The Foolish Plan

“What could they still be talking about for so long?” Yolanda grumbled as she looked over at the closed door.  “He’s been in there with her for almost an hour.”

Doris observed her as she sat there craning her neck to see what was going on inside the office while her fingers danced over the keyboard.   “You’ve really got it bad for him, don’t you?” she said.

Yolanda looked at her.  “I don’t,” she denied albeit not convincingly.

“Then why are you getting so upset because he’s in his office with Paulina?”

“I’m not upset.  I was just wondering why they are in there for so long.  Doesn’t she have any work to do?  And how would he like it if I were to spend such a long time in Max’s office, for example?”  She sighed.  “Then, again, he probably wouldn’t even notice.”

“I’ll have to disagree with you on that one.  I think he has a thing for you too.”

Yolanda stared at her.  “Seriously?” she said, incredulous.

“I’ve seen the way he looks at you when he thinks no one is watching.”

Yolanda shook her head.  “No, I don’t stand a chance–not when Paulina is around.  I mean look at how different we are.  She’s tall and beautiful and I’m short and dumpy.”

“I think that you’re pretty and vivacious.”

“Thanks, Doris, but I’m no match for Paulina’s beauty and elegance.  I might as well be invisible for all the notice he pays me when she’s around.”

“All right, have it your way.”

Yolanda glanced at her watch.  “I’d better be leaving now.  I promised Kenneth that I would meet him for lunch at twelve.”

“Who’s Kenneth again?”

“He’s a guy I went to university with.”

“I’ll let Leif know that you’ve gone out for lunch, if he asks.”

Yolanda got up from the desk.  “I doubt that he will,” she said dryly as she grabbed her handbag.   Just as she was about to walk away, the door to Leif’s office opened and Paulina stepped out.  She looked stunning in the white slim fit pant suit that hugged her curves and the matching white strappy sandals.  Her strawberry blonde hair fell in thick waves about her shoulders.  She was laughing at something Leif said.  He was standing in the doorway looking gorgeous as usual in a charcoal grey suit, matching tie and black shirt.  They looked really good together.

Jealousy ripped through her like a knife.  She turned and quickly walked away.

Kenneth was in the lobby, waiting for her.  He looked great.  They hugged.  He was a welcome distraction but looking at her, he could see that something was wrong.  He decided to wait until they were having lunch before he broached it.

“It’s good to see you too,” he said, smiling and they left the building.  It was a mild, sunny day.  They walked to the bistro around the corner and got a table at the back in a corner.   After they ordered, he looked her straight in the face and asked, “Okay, who’s the guy?”

She stared at him, startled.  “How can you tell?”

“I have seen that look many times.  You’re in love.  So, who is he?”

She sighed.  “His name is Leif and he’s my boss.”

“So, what’s the problem?  Is it against the company’s policy for you and he to date?”

“No.  A few of my co-workers are dating each other.”

“So, why do you look like you’ve just come from a funeral?  Is he married or already in a relationship?”

“No, none of those things.  I’m just not sure how he feels about me.  Doris, my co-worker told me that she has seen him looking at me on the quiet and seems to think that he’s interested.  And then, there’s Paulina.  She’s more his type.”

“If she’s his type, how come they’re not dating?”

She shrugged.  “I don’t know.  They were in his office for a long time today, though.”

“Well, there’s only one way to find out where you stand with this guy,” Kenneth declared as their orders arrived.  “Let him think that there is someone else in your life.  If he thinks that another guy’s interested in you, it may push him to act.”

“You mean try to make him jealous?”  She shook her head.  “Bad idea.”

“Do you have a better one?” he demanded.

“And what if it doesn’t work?”

“Then, you wouldn’t have to wonder any more about how he feels about you and you can move on.”

She shook her head again.  “I don’t like the idea.  If he’s interested, he will make it clear to me.”

“What if he doesn’t because he isn’t sure about your feelings for him?”

“Kenneth, I don’t want to play any games.  We’re not going to try to make Leif jealous.”

Kenneth shrugged.  “It’s your call but if you change your mind, let me know.”

“I won’t change my mind,” she insisted and changed the subject.

They talked and reminisced about their time at university, the professors they liked and those they couldn’t stand, the friends they lost touch with and those they connected with on Facebook.  The hour went by very quickly and soon they were heading back to her office.

“Come up and meet Doris,” she said when they were in the lobby.  “She’s a really nice lady.”

“Sure.”  Kenneth walked with her to the lift.  He hoped he would get to see her boss as well.  His curiosity was piqued.

Doris was at her desk and she was very pleased to meet Kenneth.  “You didn’t tell me that he was this good looking,” she remarked as they shook hands.  They chatted while Yolanda removed her jacket and put away her handbag.

“I’ll walk you to the lift,” Yolanda said to Kenneth when she saw that it was getting late and she needed to get back to work.

After Kenneth and Doris expressed mutual appreciation of meeting each other, Yolanda walked with him to the lift.  As they waited, he asked her, “Does Leif have red hair, dresses really well and sort of looks like Kenneth Brannagh?”

She raised her eyebrows.  “Kenneth Brannagh?”

“Okay, maybe he doesn’t quite look like Kenneth Brannagh.  Anyway, your boss is coming over.”

Immediately, her heart began to beat faster.  She turned around to find Leif striding toward them.  He looked grim, or was that her imagination?

He glanced at Kenneth and then at her.  “I see that you made it back for the meeting.”

She stared at him.  Meeting?  What meeting?  Behind her, she heard Kenneth clear his throat.  “Oh, Leif, this is Kenneth.  Kenneth, Leif.”

The two men shook hands and exchanged pleasantries although Leif wasn’t smiling.

Kenneth turned to Yolanda.  “I’ll call you later,” he promised.  They hugged and as she was about to pull away, he bent his head and kissed her on the lips.  The lift came just then and Kenneth stepped into it, turning to wink at her just as the doors closed.

She stood there, aghast for several minutes, painfully aware of Leif standing behind her.  She was embarrassed to turn around and face him.  When Kenneth called her later, she was going to give him a piece of her mind.

Taking a deep breath, she turned to face Leif.  He was staring at her, his face glowering.  Before she could say anything, he snapped, “My office, now,” before turning and walking away, his back rigid.

What on earth was the matter with him?  And who did he think he was talking to her like that?  She had a good mind not to go to his office but, he was her boss.  She headed there now.

He was standing in front of the window and turned when he heard her enter the room.  “Close the door.”

She closed it quietly behind her and then walked over to where he was.  “Okay, is this where we’re having the meeting?”

“There is no meeting.”  He wasn’t wearing his jacket or the tie and had loosened the top two buttons of his shirt, exposing his neck.  She tried not to let her gaze go below his jawline.

“But, you said—”

“I know what I said,” he retorted.

She raised her hands.  “Okay, no need to bite my head off.”  What had gotten into him?  He seemed really angry about something.  Boy, was he attractive when he was angry–

“When you speak to Kenneth later, kindly let him know that the next time he wants to make out with you in public to do it somewhere else.  This is not the place for it.”

That set her off.  Her hands clenched into tight fists as she glared up at him.  “For your information, I am not in the habit of making out in public.  And I don’t care if you’re my boss, it doesn’t give you the right to insinuate what you like about me or talk to me anyhow.  And next time you want me to get back to work, just say so instead of making up some stupid excuse.”  After casting him a withering glance, she turned and stalked off, leaving the door wide open.

Instead of going straight to her desk, she went to the washroom to compose herself.  She felt so humiliated at that moment.  Renewed anger toward Kenneth filled her.  His foolish plan had backfired as she knew it would.  Leif was livid, yes, but he was not jealous.  This whole disaster just reinforced what she had thought all along–Leif wasn’t romantically interested in her.  He would have reacted differently if it had been Paulina instead of her.

She stood there for several minutes, then, taking a deep breath, she turned and walked out of the washroom.  Once she was at her desk, she buried herself in the work and it kept her busy until it was time to leave.  Doris encouraged her to have a good weekend and then left.

Yolanda switched off her computer, packed up her bag, pulled on her jacket and got up from her desk.  As she walked past Leif’s office, she said goodnight to him and left the building.  On the bus ride home, she tried to read the novel Doris lent her but her mind kept going on Leif.  Their working relationship was ruined now.  Maybe she should start looking for another job.  It wouldn’t make sense to continue working there now.  Over the weekend, she would do some job hunting on the Internet.

When she got home, she showered, changed into a plaid flannel nightshirt and had dinner.  After watching some television, she picked up the phone and called Kenneth.  As soon as he answered the phone, she said to him, “Your plan didn’t work.  You didn’t make Leif jealous.  I told you that it wouldn’t work but you didn’t listen to me.  You went ahead and did what you wanted to do just so you can prove that you were right.  Do you have any idea how humiliated I was?”

“Calm down, Yolanda and just tell me what happened.”

She told him what Leif said.  “I was so hurt and angry.   I wish I hadn’t taken you upstairs to meet Doris.  If I hadn’t, none of this would be happening.”

“When did he tell you this?  Before or after the meeting.”

“There wasn’t any meeting.”

“Then why did he tell you that there was?”

“I don’t know.”

“Yolanda, did it ever occur to you that he made the meeting up as an excuse to get rid of me?”

“Why would he want to get rid of you?”

“Because he was jealous and didn’t like seeing us together–”

“No, enough of this jealousy foolishness.  Why can’t you admit that your brilliant plan didn’t work–?”  She broke off when she heard the doorbell ring.  “Someone’s at the door.”  She went to see who it was and her heart skipped a beat when she saw Leif.  “He’s here.”

“Who’s there?”

“Leif.  What’s he doing here?  I’m not dressed for company,” she added, flustered as she glanced down at her bare legs peeping out from underneath her nightshirt.  “I have to put on a pair of jeans or something.”

“Why do you suppose he showed up at your place now?”

“I don’t know,” she snapped.  “I’ve got to go.”

“Call me and let me know what happened.”

“Yes,” she said and hung up.  The doorbell rang again.  She turned off her cell phone and hurriedly placed it on the table before dashing off to her room to pull on a pair of leggings.  Then, she rushed to open the door.

As she stood there watching Leif who looked amazing in the turquoise v-neck sweater and blue jeans, the anger she felt toward him dissolved.  “I didn’t expect to see you,” she said, sounding a little breathless.  She stepped aside so that he could go in and closed the door behind him.  She turned and faced him.

“I should have called first instead of just showing up like this,” he said quietly, his eyes restless on her face.  “I wanted to apologize for my behavior earlier today.”

She leaned against the door.  “You seemed very angry,” she said.

“I was but it doesn’t excuse the way I spoke to you and I’m very sorry.”

“I accept your apology.”

“Is Kenneth your boyfriend?”  The suddenness of his question startled her and a few minutes went by before she answered.

“No, we’re just friends.”

“Then why did you let him kiss you?” he demanded.  His hands were shoved deep in his jeans pockets, his body stiff and his expression dour.

“I didn’t let him kiss me.  He took me completely by surprise. ”

“If the two of you are just friends what possessed him to kiss you like that?  Are you sure you didn’t encourage him?”

Her mouth tightened.  “I didn’t encourage him.  He kissed me because he wanted to make you jealous.”

“Well, it worked.   I was jealous from the moment I saw the two of you together.  That’s why I came over and told you that there was a meeting.  I had to have a reason for interrupting your little tête-à-tête.  And when he kissed you, I saw red.”

She gaped at him.  “But, what about Paulina?”

He frowned.  “What about her?”

“I thought you and she—”

“Paulina is a very beautiful woman, yes, but I’m not attracted to her.  You, on the other hand, are a different story.  I’m deeply attracted to you.  I have been for a very long time.”

Her heart was pounding now.  “I didn’t think you even noticed me.”

He looked surprised.  “Not notice you?  Have you any idea of how hard it is for me to be around you and not want to touch you?  Like right now.”

Her chest was rising and falling swiftly now and she seemed to have trouble breathing normally.  “All this time I thought you had a thing for Paulina,” she said, swallowing hard when she saw the expression on his face as he moved closer to her.

“No, it has always been you,” he muttered thickly and then, his hands were pulling her against him, making her gasp.  His mouth closed hungrily over hers and she kissed him back, wrapping her arms tightly around his neck.  She was wedged between him and the door.  As they exchanged passionate kisses she had to admit that if it weren’t for Kenneth, this wouldn’t be happening right now.  His foolish plan had worked after all.

 

 

 

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Starting Over

Christmas was just around the corner and she was back in Seattle.  She was on her way to see Jordan after she found out where he lived.

As she walked down the sidewalk, hands nestled deep in the pockets of her coat and her chin tucked into the scarf wrapped around her neck, her mind wandered back to the past.  Jordan and she both attended Pacific University.  The first time they met was when walking down the hallway on her way to Language class and he was coming from the opposite direction.  He was with a friend.  He was tall and very good looking.  The ribbed green sweater and jeans accentuated his athletic build.  His thick chestnut hair looked soft and silky.  He was talking to his friend but as they drew closer, he turned his head and that was when he saw her.

Their eyes met and held.  And as they approached each other, she wondered who he was and why she hadn’t seen him before.  When they were abreast, he said, “Good morning.”

“Good morning,” she replied and they walked past each other.  She turned round to look at him and saw him turn quickly to glance at her before he turned away.  Soon he was out of sight.  She stood there in the hallway for a moment.  Then, she glanced down at her black turtleneck sweater, denim skirt and black boots.  She hoped she looked okay.  Her hair was pulled back in a ponytail and she was wearing her new glasses.  Would a guy like him really be interested in a girl like her?  He was a hunk while she was–well, a geek.  There were so many pretty girls on campus, why would he notice her?  He probably was probably used to girls staring at him and not wanting to be rude, he didn’t ignore her.  He even said, “Good morning”.  She was kidding herself if she thought that she stood a chance with him.

Sighing, she continued on down the hallway to her class.  The next time she saw him it was in History class.  She was seating at her seat when he walked in.  He paused when he saw her and to her surprise he sat at the desk next to hers.   She could feel him watching her and she turned her head to look at him.  He smiled and held out his hand.  “Jordan,” he said.

She shook his hand, thinking, what incredible eyes he has.   “Whitney.”  Her pulse was racing.  She couldn’t believe that she was talking to him.   Just then, the professor closed the door, signalling that class was about to begin so Jordan released her hand and faced the front.  After class, he lingered while she packed her bag and together they walked out of the class.

“So, where are you heading now?” he asked when they were in the hallway.  He was so tall that she had to tilt her head back to look up at him, even in the low heels she was wearing.

“I have English now.

“I heading off for now.  Can we have lunch together?”

“Y-yes.”  He wants to have lunch with me.

“Okay.  I’ll meet you at the cafeteria.”

“Okay.”

“See you later.”  He smiled and then walked away.

They had lunch together that day and every day after that.  Her friends saw them together and were convinced that he liked her but she still wasn’t sure.  They spent a lot of time together, studying, going for walks, walking to class and after school, they went to a burger place nearby where they hung out, talking about different things.  She invited him to a youth program her church was having on a Friday evening.  Strangely, they never made plans to see each other over the weekends.  They saw each other during the week and always on campus.

By then, Whitney was in love with Jordan and was wondering how he felt about her.  Once when they were out walking, she stumbled and fell against him.  He steadied her.  They were standing very close to each other, their bodies inches apart.  He was looking down at her and there was a tense expression on his face.  She saw his gaze lower to her lips and his part and for one heart-stopping moment she wondered if he was going to kiss her.  Then, he released her and turned away.  Disappointed, she fell into step beside him as they headed back to the campus.   Why didn’t he kiss her?  It was a perfect opportunity.  It wouldn’t have been wrong for them to kiss as long as they didn’t get carried away.

She got her answer the following day.  It was by accident.  She and her friend, Sonia were in the shopping mall one Sunday afternoon, trying to finish their Christmas shopping when they spotted Jordan coming out of one of the stores and he wasn’t alone.  A pretty brunette was walking beside him, with shopping bags in one hand while the other was holding his hand.  Whitney stopped in her tracks and Sonia looked at her, feeling sorry for her.  She reached out and grabbed her hand.  “Let’s cut through here,” she suggested, hustling her down another passageway in the opposite direction.   She led her through the mall and out of the closest exit to the parking lot.

Whitney felt sick but she managed to keep it together until they were in Sonia’s car.  Then, she just burst into tears.  Sonia held her for a long while until she was spent and then she handed her a box of tissues before turning on the ignition.  The rest of the day was a blur for Whitney.  When she got home, she went straight to her room and threw herself on her bed where she stayed until it was dark outside.  Not feeling hungry, she skipped dinner, took a shower and went straight to bed.

The next day, she went through the motions of getting ready for school, dreading when she would see Jordan in History class.  How was she going to face him without breaking down?  Unbidden the image of him with the other girl flashed across her mind and the painful jealousy that it elicited almost suffocated her.  Woodenly, she walked to the bus-stop down the block and waited.

When she reached the university, her footsteps dragged.  She wanted badly to turn around and go back home but she kept going towards the building.  The first class went by and then, it was time for History.  As she walked down the hall toward the classroom, her heart began to pound.  She paused in the doorway, her eyes going straight to his desk.  He wasn’t there as yet.  She hurried over to her desk and sat down.  She took out her textbook and notebook and waited.

About five minutes later, when he walked in, her heart leaped.  He said good morning when he sat down and she mumbled in reply but didn’t look at him.  She avoided looking at him all through class and when it was over, she started to shove her books and pen into her bag, anxious to get out of there.  She could feel him staring at her but she couldn’t look at him.  When she grabbed her bag and was about to walk away, he stood up and blocked her way.

Still, she couldn’t look at him.  Instead, she stared at his sweater.  “What’s the matter, Whitney?” he asked.  “Why are you giving me the cold shoulder?”

“I have to go.  I don’t want to be late for my class.”

“Can I walk with you to your class?”

“No, thank you.”  And without saying another word, she brushed past him, her back rigid.  Instead of going straight to class, she went to the washroom to collect herself.

She didn’t go to the cafeteria for lunch.  Instead she went outside and leaned against the tree where the two of them used to hang out.  She closed her eyes in despair.  How she wished it didn’t hurt so much.  Her heart was aching because she loved him so much.  She could feel the tears welling up in her eyes and she felt in her pocket for a tissue.  When she opened her eyes to dab them, she was startled to find Jordan standing in front of her, a concerned look on his face.  “How long were you standing there?”

“I just got here,” he said, moving closer.  “What’s wrong, Whitney?” He reached out to touch her but she drew away as if he had stung her.

“I saw you yesterday at the shopping mall,” she said.  “Was that your girlfriend you were with?”  She looked at him then and saw his face go pale.

“Whitney, please let me explain–”

“Is she your girlfriend?”

“Yes.  Callie and I have been dating since high-school.  She and I were both attending Northwest University until this year when I transferred to here.   I felt impressed to transfer to Pacific and I have learned that when God wants me to do something, I do it even if it doesn’t make sense.  I never meant to deceive you, Whitney.  When I saw that we were getting close, I should have told you about Callie but I was afraid that you would end our friendship.”

“Is friendship all you want from me?” she demanded in a trembling voice.

His eyes darkened and he moved even closer.  “No,” he admitted thickly.  “I want to be more than friends with you.  I love you, Whitney–”

He had finally said the words she had longed to hear but they gave her no joy now.  It only made things worse.  “I love you too but what good is that?” she cried, her voice tight as she fought to keep the tears back.  “You have a girlfriend.”

“Does this mean that you want us to stop seeing each other?”  There was a pained expression on his face.

“Yes,” the word was a strangled sob.  The tears followed, unabated.  Everything became a blur and she felt his hands on her face, cupping it and his lips on hers.  For a brief, unguarded moment, she kissed him back.   Then, with a groan, she broke off the kiss, pushed hard at his chest until he released her and she was free.  She turned and ran away.

Life on campus after that was torture for her.  And she was thankful when the Christmas break came but the holidays were anything but jolly for her.  All she could think about was Jordan and how much she missed him.  The New Year came and she was back at school.  When she saw Jordan she longed to wish him a happy New Year but didn’t.  She exchanged desks with another girl in the class so that she didn’t have to sit next to him.  Her desk was at the back of the class and every now and then, her eyes drifted over to him.   As soon as class was over, he was gone.  They saw each other around but avoided contact.  It was painful but necessary.

After graduation, she decided to move to New York where she was able to find a job and an apartment, thanks to her uncle.  She kept in touch with her friend, Sonia.  It was through her that she found out that Jordan had broken up with Callie since last year November.  “Why didn’t he let me know?” she asked her.

“You made it clear to him that you didn’t want to see him anymore, remember?  He’s still in love with you, Whitney.  Every time I see him, he asks about you.  Do you still love him?

“Yes.”

“Then, you need to come down here and let him know that.”

“I’ll come for Christmas,” she promised.  And, here she was back in Seattle, hoping to run into Jordan.  They hadn’t seen each other since graduation.  How she longed to see him.  The separation had been unbearable.  Many times she had been tempted to fly to Seattle just to see him but then she was reminded of why they were separated in the first place.

She was so engrossed in her thoughts that she didn’t notice someone standing there her until she heard her name.  Startled, she glanced up and her heart somersaulted when she saw Jordan.  He was wearing a toque, a leather jacket opened to reveal a tee shirt and a pair of jeans.   Seeing him again filled her with such emotion that she felt as if her heart was going to burst.  She stood still watching him when she longed to run up to him and throw her arms around him.

He stood there watching her for a moment and then he slowly approached.  His expression was tense when he gazed down into her face.  “I didn’t expect to see you here.”

“I–I was on my way to see you,” she said.  Her heart was pounding and she was very nervous.  “How have you been?”

His eyes darkened.  “How do you think I’ve been?” he asked thickly.  “I’ve been miserable ever since we stopped seeing each other and when you moved to New York, I felt my whole world come crashing down around me.”

“Sonia told me that you broke up with Callie.”

“Yes.  I broke up with her the week after you decided that you wanted to stop seeing me.  It was a terrible time.  She was devastated and I felt like a jerk but I didn’t think it was right to continue seeing her when I was in love with you.  After graduation, she moved to Boston where her father lives.”

She couldn’t help feeling sorry for Callie and hoped that things would work out for her.  She knew first hand what it was like to be without the person you loved and she never wanted to experience that feeling again.  “Jordan, I moved back to Seattle because of you.  I was hoping that we can start over.”

“As friends?”

“No, not as friends but as two people who love each other and want to be together.”

“Are you sure?” he asked as he moved even closer so that they were standing inches apart.

“Yes, I’m absolutely sure.”

He reached up and cupped her face between his hands.  “I love you,” he murmured before he lowered his head and kissed her.

She put her arms around his waist and kissed him back.  They stood there on the sidewalk kissing and then, he drew back.  “Let’s go somewhere warm and have a couple of hot chocolates,” he suggested.  “I don’t think it’s a good idea for us to be alone at my place right now.”

She smiled up at him.  “Good idea.”  He put his arm around her shoulders as they turned and walked in the direction of a cafe.  As she slipped her arm around his waist and nestled against him, she was grateful that they were able to start over.

Sources:   Seattle Pacific University;American Historical Association

The Retreat

She stood there admiring the bright yellow mixed in with flaming orange and red leaves on the trees as they dotted the green landscape and stood proudly over the still water of the lake, seeming to admire their reflections.  It reminded her of a giant water color painting.  It was so peaceful there.  Coming to this retreat for a week was a blessing.

It was her friend Maura who suggested it.  She and her husband were there last year and absolutely loved it.  She had watched videos on the website, the acres of land with its natural beauty and the promise of refuge and renewal and peace and presence sold her.  And here she was, away from the hustle and bustle of the city and enjoying quiet time with the Lord and nature.

She got up early and came down here just before sunset.  After she finished praying, she glanced up and saw the sun rise.  It was the first time she had ever seen a sunrise.  For several moments, the sun appeared to be sitting on the water before it rose higher in the sky.  What a breathtaking scene and display of God’s power.  She lingered there for a while longer and then headed back to the lodge to have breakfast.

When she was leaving the dining room, a tall and very handsome man walked in.  He was alone.  He was wearing a blue sweater and jeans.  As she approached him, he turned and looked at her.  Their eyes met and held for several moments.  He smiled at her and she smiled back.  This close she saw that he had beautiful brown eyes.  “Good morning,” he said.

“Good morning,” she replied and then she walked past him and out of the dining-room.  She could feel him watching her.  He really was quite good-looking and seemed very nice.  Then, she chided herself.  You’re here to commune with God. Don’t get distracted.  She went to her room to freshen up and then to the bench facing the stream where she planned to spend the rest of the morning.

This time she took her Bible and a notebook.  The warm sunshine on her face felt good and a sigh of satisfaction, she sat down.    After she finished reading the first two chapters of the Gospel of Mark and taking notes, she set her Bible and notebook aside.  As she sat there, gazing at the lake, her thoughts drifted to the guy she saw in the dining-room.  Who was he?  Was he single?  Was he here alone?

He was the first man she was attracted to since Reuben.  It was strange but when she thought about Reuben, she didn’t feel anything.  He was like a distant memory now.  She could hardly remember what he looked like and when she tried, she saw the other guy’s face instead.  It was five years since Reuben broke up with her.  They had been dating and everyone thought they would have gotten married.  She did too and then, he shocked her by telling her that he was in love with someone else.

It turned out that while they had been dating, he had been giving Bible studies to a woman who lived in his building.  Feelings developed between them and he realized that she was the one he wanted to be with.  She was devastated but with the love and support of her church family, she was able to pick up the pieces and get on with her life.  Reuben transferred to another church and the last she heard of him, he and the woman were married and had two children.  She wished them well.   It was clear to her now that Reuben and she were not right for each other.  He was with the person he was meant to be with and one day, she would be with the person she was meant to be with.

“Do you mind if I join you?” a voice broke into her reverie and she looked around, her heart skipping a beat when she saw that it was the guy from the dining-room.

She shook her head.  “No, not at all.”  She moved her Bible and notebook closer to her, leaving enough room on the bench for him to sit down.  When he lowered his tall frame on to the seat beside her, she caught a whiff of his aftershave.  Her heart was pounding and her pulse was racing.  She realized then that Reuben never had such an effect on her.  Her hands were clasped tightly in her lap to stop them from trembling.  She could feel him watching her and she turned her head.  Their eyes met and held.  She wondered if she looked as nervous as she felt.

He held out his hand, “Brandon Lee.”

She took his hand and felt his firm clasp.  “Esther Richards.”

“Nice to meet you, Esther.  Is this your first time to the retreat?”

“Yes.  A friend of mine was here last year with her husband and she encouraged me to come.   I’m very happy I did.  It’s a beautiful place and it’s nice to get away from the city.  What about you?” She knew she sounded a little breathless but she couldn’t help it.  His closeness had that effect on her.  She couldn’t decide as yet if he was a Godsend or if he was a distraction.  She truly hoped that it was the former.

“I was here once with a group of people from my church.  It is a great place–so much to see and enjoy.  This is actually my favorite spot.  I could sit here for hours.”

“What church do you go to?” she asked.  He told her and she told him the name of her church.  “Are you involved in any ministries?”

“Yes, I am the leader of our Youth Ministry. ”

“I am involved in the Women’s Ministry and I sometimes lead out in our weekly Bible Study group meetings.  For our next Women’s Ministry retreat, I will recommend that we have it here.”

“Are you here alone?”

“Yes.  And you?”  Do you have a girlfriend?

“Yes.”  I hope she doesn’t have a boyfriend.  “Do you have family here?”

“Yes, I have lots of aunts and uncles and cousins here but my parents live in Florida.  They moved there after I graduated from university.   I usually spend Christmas with them.”  I’m glad I didn’t move to Florida too or I wouldn’t have met you.

“No siblings?”  Thank You, God for keeping her here in London or I wouldn’t have met her.

“No, I’m an only child.  What about your family?”

“My parents live in Yorkshire and I visit them on the weekends.  I live in London and my sister and her family live in Manchester.  We spend the Christmas holidays in Yorkshire.  Speaking of Christmas, have you finished your shopping as yet?”

She laughed.  “I haven’t even started.   I have no clue what I will get everyone.”

“I’m done.  My advice to you is to get gift cards.  Once you know what people, like, you just get gift cards instead of trying to figure out what they would like.  For my nieces and nephew, though, I don’t mind spending hours browsing toy stores.”

“Gift card?  I never thought of that.  Thanks for the suggestion.”

Talking to him had relaxed her to some degree.  He was easy to talk to.  She enjoyed his company.  They sat there, chatting about other things and then it was time to go for lunch.  They sat next each other at a table and continued talking to each other and some of the people around them.  After lunch, he invited her to go for a walk with him.

From that day on, they spent time together, going for walks, praying, worshipping, studying the Bible and joined in fun activities with other singles such as Finish the Sentence, Bible Pictionary, True or False, Bible Telephone, Bible Hangman, Name Game, Who Am I, Bible Bingo, Bible Scavenger Hunt, Name That Hymn and Bible Scene.  Her favorite was Finish the Sentence and when it was her turn to finish the sentence, I am blessed, she said, “I am blessed because God has shown me favor.” and she looked at Brandon when she said this.  I’m blessed because God has brought us together.  His answer was, “I am blessed because God has brought new joy into my life.”  His eyes were on her when he said that.

They spent the evenings alone together–talking or going for walks.  On the last evening before they were to leave the retreat and return to London, Brandon stopped and turned to her as they strolled the grounds.  It was beautiful night.  The full moon cast a ghostly light on them and the still water of the lake.  He reached out and took her hands in his.

“Esther, these past few days with you have been the happiest of my life.  I had planned to come to the retreat next week but I felt a very strong impression to come this week and I am thankful that I did because I met you.  I don’t want to say goodbye to you.  I want to continue to see you.  I’m not in a relationship.  Am I safe to assume that you’re not in one either?”

She shook her head.  “I’m not in a relationship,” she confirmed.

“I want to be in a relationship with you, that is if, it’s what you want too.”

“I-I want to be in a relationship with you too.”

“Good.  Tomorrow, we drive back to London together.”  He raised her hands to his lips and kissed them before they continued their stroll.

She raised her head to the starry sky and silently mouthed a prayer of thanks.  Coming to he retreat had changed both of their lives.

 

Sources: Ashburnham Place; Christian Camp Pro

The Orphan

“What’s the matter, Honey?” Ralph Forrester asked six year old Janet as she lay there in bed, crying.  He was there to read to read her a bedtime story as usual and was surprised to find her in her present state.  When he sat down on the bed, she sat up and hugged him.  He gently patted her on the back, trying to soothe her until the sobs subsided.  “Now tell me what’s the matter,” he coaxed when she drew back to look up at him.

“Aunt Agnes called me a Gremlin,” she wailed.  “Gremlins are ugly, horrid creatures.”

“They are also very mischievous,” he told her, relieved that it wasn’t anything serious although to her it was.  “Did you get yourself into trouble again?”

She hung her head.  “Yes,” she admitted reluctantly.  “It was my idea to bathe the dog in the bathtub because he was so dirty.  Matthew helped me to put him in the bath.  While I was washing the dog, he went to get a towel to dry him off and that’s when Aunt Agnes walked in.  She was really mad and that’s when she called me a Gremlin.”

“Honey, she was understandably angry because you were bathing a dirty animal in her nice, clean bathtub.  And you must have made quite a mess.”

“She said that I was a bad influence on Matthew.  What does influence mean?”

“It means you make Matthew do things that he wouldn’t usually do.”

She looked contrite.  “I don’t mean to make Matthew do bad things,” she said, “or to get him into trouble.  He’s my best friend.”

Ralph patted her hand.  “I know.  We never mean to get others in trouble but sometimes we do.  I think it would be best for now if you didn’t visit Matthew at the manor.  He could come here instead.  Beth and I will make sure you don’t get into any mischief.”

“I don’t think Aunt Agnes likes me very much,” she said, surprising him.  “Is it because I’m adopted?”

He stared at her.  “Who told you that you’re adopted?” he asked.

“Aunt Agnes.  She told me that you and Beth adopted me when I was a baby.  What happened to my real parents?”

“They died and you were placed in an orphanage.  Beth and I always wanted to adopt a child from Africa. We chose South Africa because we were there once on a mission trip and loved it.  As soon as our application was approved, we went the orphanage where you were.  We loved you the very first moment we saw you.  I remember you staring up at me with those big, beautiful brown eyes of yours and I promised God and myself that I would take very good care of you.  We named you Janet which means ‘God’s gracious gift’ because you were a gift from God.”

She smiled.  “I’m happy that you and Beth adopted me,” she said, hugging him.  Then, she settled back on the pillows and waited for him to read to her.  When he was done, he kissed her goodnight, switched off the bedside lamp and left the room.

Beth was in the kitchen fixing them a pot of tea when he went downstairs.  He went over to the table and sat down.  Beth turned and looked at him.  “What’s the matter, Honey?” she asked.

He grimaced.  “Agnes told Janet that she’s adopted. What right did she have to do so?”

Beth brought over the two cups of steaming tea and after setting one in front of him, she sat down.  “While I agree that it should have been left to us to tell Janet that she’s adopted, it must be obvious to her by now that she’s different.  You remember the other day when she came home from school, very upset because some children had asked her how she could have white parents when she was black.”

“I wish people would mind their own business,” he muttered crossly.  “Janet doesn’t think that Agnes likes her because she’s adopted.”

“There are very few people whom Agnes likes,” Beth said dryly.  “She didn’t approve of you marrying me.  I was a bad influence on you.  It was on account of me that you gave up your rather cushy job to become a missionary.”

“For as long as I live, I will never regret marrying you, becoming a missionary and adopting Janet.  Agnes has always been a controlling woman but she has never been able to manipulate me, though she tried to.  She objected to my marriage, change in career and decision to adopt but her objections fell on deaf ears.  I’m happy with the life I have made for myself and will not tolerate any interference from her.  She’s my sister not my mother.”

“Sometimes, she acts like she has two sons instead of one.”

“Poor Matthew.  She’s always doting on him.  I pity the girl he ends up marrying.  Unless, Matthew and his bride moved far away from Yorkshire and his mother’s influence, they will never get a moment’s peace.”

“I’m very fond of Matthew.  He’s such a loving and considerate child.  No doubt he takes after his father, God rest his soul.”

“Yes, if I had a son, I would have wanted him to be like Matthew.”

Beth looked at him.  “Do you still regret not having children of you own?” she asked. They had tried to conceive but couldn’t.  It turned out that he had an undescended testicle when he was a baby.  He was devastated because he was looking forward to raising a family with Beth.  Beth had pushed aside her own disappointment and sought only to console him.  Several years went by before they considered adopting and six years ago, they welcomed Janet into their lives.

“Yes, sometimes,” he admitted.  “But I have since realized that things happen for a reason.  If we had been able to have our children, that precious little girl upstairs would not be here.  She has brought so much joy in our lives.  I can’t imagine not having her around.  I thank God every day for her.  She is truly a blessing.”

Tears pricked Beth’s eyes and she reached out and covered his hand with hers.  “Yes, she is.”

Twelve years later, they were gathered in the living-room watching and smiling as Janet blew out the nineteen candles on her cake.  Ralph and Beth watched her.  It was hard to believe that it was same girl they had brought home from the orphanage.  She had grown into a lovely young lady.  They watched as she put a piece of the cake in Matthew’s mouth, laughing as he got some of the icing on his nose. “Do you suppose that those two will end up falling in love?” Beth asked in a low voice so that the others couldn’t overhear.

Ralph glanced at her.  “I wouldn’t object if that were to happen but you know Agnes…”

“Yes,” she sighed.  “She will do her best to sever any romantic attachment that may develop between them.”

Just then the doorbell rang.  “I wonder who that could be,” Ralph said.

“I’ll and see who it is.”  Beth hurried from the room and down the corridor to the front door.  She peered through the keyhole and her eyes widened in surprise and delight.  She opened the door.  “Blaine,” she exclaimed, hugging him.  “It’s so good to see you.”

He smiled.  “It’s good to see you too, Beth.”

“When did you get back?”

“Yesterday.”

“Come in.”

He went in and glanced toward the living-room where he heard voices and laughter.  “It sounds like you’re having a party.”

“Yes.  We are celebrating Janet’s birthday.”

“How old is she now?”

“Nineteen.”

“The last time I saw her, she was ten.”

“Yes, well, she’s all grown up now.  Wait till you see her.  Come and let me introduce you to everyone.”

He removed his shoes and followed her to the living-room.  Beth introduced him to Janet’s friends, some of the girls cast admiring glances at him.  He shook hands with Matthew.  “You’ve gotten tall,” he said, grinning.  Matthew smiled.

Blaine’s attention shifted to the girl standing next to Matthew.  “Janet?”

She nodded.  “Yes.”

He stared at her. “I can’t believe how much you have changed since the last time I saw you,” he said.

She smiled.  “I’m not a child anymore.  I’m a woman.”

“A young lady,” Beth interjected.  “Are you hungry?” She asked Blaine.

He shook his head.  “I had a late lunch.”

“Would you like a slice of cake?” Janet asked.

“Yes, thank you.”  He knew he was staring but he couldn’t help it.  She had changed so much.  Gone was the little girl with the pigtails who used to follow him around, chatting incessantly about school, beg him to push on her on the swing and give her a piggyback ride.  Standing before him was a very attractive young lady in a pretty blue dress with a smile that melted his heart.

She cut a slice of cake and gave it to him.  “How long will you be staying?”

“Two weeks.”

“Only two weeks?”  She couldn’t hide the bitter disappointment she was feeling.  In the past his visits had been sporadic but she never had to wait for more than a year to see him.  This last time, nine years had passed before she saw him again and it would be for only two weeks.  He was a Management Consultant.  How she wished that he had a different job—one that would not take him out of the country and away from her.  She missed him terribly.  “Will you come again tomorrow?” she asked, hopefully.

He nodded.  “Yes,” he said quietly.  “We have a lot of catching up to do.”

Just then one of her friends pulled her away to take photos and Matthew joined him.  For the rest of the evening, they were apart, mingling with other people and at the end of the evening as things were winding down, he went over to her.  “I’ll be leaving now,” he said.

“You promise you will come tomorrow?”

He nodded.  “Yes.”  He reached down and hugged her.  “Happy birthday, Janet.”

She saw him to the door and stood there watching his tall, slender figure stride briskly to his parked Aston Martin car and climb in.  She waved and waited until the car disappeared before going back into the house.  She couldn’t wait to see him the next day.

He showed up the following afternoon as promised and subsequently every day for the two weeks he was in London.  She would sit there and listen to Ralph and Beth ask him countless questions about his travels, patiently waiting for her time alone with him.  As soon as that time came, she would take him outside where they would spend most of the afternoon.  Once, when they were standing by the swing, he said, “You’re too grown up now for me to give you a piggyback ride, but I can still push you on the swing.  She sat down and laughed as he pushed her.  It brought back memories.  Other times they sat on the deck talking for hours or go for walks.

Then, it was his final evening and they were out in the backyard.  The sun was setting.  It cast an orange glow on them as they stood there facing each other.

He studied her face.  “I must be leaving now,” he said quietly.  “Are you sorry to see me go?”

She glanced up at him.  “Yes,” she answered, surprised that he would ask such a question.  I don’t know when I will see you again.

“May I kiss you goodbye?” he asked, moving closer to her.

She looked up at him, her heart racing.  “Yes,” she said breathlessly.  She lowered her head so that he could kiss her on the forehead like he used to when she was a child.  Instead, she felt his hand under her chin raising her face up so that she was staring up into his.  She watched, mesmerized as he bent his head slowly towards hers and his lips get closer.  Her breathing was quick and unsteady now.  She felt his mouth on hers and readily responded. Blaine’s hands cupped her face as the kiss became more intense.

She clutched his arms, her fingers digging into the fabric of his jacket as she felt herself going weak in the knees.  Eyes squeezed shut as if to blot out the world, she savored her first kiss, wishing that it would last.  It lasted for several minutes and then Blaine drew back, his face flushed.  She reluctantly opened her eyes and looked up at him.  They were both breathing heavily.

“I have to leave now,” he muttered thickly.

“Why?” she asked.  “Why can’t you stay a little longer?”

“If I stay, I will kiss you again.”

“I want you to kiss me again—”

“No,” he groaned, pushing his fingers through his hair, his eyes darkening.  “I can’t.”

She looked bewildered.  “But why?”

“I’m too old for you, Janet.  You need to be with a guy your own age like Matthew.”

“But, I don’t want to be with Matthew or anyone else,” she cried.  “Why can’t I be with you?  You’re only ten years older than me.  You’re not like Maxim DeWinter who was forty-two and married a girl my age.”

“You’re right, I’m not Maxim DeWinter.  I can’t be with a girl so much younger than me.  In September, you will be attending university.  That means you will around people your age.  Sooner or later, you will meet someone, fall in love with him and forget about me.”

She shook her head.  “No, I won’t,” she cried.  “I love you,”

A muscle throbbed along his jaw line.  “You’re infatuated not in love.”

“Do you think because I’m young, I don’t know what love is?”

“I shouldn’t have kissed you,” he said.  “I don’t know what I was thinking.  It was an utterly foolish thing to do–” he broke off when she started to cry.  He pulled her into his arms and held her closely.  “Don’t cry,” he begged, as she buried her face in his chest.

The feel of her body against his was his undoing.  Unable to help himself, he gripped the hair at the nape of her neck and pulled her head back so that he stare down into her wet face before his lips closed feverishly over hers.  Her impassioned response to his kisses inflamed him.  It was no use.  He couldn’t walk away from her now.  She was in his blood and in his heart.

Slide1

Sources:  Gov.UK; International Adoption Guide; Evening Standard;  The Guardian; London City Mission

The Cottage

As she stood there, looking around at the countryside, she wondered if Ryan would be happy to see her.  It had been ten years since they last saw each other.  Ten years was a long time–too long.  She gazed wistfully at the hills they used to run up and down when they were children, wallowing in the sludge much to his mother’s chagrin.   Once they climbed the oak tree behind his grandmother’s cottage to see a Robin’s nest.  In it were three blue eggs lying closely next to each other.  How she used to look forward to the holidays when she would see Ryan.  They were thick as thieves and got into plenty of mischief.

Then, things changed between them as they got older.  They developed feelings for each other but were careful to hide them when other people were around.  She remembered the first time they kissed.  It was the same day she arrived at Northampton to spend the summer holidays before Ryan started university.  She had climbed up the oak tree again to see if there was anything in the bird’s nest.  It was empty.  Disappointed, she started to climb back down the tree.  He reached up and helped her down.  They were standing very close to each other, his hands were on her waist and their bodies were inches apart.  She looked up at him and found him staring at her with a curious expression on his face.

She watched as his lips drew closer until they were on hers, tentative at first but deepened when he felt her response.  She felt him pull her closer against him and she put her arms around his neck, hugging him tightly as they kissed passionately.  This lasted for several minutes, and then he drew back, his face flushed.  He grabbed her hand and pulled her behind him as he ran across the lawn.

“Where are we going?” she asked, breathless from the kisses and trying to keep up with him.

“To the cottage.”

“But, your grandmother–”

“She won’t be back for a while.  We’ve got the place all to ourselves.”

He let them into the cottage through the back door.  They ran up the stairs to one of the bedrooms and as soon as they were inside, he pulled her into his arms and began to kiss her as he backed her over to the bed, dragging off his shirt as he did so.  In no time, their clothes were in a heap on the floor and they were under the covers making love.  They made love several times after that whenever his grandmother was away.

The one afternoon when they were in the throes of passion, the door opened.  The audible gasp and the slamming of the door jolted them and they broke apart.  Ryan’s face went pale when he saw his mother standing there and Tamara pulled the sheets up to her chin, feeling ashamed.

“I came over here to check on your grandmother and this is what I find,” Mrs. Bellamy muttered between clenched teeth, her face beet red.  She marched over to the strewn clothes on the floor and threw them at them.  “Get dressed now!”  She marched out of the room, slamming the door behind her.

As soon as she was gone, they jumped out of the bed and quickly got dressed.  Wordlessly, they straightened the sheets and then left the room.  She was waiting for them downstairs in the living-room.  “Ryan, go back to the manor and wait for me in the study.  Tamara and I need to talk.”

Ryan looked like he was about to say something but thought better of it.  He reached out and squeezed Tamara’s hand before leaving the room.  Left alone with Mrs. Bellamy, Tamara was petrified.  She stared at the floor.

“Tamara, I want you to go back to the house and pack your bags.  The car will take you to the train station.  You’re not welcome here anymore.”

Tamara raised her head, her eyes wide with shock and distress.  “You mean I won’t see Ryan ever again?” The thought was unbearable.  “But, we love each other…”

“What do you know about love?” Mrs. Bellamy demanded.  “He’s eighteen and you’re just sixteen.  You’re too young to know anything about love.  I can’t let you remain here—not after what has been going between you.  I have to be the responsible one in this and as long as the two of you are under the same roof, I can’t trust you.  So, you will leave Twin Oaks Manor now.”

“Will I get to say goodbye to Ryan?” She was crying now, her heart breaking.  Mrs. Bellamy watched her, her face devoid of any mercy.  Tamara’s tears didn’t move her.  In fact, they seemed to have the opposite effect.

“I’m afraid not,” she said coldly.  “I don’t want him to make a scene.  Now, when we get back to the manor, I will keep him busy in the study while you go and pack.  Please be quick about it.  The sooner you leave the better.”

Tears came to Tamara’s eyes now as she remembered walking back to the manor, head held down, tears streaming down her face, the ache in her heart at the prospect of not even getting to say goodbye to Ryan.  She and Mrs. Bellamy parted in the foyer.  She ran upstairs to her room and packed her suitcase as quickly as she could.  Before leaving, she wrote a note and hid it in the top drawer of Ryan’s dresser, under some vests.   She had thought of leaving it on his pillow but couldn’t risk his mother or anyone else seeing it.  Then, she walked out of the doors for the last time and got into the waiting car.  As it pulled away, she looked up at the window of the study, hoping for a glimpse of Ryan but none was forthcoming.  That was ten years ago.

She had written Ryan over the years but all of her letters were returned unopened.  She never received any from him.  She went to university and buried herself in her studies but always, she thought about him and longed to see him.  Finally, she couldn’t stay away any longer and decided that after she graduated from university, she would come to Northampton at the first opportunity.  She and Ryan were adults now and Mrs. Bellamy couldn’t prevent them from resuming their relationship even if she wanted to.

Would Ryan want to pick up where they left off, though?  Did he still love her?  She had never stopped loving him.  He was her first and only love.   She had the opportunity to date other guys but she wasn’t interested in any of them.

She turned and walked along the path to the cottage and made her way to that oak tree.  Gingerly, she climbed up and looked into the nest.  This time there were two baby robins in the nest.  She smiled and was tempted to touch them but decided not to.  She watched them for a while and then carefully made her way down the tree.  As she touched the ground, she heard a dog barking.  Curious, she went around the front of the cottage and stopped short when she saw Ryan at the fence, a bag carrying what looked like a hunting rifle slung over his shoulder and holding the leash of the barking dog.  Her heart began to pound.

He was standing there, watching her, his expression unreadable.  He was ten years older and gone were the boyish features.  He was a man now.  And he was even more handsome.  His thick dark hair looked slightly tousled.  Her fingers itched to bury themselves in it like she used to when they made love.

“Hush Rover,” he said to the dog.  The animal stopped barking, sat down and simply stared at her.   Ryan turned to look at her.  “What are you doing here?”

She moved closer.  “I came to see you,” she said.  She wanted so much to throw her arms around him.  Seeing him again brought back memories of the happy times they spent together and the love they shared before they were separated.  “It has been a long time.”

“Ten years to be exact.  Why did you leave without saying goodbye?”

“I wanted to but your mother won’t let me.  I wrote you a note.”

“I saw it.  I still have it.  It was all I had from you.”

She frowned.  “But, I wrote to you.”

“I never received any letters from you.”

“They were all returned to me, saying on them ‘return to sender’.”

“Every day I checked the mail to see if you had written but I didn’t see any letters.  I wanted to write you but I didn’t have an address.”

“I tried emailing you but my emails came back undelivered.”

“I changed my email address but had no way of letting you know that because yours didn’t work either.”

“That’s because my mother restricted my access to the Internet when she caught me once trying to email you.  I was only allowed to use the Internet for school assignments.  As soon as I finished university, got a job and found a flat, I moved out.  I searched the telephone directory for your number and when I called, your mother answered.  She told me never to call again and hung up.”

“Even before she caught us together, she had been complaining about how much time we were spending together.  She felt that I should have had more friends and show an interest in girls.  She had a particular girl in mind.  Emily Rosen.  Mother kept trying to throw us together but I wasn’t interested.  How could I be when my heart belonged to someone else?  Mother eventually gave up.  However, she became even more determined to keep us apart.  She made sure that while I was at university, I wasn’t allowed any calls or visits from anyone outside of the immediate family.”

Tamara sighed, her expression one of deep regret.  “I had hoped that she wasn’t still holding a grudge against me.  I haven’t been to the main house because I didn’t want to run into her.”

“Mother’s not here.  She’s visiting my grandmother in the nursing home.  Grandmother has Parkinson’s.”

“I’m really sorry to hear that.  I like your grandmother.  She has always been very kind to me.”

“Yes, she was rather fond of you.  After you left, I spent most of my time at the cottage with her.  I couldn’t stand being at the house.  I would go to the guest room, lie on the bed, close my eyes and think about you.  Grandmother knew that I was unhappy and although I said nothing to her about it, she knew that it was on account of you.  That is why she gave me the cottage.  She believed that you would come back. ”

She swallowed hard.  “I had to come back,” she said huskily.

His eyes darkened and he made a move toward her but then changed his mind and turned instead towards the cottage.  “Let’s go inside.”

She followed and when they were inside, he put the bag with the rifle away and then unleashed the dog.  The animal bounded over to his favorite spot on the rug and lay down.  “How long have you had him?” she asked as Ryan removed his jacket and took hers when she took it off.

“I’ve had him for about four years.  We go for long walks.  He loves the countryside as much as you did.”  He went to hang the coats in the closet.  “Why did you come back, Tamara?” he asked when he rejoined her.  His expression was taut.

She walked over to him.  “You know why,” she said, her eyes wide as they met his stormy ones.

A muscle began to throb along his jawline.  “I want you to tell me,” he muttered thickly.

“I came back because I still love you,” she admitted.  “I never stopped loving you.”

He groaned and reaching for her, he pulled her roughly against him.  “And I still love you,” he cried.  “I couldn’t stop loving you even if I tried.  You fill my thoughts, my senses and my heart. The ten years we’ve been apart have been torture for me.”

She reached up and cupped his face between her hands.  “For me too,” she murmured.  “That’s why I had to come back to Northampton and you.”

“I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t come back.”

“Hush,” she whispered before she began kissing him.  His arms tightened around her and he responded hungrily to her kisses.

For several minutes they exchanged passionate kisses as years of pent up desires and long denied feelings swept through them like a tidal wave.  Then, he broke off the kiss and picked her up.  He carried her up the stairs and to the guest room.  He kicked the door shut and strode over to the bed where he laid her down.  He was breathing heavily as he watched her lying there on the coverlet.  He hastily removed his clothes and then climbed in next to her.  His mouth found hers and as he ravaged her lips, he dragged her top over her head.  Soon they were making passionate love and her fingers gripped his hair, reveling at the feel of the soft, silky locks.

Sometime later, Ryan got up and went over to the dresser.  He took something out of it and closed the drawer.  He walked over to the bed and went on the side where she was.  She stared up at him.  He got down on his knees beside her.  Curious, she raised herself up on her elbows.  He showed her the box.  “I bought this in January,” he said.  He opened the box and took out the sparkling ring.  “I wanted to believe what Grandmother told me.  I wanted to believe that you would come back to me.”

Tamara stared at the ring and then at him, tears glistened in her eyes.  “It’s beautiful,” she whispered.

He took her hand and looking up into her face, he asked huskily, “Will you marry me?”

She nodded, not trusting herself to speak and he slipped it on.

He rose from his knees and went back to his side of the bed.  After he climbed in he turned on his side and propping his head on his hand, he gazed at her.  “When you find true love, you hold on to it,” he said quietly.  “You are my one and true love.  I lost you once and I don’t want to lose you again.”

“You never lost me,” she said, settling down again.  “I came back because I’m yours forever.”  She reached up and pulled his head down to hers.  As they kissed, she thought of Mrs. Bellamy and how her plan to sever their attachment had failed.  The separation had only proven that in spite of their youth, they had known all along what true love was.

Slide1

The Room in Venice

Friends since they were children, Monica and Russell were inseparable.  They went to the same schools and university and moved from Manchester to London after they graduated from university.  Whenever people saw them together, they always assumed that they were a couple and they would quickly inform them, “We’re just friends.”

They dated other people but the relationships never worked out and their respective exes always blamed their friendship.  Once, Monica’s ex-boyfriend accused her of sabotaging their relationship because she was secretly in love with Russell.  She had a run once in with Samantha, a model he was dating who informed her that she didn’t believe that they were just friends.  “A person would have to be blind not to see that there is something going on between you two,” she said.  “And which woman in her right mind could be just friends with a guy like Russell?”

Russell and Monica laughed about it but as time passed, they realized that there was some truth to what others were saying.  They stopped dating other people because they didn’t feel any connection with them and it was beginning to affect their friendship.  Russell found himself getting jealous of the men Monica dated and she hated seeing him with other women.  So, to safeguard their friendship, they remained unattached.   Instead of going to dinner with other people they went each other.  They went to the theatre, concerts and now, here they were in Italy for a three week vacation.

Monica stood now on the Spanish Steps as Russell snapped photos of her.  He looked so handsome in the white shirt and light blue jeans.  She noticed women walking by and casting admiring glances his way.  Jealousy gnawed at her although he seemed oblivious to them.  She knew she was being ridiculous but she couldn’t help it.  She always worried that one day he would meet someone else and fall in love with her.  Not wanting to spoil the moment, she smiled and posed for the photos.

The day went pleasantly as they visited the Pantheon and had lunch at a trattoria near the Piazza Navona.  After sharing a pizza, she went to the washroom.  On her way back to the table, a local looked up at her and said, “Ciao Bella ragazza.”  She glanced at him and then continued to where Russell was.

He stood up when she reached him.  “What did that man say to you?” he asked.  His expression was guarded.

“It sounded like, ‘Ciao bella ragazza,’” she told him.

Russell didn’t answer.  Instead, he put on his sunglasses and preceded her out of the trattoria.  They went for a walk along Castel Sant’Angelo before they went back to the hotel.  They went to their respective rooms until it was time for dinner.  The following day, they left Rome and went to Florence where they spent their second week.  The highlight for her was Michelangelo’s David.  She stood there for a long time just studying it.  Afterwards, they visited the Uffizi Gallery.  The following day, they took a trip to Milan and after visiting the Santa Maria delle Grazie where Da Vinci’s Last Supper hung, they stopped by the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.  Russell took a photo of Monica outside of Prada.  From Florence, they went on a day tour to Pisa, Siena and San Gimignano.  They had dinner in Siena in a trattoria in Piazza del Campo.

The week went by very quickly and Monica was sorry when they left Florence but looked forward to seeing Venice.  They took the train early in the morning and while Russell read a magazine, she took a nap.  When they arrived in Venice, they found out that they had to share a room because the hotel was fully booked.  That made Monica very nervous but she was relieved when she saw that there were two separate beds.

They spent their first day in Venice at Piazza San Marco, reputed to be one of the most beautiful squares in the world.   They visited the Basilica of San Marco.  Before going inside, they took photos of its architecture which was a mixture of Byzantine, Roman and Venetian, the impressive work of artists and craftsmen who came from all over.  Monica was enthralled by the dome and could have stood there all day just staring up at it.

When they came out of the basilica, Russell pointed to the one of the arches above the entrance where there was a marble statue of an old man biting his hand.  “The legend says that he was relieved of his duties when he said that he would be able to build it even more beautiful.” They had lunch at a restaurant in the square, enjoying the sunshine and watching other tourists.  They finished their sightseeing for the day climbing the Campanile for the breathtaking view of the city and the lagoon.   They stayed there for a while.

It was late afternoon when they returned to the hotel.  They relaxed on the terrace and then it was time to get ready for dinner.  It felt strange getting in the bathroom while Russell got dressed in the bedroom.  She had to make sure it was safe to come out once she was finished.  He looked handsome as usual.  And she saw his gaze travel over her.  “You look great,” he remarked before turning away.  “I was thinking that after dinner, we can go to a church concert.”

She smiled.  “That sounds great.”  Venice was beautiful at night so it was nice walking to the square.  How she longed to hold Russell’s hand, especially when they passed other couples who were holding hands.  They had dinner at an elegant restaurant.  As they enjoyed the Chicken and Mushrooms and Pasta & Oca respectively, they talked about the places they had visited that day and where they planned on going the next day.  For dessert, they had Rosada cream with orange.  Afterwards, they walked to the church where they spent the next hour or so listening to uplifting music in a lovely atmosphere.

It was late when they got back to the hotel and she was tired.  On the way up to their room, she kept yawning and as soon as they got in she, took out a nightgown from her suitcase and headed straight for the bathroom.  She quickly changed out of her dress and into her nightgown and brushed her teeth.

She walked into the room and stopped short when she saw Russell standing there half-naked, holding his pajama shirt.  She turned away, flustered but not before her gaze swept irresistibly over the broad shoulders and wide chest.  He watched her, his expression tense and a muscle throbbed alongside his jawline.  It took every ounce of willpower on his part not to go over there and take her in his arms.  Instead, he went into the bathroom and closed the door quietly behind him.

As soon as he was gone, Monica hurried over to her bed and climbed in, pulling the cover up to her throat.

A few moments later, the door to the bathroom opened and Russell stepped into the room.  She watched as he walked past her bed to his.

“Goodnight, Russell,” she said, looking over at him as he pulled back the cover and got in.  His back was turned to her.

“Goodnight.”  He closed his eyes as his body reacted to the memory of her in the champagne colored silk nightgown.  He didn’t know how much longer he could continue being just friends with her when he wanted her.

She lay there on her back, staring up at the ceiling, unable to fall asleep.  She couldn’t get the image of him out of her mind.  When she saw his bare torso, her mouth went dry and what felt like a bolt of electricity surged through her.  She had turned away because she was afraid that her feelings would betray her.  She wished she had the courage to tell him how she really felt about him but she didn’t want to jeopardize their friendship.

Sometime later, she heard him stir and then get up.  In the faint light, she watched him tiptoe over to the chair where his shirt and pants were draped.   As he started to get dressed, she sat up, alarmed.  “Where’re you going?” she asked, turning on the lamp beside her.

He didn’t turn around.  “I thought you were asleep.  I can’t sleep so, I’m going out for a bit.”

After he pulled on his shirt and tucked it in his pants, he turned to face her, his eyes wary.  “I’ll try not to disturb you when I come back.”

“How long will you be gone?”

“I don’t know,” he replied shortly.

“Where will you go?”

“I don’t know.  Maybe I’ll go to Piazzale Roma or the Rialto or San Marco.”  He was about to walk past her when she quickly climbed out of the bed and stood in front of him.

“What’s wrong, Russell?” she asked.  “You seem upset.”

He kept his eyes on her face, not daring to let them go lower.  “I’m not upset.”

“I think you are, “she insisted.   “Please tell me what’s wrong.  We’re supposed to be friends—”

His expression darkened.   “I know we’re supposed to be friends,” he snapped.  “But right now, I don’t feel like a friend.”

She looked nonplussed.  “What do you mean?”

This is what I mean,” he muttered before he grabbed her by the shoulders and pulled her roughly against him, making her gasp.  His head swooped down and his mouth closed hungrily over hers.

Monica clung to him, kissing him back eagerly, feverishly.  As they exchanged kisses, he picked her up and carried her over to her bed.  He put her gently down on it and then drew back to remove his shirt.  She reached for him, pulling him down to her, her fingers digging into his back as he pressed his lips hotly against her neck.

They made mad, passionate love and the next morning when she woke up, she was alone in the bed.  She lay there for a moment thinking it had all been a dream.  Then she sat up and realized that she wasn’t wearing anything under the cover.  She looked over and saw Russell standing by the window.  He was wearing a robe.   He turned when he heard her.

He left the window and came and sat down on the bed beside her.  His expression was serious when he met her gaze.  “Do you regret what happened between us?” he asked.

She shook her head.  “No,” she murmured huskily, reaching out and brushing the hair back from his forehead.

He leaned over and kissed her on the shoulder, making her shiver.  “Me neither,” he said.  “I wanted to make love to you for a very, very long time but you insisted on us being just friends—”

“I thought that was what you wanted,” she said.  “You never came out and said otherwise.”

“Do you have any idea how hard it is to be a friend to you when I want to be more?  That’s why I couldn’t sleep last night.  When I saw you in that nightgown, I wanted you so much.  I had to get out of here before I lost my mind.”

“I couldn’t sleep either because I kept thinking about how sexy you look without a shirt…”

His eyes darkened and cupping her face between his hands he lowered his head and kissed her.  “I love you, Monica,” he whispered, raising his head to look into her face.  “I wanted to tell you that so many times but my courage failed me.”

“I love you too.”

“I just wish we hadn’t wasted so much time dating other people when we should have been dating each other.”

“Let’s not waste any more time having regrets.  Things are different between us now.”

“Yes, they are.”

“You know, if anyone were to ask me what the most memorable part of my vacation is, I would tell them that it was the room in Venice.”

“Why this room?” he asked.

“It’s where you and I first made love and declared our feelings for each other.  I will always remember this room for those two reasons.”

His eyes darkened.  “Let’s have a late breakfast,” he suggested as he removed his robe.

“Or we can order room service,” she said, settling back against the pillows.

“Room service, then,” he agreed before his mouth found hers.

 

 

Sources:  Cabragadin Hotel; Ciao Florence; Italy Guides; Veneto Inside; Bistrot de Venise; Classic Tic; Rick Steves

 

The Dinner Party

It was after five on a Friday and everyone had gone.  Just Lydia and her boss, Maksim were there.  She was clearing her desk when he stuck his head out of his office.  “Are you doing anything tomorrow evening?” he asked.

She shook her head, wondering if he wanted her to come and work tomorrow.  It had happened before.

“A good friend of mine is having a dinner party tomorrow evening and I was wondering if you would like to go with me.”

Lydia stared at him for several minutes, wondering if she had heard correctly.  This was the first time since they had been working together that he had ever asked her to go anywhere with him.  She was both nervous and excited at the same time.  This seemed too good to be true.  Had his date cancelled on him?

“No one cancelled on me,” he said, startling her.  She hadn’t realized that she had voiced her thoughts.  “You’re the only one I’ve asked.  If you don’t want to go, it’s fine.  I’ll go by myself.”

“No, I want to go,” she said.  “It’s been a while since I’ve been anywhere interesting.”

“I’ll pick you up at six-thirty.  Goodnight.”

“Goodnight,” she replied and watched as he went back into his office.  Then, she finished clearing her desk, took out her handbag and locked her drawer.  He was on the phone when she walked past.  As she walked to the lift, she wondered what she was going to wear to the dinner party.  Maksim was such a stylish man her outfit would have to be classy.

As soon as she got home, she went straight to her wardrobe and scanned the clothes hanging there.  Her eyes settled on the soft blossom, strapless ruffle hem dress which she had recently bought and had never worn before.  It would go well with her sliver sandals and matching clutch purse.  As for her hair, she would just pin it up.  Satisfied that she had something to wear tomorrow evening, she drew the doors shut and undressed. After taking a quick shower, she had something light to eat before settling down on the sofa to watch the News.

At eleven-thirty, she turned in but didn’t go to sleep right away.  She lay there thinking about tomorrow, thrilled that she didn’t have to wait until Monday to see Maksim.  Maksim.  He was easily the most attractive man she had ever known and she was drawn to him from the very first time they met.

Her thoughts went to this morning and the way he had looked at her as she walked over to his desk to leave some papers there for to look over.  He was on his cell phone but he was watching her.  She wondered if he had any idea of how sexy he looked at that moment or the effect he always had on her.  When she turned and headed to the door, she could feel his eyes on her.  There were times when they would exchange looks and other times when she found excuses to go to his office.  However, it seemed like nothing would come of it and she wondered if it had to do with the fact that he was her boss.

She was really looking forward to seeing him tomorrow.  Hugging her pillow, she tried to imagine the expression on his face when he saw her in her dress.  She hoped he would be impressed.  It was near one when she finally drifted off to sleep.

The following day, she busied herself with housekeeping and cooking.  The day seemed to drag.  Finally, it was time to get ready for her date.  Excitement filled her as she got dressed and she checked herself in the mirror to make sure everything was fine before she left her room.  As she put her shawl around her shoulders, the doorbell rang.  Her heart skipped a beat.  She hurried to the door and opened it.  Her mouth went dry when she saw Maksim standing there looking drop dead gorgeous in the navy Mohair dinner suit with black silk.  She saw his gaze travel slowly over her and the admiration shining in their depths.  “You look amazing,” he said quietly.

She smiled, feeling very pleased.  “Thank you,” she said as she closed and locked the door behind her.  As they walked to the lift, a group of women passed them and cast admiring glances at Maksim but he appeared not to notice them.  Lydia looked over her shoulder.  Eat your hearts out, ladies.

On the ride down the lift, he leaned against the panel and looked at her. “The friend whose dinner party I’m taking you born in Vladivostok like me.  We were neighbors until my parents migrated to England when I was three.  After his father died, his mother brought him and his sister here.  My parents helped them to settle and he and I went to the same school and university.”

“You don’t have a Russian accent,” she commented.  “I guess it’s because you came here as a small child.”

“Yes, but when I speak with my parents you can hear it.  Vasily has a strong accent because he came here as an older child.  His wife Anna is from the Ukraine.  They have two children—a boy and a girl.  You’ll like them.”

“Have you been back to Vladivostok since you left?” The doors to the lift opened then and he allowed her to precede him before he followed her.  He placed his hand on her elbow, making her skin tingle.  His fingers felt warm and firm.  They walked to his car—a sleek black jaguar.  He held open the door and she climbed in.  Briefly, his gaze dropped to her legs before he closed the door.

He got in beside her and turned on the key in the ignition.  The engine purred to life and he drove out of the parking space.  “I went back a few years ago when I visited Moscow.  I took the train from there to Vladivostok and spent a week.  It felt strange being there.  The city centre is decaying and badly in need of a scrub and the building where my family and I lived looks rundown.  I was happy to leave although there are some attractions that I couldn’t miss like the Arsenyev Regional History Museum where there’s a battle scene between a Siberian tiger and a bear.  I have a photo of it.  Remind me to show you sometime.  You have to see it to believe it. I also visited the Triumphal Gates of Nikolai, reputed to be one of the most beautiful and magnificent buildings in Vladivostok. They were built in 1891 to commemorate the heir’s to the Tsar’s throne Nicholas Alexandrovich’s  who later became Russian Imperator Nicholas II.  I visited other places of interest then I returned to Moscow.”

“What about your parents?  Would they go for a visit?”

He shook his head.  “No.  They don’t want to travel anywhere now because they are old.”

“I like your parents.”  He had brought them to the office a couple of years ago to meet his co-workers and because he was taking them out for lunch to celebrate his mother’s eightieth birthday.  They hardly spoke any English but were very warm and friendly.

He smiled.  “Yes, they are good people.”

“What about your sister, did she ever go back home for a visit?” He had an older sister whom she heard him talk about on several occasions but never met.  She lived in Manchester.

“Yes, a few years ago with her family.  She had a better experience.  She didn’t bother to visit our old neighborhood.  Instead, she and her family did a lot of sightseeing.  The kids loved it, especially the dolphin show at the oceanarium.”

They talked some more about his childhood home and then they arrived at his friend’s house.  It was an attractive, stately home with a winding driveway.  Several cars were parked and as they walked up the stairs, they could hear voices and peals of laughter.  She felt butterflies in her stomach and she glanced at him.  “Don’t be nervous,” he said.  He reached for her hand and held it the rest of the way.

As she looked around her in wonder at the décor and the different people there in their fine outfits, he escorted her to their hosts.  They were an attractive couple.  Vasily was tall, blonde and regal in his white dinner jacket and Anna was medium height with dark brown hair swept back in a chignon.  She was wearing a beautiful maroon sequenced ankle length dress with cap sleeves.  Her eyes twinkled when Maksim introduced Lydia. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Lydia,” she said.  “What a lovely dress.”

Lydia smiled.  “Thank you.”  She turned to Vasily who smiled and shook her hand warmly. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“Likewise,” he said.  “Maksim, where have you been hiding her?” He teased his friend.

Maksim replied first in Russian, “v moyem serdtse” and then in English, “We work together.” Vasily looked at him for a few minutes and then said, “Well, it’s good to have you both here tonight.” Maksim took Lydia’s arm and led her over to meet some of the other people in the room.

There was one particular woman there who seemed especially pleased to see him and she completely ignored Lydia who looked her over.  She was petite, curvy and had thick, unruly black hair that tumbled around her bare shoulders in tight curls.  The red strapless dress hugged her and flattered her olive complexion.   She put her red lacquered nails on Maksim’s arm as she reached up and planted a kiss on his cheek.  “Maksim, what a pleasure it is to see you,” she said in what sounded like a Spanish accent.  “It has been a while.  How have you been?”

Maksim smiled.  “Hello, Camila.  Allow me to introduce you to Lydia.”

It was then she seemed to notice that someone was standing beside him.  Her dark brown eyes swept over Lydia and the expression on her face had changed dramatically.  There was hostility and disdain written all over it.  She didn’t smile or offer her hand.  Instead, she said grudgingly, “Hello, Linda.”

Lydia bristled but she maintained a calm composure.  “Lydia,” she corrected her.  “My name’s Lydia.”

Camila didn’t say anything.  Instead, she turned her attention once again to Maksim who was watching Lydia.  “Well, Maksim, I expect to have a least one dance with you tonight,” she said, touching his arm again.  “That’s if your date doesn’t object.”  She said the word “date” as if it were a dirty word.  Before he could answer, she excused herself, then turned and sauntered away.

Lydia shook her head.  She didn’t know that women like her actually existed.  “Are you going to dance with her?” she asked Maksim who looked amused.  Did he find Camila attractive?  She noticed he hadn’t seem at all put out by her obvious flirtation with him.

“I don’t think so,” he said emphatically.  “Don’t let her upset you or spoil your evening.” “I’ll try not to.”

Just then, dinner was announced and they were ushered into an enormous dining-room with a long table covered in a white cloth, elegant dinnerware and vases with red flowers.  She sat between Maksim and a very nice lady whom he had introduced her to earlier.  Thankfully, Camila was seated several chairs away.  The dinner consisted of three scrumptious options—the Sole Meuniere with Rice Pilaf, Grilled Flatiron steak with tomatoes and spiced vinaignette for the meat lovers and Cider Braised Chicken with apples and Kale.  For the vegetarians, the choices were the Rigatoni with peas and porchini mushrooms in a creamy asparagus sauce and the Papardelle with shallots wild mushrooms and tarragon.  Lydia opted for the Sole while Maksim had the steak.  And following dinner the Mini Lanoffee Pie was served.  It was the best dessert she had ever had and promised herself that she would make it one of these days.

After dinner, they filed into the large room where there would be dancing for those who wanted to dance and comfortable chairs for those who just wanted to sit and chat.  Lydia excused herself and went to freshen up.

When she returned, Maksim reached for her hand.  “Let’s dance,” he suggested quietly, his expression serious.  Pulse racing, she put her handbag on a seat nearby and followed him to the dance floor.  She followed his lead and their bodies moved in unison to the music.  The feel of his hand pressing into the small of her back and his firm body against his made her senses swim.  He smelled really good and her arm tightened slightly around his neck as they moved around the dance-floor.  The hand holding hers felt so warm and pleasant.

At one point he drew back to gaze down at her.  She raised her head to look up at him.  Their eyes locked for several minutes as they continued to move as one to the music.  His eyes were darker and she saw something in them which made her heart pound wildly against her ribs and swallow hard.  Her chest began to heave when she saw his gaze drop to her lips which parted. Color flooded his cheeks and she felt his grip on her back tighten even more until she was pressing into his body.  She couldn’t be certain if the heavy breathing she heard was his or hers.

The music ended and several minutes passed before he released her.  He was still holding her hand and instead of going back to where the others were sitting, he took her in the opposite direction.   He took her out on to the terrace where it was dark except for the light coming from inside. No one was out there.  They were alone.

Without saying a word, he stopped abruptly, pulled her against him and began to kiss her hungrily, feverishly.  She hugged him tightly around the neck and kissed him back.   They stood there for a long time, just kissing while inside people were chatting, laughing, dancing and enjoying themselves.

At length, Maksim raised his head to look down into her upturned face, his breathing harsh and unsteady.  “I have wanted to do that for a very long time,” he confessed huskily.   She reached up and kissed him.

“Me too,” she said.

“Remember when Vasily asked me where I have been hiding you?” he asked.  “I said something to him in Russian.”

“Yes, you did but I thought you said it in English afterward.  You told him that we work together.”

“I said that afterwards but when he asked me where I have been hiding you, I said, in my heart.”

She stared at him.  “In your heart?” she repeated.

“Yes, that was my way of telling him that I love you.”

Her breath caught in her throat.  “I love you too, Maksim,” she said.  “I fell in love with you the first time I saw you.”

“It was love at first sight for me too but I kept it to myself because I didn’t know how you felt about me or if you would feel comfortable being in a relationship with me.”

“It doesn’t matter to me that you’re my boss,” she said.  “I love you and I want to be with you.”

He groaned.  “I want to be with you too,” he muttered thickly.  “Tonight changes everything between us.”

“Yes, it does,” she agreed.  She closed her eyes in sweet anticipation as he lowered his head again to kiss her.

 

 

Sources:  J Crew; Pinterest; Wikitravel; Panoramio; Vladivostok; Tripadvisor; Epicurious; Pinterest; Red