Monday, April 30, 2012

The Escort

Jessica said, "I don't know how to thank you, Mark. You're doing me a big favor."
I smiled at her. It's probably not often that beautiful, blonde, career executive Jessica Mayberry asks a guy to be an escort to a wedding in her family—I felt honored. "Believe me," I said, "the pleasure will be all mine.
And thank you for dinner tonight. You didn't have to do that."
"But I wanted to...I needed to explain things."
We had finished our meal and were enjoying an after-dinner glass of wine. Looking at me sheepishly with light-blue eyes, she said, "Of course you realize..."
She didn't have to finish. We both worked for the same firm but in different departments. We'd been escorts for each other to several company dinners. Each time she made it clear that romance wasn't a priority in her life. But this time I'd been asked to be her escort to a family affair, and I wondered if I could turn this encounter into something truly meaningful.
"I understand," I said. "This isn't a date, I'm simply your escort. If you show up at your cousin's wedding this weekend without a man on your arm, your mom and dad and all your sisters will think it's the end of the world."
"I'll get my mom's lecture—she's very outspoken—about working too hard. Not enjoying life. My three younger sisters are married—have given Dad and her grandkids. Now it's my turn. What's wrong with me?"
"I understand," I said again.
"You sure you don't mind?"
"I'll be happy to protect you." I reached across the table to gently squeeze Jessica's hand, which felt unexpectedly warm. I thought she might pull back, but she didn't. For the first time, I saw a warm glow in her eyes—I was sure of it—and I felt my pulse quicken with hope.
The wedding was out of town, a two-hour drive into the countryside. I insisted I drive and pay for the gas. The Saturday morning was bright and sunny. I said, "I didn't know you grew up on farm. I did, too. It's something else we have in common. I mean, besides the company."
"Farm life taught me the joy of hard work—if you set goals, stay focused, you can achieve whatever you want." She sounded business-like, her normal demeanor, but when I stole a glance at her, I found her staring at me, as if she were seeing me in a different light. A softness surrounded her lips and eyes that was brand new.
"You look beautiful," I said, and watched her blush.
"And you're quite handsome," she said softly. "Mom will be impressed."
After the marriage of Jessica's cousin Ashley to Tim Watson, the festivities moved to the church basement for what proved to be a joyous reception—dinner, toasting, and speeches; laughter, music, and dancing. Jessica and I talked with her mother, who at one point said good-naturedly, "I like this young man, dear. Don't chase him away. Like the others."
Jessica's blushed again.
I gripped her hand for moral support, laughed, and said, "She keeps me tied up outside to a tree, but I don't mind."
"I cut him loose, Mom, only for special occasions. Like family weddings."
With that, I pulled Jessica onto the dance floor—an old ballad was playing—and held her in my arms as our feet glided smoothly to the music's beat. Her nearness, my lips pressed to her forehead—I wondered if she could feel my heart thundering in my chest. Wondered if she sensed how I felt about her.
When the music stopped, we spotted Mom watching us, nodding approvingly. "Thank you for rescuing me," Jessica said. "My mom's a bit outspoken—"
"Not any worse than any other mom."
"—but I love her dearly. And I hope you understand why I desperately needed an escort."
"I understand. And now let's truly set your mom's mind whirling."
I think Jessica knew I was going to kiss her. I spotted a look of expectancy in her eyes and felt her drawing in a deep breath just as my lips brushed against hers. The music started again, another ballad, but we didn't move.
"Sorry," I said, "if I overstepped the bounds of an escort."
She smiled. "You were acting only out of a sense of duty, I'm sure."
I stroked my thumb along her jawline. "Actually, I wanted to kiss you before you chased me away. Like the others."
She looked at me thoughtfully. "You're forgiven, and don't worry..." Then, circling her arms around my neck, as our feet began to move again to the music's rhythm, she lifted her face for another brushing-of-the-lips kiss, soft and sweet. "You're not like any of the others," she murmured.

The End
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Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Apology

The sight of the tall man entering the cafeteria turned everyone's head—at my table at least.
"Take a look at him!" Debbie breathed.
"Did you ever see a better-looking guy?" Casey whispered.
The man we all stared at was over six foot—lean, athletic-looking, with blond hair and strong features.
My friends and I watched with shock as he turned toward us and smiled.
Debbie poked me in the ribs. "Lori! Do you know him?"
I didn't have a chance to answer.
The tall man stopped, smiled, nodded at each of us, and then said to me, "Hello, Lori."
My cheeks felt on fire. "Hello, Brian."
"Nice to see you. You're a nurse here?"
"For over a year."
"I'm starting as an intern." His smile grew wide and made him even more attractive. "I guess we'll be seeing each other from time to time."
And with that the tall man strode away while my two friends watched him in stunned silence. "Who is he?" Casey gasped.
"How do you know him?" Debbie gushed.
"We grew up together. Went to the same junior high. Brian Ram was a nasty boy who teased me about my red hair and freckles, threw snowballs at me, and once pushed me into a mud puddle."
"He could throw snowballs at me," Debbie said.
"Or push me into a river," Casey said. "Did he ever grow out of that stage? Did you date him?"
"His family moved across town—he went to a different senior high. But I saw him frequently during high school at city-wide science fairs."
"I didn't see any rings on his fingers," Debbie said.
"Looks to me like he's turned into a scholar and a gentleman," Casey said.
"Amen!" Debbie said. "A gentleman and a scholar."
Brian was right. That next week, we did run across each other from time to time in the halls of St. Luke's Hospital. But we were always in a rush to be somewhere else and barely had a chance to say, "Hi." That was all right, but I thought I would like to talk to him sometime and tell him how miserable he made my life in junior high.
About a week later, I found myself alone with him on the elevator. I was going from the first to the fourth floor. He'd darted into the elevator just as the doors closed and pushed the button for the third floor.
"Hey," he said softly.
"How have you been?"
"Fine," I said. "Busy. Never a dull moment."
"I know what you mean."
His deep brown eyes seemed to appraise me. I felt my face flush.
"I'd like to talk to you sometime..." he said.
The elevator doors opened at the second floor. Two elderly visitors stepped inside. Brian said nothing else and got off at the third floor.
Talk to me? I thought. About what?
The next day in the cafeteria I sat with my two friends, finishing lunch.  As always, they bombarded me with questions about Brain. I'd told them he was a high school football star, his picture in the paper all the time, but I simply remembered him as a jerk. "He doesn't seem like a jerk any longer," Casey said.
"Uh-oh," Debbie said. "Here he comes. Headed right for us again."
Brian halted at our table, smiled at us." Ladies," he said, "good afternoon..." He seemed nervous.
We all mumbled something that sounded like "Good afternoon," and then he said, "I'm sorry for butting in—I really am—please forgive me..."
"That's all right," Casey chirped.
"...but, Lori, may I talk to you a minute?" My heart flip-flopping, I managed to stand and say to my friends, "Excuse me." They stared at me wide-eyed, jaws dropping.
At an empty table, Brian politely pulled a chair out for me. I sat down, and when he eased into a chair across from me and smiled again—a warm, generous smile—my urge to tell him how much he'd irritated me when we were in school totally vanished. I told my heart to be calm.
He cleared his throat. Clenched his hands together. "I'm going to come straight to the point..." But he faltered and cleared his throat.
"Remember when we were kids? Kennedy Junior High?"
"I remember very well."
"I was a monster. A bully, really."
I blinked.
He shook his head, a sheepish look creeping into those brown eyes. "I treated you rotten. But the thing is I really liked you—I wanted attention—I wanted your attention. I—"
I couldn't stop myself from interrupting. "You're kidding?"
"I'm not. I thought your red hair was amazing—I'd seen nothing like it before."
I sat frozen in my chair.
"What I really want now," he said, "is to apologize—and I'm happy for this opportunity to do it."
I seemed to be breathing okay, but I couldn't talk.
"One other thing," he said. "I didn't push you in that mud puddle on purpose. Remember that?"
"A bunch of us guys were playing dodge ball. You wandered by, I ran into you—an accident, really. I swear."
I finally found my voice. "I was angry with you I never wanted to see you again."
"I don't blame you. I really am sorry."
Now it was my turn to smile. "But I remember teasing you, sticking my tongue out at you more than a few times. Every chance I got, in fact."
"Yes, you did. Once when I was practicing my speech in speech class." He laughed, then glanced at his watch. "Um...look. I've asked about you—I know you're not married. Are you dating anyone?"
I blinked again. "Really, I haven't had much time. "
"I don't have much time either, but would you like to get together—"
Then the pager in the pocket of his white coat beeped. He fished it out and checked the number. "Got to run. Saturday—are you off?"
"Yes." I was breathless.
"We'll talk again."
As soon as he left the table, Debbie and Casey hovered over me, hands planted on their hips. "Well?" they demanded.
I smiled. "You guys are right," I said. "He's a scholar and a gentleman."

The End
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