The Missionary/Calm #writephoto

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Photo by Sue Vincent

 

“When you went off on a missionary trip to Africa, we certainly didn’t expect you to come back with a wife,” Mrs. Cartland exclaimed, her expression one of disdain as she looked at her son.

Rolf sighed.  “Naija isn’t my wife, Mother.  I’m not sure why you think she is.  I’m sure I was clear in my letter that if I didn’t do something, she was going to be taken out of school and married off to a man old enough to be her grandfather.  In Nigeria, girls like Naija and younger are given in marriage without their consent.”

“And so you decide to bring her to England.  What about her parents?  I can’t imagine that they would let you just whisk their daughter away like that.”

“Her parents and I came up with an arrangement which will benefit all parties.  They were going to give her away in marriage because they are poor and need the money.  The man they were going to marry her to, has money but I offered them more money in exchange for marriage that Naija come to England instead.  I will put her through university.  After, she graduates, it is up to her if she wants to remain here or return to Nigeria.  Her parents agreed that if she should return, she is not expected to be married off but can get a job so she could continue to support them.  While she is here, I will send money to them on a regular basis to keep them.”

“You’re going to send them money?” Mrs. Cartland was aghast.  “And how long do you propose to do that?”

“Until Naija can afford to support them herself.”

“And when exactly will that be?”

“When she finds steady employment after graduating from university.”

“I fear, my Dear, that she’s going to take advantage of your generosity and you will find yourself supporting her for longer than is necessary.  You’re far too indulgent and gullible when it comes to the dregs of society.”

Rolf’s lips tightened but he held his temper in check.  “Mother, I appreciate your concern, but Naija isn’t like that at all.”

Mrs. Cartland didn’t look at all convinced and was about to say something else when her daughter, Rosalind spoke up.  “Rolf, let’s go for a walk.  It looks absolutely gorgeous outside.  Mother, please excuse us.”

Grateful for the interruption, he rose to his feet and after excusing himself, he followed her out of the room.  “Thank you for that,” he said to Rosalind as they walked down the hallway.

She glanced at him.  “No problem.  I could see that you were trying very hard not to blow your top.  And Mother can be very irritating at times.”

“At times?”

Rosalind laughed.  “All right.  Most of the time.”

Rolf’s lips twitched.  They were outside now and it was a gorgeous day.  “Let’s take a walk by the stream.”

“What a splendid idea!”

The stream was about a ten minute walk from the family’s mansion.  “Do you remember when Dad used to bring us here on a Sunday morning?  While he and I fished, you fed the ducks pieces of bread from the egg and cheese sandwiches Mrs. Hogwarth made?”

“Yes and I remember getting pecked by one of them and Dad had to bandage my hand with his handkerchief.  I was scared of the ducks after that.”

“Yes, that’s how Mrs. Hogwarth found out that you fed her sandwiches to them and she clobbered you.”

“Yes, I was scared of her after then too.  Oh, Rolf, what a riotous childhood we had.  I miss Dad.”

“I miss him too.”

“He would be so proud of you, being a missionary and all.  It was something he himself loved.  He always regretted leaving the field when he married Mother.  She never understood his love for it.  She preferred being the wife of a government minister rather a missionary’s.”

“I love being in full-time ministry, helping communities in London and overseas.  It’s how I met Naija.”

“You’re in love with Naija, aren’t you?” Rosalind commented, looking at him closely.

He blushed.  Nothing ever escaped her.  “Yes,” he admitted quietly.

“I see the way you look and act around her.”

“Can you imagine how Mother would react if she knew?”

Rosalind waved her hand dismissively.  “It doesn’t matter what Mother or anyone else thinks, Rolf.  You have to follow your heart.  It’s your life, your future and your happiness that are at stake here.  Remember, Mother wanted me to marry Reginald but I married Maxwell instead?  Reginald was a good man but I didn’t love him.  I was mad about Maxwell and we have been happily married for twenty-six years now.”

“I think you made an excellent choice.  Maxwell is an exceptional man.”

“Thank you and yes, he is.  Does Naija know how you feel about her?”

He shook his head.  “No.”

“Don’t you think that perhaps it’s time you told her?”

His heart lurched.  “I don’t know,” he said in alarm.

“Come on, Rolf, don’t be such a coward.  Sometimes, happiness comes by taking chances.  I took a chance with Maxwell and looked how that turned out.”

What she said made a lot of sense but the thought of revealing his feelings to Naija was daunting.  He would have to think about it some more.  “I’ll think about it,” he said after a while.

Rosalind slipped her arm through his and smiled.  “All right,” she said.  “Sleep on it, then.”  They continued walking alongside the river, enjoying the sunshine and the quietness.

****************************************************

Naija was already at the park, waiting when Rolf got there the following afternoon.  He had just come from a staff meeting.  She smiled when she saw him and the large brown paper bag in his hand.  He smiled as he sat down beside her.  “Have you been waiting long?” he asked.

She shook her head.  “No.  I got here about five minutes ago.  Thanks for getting this.  I’m starving.”

He opened the bag and took out a box of Fish and Chips and handed it to her along with a plastic knife and fork.  He took out the other box.  On the bench between them, he put the cups of flavored milk tea and the straws.   After he said Grace, they tucked into the food.  It tasted as good as it looked and smelled.  As they ate, they talked about different things.   And all the while, he was thinking about what Rosalind had said.  He wanted to tell Naija how he felt but he was terrified.

“What’s wrong?” Naija’s question startled him.

“Nothing,” was his quick response.  A pause and then, wanting to shift the attention away from himself, he asked, “What are you plans after you graduate from university?  Will you stay here in England or return home to your family?”

She thought about it.  “I’ll stay here,” she said.  “I’ll find a job or I can become a missionary and work for you.”

“Being a missionary is an admirable vocation but what are your dreams?  What would you really like to do with your life, Naija?”

“I like writing.  I like to write about what I see around me.”

“Sounds like you’re thinking of becoming a journalist.  That’s very good. Perhaps, you’ll let me see some of your writings.”

“I will,” she promised.  “I keep a journal.  It’s almost full.  I write about university, what I observe on the campus, what I hear on the News and the conversations I have had with my host family.  I’ve written a lot of things about you as well.”

His eyebrows arched.  “Really?  And what exactly have you written about me?”

“How you’ve been so good to me and how blessed I am that you came into my life.  I will always be indebted to you, Rolf.”

A muscle began to throb along his jawline.  “I’m the one who’s blessed,” he replied.  Their eyes were locked.  His heart was racing.  This is foolish, he thought.  I’m behaving like a lovesick fool over a girl almost half my age.  She just sees me as her benefactor, nothing more.  All she feels towards me is gratitude. 

“That isn’t all I wrote about you,” she said shyly.

He swallowed hard.  “What else did you write about me?”

She looked nervous now.  “Rolf, I know that I’m only eighteen years old but, I–I was hoping that our age difference wouldn’t matter to you.”

“What are you saying, Naija?”

“What-what I’m saying, is-is that I want us to-to be more than friends.”

He expelled his breath in an unsteady sigh.  “Are you sure this is what you want?” he asked, his expression tense.

She nodded at once.  “Yes,” she replied.  “It’s what I’ve wanted since we met.”

“Oh, Naija,” he cried, his cheeks suffusing with color.  He set the empty boxes aside and rose to his feet.  He reached down and pulled her up.  “It’s what I want too.”  He pulled her against him and his eager lips found hers.  Overhead the setting sun cast its crimson glow on them.

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

Sources: Erika and Eva Toh TravelsLondon City Mission

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Why He Married Her

Lindsey was leaving the drugstore when she ran into Alicia, a former university classmate and Alton’s ex-girlfriend.  The stunning blonde gave her a nasty look.

“Well, if it isn’t the expectant mother.” she said.  Her eyes dropped to Lindsey’s midriff.

Lindsey didn’t answer.  Of all the people she could have run into, why did it have to be her?

Alicia’s gaze returned to Lindsey’s face.  Jealousy and resentment flashed in her green eyes.  “You know why he married you, don’t you?” she asked.  “It isn’t because he loves you.  You got pregnant and he wanted to do the honorable thing.”

“I really don’t have to stand here and listen to this,” Lindsey said and brushed past her, seething.  On the drive home, she fumed.  She turned on the radio and to a Christian station.  Gospel music filled the car.  It helped to calm her down.

When she got in, she went straight to the kitchen to fix herself something to eat.  She was hungry.  She carried the large plate of wild rice, stew Chicken, veggies and potatoes, with salad on the side into the living-room.  She settled comfortably in the sofa and ate as she watched reruns of Downton Abbey.  When she was finished eating, she got up and put the dirty dishes into the Dish washer, had a tall glass of milk and then went back to the living-room.  She relaxed on the sofa with her feet on the coffee table.

A couple of hours later, she read her Bible, made dinner and then took a nap.  When she woke up, it was six o’clock.  Alton would be home at any minute.  She got up, took a shower, fixed her hair and went downstairs.  She heated dinner and then laid it out on the table in the dining-room.  Just as she put the glasses of Cranberry Juice on the table, she heard the key turn in the lock.  She left the dining-room and went into the foyer.  The door opened and Alton went in.  He smiled when he saw her.  After he closed and locked the door, he greeted her, “Hello, Sweetheart.”  He hugged and kissed her, thankful to be home.  “How was your day?”

“The usual,” she replied, helping him to remove his jacket.  “I went to the drugstore to pick up the Materna.”

“How are you feeling?”

“I feel fine.  The morning sickness isn’t as so bad anymore.  How was your day?”

“Busy as usual.  It’s great to be home.  Something smells really good.”

She took his hand and led him to the dining-room.  “I thought we’d eat in here for a change,” she said.  Usually, they ate in the kitchen.  “I’ll be right back.”  She went and got a pair of candles and placed them on the table.  After she lit them, they sat down.  He said Grace and then they tucked into the Beef and Parmesan Pasta. 

Over dinner, they talked about his day, the plans his company had that would bring in even more revenue which meant that they would be able to buy a house outside of the city.  As she listened to him talk, her mind alighted on her run in with Alicia.  She wondered if she should mention it.  No, she decided that then wasn’t the right time.  She didn’t want to spoil their evening.  She would tell him later.  The nagging doubts rose to the surface but she pushed them away.

After he helped her to clear the table, he went to take a shower while she loaded the dishwasher.  She was in the living-room when he joined her.  He was wearing just a pajama pants.  It was during the summer.  He sat next to her and rested his arm along the back of the sofa.  They watched a couple of movies and then called it a night.

He was in and out of the bathroom quickly while she stayed a while longer.  After she wiped the top of the sink she switched off the light and went into the bedroom.  He was lying under the covers.  He rolled over unto his side when he heard her but when she stood there watching him, he asked, “Aren’t you coming to bed.”

“In a minute,” she answered.

He sat up, frowning.  “What’s the matter, Lin?”

“I ran into Alicia this morning.”

He grimaced.  “What happened?”

Lindsey told him.  “Is this why you married me?” she asked, placing her hand on her swollen abdomen.

Alton threw back the covers and climbed out of the bed.  He went over to her, towering over her as she stood there, in the black vest and silk pajama shorts.  He hooked his finger under her chin and raised her face until she was looking up at him, her eyes wide as they met his.  “You should know by now why I married you,” he said quietly.

She swallowed.  “Maybe I need for you to tell me,” she replied.

“I love you, Lin,” he confessed.  “I would have married you even if you hadn’t gotten pregnant.  Alicia’s bitter because I broke up with her long before I met you.  She wants to ruin our relationship.  Don’t let her.  She knows I married you because I love you.”

“I’m sorry,” Lindsey mumbled.  “I had my doubts and she just played on them.  I guess I never could get over the fact that a guy like you would be interested in me.”

His eyes darkened on her face.  “You’re the most beautiful and desirable woman I know.  The first time I saw you, I knew that I was in trouble.  As you recall, I didn’t waste anytime introducing myself to you and asking you out.  I fell hard for you and was planning to ask you to marry me when you told me that you were pregnant.  I was on top of the world, Lin.  Didn’t you ever wonder how was able to put a ring on your finger the same night as your announcement?”

She nodded.  And at that moment, she felt like a complete fool.  “I’m sorry,” she apologized again, lowering her eyes.

“Oh, Lindsey,” Alton muttered thickly before he lowered his head and kissed her.

She put her arms around his waist and pressed against him as she kissed him back.  As they exchanged passionate kisses, he picked her up and carried her over to the bed.

He laid her gently down and stretched out beside her.  Lying on his side, he gazed down into her face, his face flushed.  “You wanted me to say that I love you,” he murmured huskily.  “Now, I’m going to show you how much.”  He lowered his head and she reached up and clutched his head.

“I love you,” she whispered just before their lips touched.

 

Love is a Storm

Jasper was walking down the street, heading to the cafe where he was supposed to meet his girlfriend, Shannon when he heard someone call his name.  He turned and saw that it was Raina, Shannon’s friend from university.  She stood there, dressed in an odd white top, denim capri pants with a smile on her face.  Around her arm was a gold band and several handcraft chains around her neck.  In his mind he juxtaposed her image with Shannon’s.  They were different as night and day.  Shannon was glamorous and Raina was not.  Yet, it was Raina who made his heart race and his stomach do somersaults.  He walked over to her.

“Hi Raina,” he said, nervous and excited at the same time.  She had that effect on him.

“Hi, yourself.  Where’re you off to in such a hurry?” she asked.

“I’m meeting Shannon for lunch at Kennington Lane Cafe.”

She had a way of tilting her head to the side as she looked up at him.  “It’s been a while since I last saw you.  Are you avoiding me?”

He blinked.  “Why would I be avoiding you?” he asked.  Was she on to him?  Did she somehow guess that he had been avoiding her?

“Maybe because of what almost happened the last time we saw each other.”

He felt his face grow hot when he recalled the incident she was talking about.  He had invited some friends over to celebrate Shannon’s birthday.  Raina got there early so that she could set things up.  She was busying stringing the decorations when he went into the living-room.  He stood beside the mantelpiece and watched her.  As if sensing that he was there, she turned, a smile on her face.   And then, to his surprise, the smile disappeared and she gaped at him for a few minutes before turning abruptly away.  Frowning, he walked over to her and stood in front of her.

“What’s the matter, Raina?” he asked, still clueless.

She avoided looking at him.  “Your–your shirt is open,” she mumbled.

He glanced down.  Sure enough.  It was unbuttoned.  Blushing profusely, he quickly buttoned it and tucked it in his pants.  “Sorry about that,” he apologized.  “You can look now.”

She did and for a long moment their eyes locked.  Then, she turned and went over to the step ladder to finish stringing the Happy Birthday, Shannon sign.  “Could you hand me those balloons, please?”

He picked up the balloons stringed together and gave them to her.  She put them below the sign.  After checking to make sure her handiwork was fine, she started to come down the ladder when she stumbled.  He reached up and caught her.  Winded, she leaned against him for a few minutes, trying to catch her breath.  This was the closest he had ever been to her and it excited him.  His heart began to pound and his breath quickened.  They stared at each other, the air around them pulsating.  She felt so soft against him and he couldn’t hide his reaction.  His smoldering gaze lowered to her lips which parted.  Inflamed, he leaned over to devour them when the doorbell rang.  They draw apart immediately and raking his fingers through his hair, he went to answer the door.

For the rest of the evening, he avoided her but he hadn’t been able to think of anything else but how badly he wanted to kiss her.  For weeks, he tried to stay away, afraid to face her.  And now here she was.  He swallowed hard, his expression tense as he returned her searching gaze.  “I would have kissed you if the others hadn’t shown up then,” he said.

“I know,” she said, sounding a little breathless.

“I haven’t been able to think about anything else.”

“Me neither,” she admitted.

“Why did my open shirt bother you so much?”

“You know why,” she said.

“I want you to tell me.”

“Seeing your bare chest turned me on.”

His eyes darkened.  “You turn me on and right at this moment, I want to take you back to my place and show you how much.”

“Jasper…”

“This is why I’ve been avoiding you.  I’m afraid of what I would do and say when we’re alone together.”

“Maybe we shouldn’t be alone now,” she said.  “Maybe I should go…”

He caught her by the hand.  “Don’t go,” he said.

“I should,” she insisted.  “Besides, you have a lunch date, remember?”

“When can I see you again?” he asked, still holding her hand.

She blinked, trying to think but found it hard with him rubbing his thumb against the inside of her palm.  “I-I don’t know.”

“How about later?”

She shook her head.  “I can’t.  I have a date–”

His expression darkened at once.  “A date?” he repeated.  Jealousy ripped through him.  “Who’s the guy?  Do I know him?”

“I don’t think so.”

“How long have you been dating him?”

“I haven’t been.  This is our first date.”

“How did you meet him?”

Before she could answer, his cell rang.  Muttering under his breath, he released her arm and whipped his cell out. “Yes?”  A pause then:  “I’m on my way now.  I should be there in five minutes.”  He listened and then rang off.

“You’d better go now or she’ll go ballistic.”

“Raina…”

“I’ve to go,” she said and quickly walked away.

 

“What’s the matter with you?” Shannon asked him as they sat by the window having veggie burgers, salad and shakes.  “You’re acting a bit odd.”

“Nothing’s the matter with me.”

Shannon looked at his unfinished burger and then at him.  “You’ve hardly touched your lunch.”

“I’m not very hungry.”

“Aren’t you feeling well?  You look a bit piqued.”

“I’m fine,” he insisted.  “Let’s drop it.”  He picked up the burger and forced himself to eat it.

She wasn’t convinced but she dropped the matter.  After lunch, they went a Jazz concert and then he took her home.  She wanted him to stay but he made an excuse and left.

 

“I had a terrific time and you’re a really nice guy, Joel but…”

“But you’re not interested,” he finished.  They were standing outside of her flat.  “It’s another guy, isn’t it?”

She nodded.  “Yes.”

“Well, whoever he is, he’s a lucky guy.”

“Goodbye, Joel,” she said, holding out her hand.

“Goodbye, Raina.”  He took her hand and raised it to his lips.  And then, he was gone.

She turned and unlocked her door.  Once inside, she thankfully removed her shoes and wriggled her toes.  They were gorgeous but they hurt her feet.  She was about to head for the bedroom to change when the doorbell rang.  Frowning, she turned and peered through the keyhole.  Her heart lurched when she saw Jasper standing there.  She opened the door.  “What are you doing here?” she asked.  He looked amazing in the black shirt and black pants.  She saw the way his gaze traveled over her body clad in the black cocktail dress with cap sleeves and a side slit.  Her curly hair framed her face which was devoid of makeup.

“You look beautiful,” he added, his expression tense.

“Thank you.”

“May I come in?”

She stepped aside for him to go inside and closed the door behind him.  Afterwards, she turned to face him.  “What are you doing here?” she asked again.

“I had to see you, Raina.”

“You shouldn’t be here, Jasper.”

“Why?  Do you have company?” he asked, looking over his shoulder.

“No.  I’m alone.”

“Where’s your date?”

“He left.”

“What happened?”

“Nothing.  We had a terrific time, he brought me home, we said goodbye and he left.”

“Are you going to see him again?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“You know why.” She watched as he moved closer.  The air was charged between them.

“I want you to tell me.”

“I’m stuck on you.”

In a flash, he was standing in front of her, his body trapping her against the door.  “And I’m stuck on you,” he muttered thickly.

Her hands went up to push at his chest.  “We shouldn’t,” she protested weakly, her heavy breathing mingling with his.

He took her hands and pinned them above her head.  His scorching gaze met hers before he lowered his head and kissed her, his lips almost devouring hers.  Raina kissed him back wildly.  Outside, dark clouds had gathered and minutes later, it was pouring rain.  Lightning flashed across the sky and the loud clap of thunder followed.  Inside the flat a different storm was raging.  It moved from the foyer and into the bedroom.  Minutes later, they were under the sheets, their bodies undulating to the tempo of  lovemaking which increased as their feelings for each other engulfed them.  Outside the storm continued to rage.

The following day, Jasper ended his relationship with Shannon.

Love is a storm that engulfs the senses – Lee Hiller

In Danger

His fiancée, Madeline was giving a lecture at the university and he encouraged his students to attend.  He hoped that one in particular would attend.  Yesterday, he had approached her about it.  She was leaning against a tree, gazing off in the distance when he joined her.

She started when she turned and saw him standing there.  A guarded expression came over her face.  She always seemed so reserved around him.  He couldn’t get her to open up.  Sometimes he got the impression that life was hard for her.  He wanted to know so much more about her.  She intrigued him—more than he cared to admit.  Even now, he realized that being alone with her like this wasn’t a good idea.  He couldn’t stop staring at her.  She wasn’t beautiful or even pretty but her face beguiled him.  Long after he dismissed the class and she had walked out of the classroom, an image of her face would linger.  He found himself thinking about her constantly and feeling guilty about it because of Madeline.

“I’m sorry, Marcy.  I didn’t mean to startle you.”

The expression on her face was a mixture of shyness and apprehension, though why the latter, he wasn’t sure.  She had nothing to fear from him or did she?

black girl with short hair“It’s all right, Professor Bonneville,” she said.  “You didn’t startle me.”

When he realized that he was staring at her, he shifted his gaze to the scene before them.  “This is one of the reasons why I chose to teach here at King’s College.  During my breaks I love to come here and relax by the River Cam.”

She followed his gaze.  “Yes, I like to come here too in between classes and watch the students punt.  Sometimes I have my lunch here under this tree.”

He found himself wanting to be here when she was.  There’s wasn’t anything wrong with them spending time together here in the open, was there?  He forced himself to focus on the reason he had approached her.  “I have to leave shortly,” he informed her.  “But before I do, I was wondering if you have decided if you’re going to come to the lecture tomorrow evening.”

She hesitated for a moment as if weighing the decision in her mind.  “Yes, I’ll come.  The topic, Endangered Speeches, sounds very interesting and I’ve heard that Madeline Haigh is an exceptional speaker.”

He smiled.  “Yes, she is.  Well, I’m delighted to hear that you’re coming.  Are you coming alone?”

She nodded.  “Yes.”

“I’ll see you tomorrow evening, then.”

“Yes, Professor Bonneville.”

It was on the tip of his tongue to say, “Please call me, Henry,” instead, he said, “Enjoy the rest of your afternoon.”

“Thank you.”

He turned and walked away.

The following evening came and he stood in the Great Hall talking to different people but his eyes were constantly moving to the doors as students filed in.  He really hoped she would come.  He glanced at his watch.  In fifteen minutes the lecture would start.

“What a great turnout,” Madeline commented, sounding quite pleased.  “You did a remarkable job getting the students to come.  I should hire you to be my PR person.”

He glanced down at her.  “I think your reputation as a great speaker had something to do with it,” he remarked with a smile before turning his attention back to the doors.  Where was she?  And then, he saw her.  His countenance brightened.  “Excuse me,” he said to Madeline before he hurried over to where she stood just beside one of the doors as if trying to decide where she was going to sit.  “I was beginning to think that you weren’t coming,” he said.

“I had to wait a while for the bus,” she explained, sounding apologetic.  “I was worried that I would be late.”

“You made it just in time,” he assured her.  “Where would you like to sit? Perhaps closer to the front?”

She shook her head.  “I don’t want to sit closer to the front.  Here’s fine.”  She removed her jacket and spread it over the back of the seat.  Their eyes met and held before she lowered hers.

“Don’t leave after the lecture is over,” he said.  “There will be a light reception afterwards.”

“All right, Professor Bonneville.”

He excused himself and left.  Her being there meant more to him that it should have.

Marcy sat down and watched him as he made his way to where the speaker was.  He was the real reason why she came this evening.  Granted the topic sounded very interesting and she did hear great things about the speaker but she came because of him.  It was foolish to be in love with a man who was not only your professor but engaged as well.  She knew that Madeline Haigh was his fiancée.  Like him, she came from an elite and upper-class family.

They met a couple of years ago at Wimbledon through a mutual friend.  They have been together since.  It was at the beginning of this year when they announced their engagement.  It was all over social media.  Everyone was thrilled, except her.  Before she enrolled in his class this semester, she used to see him around campus and admire him from afar.  He was the youngest of the professors at the university and extremely handsome.

It was hard being around him because of her feelings.  She couldn’t be sure if he was aware of them.  She tried to hide them as best as she could.  There were times, like yesterday, when she sensed that there was something between them but always ended up dismissing it as wishful thinking.  And yet…The lecture began and she tried to concentrate on it.

After it was over, everyone filed out.  Many stayed for the reception.  She stood there by the door and waited for Professor Bonneville.  He went over, accompanied by Madeline.  He introduced them.  “Madeline, this is Marcy Williams.  Miss Williams is one of my top students.”

Madeline shook her hand.  “It’s a pleasure to finally meet you,” she said.  “Leighton has told me so much about you.  I suspect that you’re the teacher’s pet.”

Marcy didn’t quite know what to say.  She was surprised to learn that Professor Bonneville had even mentioned her to his fiancée, much less that she had been the subject of many conversations.  She looked at him and found him looking at her, his expression inscrutable.

“I think you’re embarrassing her,” he said to Madeline.  “Why don’t we go and have some refreshments now?”

They left the hall and went to area where the refreshments were.  While Madeline chatted with the students and faculty, Professor Bonneville stood next to Marcy who felt really out of place.  She wasn’t keen on social gatherings.  She planned on leaving in half-hour.

“Are you glad you came?” he asked her.

“Yes.”

“I’m glad you did too,” he said.  “Do you live far from here?”

“It takes me half hour to get here.”

“May I give you a lift home?”

She looked him.  “If it isn’t too much trouble.”

“It isn’t.”

“Thank you, Professor Bonneville.”

“Please call me, Leighton…Marcy.”

The way he said her name made her pulse race.  “Thank you, Leighton…” Their eyes were locked in a steady gaze.  Surprisingly, no one else seemed to notice.

Hearing her say his name thrilled him and made his heart beat faster.  It was no use denying it.  He was deeply attracted to her.  Right now, he wished that they were somewhere else, alone.   “Do you have a boyfriend?” he heard himself ask.

She shook her head.  “No.”

“Are you busy tomorrow evening?” Tomorrow was Saturday.

Again she shook her head.  “No.”  Her heart was pounding now as she wondered about him asking all of these questions.

“Do you like classical music?”

“Yes.”

“There’s a Vivaldi Four Seasons concert at the St Martin-in-the-Fields Church.  I thought you might be interested in going.”

“What-what about Miss Haigh?”

“Madeline won’t mind,” he said.  “She’s flying to New York in the morning but she gave me the tickets and told me I can take whomever I liked.  I’d like to take you, Marcy.”

There wasn’t anything wrong with them going to a concert together, was there?  Besides, wasn’t being with him what she wanted?  “I’ve never been to a live concert before,” she said.

“Trust me, you’re going to enjoy this one.”

“What are the two of you conspiring over here?” Madeline inquired as she joined them.

Professor Bonneville turned to her.  “I just invited Miss Williams to go to the Vivaldi Concert with me.”

“Oh, Leighton, why don’t you call her by her first name?  Miss Williams sounds too formal.  I’m sorry I can’t go with you to the concert.  At least you won’t be going alone.  Marcy, I’m sure you will enjoy it.  It’s Vivaldi, if you like his music and being held in the beautiful and historic Church of St Martin-in-the-Fields where my parents got married.  Are you ready to leave?” she asked her fiance.  “It’s getting late and I have an early flight in the morning.”

“Yes.  Oh, I hope you don’t mind, but I offered Marcy a lift home.”

“That’s fine,” Madeline said.  She waved good night to the people still milling about before heading towards the entrance with Professor Bonneville and Marcy following.  It was a bit cold but thankfully, the car was parked very close.  After he held the door open for Madeline to get in, he opened the passenger door for Marcy.  She caught a whiff of his aftershave as she moved past him to get into the car.

She fastened her seat belt, thankful for the lift and the heat that soon filled the car.  Not much was said on the drive to her flat.  Marcy asked her about her field of study and then talked about her trip to New York.  She was a guest lecturer at Columbia University.  Marcy listened but was thankful when they pulled up outside her flat twenty minutes later.  “It was nice meeting you,” she said to Madeline.

“Likewise.”

Marcy got out of the car, her eyes met Professor Bonneville’s as she passed him.  They faced each other on the curb.  “Thank you for the lift,” she said to him.

“You’re welcome.  Goodnight, Marcy.”

“Goodnight, Professor Bonneville.”  She waved before turning and walking up the steps to the entrance.  She couldn’t wait to see him tomorrow evening.  Her heart skipped a beat at the thought.  She wasn’t going to get much sleep tonight.

Leighton watched her until she disappeared inside before shutting the door and walking round to the driver’s side.  He was looking forward to seeing her tomorrow evening.

“You know I was quite jealous of Marcy because you spoke so much about her,” Madeline remarked as they drove off.  She leaned her head against the back of the seat with her head turned towards him.  “but after meeting her this evening, I have no reason to feel threatened by her.  She isn’t at all what I expected.  For one thing, she’s not very attractive, is she?  Although I suppose some men might find her so.”

Leighton glanced at her.  “What if I found her attractive?” he asked.

Madeline laughed.  “Oh, don’t be absurd, Leighton,” she said.  “Why do you think I don’t mind you going to the concert with her?  I know that you’re in no danger of falling in love with her.”  She laughed again and turned her head to look out the window.

Leighton’s mouth tightened and his eyes glowered behind his glasses.  He wished he could wipe that smile off her face.  For the rest of the ride, he was quiet.  He walked her to the door of her flat but declined to go in.  “You have an early flight in the morning, remember?” he reminded her.

“You can spend the night and then we can have breakfast before I head up to the airport,” she suggested, putting her arms around his neck.

He gently disentangled her arms.  “You’d better get your rest,” he said.  “I’ll see you when you get back.  Goodnight.”

She didn’t look at all pleased.  “Goodnight,” she said, grudgingly before reaching up to kiss him on the mouth.

He turned and headed down the corridor to the lift.  There was a time when he would have gladly spent the night but that was a long time ago and that was before he met Marcy.

The following day went by quickly and soon it was evening.  He picked her up outside of her flat promptly at six.  It was a pleasant evening.  Not cold like the previous one.  On the ride over to the concert, they talked about several things.  He learned that she was an only child of her parents who lived in Kingston, Jamaica and whom she spoke to as often as possible.  She worked part-time to support herself while she studied.  This meant that she didn’t have much down time during the week but she made up for that on the weekends.

Madeline was right, she thought when they walked into the church.  It was beautiful, especially in the candlelight.  They found seats close to the front.  She enjoyed the concert so much that she bought the CD which he played in the car on the drive to her flat.

He walked her to her flat and they stood outside the door.  “Would you like to come inside?” she asked.

“I really shouldn’t,” he replied.

“You must be hungry and I can fix us something to eat,” she said.

“All right,” he said.  He was hungry.  He hadn’t eaten since lunch.  He wished now that he had thought of taking her to dinner after the concert.  It was rather very nice of her to invite him in for a bite to eat.  He stepped inside the flat and she closed the door behind him, locking it.  It was a small, modest place but very warm and inviting.

“Please make yourself comfortable in the living-room while I get things ready,” she said after she took his jacket.

He went into the living-room which was smaller than his study at home.  He went over to the window and looked out.  In the far distance, he could see Big Ben.  Behind him he heard her in the kitchen getting things ready.  He moved away from the window and went over to the sofa.  He sat down and stretched his legs in front of him while he looked over the rest of the place.  It was impeccably kept.  Nothing was out of place.  And it was nicely decorated with potted plants, a bookcase, a small desk with a laptop and a handful of watercolor paintings.

She popped her head into the living-room to let him know that dinner was ready.  They sat around the small dining-table.  Dinner smelled delicious.  It was Stew Chicken over rice and peas and served with a tossed salad.  It tasted as good as it looked and smelled.  Afterwards, they went into the living-room where they had Apple Cider Hot Toddy while watching TV.

Leighton tried to concentrate on the program but it was hard because he wanted to touch her so badly.  He turned to look at her.  She was staring straight ahead.  Unable to resist, he reached out and rubbed the back of his index finger against her neck.  She didn’t move away or anything.  He watched as she closed her eyes instead as if she was enjoying the caress.  He saw her lips part and that was his undoing.  He used his other hand to turn her head towards him.  She opened her eyes and he saw in them, the desire that was raging inside him.  Groaning, his mouth found hers and when she responded, he plundered it hungrily.

As they kissed wildly, passionately, he unbuttoned his shirt and dragged it off, moaning against her lips when he felt her hands on his bare skin.  Desire coursed through him like an uncontrollable fire and he knew in that instant that it was over between Madeline and him.  When she returned from New York, he was going to break off their engagement.  He realized then, too that, in spite of what she said, he was in danger of falling in love with Marcy.

Source:  King’s College; Candlelight Concerts; King’s College Job Hunting

Meant to Be

Ashton Emsworth was waiting for his girlfriend, Jessica, when he spotted Trisha Adams, his former professor from university.  Immediately, his heart began to beat fast.  She was wearing a dark jacket over a white blouse and jeans.   She looked terrific–as usual.  The last time he saw her was three years ago at his graduation.  He wondered if she even remembered him.  He thought about her every single day, wondering if he would ever see her again.  And there she was.

She glanced up and saw him.  Her face broke into a big smile and then she was coming over to him.  He ran his hands nervously over the seat of his jeans, his breath coming a little faster now.  When she reached him, he tried not to stare but he couldn’t help himself.  She was still so beautiful.  “Hello, Ashton,” she said and hugged him warmly.

He closed his eyes as he breathed in her fragrance.  She felt small and soft in his arms.  Heat coursed through his body.  When she pulled back to look up at him, his expression was tense.  He felt so awkward and nervous.  “Hello, Miss Adams,” he managed to say.

“Please call me Trisha.  How have you been?”

“I–I’ve been well, thanks.  W-what about you?”  He wondered if she had any clue that he was extremely attracted to her.   He had been since the first time he walked into the classroom and saw her.

“I’m well, thank you.  How’s your family?”

“They’re good.  They’re vacationing in the Bahamas.”

“Lucky them.  How come you didn’t go with them?”

“I didn’t feel up to it.”

“Well, it’s good that you didn’t go or we wouldn’t have run into each other.  How do you find life after university?”

“It was tough at first because I had spent four years studying and not having to worry about anything but after graduating, I had to figure out what to do next.  I thought of taking a graduate job then I considered pursuing post graduate study.  I ended up taking a gap year.  Are you still teaching at the University of London?”

She shook her head.  “No, I left the year you graduated.  I’m now teaching at King’s College.  Are you waiting for someone?”

“Yes.”  He didn’t mention whom.  For some reason he found himself hoping that Jessica wouldn’t show up just then.

“I won’t keep you then.  Ashton, I was wondering…Are you busy tomorrow evening?”

He thought about it for a moment.  Tomorrow was Saturday.  Jessica was working tomorrow evening.  She worked part-time at a café close to the university.  “No, I’m not busy tomorrow evening,” he said.

Trisha looked relieved.  “Great.  I’d like to take you out to dinner at this great restaurant.  We have a lot of catching up to do.”

She’s asking me out to dinner.  He couldn’t believe it.  Excitement and nervousness filled him.  “I’d like that very much,” he said.

“I’ll pick you up at seven.”

He balked.  “Shouldn’t I be picking you up?” he asked.

“I’m taking you out to dinner so I should pick you up,” she said, her eyes twinkling.  “We’re living in the 21st century, Ashton.  A woman can take a man out of dinner and she can pick him up at his flat too.  Now, what’s your address?”

He told her and she made a mental note.

“Well, I had better be going,” she said.  “I’ll see you tomorrow evening at seven.  Enjoy the rest of the afternoon, Ashton.”

He was sorry that she had to go.  If he weren’t waiting for Jessica, he would have asked her to have a cappuccino with him.  Still, he ought to be grateful that he was going to see her tomorrow.  “Thanks.  You too.”

She touched his arm, making his heart leap in his chest and then turned and walked away.  He watched her go, his skin tingling where her fingers had been.

“Sorry to keep you waiting,” Jessica said, suddenly appearing beside him.  “The lineup in the music store was horrendous but it was worth it.  I finally got the CD after hunting for it all over London for it.  I’m famished.  Let’s go and grab something to eat.  I saw this little bistro just down the street.”  She grabbed his hand and started walking.  All the way to the bistro she talked non-stop about how tempted she had been to buy other CDs and the DVD set of Jane Austen movies.  She congratulated herself on not giving into the temptation.  Ashton didn’t say anything.  His mind was elsewhere.  He was thinking about tomorrow evening and was anxious for it to come.

It came after what seemed like a very long time to him.  As he waited for her in the courtyard outside of his building, he felt tingly all over.  He was thrilled and terrified at the same time.  He hoped and prayed that he wouldn’t make a fool of himself.  His cell phone was turned off.  He didn’t want Jessica calling him while he was having dinner.  He tried not to think about how she would feel if she knew that he was going out on a date with the professor he was besotted with.

A silver grey Mercedes Benz pulled up and the window rolled down.  Trisha stuck her head out.  “I hope you weren’t waiting long,” she called.  “I tried to get here as fast as I could.  The traffic is very heavy.”

He shook his head.  “No, I wasn’t waiting long,” he said as he walked over and got into the car.  Compared to waiting for over two years to see you again, what are a few minutes?  As he fastened his seat-belt, he glanced at her.  She looked amazing in the red jersey dress.  Its rich deep color flattered her.  Her hair was in an updo with strands falling across her forehead and against her cheeks.  She turned her head and caught him staring.  Color suffused his cheeks and he looked away.

“I’ve been looking forward to seeing you all day,” she told him as they drove off.

He looked at her, surprised.  “You have?”

“Yes.  I’ve been thinking about you all day.  By the way, you look very handsome in your suit.”

He blushed, feeling a little self-conscious.  “Thank you.”  A pause and then, he said, rather shyly, “And you look very beautiful.”

She smiled.  “Thank you.”  There was a brief silence for a moment.  Only the sounds of soft music filled the air and then, she asked, “How old are you?”

“Twenty-three.”

“I’m twelve years older than you.  Does that brother you?”

“No, it doesn’t.”

“It used to bother me.  When I first saw you in my classroom, I was taken aback by how attracted I was to you.  I tried to fight it, of course, because you were my student and the age difference.  Many times, I wanted to ask you out but propriety prevented me.  It was against the school’s policy for a teacher to be involved with a student.”

“What about after I graduated?” he asked.  “Why couldn’t we have seen each other then?”

“We could have if it weren’t for our age difference.  I couldn’t see myself getting involved with a guy so much younger than me but I couldn’t stop thinking about you and wondering if I would ever see you again.  And then, quite by accident or perhaps, it was God’s doing, we ran into each other yesterday.”

“I think it was God.”

“I think you’re right.  Well, here we are.”  They had arrived at the restaurant. It turned out to be a really nice, cozy and friendly establishment.  The food was incredible.  They spend a very pleasant evening, talking and getting to know each other.  He was sorry when it was time to leave.

“Do you have a girlfriend?” she asked after they pulled out of the parking lot.

The question was so sudden that he blinked.  “Yes,” he said.

“You were waiting for her yesterday when I saw you.”

“Yes.  Does this mean that we can see each other again?”

“Well, that depends on you.”

“I want to see you again, Trisha.”

“What about your girlfriend?”

“I’m going to end my relationship with her.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.  I want to be with you.  All this time I’ve been with her, I’ve thought of nothing or no one else but you.  I tried to get in touch with you.  I went on the university’s website to get your email address or number but I couldn’t find anything.”

“I’m on Facebook.”

“I don’t have a Facebook account,” he said, somewhat sheepishly.

They were stopped at a traffic light.  She leaned over and kissed him.  He eagerly responded and for several minutes they exchanged passionate kisses.  Then, she pulled away just as the light changed.  “How about a nightcap at my place?”  She sounded breathless.

He nodded, trying to catch his breath. His heart was racing, his face felt hot and his body on fire.   When they got to her place, the nightcap was forgotten as they fell into each other’s arms and ended up making love in front of the hearth.   That night was the beginning of a torrid relationship and culminated in marriage.

If two people are meant to be together, it will happen no matter where, when or how it happens.

 

 

 

 

Sources:  Top Ten Reviews; Prospects

The Charity Case/Glimmer #writephoto

distant-lights

Photo by Sue Vincent

 

Shanice sat on the summit overlooking the city.  This was her place.  It was where she could be alone with God and her thoughts.  She drew her knees up and wrapped her arms around them.  Her life had been a tough one.  She grew up in a rough neighborhood.  When she was seven, her father was killed in a drive by shooting.  Ten years later, her mother overdosed on crack.  She went to live with her uncle but ran away after he started sexually abusing her.  For several months she lived on the streets, rummaging through garbage bins for food because she refused to turn to prostitution.  She believed in God and that her body was a temple.

It was one Autumn morning when she met Neil Patterson, the city’s councilor.  He was a very popular man who had been doing a great job cleaning up the city.  She was standing outside of a café, watching the people inside having their hot coffees and chocolates along with donuts or bagels, her mouth watering when she sensed that someone was standing behind her.  She turned around at once and found herself looking up at a very tall and distinguished man dressed in an expensive black coat.  His sandy colored hair was neatly combed and she could tell that he didn’t belong in these parts.  He looked familiar too.  Then, she remembered where she had seen him.  He was on the cover of yesterday’s newspaper.  He was even more attractive in person and looked to be in his early forties.  He smiled now.  His eyes were an unusual shade of blue.  “Are you hungry?” he asked.

She nodded and wondered if he was going to give her money to buy something to eat.  To her surprise, he said, “Come, let’s go inside where it’s nice and warm.”  He opened the door and after a slight hesitation, she went inside.  He led her over to a table by the window as several gazes followed them.  People recognized him and greeted him.  They didn’t look at all surprised to see him with an African American teenager who looked like she hadn’t had a bath in years.  They were used to seeing him rubbing elbows with the dregs of society.  It was part of his appeal.

He seemed nice enough and she let him buy her a meal.  Hunger overpowered pride.  Besides, she didn’t know when again she would be treated to a free meal.  While she wolfed down the food, he talked.  He was a good talker and she could see why he was where he was.  He was charismatic and she found herself warming up to him.  And he was very attractive.  She always did have a thing for older men.  The guys her age were full of themselves and so immature.

He wasn’t married.  She didn’t see any ring on his finger but then, again, he might be one of those men who didn’t bother to wear one.  It was foolish sitting there thinking these things when she wasn’t going to see him again.  He was being kind to her and she was thankful for that.  After they left this café, they would go their separate ways and he would forget all about her.  She knew that she would never forget him.

He didn’t have anything to eat.  All he had was some hot chocolate.  He asked a lot of questions about her life which she was unwilling to answer but did anyway.  She left out the part about her uncle, though.  He asked her about going into a foster home and a homeless shelter but she made it clear that she didn’t want to be in either.  She had heard horror stories about those places and she wanted nothing to do with them.  She would rather take her changes on the streets until circumstances changed for her—until God intervened.  She didn’t mention God to him.  Most people were put off by religion.

She liked being in the café.  It was warm and friendly.  She wished she could stay there longer but she knew he was a busy man and had places to go and people to see so she didn’t want to keep him.  After she finished her hot chocolate and he paid the bill, she stood up.  Holding out her hand, she thanked him for his kindness and was about to walk away when, he said, “Instead of going back to the streets, why don’t you come and live with me?  I have large estate, with lots of room and staff.  You will have your own room.  You can come and go as you please.  I won’t put any restrictions on you.”

She stared at him.  “Why are you doing this?” she asked.

“I just want to help you.  I have a sister your age.  What do you say?”

“Well, I don’t want to be a freeloader,” she said.  “Is there a job I can do to pay for my keep?”

“What about college or university?” he asked.  “Aren’t you interested in furthering your education?”

“Of course, I am but my mother couldn’t afford to send me to college.  What little money we had she wasted on drugs.”

“Instead of working for me, you’ll go to the college or university of your choice.  What do you say?”

She stood there for a moment, considering all of this.  This was better than being homeless—living in the streets and struggling to survive.  Besides, the weather was getting colder and all she had was this beat up jacket which wasn’t keeping her warm at all.  She studied him.  He looked like someone she could trust.  And she didn’t hear any alarm bells going off in her head.  Shrugging, she said, “Sure.  Thanks again.  As soon as I graduate from university, I’ll be gone.”

He smiled.  “Whatever works for you, Shanice.”

They left the café and her life on the streets behind.  That was four years ago.  She was in university now, studying Sociology.  Their relationship had started out platonic and then, this morning, when she went back to the estate after a night of partying at a friend’s house, he was waiting up for her.  She sneaked into the living room and paused until her eyes adjusted to the darkness when the room was flooded with light.  Blinking, she went over to the sofa and sat down, tugging off her strappy sandals.  Her black dress was short and hugged her body.  The skirt rode high, revealing her legs.  She watched as his gaze traveled over her and the color flood his cheeks before he demanded, “Where have you been?”

“I was at a friend’s birthday bash,” she explained.  “I tried to be very quiet so that I wouldn’t disturb you—“

“Do you have any idea what time it is?”

She glanced at her watch.  It was five minutes to three.  “I’m sorry,” she mumbled.  “I didn’t mean to stay out so late.”

He went further into the drawing-room, his hands shoved deep in the pockets of his silk robe.  His hair which was always neatly in place was slightly disheveled.  “I knew that I had told you that you were free to come and go as you please but, I still expect you to act responsibly.  For this infraction, you are forbidden to leave these premises unless accompanied by me for the rest of the summer.”

She jumped to her feet, aghast.  “That’s not fair,” she cried.  “This is the only time I’ve stayed out late.  You can’t hold this one time against me.”

“And another thing, I don’t want to see you dressed like that again.”  Anger flared in her at that moment.  “You’re not my father,” she retorted.

“No, but I am responsible for you and as long as you live under my roof, you have to abide by my rules.”

“Fine!” she said, grabbing her shoes and handbag.  “If that’s all, I’d like to go to bed.  I’m tired.” She was about to walk past him when he caught her by the arm.  She turned her head and looked up at him, the anger in her eyes dissipating when she saw the expression on his face.

“I care about you, Shanice,” he muttered urgently.  “I was out of my mind with worry when it was midnight and you hadn’t come home.  I had no idea where you were.  I tried calling you but your cell was turned off.  In future, you need to tell me where you are so that I don’t worry or in case I need to get in touch with you.”

“You’re right,” she acknowledged.  “I should have let you know where I was last night.  I’m sorry.”

“And I’ll do the same,” he said.  “I’ll let you know where I’ll be at all times, in case you need to reach me.”

The grip of his fingers on her arm was very distracting and he was staring directly into her eyes.  She suddenly had trouble breathing properly and her heart was pounding.  “Am-am I still forbidden to leave the premises?” she asked.

He shook his head.  “No, you’re not,” he said softly.  “You’re not a prisoner.”

“So, I can leave whenever I want?”

He nodded.  “Yes.”  He moved closer.  “You’re free to leave here as agreed four years ago but I hope you decide to stay.  This place and my life would not be the same without you.  They would be empty.”

That was the most beautiful thing anyone had ever said to her.  She was touched to the very depths of her being and she could feel her eyes water.  She loved it here.  It was the home and life she had always dreamed of.  And she loved being with him.  She realized that she had loved him since the first time they met but had convinced herself that she could never be more to him than a charity case.  But, the way he was looking at her and what he had just said proved her wrong.  Without thinking, she reached up and touched his face.  He turned his head and pressed his lips into the palm before he pulled her into his arms.

She smiled now as she remembered that first kiss.  It was out of this world.  It sent tingles all over her body and she could swear that she heard fireworks.  Scrambling to her feet, she watched as the sun finally disappeared over the horizon.  Tomorrow was the first day of her last year at university.

It was getting late.  It was time to head back.  She wanted to be there, waiting for him.

This is a response to the #writephoto Prompt – Glimmer curated over at Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo.

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 in once 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 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.  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 dressed 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.  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 jaw line.  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’ve 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 couldn’t stop thinking about how you looked shirtless…”

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 Venice.”

“Why Venice?” he asked.

“It’s where we finally declared our true feelings for each other.”

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.

A year later, they returned to Venice for their honeymoon.

 

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