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TrueLovecover

In 1994, I found myself in between book projects–specifically in between Georgia Outdoors and Touring the Backroads of North and South Georgia. So, I wrote a story for True Love and it was accepted for their 70th Anniversary issue in November of that year.

At more than 8,000 words, it is a longish short story. My story didn’t make the cover as that issue featured 14 stories, two of which were book-length.

I have just a couple of things to say before I reveal my story’s illustration: 1) The models featured do not look a bit like what I had in mind. Seriously! 2) Oh my God, look at those mom jeans! Seriously!

TrueLovestory

 

For the third week in a row, I sat in one of the ritziest restaurants in town, waiting for Will. I was on my third cup of coffee, and the caffeine was starting to give me the jitters. To top it all off, I noticed a good-looking guy just a few tables away had been watching me for the past half hour.

I glanced at my watch for the millionth time. It was getting pretty obvious that I’d been stood up. I didn’t know whether to leave or to give him fifteen more minutes. After all, I understood that Will was a busy man.

I wasn’t surprised when the waiter arrived with a phone. Not again, I moaned. The tears sprung quickly to my eyes, and I quickly hid my face with the palm of my hand. If only that guy wasn’t watching my every move. As soon as Will explained why he wasn’t going to make it—yet another big project—I hung up without giving him the satisfaction of so much as a good-bye. I was furious, very apparently so. I have a very tough time disguising my emotions.

The waiter approached with obvious trepidation.

“The gentleman in the corner,” he said, indicating the man who had been eyeing me for the past forty-five minutes, “would like to know if you would allow him to join you.”

I smiled over at this mystery man. He smiled encouragingly. I blushed. Ah, what the hell, I thought. My day is already wasted. I’d taken the afternoon off from work to meet Will. Why not try to salvage what’s left of the day? I raised my hands in surrender. The waiter retreated with the phone.

“I’m not intruding, am I?” the stranger asked as he pulled out a seat. His gray-green eyes lent some life to his otherwise plain face.

“Hardly,” I laughed, in answer to his question. “The jerk I’m dating just canceled our third date in a row. You think he’s trying to tell me something?”

“Have you been seeing him long?”

I saw no reason to lie to this stranger. “For about eight months. He keeps telling me he’s going to divorce his wife. They’ve been separated for a year. I guess I should have known better.” My bitterness was quite evident.

“So, I take it your free for the rest of the day,” he said, changing the subject.

“I’ll say.” I smiled. “Amanda Gillford.” I extended my hand across the table.

“Terence Matthews.” He shook my hand. “How about a drink to counteract all the coffee you’ve been drinking?”

“I’d love one,” I said, releasing his hand, “but not here.”

“Oh.” There was understanding in his eyes. “Do you always meet him here?”

“Yes,” I sighed.

“I’ve never been here before myself. It’s a bit too ritzy for me. Actually, I saw you through the window. I just had to find out what a beautiful woman like you was doing all alone on such a sunny day.”

He opened the door for me, and we stepped out into the wonderful late spring afternoon.

It was nice to be with someone my age. At a small café overlooking the river, we stopped to have a beer and enjoy the warmth of the sun on their patio. Bright red geraniums bloomed in clay pots on every table, and I inhaled their bittersweet scent.

“Thank you,” I said.

“For what?” Terence asked.

“For rescuing me. If you hadn’t been there, I’d be at home now with the shades drawn, curled up in my bed in a fetal position, with the covers drawn over my head.”

“On such a wonderful day! What a travesty.”

“Like I said—”

“Well, we’ve got hours ahead of us, Amanda. I want to know everything about you.”

“Only if you’ll reciprocate.”

“You’ve got yourself a deal.” Terence laughed. His smile warmed my heart.

I told him almost everything. I told him how I’d always wanted to be a writer but had given up that dream when I graduated from high school. My father, an abusive man to both my mother and myself, had died when I was twelve. Three years later, my mother discovered she had ovarian cancer. I spent every spare moment I had when I was fifteen and sixteen nursing her at home. The year I turned seventeen, the cancer, which we thought we had beaten with chemotherapy, was found in her stomach and intestines. It was spreading rapidly. Before the school year was out, she had died.

The insurance money—both hers and my father’s—barely covered her funeral and our debts. I finished out the year, but my grades dropped. There was no chance for a scholarship and no money for college. As soon as I graduated, I began job hunting. I was living with my aunt at the time, and I soon found a job as a secretary for a publishing company. I might never write books, but at least I could be near them. They had been a refuge from my father when I was young, and from my mother’s illness as I grew older.

I found another job, at night, working at a bookstore. For the next three years, I lost myself in work. I desperately wanted a place of my own. I didn’t want to have to depend on anyone ever again.

A year out of high school, I had finally raised enough money to rent my own place and to furnish it.

As for a social life, I wasn’t interested. I’d occasionally do things with my friend, Christie, but she was married and wasn’t generally available. On the evening of my twenty-second birthday, I lamented the fact I was still a virgin, and except for a few chaste kisses in high school, very much innocent to the games of love.

That night, I reassessed my life and what I wanted from it. I decided it was time I started dating. I wanted a love life, but more importantly, I wanted to find a good man, someone to love me, and someone to be a good father to my children. Listening to Christie talk of her childhood and marriage, I realized it was possible to have something better than I had.

Christie must have put the word out, because I started receiving invitations again. I quit my job at the bookstore and started dating. Then, just over eight months ago, I met Will.

“I fell head over heels,” I explained, “but I just can’t continue an affair with a married man, even if he is separated.”

“Is he really separated or is that just a line?” Terence asked.

I took a deep breath. He had a point. I didn’t know. I shook my head.

“Not to play the psychiatrist or anything,” Terence continued, “but maybe you’ve fallen for a married man just so you won’t have to deal with commitment.”

I stared at him with shock. Was he right? Was that why I felt more relief than anger the past three times Will had stood me up? “You may be right,” I said to Terence. “It’s something for me to consider. At any rate, I intend to end it all tomorrow. It’s gone on long enough. I need to get a real life.”

Terence paid for our beers, and we headed down to the river. As we walked beneath the willows, I asked him about his life.

“I’ve told just about all,” I said. “It’s your turn.”

“Well, it hasn’t been quite so tragic as yours,” he began.

Like me, Terence said he had a very close relationship with his mother. As a matter of fact, he raved about her.

“She’s the one who encouraged me to pursue my art,” he explained. “So far, I’m having limited success.” Terence said he designed stained glass and had sold several pieces already. “I really work as a welder,” he said, “but I work on my stained glass in my spare time.”

“Doesn’t sound like it leaves much room for a social life,” I reflected.

“You’re right. Just like you, I’ve put so much time and effort into my art, that I’ve neglected my love life, but not to the extent that you had.” He laughed and hugged me.

“What about your father?” We were sitting on a bench watching the river flow by.

“I won’t talk about him,” he said flatly.

“That’s it? That’s all you’re going to say?”

“We don’t get along. I don’t like the way he treats my mother, and that’s all I’m going to say.”

I shivered. The sun was starting to set. Since it was late spring, the impending darkness still brought a chill.

“Let’s go find a nice, cozy restaurant,” he suggested.

“Italian?” I asked, hopefully.

“With red and white checked tablecloths and candles in old wine bottles,” he promised.

“It was eleven o’clock before I got back to my apartment. Over candlelight and wine, we had continued our conversation, moving from the subject of our lives to the subject of favorite books and movies. It seemed like we’d never run out of things to say. There was so much to talk about!

He kissed me gently on the lips after walking me to my door. “Can I see you again?” he whispered in my ear.

I looked down, pretending to consider, but he pulled my chin up until I was looking directly into his eyes.

“Yes,” I replied almost defiantly, and he kissed me passionately.

He tried to finagle his way into my apartment, but I’d had enough practice to learn how to close the door just enough to say goodnight without leaving room for my date to barge his way in.”

“Not yet,” I said.

“Well, give me your number then,” he demanded.

“I repeated it twice.”

“I’ll call you,” he told me, kissed me goodbye once more, and reluctantly took his leave.

I was in a daze that night. Once ready for bed, I lay staring at the ceiling while my mind whirled. Was I cheating on Will? Did I care? I was beginning to wonder what I saw in him anyway. Was that too terrible? After all, he hadn’t appeared too concerned about me lately.

I was tempted to call him right there and then and tell him it was over. But I’d have to call him at home, and I hated to do that. What if his wife answered? Then again, there’d be a certain satisfaction if she did. But I couldn’t do that. After all, I was one of the villains, especially if they weren’t separated at all, as I was beginning to suspect, thanks to Terence.

I decided I’d call him from work the next day. Of course, I wasn’t supposed to call him there, either. As a matter of fact, I was never supposed to contact Will at all. What had I been thinking all this time? How had I continued to fool myself that he had really cared for me? Even though I was alone, I blushed. How could I have been such a fool? I looked at the phone. I was tempted to call Terence just because I could.

I pulled my comforter closer around me and started thinking about Terence, wondering when I’d see him again, wondering how I could have ever been happy with Will.

Will and I had never talked, now that I really thought about it. I finally admitted to myself that it was mostly his financial power that had led me into a dangerous and stupid affair with Will, along with the father-figure image. Will was more than thirty years older than I was. Maybe I had been searching for the love and respect that I had never received from my father. I felt sure a psychiatrist would have a field day with all this.

I had met Will at a publishing party just over eight months ago. I’d been on a blind date with Christie’s cousin. I hated blind dates, but since Christie was my best friend, I just felt I couldn’t say no. To avoid being alone with Fred all evening, I suggested strongly that we go to the party being put on by my firm.

Secretaries weren’t usually invited to these lavish affairs, but we had just made an especially profitable deal and the whole company was celebrating. I told him it would be good for my career. It was also already evident that Fred and I weren’t compatible. He was nice enough. There was just no spark there.

Once at the party, we soon drifted apart. He ran into an old friend from high school. And me, well I met Will.

I was sipping a glass of wine and trying to mingle when I felt a light tap on my shoulder.

“Oh, excuse me,” a tall, distinguished-looking man apologized, “I thought you were someone else.”

I nodded and looked away, assuming he would move on after realizing his mistake, but he slipped his arm through mine and began steering me toward the patio. The party was being held at the house of the president of our company. I don’t even remember what line he used to get me outdoors.

“Will Matthews,” he finally introduced himself.

“Amanda—” I started, and my eyes widened. He’d said Will Matthews. It was a fairly common name, but his face looked familiar now that I thought about it. Was he the same Will Matthews in the society pages? The same man who was the brains behind the word processing program I used at work? He must have seen recognition in my eyes, including recognition of the fact he was married, because he led me to a bench and began relating his marriage woes to me.

“So, just a few months ago—” he sighed, “—we were separated.”

Boy, was I gullible. I swallowed every word—hook, line, and sinker. He had held my hand during the entire story, and I felt my heart aching for him while simultaneously other parts burned for him. I already longed to feel his mouth on mine, his hands caressing my body.

He was rich and powerful, and I suddenly knew that this was the man to whom I wanted to lose my virginity.

Our bench was hidden from the open doors of the patio, and the next thing I knew I was in his arms, drowning in the depths of a very passionate kiss. Will didn’t waste any time getting what he wanted. I guess that’s why he was so rich. At that moment in time what he wanted was Amanda Gillford, and if it hadn’t been for Christie’s cousin, Fred, he might have had me a lot sooner.

I was dizzy with the passion of his kiss, and his hands doing things I can’t even describe. On top of that he was huskily suggesting that we find some place a little more private, when I heard Fred call my name.

“Amanda,” he called out into the darkened garden. “Amanda Gillford!”

I nearly leapt to the moon I was so startled. “My date,” I explained, blushing furiously. I thought I saw anger flare in Will’s eyes when I had jumped out of his arms, but it turned out to be amusement.

“I thought you were alone,” he whispered.

“I don’t think you ever gave me a chance to say,” I retorted, and started to walk off.

“Wait.” He grabbed my skirt. “Give me your number.” He pulled out a business card and a gold pen and wrote it down as I recited it.

“Amanda?” Fred called again.

“Coming,” I said, hurrying out of the darkness and praying I didn’t look too rumpled and out of breath.

For the next few days, every time the phone rang, my heart would jump and my stomach would drop. The next weekend was fast approaching, and I still hadn’t heard from him. He’s a busy man, I rationalized. He probably even travels a lot. For all you know, he’s out of town.

When he finally called on Friday evening, I was furious and had no right to be. I was also embarrassed. What was I doing at home on a Friday? I should be out, enjoying myself. If I hadn’t wanted to see him so badly, I would have told him I was on my way out the door. Instead, I gave him directions to my apartment.

In my mind, I had everything planned for when he got there. I would show him in, offer him some wine, and act coolly toward him. But, in reality, when I opened the door, he swept me into his arms and once his lips touched mine, I was a goner.

When we ended up in my bedroom, I found myself growing scared and pulled back.

“What’s wrong? He asked, with eyes so intense with lust they were both exciting and frightening.

Blushing, I admitted that I had never made love before. He promised he’d be gentle. He told me it was an honor to him that he was the first, and proceeded to introduce me to the pleasures of lovemaking.

It was wonderful, and at first he made me feel as if we were the only two people in the world. It wasn’t long before I felt as if I was in love with only one-third of a person because there were two sides—his family and work—I never met.

We only talked about his work once, and that was because I brought up the subject. I told him that I used his word processing program at the publishing house and that I loved it. We were snuggled up in a king-sized bed in the hotel where I always met him. I’d wait in the restaurant downstairs, and I’d get a phone call telling me what room to come to. He was very careful. He had explained to me that a man of his influence couldn’t risk his reputation by seeing another woman until after the divorce was final. Funny how that divorce never seemed to progress.

Anyway, we were sipping on champagne, and I suggested that the program could use and indenting feature. At first, he looked annoyed that I could bring up such a mundane subject while he was enjoying champagne and sex, but then I could tell he was thinking about it and considered it a good idea.

“I’ll look into,” he said a bit curtly. But he had other things on his mind, namely me, and were soon otherwise engaged.

It actually took me almost six months before I realized I was nothing more than a lover to him, just a mistress and plaything. He treated me royally with champagne, room service, caviar, lobster and steak, gifts of jewelry and lingerie. I was on cloud nine.

I did finally start noticing that he would never speak of his family or work. I was never allowed to call him, so I saw him only when he wanted to see me. It was, I realized, a very one-sided relationship. But I loved him, desperately, and when we were alone together, he professed his love to me. The situation was difficult, he said, but the divorce was underway.

Only Christie knew of our affair, and she was vehemently against it. I couldn’t stop, since I’d become dependent on him. So, Christie, while she spoke badly about Will, still supported me when two weeks would go by without a word from him. Crying on her shoulder in the ladies’ room, she pat my back and cursed Will for all he was worth.

Now for the third week in a row, Will had canceled our weekly rendezvous. I turned my head to look at the clock and realized that my pillow was soaked. I felt my face, and it was wet with tears.

Was Will getting tired of me? Or was he really involved in a major project like he said he was? I just didn’t know. It was no longer enough, meeting him once a week in an expensive hotel room. I wanted all of him, not part. I had tried to keep that need in me from showing, but I was beginning to wonder if Will hadn’t somehow felt that I was getting too serious. Perhaps he was drawing away. If that were trued, I decided I had better be the one to break it off and save myself a little heartache. I wondered how Will would take the phone call. I had a feeling he would be very upset—not because I was dropping him, but because I was the one doing the dropping.

Now there was Terence. I felt like I ought to feel guilty about my feelings for him, but actually all I felt was defiance. I was just drifting off to sleep when the phone rang.

“Hello?” I answered.

“Were you asleep?” It was Terence.

“No, I had to get up to answer the phone, anyway,” I chuckled, pleased to hear from him even at this late hour.

He laughed. “I just wanted to hear your voice one more time before I fell asleep.”

I grinned into the phone.

“What are you doing for breakfast?” he asked.

“I never make plans for breakfast—” I looked at my clock. It read twelve-fifty, “—until after one.”

“Then I guess I’ll have to call you back.”

“Or we could continue our earlier conversation.”

My clock was pulsing one-ten a.m. when Terence said, “So, when can I pick you up for breakfast?”

“Let’s see,” I said, “one o’clock plus eight hours equals nine a.m.”

“You don’t need eight hours sleep.”

“Hey,” I argued, “that’s only seven hours plus an hour to wake up and get ready.”

“How about seven?”

“Seven-thirty.”

“Deal,” he laughed.

“See you later,” I started to hang up.

“Hopefully sooner,” he said.

“Mmmmm. Good night.” I hung up. Had I ever been this happy?

I awoke to a pounding on my door before dawn. My ever faithful clock radio told me it was just after five in the morning. Dragging myself out of bed, yawning, I pulled on a robe and slowly headed for the door.

More pounding. “I’m coming!” I yelled. I hadn’t even been asleep four hours, but I knew it was Terence.

“I couldn’t wait until morning,” he explained. “I thought we could watch the sunrise together.”

I stared at him in disbelief.

“Do you always look so good after four hours of sleep?” he asked, kissing me on the forehead.

“Are you serious?” I finally spoke.

“Of course.” He pulled me close, kissed me again. It was hard to resist him, but I pulled away.

“Then make some coffee,” I said, pointing to the kitchen, “while I get dressed.” I returned a few minutes later dressed in jeans and a warm sweater.

“Am I dreaming?” I asked him. He was in the kitchen opening cabinets.

“Where are the mugs?” he asked.

I pointed. They were hanging beneath the cabinet, right in front of his face. Men!

Grabbing a blanket, we went out onto the terrace of my apartment and snuggled up, backs against the brick wall of the building, and waited for the sun to come up. The sky had already begun to turn pink and orange but the sun had yet to appear. When it finally peeked over the horizon, we looked at each other, as if we had caused it to rise, and then we both burst out laughing.

“Time for more coffee.” I stood up and opened the sliding glass door to my apartment.

“I agree,” he said, following me inside.

As we leaned against the counter and sipped the warming brew, Terence suggested a diner where he said we could get a fabulous breakfast. I grabbed my purse, and we were on our way.

We spent the entire weekend together. From the diner, we headed to the grocery store to purchase a picnic lunch and then were off to the mountains for the day.

It was almost dark when we pulled back into town. Terence dropped me off at my apartment so that I could get ready for our dinner date. After a late movie, I was exhausted, but Terence begged me to hold on just a bit longer, and I allowed him to take me to his favorite club for a few dances and a nightcap.

When, at my door, he asked me out for Sunday as well, I decided to be blunt.

“Isn’t his getting to be an expensive weekend for you?” I asked.

“Yes,” he admitted, “but it’s worth it for you.” He took me into his arms. “I’ve never met anyone like you. I feel like I’ve known you forever.”

I agreed. It did seem as if we were long lost friends as last reunited and discovering there was more to our relationship than just friendship.

“Still,” I said, “we don’t have to spend another night on the town. Why don’t you come over here around noon?”

“Around noon?” he interrupted. “That late!”

“Church is over at eleven-thirty.”

“I’ll go to church with you!”

He looked so earnest that I had to laugh. “Of course you can go to church with me, Terence. Pick me up at nine-thirty.” He looked as if he might protest again and I put a finger over his lips. “Don’t push your luck.”

He hugged me tightly and said, “Okay, I guess I can wait until nine-thirty.”

A couple of minutes and a passionate kiss later, he was gone with a wave. I watched, heart thumping madly, until he was out of sight. This was all happening so fast. Was I rebounding from Will to Terence? Did I care?

After church, we came back to my apartment for brunch. Together, we fixed scrambled eggs, bacon, croissants and fruit, and a big pot of hot coffee. We lingered over our meal for hours, sipping coffee, nibbling on the food, and reading to each other from the comics page.

At three, stretching, Terence hoisted himself off the sofa. “My mother reminded me this morning that I had promised to take her to a concert this afternoon.”

I tried not to let the disappointment show in my face. “It’s getting late,” I said. “Do you have time to get ready?”

“Just enough if I leave now.”

“Have a good time,” I said, walking him to the door. I had to bite my tongue to keep from asking when I would see him again.

“Shall I come over after the concert?” he asked, hopefully.

I started breathing again. “I have some work that I really need to get done, not to mention the fact that I am exhausted for some reason.” I smiled. “I think I’ll call it an early night.”

It was his turn to look disappointed. “What about breakfast tomorrow?”

“I have to go to work.”

“So do I,” he said, “but we can just get up earlier than usual, especially if we’ll be hitting the sack early.”

“Well, yeah, sure, why not?”

“I’ll pick you up at seven,” he said, opening the door.

“I can’t wait,” I told him.

Monday morning, when I opened the door to let Terence in, he said, “You look ill.”

“I have an unpleasant task facing me today,” I explained. “A task I am definitely not looking forward to.”

“What’s that?” he asked, pulling me into a bear hug. I pulled away and stared at my feet. I couldn’t look him in the eye.

“I have to call Will and tell him it’s over.”

“Oh,” he said flatly. “Why don’t you get the dirty deed over with before breakfast so that we can enjoy our meal.”

“He’s not at work yet,” I explained, cheeks flaming. I never thought that my association with Will would cause me so much embarrassment.

“Call him at home,” Terence said, pushing his way into my apartment and heading toward the phone. Picking up the receiver, he asked me for the number. “I’ll call him,” he said. “I’ll be glad to.”

“I can’t call him at home,” I said, angrily, taking the receiver from his clenched fist. “What if his wife answers the phone? I can’t do that to her.”

“Do you know her?” he asked with surprise.

“No, of course not. But I’ve thought about her often enough, and I have come to the conclusion over the past few nights that she isn’t the witch Will made her out to be. I think he knew he had to make her sound bad to keep me where he wanted me.”

“Where was that?” Terence asked, his eyes colder than stone. “In bed?”

I felt as if I had been slapped. Tears sprang to my eyes, but I reacted with anger. “You knew my situation the day we met! As a matter of fact, if it hadn’t been for Will and his standing me up, we’d never have met. Perhaps that would have been better.” I couldn’t hold back the tears any longer.

“I’m sorry,” Terence said, taking me into his arms and kissing the tears away. “I was suddenly just overwhelmed with jealousy. I feel like I’ve known you all my life, and suddenly I felt cheated on.”

“This is just a part of my life that I need to finish,” I explained, “and I intend to do it today, as soon as possible. Knowing Will, I won’t have to worry about any repercussions.”

“Well,” he warned me, “just make sure you don’t forget to make that call today. I’m not sure how long I can stand this married man of yours hanging over my head.”

I said goodbye to him in the lobby of my office building. He looked at me sternly, but did not repeat his warning. He left and my stomach took a dive. I really didn’t want to call Will. I hated confrontations.

Once at my desk, I picked up the receiver and then quickly put it back down. Iwould wait until ten, I decided. That would give me time for another cup of coffee, a confession to Christie, and Will would surely be in his office by then.

“Did the creep show up on Friday?” It was Christie. Perfect timing.

I bared my teeth. “I’m calling him at ten to tell him it’s over.”

“Why ten?” Christie asked, hugging me in congratulations. “Why not now?”

“Because I’m nervous for one,” I said.

“Whatever for?” she interrupted. “That jerk never shows you any consideration. You ought to be ecstatic to be the one to tell him to get lost. Better you than him.”

“I know. I keep telling myself that, but my stomach’s doing flip-flops anyway.”

“Face it, Christie. I’m a wimp. I hate saying no.”

“I’ll bet that keeps your dates happy.”

“Ha, ha. Come get a cup of coffee with me. I have a lot to catch you up on.”

With Christie’s threat of standing over my shoulder until I called Will, I picked up the receiver. My hands were trembling, but my voice was strong when I asked to speak to Will.

“I told you never to call me at the office,” he whispered viciously into the phone.

Gritting my teeth, I said, “I figured since it would be both the first and last time, I could get away with it.”

“It had better be the last.”

“Don’t worry you son of a—” I was losing my cool. I started over. “It will be.” My voice was ice.

“If you’re angry about me canceling Friday—”

“Canceling the past three weeks, Will”

There was silence on the other end of the line. “I told you I was working on a very important project.”

“I have no doubt that’s true,” I told him. “Regardless, I am angry, and I don’t want to see you again.”

Silence again, and finally, “If that’s what you want.”

I couldn’t tell if he was hurt or relieved. “It’s what I want,” I said, but I could feel the tears stinging my eyes. He was supposed to be the one who was upset, not me! I hung up on him. Let him think that I was angry. I was angry. I felt degraded and used. Had I really only been his plaything?

I took a deep breath and looked over at Christie. I nodded. It was done. She gave me a thumb’s up. I smiled. After all, I had wound up with something better—Terence. Now I could pursue this new relationship with no feelings of guilt or deception. I had a new and happier life to look forward to.

“What are you doing Saturday night?” Terence asked. A month had passed, and we had seen each other as often as possible. So often, in fact, that I had come to take for granted our weekends together.

“You tell me,” I replied.

“I want you to meet my mother,” he said.

“I’d love to meet her.” I hugged him.

“We’ve been invited to dinner.”

“And your father?” I asked. I still hadn’t been able to pry any more information out of him about his father.

“Won’t be there, thank God.”

I wondered if I would ever find out what had caused the break between the two, but I was delighted about finally meeting his mother. I looked forward to this weekend with just a bit of trepidation. Terence, and his mother, Irma, were very close, and was also an only child. What if she didn’t like me?

When Saturday finally rolled around, I agonized over what to wear. I finally settled on a matching skirt and blouse in a rich, jewel-toned paisley. I had bought it to attend a friend’s wedding the previous winter. It seemed perfect for an evening dinner without being overdressed.

Terence nodded approvingly when he came to pick me up. “You look beautiful,” he said, kissing my cheek. “Nervous?”

“Just a bit,” I admitted. “I really hope she likes me.”

“She has to,” he replied. “How could she not?”

I gasped when we pulled up to the gates of a huge mansion on the outskirts of town. I looked at Terence, feeling shock. “You never told me your family had money,” I accused him. He had led me to believe his mother had lots of class, that she was very tasteful, and a once-struggling artist just like himself, but from the one-room efficiency that he occupied in an iffy section of town, I’d never have guessed that Terence’s folks were rich.

“It’s my father’s money,” he explained. “Mom has to live with it, or I guess I should say that she has chosen to live with it. I, on the other hand, decided to make it on my own. I don’t need help from him.”

He said the word “him” like it was a bug he wished he could step on. Terence rolled down his window and punched in a number at the gate. There was a buzzing noise and the gate slowly rolled back to allow us to enter.

My palms were sweating freely now, and I wiped them against my shirt to keep them dry. I didn’t want my first impression to be a clammy handshake. Fortunately, I didn’t have to worry about that. Irma met us at the door and hugged me when Terence introduced us. Her gray-green eyes were warm and her blond hair was tied loosely with a black velvet bow.

“My son has told me so much about you,” she said, wrapping an arm about my waist and leading me into a comfortable room lit with candles and art deco lamps. “This is my sitting room,” she explained, offering me a seat on a small sofa. “The room my husband entertains in is too stuffy for me, too masculine.”

I stood up almost immediately. “Are those your paintings?” I wandered over to a wall that was adorned with several watercolors.

“Those are Mom’s,” Terence affirmed, coming up behind me.

“They’re wonderful,” I whispered. And they really were. “That one reminds me of the day we met.” I pointed to a spring scene of the river in which flowers bloomed and clouds danced over a fair sky.

I returned to the sofa, stopping to admire some photographs on the side table. My heart skipped a beat. It was Will, a much younger Will, but Will nonetheless, in a photo with Terence and Irma. Terence looked to be about seven or eight. They were all laughing.

When Terence had told me his last name was Matthews, I had noticed the coincidence, but hadn’t thought twice about it. After all, there are lots of Matthews. Even when Irma had mentioned Will a few minutes earlier it hadn’t clicked. But here it was, a photograph. I was suddenly very thankful that Terence’s father wasn’t going to be here tonight. What was I going to do? Did I confess to Terence that the man I had left for him was his father? He interrupted the thoughts that were whirling about my mind.

“That’s my father—” he picked up the photograph, “—in happier days.”

“Terence,” his mother said reprovingly.

I felt pale and weak. I needed to sit down. I stumbled to the sofa.

“Amanda, are you all right?” Terence asked, fear causing his voice to rise an octave.

“I just suddenly felt dizzy,” I explained. “I wasn’t lying.”

His mother stood up and walked over to a small cabinet. She opened it up and pulled out a brandy snifter and some brandy.

“Here,” she said, pressing the glass into my shaking hand, “drink this.”

I took a sip and the brandy burned its way to my stomach, igniting a small fire there. It brought me back to my senses. So this was the woman Will had railed against. How dare he! I knew one thing for sure. Even if I confessed to Terence about Will, his mother could never know.

“Thank you,” I smiled, taking another sip. The color was returning to my cheeks. “I guess I just let myself get too worked up about meeting you.”

Irma squeezed my hand. “You’re every bit as sweet as Terence said you were.” I looked over at Terence and saw how wonderfully happy he looked. A shiver coursed its way down my spine. Would he still look at me that way after I told him about Will?

Dinner was fabulous, and afterwards we returned to Irma’s study for a nightcap. Terence and I curled up on the love seat, and Irma relaxed in a comfy armchair. We talked about Irma’s and Terence’s art and my past ambitions for writing. Terence even reminisced with his mother about his early childhood. Irma was just pulling out a photo album when there was a loud rap on the door. I think we all jumped.

Without even waiting for an answer, Will opened the door and looked in.

“What are you doing here?” Terence asked, unconsciously pulling me closer to him.

“I happen to live—” The look of shock on Will’s face was obvious as he registered just who was sitting next to his son. Although I was able to keep my face neutral, my heart was pounding like a sledgehammer, and I felt sure that Terence could feel it. I felt him stiffen behind me.

“I’m sorry,” Will stuttered, “I didn’t realize you had company.” Fortunately, Will’s back was to Irma when he had first seen me, and he had recovered himself by the time her turned to speak to her.

“Will,” Irma said more graciously than she acted, “this is Terence’s girlfriend, Amanda Gillford. Amanda, this is Terence’s father, Will.”

I nodded, and smiled, but I could feel Will’s eyes burning a hole through me. It was obvious to me that he suspected foul play, and it enraged me that he knew so little about me that he’d assume that I was up to no good.

“Nice to meet you,” he said brusquely. “The meeting was canceled,” he told his wife as he left the room.

As soon as Will left the room, Terence stood up, practically dumping me off his lap.

“Oh, Terence,” Irma said sadly, “you don’t have to leave just because he’s home.”

“Thank you for dinner, Mom. It was wonderful.”

She walked us to the door. “Please come back again soon, Amanda. I enjoyed your visit.”

I waved goodbye as Terence hustled me into his car. I was dreading the ride home. I felt sure that we were leaving for more reasons than just the fact that his father had shown up unexpectedly.

Terence was silent all the way back to my apartment, and I was too afraid to break that silence. When he stopped in front of the building with his motor still running, I had to say something.

“I think we need to talk,” I said.

His eyes were filled with hurt and anger, and I flinched. It suddenly dawned on me that he might be thinking that I had used him to get back at his father.

“Terence,” I said, “I didn’t even know he had a son.”

He just stared at me with disbelief. “How could you?” he finally said.

“Terence,” I begged, “I swear that we have nothing to do with him.”

“I can’t talk about his now. I need some time to be alone.”

I stepped out of the car and watched as he roared away with a squeal of tires. I felt sick. I’d given up Will, and now I’d lost his son. I trudged wearily up to my apartment and cried myself to sleep.

When I still hadn’t heard from Terence by Monday morning, I considered calling in sick but decided I needed a shoulder to cry on. Christie was the only one whocould provide that shoulder.

She was sympathetic and even offered to call Terence to vouch for me. I thanked her but told her it was something that I was going to have to work out for myself. I wasn’t even surprised when a few minutes later, I received a call from Will.

“We need to talk,” he said.

“Funny,” I replied, “I wasn’t sure that was something you knew how to do.”

“Don’t be smart,” he barked. “Meet me at the regular place at noon.”

“Wrong,” I told him. “If you want to talk to me, you can meet me in the riverfront park at noon. You’re no longer calling the shots, Will.” I hung up. I was furious. How dare he treat me like I was his mistress!

I arrived, purposefully, a couple of minutes late and found him packing along the riverfront.

“What is it you want?” he asked.

“Want?” I pretended to act confused. If he thought I was trying to blackmail him or play out some form of fatal attraction, then he could stew in his own juices for a while.

“Money? he asked. “Is that what you want?”

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. Then I calmly walked over to a bench and sat down. What I really wanted to do was cry. What had I done that these men could think so horribly of me? I had never asked Will or Terence for anything. I had even made sure that Terence didn’t spend too much money on me by cooking dinner and providing numerous breakfasts and lunches. I had even insisted on paying several times. Terence was a welder, after all, and as far as I knew was low on cash because of the expenses involved in buying the materials for stained glass wasn’t cheap.

Will really must have thought I was low if I would stoop to seducing his son just to get back at him.

He sat down next to me, eyes blazing, and opened his mouth to speak. I put a finger to my lips.

“Sh!” I said. “Will you let me talk? Will you promise not to say a word until I’ve told you everything?”

Will crossed his arms over his chest and nodded. So I told him everything—from my impressions the night I met him, until Terence had dropped me of at my apartment on Saturday night.

“It’s obvious to me now,” I concluded, “that you saw me as a low-class, I’ll do-whatever-you-say lay. I’ll admit that I was naïve, that I lack education, and that lack of education has forced me to take what you consider and unimportant job. But it doesn’t make me less than human, Will, and it doesn’t make my motives less than honorable. Remember your roots, Will? I remember you once told me your daddy was a truck farmer and that you built your way up from that. Does that make you despicable? I love Terence. I don’t care if he comes from money. He’s a wonderful person, although I doubt you know that. I don’t know what led you to the distance between you two, but I’m sorry it exists. I just hope I haven’t lost Terence because of all this.”

Will stared quietly at the river for ten long minutes before he spoke. “You’re right,” he admitted. “I underestimated you.” Silence, then, “What about Irma?”

“I don’t even want to talk about how you treat that wonderful woman,” I said with a flash of anger. “She deserves better.”

“You’re right,” he said. “She does.” But you don’t know the whole story. We have an understanding. Irma and I are best friends, but she lost interest in sex after she lost our second child. She agreed to put up with my philandering as long as I didn’t bring embarrassment to the family name or cause a scandal. I take it that this means you don’t intend to tell her about us?”

“Does Terence know all of this?”

“No, of course not.”

“Maybe you should tell him. Maybe he deserves to know all the family secrets. I can understand that you’d be disappointed in his disinterest in your business. At least, I learned that is one of the reasons for your split. But, really, Will, Terence is a very talented artist. You should be proud.”

“I am,” he said, quietly. “Irma keeps me informed.”

“Then for God’s sake, why haven’t you told him so?”

“He wouldn’t listen.”

“Have you tried?”

“No.”

“I think you could use a little more humbling,” I smiled to soften what I said. After all, it was nice to know that this man wasn’t entirely the monster I thought he was.

Will smiled, too. “You have a point, Amanda. Give me a chance to patch things up with Terence.” He stood up. “And maybe it will work out between the two of you.”

“I stood up, too, and took Will’s hand. The electricity that had once been there was gone. It was as if my eyes had suddenly opened, and I saw Will clearly for the first time—an older man who worried about his work, his wife, his son—just like any other married man. I wished, for Irma’s sake, that he would stop his philandering, but that part of Will’s life was no longer any of my business.

Two days passed, and I still had not heard from Terence. I was beginning to worry that Will had reneged on his promise to make up with his son. I was curled up on my sofa on Thursday evening reading a book when there was a knock at the door.

It was Terence. He looked defensive but ready to make up. I let him in. I returned to the sofa and he joined me. I waited for him to speak.

“My father came to see me,” he started. I nodded warily. “And he told me about Mom losing her daughter a year after I was born, about their agreement, even about you.”

I blushed. After all, I had enjoyed a relationship with his father. It would be hard to reconcile that even if they had a great relationship all this time, but I knew it had to be especially painful when he had hated his father for so long.

“I don’t know what to say.” My voice was husky with impending tears. I really didn’t want to lose Terence.

“Don’t say anything. Just hold me.”

We held each other forever, it seemed. And then we talked. There was a lot to work out. I had to assure him that I no longer felt anything for his father. He had to assure me that he no longer held any animosity toward me because of that relationship. We both agreed that it was something that his mother need never know about.

And finally, when there was nothing left to talk about, he carried me to my bedroom.

We were married the next spring down by the river. I carried daffodils, and an assortment of other spring flowers. And, while Christie wept into my bouquet, Will proudly stood up as his son’s best man. It was a small wedding with only our closest friends and family in attendance.

Terence is working full-time on stained glass now. With a little help from his father’s connections, he has more than enough stained glass orders to keep him busy. As for me, I’m taking care of our daughter, Lilly. Her grandparents dote on her, and why not, she’s perfect. Lilly’s grandmother takes her twice a week so that I have time to write—at least, I’m giving it a try. Who knows, maybe that dream will come true, as well.
 

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