Mia’s Story

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Ours isn’t your typical love story.  I was a victim of human sex trafficking and he’s an FBI agent.  My name is Mia and I’m 28 years old.  I was 18 when I ran away from home.  I was having problems with my mother who always made me feel like I was no good and that she was sorry that she had me.  And my father who was hardly around and when he was, he fought with my mother and ignored me.

Life at home was hell and sometimes I just wished it was a nightmare and that I would wake up in a different house and with different parents–people who loved and cared about me.  It got to the point that I knew that if I didn’t leave, I would kill myself.  One night after my parents had gone to bed, I grabbed my knapsack and sneaked out of the house.  I had some money which I took from my mother’s purse and my father’s wallet.  I didn’t have time to count the amount but it looked like it would last me for a while.

It lasted for a couple of weeks and then I was broke.  I had no idea of what to do.  I had no where to go.  I refused to go back home.  I called other family members but they hung up when they knew that it was me.  I was too ashamed to call my friends.  So, I decided that may be I should find a job at McDonald’s or some other fast food place.  It was better than staying on the streets or going to a homeless shelter.

I stood there trying to figure out where the nearest MacDonald’s was when a really cute guy came up to me.  He had the most incredible blue eyes and an amazing smile.  “Hi,” he said.  “Are you lost?”

“I’m trying to find a McDonald’s,” I explained.  “I’m looking for a job.”

“I see.  It just so happens that I work at a restaurant just around the corner and the manager is looking to hire a cashier.  Are you interested?”

My expression brightened.  “Of course!  I’ve worked as a cashier before.”

“Good.  I’m heading there now so I can introduce you to the manager.”

“Okay.”

“What’s your name?”

“Mia.”

“I’m Joe.”  He held out his hand.

She smiled and shook it.  “Nice to meet you, Joe.”

We headed in the direction of the Space Needle.  I promised myself that one day I would visit it.  As we walked we talked.  He was so charming and easygoing.  I found myself hoping that he didn’t have a girlfriend.  About ten minutes later, we stopped in front of a restaurant.  It was packed.  He pushed the door open for me to enter.  The smell of fried food assailed me and reminded me that I was hungry.

As if he read my mind, he asked, “Are you hungry?”

I nodded.  “I haven’t eaten all day.”

He took me by the elbow and led me down a long corridor and into a room.  “Sit here while I go and get something for you to eat.”

I sat down, grateful for his kindness and to be able to sit down after being on my feet for so long.  Fading light streamed through the windows.  The sun would be setting soon.  I hoped that Joe was right about his manager and that he would hire me.  It would be so cool working there with Joe.  I was feeling a little hot so I removed my jacket.  I pulled my hair back into a ponytail.  I was about to get up and walk over to the window and look out when Joe came in carrying a tray with a burger, fries and a soft drink.  He set them down on the table.  My mouth was watering.  “Thanks, Joe.”

He smiled.  “No problem.  When you’re finished just come to the front where the cashier is and I’ll be there.”

“Thanks.”  I waited until he left before I wolfed down the burger and fries.  They were sooo good.  I drank the Ginger-ale.  It was nice and cold.  I was half-way through it when I started to feel dizzy.  The room started to spin and I squeezed my eyes shut.  When I opened them again, I was in another room and there was a strange man standing over me.  Was this the manager?  Had I passed out or something?  Did I eat too fast?  All sorts of questions whirled around in my mind.  My head was pounding but at least the room wasn’t spinning and the dizziness was gone.  I tried to sit up but the man pushed me down.  Panicking, I cried out but he put something over my nose and mouth and everything went black.res

When I regained consciousness I was alone and I realized that I was lying on a bed.  I managed to sit up and I screamed when I saw that I was wearing red lingerie.  How did I end up here?  Who removed my clothes?  Where are my clothes?  I looked wildly about the room for my clothes.  I tried to get out of the bed but the door opened and Joe came in.  He grabbed me and tried to force me to lie back down.  I struggled wildly and he struck me.  I was so shocked that I fell back against the pillows.  Joe looked like a different person.  His eyes were cold and his expression impassive.  “You’re not going anywhere,” he muttered.  “You’re going to be here for a long time.”

“Where am I?” I asked, tears streaming down my face.  “Who are you and why are you doing this to me?”

“I don’t have time to answer your questions.”

“What is this place?  Why have you brought me here?”

“You wanted a job, remember?  Well, here you are.”

I struggled to get up.  “You told me that it was a cashier’s job at your restaurant.”

“You’re far too pretty to be a cashier.  You will make more money on your back.”

Then, it hit me.  He was forcing me into prostitution.  I felt sick.  I clawed at him until he clamped his hand over my nose and mouth.  Everything went black again.  I don’t know how long I was out but when I came to, I heard Joe say to someone, “She’s all yours.  I broke her in for you and she’s nicely cleaned up.  Remember to wear a rubber.  We practice safe sex here.  She’s no use to me if she gets pregnant and I’m not to spend my hard earned money on an abortion.”

I heard the door open and close.  Then silence.  I opened my eyes and I saw a man leaning over me.  I felt his hot breath on my face.  I struggled to get up but I couldn’t move.  Then, I realize that he was on top of me.  I pushed at him but it was no use.  I lay there helpless while he raped me.

When it was over, he got off me and I heard him moving about the room as he got dressed.  Then, I heard the door open and close.  I lay there for a long time, too terrified to move or make a sound.  Then, I pushed myself up and got up from the bed.  I put on the lingerie bottom which was lying on the floor and stumbled towards the closed door.  It was a washroom.  I felt for the switch and flicked it on.  I went over to the mirror and stared at my reflection.  I didn’t recognize myself.  My eyes were puffy, my jaw was bruised from where Joe struck me and my left shoulder had a bruise as well.  I turned on the tap and splashed water on my face.  I had to get out of there.  I went to the window and opened it.  I pushed my head out.  Outside was a fire escape.  I raised the window higher and climbed onto the ledge.  I reached out and pulled myself onto the fire escape.  I made my way down to the street below and ran as fast as I could.

When I was as far away from that place as possible, I flagged a cab down and when it stopped, I begged the driver to take me to the nearest hospital.  When I got there I went straight to Emergency and told the triage person what happened to me.  I was ushered into a room where I was told to wait.  Minutes later a nurse came in and asked me “Did anyone you worked for or lived with trick or force you into doing anything you did not want to do?” and other questions.  Then, she left and returned.  She asked me to get undressed so that I could be examined and left.  After the examination, I was given a gown.  I sat at the edge of the bed and waited.

The nurse who examined me came in and told me that I was a victim of sex trafficking.  There was evidence of forced penetration and bruising on my wrists as if I were restrained.  She asked if there was anyone I needed to call or somewhere to stay.  I shook my head.  I was in a daze.  I still couldn’t believe what had happened to me.  I had fallen for a pair of blue eyes and a charming smile.  The nurse told me that the hospital would help me with housing, transportation and any necessities I may need.  That was a real load off my shoulders.  I spent the night in the hospital.  I had trouble falling asleep because every time I closed my eyes I saw either Joe’s or that strange man’s face.  And I was afraid that I would wake up and find myself back in that room.

The next day, I was visited by two FBI agents who wanted to question me.  One was an older man with sandy colored hair, sharp eyes and a portly gait.  The other was tall, dark and very handsome.  The older one asked most of the questions and was very quick and direct.  Then, the other one said, “You were lucky to get out of there alive.  You did the right thing coming here.”

“I hope you catch Joe,” I said.  “I wish I knew the other man’s name.”

“It would be very helpful if you can give their descriptions to our artist,” he replied.

“I can,” I assured them tightly.  “I will never forget their faces.”

“Thank you, Miss Bautista,” the older one said.  “We will be in touch.  Good-day.”  He left the room.

The other one lingered for a moment.  “Good-day, Miss Bautista.”

“Good-day, Agent Fowler.”  I watched him leave.

I left the hospital that afternoon and was placed in Catalyst at Straley House where I can stay for 18 months while I work with my case manager to get connected to school and employment, and transition into permanent housing.   It turned out to be a really nice place.  I met a lot of great people.  My case manager, Rita was a tremendous help and support for me.  Before leaving home, I had graduated from high-school with honors but I hadn’t applied to any university.  After my ordeal in Seattle, I decided that I would move to another city in Washington.  I googled the best cities there and chose Spokane.  I applied to Gonzaga University and was accepted.

Before I left to go to live on campus, I received a visit from Agent Fowler who informed me that thanks to my descriptions Joe Cartwright and his cohorts were arrested.   The man who raped me was a prominent businessman who was a regular client.  Joe was a pimp and his victims included under-aged girls.  It turned out that Mr. Murphy had no clue about Joe’s nefarious business dealings.  Joe had used Mr. Murphy’s job posting to gain my trust.  I was very grateful to Agents Fowler and Benson for investigating and catching those monsters.  I hope that they will spend the rest of their lives behind bars.  I told Agent Fowler that I was moving to Spokane.  He smiled and shook my hand.  “I wish you all the best, Miss Bautista.”

As I watched him leave, I found myself hoping that I would see him again.  Years later, I did.  I had graduated from Gonzaga University and was working as a Youth Program Assistant which I loved.  I was on my way to lunch when I saw someone walking in front of me.  From the back he looked very familiar and then I realized who it was.  I quickened my pace until I was right behind him and I called out, “Agent Fowler.”

He stopped and turned to face me.  I could see that he recognized me.  Smiling, he held out his hand.  “Miss Bautista.  It’s good to see you.”

“I didn’t think I would run into you.  What are you doing in Spokane?”

“I’m here for my nephew’s wedding which is tomorrow.”

“Did you fly or drive?”

“I flew.  I didn’t feel like spending over four hours behind the wheel. Are you heading somewhere?”

“I was on my way to lunch.”

“Do you mind if I tag along?”

“I could do with the company.  There’s a bistro right up the road.  They serve the best comfort food.”

“Sounds good.”

We walked to the bistro.  Over local beef and regional fresh fish, we talked.  When it was time for me to head back to the office, he came with me.  As we stood outside the building, he asked me to have dinner with him.  I gladly accepted.  After that first dinner, we made arrangements to see each other again.  He spent the week in Spokane before he flew back.  We had a long distance relationship and saw each other in the summer, at Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s.  Then, one day when we were Riverfront Park, he told me that he was moving to the FBI office in Spokane.

I stared up at him.  “Why?” I asked.  I was thrilled, of course but taken aback.

He reached for my hands, his expression serious as his eyes met mine.  “I want to be where you are, Mia,” he said quietly.

I swallowed hard, my heart was racing now.  “Why?”

“Simple, I love you.”

“I love you too, Nathan.  And I’m happy that you’re moving to Spokane.”

He leaned over and kissed me.  I felt my head explode.  We drew apart several minutes later and holding hands, we continued our walk.  The following spring, he moved to Spokane and following a very short engagement, we got married in September.  The attendees were Rita, my case manager, my friends from Catalyst, my co-workers and his FBI friends and family.  My parents weren’t there because I didn’t invite them.  They are a painful part of my past which I want to forget.

Ten years have passed since my ordeal and what thing that I have learned from it is that “Our pain can be turned into purpose”  This March, I started a support group for former sex and human trafficking victims.

While Mia’s story is fiction, it is real for many.  Trafficking of any kind is an evil that must be wiped out and those responsible for it must be brought to justice.  Check out this video for a grim glimpse into the world of child sex trafficking and what is being done to save victims.

Here is a list of non-profit organizations fighting against Human Trafficking:

Let’s work together to stop trafficking and exploitation.  Let’s fight for freedom.

Sources:  FBI Video; Nurse.com; Nurse.org; FBI; YouthCare; Yelp

David/Rooted #writephoto

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Photo by Sue Vincent

This was the tree where David and I met after school.  He was the sweetest boy I ever knew and I always imagined that one day we would get married and have lots of children.  It never occurred to me that laws would soon be put in place to make relationships such as ours illegal.

As soon as school was let out, I ran to the tree and he would be waiting for me.  He was so tall and handsome with thick black hair and gentle brown eyes.  We would hold hands and kiss but that was as far as things went.  We would sit under the tree and talk for hours.  Parting from him was always hard.  I always willed the hours because I couldn’t wait to see him again.

Then one day, I showed up and for the first time he wasn’t there.  I waited for hours but he never came.  I was understandably frantic.  After several days went by and still no sign of him,  I decided to go by his father’s shop and was appalled to see the word, “Jude” painted across the window and the star of David.  The shop was empty.  I ran home and asked my father what had happened to David.  My father sat me down and explained to me that the Germans had moved the Jews to the Ghetto.  I learned that they were banned from from entering certain streets, squares, parks, woods and other public places.  That meant that David and I couldn’t meet by the tree anymore.  It was in the woods.  David couldn’t go to my brother’s school any more.

After my father finished telling me everything he knew, I went to my room where I cried and cried.  David who was forced to live like an animal because of deeply rooted hatred.  My world had become a dark and ugly place of intolerance and ignorance.  I wanted so desperately to see him but it was out of the question.  My father told me it was best to forget about David.  There was no future for us.  He was a Jew.

I knew that I would never forget David.  I loved him.  He was my first and only love.  And I never gave up hope that we would be together again–not even when I learned that the Jews had been deported to concentration camps.  No one was willing to take them in and for some Jews, going into hiding would break up their families and that was unthinkable, especially those who with children.

The years went by, the war raged on and I became a nurse.   My father died of a heart-attack a couple of days after his fiftieth wedding anniversary.  Only my mother and I were left.  My brother was killed years ago after he was arrested for being a part of a  resistance movement against the Nazi Regime.  My parents were devastated but I was proud of him for fighting against evil.  I only wish I had the guts to do something too.  Instead I prayed that David and his family would somehow survive and that when the war was over I would see him again.

Well, the war is over and I’m the only surviving member of my family.  My mother died from a stroke a month ago.  I buried her next to my father.

Tomorrow is my birthday but I have no one special to celebrate it with.  It’s a nice afternoon so I decided to go for a walk in the park.  I head straight for the tree.  A man stood there with his back to me.  He was wearing a hat and a trench coat.  Something about him looked familiar.  My heart began to beat faster.  I could feel the color drain from my cheeks.  “David?” My voice was barely above a whisper and yet he heard me.

He turned around slowly.  “Ingrid.” He removed his hat and stepped forward.

“David!” I cried again and then we were in each other’s arms, laughing, crying and kissing.  I don’t know how long we did that and I didn’t care. All I knew was that David, my David was alive.  He had survived the ghetto, the camp and the war.

This was written for the #writephoto Prompt – Rooted at Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo.

Sources:  Holocaust EncyclopediaOxford AcademicHolocaust 

Ife’s Toilet Crisis

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As Ife cleaned the toilet, she thought of how lucky these people were who could afford to travel and stay in fancy hotels when there were so many people there in Kampala who don’t have the luxury of private toilets.  Her daughter went to a school which didn’t have any toilets.  This meant that she had to use the bushes as a washroom.

Just recently, Ife’s ex-husband was charged and fined when he was caught urinating against a wall outside of a government building because there wasn’t anywhere else to go.  The toilets in buildings were locked and they wouldn’t let people off the streets use them.   She, herself was caught using this one by the Japanese businessman who occupied this suite.  In order for her to keep her job which she needed in order to support her daughter and herself and to use the toilet, she had to agree to his proposition.

She heard him now moving about in the bedroom.  He called out to her.  She flushed the toilet, washed her hands and joined him.  He was lying in the bed, waiting for her.  She took a deep breath and got undressed.

Two hours later, she went home.

200 Words

This story is in recognition of World Toilet Day which is today, Nov. 19.  Apparently, the toilet crisis is most severe in parts of Africa and Asia.  One in five primary schools and one in eight secondary schools globally don’t have any toilets, according to WaterAid.  World Toilet Day addresses the plight of millions who don’t have access to proper access to sanitation and whose lives are at risk.  The goal is to ensure that everyone has access to a safe toilet by 2030.

This was written as part of Sunday Photo Fiction hosted by Susan Spaulding. For more details visit Here.  To read more of the stories based on this week’s prompt, visit Here.

Cat

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Sheila stood at the window gazing at the city skyline illuminated in the setting sun.  Below the streets pulsated with life.  Behind her, she could hear Adam in the kitchen.

She smiled.  He’d finally invited her for dinner.  They’d been partners for a year now.  When she first joined the force, she was determined not get involved with a fellow officer but that was before she met Adam.  Who could resist those smoky brown eyes and the incredible smile which made her heart flutter?

She turned from the window.  Her eyes fell on the porcelain dog, Cat’s gift to Adam.  They met at Tim Horton’s where Cat worked.  One afternoon as she handed him the donuts, he asked her out and she readily said yes.   They dated and in the summer, he proposed.  Then, she and her dog were struck by a van at an intersection.  As she picked up the porcelain, she saw the connection.  The dog and the donuts, the girl and the cop.  How does one compete with a memory?  Sheila sighed.

175 Words

This was written as part of Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers hosted by Priceless Joy. For more information visit Here.  To read other stories based on this week’s prompt, visit Here.

The Mistake/Beginnings #writephoto

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Photo by Sue Vincent

He was in the foyer removing his hat and gloves when Flora walked.  He put them on the table.

“Here are the pen and paper you asked for, Sir,” she said handing them to him.  She was dressed in her coat and hat.

“Thank you, Flora,” he said, taking them from her.  “Are you going out?”

“Yes, Sir.  It’s my evening off.”

“Oh, yes.  Any plans for the evening?”

“Yes, Sir.  I’m going to the pictures with my friend.  I’m meeting her there.  Afterwards, we will have supper at her Mom’s place.”

“It sounds like you have a pleasant evening ahead.  Do you mind waiting until I write this note and then deliver it to Miss Bennett for me?”

“Not at all, Sir.”

He smiled and then turned away to write his the note.   “Do you have money for a cab?” he asked.

When she didn’t answer, he raised his eyes to the mirror and saw her staring at his hand.  He glanced down and realized that he was holding the pen in his left hand.  Deftly, he switched it to the right and wrote the note.  He folded the sheet of paper, took his seal out of the drawer and pressed it on the paper.  When he turned to face her, a smile masked the anger that seethed in him.  He had picked the pen up with his left hand.  Philip was a right hander.  Flora, being a left hander herself, noticed the mistake.

He held the note out to her.  She hesitated for a moment and then took it, her eyes avoiding his.  “Goodnight, Flora.”

“Goodnight, Sir,” she said and quickly walked to the door and let herself out.

He stood there for a few minutes, his mind whirling.  What was he going to do?  Then an expression of unnatural calmness came over his face and taking up his hat and gloves, he left the house.

Flora hurried quickly down the cobbled streets, jumping at every unexpected sound she heard.  In her mind the words of the newspaper played over and over.  “Based on the angle of the stab wounds, our killer is left handed.”

Master Philip was right handed, she was sure of it and yet, tonight, she saw him take up the pen in his left hand.  I must go to the police and report this, she thought.  Instead of heading in the direction of the residence, she continued straight ahead.

It was becoming cold and she drew her coat closer about her.  Her footsteps rang loudly on the street as she walked as fast as she could through the alleyways, wishing she had taken a cab with the pocket money she had.  She didn’t like walking about the streets in the night.   There were all sorts of characters lurking about.  And she kept thinking that someone was following her.  She thought she heard footsteps behind her but every time she turned around, there wasn’t anyone there.  You’re imagining things, she chided herself.  You’ll feel safe once you’re in Scotland Yard and talking to the kindly Chief Inspector.

With a start, she realized that she had made a wrong turn and was at a dead-end.  She turned to head back to where she had come from when a dark figure suddenly appeared and was walking toward her.  Panicking, she looked around her but there was no escape.  She would have to go past him.   Perhaps he was lost too.  Perhaps he was a harmless derelict.  She went towards him, heart pounding in fear and apprehension.  I can’t let fear prevent me from going to the police and telling them what I know. I will just walk past him as if he isn’t there.

As she drew closer, she saw that he was no derelict but a gentleman who looked out of place.  There was something familiar about him.  And then she realized who it was.   She tried to run but it was too late.  He had her cornered like a trapped animal.  She saw the tie in his hands and the maniacal look in his eyes.   “Master Raymond,” she gasped and she fought him wildly but it was no use.  Everything went black.

It was near dawn when he finally got back to the estate.  Instead of going directly to the house, he walked unsteadily up the hill overlooking the grounds and leaned heavily against the tree, his breath harsh and unsteady.  His raven dark hair was tousled, his clothes slightly disheveled, beads of perspiration formed on his wide brow and his face was deadly white.  Images Flora’s face as he pulled the tie tighter and tighter around her throat flashed across his mind.  It was the same look of terror he had seen on Estelle’s face when she realized that she was going to die.

Flora had fought him like a wildcat to the end, clawing at him.  He put his hand against the side of his neck where she had scratched him.  There was blood on his fingers.  He would have to clean the scratches as best as he could and hide them.  He felt in his pocket for the note which he had the presence of mind to remove from her purse.  He was going to burn it.  What he wrote in it, he could say to Constance in person.  And the tie.  He would have to dispose of it.

He hadn’t wanted to do Flora in.  She was a pretty little thing and he had even entertained the idea of getting involved with her but decided that it would be foolhardy to do so.  If she hadn’t noticed his mistake and been on her way to Scotland Yard, she would still be alive.  He had to be very careful.  No one could ever find out that he was Raymond.  They had to believe that he was Philip, the heir of Cherry Grove Estate.

As he moved away from the tree, the sun made its slow ascent in the sky.  Another day.  Another beginning.

Later that morning, they found Flora’s body.  As the Chief Inspector examined her, he thought, she looks familiar.  Her purse lay discarded at her feet.  Money was still in it.  This was no robbery.  And there was bruising around her neck.  This poor girl whoever she was had been strangled.  He raised her right hand and saw what looked like blood and skin under her fingernails.  She had fought her attacker and whoever he was, he had scratches, possibly on his face, neck or hand.  All they had to do was find out who this girl was and then they would find her killer.

 

This sequel to The Attic is in a response to the Thursday Photo Prompt – Beginnings found at Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo.

The Beach

She ran all the way to the beach and didn’t stop until she saw the silhouette of his house but instead of running up the stairs, she collapsed on the sand, the tears almost blinding her.  Why had she come here?  She should be as far from here as possible.  She had promised herself that she would never see or talk to him again–not after what happened this evening at the award ceremony.

She, along with the other volunteers and the staff were there to cheer on Mitchell Ryan, the founder and director as he accepted the award for outstanding community service on behalf on his non-profit organization.  He deserved it because it was he who played a dominant role in creating and implementing several after-school and summer programs geared toward keeping the youth off the streets.

Through his unwavering efforts and the support of staff and volunteers, many lives were transformed.  Youth who were taking or selling drugs, came clean and began talking to others about the effects of drug use.  There counseling services and programs for those who were victims of bullying and those who bullied.  “We’re here to help the victim and the bully,” Mitchell always said.  Many of the youth who were helped by his organization later became volunteers.

Vanessa met Mitchell ten years ago when she was a senior in high-school.  She was going through a tough time at home.  Her parents were always fighting.  To escape she went to the beach where she spent hours just sitting or standing in the sand, depending on the weather and watch the gentle swell of the ocean as it ebbed and flowed, wishing that she could go with it.  Before she left, she walked along the water’s edge, trying to imagine what it would be like to live on the beach with nothing but the sounds of the waves and the tangy salt air to fill her days.  It was better than living in the city with the constant sounds of traffic, sirens and chatter and of course, her parents bickering.  How she longed to escape it all.

One afternoon she walked farther than she normally did and came upon a lone beach house.  It stood tall above the grassy slope which led to the beach.  It was adequate for one or two occupants with a wide deck and a long flight of wooden steps leading down to the sand.  She wondered who lived there and thought how lucky they were to wake up every morning to a sunrise over the ocean.  As she stood there admiring the property, she heard a voice remark behind her, “It’s a beautiful place, isn’t it?”

Startled, she swung round and found herself facing a very attractive man who looked to be in his early to mid-thirties.  He smiled at her.  “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you.  It has been a while since someone has come along this part of the beach.”

“Do you live there?” she asked.

He nodded.  “Yes, I do.”

“It must be nice having this part of the beach to yourself.”

“Yes, it is.”

She glanced at her watch.  “I’d better be heading back home,” she said.

“Where’s home and how did you get here?”

“I live in the city and I drove here.  I come to this beach a lot.  This is the first time I have walked to this part of it.”

“You know, when I was younger and I had a lot on my mind, I used to come to the beach and just sit and stare at the ocean.  Is that why you come here?”

“Are you a psychiatrist?” she asked.

“No,” he chuckled.  “I run a community organization which helps youth.  My name is Mitchell Ryan, by the way.”  He held out his hand.

“Vanessa Rivers,” she told him as she shook his hand.  He seemed like a really nice man.  “I really should be getting back home before my parents begin to wonder where I am–if they even notice that I’m gone.”

“I’m not going to press you but if you need to talk, you can get in touch with me.  Here’s my card.”  He handed her a business card.  “It was nice meeting you, Vanessa. And any time you want to drop by just to say hello, don’t hesitate.  It’s quiet out here but sometimes, a bit too quiet.  I’m always grateful for some company.”

Vanessa smiled.  “It was nice meeting you too.  ‘Bye, Mitchell.”

“‘Bye, Vanessa.” He stood there with his back to the house, watching her.

She waved at him before she retraced her steps until she reached familiar ground and her car.  As she drove home, she thought of how it would be nice to see him again even if she didn’t want to talk to him about her problems.  Perhaps, she could find out more about his organization and see if she could volunteer.  It would be better than being around her bickering parents.  When she got home, the place was quiet.  Her father was in the basement watching TV while she and her mother were in the kitchen.  “Mama, why do you and Dad fight so much.  Don’t you love each other anymore?” she asked as she was having her dinner.

Her mother sighed.  “Baby, we still love each other but it’s just that we seem to get on each other’s nerves.”

“I hate it when the two of you fight.  That’s why I go to the beach so often.  Are you and Dad going to get a divorce?”

“No, Baby.  We’re not going to get a divorce.  Sure, we bicker a lot but we have been married for a long time and only death will separate us.  So, that’s where you were this evening–at the beach?”

“Yes and I met Mitchell–”

Her mother stared at her.  “Who’s Mitchell?”

“A really nice man who lives in the only house on the beach.”

“How old is this Mitchell character?  Does he know that you’re still in high school?”

“He’s in his thirties and I didn’t tell him that I was in high-school but he knows that I live with my parents.  He gave me his card–”

“What for?”

“He runs a community organization and thought that I might be interested in learning more about it.  I think I will drive over there tomorrow after school and see if I would like to volunteer during March break and the summer.”

“Well, I don’t suppose there’s any harm in visiting the place but make sure you don’t spend too much time alone with this Mitchell character.  Remember you’re a very pretty girl and men get ideas.”

Vanessa shrugged and dropped the subject.  In her mind, she thought, I wouldn’t mind if Mitchell noticed me.  He’s very attractive and although, I don’t know anything about him except that he runs an organization and lives on the beach, I like him.  Who am I kidding?  He’s in his thirties.  There’s no way, he would be interested in a high-school girl although I graduate next month.  He probably has a girlfriend anyway.

The next day after school, she dropped by the historic building and was taken to Mitchell’s office.  He was pleased to see her and invited her to have a seat.  “So, how are things with you?” he asked after they exchanged pleasantries.

She told him about her parents and her concerns about their marriage.  “My family has a history of broken marriages.  I’ve seen my cousins going through a tough time because their parents got divorced.  I’m afraid that the same thing will happen with my parents although my mother assured me that she and my Dad will not split up.”

“Well, based on what your mother said, I don’t think you have anything to worry about.  I’ve known couples who are always bickering but they have managed to stay the course.  There will always be conflicts in relationships but it depends on the couple if they will let those conflicts affect their marriage to the point where they want to split up.  I read somewhere that arguments can lead to a greater understanding between the two people.  I have heard people say that learning how to argue strengthened their marriages.  The good thing is that your parents don’t run from fights like some couples who are afraid to address issues because they don’t want any conflicts which can later lead to bigger problems in the relationship.”

“My parents are not afraid to discuss sensitive issues.  They don’t sweep things under the rug.  And I guess that’s a good thing.  Get things out in the open and deal with them.  I guess my fear is that their constant arguing would lead to a split up because I had seen it happen to other family members.  They were always fighting even when they had company.  My parents don’t fight in front of other people, thank goodness.  I’m the only one who hears them.  I love them very much and hope that they will always be together.”

He smiled.  “I hope so too.”

“It felt good talking to you about it,” she told him.  He was wearing a nice shade of blue tee shirt with the top two buttons undone and tan trousers.  His dark brown hair was tousled but it was becoming for him.  She started when she realized that he had noticed her staring at him.  She couldn’t tell what he was thinking, though.  His expression was inscrutable.  Perhaps he was used to the opposite sex staring at him.  “I-I was thinking that it would be nice to volunteer here during March break and the summer but I’ve decided that I could do it before.”

“We always need volunteers,” he told her.  “Do you have a particular area of interest?”

“I’m interested in fundraising.”

“You can join our fundraising and event planning committee.”

“I’d like that.”

“When are you available?”

“During the week after school for four hours.”

“That’s great.  I will have Melanie our Volunteer Coordinator set you up.  How soon could you start?”

She wanted to say now.  “Monday.”  She hoped the weekend would go by quickly so that she could see him again.

“Monday’s fine.  I’ll take you to meet Melanie now and she will take care of you.”  He rose from behind the desk and she preceded him to the door.  Melanie wasn’t at her desk when they got there.  “She’s probably with one of the volunteers.  You can sit over there and wait for her.  On Monday when you arrive and after you see her, come and see me in my office.  I want to give you a personal tour of the place and introduce you to the staff.  Thanks for volunteering with us, Vanessa.  I look forward to seeing more of you and you being a part of the team.”

She smiled.  “I look forward to being here on a regular basis,” she said.  It means that I will get to see you every week.

They shook hands and then he left.  She went and sat down in the chair by the window and waited for Melanie who breezed into the office ten minutes later.  She was a very pleasant young woman who made Vanessa feel very welcome.  She had her fill out a volunteer form and they chatted for a while before Vanessa left there, confident that she was going to like working there.

When she told her parents that she was going to volunteer at the organization, her father thought it was a great idea and her mother wasn’t so enthusiastic.  “Make sure it doesn’t interfere with your school work,” she admonished.

As soon as school ended on Monday, she was heading over to the organization.  After checking in with Melanie, she was taken to Mitchell’s office.  Her heart began to beat fast when she saw him and when he smiled at her.  After they spent a few minutes in his office chatting, he took her on a tour as promised and introduced her to the staff.  Then, he left her with Berta, the chairperson of the fundraising committee.

Berta was a Jamaican woman was in her late fifties.  She was a very affable woman and Vanessa liked her immediately.  Berta took her under her wing.  She was a widow with two grown children, married and with their own families.  Vanessa loved being on the fundraising committee and brainstorming with the other volunteers.  Her first week went very well.

At the end of some evenings before she went home, Mitchell and she would walk over to the café and have cappuccinos.  They talked about the day and other things.  She enjoyed his company and knew that he enjoyed hers too.  One evening when they were standing in the parking lot, he said to her, “If you were ten years older, I would go out with you.”

Her heart began to pound.  “I’m going to be nineteen next month,” she told him.

“That’s too young,” he said.  “I’m thirty-four.”

“What about ten years from now when I’m twenty-eight?” she asked hopefully.  “Will you reconsider then?”

He pondered that for a moment.  “I might,” he said quietly.  “Goodnight, Vanessa.  I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Goodnight, Mitchell.”  She walked to her car, her heart fluttering with excitement.  There was still hope for her.

Ten years later, she reminded him of their conversation that evening in the parking lot and he admitted that he had thought of nothing else.  They began to see each other discreetly.  No one at the organization knew about it and he was determined to keep it that way.  They went for dinner, to the theatre, the movies and spent a lot of time at his beach house.

They arrived separately to the award ceremony and were careful not to spend any time alone together.  For all appearances, their relationship was the same as it always was, platonic.  She was enjoying the evening until she spotted Mitchell talking to a woman she had never seen before.

“Who’s that with Mitchell?” She asked Caroline, a fellow volunteer. Whoever she was, she was very beautiful.  Tall and striking in the cream pants suit and thick chestnut hair falling about her shoulders.  They seemed to know each other very well and she felt a sharp pang of jealousy.

“Oh, that’s Linda, Mitchell’s wife.  They are separated but from the way things look now, I wouldn’t be surprised if they get back together.”

Vanessa looked at her, shocked and devastated.  “Mitchell’s married?”

“Yes.  I thought you knew.”  Caroline stared at her.  “Are you all right?” she asked, looking concerned.

“I–I have to get out of here–” the words were strangled as a large lump rose in her throat as she fought to keep back the tears.  She ran out of the room and out of the building.  When she got to her car, she fumbled in her bag for the keys, almost dropping them.  She climbed into the car, slammed the door, started the engine and sped off.  Her fingers gripped the steering wheel as waves of pain washed over her.  Mitchell was married.  Why didn’t he tell her?  Since he didn’t wear a ring, she assumed that he wasn’t married.  What about those times when they were together why didn’t he say anything?  If she had known that he was married she wouldn’t have gotten involved with him no matter how much she loved him.  And she loved him so much it hurt.  Anger, hurt warred inside her and she wanted to scream. 

She didn’t know where she was going.  She couldn’t go home and let her parents see her like this.  They would have a fit.  She didn’t want to go to her friend, Nicole.  The beach.  She would go to the beach.  It was the only place where she wanted to be right now…Ten minutes later, she was running like a wild animal down the beach which, thankfully, was deserted, until she reached his house.  She collapsed in a heap on the sand and buried her wet face in her hands.

The sound of her name and a pair of hands lifting her up broke into her reverie.  It was Mitchell.  She struggled vigorously, trying to push him away as he picked her up in his arms and carried her up to the house.  Once they were inside he put her down and immediately she began to pummel him, the tears falling afresh.  He caught her hands by the wrists, his grip firm but gentle and restrained her. “What’s wrong, Vanessa?” he asked.  “Why are you so upset and why did you leave the award ceremony?  I looked for you but you weren’t there.”

She struggled to control her emotions, her chest heaving at the effort.  “Why didn’t you tell me that you’re married?”

He stared at her.  “Married?”

“Yes, I saw the two of you together this evening at the award ceremony and I asked Caroline who she was and she told me that it was your wife.  She said that you were separated.”

“Oh, Vanessa.  I’m so sorry.  I don’t know why Caroline told you that I’m separated when she should know that I’m divorced.  Linda and I got divorced shortly before I met you.  Our problem was lack of intimacy.  We didn’t feel connected to each other anymore.  She was there this evening because she was also going to receive an award for her commitment to volunteering.  When you saw us together we were just congratulating each other and catching up.”

“Caroline said that you might back together with her.”

“She is mistaken.  I will have a talk with her on Monday when I see her.  I have no desire to get back together with Caroline.  Why would I go back to her when I love you, Vanessa?  How could you think that I would have a relationship with you when I was still married to her?  You should know the kind of man I am by now.”

She started to cry.  “I’m sorry,” she sobbed.  “When I saw you with your ex and how friendly you were with her, I got jealous.  And when Caroline told me that she was your wife…”

He cupped her face and used his thumbs to wipe the tears away, his eyes darkening on her face.  “So, that’s why you ran out on me this evening.  I was going to invite you and the other volunteers on to the platform with me.  Don’t cry, my darling.  There’s no need for tears.  I love you and I want to be with you.”  He kissed her tenderly, almost like a caress.

She responded, putting her arms around his neck.  “I love you too,” she whispered.  “And I’m sorry I ran away instead of facing you.  I would have saved myself a lot of heartache.”

“Don’t beat yourself up about it.”

“Based on how I reacted and my hasty exit, Caroline probably put two and two together and figured out that I’m in love with you.”

“It doesn’t matter anymore.  I don’t want us to continue to hide our relationship, especially since I am going to marry you.”

She gaped at him.  “Marry me!” she exclaimed.

“Yes.”  He reached into the back pocket of his jeans and produced a red velvet box.  He flipped it open and took out the sparkling diamond ring.  He raised his eyes to look her straight into her moist ones.  “Will you marry me, Vanessa?”

“Yes!” She kissed him enthusiastically on the mouth before she watched enthralled as he slid the ring on her finger.  It was the most exquisite thing she had ever seen.  She couldn’t wait to show it to her mother—and Caroline.

He pulled her into his arms, his eyes met hers before he bent his head and kissed her.  As she responded, she remembered a quote that she once heard.  Heaven seems a little closer at the beach.

 

Sources:  Eva’s; Marriage.com; Daily Mail; Huffington Post; Next Avenue

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.