The Plants

ronda-del-boccio

PHOTO PROMPT © Ronda Del Boccio

 

“Where did you get these strange plants from?” Wei asked.

Sue tried not to panic.  “They are gifts.”  Why does Wei have to be so nosy?  And why is she here instead of at the market?

“Who gave them to you?”

“A friend, I think.  I don’t remember.”

“You don’t remember who gave you these ugly plants?” Wei sounded skeptical.

“Wei, aren’t you going to the market?”

“Oh, yes.  I’d better leave now.”  She scurried off.

Once the coast was clear, Sue went over to the plants and removed the Bibles.  It was time to find new hiding places.

99 Words

This story was inspired by an article I read about China shutting down churches and seizing Bibles in an “ambitious new effort to lessen or even eradicate the influence of Christianity and religion from the country”.  So far, the government has shut down hundreds of Christian house churches.

According to Willy Lam of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, “Xi is a closet Maoist—he is very anxious about thought control.  He definitely does not want people to be faithful members of the church because then people would profess their allegiance to the church rather than to the party, or more exactly to Xi himself.”  Faithful Christians would rather obey God than men and will do so even if it costs them their lives.

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

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Shades of Love

For the first time in his life, Maxwell was in love. The problem was–his family wouldn’t approve.  Why?  The object of his affection was a very dark skinned Nigerian woman.  He was a light skinned black man with blue eyes whose parents were light skinned blacks from Barbados.  He always had a weakness for dark women although to please his parents, he dated the light skinned ones.  This woman was absolutely stunning but he knew that his family wouldn’t see past her color.  Even his friends when they saw him checking her out at the party where they met, they told him, “Man, she’s way too dark.  There are so many gorgeous black women here to choose from and you had to pick out the darkest one.”

Of course, he ignored them and walked up to her, his heart racing with nervousness and excitement.  She turned and it seemed like his heart stopped.  This close she was even more breathtaking.  Her beautiful eyes mesmerized him and her skin looked smooth and flawless.  The black cocktail dress hugged her perfect body and the strappy black sandals she wore accentuated her long and shapely legs.  She wore a jeweled choker around her slender neck.

“Maxwell,” he said, holding out his hand.

She put her hand in his.  “Adaolisa.”  They shook hands.

“That’s a pretty name.  What does it mean?”

“God’s daughter.”

“Adaolisa, you’re a very beautiful woman.”  I think you’re the most beautiful woman here.

She smiled.  “Thank you.  And you’re a very handsome man with the most amazing eyes I’ve ever seen.”

He blushed.  “Thank you.  I detect an accent.  Where are you from?”

“Nigeria. I moved from Lagos to London when I was seventeen to attend university.  I stayed with my aunt until I graduated and found a job.”

“You speak English very well.”

“Actually, English is my first language and the official language of Nigeria.”

“Have you been back since you left?”

“Yes.  I visit my family every Christmas.”

“Are you here alone?”

She nodded.  “Yes.  You came with your friends.”

So, she had noticed him long before he approached her.  That pleased him.  “Why don’t we get something to eat and then find somewhere to sit?” he suggested.

“All right.” They went over to the elaborate buffet table and helped themselves to the spread.  They went out on the terrace, found a corner where there were a couple of chairs and sat down.

“Which university did you go to?”

“Cambridge.”

“Now I wish that I went there instead of Oxford and then we would have met sooner. Why did you study at Cambridge?”

“Education.”

“How you like living in England?”

“I don’t mind it because I love my job and I have a lot of friends.  What really bothers me, though, is the prejudice that exists among blacks.  The lighter skinned women, especially, turn up their noses at me and they get upset when their men look at me.  I think too, that they don’t like me because I’m African.”

Maxwell shook his head.  “It’s a shameful thing when prejudice exists within the black community,” he said.  “Growing up in Barbados, I was exposed to bigotry.  My sister was bullied because she wasn’t dark enough and I watched light skinned children ridicule the dark skinned ones.  Many times I got into fights standing up for myself, my sister and my friends.  There was a girl who lived next door to my grandparents whom I liked and I used to hang around her.  My grandfather who was much lighter than me didn’t approve and used to say to me, ‘She’s too dark.’  He told me that all the men in our family married light skinned women so that the next generation would be lighter.  I loved my grandfather but I was ashamed of his ways.  Unfortunately, my parents are the same way.  When I was a teenager I used to date light skinned girls to please them but that changed when I went to university.”

“So, your parents wouldn’t be pleased to see you talking to me,” she commented.

“No, they wouldn’t be.  But it doesn’t matter.  I’m a grown man.  I like you Adaolisa and I want to get to know you better.”

“It’s sad to see blacks discriminate against each other.  It only polarizes the communities.”

“It does.  And it polarizes families too.  My younger brother married a German woman whom our parents welcomed with open arms and they dote on their Caucasian looking grandchildren.   My sister, however, is somewhat of a disappointment to them because she fell in love with and got engaged to Omar, a Senegalese man.  It doesn’t matter that he’s a great guy, loves her and treats her like a queen, all my parents see are his color and his nationality.”

“There are many shades of love.  Your brother chose one shade and your sister another.  All that matters is that they’re happy with their choices.”

He stared at her, admiration glinting in his eyes.  Not only was she beautiful but she was wise.  He knew he had found a treasure tonight.

They changed the topic and talked about other things until it was time to leave.  “May I give you a lift home?” he asked, hopefully.

She nodded.  “Yes, thank you.  I’ll be right back.”

After she left, he rejoined his friends.  “Where have you been, Man,” Trevor asked.

“He’s been with the Nubian,” Colin chimed in.

“So, are we still heading over to the Road House to catch the game?” Nigel asked.

“I’ll pass,” Maxwell told them.  “I’ll see you guys at the game on Friday.”

“He’s brushing us off because of black beauty.”

“Her name is Adaolisa.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I don’t like to keep a lady waiting.”  He turned and walked away, his heart and steps quickening when he saw her standing there, waiting for him.

That was two years ago and now, here they were on their way to see his parents before they went to their favorite restaurant where he was going to propose to her.  It didn’t matter to him what his parents thought.  He was madly in love with this woman and wanted to spend the rest of his life with her.  She looked exquisite in the dark red dress with the spaghetti straps.  Unable to resist, he reached over and caressed her shoulder with his knuckles.  “Are you nervous?” he asked when she looked at him.

“A little,” she admitted.

“Don’t worry, I will be there.   As soon as I see that things are getting uncomfortable for you, we will leave, okay?”

“Okay.”  She seemed to relax and a slight smile tugged at her mouth.  She turned to look out of the window.

Five minutes later, they were pulling up in front of a very charming cottage nestled among climbing rose bushes.  He held her hand as they walked up the driveway.  When they were standing on the step in front of the door, he turned to her and asked, “Ready?”

She nodded.  Her grip on his hand tightened imperceptibly.

He rang the doorbell and waited.  It opened and his father stood there.  “Hello, Son,” he said, shaking Maxwell’s hand.  Then, his eyes shifted to Adaolisa.  “Good evening,” he said, extending his hand.

Adaolisa shook his hand.  “Good evening.”

“Please come in,” he said, stepping aside.  His manner toward her was polite but there was no warmth.  “Your mother is in the living-room.”

After they removed their shoes, they went to the living-room.  His mother was sitting by the fireplace.  She stood and went over to hug him.  “It’s good to see you, Maxwell,” she said.  “It has been a while.” When they drew apart, she looked at Adaolisa.  “How do you do?” she sounded a bit stiff although she shook her hand.

“I’m fine, thank you,” Adaolisa replied.  “What a lovely home you have.”

“Thank you.  Won’t you sit down?”

“Mom, we could only stay for a little while,” Maxwell told her as he sat down on the sofa next to Adaolisa.  “We’re going out for dinner.”

“Maxwell mentioned that you’re from Nigeria.”

“Yes, I’m from Lagos.”

“Do you have any family here?”

“Yes, an aunt.  The rest of my family is in Lagos.”

So, far so good, Maxwell thought, beginning to relax when his mother said abruptly, “Maxwell, may I have a word with you?  Excuse us,” she said to Adaolisa before standing up and leaving the room.

Maxwell looked at Adaolisa.  “I’ll be right back,” he promised.  He got up and left.

His mother was standing in the hallway.  “Let’s go into the kitchen,” she suggested and led the way.

When they were alone in the kitchen, she asked, “Are you serious about this girl?”

“First of all, she’s a woman not a girl and yes, I’m very serious about her.  I’m head over heels in love with her.”

“But what do you really know about her?”

“I know enough about her to want to marry her—”

His mother looked aghast.  “Marry her?”

“Yes.  I’m going to propose to her tonight over dinner.”

“But, she’s African.”

“So?”

“Why couldn’t you find yourself a nice Bajan woman or even an English woman?”

“So you object to Adaolisa because she’s African?”

“Yes and she’s too dark.”

Maxwell tried to remain calm.  “Do you have any idea how damaging it is to a child when they are treated differently because they are dark?  I knew someone at university who told me that when she was a child, the teacher gave her a black crayon instead of a brown one to color a drawing of herself.  She transferred to a different school because of the bullying but she still had to deal with verbal abuse from other black students.  How could you stand there and look down at Adaolisa because she’s not your idea of what is beautiful?  It’s not the color of her skin that makes a woman beautiful, it’s her character.  I brought her here to meet you because I hoped that once you got to know her, you would set your prejudices aside but clearly I was wrong.  I’m going to marry her regardless of what you say or think.  You’re welcome to come to the wedding if you like.  Now, it’s time for us to go.  Goodbye, Mother.”  He turned and walked away from her.

He was quiet on the ride over to the restaurant.   Then, turning to her, he said regretfully, “I’m sorry about the way things turned out.  I foolishly hoped that my parents would come around and accept you.  I know my mother is set in her ways but I thought that my father would be more forthcoming but aside from greeting you at the door, he said nothing to you all the time we were there.  And when I came into the living-room after talking to my mother, he wasn’t there.  You were sitting there all by yourself.  I was so upset that I had to get out of there”

She reached out and placed her hand on his thigh.  “Let’s not dwell on what happened.  We have the rest of the evening ahead of us.  Let’s enjoy it.”

“All right,” he said.  “Let’s enjoy the rest of our evening together.”

They ended up enjoying dinner.  The conversation flowed and there was a lot of laughter.  Just before they ordered dessert, he reached out and covered her hand, his eyes intent on her face.  Swallowing hard, he began the speech he had rehearsed over and over since the moment he knew that he was going to marry her.   “Adaolisa, words alone can’t express how I feel about you.  From the moment I first saw you, I knew that you were the one for me.  You took my heart and my breath away.  When I look at you, I see the woman I love, the woman I need and the woman I’m meant to be with.”  He reached into his breast pocket and took out a box.  Releasing her hand, he opened it and removed the ring.  It was an exquisite Rose Gold Leaf diamond engagement ring.

She stared at it in wonder and when her eyes lifted to his face, they were moist.  “It’s beautiful,” she murmured.

“It will look even more beautiful on your hand,” he replied huskily.  “Will you marry me, Adaolisa?”

She nodded.  “Yes, Maxwell.” The tears were rolling down her cheeks now as she watched him slide it onto her finger before he raised her hand to his lips and kissed it.

“I love you, Adaolisa.”

“I love you too, Maxwell.”

They raised their glasses in a toast and over dessert, they made wedding plans.  In May of the following year, they got married in an elegant but simple ceremony.  Her family was there.  His brother and his family were in attendance as well as his sister and her husband, Omar.  Noticeably absent were his parents.  Fortunately, that didn’t put a damper on the nuptials.

After a two week honeymoon in the Maldives, they moved into their new home, a half-hour drive outside of London.  Nine months later, they welcomed their first child—a girl with beautiful olive skin and her father’s eyes.  As Maxwell held her in his arms, he remarked, “She’s beautiful like her mother.”

“She’s another shade of love—our love for each other.”

 

Source:  Dazed Digital; Felix Online; Nation News; Barbados Free Press; Fluid London; University of Cambridge; Global News; Pinterest; Ben Garelick; Harper’s Bazaar

Convinced

When Tiffany walked into her flat and saw Sebastian standing by the window, to say that she was astonished to see him would have been a gross understatement.  He turned when he heard her, his gaze traveling over her slim figure in the short sleeve turquoise blouse and navy blue pencil skirt.

Ignoring the accelerated beating of her heart, she tossed her handbag on the sofa and going over to him, she demanded, “How did you get in?”

“Your room-mate let me in before she left.”

“I’m going to have a talk with her about whom she lets into the flat when I’m not here.”

His mouth tightened then.  “I will ignore that remark,” he muttered tightly.

“Why are you here?”

“I had to talk to you.”

“Let me guess.  You’re here to warn me to stay away from Elliot again.”

“That’s one of the reasons.”

“And what’s the other?”

“My mother asked me to give you this.”  He handed her a white envelope.

Curious, she took it and opened it.  It was an invitation to a dinner party next week Saturday.  She put it back in the envelope.  “Please thank her for me.”

“Are you going to come?”

“Would you prefer if I didn’t?”

“Whether you come or not doesn’t matter to me,” he retorted.

That stung and she turned away.  “Yes, you can tell your mother that I will be there.”

“Now about Elliot…”

“Why are you so bent out of shape about our relationship?”

“I’m not bent out of shape as you so eloquently put it.  I just don’t think that you’re suitable for each other.”

“And what makes you an authority on who is compatible and who is not?”

“Experience.”

“So, you’re basing your misgivings about Elliot and me on your failed relationships?”

“My past relationships are not the issue here, your relationship with my brother is.”

“Well, my relationship with your brother is none of your business.”

He glanced around.  “It feels like a sauna in here,” he said, removing his jacket and placing it on the window seat so that he could loosen the top button of his shirt.  “Don’t you have air conditioning?”

He was right.  It was hot in there.  She tried not to notice how snug the rather expensive looking light blue shirt was snug against his broad chest as she walked past him to the wall where the panel for the air-conditioner was and turned it on.  “Are you satisfied now?” she quipped when she rejoined him by the window.

He glowered at her.  “Very.  Now, back to the main reason why I came here today—”

“You’re wasting your time,” she informed him crossly.  “I will not end my relationship with Elliot because of you.  Now, if you don’t mind, I would like to unwind after a very busy day at the office.”

“Do you love him?” He asked abruptly, startling her.

“Yes, I love him.”

“I’m not convinced,” he said, much to her chagrin.

Raising her chin, her eyes flashing, she retorted, “I don’t care if you’re convinced or not.” When she would have turned away, he caught her by the arm, forcing her to look up at him.  Their eyes met and held for several tense minutes during which she hear herself breathing heavily or was that him?  Her heart was racing and panicking, she tried to pull her arm away but his grip was firm.  “Let go of me.”

“Not until you convince me that you love my brother,” he muttered tightly, his eyes stormy as they met her wide ones.

“Let go of me or I will scream,” she threatened.

Instead of letting her go, he pulled her closer.  His eyes dropped to her lips where they lingered for a tantalizing moment before returning to her face.  “Go ahead and scream,” he dared her.

Stumped, she could only stare at him.  Just then, the doorbell rang.  He released her arm and she practically ran past him to answer the door.  She fumbled with the latch and jerked the door open.  Elliot stood there grinning but he frowned when he saw her face.  “What’s the matter?” he asked.

“Your brother’s here,” she explained as she grabbed his arm and pulled him inside.

“Sebastian’s here?” he exclaimed.  “How come?”

“He–he dropped by to give me an invitation to your mother’s dinner party on Saturday.”

“Oh.  That was nice of him, I guess.  Well, I’m here to take you out to dinner and a movie—if you’re up to it.”

“Actually, I just got in from work and was planning to spend a quiet evening.”

“Would you like me to leave then?”

“No!” she cried, panicking.  “Please stay.  We can order in pizza or Thai while we watch a movie.”

“What about Sebastian?”

“He was just about to leave.  Why don’t call one of the take out numbers beside the phone while I get rid of him?”

Shrugging, Elliot did as she asked while she hurried into the living room.  Sebastian was standing where she left him.  She went over to him but not too close.  “Elliot is here,” she informed him tightly.  “He and I are going to have take-out and watch a movie.”

His expression darkened.  “I thought you said that you were going to unwind.”

“I do—”

“I got the impression that you wanted to unwind alone.”

“I changed my mind.  Now, if you don’t mind—”

“Don’t worry, I’m leaving.  I wouldn’t want to ruin your plans with Elliot.”  He strode over to grab his jacket from the window seat and then he left the living-room.  She followed him.

Elliot was on the phone but he covered the mouthpiece to say hello to his brother who acknowledged him with a withering look before he turned to Tiffany and bidding her a rather curt, “Good evening.”  He tugged open the door and stepped out, closing it firmly behind him.  After locking it, she leaned against it, trying to get catch her breath.

Elliot hung up the phone and went over to her.  “The food will be here in about twenty minutes,” he told her.  “What’s the matter?  Did I miss something?  Why did Sebastian leave in such a hurry?”

“I’ll tell you after I get changed,” she muttered before moving away from the door and hurrying off to the bedroom.

It was while they were having the Thai food that she told him everything that had happened between Sebastian and her.  Elliot whistled.  “No wonder he stormed out of here.  Tiff, why did you let him think that you’re in love with me when he’s the one you’re in love with?”

“I don’t know.  I guess I was upset with him because of some of the things he said.

“Well, my advice to you is that you tell him how you really feel.”

She shook her head.  “No way,” she protested.  “I can’t do that when I don’t know how he feels about me.”

Elliot stared at her.  “You’re kidding, right?”

She looked bewildered.

“Tiff, Sebastian’s in love with you, that’s why he’s so bent out of shape over our relationship.”

“But he said he wasn’t bent out of shape.”

“He said a lot of things but his actions said differently.  And you and I both know that if I didn’t show up when I did, things would have gotten hot and steamy between you.  Now, my advice to you is to go and see him.  Tell him how you feel.”

“No, I’m not going to do that.  After the way I treated him tonight he’s not going to want to see me and I’m not going over there and embarrass myself.”

“All right,” he said.  “I won’t press you anymore on this.  Let’s watch the movie.”

Two hours later, Elliot stood outside of Sebastian’s flat.  He rang the doorbell.  Shortly after, the door opened and his brother stood there, scowling at him.  “What do you want?” he asked.

“I know it’s late but I need to talk to you and I’d rather not do it out here.”

Sebastian opened the door wider for him to go in.  After he closed it and locked it, he turned around to face him.  “What do you have to say to me that couldn’t wait until tomorrow?”

“It’s about Tiffany.”

Sebastian stiffened at once.  “What about her?” he asked tautly.

“You’re in love with her, aren’t you?”

“Is that why you’re here, Elliot, to gloat?”

“Gloat?”

“Yes.  You came here to gloat because I love Tiffany and she loves you.”

“You’re mistaken about two things.  I didn’t come here to gloat and Tiffany isn’t in love with me.”

“I asked her if she loved you and she said yes.”

“She loves me, yes, but as a friend–nothing more.  She made you believe otherwise because she was upset with you.  Besides, she said that you weren’t convinced that she was telling the truth.”

“I didn’t want to believe that she was.  I didn’t want to believe that she loved you.”

“Well, you can rest assured that she doesn’t love me in a romantic way.   Besides, if one of us has something to gloat about it would be you.”

Sebastian looked confused and then it dawned on him.  “You mean…?”

Elliot nodded with a grin.  “Yes, Brother, Tiffany’s in love with you.”

Sebastian ran his fingers through is hair, a stunned expression on his face.  “I had no idea,” he said.  “Earlier when she and I were alone together, I suspected that she might be attracted to me but I never imagined that she was in love with me.”

“Well, now that you know, what are you going to do about it?”

“I’ll go and see her tomorrow evening.”

“Good.  I’ll be taking off now.  Have a good night, Sebastian.”  He patted his arm before turning to unlock and open the door.

“Goodnight, Elliot,” Sebastian said with a smile.  “Thanks for stopping by.”  After he closed the door, he went straight to bed, although he knew that sleep would elude him.  His mind was racing.  Tomorrow, he was going to see Tiffany and confront her about their feelings for each other.  His heart skipped a beat at the thought.

Tiffany had just finished taking a shower and changed into a tee shirt and slacks when the doorbell rang.  Frowning, she went to answer it and like clockwork, her heart began to race when she saw who it was.  She opened the door.  Her gaze slipped over his tall frame, thinking how amazing he looked in the black silk shirt and black trousers.

“Hello,” he said quietly.

“Hello,” she replied as she stepped aside for him to enter the foyer.  When he walked past her, she caught a whiff of his aftershave.  Her hands trembled slightly as she closed the door and locked it.  When she turned to face him, their eyes met and held for a long time.  She could tell that he was nervous too.  “Before you say anything, I want to apologize for my behavior yesterday.”

“I owe you an apology too.  It was very presumptuous of me to interfere in your life.”

“When you asked me if I loved Elliot and I said yes, I panicked when you said that you weren’t convinced.  I thought you had seen right through my little white lie.”

“I said that because I didn’t want to believe that you were in love with him.”

“You-you refused to let go of my arm unless I convinced you that I didn’t love Elliot.  How were you going to get me to do that?”

“By doing this,” he muttered and reaching out, he pulled her against him and his mouth found hers.

Unable to help herself, Tiffany put her arms around his neck and kissed him back.  They stood there, kissing each other wildly, consumed with desire.  Then, she broke off their kiss to ask rather breathlessly, “Are you convinced now that I don’t love Elliot?”

“Yes,” he muttered thickly.  “No woman would kiss a man the way you just did if she were in love with someone else.”

“You’re right about that,” she managed to say before he kissed her again.

 

 

 

A Memorable Birthday

Todd had finally provoked her into ending their relationship.  She refused to continue to tolerate his wandering eye and embarrassing behavior in public.  He tried to sweet talk her into taking him back but it didn’t work this time.  She was fed up with him and wanted a break from relationships.  She was just going to concentrate on her career.  Right now she was at her beach house in Devon, enjoying the solitude and the sound of the waves was very soothing.

One afternoon she was walking on the beach when she saw a stranger sitting on sandy mound, watching her.  She stopped and stared at him, wondering who he was and why he was there.  Curious, she approached him.  He stood up, his six feet plus frame making her feel small.  Well dressed in a dark blue suit over a purple shirt, he was extremely handsome and was most likely in his mid to late twenties.  “What are you doing here?  This is a private beach.”

“Miss Flanning, I’m sorry to be trespassing but I had to see you,” he explained.  “You see, my mother is a big fan of yours and she’s celebrating her fiftieth birthday this Saturday.  I was hoping that if you weren’t otherwise engaged, you would come and sing for her as a surprise.  It would be a real treat for her and most likely the best gift she has ever had.”

Lola was touched by his request.  “I don’t have any engagements this weekend so I will be more than happy to do this for your mother.”

He looked very relieved and smiled.  “Thank you, Miss Flanning,” he said.

She smiled.  “Please call me Lola,” holding out her hand.  “What’s your name?”

“Julian Mortimer.”  They shook hands.

“What time is the party?” she asked.

“At seven.  Here are the particulars,” he added, reaching into the breast pocket of his jacket and taking out an invitation which he gave her.   “I’d like you to come at eight.  By then everyone will be there.”

She took the invitation.  “I’ll be there at eight,” she promised.  “This is a very thoughtful thing you’re doing for your mother.”

“Thank you.  Every year I give her flowers or take her to the opera or ballet but this year I wanted to do something different for her fiftieth birthday.  I surfing the Internet for ideas when I came across a recent interview you had on the BBC.  And the thought occurred to me what a wonderful treat it would be for my mother to have you sing at her birthday party.  The only problem was I didn’t know how to get close to you.  Then, I remembered that one of my friends knows your publicist and he spoke to her on my behalf and here I am.  I hope you don’t mind and that your publicist doesn’t get into trouble because of me.”

“Don’t worry.  No one’s going to get fired or anything like that.  Besides,  I trust my publicist’s judgment and obviously, she believed that this was a worthy cause.  And I must admit that singing at a private venue is a welcome change.”

“Well, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you doing this.  My mother will be thrilled.”

“Are you and she close?”

He nodded.  “Yes, we are.  I’m an only child and after my father died, we became closer because I was all she had.  She doted on and still does.  I love her dearly and would do anything for her.”

“She’s a very lucky woman to have a son like you,” she remarked.

“I believe that I’m the lucky one.”  He glanced at his watch.  “I must be going,” he said apologetically.  He held out his hand.  “It was a pleasure meeting you, Lola.”

She shook his hand.  “It was a pleasure meeting you too, Julian.”

“I look forward to seeing you on Saturday.”

“I look forward to being there.  Goodbye.”

“Goodbye.”  He smiled, making her heart skip a beat before turning and walking away.

She stood there watching his retreating back until he was no longer visible before she turned and walked along the water’s edge.  Truthfully, she was looking forward to seeing him again too.

Saturday came.  She opted to wear a black pant suit with a white sequin top.  Her only jewelry were a pair of pearl earrings.  After examining herself in the mirror and satisfied with the results, she grabbed her handbag and left the house.

Twenty minutes later she was driving up a long, winding driveway flanked by imposing trees until the mansion suddenly came into view.  Her mouth dropped open.  It was was magnificent and it reminded her of one of those mansions she saw in the show, Hidden Mansions or something out of a Jane Austen novel.  The stately home made her beach house look like a doll’s house in comparison.  She parked her car where she saw other cars parked and got out.

Heart racing, she went up the short flight of stairs to the enormous door and stared at the antique lion door knocker before lifting it to alert someone inside that she was there.  A few minutes later, the door opened an gentleman stood there.  She presumed that he was the butler.  “Good evening,” he said.  “You must be Miss Flanning.”

“Yes, I am.”

“Master Julian informed me that you would be coming at this time.  Please come in and I will take you directly to the drawing-room where they are.”

“Thank you,” she said, stepping inside and followed him through an impressive entrance hall with two side by side winding staircases to an exquisitely beautiful drawing room with antique furniture, rug, decorative walls, paintings, high ceiling, gigantic hanging chandelier and enormous windows through which light streamed and afforded one an unobstructed view of lush and immaculate green lawns.  She didn’t have time to really appreciate her surroundings as she was aware that there were over thirty people in the room watching her.  To her relief, Julian was one of them and he immediately came over to her, looking extremely pleased to see her.  “Hello,” he said.  “It’s good to see you again.”

“Hello,” she said, feeling a bit nervous.

“Don’t be nervous,” he said.  “You look very beautiful.”

“Thank you.  And you don’t look bad yourself.”  He looked amazing and very elegant in the black suit and black tie and with his hair slicked back.

He smiled.  “Thank you.  Come let me introduce you to my mother.”  Taking her arm, he escorted her over to the group.

“Which one is she?” she asked.

“The one in the wheelchair,” he answered, startling her.  “My mother has Multiple sclerosis.”

She glanced up at him.  “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I didn’t want you to feel obligated to come tonight.”

“I would have come regardless.  How is she doing?”

“Her symptoms come and go in phases.  There are times when she suffers from fatigue and other times when she seems fine.  Right now, she seems fine.”

“Does she live here on her own?”

“No, I live here too and she has a live-in nurse.  Between the two of us, we take care of her.  I can’t wait to see the look on her face when she sees you.”

Lola blinked back the tears that sprang to her eyes and put on a bright smile as she stood behind him.

“Mother, I have a big birthday surprise for you.”

She glanced up at him.  “What is it?” she asked.

“Here she is.” He stepped aside while she stepped forward.

“Happy birthday, Mrs. Mortimer.”

She saw the woman’s eyes widened in shock.  “Lola Flanning?” she exclaimed, turning to look up at Julian.  “You brought Lola Flanning to my party?”

Julian beamed.  “Yes, Mother.  I wanted to surprise you.”

Mrs. Mortimer’s returned to Lola who held out her hand.  The older woman grasped it, her eyes welling with tears.  “I can’t believe that you’re here,” she said.  “Thank you.”

Lola covered her hand with her other one and leaned over to kiss her on the cheek.  “It was my pleasure,” she said when she drew back, her own eyes moist.

“Yes, Mother, Lola graciously agreed to come and sing for you on your birthday.”

“I look forward to hearing you sing,” Mrs. Mortimer said, “but first, sit beside me.  Have you had anything to eat?”

“Actually, no, but–”

“Julian, please have Sophie fix a plate for Miss Flanning.”

“Please call me Lola and I really don’t want to put you to any trouble–”

“It’s no trouble at all,” Mrs. Mortimer insisted.

Julian excused himself and quickly left the room.  After he was gone, Mrs. Mortimer introduced Lola to the rest of the guests, some of whom were also fans and asked for her autograph.  They were excited that she was going to sing.  One of the women, remarked, “I was so relieved when I read that you had broken up with that womanizer, Todd Collins.  You deserve better.”

Lola smiled but didn’t answer.  Just then, Julian returned with a plate of a variety of delicious looking and mouth-watering smelling food.  Feeling a bit self-conscious, she began to eat it while the conversation kept going, touching on all sorts of topics ranging from her career to hot vacation spots and favorite charitable organizations.

After she finished eating and was ready, Julian sat behind the piano while she stood beside it and began to sing, her voice smooth and soulful as she belted out her popular ballads while the others watched rapt.  Mrs. Mortimer relaxed in her chair with a smile on her face.  Julian’s eyes were on her the whole time as his fingers ran over the keys.  An hour later, the room was filled with thunderous applause and after bowing graciously, Lola resumed her seat next to Mrs. Mortimer who thanked her, her expression one of deep gratitude.

“You’re more than welcome, Mrs. Mortimer.”

“Please call me, Olivia.  You’ve made this birthday the happiest I have ever had.”

“You owe it all to Julian.”

“Yes,” she agree, looking over to where he stood talking to a couple.  “He’s my pride and joy.  Besides God, he has been my rock through the rough moments of this terrible disease.  I don’t know how much longer I have but I hope and pray that before I go, I will see him settle down with a good woman.”

“Whoever she is, she’d be very lucky to have him,” Lola commented, her eyes wandering over to where Julian was.  Too bad I’m not ten years younger, she thought regretfully.

Just then Julian turned and their eyes met.  Mrs. Mortimer observed them and a smile tugged at her lips.  “It seems like I don’t have to wait long to get my wish,” she remarked and Lola turned to look at her inquiringly.

“I beg your pardon?”

Mrs. Mortimer.  “I was just saying that it has been a long time since I’ve had so much fun.”  That was true.  Tonight was a wonderful evening—one that she would never forget.  And she wished it would last longer but she suddenly felt very tired and she couldn’t prevent the yawn she had been trying to stifle.  In a flash, Julian was at her side.

“Mother, you’re tired.”

“No, I’m not,” she protested.  “Stop fussing.”

“You’re tired,” he insisted.  “I can see it on your face.  It’s after ten.  You should be going to bed now.  I will take you up to your room and Margaret will take care of you.  Please don’t argue with me, Mother.  Say goodnight to Lola and your other guests.”

Mrs. Mortimer sighed.  “Sometimes I wonder who is the parent and who is the child.  Very well, Son, I will say goodnight to these good people and then retire.”  Everyone in the room took turns wishing her all the best and made plans to visit when she was ready.  After they said goodnight to Lola, they left.

Lola took the older woman’s hands in hers.  “Olivia, it was a real treat for me to be here tonight.  You’re one of the most gracious and strong women I have ever met.  And it is my hope that we will see each other again.”

Olivia squeezed her hands.  “Have tea with me one afternoon,” she said.  “I will have Julian get in touch with you.  Thank you for making this birthday a memorable one.  God bless you.  Goodnight.”

“Goodnight,” Lola released her hands and straightened up.  She looked at Julian who was watching her, his expression inscrutable.

“Don’t leave,” he said.  “I will be back shortly.”

“I’ll wait here,” she promised.  After watching him wheel his mother out of the room, she turned and walked over to the windows.  It was dark outside but the lights from the house illuminated the grounds.  She had once considered buying a stately home not far from here but decided to get the beach house instead because it required less maintenance and she liked being close to the ocean.   She wondered what it was like for Julian to grow up in this house and if it was ever lonely for him.  As a child, she had lots of friends and family to play and spend time with so she never experienced loneliness.

She turned when she heard Julian come into the room.  He joined her at the window.  “How is she?” she asked.

“She seems fine.  I left Margaret reading the Bible to her.”

“Your mother is a remarkable woman.  I admire her.”

He smiled.  “Yes, I’m a great admirer of her too.  Her inner strength is all due to her faith and it was one of the qualities that my father loved about her.  Would you like to take a short walk around the grounds before you leave?”

“Sure.  I was admiring them earlier when I first walked into this room.”

They went outside.  It was a balmy night.   He took her around the grounds, showing her the tennis court, the swimming pool and the Garden fountain where they paused for a little while as she admired its details.

As they made their way back to the front of the mansion, she asked,  “Was living here ever lonely for you?”

“Sometimes,” he admitted.  “But, I tried not to show it because I didn’t want Mother to know because she tried so hard to make my life here as content as possible.  As I got older, life got better and attending university helped because I made lots of friends whom my mother invited to spend the summer and Christmas holidays.  I could tell that she loved having a house filled with young people but after I left university, we decided that we wanted it to be like it used to be.  So, we spend quiet summers and Christmases.  And that’s fine for me.  We enjoy each other’s company.”

“I can tell that the two of you have a special bond which I don’t think it will change when you get married—”

He stopped abruptly and turned to face her.  “So, she has been talking to you about my future.”

She nodded.  “Yes, she expressed her wish to see you settle down with a good woman while she’s still around.”

“Do you wish to see me marry a good woman?”

She lowered her eyes.  “It doesn’t matter what I wish.”  The thought of him getting married bothered her more than she cared to admit.  How was it possible for her to care so much about a man she’d only met once before now?

“It matters to me, Lola.  Do you know that all during the week, I have thought of nothing else but seeing you again?  I couldn’t concentrate on my work.  I kept seeing your lovely face.  And tonight, I couldn’t take my eyes off you.  You take my breath away, Lola…”

Her head shot up then, her eyes wide as they met his and her heartbeat accelerating at an alarming rate when she saw the expression on his face.  “We-we shouldn’t be having this conversation,” she stammered.

“Why not?” he asked.

“Well, because…How old are you?”

“Twenty-eight.”

“I’m thirty-nine.  Next year May, I’ll turn forty.”

He seemed unfazed.  “It doesn’t matter that you’re older than me.”

“Wouldn’t you prefer to be with a woman closer to your age?”

“I’ve dated women my age but I was never attracted to any of them the way I’m attracted to you.  So, the answer to your question is no.  I would rather be with you.”

“Well, you can’t be with me,” she told him in frustration because for one maddening moment, she wanted to grab the lapels of his jacket, pull him against her and plant one on him.  She was so attracted to him that it drove her crazy and scared her at the same time.  “I–I need to go now.”  She started to walk away when he caught her by the shoulders.

“Why?” he demanded, his eyes searching her averted face, his grip tightening as she struggled to break free.  “Are you afraid of what would happen between us if you stayed, Lola?  Are you afraid that if I were to kiss you, you wouldn’t want to leave?”  He was breathing heavily now and she could feel his body against her, awakening a desire in her that was so strong it made her gasp and then, his mouth was on hers, devouring it feverishly.  And for one unguarded moment, she responded wildly as she tried desperately to assuage the hunger that was raging inside her.

Then, she came to her senses and with supreme effort she pushed him away and ran to her car, panting.  She got in, slammed the door and after fumbling for the key, she put it in the ignition and the engine roared to life.  When she saw him coming towards her, she frantically put the car in reverse and then sped off.  As soon as she got home, she took a cold shower before she went to bed.  Sleep evaded her.  Her mind was spinning.  All she could think about was the kiss and how much she wanted him.  She closed her eyes in despair.   Julian Mortimer had breached the fortress she had built around her heart.

Three weeks passed since that night.  She was restless.  Her thoughts were filled with Julian.  Every time she closed her eyes, she saw his face and her longing for him clawed at her relentlessly, driving her crazy.  Sleep was fitful and it was hard to concentrate on anything because her mind was constantly on him.  She gave up trying to write the new lyrics and went out on the balcony.  The water was calm and she envied it.  The sun was high, bathing the sea and sand in its golden light.  Seagulls soared in the sky.  What a glorious day.  Too bad she couldn’t enjoy it.

Something caught her eye and she started when she realized that it was Julian.  Heart thudding, she ran down the steps and down the grassy slope to the water’s edge where he stood, hands in pockets, facing the ocean.  He was less formally dressed this time, clad in a white shirt and tan slacks.  There wasn’t a wrinkle of crease anywhere on his clothes.  As usual, they looked like they had just come straight off the rack.

“Julian, what are you doing here?” she called out just before she reached him.

He turned at once to face her, his gaze traveling slowly over her figure in the light green top and denim shorts, his gaze lingering on her bare legs.  “Mother wants you to have tea with her tomorrow afternoon at two–that if you aren’t busy.”

“You could have called or emailed me,” she told him.  “You didn’t have to come in person.”  Although I’m thrilled to see you. 

“All right,” he sighed.  “I came because I can’t stay away any longer.  I had to see you, LolaI can’t stop thinking about the last time we saw each other.  When we kissed…”  His eyes dropped to her mouth, his darkening at the memory.

“Julian, we can’t do this,” she protested.  “I’m much older than you.”  The truth was he scared her because the feelings he aroused in her were so powerful and unlike anything she had ever experienced.  What she once felt for Todd paled in comparison.  Her heart urged her to throw caution to the wind and give into her feelings but her mind resisted.

“Lola, please don’t let our age difference prevent us from being together.  Ever since we met, I haven’t stopped thinking about you and longing to be with you.”

“Julian, please…” She felt her resolve weakening fast, especially as he pulling her against him.  The expression on his face mirrored the emotions that were raging inside her, making so hard for her to resist him.  She wanted him with every fiber of her being but…Her hands came up to push him away.

“I know you feel the same way,” he persisted, his eyes darkening on her face.  “I felt it when we kissed and I can see it in your eyes right now.  Oh, Lola…” he moaned thickly before he bent his head and kissed her.

Powerless against her feelings and him, the hands that had tried to push him away gripped the back of his shirt as she kissed him back feverishly, blindly and with total abandon.

They entered into a relationship.  In April of the following year, they got married, much to the delight of Mrs. Mortimer.  Nine months later, she held Olivia, her first grandchild in her arms and as she smiled down into the red, crinkly face, she silently thanked God for granting her far more than she had expected.

 

Source:  NHS Choices;

The Dance

Melody looked over to where she knew Fernando was and her heart skipped a beat when she caught him watching her.  She couldn’t look away and as their eyes locked in a steady gaze, her hips began to move more to the pulsating Latin music.  His younger brother, Jose, oblivious to what was going on, continued to talk to her as they danced.

She knew that Jose liked her but she didn’t feel the same way.  She was head over heels in love with Fernando.  Jose knew that but still he continued to hope that things would change between them.  Melody didn’t want to hurt him but she couldn’t help the way she felt about Fernando and even if he weren’t in the picture, she knew that she still wouldn’t have romantic feelings for Jose even though he was a really nice guy.  She hoped that he would get over her soon.

Just then, Jose twirled her around and when he caught her to him, she smiled up at him and then turned to where…her mouth tightened when she saw Fernando get up from the table to make his way over to Gina, a stunning woman who made no secret that she was attracted to him.  Melody watched as she flirted with him and jealousy surged through her when she saw him take her hand and lead her to the dance floor.

The song which played was salsa and she watched their bodies move slowly to the sensual beat.  Gina’s thick black hair tumbled down her bare back.  How she was able to breath, let alone move in that tight red dress, Melody had no idea.  Fernando was looking down at her and smiling.  He looked sexy in the black dress shirt unbuttoned at the neck and the black pants.  His hair was slightly tousled and Gina reached up and brushed the strands of hair from his forehead before putting her hand on his shoulder again.  It was too much for Melody.  She dragged her eyes away and glanced up at Jose who was looking at her because she had stopped moving.  “I need a breath of fresh air,” she explained and he released her.

“Do you want me to come with you?” he asked.

She shook her head.  “No, I’d like to be alone.”  She forced a smile.  “Don’t worry about me, Jose.  I’m fine.”  She excused herself and quickly walked away.  He watched her go in the direction of the terrace before he turned and joined a group of friends at a table.

Melody stepped out on to terrace, the fresh air and scent of hibiscuses assailed her nostrils.  It was a balmy evening.  A slight cool breeze blew, caressing her skin.  She had her hair in an up-do instead of her usual side plait.  She had followed her sister’s advice.

“You need to do something different with your hair if you want Fernando to notice you,” she told her.  “Put it up.  You want to look like a woman not a little girl.”

The new hairdo flattered her and showed up her long, slender neck.  The black mini halterneck dress with the plunging neckline turned quite a few heads when she walked into the party.  The high black strappy sandals made her legs look longer than they were.  She danced with several of the men before Jose stepped in but the one man whom she wanted to dance with hadn’t asked her.  So, it was like a slap in the face when he asked Gina to dance.  She grimaced now and she gripped the balustrade in anger and bitter jealousy.  To hell with Fernando Alfaro.  He could dance with all of the women in the room for all she cared.

“Tired from all that dancing?” a voice inquired behind her and she swung round, her heart skipping a beat when she saw Fernando.  She leaned against the balustrade, her eyes wary as they met his.  She caught whiff of his aftershave.  Why did he have to be so irresistible?  Even as she was upset with him, she wanted to throw herself into his arms and tell him how much she loved him.

“Shouldn’t you be in there dancing with Gina?” she tried to sound nonchalant but there was an edge in her voice and her expression betrayed her.  Why does it have to be so bright out here? 

“Should I? What if I want to take a break before I dance with her again?  It was getting pretty hot in there.”

“I bet it was,” she retorted jealously.   “She was all over you and you liked it.”

He studied her, his expression quizzical.  “Which man in his right mind wouldn’t welcome the attentions of such a beautiful and desirable woman?” he inquired, raising his eyebrows and was rewarded with a nasty look.

“Yes, I noticed how you couldn’t take your eyes off her.  It was as if rest of us didn’t exist.”  She was almost beside herself now with jealousy.  She wanted to slap that smirk off his face and then…kiss him.

“That’s not true,” he countered, moving closer to her.  It’s you I couldn’t take my eyes off, he thought, aching to take her in his arms and show her how much he wanted her.  It drove him mad watching her dance with other men, especially Jose and in frustration, he danced and flirted with Gina.  He knew it was a childish thing to do but he was blinded by jealousy.

“I know what I saw,” she declared.  That’s why I left and came out here.  I couldn’t bear to watch you with her anymore.

He saw that she was very upset and decided that it would best to drop the subject.  He held out his hand.  “Let’s not fight any more,” he suggested.  “Let’s just enjoy the rest of the night.”

She knew he was extending an olive branch but she stubbornly refused to take it, folding her arms instead, still stewing over his remark about Gina.  He thinks she’s beautiful and desirable. “Why don’t you go back to your precious Gina and enjoy the rest of the night with her?”

He withdrew his hand. “It’s not so much fun when the shoe’s on the other foot, is it?” he asked.

She raised her chin.  “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“You know very well that the only reason you were dancing with Jose was to make me jealous.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” she retorted.  “Why would I want to make you jealous?”

“For the same reason I wanted to make you jealous of Gina.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she insisted and was about to walk past him when he caught her arm and pulled her roughly against him, making her gasp.

“You owe me this dance,” he muttered tightly. When she would have pulled away, his grip tightened.  He held her gaze as they began to move to the music, his eyes darkening with desire and his breathing becoming unsteady.  Being this close to her and holding her in his arms was his undoing.  His gaze dropped to her lips which parted.  Unable to resist, he bent his head and kissed her.  When he felt her respond, it drove him wild and he ravaged her lips.  Melody clung to him, her head tilted far as she returned his kisses.

They stopped dancing and just stood there, clinging to each other and exchanging hot kisses, expressing feelings they had harbored for such a long time.  Then, an image of Gina and him dancing flashed in her mind and groaning, she pushed him away.  She stepped back, trying to catch her breath.  “I—I think we’d better go back inside.”

He stared at her, nonplussed.  “Why did you pull away?” he asked and was about to reach for her when she pushed his hands away.  “Melody…”

“I can’t get what you said about Gina out of my mind,” she told him.  “You as much as admitted that you are attracted to her.”

“I did? When?”

“A little while ago you said that no man in his right mind could resist a beautiful and desirable woman like her.”

Fernando sighed.  “I said that because I wanted to make you jealous the way you made me jealous when you were dancing with other men.”

She gaped at him.  “You were jealous?”

“Yes,” he muttered thickly and this time when he reached for her, she didn’t resist.  “I get jealous whenever I see you with another man, especially Jose.”

“Jose?  He and I are just friends.”

“He wants to be more, Melody.  I can tell just from the way he looks at you and I can’t say that I blame him.”

“He knows how I feel about you.”

He swallowed, a muscle throbbing along his jawline.  “And how do you feel about me?” he asked, cupping her face and looking deep into her eyes, his darkening when he saw the longing in hers.

She released her breath shakily, her heart pounding wildly against her ribs.  “I love you, Fernando,” she confessed huskily.

“I love you too,” he moaned.  “Every time I look at you my heart stops.”

“And my heart beats only for you,” she murmured, closing her eyes when she felt his lips on hers.  In the background the music played and she thought of the quote, If you dance with your heart, your body will follow.

Two years later on their wedding night, they danced in that very same spot.

 

The Announcement

Ingrid wished she hadn’t come here tonight.  She felt so out of place.  The black lace off the shoulder dress looked great on her but she felt too exposed in it and chided herself for not wearing a shawl to cover her back and shoulders.  People were milling around, talking and laughing.  She stood in a corner watching them, purse clutched in one hand and a glass of mock-tail held in the other.

Why did Amanda invite her to this shindig?  The two of them didn’t get along because Amanda was condescending and made it painfully obvious that didn’t like her.  She had no idea what she had done to make the older woman so hostile toward her.  This is why she was shocked when she received an invitation in the mail two weeks ago.   She knew that Seth was the only reason why she was there.  Seth was Amanda’s younger brother.  Unbeknownst to Amanda, Ingrid and he were seeing each other.

They started seeing each other the day after they met.  They met at the company’s picnic and were immediately attracted to each other.  He was alone and so was she.  He was leaning against the wall, watching her before he walked over to where she stood and introduced himself.   They got to talking and then they arranged to have dinner the following evening.  Dinner was at a popular French restaurant where they enjoyed a delectable meal before heading to a nightclub.  It was a wonderful evening and the first of many dates.  Last night when he was at her place, she meant to tell him that she would be here tonight but she never got around to it.

Since she arrived at the party, not once did Amanda go over and talk to her.  She was going about the room, chatting with the other guests but she seemed to ignore her.  On one occasion she walked right past her to say greet a couple standing nearby.  It was humiliating.  I don’t need this, Ingrid decided after standing there alone for half-hour.  She put her glass down on the window seat.  I’m going home.  I’m sure no one will even notice that I’m gone.  I was really hoping to see Seth tonight but he can come over to my place later.

Just as she was heading for the door, she heard Amanda call for everyone’s attention.  After asking people to gather closer she said she had an announcement to make.  Curious, Ingrid stood still to hear what she had to say.  Amanda invited Seth to join her.  Ingrid stared at Seth.  When did he get here?  She hadn’t noticed him until now.

Amanda looked very pleased.  “I’m very pleased to announce my baby brother’s engagement to…Brooke–where are you?  Come up here and join us.”

Ingrid felt sick.  She didn’t wait to see who this Brooke was.  She stumbled to the door and found her way to the bathroom where she dissolved into tears.  The door to bathroom opened and she tried to compose herself.  She felt two hands on her shoulders turning her around.  It was Seth and his face was pale.  “You can’t be in here,” she protested.  She tried to pull away but his grip was firm.  “Please let me go.”

“Let’s go somewhere quiet where we can talk.”  He took her hand and led her out of the bathroom.  Curious eyes followed them as they left the building and went to his car.   When they were seated in the car, he gave her his handkerchief which she used to wipe her eyes.  “I didn’t know that you were going to be here,” he said.

“I meant to tell you last night but I forgot.”  The pain was unbearable and she wanted to get as far away from him as possible.  It hurt too much to be with him knowing…”Why didn’t you tell me about Brooke?” she demanded tearfully.

“Brooke and I used to date but we broke up long before you and I met.”

“Why did Amanda announce that you are engaged to your ex?”

“That was for your benefit.”

She was confused.  “What do you mean?”

“Amanda knows about us.  A friend of hers saw us together and reported back to her.  When Amanda confronted me about it I admitted that we are in a relationship.  She was livid and tried to convince me that Brooke was better for me but I made it very clear to her that I loved you.  I told her that I was going to ask you to marry me.  She stormed out of my flat and I thought that was the end of it.  Then, she pulls this stunt, making everyone believe that Brooke and I are engaged.  I should have known she was up to something when she said she had an announcement to make and invited me to join her.  I saw her looking across the room at you and the smug smile on her face.  When I saw you leave the room, I had to follow you and undo the damage she did.”  His eyes darkened on her face and he reached out and held her hands in his.  “I’m sorry about what Amanda did.  I love you and I want to spend the rest of my life with you if you’ll have me.”

Tears welled in her eyes and she put her arms around his neck.  “Of course, I’ll have you,” she said huskily.  “I love you too.”

He reached into his pocket and took out a box.  “I was going to propose later when I came by your place but now is a good time, I think.  Will you marry me, Ingrid?”

“Yes,” she cried and she drawing back as he took the ring out of the box and placed it on her finger.  The sun hadn’t set as yet so she could see the ring and how exquisitely beautiful it was.  Then, it became a blur.

Seth reached out and cupped her face between his hands.  “I love you so much,” he murmured before he lowered his head and kissed her.

She put her arms around his waist and returned his kisses, her heart bursting with joy.  Just a few moments ago, her world was torn apart by an announcement.

A New Relationship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, I am.”

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

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

She shook her head.  “No.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Goodnight.  See you tomorrow.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What happened?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Goodnight,” he said softly.

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

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

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

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

That was the beginning of their new relationship.