidbey Island where they planned to have dinner.  As they stood on the Deception Pass Bridge as it ran suspended over the swirling water, Daniel turned to Cheryl.  He cupped her face between his hands and gazed down into her face.  “Before meeting you, I never thought that I could ever fall in love again,” he said huskily.  “We may not be each other’s first love but I want to be your last and forever love.”

Tears sprang to her eyes.  “You are my first love,” she told him.  “And my last and forever.”

“I love you, Cheryl,” he whispered.

“I love you too, Daniel.”

He smiled slightly before he lowered his head and kissed her. When their lips touched, he felt a fire stir deep inside him.  He felt alive again.  He had heard about people feeling fireworks when they kissed that special someone but when he kissed Cheryl, her lips set his whole heart on fire.

That night over dinner, he asked her to marry him.  Five months later, they got married in the Woodland Rose Garden witnessed by family and friends.  As he gazed into her shining eyes as they danced their first dance, thinking how true the words, God wants to restore everything that’s been stolen from your life. He wants to heal every hurt and every pain.  It took five years but God had restored his life and now he was experiencing love and inexpressible joy once again.  Very few people could say that they were twice blessed but he was–first with Emily Rose and now with Cheryl.

 

Image by © Jamie Grill/Corbis

 

Sources:  Seattle Pacific University; The University of Western Australia; Lake Union Movers; City-Data; Livestrong; NameLix; Trip Advisor; Flee Escape; Woodland Rose Park; The Culture Trip; CBS Seattle; Feels Like Home

Unfinished Business

When Irina, the managing editor of Eye on You, decided that it would be a great idea to dedicate a big chunk of the summer Issue to eligible bachelors, everyone jumped on the bandwagon.  The magazine was female skewed so they knew that their readers and subscribers would get a kick out of these, especially as they received many letters asking if they could feature stories on men who were looking for love.

After wading through scores of submissions from all over the world, they narrowed the entries down to twenty-five.  Sheree got the enviable job of interviewing the lucky ones that would be featured in Eye on You. Irina’s daughter, Carly, the magazine’s Photographer was to accompany her.

The interviews were to be done over a period of five days on the beautiful island of Jamaica.  In such an inviting and scenic backdrop, the men would be completely relaxed and open up to her.  She had no reason to believe that anything would go wrong.  The weather was pleasant—sunny every day and blue, cloudless skies.  She hadn’t been to the island since she moved to the United States with her parents when she was six years old.  She was looking forward to going although it was a working vacation.

Carly and she were to arrive a day before the bachelors whose expenses were paid by the magazine.  They were to scout the place to see where the interviews could be conducted without any interruptions or distractions and the locations where their photo shoots would be taken.  As they boarded the plane, they began to feel both Nervous and excited.  It wasn’t every day that they were going to interact with twenty-five gorgeous single men.

The men would have leisure time when they were not being interviewed or photographed but they were not allowed to fraternize with any of the female guests staying at the hotel.  It went without saying that Sheree and Carly could not get involved with any of them.  On the last evening there, they would have a celebratory dinner before parting ways. They were to each receive a complimentary copy of the summer issue of the magazine and other gifts, courtesy of Made for Men.

The hotel where they were staying was amazing and the staff was really quite friendly and helpful.  Sheree found quiet spots on the beach and around the hotel where she would do the Interviews and Carly was excited about the locales for her photo shoots.  After they finished getting ready for what would be a busy tomorrow, they spent a couple of hours on the beach before heading back to the hotel for dinner.

After dinner, they both decided that they would turn in early.  The next morning, Sheree got up bright and early and headed down to the café to have breakfast.  Carly joined her a few minutes later.  Over coffee, fruit, scrambled eggs and toast, they went over the day’s itinerary. There were going to be five interviews and five photo shoots–two in the morning and three in the afternoon.  While she interviewed the first Bachelor, Carly got busy taking photos of the other bachelor before his interview. The morning went very well and quickly.

Over lunch Sheree and Carly compared notes.  They both agreed that the two guys from Sweden and Brazil were really, really nice.  “I’m looking forward to meeting the guy from Australia,” Carly said.  “He’s absolutely gorgeous.  I can’t believe that he’s single.”

Sheree’s heart leapt at the mention of the one guy she couldn’t stop thinking about. “I’m looking forward to meeting him too.”

After Lunch, it was time to meet the bachelors from France, Argentina and Australia. The French guy was charming, the Argentinean was a little flirtatious and then it was the Australian’s turn.  Her heart thudded when she walked into the lobby where he was waiting for her.  He was tall and athletic and a sharp dresser in a white linen suit with a Royal blue silk shirt underneath.

The first thought that came to her mind when she saw him was that his picture didn’t do him justice.  She remembered how she had stared at it, unable to look away from those incredible eyes and face.  He was the one she had looked forward to meeting and interviewing but now that they were face to face, it was going to be a problem.  It was going to be hard to act professional with him when she found him so extremely attractive.

Taking a deep breath, she smiled and held out her hand.  “Hi, I’m Sheree Wilson.  I will be interviewing you, Mr. Jones.”

“Please call me Ryder.”  He shook her hand, his eyes meeting hers in a steady gaze.  “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Sheree.”

The feel of his warm palm against hers sent all sorts of shivers up her spine.  And it took a moment before she could say, “We’ll be doing the interview in the gazebo”

He smiled, releasing her hand.  “Sounds good.”

She could feel him watching her as they made their way to the gazebo and it made her nervous and excited at the same time.  He waited until she was seated before he sat down.  When she crossed her legs, she noticed that his eyes dropped to them momentarily before returning to her face.  Clearing her throat, she began the interview.  “Why you’re still single?”

“I think it’s because I have a tendency to put my career before relationships.  I spend so much time and energy building up the marketing company that I haven’t had time to look.  My sister and some of my friends think I’m picky and they have tried to set me up on dates but I just couldn’t seem to find the time so they gave up until my sister saw your magazine’s search for eligible bachelors and she managed to convince me to send in a bio and photo and was thrilled when I got the call saying that I was one of the twenty-five chosen.  She took me out to celebrate.”

“What about you?  Were you thrilled that you were chosen out of more than one hundred entries?”

He shrugged.  “I guess I was.  It helped to put things in perspective.  Although I like being single, it would be nice to get back into the dating game and meet different types of women.”

“What are you looking for in a woman?”

“Well, I like a woman with character, someone who is genuine and real, who’s not afraid to be herself around me and doesn’t take herself or life too seriously.  She must be affectionate, intelligent, confident, ambitious and humble.  As you can see it’s not about looks for me.  For me true beauty is what’s on the inside.  What matters to me is who a woman is not how she looks.”

She tried not to show how impressed she was with his answer.  The other men she interviewed placed more emphasis on the woman’s looks.  “What is your dream date?”

“I would say, having dinner on the beach, watching the sun set over the ocean and then going for a walk, barefoot in the sand, holding hands.  And at the water’s edge, I take her in my arms and kiss her”

Was it getting a little hot in the gazebo?  She asked him more questions and then she got to the trivial ones.  “Which do you prefer?  Sports or Arts?”

“Both.  I love working out at the gym and playing soccer.  I enjoy going to museums and the opera—when I have time.”

“Boxers or briefs?”

“Boxers.”

“Are you kid or pet person?”

“Both.  I love kids.  I enjoy spoiling my nieces and nephew.  Rover, the family dog and I were thick as thieves.  I was devastated when he died.”

“One last question.  What is the one thing that you think women should know about men but don’t?”

“We like to snuggle too.”

“And that wraps up our interview.  Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions.  It was a pleasure getting to know more about you.” She switched off the recorder, sorry that the interview had come to an end.  “I must admit that I enjoyed that very much.  And now, it’s time for you to go and see Carly for your photo shoot.”

“Do I have to go right now or could I take a five minute break?”

She glanced at her watch.  “I guess five minutes wouldn’t hurt.”

“How long have you been working at Eye on You?”

“About two and a half years.”

“Are you married?  Single?”

“I was married but my husband died in 2014.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.  If you don’t mind me asking, how did he die?”

“He was a surgeon in Sierra Leone where he was infected with the Ebola Virus.  When I got the call that he was being flown from Freetown in a specially equipped air ambulance for treatment at the Nebraska Medical Center, I made arrangements to take go there.  By the time he arrived in the United States his kidneys weren’t functioning and he was unresponsive.  The doctors worked really hard to save him but it was too late.  The disease was already in its advanced stages.  By the time I got there, he was dead so I never got a chance to say goodbye or tell him that I loved him.  A couple of weeks after the funeral, I sold our house in Maryland and moved to New York.”

“I’m so sorry for your loss.  Do you have any children?”

She shook her head.  “No.  He couldn’t because of an injury.  We talked about adopting, though.  He would have been a terrific father.”

“He died just four years ago which is still fairly recent.  I guess you still haven’t gotten over losing him.”

“I still miss him but my job keeps me busy and I have Friends who are always inviting me out somewhere.  I don’t think I would have fared well if I had remained in Maryland.  I couldn’t stay in the house because it seemed so empty without him.  I think moving to New York was the wisest thing to do.  It made the grief a little more bearable and each year it gets better.  He will always have a special place in my heart.”

“I wish we could stay here a while longer but I think my five minutes are up,” he said regretfully.

She glanced at her watch.  “You’re right.  I’d better take you to Carly now before she begins to wonder where you are.”

After putting her notes and recorder away in her bag, she stood up.  He got up too and for several minutes they stood there, just staring at each other before she walked past him.  He fell into step beside her.

“What are you going to do now?” he asked.

“I am going to interview the Italian guy and after him, the guy from Indonesia.”

“And afterwards?”

“I’ll probably relax by the pool or go up to my room and take a nap.”

He wanted to ask her to meet him for mock-tails after dinner but decided that it would be premature.  They had just met and she was still carrying a torch for her dead husband.  “I guess I won’t see you until tonight at dinner,” he said.

“I guess so,” she said.  She was looking forward to seeing him again.   They were in the lobby now and her next interview was waiting for her.  Turning to Ryder, she held out her hand.  “Thanks for an enjoyable interview.”

He clasped her hand, his eyes riveted to her face.  “It was my pleasure, Sheree,” he said quietly.

She swallowed hard, her heart racing.  “Enjoy the rest of the afternoon,” she said, her voice barely above a whisper.

“Thanks.  You too.”  He released her hand and after a lingering gaze, he turned and walked away.

She stood there until he disappeared from view before she went over to the Italian guy.  After introducing herself, she took him to the meeting room where they were to have their interview.  As they walked down the corridor, she couldn’t help thinking about Ryder and how much she was looking forward to seeing him again.

That night at dinner, she couldn’t help glancing surreptitiously over at the table where Ryder was and each time, she found him already looking at her.  There was an attraction there but nothing could come of it.  He was one of the bachelors which meant that under no circumstances could she become involved with him.

All through dinner, she tried to focus on what Carly was saying but she was aware of Ryder at the next table and found herself wishing that she could be alone with him.  Is it wrong for me to feel like this?  Am I betraying Alan and our life together by having feelings for another man—a man I just met today?

“A penny for your thoughts.”  Carly’s voice intruded upon her thoughts, startling her.  “You look like you were miles away.”

“I was just thinking about something.  It’s not important.”

“All right.  I won’t pry.  Do you feel up to going to the beach and watch some limbo dancing?”

Sheree shook her head.  “No, I think I will have an early night.”

“I’ll see you in the morning, then.  Have a good night.”

After dinner, she went up to her room and after spending several minutes on the patio, gazing out at the ocean, she went to bed.  It took a long time for her to fall asleep because all she could think about was Ryder.  She kept reliving the moment when they had stared at each other in the gazebo.  The look on his face…she closed her eyes, trembling at the memory.

She didn’t want to admit it but when she met Alan, she wasn’t attracted to him at first.  It wasn’t until she got to know him that she began to have feelings for him.  With Ryder it was different.  From the time she saw his photo, she was attracted to him and it got very intense when she met him face to face.  He stirred emotions in her that she had never experienced before and that terrified her.  She didn’t want to lose her head over a man she hardly knew or would never see again after this was over.  The best thing for me to do, she decided, is to stay clear of Ryder.  Easier said than done because the next morning, when she was got up early and went down to the beach, she bumped into him…

He was coming out of the ocean, dripping wet when she saw him and immediately, her heart began to pound and her mouth felt dry.  Unable to help herself, her gaze swept over his magnificent body clad in red swimming trunks.  His hair was glistening wetly in the light and rivulets of water were running down his broad chest and flat stomach.  “Good morning,” he called, startling her and her eyes flew up to his face.  “What a pleasant surprise.”

She tried to act nonchalant which required a lot of effort.  “Good morning.  Do-do you usually go for a swim this early?”

He was standing in front of her now and she saw the way his eyes traveled over her.  “Yes.  I like to come to the beach before it gets crowded.  It’s nice and quiet at this time.  How come you’re out here at this hour?”

She shrugged.  “I-I just wanted to take a walk before breakfast.”  She tried to keep her eyes fixed on his face.

He walked over to where his clothes lay in the sand and picked up his towel.  As he dried his skin, he walked back to where she was.  “I’ve never been to Jamaica before but I can see why a lot of my friends come.  It’s a beautiful island.”

“Yes, it is.  I was born here in Montego Bay before I moved to US with my parents when I was six years old.  This is the first time since I left that I have come back here.”

“How come you haven’t been back before now?”

“I have been so busy but I guess I wanted to see other places first.  Alan and I had planned to go on a cruise the following year after he returned from Sierra Leone.”

“I’m sorry that your husband’s untimely death left so many of your plans unfulfilled.”

“Me too.”

“Do you mind if I accompany you on your walk?”

She shook her head.  “No, I don’t mind at all.”  Surely, there was no harm in them going for a walk together.

He finished drying his skin and tossed the towel on the sand next to his clothes before they walked along the water’s edge.  “How did you meet your husband?”

“We met at a mutual friend’s wedding.  We sat at the same table at the reception and when we were the only two people left there because everyone had gone dancing, we struck up a conversation.  He was a nice man and when he asked me for my number I didn’t hesitate to give it to him.  We started going out and then a year and a half later, we got married.”

“Were you happy?”

“Yes.  We were happy.  He was a good man and husband.”

“Do you think you will find happiness with someone else?”

“Yes, I think so.”

“Before you settled down, did you date a lot?”

She shook her head.  “No, I dated only five men.  They were all nice but I couldn’t see myself being married to any of them.  Over the years, I’ve met all sorts of men.  Some of them were great but I wasn’t attracted to them and others were only interested in one thing.  So, after my relationship with the fifth guy ended, I stopped looking and then I met Alan.”

“My sister has given up trying to find someone.  She told me that she broke up with the last guy because she couldn’t deal with his narcissism.   She felt like she was competing with his ego.”

Sheree laughed.  “Yes, I’ve met guys like that.  Tell her not to despair.  Somewhere out there is the man for her.”

They walked and talked some more and then it was time for her to head back to the hotel, have breakfast and get ready for the first interview of the morning.  When they were standing where his clothes were, he turned to her and asked, “Can we do this again tomorrow morning?”

She knitted her brow.  “Ryder, I don’t think—”

“Please,” he insisted.  “We will just walk and talk like we did today.  I enjoy your company, Sheree.”

“I enjoy yours too,” she admitted.  “All right.  I’ll meet you here tomorrow morning.  Have a good day.”

He smiled.  “Thank you.  You have yourself a good day too.”  He reached for his shirt and pulled it on.

After a lingering glance, she turned and walked away, feeling his eyes on her.  She couldn’t resist turning around to wave at him.  She was looking forward to being alone with him tomorrow morning.

They met the next morning and every morning after that.  Each time, he would be coming out of the ocean after a swim, dry himself off and then they would set off down the familiar stretch of beach where they usually went for their walks.  They talked about all sorts of things and she laughed at some of his stories about his family, friends and dates gone wrong.  She enjoyed being with him and looked forward to their morning meetings.

On the last morning before they were to leave the island, they went for their usual walk.  This time the mood was heavy.  After today, she was never going to see him again.  The reality of this thought filled her with despair and her feet dragged in the sand.  When he stopped and they stood there at the water’s edge, the water lapping at their feet, he turned to her, his expression tense.  “I’m going to miss this,” he said tightly.  “I’m going to miss our walks on the beach and our conversations.”

She swallowed hard, thankful that she was wearing sunglasses so that he couldn’t see her shiny eyes.  “I’m going to miss them too.”

“Sheree, you must know by now that I’m extremely attracted to you.”

She nodded.  It was no use pretending that she didn’t.  She could tell by the way he looked at and acted around her.  She was sure that her feelings for him were obvious to him too.  “Yes, I—I do.”

“And I know that you are attracted to me too.  I can tell from the way you look at me and I can feel it.  Oh, Sheree,” he moaned and reaching for her, he pulled her against him, his eyes darkening on her face.

Panicking, she struggled against him, her eyes wide as they met his.  “Ryder, please let go of me.”

His grip tightened as he tried to hold her still.  “Stop fighting something that is stronger than both of us.”

“Ryder, we can’t get involved with each other,” she protested weakly, her heart pounding heavily in her chest but the hands that were supposed to be pushing him away were gripping his shirt.  She watched, mesmerized as his face got closer to hers and her eyes fell shut when she felt his lips on hers, teasing them and tormenting her.

Desire surged through her like a wild fire and she was kissing him back like a mad woman.  They stood there exchanging hot, searing kisses for a long time before he broke it off to bury his face in her neck, breathing heavily.  She clung to him, trembling like a leaf and gasping for air.

After a few moments passed, he raised his head to gaze down at her.  “When this is all over, I want us to finish what we started,” he muttered thickly.

“But you’ll be in Sydney and I’ll be in New York.”

“As soon as I sort out my business back home, I’m taking the first available flight to New York.”

“You would fly all that way just-just to see me?”

“Yes!  I would fly to the end of the world if I had to.  Now that I’ve met you, I can’t let distance keep me from you.  I will come to you.”

“And I will be waiting.”

He bent his head and kissed her again before they continued walking along the beach, his arm around her shoulders and hers around his waist.  They parted ways on the beach and she was in her room when he left for the airport.  On the flight back to New York, she told Carly everything and she was thrilled.  “I suspected that there was something between you two,” she said.  “Don’t worry about Mom.  I will sort it out with her.  It won’t be the end of the world if we end up with twenty-four bachelors instead of twenty-five.”

Sheree squeezed her hand.  “Thanks, Carly.”

Carly smiled.  “I’m a romantic at heart.”

As soon as Sheree got home, she sent an email to Ryder letting him know that she had arrived safely and waited eagerly to receive a reply which came the following day.  Over the next several weeks, she busied herself putting together the feature in the magazine.  Initially, Irina wasn’t thrilled that they were minus a bachelor, especially, the hottest one, in her opinion but, she didn’t want to stand in the way of Sheree’s happiness.  Sheree learned that once Ryder had been notified that he wouldn’t be featured in the magazine, he reimbursed them for the travel and hotel expenses.

Ryder and she exchanged emails every day and occasionally spoke on the telephone.  It had been several weeks since they last saw each other and she kept wondering when he would eventually come to New York.  Weeks turned into months and still no sign of him although they kept in touch via email.

It was Christmas Eve and she was about to fix herself some lunch when the doorbell rang.  She dried her hands in the towel hanging on the oven handle and went to see who it was.  Her heart somersaulted when she peered out of the keyhole, bursting with excitement and joy, she unlocked the door and tugged it open.  Her eyes slipped eagerly over his tall frame in the black winter coat with the fur trimmed collar and hood.  “Hello,” she greeted him.

He smiled that smile which made her knees go weak, pulled her into his arms and kissed her.  “Sorry it took so long for me to come,” he said after a while.

“You’re here just in time to celebrate Christmas,” she said.  “Come in and warm yourself.”  She opened the door wider so that he could go in.  She took his coat and hung it up while he removed his shoes.

“Where’s your luggage?” she asked.

“I dropped it off at the corporate apartment where I will be staying before coming over here to see you.”

Taking his hand, she led him into the living-room and invited him to sit on the sofa.  “I was just about to have lunch.  Are you hungry?”

He nodded. “A little.  Do you know what time it is now in Sydney?”

She shook her head.  “No.”

“It’s two in the morning.  We’re 14 hours ahead.  It’s one of the things I had to factor in my decision to move here.”

She gaped at him.  “Move here?”

“Yes.  I’m going to be living in New York now that I am the new Director of our office here.”

“When did you decide to move to New York?”

“On the morning we said goodbye on the beach.  I knew then that I couldn’t go back to my life in Sydney when the woman I wanted to be with was in New York.  So, I made all the necessary arrangements and here I am to finish what we started in Montego Bay.”

Her response was to put her arms around his neck and kiss him.  Two years later, their unfinished business ended in marriage and their honeymoon was in Montego Bay where it all began.

Sources:  The Guardian; Just Mommies; Prokerala; The Washington Post; The 416 Magazine; Elite Daily; Thought CatalogHalf Moon;

God’s Way

As Larissa Scott sat on the beach, watching the tide roll away she thought about how far she had allowed herself to drift from God’s will for her life.  She hadn’t meant for it to happen.  It did when she met and fell in love with Steven.   About a year ago, she moved to Seattle because of a job opportunity which she could not pass up.  It was tough leaving her family, friends and church but she had prayed about it and knew that it was God leading her to a new life in a new city.

Nervous and excited at the same time, she packed up and left. After settling into a new apartment and the new job, she looked for a church to join and found one not far from where she lived. From the moment she walked in, she knew that was the church for her. She felt completely at home among people who loved the Lord and were active in the community and was blessed by the moving and inspiring sermons and uplifting worship music. She attended every week and quickly developed friendships. It wasn’t long before she transferred her membership to the church and got involved in their women’s ministry.

The first time she met Steven was at the weekly prayer meeting.  He was the elder in charge of the meeting that week.  She had noticed him before but they hadn’t actually met.  As he spoke, she studied him.  He looked to be in his late forties and was very attractive.  She wondered if he were married and hoped that he wasn’t.

When it was time to split up into twos to pray, he left the podium and walked over to her.  “Hello,” he said, holding out his hand.  “I’m Elder Steven Johnson.  I have seen you before but just didn’t have the opportunity to meet you until now.  You recently joined our church.  I don’t believe I was here when you were introduced to the congregation.”

She smiled and shook his hand.  “Larissa Scott,” she said.  “Yes, I moved to Seattle and I visited this church the week after I arrived.  It reminded me so much of my old church in New York.  There the people were warm and zealous for the Lord.”

“Well, I’m delighted that you are a member of our church family.  Now, we can pray for each other.”

They knelt down side by side, heads bowed and hands clasped before them.  He prayed first and when he was done, she prayed.  “Thank you,” she said when she was finished and they got up.

He smiled and went back up to the podium to wrap up the meeting.  She sat down in the chair before standing for the closing song and prayer.  While everyone was filing out, she lingered.  He took up the papers and his Bible and left the podium.  “Do you have a ride home?” he asked.  It was dark outside.

“I took the bus.”

“I can give you a ride home, if you like.”

She suddenly felt very shy and a few moments passed before she said, “Thank you.”

They left the back way which led to the parking lot.  He set the alarm and closed the door before taking her to where his car was parked.  He held the door open for her.  After she got in, he closed the door before walking quickly round to the driver’s side.  “It has gotten very cold,” he remarked as he started the engine.  “The temperature must have dropped.”  He turned on the heat before pulling out of the parking lot.  “Do you live far from here?”

She shook her head.  “No, I live about twenty minutes from away.”  She told him where she lived.  She could have easily taken the bus because they ran frequently but she was grateful for the ride because it was cold.

“Where did you live before you moved to Seattle?”

“I lived in Manhattan, New York.”

“What made you decide to move here?”

“The job of a lifetime and the conviction that this was where God wanted me to be.”

“What about your family?  How did they react to your move?”

“They were very supportive.  They said that if it were God’s will, then His will be done.  I’m in touch with them every day.  Have you always been at this church?”

“Yes.  I attended it since I was a child.  It’s my second home.  The members are my extended family.  It is where my parents met and got married.”

“How long have you been a church elder?”

“For about five years.”

“Do you like it?”

“Yes, I do.”

“What do you like best about being an elder?”

“I like visiting members in their homes to pray with them and give them encouragement.  I like to assist in giving Bible studies to prospective members.  I enjoy leading out in worship service and being a spiritual mentor.”

“My father is an elder too and his favorite thing is the visitation.”

They reached her building and he pulled up in front of the entrance.   He got out of the car to hold the door open for her.  “Have a good evening,” he said as she stepped out.  “I’ll see you on Saturday morning.”

“Thank you for the ride home, Elder Johnson,” she said.  “Have a good evening.”  She watched as he got into the car and waved as he drove away.  As she ran up the short flight of steps to the revolving doors, she found herself looking forward to seeing him on Saturday.  She still had no idea if he was married or not.  She had never observed him with a particular woman so, hopefully, that meant that he didn’t have a wife.  He wouldn’t be the first unmarried elder.

For the rest of the week she thought about him and really looked forward to seeing him again.  When Saturday came, she got up bright and early in the morning and got ready for church.  As soon as she entered the sanctuary, her eyes scanned the rows of seats in search of him but he wasn’t there.  Maybe, I will see him after the service, she thought as she went and sat down.  Fifteen minutes later the Sabbath School program began and she immersed herself in it.  When it was over there was the ten minutes before the worship service was to begin, he came out to address family matters which family matters and make the announcements.  She was so happy to see him.  Her heart began to beat fast.

After he left the podium, she took the bulletin from out of her Bible and read it.  It was then that she saw that his name was on it.  He was slated to do the Intercessory prayer and the Benediction which meant that he was going to be on the podium for the entire service.   So, she wouldn’t get to speak to him until after the service.

As usual, the worship service was uplifting and she was blessed.  As the pastor and Elder Johnson came down for the podium, she stared at him, hoping that he would see her when he passed the row where she was.  He did.  He smiled and said “Happy Sabbath,” before continuing down the aisle toward the double doors leading out to the entrance hall.  When they were gone and the music stopped playing everyone got seated again.

She picked up her handbag and Bible and waited for the usher to motion for her and the people in her row to leave.  When he did, she immediately got up and left.  Her eager eyes espied him standing by the door beside the pastor and talking to the members as they filed past him.  First she shook the pastor’s hand and told him how blessed she was by his sermon before she moved toward Elder Johnson who turned to greet her warmly and shake her hand.  “It is good to see you, Miss Scott.  Did you have a good week?”

She nodded.  “Yes, I did, thank you.”

“Will you be coming to prayer meeting on Wednesday?” he asked.

“Yes, I will be there.”

“Good.  I will see you then.  Enjoy the rest of the day and have a good week.”

“Thank you, Elder Johnson.  You too.”  She moved away as another member joined them.  She wished she had more time to talk to him but he was busy at the moment.  She went downstairs to get her coat and after chatting with a few of the women she left and went straight home.  At least she was going to see him during the week but right now, Wednesday seemed like a very long way off.

Wednesday finally arrived and thankfully, the day flew by and as soon as she got home, she had dinner and then showered.  When she got to the church, there were a few people in the sanctuary but he wasn’t one of them.  After she said hello and chatted with them for a while, she found a seat.  A few minutes passed and then he sat down next to her.  Heart racing, she smiled at him and she felt butterflies in her stomach when he smiled back.  “Good evening,” he greeted her.  “I trust you’re having a good week so far.”

“Yes.  I can’t complain.  What about your week?”

“It has been a busy one so far but God has helped me to get through it.  I’m sorry that we didn’t get a chance to talk more the last time we saw each other.  I wanted to tell you about a spring concert at the Green Lake Church on Saturday at 4:30pm and ask you if you would be interested in going to it with me.”

He wanted to take her to a concert.  This confirmed that he wasn’t married.  “Yes, I would like go,” she told him.  “Thank you for inviting me.”

“Don’t mention it,” he replied.  “Excuse me.  I’ll be right back.”  He got up and went across the aisle to talk to another church member for a few minutes before rejoining her.  This time, it was the pastor’s wife who led the prayer meeting and it was very engaging.  When it was time to split up in twos to pray, Elder Johnson prayed with the member he had been talking to earlier while she prayed with the pastor’s wife.  When it was over Elder Johnson took her home.

The concert was a real treat and she couldn’t stop raving about it as they went to a vegetarian café afterward.  Over Moroccan Tagine and Spring Nettle Pappardell, they talked about the concert, the worship service and other things.  It was a very pleasant evening and she was sorry when it was over.  Outside of her building, she turned to him and said, “Thank you, Elder Johnson for a wonderful evening.”

“Please call me Steven,” he said quietly.  “Are you busy tomorrow?”

She shook her head.

“How would you go on the Harbor Cruise and then have lunch afterwards at the Space Needle?”

“I would like that very much,” she said, her eyes dancing with delight.  He was asking her out on a date.

He smiled.  “Good.  I will pick you tomorrow morning at eleven.  Goodnight, Larissa.”

“Goodnight, Steven.” She watched him drive away before she went inside the building.

After their cruise and lunch at the Space Needle, they began dating exclusively.  They went all over Seattle, giving her a real taste and appreciation for the city.  They visited museums, the zoo, art galleries, parks, the Aquarium and their excursion to Tillicum Village on Blake Island was an experience she would never forget.  They went for scenic drives to Snoqualmie Falls and Seward Park to the Washington Park Arboretum where one was treated to with an incredible view of Mount Rainier in the distance.

At church, they were circumspect around each other not wanting anyone to know that they were seeing each other.  For the time being, they wanted to keep their relationship on the quiet.  They never went to each other’s place but went out instead.  They did not kiss for the first few months they were dating but held hands when in public.

Then one afternoon when he went by her place to pick her up to take her to see the iconic brick wall covered with chewed up gum in an alley under Pike Place Market and the Giant Ferris Wheel, it began to rain cats and dogs.  It was a real bummer because she had been looking forward to going out.  It had been overcast all morning but she had been hoping that it would clear up but now rain was coming down in buckets and it didn’t look like it was going to let up any time soon.  She turned away from the window, bitterly disappointed.  “Oh, well,” she said.  “I guess we will have to take a rain check.”

“I’m sorry about the weather,” he said.  “I know how much you were looking forward to going out.”

“It’s okay,” she said, shrugging.  “I’m sure we can find something to occupy ourselves with until the rain ends.”

“Do you have anything in mind?”

“Yes.  I have a few board games we can play.  We have Bibleopoly which is the Biblical alternative to Monopoly, Bible Scrabble and Bible or Not.”

“They all sound very interesting and it has been a while since I played board games.”

“Good.  We’ll on the carpet in front of the sofa.”  She left and brought out the games, setting them on the coffee table.  “Which one do you want to play first?”

He looked at each of them for a moment and then, he took up Bible Scrabble.  “I’ve always enjoyed Scrabble,” he said.  They set things up and sat down, cross legged on the carpet and began playing.  They played all three games.  The time went by very quickly and it was time to have something to eat.  They packed up the games and she put them away before going into the kitchen to get dinner ready.

Dinner was Spicy Kale and Coconut Stir Fry, one of her favorite recipes to make.  For dessert, they had Vegan Strawberry Cheesecake Bites.  Then they relaxed on the sofa and watched The War Room.

It was still raining outside when she checked a couple of hours later, though not heavily as before. Steven joined her at the window.  “It seems to be easing up,” she remarked turning to face him.  “Would you like anything to drink—maybe a hot chocolate?”

He shook his head.  “No, thank you.  I should be leaving now.  I have an early day tomorrow at work.”

“All right.  I have an umbrella. Would you like to borrow it?”

He smiled.  “I’ll be fine,” he said.  Then, taking her hands, he added, “I’m happy that it rained because I really enjoyed the time we spent here together.  And thanks for the delectable dinner and dessert.”

She smiled, feeling very pleased. “I had a wonderful time too and I’m glad you enjoyed my cooking.”

His expression got serious as they stood there in front of the window, holding hands.  Then, without saying anything, he bent his head and kissed her.  It was tentative at first but it deepened when he felt her response.  He let go of her hands to cup her face as he kissed her passionately.  She put her arms around his waist.  For several minutes they kissed and then, he broke off the kiss to unbutton his shirt, his face flushed as his eyes met her wide ones.   Their heavy breathing mingled as she helped him with the buttons.  When his shirt was discarded, she removed her top.

Then, they were kissing again, wildly now.  Her fingers dug into the flesh on his back and groaning, he picked her up and carried her over to the rug in front of the fireplace.  After putting her down, he stood up to remove the rest of his clothes before kneeling down to remove hers.  There in front of the fireplace, they made love while outside the rain continued to fall.

Several hours later, he got dressed and left, after a lengthy goodbye at the door.  That night was the first of many such trysts between them.  They both knew it was wrong to have sexual relations outside of marriage but they allowed their passion for one another to override the instructions God brought to their minds.  This continued for weeks.  They hardly went out.  Instead they stayed in inside either at his place or hers and spent a good chunk of their time in bed, ravaging each other before surfacing to engage in other activities.

Then, one Sabbath, the pastor preached a sermon which Larissa felt was directed to her.  It was Youth Day and the message was about youth abstinence.  The words that struck her like a blow were, “True love waits” which was the title of the sermon.  The challenge was for young people to abstain from having sex until marriage and using the Bible, he shared the benefits of abstinence.

As she listened, Larissa felt convicted.  She recalled how she had always planned to save herself for the husband that God was going to bless her with.  When she met and fell in love with Steven, that vow was broken.  Love and desire took precedence and now she was being reminded of that promise she had made to herself.  Tears came to her eyes and she quickly blinked them back.  She didn’t want to lose it right then in front of everybody, especially Steven.  She sat through the sermon and by the time it was over, she had come to the painful conclusion that she had to stop seeing Steven.

As soon as the service was finished, she hurried out of the sanctuary and left the church through the back entrance.  All the way home on the bus, she thought about how hard it was going to be to break up with Steven but they couldn’t continue sleeping together.  In her mind, she heard the apostle Paul’s admonition, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own” (1 Corinthians 6:19).  She had given her body to Steven because she loved him but he wasn’t her husband. She wanted to do things God’s way and if it meant ending her relationship with Steven, then she had no choice but to end it.

Tears rolled down her cheeks and she brushed them away.  Lord, I love Steven so much.  I can’t imagine my life without him in it.  It will be hard going to church and seeing him.  My only other option is to transfer to another church but I love this church and the people.  Lord, I want to do things Your way but this is so painful. When she got home, she changed and then headed straight to the beach to think things through.

And here she was now, staring out at the sea and thinking about how far she had drifted from God.   She stood there for a long time, wishing that her life wasn’t in such a turmoil.  It wasn’t so long ago when she was so happy.  Things were going so well for Steven and her until they became sexually involved.  She closed her eyes as images of their intense lovemaking flashed across her mind and she felt her body react strongly.  Her eyes flew open as guilt filled her and she scrambled to her feet.  She ran all the way to the bus stop and got there just as the bus pulled up.  

She was heading toward the entrance of her building when she heard her name.  Her heart skipped a beat when she turned and found herself staring up at Steven.  His eyes were restless on her face and his expression was serious. “You’ve been crying.”

She didn’t answer.

“I need to talk to you,” he said quietly.  “My car is parked over there.”

She didn’t say anything but followed him to his car.  When they were seated, she looked down at her hands clasped in her lap.  “I-I was going to call you later,” she said.

He reached out and covered her hands with his.  “Larissa, I know that the sermon today was difficult to hear because of our relationship.  We crossed a line we shouldn’t have and I’m sorry.  I was the one who made the first move but I couldn’t help myself.  I wanted you so much.”

“I wanted you too,” she admitted, still not looking at him.

“I looked for you after the service but you were gone.  I went home and called you from there but there was not answer.  I decided to come over and see if you were here.  I was just on my way up to your place when I saw you.  I have something I want to say to you.  I was going to wait until your birthday but I realize that now is the best time.”  He released her hands to reach into the breast pocket of his shirt.  “This morning before I came to church, God told me that we had drifted outside of His will for our lives and that in order for us to get His blessing and anointing on our relationship, we have to do it His way.  True love waits.”

She looked at him, wondering what he was talking about when she saw the black box in his hand.  Her heart began to pound and her eyes flew up to his face.

He opened it and took out a beautiful diamond cross engagement ring.  “Larissa, the first time I saw you, my heart stopped.  And every moment I spent with you was heaven on earth.  I love you with an everlasting love and it would make my heart glad with unspeakable joy if you would spend the rest of your life with me.  Larissa, will you marry me?”

By now the tears were just flowing and it took a few moments for her to whisper, “Yes.”

He blinked back his own tears as he slid the ringer on her finger.  “I love you,” he murmured before leaning over to kiss her.

“I love you too,” she murmured against his lips.  Her heart was singing.  God didn’t want her to end her relationship with Steven, He just wanted it to be done His way.  She was going to wait until she and Steven were married to experience sexual intimacy the way God intended.  No, she didn’t mind waiting at all.  Waiting is a sign of true love and patience. Anyone can say ‘I love you,’ but not everyone can wait and prove it’s true.

Sources:  Emerald City Community Church; Cicero SDA Church; First SDA Church; Ministry Magazine; Cafe Flora; Seattle Tours; Argosy Cruises; Christian Cafe; CBS Seattle; Christianity Today; Cookie and Kate; The Food Network; Box Cast; Sermon Central; Apples of Gold; Married and Young; Ask Ideas

Paradise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“New York.”

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

“Yes.”

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

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

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

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

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

“I don’t think so.”

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

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

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

“Sorry,” she mumbled.

“Are you in a relationship?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Is this your first time in Paradise Island?”

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

“Were you alone that time too?”

“No.  I was with my then girlfriend.”

“What happened to her?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s snuba diving?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And you could visit me at Christmas.”

“Yes, I could do that.”

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

She stared at him.  “Move to Seattle?”

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

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

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

“And if I don’t show up?”

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

She smiled.  “I’ll think about it.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“On Monday,” he said.

“You were very sure that I would come.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

New York City

The phone rang and Nahla rolled over, groggily reaching for it.  “Hello?”

A recording came on reminding her that she had requested a wake-up call.  She hung up and rolled on to her back.  She closed her eyes and said a prayer.  She lay there for a few minutes before climbing out of bed and heading for the bathroom.  After brushing her teeth, she took a long, hot shower before getting dressed.  She put on her new black and white skirt suit, checked herself in the mirror.

Glancing at her watch, she noted that it was seven.  She went over to the window and looked out.  The street was far below.  She was in New York City, the Big Apple which was pulsating with life even this early in the morning.  Excitement filled her.  This was her first visit to the city although it was purely on business.  She hoped that she would have time for sightseeing.  Perhaps she could persuade Simon. Simon.  A smile came over her face when she thought about him.

Nahla loved working with Simon.  He was very professional but also very easygoing.  She heard horror stories from friends and family about bosses who micromanaged everything they did.  She counted herself to be very blessed to have a boss like Simon.  She wondered if he was awake.  Most likely he was.  He was an early bird.  Every morning, no matter how early she went into the office, he was always there.  Sometimes, it was just the two of them.  He was the reason why she went to work early.  They would sit and talk in his office for half-hour or a little longer until nine o’clock then she would go to her desk.  She enjoyed his company tremendously and looked forward to spending that time with him.

Last night on the flight from London to New York, as they sat next to each other, she couldn’t help remembering how sexy he looked in the brown leather jacket and jeans as he walked over to her in the departure lounge at the airport.  He had an errand to run so they arranged to meet there.  It was the first time she had seen him in anything but a suit and it was refreshing.  His usually slicked back hair was slightly tousled.  She longed to run her fingers through the silky strands.  On more than one occasion when they were sitting in the lounge, he caught her staring at him and she quickly looked away, feeling embarrassed.

When they got on board the plane, he removed his jacket and put it in the overhead compartment.  The navy blue ribbed turtleneck sweater looked really good on him, accentuating his broad shoulders, arms and chest.  Sitting that close to him was unnerving.  Her heart skipped a beat now as she recalled the moment when the magazine slid off her lap as she tried to adjust her seat.  They both reached for it and their hands touched.

Immediately, their eyes met and held as they both straightened up and settled back into their seats.  He handed her the magazine.  She swallowed hard before she thanked him.  For the rest of the flight, she couldn’t stop thinking about the strong feelings that stirred in her when their hands touched.  The moment, although brief, was charged with the attraction that they obviously felt toward each other.  It had always been there, lurking, but in that instance, it was palpable.

The phone rang, making her almost jump out of her skin.  She hurried to answer it.  It was Simon.  “Good morning, Nahla.”

“Good morning, Simon.”  The sound of his voice was doing crazy things to her.

“I know we got in late last night,” he said.  “Was checking to make sure you were able to get up.”

They had got in to LaGuardia after ten and by the time they got to the hotel, it was time to turn in.  They had had dinner on the plane.  He had accompanied her to her suite, stayed to make sure she was settled in before going to his.  The suit was big and unlike anything she had ever seen.  She enjoyed a good night’s rest.  “I probably would still be asleep if it hadn’t been for the wake-up call,” she said.

“I was up before I got the call.  Have you had breakfast as yet?”

“No.”  Just then, she felt pangs of hunger.

“Join me in my suite. We can have breakfast together.”

“All right.  I’m on my way.”

Five minutes later, Nahla stood outside of Simon’s suite.  She took a deep breath before raising her hand to knock on the door.

“Come in,” she heard him call.

She opened the door and walked in, stopping short when she saw him standing there half-naked, his shirt was in his hand.  Flustered, she looked away, her heart pounding.

A faint smile played on his lips as he observed her reaction and how she deliberately avoided looking at him.  He could tell that she was attracted to him and that thrilled him because he was extremely attracted to her.

She was his new secretary because the last one he had was very inefficient. The moment Nahla walked in the boardroom, he knew that he going to hire her but as a formality, he interviewed her.  When it was over, he told her right then and there that she got the job.  That was two years ago.  It turned out that hiring her was the best thing he did. They worked very well together.  But, he wanted to have more than a professional relationship with her.  He was hoping to change things between them while they were here in New York.

“Room service will be here shortly,” he informed her as he pulled on his shirt and started to button it.  “While we eat we can go over the day’s schedule.”

She didn’t answer.  How on earth was she going to concentrate on anything now when all she could think about was seeing him shirtless?  It was hard standing there and trying not to stare at him.  She wished he would hurry up and button his shirt.

“Is something the matter, Nahla?” he asked. “You seem bothered about something.”

“What—what if it had been room service instead of me just now?” she wondered.  “The person would have walked in and seen you…”

“I knew it couldn’t be room service,” he assured her quietly.  “As soon as I got off the phone with you I called them and they said they would be here in about ten minutes.  Five minutes later I heard the knock.  I figured it had to be you because you’re just a couple doors down the hall.  And somehow, I don’t think seeing me half-naked would have bothered the person as much as it obviously bothers you.”

“It doesn’t bother me,” she replied quickly, too quickly and her heart leapt in her throat when he moved closer, his eyebrows raised.

“Doesn’t it?” he asked, his eyes intent on her face.  “Is that why you avoid looking at me now?”

He was standing so close now that she could feel his warm breath on her forehead.  The heady smell of his aftershave assailed her nostrils making her lightheaded.  She was finding it really hard to breathe normally.  Her eyes darted to his face and she trembled when she saw the expression on it.  “Simon…” his name was a whisper.

His eyes darkened and he pulled her roughly against him.  “Nahla,” he muttered thickly before he kissed her.   His hands pressed into the small of her back while his mouth hungrily devoured hers making her senses spin.  He groaned when she kissed him back.  Her hands went under his shirt which wasn’t tucked in his trousers and her nails dug into the smooth skin on his back as they exchanged fiery kisses.

The loud knock on the door startled them and he raised his head, his face flushed.  “It’s room service,” he panted.  He released her and gave her a moment to collect herself before he called out, “Come in.”

A young man came into the suite pushing a room service table.  He pushed it over by the window and after spending a few minutes explaining what he had brought for them, “Enjoy your breakfast and please don’t hesitate to call us if you need anything else” with a courteous smile before quickly leaving the room.  After he was gone, Simon went and locked the door.

Nahla looked at the spread but she couldn’t think about food at the moment.  Her mind was on what happened before the waiter showed up.  She glanced up as Simon came over to her. Their eyes met.  “Are you hungry?” he asked.

She shook her head.  “No.”

“Neither am I,” he replied.  He reached for her and pulled her toward him, swallowing hard when he saw the desire in her eyes.  “Let’s finish what we started.”

“But what about the meeting at nine-thirty?” she protested weakly.

“Don’t worry, we’ll make it,” he promised.

She opened her mouth to say something else but he smothered it with a kiss.  Closing her eyes, she put her arms around his neck and responded wildly to his kisses.  An hour later they quickly got dressed, had breakfast and left the hotel.  They arrived at the meeting five minutes before it started.

On the way back to the hotel in the afternoon, Simon turned to her, “Do you regret what happened between us this morning?” he asked.

She shook her head.  “No.  Do you?”

He shook his head.  “No.  It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time.”

“It’s something I’ve always fantasized about.  I didn’t think it would happen here in New York, though.”

“Nahla, I know that we work together but after this morning, I can’t go back to how things were between us.  I don’t want to dream of being with you with any more, I want it to be real.”

Nahla reached for his hand, her eyes shining.  “I want to be with you, Simon.  It’s as simple and complicated as that.”

He leaned over and kissed her.  And as she kissed him back, she thought, I got my fairy-tale ending here in New York City.

 

Sources: HBR Webinar ;Good Reads

 

The Autograph

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

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

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

He nodded.  “Yes, I am.”

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

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

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

“What’s your name?” he asked.

“Kimani Jones.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you in a hurry to get somewhere?”

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

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

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

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

“Why Psychology?”

“I want to help people.”

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

“Thank you.”

“Have you always lived in New York?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’d like that,” she said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Kevin and Angela.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her eyes brightened.  “Yes!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes.”

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

He sighed, “Yes, but—”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you have room for a weary traveler?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m glad I asked you for it.”

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

She nodded.  “Yes.”

“What about you?”

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

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

 

 

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