The Nutcracker

It was on a Saturday night at the London Coliseum where Alexis and her sister Gwen ran into Mrs. Bannister, Alexis’ music teacher, a wonderful lady who didn’t look as if she had aged very much at all.

She was delighted to see her former pupil, her face beaming and her light blue eyes sparkling.  “Hello My Dear,” she said, “What a lovely surprise and on my birthday too.  How are you?  Are you still practicing on the piano?  You were a very promising student and one of my favorites.”

“It’s so good to see you, Mrs. Bannister,” Alexis said as they hugged.  “Happy birthday.”

Mrs. Bannister turned to the young man who was standing beside her.  “This is my grandson, Jeremy.  He brought me to the ballet this evening for my birthday.  He has always been a very thoughtful young man.  Jeremy, this is Alexis.”

Alexis’ attention shifted to the older woman’s companion.  He was tall and very handsome.  His thick brown hair was a bit long but it suited him.  He was wearing a fine and rather expensive looking dark grey suit, blue shirt and tie.  His light green eyes met hers and she thought she saw admiration shining in them.

He took the hand she proffered and shook it.  “A pleasure,” he said with a cultured English accent.

She smiled.  “It’s nice to meet you.   This is my sister, Gwen,” she said.  He acknowledged Gwen with a smile and shook her hand.  Then, he returned his attention to Alexis.

“Did you enjoy the ballet?” he asked.  “Grandmother has always wanted to see The Nutcracker and I promised her that one year I take her for her birthday.”

“Yes, I enjoyed it very much.  I’ve always wanted to see it too.  It was my good fortune that my brother-in-law is not a fan of ballet or musicals so Gwen asked me to come with her.”

“I should thank your sister for bringing you tonight,” he said quietly.  “I got to meet you.”

She smiled, not sure of how to respond to that remark.  He was staring at her making her feel both nervous and flattered.  She had never had a man this young interested in her before.  He had to be at least ten years younger than her.  “Are you and your grandmother close?” she asked.

“Very,” he said.  “She always says that I’m her favorite.”

“Do you have any brothers or sisters?”

“I have an older brother and a younger sister.  Do you have other siblings?”

“No, Gwen is the only one I have.  We were very close growing up.  Now she is married with two girls and a boy.”

He glanced down at her hand.  “I see that you’re not wearing a ring,” he said.  “I guess you’re not married.”

“No, I’m still single.”  She didn’t mention that she was once engaged but she broke it off when she found out that her fiancé was two-timing her with his new assistant.

Just then, Mrs. Bannister said to her, “Alexis, how would you like to have tea with me tomorrow afternoon, if you have no other plans, of course.”

Alexis smiled.  “I would be delighted,” she said with a big smile.

“Splendid.  So, I shall see you tomorrow afternoon at two.  Gwen, it was a pleasure to meet you.   Come, Jeremy, it is past my bedtime.  Thank you, Dear, for a lovely evening.  I shall never forget it.”

Jeremy said goodnight to Alexis and Gwen, his eyes lingering on the former before he took his grandmother’s arm and led her away.

Gwen looked at her.  “Mrs. Bannister seems like a really nice lady, very gracious and friendly.  I had a rather nice chat with her.  Her grandson is very handsome.  I noticed him paying you a lot of attention.  What did you think of him?”

“He’s very handsome and polished.”

“Were you attracted to him?”

It was no use denying it.  “Yes, very attracted, a lot good it would do me.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Well, for one thing, he’s younger and another, he’s upper crust.”

“It seemed like neither of those two things mattered to him and if he’s anything like his grandmother, I don’t see any reason why you shouldn’t at least entertain to idea of dating him.  Don’t allow what happened with Sidney prevent you from having a love life.  I never did like him.  Good riddance to him, I say.  You can do much better.  So, if you happen to see Jeremy again and he asks you out, don’t turn him down.”

Alexis looked unconvinced.  “I don’t know if I will see him again and even if I do, I don’t think he’ll ask me out.  No, I’m not going to get my hopes up.  I’ll go and see his grandmother tomorrow and we will spend a pleasant afternoon together, catching up.  Now, what do you say, we grab a bite to eat before you head home to your brood?”

The next day, Alexis drove over to Mrs. Bannister pretty cottage, nestled among thick foliage and surrounded by immaculate gardens.  She had a live in housekeeper who opened the door and showed Alexis to the drawing-room where the lady of the house was seated.

Mrs. Bannister’s face lit up when she saw her.  “Hello, my Dear.  Come and sit beside me and by the fire.  It must be cold outside and grey too.”

Alexis went over to her and after hugging her warmly, she sat down on a chair close to the one the elder woman was occupying.  “What a lovely home you have,” she remarked.  “I couldn’t help admiring your gardens.  I imagine that your grandchildren must have loved playing in them when they were young.”  She wanted to ask her so many questions about Jeremy and what he was like as a boy but thought better of it.

Mrs. Bannister nodded, smiling.  “Oh yes, they loved playing in the gardens which they were children.  Jeremy’s favorite spot was the lake. He would swim there sometimes.  He was always scampering about the place, vexing his mother who thought he was a bit too wild.  I always told her that he was a boy and boys were supposed to be a little unruly.  When he comes he could take you for a walk on the grounds and show you the lake.”

Alexis’ heart lurched.  “Jeremy’s coming here?” she asked.  The thought of seeing him again thrilled and terrified her at the same time.  She couldn’t believe that she was behaving like this over a younger man.

“Yes, he said that he would stop by around three.  He doesn’t usually come and see me on a Sunday so I was quite surprised when he called me this morning to tell me that he was coming over this afternoon.  I’ll ring for our tea now.”

They had their tea and sandwiches as they talked about old times and other things.  The time went by very quickly and Alexis had just finished drinking her tea when Jeremy walked into the drawing room.  He went over to his grandmother and hugged her.  When he drew back she looked up at him, beaming.  “It’s good to see you, Dear.”

“I couldn’t think of a better way to spend a Sunday afternoon,” he said, smiling at her.  Then he turned to Alexis.  “Have you had a chance to see the gardens?” he asked.

She shook her head.  “I saw them when I was coming up the driveway.  They look amazing.”

“I told Alexis that you would take her for a walk in the gardens and show her the lake where you used to swim as a child.”

“I’d be happy to,” he said, his gaze still on Alexis.  “Shall we?”

She got up and after excusing herself, she followed him out to the foyer.  She got her coat and scarf from the closet.

“I won’t keep you outside too long,” he promised.  “It’s very nippy.”

They walked through the gardens and to the path which led to the lake.  She looked around her in wonder.  Autumn in Surrey was breathtaking.  The thick foliage on the opposite side of the lake was cloaked in rich, bright colors.  The air was cold but very fresh.  “I can see why you loved coming here,” she commented as they stood there watching two swans gliding through the gold lake.  It was so peaceful out there.   It was a nice change from the city.

“Yes.  I used to come out here all the time and swim or feed the swans.  I loved being here more than at my parents’ estate in Yorkshire.  Yorkshire is even more beautiful in the autumn but I prefer being here in Surrey.  You’re right about it being peaceful here and that’s why this is still my favorite place to relax and think about things.”

“Do you still swim in the lake?”

He smiled and shook his head.  “I stopped doing that when I turned thirteen.  Besides, I don’t want to scare away the swans.”

“This is a nice way to spend a Sunday afternoon,” she remarked.  “Your grandmother was surprised that you visited her today.  She said that you don’t usually visit her on a Sunday.”

“She’s right.  I’m usually at home or out with my friends but I came here today because of you.”

She swallowed.  “Me?”

“Yes, I wanted to see you again.”

A slight breeze started blowing and she shivered.  She pulled the hood over her head and shoved her hands in the pockets of her coat, wishing she had worn her gloves.

“You’re cold,” he observed.  “Let’s go back to the cottage.”

He helped her remove her winter gear and then he took off his coat and hanged everything in the closet.

When they went into the drawing-room, Mrs. Bannister was not there.  She went over to the fireplace to warm her hands.  He joined her.  He turned toward her and took her cold hand in his and rubbed it between his.  Her heart was pounding as she watched his long fingers move slowly but vigorously to warm hers.  Then, she raised her head to look up at his face and her breath caught in her throat when she met his smoldering gaze.  “I want to kiss you,” he muttered thickly.

She trembled at the thought.  “Your grandmother could return at any minute,” she said, trying to remain rational in spite of her senses which were screaming at her to let him kiss her.

“You’re right,” he admitted.  “It would be awkward if she were to walk in and find us kissing.  Have dinner with me tonight, Alexis.”

“Yes,” she said simply.  She gave him her address and he made a mental note of it.  “I think she’s coming.”  He released her hand and moved away from the fireplace just as his grandmother entered the room.

“Did you enjoy your walk?” she asked as she went over to the chair she had vacated and sat down.

“Yes, I did.”

“Good.  You must come in the summer.  It’s really nice then.”

“Mrs. Bannister, I must be leaving now.  Thank you for inviting me to tea.  I had a wonderful time.”  She went over and kissed her on the cheek.

“Goodbye, Dear.  Jeremy will see you off.”

He walked with her to her car and held open the door for her to get in.  As she was about to, he leaned down and kissed her on the cheek.  She closed her eyes at the sensation of his warm lips against her skin.  When he drew back, their eyes met and held for a while.  “I’ll pick you up at seven,” he said quietly.  She nodded and got in the car.  He stepped back and watched as she drove off.

When he returned to the drawing-room, he sat down in the chair Alexis had occupied and looking at his grandmother, he said, “Grandmother, I’m in trouble.”

“You are attracted to Alexis, aren’t you?” she asked.  “I noticed the way you looked at her last night.”

“I couldn’t help it.  That’s why I’m here today.  I wanted to see her again and I asked her to have dinner with me tonight.”

“Now, that wasn’t a wise thing to do.”

“I know and I feel like such a fraud,” he muttered, exasperated.  “She has no idea that I am engaged.”

“Well, from where I’m sitting, you have only two options—break off your engagement to Bridget or forget about Alexis.”

“I can’t forget about Alexis.  And I can’t marry Bridget.”

“It seems then, that you have made your decision.  I never did think that Bridget was the right girl for you.  I imagine that the engagement was all your mother’s doing.  Well, it’s time you started making your own decisions.  You’re old enough now.  You should go and deal with Bridget right now.  And when the time is right, you can tell Alexis everything.”

He got up and hugged her.  “Thanks, Grandmother.  I’ll go and see Bridget now.”

“Be gentle, Dear.”

“Yes, Grandmother.”

His meeting with Bridget went better than he expected.  She too had been having second thoughts about their engagement but didn’t know quite how to tell him.  They parted on amicable terms.  They realized that what all this time their feelings for each other had been platonic rather than romantic.  He let her keep the ring.

Over dinner at a trendy and romantic French restaurant, he told Alexis everything.  “I’m so thankful I met you,” he said.  “If I hadn’t, I would have married the wrong woman.”

“So, the two of you never slept together?”

“No.  We had decided that we would wait until we were married but I never wanted her.  Yet, I wanted you from the moment I saw you.  After I took my grandmother home, I went down to the lake to figure out what I was going to do.  I was engaged to one woman but had fallen hard for another.  I didn’t want to hurt Bridget but I couldn’t get you out of my mind.  When I saw you again the next day, I knew that I couldn’t give you up.”

“Where do we go from here?” she asked.

“I want to see you—go out with you,” he said, covering one of her hands with his, his expression earnest.  “I want to be in a relationship with you.”

She covered his hand.  “I want that too,” she admitted.

After dinner that night, they became romantically involved and a year later, they got married.  His father, brother, sister, grandmother and Bridget attended the simple wedding but his mother was conspicuously absent.

 

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Affairs of the Heart

When Bianca went out on to the balcony of her friend Connie’s spacious flat, she was pleasantly surprised to see Chandler sitting there.  He looked so elegant although he was dressed very casually in a tan colored jacket, denim shirt and jeans.  The brown belt he wore matched the spiffy shoes she saw on the mat by the front door.  He was so handsome, she thought, her eyes eagerly drinking in each feature—the thick, silky dark hair, the incredible light grey eyes, olive skin and his lips…She started when she realized that she was staring.

For his part, he was staring at her too.  “It’s good to see you, Bianca,” he said as he got up and went over to her.  He put his arms around her and hugged her.  She hugged him back, closing her eyes and breathing in his fragrance.  He smelled so good.  It felt so wonderful being in his arms and held closely against him.  She put hers around his waist and wished that they could stay like that for a long while.  But just then, Connie’s voice reached them and Chandler drew back, releasing Bianca, his expression tense as he looked at her.  He moved away from her and stood leaning against the rail with his hands shoved in his pockets, a muscle pulsating along his jawline as he watched Connie approach.

Bianca sat down in the chair closest to her, her legs trembling.  She had to pull herself together before Connie saw her.  It was a hug between two friends but there was something else.  She felt it and sensed it.  At one point, she felt his arms tighten around her and his face in her hair.  What would have happened if Connie hadn’t been there?

She joined them now, her gaze going immediately to Chandler, her regard for him very evident on her face.  Then she turned to Bianca, her expression changing.  She doesn’t seem very pleased to see me, Bianca realized in surprise.  Perhaps it is because I didn’t call to tell her that I was coming over.

“Bianca, what are you doing here?” she asked.

Bianca got up from the chair, feeling a little embarrassed now.  “I’m sorry I didn’t call before I popped over but it was when I was on the tube, that I decided I would stop by your flat and ask you if you wanted to go with me to the Jazz concert in Chelsea.  It’s free and it sounds like fun.”

Connie shook her head at once.  “No thank you, Bianca.  I will pass.  Besides, I have already made plans.  Chandler and I will be spending the afternoon together.”

Chandler spoke up, “The Jazz concert sounds like a good idea.”

Connie pursed her lips.  “Jazz gives me a headache.  I prefer to go somewhere less crowded and I know the perfect place.  Well, Bianca, I guess you had better be heading off to your concert.  Call me later and let me know how it was.”

Bianca got up from the chair, wishing now she hadn’t bothered to come but then, she wouldn’t have seen Chandler.  Her eyes sought him and her heart lurched when she found him looking at her.   She went over to him and said, “It was good seeing you as usual, Chandler.”

“I hope we see each other again soon,” he replied.  And he reached out and caught her hand.  From where Connie stood she couldn’t see what he was doing but it was all Bianca could do to keep her composure.  It was hard when his thumb was caressing the back of her hand, stirring up all sorts of sensations.  The expression on his face made her mouth go dry. His light grey eyes were dark and stormy.  It was so obvious that he was attracted to her.  And it must be obvious to him that she was attracted to him too.  What about Connie?  Her gaze shifted to her friend and was mortified when she saw the hostility and jealousy in her countenance.  Yes, Connie had noticed the attraction between Chandler and her.

“I’d better go,” Bianca murmured looking away.  “I don’t want to be late for the concert.”

He released her hand with some reluctance and watched as she hurried past Connie. They heard the door close.  “You were a bit rude to her,” he said with some displeasure.

Connie glared at him.  “I saw the way you were looking at her,” she cried.  “You want her don’t you?  Well, you are wasting your time.”

He frowned.  “What do you mean?”

“She has a boyfriend.”

He grew pale.  “Are you sure?” he asked.

“Of course, I’m sure.  His name is Darnell.”

Chandler ran his fingers agitatedly through his hair.  “I had no idea,” he said in disbelief.

“Well, now you know.”

Chandler turned away and his hands gripped the rail as bitter disappointment filled him.  He closed his eyes but they soon opened when he saw Bianca’s face and remembered the look on her face when he was caressing her hand.  She could not have been in any doubt that I have feelings for her, he thought, and I could tell that she has feelings for me too but how could I pursue a relationship with her when she’s already in one? What a wretched business this thing called love is. He swung round to face Connie.  “I’m afraid I will have to cancel our plans,” he told her.

Connie stared at him in dismay.  “But, why?” she cried.

“I don’t feel up to going anywhere now,” he said simply.  “I’ll call you tomorrow.”

“You’re cancelling on me because of Bianca?” she demanded.  “I knew her showing up here unexpectedly today was going to be a problem.   Now what am I going to do for the rest of the afternoon?”

“I’m sorry, Connie.  I’ll take a rain check.”  He walked past her and a few minutes later the door closed behind him.

Her face beet red, Connie marched into the living room, took up a vase of flowers and threw it on the floor.

Bianca sat at the concert, oblivious to the turmoil she was causing elsewhere.  Her mind and attention were not on the smooth sounds she was hearing but on Chandler.  This was the first time Connie and she wanted the same man.   They had been friends since high school but that friendship was in serious jeopardy now.  She would never forget the look on Connie’s face when she saw the attraction between Chandler and her.  Bitter resentment and jealousy marred her features.  She wondered what happened after she left.

She left the concert feeling that it was a waste of an afternoon.  When she got home, she was surprised to hear a message from Connie on her answering machine.  It said, “Well, Bianca, I hope you’re happy.  Chandler canceled our plans.  I can’t imagine why.  I saw the way you were looking at him.  If you want to remain my friend, you will forget about Chandler and set your sights on someone else.  Goodbye.”

Bianca stared at the machine.  All this time she thought Chandler and Connie were spending the afternoon together.  As she removed her jacket, she couldn’t help wondering why the sudden change of plans.  Connie didn’t seem to know or if she did, she wasn’t saying.  Perhaps, something unexpected came up and Chandler had to be somewhere else.  Whatever the reason, she couldn’t deny that she was relieved that they weren’t together now.  I wonder when I will see him again.  Then, she reproached herself for thinking such thoughts.  I must forget about him.  Connie met him first and they are more suitable for each other.  They are from the same pedigree.  I’m way out of my league.  What he feels for me may just be a physical attraction—nothing more.” The thought that his interest in her might just be purely sexual hurt but she had to be sensible about this. 

So that very day, she resolved to stay away from Chandler, not only because Connie requested it but to spare herself any heartbreak.  For the next several weeks, she avoided the usual crowd where she was sure to run into him.  She and Connie met for lunch once and she heard nothing but how much time Chandler and her friend were spending with each other.  She had to sit there and listen to Connie talk about how amazing Chandler looked in his swimming trunks and how wonderful it felt when he put sunscreen on her back.  “His hands felt so good on my skin,” she said, her eyes almost glazed over at the memory.  Bianca smiled but inside she was hurting.  The jealousy stabbed at her like a knife.  After that lunch, whenever Connie wanted them to meet up again, she always found an excuse not to.  She wasn’t going to sit there and listen to Connie talk  incessantly about her relationship with Chandler.

During the day, it was easy to occupy her mind but in the nights, her thoughts were filled with him, wondering if he ever thought about her.  Nothing had changed for her. She still loved and wanted him and it pained her to no end.  She lay awake for hours before drifting off into a fitful sleep.  How she longed to get away—go somewhere far but she knew that it wouldn’t make a difference.  No place existed where she could go and forget about Chandler.

One night, she was lying on the sofa, watching the television but not paying attention.  It was just background noise.  The doorbell rang and she sat up, wondering how it was.  She hoped it wasn’t Connie.  She really wasn’t in the mood for one-sided conversations.  She got up from the sofa and went to the door.  Her eyes widened and her heart somersaulted when she saw Chandler standing there.  How on earth did he find out where she lived?  It couldn’t have been from Connie.  She would never do that.

Taking a deep breath, she opened the door, her heart pounding.  How good he looked in the black shirt and dark blue jeans.  His face looked drawn and it seemed to her that he had lost a little weight.  Alarmed, she asked, “You’re not ill, are you?”

He shook his head.  “No, I’m not ill,” he told her.  “It’s nice to know that you still care.”

She stared at him, looking confused.  “What do you mean?”

“Each time Connie told me she saw you, I asked if you inquired after me and she said no.”

“She never gave me a chance.  All she talked about was your relationship and all the great things you were doing together.”

“We don’t have a relationship.  I admit that I tried to get forget you with her and she was quite willing to help.  One night at her flat after dinner, we started to get undressed—“

Bianca turned away, agitated.  “I don’t want to hear this,” she cried as the pain and jealousy tore through her.

He moved so that he was standing in front of her, his eyes dark and tormented.  “I thought that making love to her would get you out of my system,” he muttered tightly.  “But, I couldn’t go through with it. When I was kissing her, all I could see was your face.  I put my shirt back on and ran out of there as if the devil were chasing me.  I haven’t been in touch with Connie since.  This was about a month ago.  These past few weeks have been hell for me, Bianca.  I can’t stop thinking about you and wanting you.  I tried to stay away out of respect for Darnell but I had to see you one last time.”

She looked at him then, “Darnell?” she repeated.  “What do mean out of respect for him?”

“You have no idea how much the mere sound of his name torments me,” Chandler told her, his eyes were haunted as they met hers.  “Ever since I found out about him, I haven’t stopped thinking about how lucky he is to have an exceptional woman like you.  Many times I have wished that I could trade places with him.”

She was really confused now.  “What are you talking about, Chandler? “

He looked frustrated now.  “I’m talking about Darnell,” he muttered tightly.  “Connie told me about him.”

“What exactly did Connie tell you about my brother?”

He stared at her as if he hadn’t heard correctly.  “Darnell is your brother?”

“Yes.  He’s my older brother who lives in Manchester with his wife, my niece and nephew.  What did Connie tell you about him?”

He muttered something under his breath, his expression thunderous.  “She told me that he was your boyfriend.”

“My boyfriend?” she was aghast.  “Why would she do that?”

“No doubt, she did it out of jealousy.  She knew how I felt about you so she wanted to make sure that nothing would come of it.   It never occurred to me that she was lying.  All this time, I thought you were in a relationship and that drove me mad because I wanted you so much.”

“Chandler, is it just desire you feel for me?” she asked warily.

He shook his head and she could see the sincerity in his eyes as he answered, “No.  I feel a deep and consuming love for you, Bianca.  I have never experienced love before but I know that what I feel for you real.”

She reached up and touched his face, her eyes filled with the love which burned in her heart.  “I love you, Chandler.  I tried to get over you because of my friendship with Connie and because I was afraid of getting hurt.  I wasn’t sure that your feelings for me were more than physical.”

He lowered his head to kiss her.  She closed her eyes when she felt his warm lips on hers and her arms went around his waist, holding him closely against her.  They exchanged hungry kisses and then he raised his head to gaze down in her face.  “I love you, Bianca but as much as I am dying to show you how much, I think we should wait.”

She nodded.  “Why don’t we go for a walk in the park,” she suggested.  “It’s safer and it looks lovely outside.”

He smiled.  “Okay.  And we can stop somewhere and have a bit to eat as well.”

A couple weeks later they got engaged and after six months of trying to abstain from lovemaking, they got married.  Connie was not invited.  Bianca’s friendship with her ended the day when she found out about the lie she told Chandler.

They spent their honeymoon in Sorrento.  On the first night there, they went for a walk after dinner, holding hands and strolling through the little streets lined on both sides with shops.  They walked to a quiet spot where they stood watching the silent and looming Mount Vesuvius in the distance and the setting sun as it hovered over the Bay of Naples.  They sat on the bench for a little while just enjoying the pleasant evening and the view.  Then, they bought two gelati and ate them on the way back to the hotel.

As soon as they got back to their room, Chandler picked Bianca up and carried her over to the bed.  “Now, I finally get to show you how much I love you,” he murmured, his eyes darkening on her face.

She reached up and pulled his head down to hers, thinking no one else in the world could be as blissfully happy as she was at that very moment.

 

The Barbecue

“You’re not his type.” If that smile were meant to take the sting out of her words it didn’t work.  Kay was smarting from it.  “I don’t mean to upset you, Kay but I thought I would warn you because I have seen the way you look at Quinn every time you see him.  I don’t want you to fool yourself into thinking that a man like him would notice someone like you.”

Kay tried to remain calm.  They were riding down in the lift to the indoor parking lot of their office building.  “What do you mean someone like me?” she asked.  “What is wrong with me?”  She knew that this had nothing to do with race because Joanna’s son was married to a Somalian girl whom she adored.

“I have seen the women Quinn has been involved with and you nothing like them.  For one thing, they are stunning, sophisticated and move in high circles.  You are out of your league.”

“I may not be stunning, sophisticated and move in high society but I have a lot going for me.”  She wondered what Joanna would say if she knew that for the past several weeks she and Quinn had been seeing each other.

“When I invited you to my home and you were introduced to him, I didn’t expect you to get any fanciful ideas about him.  He’s a bachelor and enjoys being one but if he decides to settle down one day, I can say with great certainty that it won’t be with someone like you.”

They had reached the parking lot and the doors of the lift opened.

“You have made your point, Joanna.  Now, if you will excuse me, I need to be getting home.”  She left the lift and walked briskly to her car, fuming.  What a great way to start the weekend.  She unlocked her car, climbed in and slammed the door.  As she turned the key in the ignition, she saw that her hand was trembling.  How she hated scenes like that.  She and Joanna had never really gotten along.  They tolerated each other because they worked together.  She found the older woman to be infuriating and condescending.  Granted, Quinn was her brother but he was a grown man who didn’t need her interference in his love life.

Quinn.  The memories of their first meeting flooded her mind.  It was on a Sunday and Joanna had invited her co-workers to her country cottage for a barbecue.  She went with another co-worker and as they were walking up to the area where the chairs and tables were set up, she noticed a tall, handsome and sexy man sitting on a wooden bar. Hmmmm, she thought.  He looked incredible in the white shirt and tan colored pants.  His premature gray hair was very flattering; it actually suited him, although she could see that he was in his late thirties.  She turned to her friend, “Who’s that?” she asked.

Jenny smiled.  “He is gorgeous, isn’t he?” she agreed.  “That’s Quinn, Joanna’s brother. He’s looking this way.  Let’s go over and I’ll introduce you to him.”

Kay’s heart lurched.  “Do I look all right?” she asked nervously.  She was wearing a dark green scarf over her head and loosely wrapped around her neck because she wanted to look chic and a light green dress which complimented her slim figure.

Jenny touched her arm reassuringly.  “You look great.”

They went over to Quinn who slid down from where he was perched; his eyes went first to Kay, then Jenny and back to Kay where they stayed.  By now Kay’s heart was beating wildly and her feet felt wobbly but she resolved to appear calm even though she was far from feeling so.  This close, he was even more devastatingly handsome and his light brown eyes framed by long, dark eyelashes captivated her.  She felt as if she would drown in them.

Jenny looked at one and then the other, amused.  “Hello Quinn,” she said, greeting him and he had to drag his gaze away from Kay to look at her.

“Hello Jenny,” he said with a smile.  Then, as if unable to resist, his gaze shifted to Kay.  “Who’s your friend?” he asked.

“This is Kay.”

He held out his hand.  “Hello Kay.”  He smiled at her and she felt her heart stop.

She took his hand and felt his fingers clasp hers in a firm handshake.  “Hello,” she mumbled.  She felt a bolt of electricity surge through her at feel of his warm palm against hers.  Those eyes were so mesmerizing.  Did he have any idea of the effect he was having on her?

“Where’s Joanna?” Jenny asked.

“She’s probably in the kitchen,” he told her.  He was still holding Kay’s hand.

“I’ll go and see what I can help her with,” Jenny said.  “Excuse me.”  She winked at Kay before she walked away.

Now they were alone and Kay felt extremely shy and nervous.  She didn’t know what to do.  She was not used to having a man like Quinn staring at her, making it obvious that he was attracted to her.  She was sure that Jenny was going to tease her about it.  “What-what a lovely place Joanna has,” she stammered, looking away.  “It seems quiet and peaceful.”

“Am I making you nervous?” he asked, releasing her hand.  “I don’t mean to.”

“It’s all right,” she said turning her head towards him again.  “Did you come by yourself?”

“Yes.  I am alone or was alone until you came. I want to enjoy more of your company.  Would you like to take a walk in the English countryside?  We won’t go far or Joanna will be miffed.”

She nodded and fell into step with him.  As they walked, she began to relax and open up, admiring the lush, rolling hills and the sheep grazing peacefully.  It was truly a glorious experience being there in the countryside with its magnificent views–a welcome change from the city.

They talked about all sorts of things and she laughed at his childhood stories.  When they returned to the cottage, everyone was gathering around the tables where the food was laid out and helping themselves.  Everything looked appetizing. They ended up sitting at separate tables, much to her disappointment.  He was at Joanna’s table while she was at the same one as Jenny. After they finished eating, Quinn took her to the little river and bridge where they spent the rest of the afternoon until it was time to go.

Before they parted company, he asked for her phone number.  “I enjoyed our time together,” he told her as they stood under the tree.

She smiled.  “Me too.”

“I will call you,” he promised before he took her hand and raised it to his lips.  “Goodnight, Kay.”  Her skin tingled.

“Goodnight, Quinn.”  He released her hand, albeit reluctantly and she could feel him watching her as she headed to the cottage to say goodbye to Joanna and the remaining guests and get a ride home with Jenny.

True to his word, Quinn called her the following evening and they spoke for hours on the phone, making plans to see each other and have been seeing each other since.

Stirring from her reverie now, she decided that she would go over to his place instead of going home.   She needed to be with him now even though they had made plans for tomorrow.  She went straight up as the man in the concierge recognized her.  She rang the doorbell and a few minutes later the door opened and Quinn was standing there.  He was dressed in a black tee shirt and jeans.  “Hello,” he said.  He pulled her inside and closed the door.  “What a pleasant surprise.”

“I was on my way home but decided to come here instead because I really needed to be with you tonight.  I couldn’t wait until tomorrow to see you.”

His eyes darkened and as he removed her jacket, he began to kiss her.  She kissed him back, struggling to free her arms from the sleeves so that she could put them around his neck.  Finally, they were free and she clung to him as she was pressed against the door.   The jacket was discarded on the floor at their feet and his arms arms went around her waist as they exchanged fiery kisses until he raised his head to gaze down into her face, his own flushed.  “I love you, Kay,” he muttered huskily. “Do you love me?”

“Yes,” she said in a raspy voice, “I do, Quinn.”

“Stay with me tonight, then.  Now that you are here now, I don’t want you to leave.  I want to wake up in the morning with you next to me.  Say you will stay.”

“Yes, I’ll stay…” Her voice trailed off as his lips sought hers again.

 

 

 

A Model Moment

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

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

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

“Good evening.”

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

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

She shook his hand.  “Simone Jackson.”

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

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

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

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

“Shall we take a walk?”

She nodded.  And they walked along the path.

“Are you a model?” he asked.

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

“Do you like what you do?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, unless you have other plans.”

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

“Then, you will have dinner with me?”

“Yes.”

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

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

“Yes, I will get a ride with Erin.”

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

“Good night, Adrian.”

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

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

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

Source:  The Guardian Jobs

The Suitor Calls

It was Friday evening.  Mr. Read

was to call on her.  She felt a prickle

of excitement at the thought of

seeing him again.  The week had

flown by quickly.  It seemed only

a moment ago when she had

surprised him in the library

where he was composing a

note which he gave to her.

 

After reading what it said,

she set about writing a reply

and mailed it that very after-

noon.  She wanted to make

sure he received it before

Friday evening when he

was to stop by.

 

She stood by the window

now eagerly watching for

his arrival.  Her family

were already in the

drawing-room where she

was to receive him.  She

ran her hands nervously

over the bodice of her dress.

Her mother assured her

that she looked “very pretty

indeed” when she came up

to her room to inspect her

a few moments ago.

 

Her heart skipped a beat when

she saw the familiar figure on

the horse coming up the road.

She hurried from her room,

wanting to be in the drawing-

room when he was admitted

to it.

 

By the time she ran down the

stairs and was seated on the

chair facing the door, she was

out of breath.

 

“My Ellen, how lovely you look,”

her mother gushed.  “However,

Dear, you really shouldn’t be

rushing about the place.  Now

you are panting as if you have

been running for miles.  Do try

to compose yourself before Mr.

Read arrives–”

 

Just then Bessie came to the door-

way and announced, “Mr. Read, Sir,”

addressing Ellen’s father.

 

“Mr. Read,” he greeted him jovially.

“How delightful to see you.”

 

“Good evening, Mr. Turner,”

Mr. Read replied as he went

forward and extended his hand

to the older gentleman.   “Thank

you for allowing me the pleasure

of visiting you and your family.”

He bowed to Mrs. Turner and her

two younger daughters before

his eyes shifted to Ellen and

remained there.  “Miss Turner,”

he said softly as he bowed.

 

She lowered her head in

greeting, “Mr. Read.”

 

Their eyes held for a moment

before he sat in the vacant

chair next to hers.   “Mr. Read,

I do hope you will join us for

dinner,” Mrs. Turner said.  “That

is if you have no other plans.”

 

He smiled.  “I have no other

plans, Madam and would be

delighted to join your family

and you for dinner.  Thank you.”

 

“And how are Mr. and Mrs. Read?

 

“They are doing well, thank you.”

For a while the conversation was

between Mr. Read and her mother

and then her father but she hardly

spoke, except to ask her suitor how

he was and if he was enjoying the

balmy weather they were having.

 

Then dinner was announced

and as they filed out of the room,

Mr. Read offered his arm to Ellen

and she took it, her eyes shy as

they met his.  “I hope that you

will do me the honor of going for

a walk with me tomorrow afternoon,”

he said.

 

“I would be delighted,” she said.  “My

sisters will accompany us.”

 

“Very good then.”  And they went

into dinner.

 

 

Victorian woman in blue dress looking out the window

Friends

They started out as friends.

Talked for hours on the phone.

Went out for pizza or to the

movies when they didn’t have

any other plans.  Some

Saturday nights they would

order in spicy Thai food

while watching classic or

foreign movies.

 

They didn’t know exactly

when their feelings for

each other began to

change.  Perhaps it was

the afternoon when they

went to the amusement

park and rode on the

carousel.

 

She held on to the pole

laughing as Tony tried

to take a photo of her.

Then, on the spur of the

moment, he leaned forward

and kissed  her.  It seemed

perfectly natural but she

was no longer laughing.

When the ride stopped

and he helped her

down, their eyes held

for a long moment.  They

were very close to each

other and his hands were

still holding her by the

waist.  Her legs were

a bit wobbly and she

held on to him for a

while longer until she

no longer needed the

support.

 

When they were

standing outside of

the park and away

from the crowd, he

stopped and pulled

her aside.  “I’m sorry

about just now,” he said.

“I shouldn’t have kissed

you.  I hope you’re not

angry with me.”

 

“I kissed you back,” she

said.   “Where do we

go from here, Tony?”

 

He moved closer, his

expression serious

as his eyes searched

her face.  “Where would

you like us to go, Nicole?”

 

She reached up and

kissed him.  “Does this

answer your question?”

she asked minutes

later when she drew

back to look up

at him.

 

“Yes, it does” he said.

“Are you hungry?” she asked.

“Famished,” he replied, rubbing

his stomach.  They laughed.

“I am in the mood for

some Penne arrabiata.”

“So am I,” he agreed, reaching

for her hand and lacing his

fingers through hers

as they walked to

their favorite Italian

bistro.

 

That was two years ago.

Now they were engaged.

Their wedding was in

two months.  Before going

on their honeymoon, they

planned to go back on

the carousel ride–where

for them, the journey from

friendship to romance began.

 

 

black and white couple

 

The Widow

Woman, widow, mother,

poor, invisible, substandard.

Unloved, neglected, shamed.

Blamed for her husband’s

death.  Alienated by his

family.  Believed to be cursed.

 

Life for a widow

in her society is tough,

unsympathetic and

unbearable.  Suicide

seemed to be the only

relief and release from

the pain but God had

other plans.  He sent

three female missionaries

to her village.

 

They spoke to her about

a Savior who loved her.

She listened.  This God

was unlike any of her

Her gods didn’t seem to

care about her.  She had

prayed to them, sacrificed

to them but there was no

answer.  Her cries seem to

fall on deaf ears and they

didn’t try to stop her when

she thought of ending her

life but this God did.  He

sent help.  He sent these

three women to tell her

about Him.  He was the

God who is the defender

of widows.  He said, “And

let your widows trust in Me.”

 

Yes, she trusted this kind and

loving God who didn’t see

her as substandard but

precious in His sight.  He

loved her with an ever-

lasting love and promised

never to leave her or forsake

her.  Her heart filled with

love for this God and His

Son who gave His life for

her.

 

She heard the story of

Jesus had pity on the

mother whose son died.

She was a widow and had

no one to care for her now.

Jesus raised her son back

to life and the tears of sorrow

turned to tears of joy.  She

knew that this same Jesus

would have compassion on

her and care for her.

 

Now, thanks to donations

pouring into the ministry

which had sent the missionaries

to her village, she is now able to

take care of her children with

a sewing machine.  She didn’t have

to depend on relatives who didn’t

want to help her.  She depended on

the God who had saved and

transformed her life.

 

Indian widow

 

 

Source:  Gospel for Asia