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.