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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