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Life Of Love - A Novel by Santonu Kumar Dhar

He first saw her at the bus stop. One could say it was love at first sight, but she didn’t quite notice him in return. She was absorbed in a magazine, her legs crossed daintily beneath an embroidered silk dress. Her auburn hair fell in waves around her shoulders and her bright, emerald-green eyes were alive with delight. She was beautiful beyond comparison, so much that he made a move to sit next to her.
Life Of Love - A Novel
Life Of Love - A Novel by Santonu Kumar Dhar
John Deane was a handsome, clean-shaven, 27-year-old software engineer. He graduated in computer science at Harvard University and now co-owned a software company with his best friend, Michael Rawl. Michael was to be married that very day, and John was on his way to purchase flowers as a gift. However, his task was no longer at the forefront of his mind. He was fixated on the woman reading the magazine at the bus stop. He brushed a hand through his dark hair, feeling a little self-conscious that he was already losing it along the sides of his head. He blamed it on the stress of his job. Just as he took a step towards the bench, another man of about thirty slipped in front of him and touched the woman’s shoulder. “Sarah?” She looked up from her magazine and saw the tall man greeting her, and then stood gracefully with the loveliest smile John had ever seen. As she stood, she let the magazine fall onto the bench. “How are you?” he asked. “William Burnham, is that you?” She opened her arms for a brief hug and a kiss on the cheek, and then stepped back. “I’m well. What are you doing here?” “I was on my way to meet a client and I just happened to see you sitting over here.” “Well, how nice of you to come and say hello!” As they chatted to one another of their day and events that had happened since they last spoke, John meandered over to the bench and picked up the magazine. He was curious to know what she was reading, what interested her. On the corner of the magazine, over a stamped sticker addressed to her, he learned her name was Sarah Jane Miller. Her name rang in his head like a beautiful string of notes, clear and soft as bells. He had never felt such a pull before – such a desire to know a complete stranger. Then, as if it were a serendipitous sign from heaven, his ear caught the tail end of Sarah’s conversation with William. “Where are you headed?” he asked. Ahead of them, the city bus pulled up to the stop, its brakes creaking. Sarah gestured to the machine. “I’m on my way to my cousin Amanda’s wedding.” “Oh, how lovely,” William replied. John could barely listen further. His brain was buzzing with excitement; the inertia of thoughts was unstoppable. He was so distracted by his stroke of luck that he watched Sarah board the bus without stopping her to hand over the magazine. The doors were already closed by the time he realized his mistake. He held it up to the bus window, but Sarah wasn’t looking out. It didn’t matter, though. He had a feeling he would see her again. He, too, was headed to a wedding later. His friend and business partner, Michael, had shared everything with him since their university days. There were no secrets, between all their great memories together and all their aspirations. Michael had started dating a charming girl six months ago, and it was nice for John to see him finally tie the knot with someone. Of course, John had met her a while back and given his “thumbs-up” approval. Her name, just as Sarah had stated moments before, was Amanda. ✽✽✽ Amanda Miller’s house was an old Victorian style with beautiful brickwork and low ceilings. The wedding decorations were up, strewn with lights and flowers. It had taken Sarah Jane Miller a long bus ride and several transfers to get from Manhattan to Montclair, New Jersey, and unfortunately she had left her magazine at the bus stop, which deprived her of some much needed entertainment. She had vowed not to bring any work on the trip, which was a difficult promise for a busy lawyer like her to keep. So instead of magazines or work to occupy her time, she had to enjoy the passing scenery of traffic and old buildings on the ride. Although she was very close to Amanda, it had been six months since they last saw each other – right around the time Amanda had met her husband-to-be. Still, they kept in contact via email and texting. Sarah blamed her workload for their lack of face-to-face communication. Her uncle greeted her at the front gate. He gave her a kiss on the forehead, his mustache tickling her skin. He was a jovial man, always welcoming people to his home – even strangers – and greeting them with a warm smile. It was something Sarah always loved about him. “How are you, my dear Sarah?” he asked, a smile crossing his face. “I’m doing just fine. What about you, Uncle?” she asked, mirroring his grin. “You still look the same, young and fit.” “Oh!” he laughed, flattered. “I’m getting older, but I’m well, thank you. I’m very happy to see you, my child. It has been ages.” He held out his arm and Sarah took it, allowing him to lead her up to the doorway. “Amanda is right inside.” “I’m very excited to see her in her dress.” Sarah’s smile widened. “I’m sure she looks absolutely gorgeous.” Inside, Sarah made her way upstairs to Amanda’s room. She knew her way around the house like the back of her hand, having spent many nights sleeping over as a child and wrecking havoc in the living room trying to make the best fort possible out of blankets, pillows, and couch cushions. Amanda’s room was the second door on the right in the upstairs hallway, and the door still had the script writing of her cousin’s name carved into it. Standing at the full-length mirror near the closet was Amanda, and she saw Sarah from the reflection and flashed a smile at her. She wore the classic white bridal dress, beaded at the front with a lace sash and long, trailing veil. As she turned to greet Sarah, the layered dress ruffled softly. “Wow!” breathed Sarah, shaking her head. “You look so different, Amanda.” Amanda gave her most teasing smile. “So, I had to get married for you to finally find time to visit.” Sarah looked mortified. “I am so sorry,” she apologized. “You know how much I want to see you. I’ve been really busy with a new assignment.” “Is that so? I think you’re just using your lawyer tricks on me right now.” Sarah laughed. “I’m not lying to you, my wonderful cousin. I am thrilled to be here. And believe it or not,” she quickly added, “I left all of my work at home.” “I don’t believe that for a second,” Amanda replied with another smile. “So, tell me, how do I look as a bride? Good or bad? And no lying.” “Hmm.” Sarah put a hand to her chin and circled her cousin, pretending to inspect the lovely dress. Finally, she said, “It’s decided. You look extremely hot, sizzling, and sexy.” Amanda laughed and shook her head. “Thanks a lot. I feel better now. By the way, I can’t keep it a secret any longer. I’m going to introduce you to someone special today.” “You mean Michael? I’m looking forward to meeting him,” Sarah replied. She felt somewhat bad that she hadn’t met her cousin’s fiancé yet. Six months wasn’t exactly a long period of time to date before being married, but Sarah had heard so much about Michael that she knew he would make Amanda happy – whether they were together six months or six years before marriage. “No, not Michael,” said Amanda. She played with her veil as she spoke, tossing the soft fabric and watching it float gently back to her side. “Well, you’ll be meeting him, of course, and I know you’ll love him, but that wasn’t who I was talking about.” “What does he do again?” Sarah quickly asked, interrupting her cousin. It was just like Amanda to try to set her up with someone, and it was just like Sarah to be a little hesitant. Since work occupied so much of her time, she didn’t have much room for a romantic life, though she secretly wished it wasn’t so … well, so nonexistent. And while she was grateful of her cousin’s efforts to find her a companion, it was all a little embarrassing. “Michael? He’s a software engineer and runs a business with his friend, for the millionth time.” She smiled slyly. “Is that another lawyer trick, trying to change the subject like that? You know, I might be distracted with getting married and all, but I’m not going to leave you without someone to dance with tonight.” “Dance?” Sarah cringed a little. “You know I hate dancing.” “Oh, don’t be like that. John is very outgoing. Handsome, too.” Amanda winked and turned back to the mirror. She smoothed the skirt of her dress, examining herself one more time. “This dress isn’t wrinkled at the back, is it? Ugh, I’m afraid to even sit down in fear of ruining it.” Despite herself, Sarah’s curiosity had been stoked a little. She pretended to help Amanda examine the back of the dress for wrinkles, but her mind was elsewhere. “Sorry, who is John?” she asked. Amanda didn’t reply. She simply flashed a silent, knowing smile at her reflection in the mirror. ✽✽✽ John stood at the church altar, next to the groom as the best man usually did. Michael was looking good in his tux, an excited smile playing upon his lips. He felt happy for his friend, but also anxious with anticipation. He was waiting for his suspicions to be confirmed, and as the string quartet started the soft pizzicato of Pachelbel’s Canon and the bridesmaids emerged from the back, the crowd all turning to watch, he saw her. At the front, Sarah started down the aisle holding a bridesmaid bouquet in her hands. She was beautiful in her pale dress, her hair tucked up over her neck with flowers weaved into the locks. Her lips were shockingly red, as though she had been pulled out of the fifties. The other girls came out, all lining up across from the groomsmen. The bride emerged to the sound of the Wedding March. She looked lovely, donned in pearly white, and John knew he was supposed to be looking forward, but he couldn’t help glancing at Sarah more than once, drawn to her. Yes, the bride was beautiful, but Sarah was breathtaking. The priest cleared his throat and finally the ceremony was underway. “A marriage is a way of accepting love and commitment of a man and woman in front of God, before moving to a new life.” He said a few more words, most of which John missed while sneaking glances at Sarah, and continued on. “If there is anyone here who believes Amanda and Michael should not be married today, speak now or forever hold your peace.” The church was silent, a silence so roaring that it made John slightly uneasy. The priest continued. “Let us proceed. Do you, Michael, take Amanda to be your lawful wedded wife? To have and to hold from this day forward, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, to honor, until death do you part?” “Yes, I do,” he affirmed with a smile. John could see the excitement in his eyes. “And do you, Amanda, take Michael to be your lawful wedded husband? To have and to hold from this day forward, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, to honor, until death do you part?” “Yes, I do,” Amanda replied. John let out a sigh. He liked weddings, especially what they symbolized: eternal love, unconditional love. He had grown up with two loving parents who exemplified what it meant to love. He still lived with his adoring, soft-hearted mother, Jessica, whom he was very fond and proud of. He had promised to be there for her ever since his father, Robert, died ten years ago. He had fought a rough battle with stomach cancer and lost. His passing was heartbreaking for the entire family. His parents’ love existed “in sickness and in health” until death eventually pulled them apart. The exchange of rings came and went and the ceremony closed with a passionate kiss between the couple. The crowd erupted into applause and the string quartet burst into music as they made their way back down the aisle, this time as husband and wife. As everyone made their exit to get to the reception, John tried to walk next to Sarah. Once again, he went unnoticed. He brushed his hand through his hair and craned his neck to find her as she became lost in the crowd. In the evening, at the reception, John was sauntering by the bar, waiting for another glimpse of Sarah. Almost all of the people at the wedding were at the reception, and some who weren’t at the ceremony were present here, probably for the free food and booze. John was about to seize himself a drink when Amanda popped out of nowhere and grabbed his arm. He opened his mouth to speak but Amanda beat him to it. “I want to introduce you to my beautiful cousin, Sarah,” she said. John’s heart skipped a beat. Serendipity. He couldn’t believe Amanda was offering to introduce him to the very woman he had his eyes on. “Yes, please,” he quietly said, allowing himself to be tugged along by his friend’s new wife. They approached a table where Sarah was merrily chatting away with an elderly man whom John took as a family member. Her eyes alighted when she spoke, her lips curving into a striking smile. His heart elevated. Amanda cleared her throat, interrupting the conversation. “Sarah, this is who I wanted you to meet, John Deane.” Sarah turned, blushing slightly for some reason. John realized that Amanda must have been trying to set them up, and mentally thanked her. Sarah was looking at him as if she knew him from somewhere but just couldn’t place it. Finally extending her hand, she said, “Nice to meet you, John.” He shook her hand briefly, the feeling of her smooth skin sending a rush of exhilaration through him. “Isn’t it a coincidence?” he asked. “Coincidence?” She furrowed her brow. “I saw you at the bus stop this morning in Manhattan.” He shuffled his feet, feeling rather awkward that he had realized this and she hadn’t. Amanda interrupted with surprise. “You’ve met before?” “No, no, I just saw her in passing …” John tried to explain, but he cut his own words short, feeling heat under his collar. “Oh? Sorry, I didn’t notice you,” said Sarah, eyeing him with a look of uncertainty. “I didn’t realize I was so memorable.” John smiled at her teasing. “You left a magazine behind.” “Oh my god, I was in such a hurry I forgot it.” She smiled bashfully and tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear. “Did you find it?” “Yeah. I have it if you want it back,” he said. Sarah waved her hand in the air, dismissing the notion. “Oh, don’t worry about it. I’ve almost read the whole thing.” She quickly added, “Though, I wish I could have gotten it before the bus ride.” Amanda suddenly decided that this was her cue to leave. “I’ve got to see some other guests. I’ll talk to you later.” She squeezed Sarah’s arm, gave her a triumphant smile, and dashed away. “She’s trying to set us up, isn’t she?” John asked, chuckling a little. He was secretly glad. Sarah sighed and leaned against her hand. “She does that to me sometimes.” At that moment, the band began to play. People started towards the dance floor, dragging their partners along with them. John – like Amanda – suddenly decided that this was his cue to do something. “Sarah, would you like to dance with me?” he asked hopefully. Sarah hesitated, covering her mouth with her hand to hide a shy smile. “No, I can’t dance.” “Don’t worry. I think anyone can dance with the right partner.” He gave her a reassuring smile. “Give me a chance. I’ll guide and support you on every step.” She looked surprised for a moment, but her expression was quickly covered by another timid smile. “As long as you promise not to laugh when I embarrass myself,” she quietly said. John gazed dreamily into her bright eyes. He wanted to tell her that she would look lovely doing anything, that she should never be embarrassed. Instead, he slipped his hand softly into hers and led her to the dance floor. He kept his promise to lead her in every step, and while Sarah stumbled on his toes on occasion, for the most part they were in sync, moving across the hardwood as one. He pulled her closer and said, “See, you’ve got the hang of it.” Sarah quietly laughed and red touched her cheeks as she let him pull her closer. There was electricity in their fingertips as they touched, a wave of emotion enclosing them as the dance continued on. John’s mind was filled with thoughts of her, his emotions leaking into his eyes, and Sarah’s shyness had soon withered, becoming just as lost in his gaze as he was in hers. Two songs had already passed and John and Sarah forgot the music and the people around them. By now, the other guests had circled around them, focused on their passionate dancing. When they finally stopped, Sarah wanting a glass of water, she started at the round of applause they received. She blushed, her shyness returning, and she fled from the dance floor, her hand still locked with John’s. She pulled him behind her. In the safety of the crowd and loud music, Sarah began to laugh. John joined in, feeling completely silly and … and something else, something he had never felt before. It was a first for him – this feeling – and he held onto it. In his university days, many girls had asked him out, but he never felt interested. He only dreamed of becoming the next Steve Jobs or Bill Gates. Romance and feelings never seemed very important. But when he looked at Sarah, something changed within him, a warmth that he liked. They spent the rest of the night talking, and John was even able to coax another dance out of Sarah. It was all perfect, and as the hours pushed on, the bride and groom made their flower-laden exit, sending up another round of applause. By this point, John realized he had found someone truly special. It was not until he glanced at his watch that he realized how late it was. He excused himself and explained that he had a long drive home to Manhattan. “I have to go, but I had a lovely time talking and dancing with you,” he said, faltering slightly on his words. He badly wanted to kiss her cheek. “Yes, it’s been really nice,” agreed Sarah, and added, “And fun.” He shook her hand, wishing to feel her warm skin just once more before he left. The breathless feeling returned and he disappeared outside before his urge to kiss her also came back. While walking to his car, he thought of their dance, of how his heart had felt so full and alive in that moment. And he suddenly realized he hadn’t asked for any of Sarah’s contact information. No phone number. No address. Not even an email. He turned to the door, only to see her driving away with her aunt and uncle. He almost considered chasing down the car, but the opportunity was lost. Sarah Jane Miller. What a beautiful name, he thought, as he gazed upwards at the star-filled sky. And since fate had been so good to him already, he had a feeling he would certainly see Sarah Jane Miller again. Chapter 2 The day was warm, so Sarah left her house wearing a silk blouse and high-rise shorts, her leather handbag tucked delicately into the nook of her arm. Her sunglasses were on, shadowing the world in a brown hue. She felt giddy, happy, and whenever she became this way she felt inclined to get out of the house and go places. Today she decided to visit the mall. A little bit of shopping did wonders to a brain that wouldn’t stop thinking about a certain someone. In fact, she was so busy thinking about her new love interest that she almost bumped into several people on the way to the mall. She tumbled out a few awkward apologies and nearly gasped in surprise when she saw John around the corner. At first she thought she must have been imagining him. There weren’t many coincidences in her life. And fate? Well, she was still on the fence with that one. But there he was, walking towards her in a button-up white shirt tucked into his dark-blue jeans. Even jeans looked professional on him. He had this classy sort of look about him that Sarah loved. Though, he wasn’t going anywhere classy today. There was a small, brown dog by his side, its head low to the sidewalk, as if it was sniffing for something. Sarah’s smile broadened when he took sight of her, and his lips curved into a wide grin. “John, I’m so glad to see you again,” she greeted before he could. He seemed suddenly too busy to say “hello” anyway. He was staring intently at her face, and she felt unexpectedly self-conscious about it. Had she put too much makeup on this morning? Had she smudged a bit when she rubbed her eye earlier? “Sarah, you look gorgeous,” said John softly, and Sarah felt heat fill her cheeks. She awkwardly pushed a curl of hair behind her ear and laughed. “Thank you for the compliment,” she replied, and then hurried to change the subject. “Where are you going?” There was a grim expression upon John’s face. “To the doctor’s clinic.” “Oh?” said Sarah, curious now, and slightly worried. “Anything serious? What happened?” John bent down a little and patted his dog on the head. “No, my dog here needs a doctor. I am on my way to the veterinary clinic at the corner.” Sarah glanced down at the dog and saw him sniffing at the sidewalk again. She lowered herself into a crouch and started scratching him behind his ears. “He’s very cute,” she remarked. “What’s his name?” “His name’s Nick,” replied John, beaming down at the dog. “He’s my best friend.” Sarah smiled. “That’s a nice name.” She rubbed Nick’s back and head for a moment, until the pup started wagging his tail gently back and forth. There was still something wrong, though, as his head kept to the ground. Sarah’s brow furrowed. “What happened to him?” “I don’t know.” John gave a low sigh. “He hasn’t been feeling well lately. His legs seem to have caught some type of infection.” “Oh, that sounds bad,” said Sarah quietly, turning her attention back to the poor dog. “He must be going through a lot of pain.” A flicker of fear crossed John’s face. “Maybe,” he said uneasily. “To tell the truth, I’m kind of scared.” Sarah glanced quickly up, and smiled inwardly at John’s openness about his feelings. “Don’t worry,” she reassured him. “He’ll be fine.” Nick suddenly let out a little bark, startling Sarah. John laughed. “I guess that’s the signal to leave,” he said. “I’m sorry. I have to get going.” “Oh, sure,” said Sarah, a little disappointed that he was leaving so soon. “Please, call me with an update.” An amused look crossed John’s face, and Sarah’s heart skipped a beat. Amanda had told her he was outgoing, but nothing about his charm. “Sarah, I don’t have your number yet,” he said, quietly but hopeful. Sarah gave an uneasy laugh, forced away her blush, and rose to her feet. “Sorry, I must have forgotten.” She reached into her purse and pulled out her phone so they could exchange numbers. “Thanks, Sarah,” said John, once they had swapped. She noticed he kept using her name, as though he liked the sound of it. At least, Sarah hoped that was why he said it so much. “Well, goodbye, John – and Nick.” Sarah looked down to the dog, who was staring curiously up at her. She winked at him. “I’ll see you again.” She glanced up in time to see John hide a smile. “Bye, Sarah,” he said, starting to walk away. He threw a grin over his shoulder as he called, “Take care!” Sarah stayed rooted to the spot for a while, watching John until he rounded the corner with Nick, the dog casting inquisitive looks behind now and then. She finally turned, fixing her course to the mall, and was suddenly back to being absorbed with thoughts of John. Giving a sigh, a shake of her head, and a very interesting smile, she pulled open the door to the mall and disappeared inside. ✽✽✽ The clinic wasn’t too busy, so John was sent in right away with Nick. He was ushered into a white room with a single table at the centre, shelves along the walls, counters full of utensils, a few chairs, and a square light that slightly swayed overhead. A doctor met him, shaking his hand briefly before adjusting his rimmed glasses and motioning for Nick to be placed upon the table. He was an older man, which gave John some reassurance because it meant the man had many years of experience in his trade. As John watched the doctor look over Nick, his earlier fear rose again in his chest. He never liked needles – or doctors, really – and he liked them even less while watching his furry friend being poked and prodded by both. The doctor had cleaned the infected area and put a bandage around Nick’s leg. The needle came last and John had to look away. “What’s wrong with Nick, doctor?” he asked. His voice felt hollow. “Nothing very serious,” replied the older man. His voice didn’t sound troubled at all, though he had probably seen a dozen cases this week like Nick’s. “He has a minor infection. I have cleaned the area and bandaged him up. He’ll be okay in a few hours.” John breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank you, doctor.” He wanted to shake the other man’s hand, but he didn’t think that would have been the best idea right now, as the doc was wearing latex gloves that were covered in medicinal cream. “I was really concerned about his health.” “Everyone always is,” replied the doctor, flashing a smile and petting Nick’s head. After paying the fee for Nick’s treatment, John carried Nick in his arms out of the clinic, giving him behind-the-ear scratches the whole way home. ✽✽✽ The day passed rather slowly, and John found himself lying on his bed, tossing an old baseball again and again into the air. Nick was feeling better, just as the doctor had said, and the dog was now pacing back and forth across the bedroom, sniffing at whatever sparked his curiosity. John sighed and returned the baseball to the end table by the bed. It was covered in awards, medals, and trophies. Not all sports, though. Some were sports, collected throughout high school and university, but most were related to software engineering. He had ranked high in his class at university, scoring most awards. He still kept his computer books, too. They were stacked on one of the shelves by his desk, some of them collecting dust. His laptop was open, though the screen had faded to black some hours ago, and disks lay unorganized in the basket attached to the desk. Pictures were hung over the desk, some university days – him in his graduating gown, him and Michael by the school entrance, him flashing his diploma – and others of his childhood. Reaching into his pocket, John pulled out his phone. He flipped over onto his stomach and scrolled through his contacts to find Sarah’s name. He pressed the call button and waited for a response. At first, no one answered. He felt a little discouraged and wondered if she didn’t want to talk to him, but he shook that thought from his head, knowing that she was the one who had asked for updates. So he dialed the number again. ✽✽✽ A beep woke Sarah up from her sleep. She blinked sleepily and rubbed her eyes, pulling herself into a sitting position on the bed. The noise was gone and she looked tiredly around, wondering where it had come from. Her walls were covered in paintings, some she had made herself. She liked how a paintbrush felt as it graced a canvas, how the color splashed against the white. She didn’t paint as much as she used to, though. Her job was very demanding and interfered with her hobbies. On the nightstand, next to a framed photo of her – one that had been taken by the Hudson River in New York at sunset – the clock read 10:45. Sarah groaned and was about to go back to sleep when she heard the noise again. It was her cell phone, buzzing noisily on the desk. She pushed back the bed covers and stumbled across the room to her phone. Her heart skipped a beat as she saw John’s name flash across the screen. Replacing her grimace with a smile, she clicked the “answer call” button. “Hello!” she greeted, and then wondered if she had sounded a little too happy. “Hello, Sarah. This is John,” said the voice on the other side of the phone. “How is Nick doing?” asked Sarah curiously. There was a moment’s pause. “He’s feeling better. Listen.” Sarah did, and she could hear soft growling in the background, meaning Nick was playing with something. She laughed. “What about you?” “I’m fine, and you?” “I’m okay,” said John, and just as Sarah was wondering if any of this was going anywhere, he continued, “If you aren’t busy, do you want to meet tomorrow?” Sarah found herself sitting on the edge of the bed, hanging her feet off the side and swinging them distractedly back and forth. “You mean … like a date?” She couldn’t help the smile that crossed her lips. “Yes, it’s a date,” said John. Sarah found herself giddily laughing. “Okay.” “Then, are you free tomorrow?” asked John hopefully. Sarah bit her lip and tried to stop her girlish laughter. “I’ll manage the time.” “Great.” She heard a trace of excitement within John’s voice. “So, are we going to meet again?” “Yeah, sure,” confirmed Sarah. “Okay, sounds good.” ✽✽✽ The first thing John decided to do for his date was get a haircut. His hair was getting out of hand lately. He could easily brush his hands through it and style it back like he had walked out of a medieval movie. So heading straight to a salon was currently in his best interest. He was handed over to a young, energetic man, barely in his twenties, but had a dozen certificates over his section of the salon. John felt he was in good hands. He also knew the hairdresser was chatting away about something or another, but John found himself unable to keep up a conversation. His fingers were busy at his phone, texting away to Sarah. ✽✽✽ The water was scorching hot, the steam rising above the shower walls and flooding the bathroom. Sarah had her face amidst the pouring liquid, allowing water to caress her cheeks, forehead, and lips. It felt heavenly. She rarely had time to enjoy her showers, so every time she got a chance to linger, she did. Soon the shower was over, though, and she pushed back the curtain and wrapped herself up in towels. Her hair threatened to escape beneath the cloth, but she secured it with a firm twist and headed out towards the bedroom. Her phone was flashing on the bed and she picked it up, flipping it open to see a new text message. It was John, of course, messaging the time and place of their date. Giving an excited grin, Sarah dried off and got dressed in front of the mirror, carefully choosing what to wear. John had chosen a classy restaurant for their date, so she needed something elegant. Sarah found that her style of clothes was very modern, so finding something classy wasn’t too hard. She pulled a long, black dress out of her wardrobe and held it up in front of her in the mirror. A smile graced her lips. ✽✽✽ When John saw Sarah enter the restaurant, he felt like he did that day at the bus stop. She was beautiful, radiant. She had chosen a slinky, black dress that hugged her figure nicely, with inch-wide straps and a v-shaped back. Her auburn hair was curled to one side, a few strands escaping on the other, caressing her cheek. Her makeup was soft, giving her eyes a gentle feel. John felt the breath leave his lungs. She sat down, smoothing out her dress and began talking about the trip to the restaurant. John was vaguely aware of a waiter lingering by them, asking him something. A menu was placed before him and he managed to snap back to reality. “And for you, ma’am,” said the white-suited waiter, holding out a menu to Sarah. “Thank you,” she replied, tilting her head a little forward. She took the menu and spread it open before her. “Would you like to start with some drinks?” asked the waiter, glancing a little irritably at John, though he hid it well with a charming smile. “No, thanks,” said John quickly, though he turned to Sarah just as fast, realizing that he had forgotten her opinion. “What do you think?” “I’d like some soft drinks,” she said. The waiter bowed and left them. They checked over their menus for a while, chatting back and forth about the food and what they might order. When the waiter returned, John ordered a steak with a vegetable side and Sarah decided the same. They threw in a bottle of wine and some cheesecake desert, also. “I’m excited!” said Sarah suddenly, her eyes shining. “This is our first date!” John felt his mouth turn dry and he tried to find his courage. He was always an outgoing person, always able to talk a room full of people into absolutely anything, but there was just something about Sarah that made him nervous. “I want to make this day memorable, Sarah,” he managed to say. Sarah’s cheeks were turning red and she was smiling. The sight of her so vulnerable gave him the courage to reach into his jacket and pull out a small velvet-covered box. He pushed it across the table towards her and watched as she opened it, her eyes filling with surprise. “This … this is beautiful,” she breathed, lifting the necklace out of its container. It sparkled in the low light of the restaurant. John rose from his chair and moved to Sarah’s back. The hair tickling the back of her neck caused him to feel tenderness towards her, and his heart raced as his fingers graced her skin as he fastened the necklace around her neck. He returned to his seat. “Thank you for this wonderful gift, John,” she continued, and squeezed his hand. “I’m speechless.” “It was my pleasure.” He convinced her to allow him to take a picture of her on his phone so he could keep it as her contact picture, and they began to eat when the waiter returned with their food. Once everything but the desert was eaten, Sarah leaned forward on her folded hands and stared tenderly into his eyes. “I never imagined we would become so close in just a few days,” she said softly. “It feels almost magical,” said John quietly, studying Sarah’s bright, playful eyes. “We only met a few days ago, but … but it feels like we’ve been together for years.” He paused, wondering if he should comment more on it, and decided to keep talking anyway. “It doesn’t feel like a coincidence.” Another pause, and then, “Do you believe in soul mates, Sarah?” He looked up and across the table at her, judging her reaction to his statement and wondering if she now thought him crazy. Though, a serious expression had crossed her face and he knew she had thought about this before tonight. “I don’t know what’s happening to me since I met you at Amanda’s wedding,” she admitted slowly. “I don’t know if it’s love. Why do I want to be intimate with you? Why do I want to be committed to you? Why do I want to be attached to you?” She shook her head. “It feels like I have no control over what happens. I don’t know if this is infatuation or love!” John smiled softly, feeling his heart contort at her every word. “I feel the same, Sarah. I might be the wrong person to ask for advice in this matter, so I don’t know what to say to you.” He thought on it for a moment, and replied in his soft voice. “Actually, love is something that is beyond us. We can’t anticipate love. When, where, and with whom we fall in love is coincidental and wonderful for the same reason.” Sarah was staring at him with mixed amazement and surprise. “Perhaps you are right,” she whispered, and a tender smile began playing on her lips. John copied her smile as they clinked their glasses together. They spent the rest of the evening at the restaurant taking turns devouring the cheesecake and chatting away. Chapter 3 With the success of their last date and the promise of another, John and Sarah found themselves walking hand-in-hand at Central Park the following day, despite the weather warning of high winds. The sun was shining and the sky was void of clouds, though the air was fierce and Sarah clutched her scarf as they moved towards the lakeside. The wind died down a little once they drew closer towards the trees that were scattered about the park, and they stood within the shade, protected from the wind and still able to clearly see the lake. The shimmer of light from the sun caused the water to quiver in beautiful waves. There were people on the other side of the lake, tall shadows to those on this side, and they moved stealthily up and down the shore. John watched them for a few moments, lost in thought, until Sarah let go of his hand. He peered down to see that she was rubbing her eye, wincing a little. “Are you okay?” he asked. “There’s something in my eye,” she replied. “Here.” John moved her hand away and inspected her emerald eyes. There was something in there—a piece of dust or dirt or something equally irritating—and John unbuttoned the sleeve of his shirt and used the end to wipe it out. “All better?” Sarah smiled, her face flooding with color. How embarrassing, she seemed to be thinking. John saw nothing of the sort. He saw the love of his life, his soul mate, and she was everything he had ever wanted in a woman. “I love you so much,” he breathed, stroking her face with the back of his hand. Sarah looked up from the ground, her smile widening. “I love you, too.” John pulled her in towards him, feeling her body heat mix with his own, and placed a long, lingering kiss upon her forehead. She shivered a little and he draped his arm around her shoulder, guiding her down closer to the lakeside. They lay side-by-side on the lush grass, staring up into the clear sky and holding hands. The San Remo apartments were in the distance, towering high into the air like skyscrapers from their relaxing position. John studied Sarah in the afternoon sun, allowing his eyes to wander over her yellow, silk dress and auburn hair. The sunlight seemed to soak into her very flesh, making her appear younger, freer. He liked that look on her, the look of someone who could do anything, who could be anyone, who could go anywhere. She seemed to notice he was staring and she winked and smiled. “My dear, don’t you seem romantic today,” she mused. John grinned and rubbed his fingers along her hand. “Maybe.” Sarah leaned towards him. “Are you going to tell me why?” John pretended to look hurt. “When a beautiful woman accompanies a man to the park and is seated so close to him, can he not feel romantic?” Sarah smirked and returned back to where she was lying, giving a sigh. “All right.” After a few moments, she gave him a sidelong glance. “Are you really not going to tell me?” John laughed quietly. “Ask all you want, clever girl. I’m not telling. You’ll just have to wait and see.” The wind had died down quite a bit now and the sun was out in full force, burning across the lake and Central Park like a tidal wave. Sarah removed the shawl of her dress and threw it aside before leaning onto John, draping her arm across his chest. He felt his heartbeat increase rapidly as she stroked her delicate fingers across his face, tracing his features. And then she leaned forward and kissed him. Not a fierce or fast or forgettable kiss, but a slow and passionate one, soft and warm like the sun. Unable to control himself, John rolled her over and lay on top, kissing her by the lakeside. She was warm and beautiful and his. He could feel her breathing, her heart against his chest, her fingers as they wound in his hair. After some time, he drew away, remembering that they were in public and were probably creating a scene. No one wanted to see a couple making out in Central Park—even if it wasn’t an uncommon sight. John owed his pride a little more than that. “Come with me,” he offered, standing up and stretching out his hand. Sarah took the offer and allowed him to help her up. She brushed the strands of grass off her dress and John checked his own clothes before guiding her down towards the lake. They stopped just a few inches from the water, their shoes crunching against the pebbles underneath. John bent down and picked a few flat ones up, judging their size as he chose. He passed half to Sarah. After Sarah’s several failed attempts to skip the rocks off the clear surface of the lake, John laughed and told her to watch. “The trick is in the motion of your wrist,” he explained, and then showed her, adjusting her hand and how to hold the stone. Even after the demonstration, she still couldn’t get it, and they ended up laughing over her clumsy efforts, John teasing her as they made their way out of the park. The winds were picking up again and they decided to move their date indoors. The Metropolitan Museum seemed like a good place to go, so they went to the Met museum and they were whisked away to the art gallery. John took Sarah’s arm through his own as they entered the building. It was busy, like always, and tourists flooded the area, mixed in amongst the regulars. John heard cameras clicking and tour guides announcing their next destination. They decided not to go on a tour but drift through the crowd and observe on their own. Many paintings—oil, pastel, acrylic—were hung in the gallery, bearing pictures John couldn’t even begin to decipher. There was also a large collection of sculptures—figures of men and women and even animals, all crafted with sincere likeness to realism. Other pieces of art were scattered here and there: fountains, hanging objects, relics, and recreations of history. It was beautiful place, and one that John thoroughly enjoyed. Finally, John found Sarah stopping beside an exquisite oil painting of a woman bending over a desk with a paintbrush in hand. It was labeled “Young Woman Drawing, 1801”. Sarah smiled briefly up at John before turning back to the image on the wall. “This is a painting by a French woman, Marie-Denise Villers. It’s believed to be a self-portrait of the artist. The painting was attributed to Jacques-Louis David at one time, but was later realized to be Villers’ work.” John had to admit, he was impressed. He wondered if he should have known that or if it just wasn’t common knowledge, that Sarah was just an expert in art. “Interesting. Have you been here before?” “I visit a few times a month,” replied Sarah. “You have a lot of interest in art, I see,” said John. “Why not an artist or an art historian instead of a lawyer?” Sarah gave a slow shrug. “I’m not sure.” She smiled up at him. “Art’s just a hobby, I guess. Everyone has to be passionate about something.” I see it in your smile, thought John to himself, and he caressed her cheek with his thumb as he returned her warm grin. “You look prettier when you smile,” he whispered. Sarah beamed and looked away, flushed. “Thank you,” she said. They left the oil painting behind and found new portraits to discuss and dissect. It seemed in that moment that there was nothing more relaxing than walking with Sarah in the museum, sharing opinions and feeling her fingers intertwined with his. ✽✽✽ The sight of her always took his breath away, though she didn’t know it. William remembered her at the bus stop, all dressed up with plans swimming in her head. Now she was simply wearing an old T-shirt and trousers, sitting outside on her porch with a paper in one hand and a cup of steaming liquid in the other. He figured it must have been tea. She was a tea sort of girl. His footsteps on the wooden steps alerted her and she looked up, smiling when she recognized him. William joined her at the small table, nestled in the corner by her pots of flowers and hanging birdhouse. It was empty for as long as he could remember, though she kept it there anyway, being the hopeful sort of person she was. “Sarah … how is everything?” he asked, taking off his coat and sitting. “Everything is fine,” she replied, sipping her tea and placing the cup upon the table. “I was trying to reach you all last night,” he began, “but it was constantly busy.” “Yeah.” Sarah mindlessly shifted her cup with her index finger. “I was talking to someone.” William’s heat skipped a soft, painful beat. “Someone special?” Sarah’s face suddenly seemed to light up. She tried to hide the shy smile that crossed her lips but William caught it. He had known her so long that he would notice the slightest change. “Well, were you going to hide him forever?” William forced out a laugh. “What’s his name?” “John Deane,” answered Sarah, finally allowing her smile to blossom. “We’re dating.” “When did you first meet him?” “At Amanda’s wedding. He’s Michael’s closest friend.” Sarah’s face took on a thoughtful look. “But, he said the first time he saw me was at the bus stop that very morning.” William held back his grimace. He remembered that morning, too, but he didn’t recall another man at the bus stop. He recalled seeing Sarah, remembered being captivated by her words as if he had wandered into a dream that was over far too fast. He wanted to tell her that, but he felt it would be pointless. “Really?” he said instead, compelling himself to smile. “I would like to meet him someday.” Not because he wanted to get to know the man who was dating the woman he loved, but because if he couldn’t have her, he needed to know that someone good was with her. “Sure, why not?” Sarah’s smile grew wider. “I’ll tell him about you. Maybe you can find yourself a date and we’ll all hang out—” A cell phone rang. William knew it wasn’t his. Not his ringtone. It was Sarah’s, and he just caught the name ‘John’ flashing upon the screen before she stood up and wandered across the porch, talking in whispers. William watched her, watched the way she smiled at whatever John said, the way she laughed and curled her pretty hair around her fingers. She turned back towards him, but he hid his frown and nodded politely towards her. With someone like John in her life, she could never know how he felt, and he wouldn’t be so selfish as to tell her. ✽✽✽ Often William wished that the relationship between him and Sarah was something more than just friendship, especially at times like this. She had made him lunch and was now standing at the sink in her apron, washing up dishes from breakfast. There was a song on her lips and she was humming merrily away, entertaining herself while he ate. Suddenly the song broke and she spun around, leaning her elbows back against the counter. “Bill, can I ask you something?” she said, rather impulsively. William looked up from the table, questioningly. “Yes, of course.” “Have you ever fallen in love with someone?” The words slid out of her mouth like rushing water, unable to control itself. William blinked, startled by her question. “Well …” He put his fork down slowly, measuring her expression. “Maybe.” This answer was a little surprising to Sarah, and he knew why. He usually told her everything. “Who is she?” Sarah demanded. William watched as she hurriedly dried her hands on the dishtowel and tossed it onto the counter. “It’s complicated,” he finally said. “Complicated how?” wondered Sarah aloud, drifting towards the table. “Is she in love with someone else? Is she married? Is she too young?” Sarah laughed and placed her hands against the back of a chair. “Or you just don’t want to tell me her name?” William smiled and leaned across the small table towards her. “It’s you, Sarah.” He wasn’t really prepared for her reaction, which was a mix of surprise and amazement. Her hands had gone white on the back of the chair. “You … you’re kidding, right?” she whispered, frowning. No, I’m not kidding, William felt like shouting, but he knew he was losing her. “Don’t be so serious, Sarah!” he exclaimed, laughing. “I’m only joking.” Sarah’s hand flew to her chest. “Gosh, Bill! You scared me!” She scowled and batted his arm with her open palm. “I was shocked, you know. I thought you were serious.” She sighed and pulled out a chair to sit down for lunch. “You’ll find someone special in your life someday, Bill, and she’ll love you. It doesn’t matter how long it takes you to get there.” Sometimes he wished her words were the absolute truth, but he feared he would never love anyone like he loved Sarah. “Life is unpredictable,” he told her. “It doesn’t always go according to plan. And you never know what’s coming.” Sarah folded her hands together. “According to my gathered wisdom, life is full of beautiful moments.” She quietly laughed. “Just live your life to the fullest and do what you love.” She squeezed his hand. “That’s all that matters, Bill.” William looked slowly down at her hand and gave a small smile. “You’re probably right. Let’s see what happens.” Feeling another wave of emotion rising up, he stood and began to get Sarah some of the food she had cooked. “That’s okay, I can do it myself,” said Sarah. “Think again,” said William, motioning for her to sit back down. “You’ve already exhausted yourself with all the kitchen work. Let me serve you for a change.” Sarah shook her head and laughed, falling back into her chair. “Okay, I give my consent.” ✽✽✽ The past few days had gone by much too slowly, and John was anxious to speak with Sarah face-to-face again, though it was late and he couldn’t run out to see her. He was sitting in his bed, his pillows bundled up behind him so he could be relaxed and still prop his computer upon his lap at a reasonable angle. He was waiting for the home screen to load, allowing everything to start up before he logged onto his messenger program to send a message to Sarah. Only a few more minutes now … ✽✽✽ A beeping noise echoed in the living room and Sarah hurried over to the couch, seeing a message window pop up on her computer screen. She flung herself onto the leather seat and picked up the laptop, eager to chat with her boyfriend. Boyfriend. That word still made her giddy. She had never had time for boys in the past, and now it seemed she had all the time in the world. “Starting … video … chat,” Sarah spoke aloud as she typed in the message. She clicked the ‘video’ button in the corner of the message box and waited for John to pick up the call on the other end. He did, and she saw his face upon the screen, as handsome as she remembered. His hair was a little wet from a recent shower and his shirt was hanging loose, giving him a delicate, attractive sort of look. She felt herself smile before knowing it. “I was dying to see you today,” she stammered out. “I’m glad we can at least chat online, even when we can’t see each other throughout the day.” “Me, too,” said John, elated. “I find it extremely difficult to stay away from you, Sarah. I feel like you’re around me all the time.”


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