This site provides the first few chapters for free so you can decide if you like the story before buying the book. MATURE CONTENT: These sample chapters contain sexual temptations, discussions, and some sexual terms in descriptions of the main character's private thoughts. Later parts of the book (not in these free sample chapters) include sexually-explicit scenes between husband and wife and one scene of moderate violence.

Chapter 1

Susan’s hands trembled slightly as she poured the coffee from the mixer into a tall paper cup. She set the cup down with one hand as she reached for a Coffy Corner branded lid, struggling to remember which size lid went with this size cup and huffed in exasperation.

Why do they have to be so close in size they’re hard to tell apart, she whined to herself as she made her best guess and tried to get the one on top of the stack loose from the rest. Relieved to discover she picked the right size, she risked a glance to see if her manager had appeared and noticed how long it had taken her. He hadn’t. Then she remembered the one-way glass that allowed him to watch without being seen and sighed involuntarily.

Graying hair, long divorced, recently laid-off from her job after nineteen years, with one child in his grave and the other estranged from her, today was her second day on this below-minimum-wage job. Plus tips. Like tips will pay the mortgage, she thought as she gathered the napkins and other items.

She turned around and smiled at the nameless customer as she put his coffee on the counter in front of him and started to ring up the order. She hadn’t remembered to smile, she just did it naturally. At least that was one thing her manager wasn’t likely to find fault with.

She was alone behind the bar and it was supposed to be the slowest time of day, but there were three people lined up by the time she gave the customer’s change to him and started to ask the next customer for her order.

Out of the corner of her eye she noticed Andy, the early-to-mid-twenties manager, coming out of the office toward her. Judging from his pace, he was not happy. Again.

He said nothing to Susan as he took the order from the next person in line, but she couldn’t help but notice that whenever he was facing away from the customers his Coffy Corner branded smile snapped into a scowl. She had learned in the first few hours yesterday that this was the way he acted when he was offended by her lack of proficiency and he was planning to berate her as soon as there were no customers close enough to hear. Until then, if she had to ask him a question, she could count on him to snap at her. Very quietly, of course.

She started to give the last customer in line his coffee but was jostled as Andy awkwardly grabbed it with one hand and an insulated sleeve with his other hand.

“Oops. Mustn’t forget the protective jacket, mustn’t we?” Andy snapped the sleeve open and slid it into place as smoothly as if he had done it thousands of times. He gave an exaggerated smile to the customer, and the moment the customer turned away, Andy turned toward Susan with the already too familiar scowl.

“How many times must I tell you,” he said through almost clenched teeth, “you must put a Coffy Corner branded jacket on every cup, with the logo facing the customer.”

Susan could feel her face flushing. “Including this time? That would be twice.”

“Don’t get smart with me, Ms. Taggart. Just because you’re old doesn’t mean you don’t have to learn as fast as anyone else…”

Just because I’m old?! Susan’s mind shifted to wait-out-the-pointless-lecture mode. Does this boy have a clue about age discrimination? Has he had any management training at all? Why would an owner put in a manager with so little…”

“Are you paying attention to me?!” Andy said too loudly. He was now red in the face and veins were standing out.

What are the odds of a twenty-year-old having a stroke? Susan wondered, as she pointed behind Andy.

Andy turned to find a distinguished-looking gentleman waiting to be served. Caught off guard, without his “customer face” on, he stammered as Susan stepped around him.

With a silent sigh of relief, however temporary it might be, she smiled to the customer, “Good afternoon, sir, may I take your order?”

He didn’t respond right away, yet wasn’t staring at the menu board. He was also smiling, and was looking carefully first at Susan, then at Andy, then back at Susan. Susan found something about his face reassuring, and it helped calm her nerves. Andy, however, recovered his normal composure, such as it was, and stepped forward a bit.

“Would you like more time to study the menu, sir? Or would you like a recommendation?” Andy then remembered to smile. Such as it was.

Despite Andy’s subtle effort to take control, the customer continued to look at Susan, and his smile widened as he finally spoke. “Do you have any Kenyan coffee?”

“Yes, sir, we…” Susan began.

“Oh, yes,” Andy interjected, “we have the finest Kenyan coffee, with beans hand-picked by experts, which we roast in our patented…” Andy continued the recitation of the wonders of his chain store’s superior prowess with steaming flavor out of beans.

The gentleman’s smile partially dissipated as he looked away from Susan. “Young man…” he said and waited.

Andy paused and looked at the man, not knowing quite what to expect.

“If I have a choice between ordering from you or ordering from a beautiful woman, I’d prefer to order from the lady.” He turned toward Susan and his warm smile grew wider again.

Beautiful woman? Susan blushed and turned enough to take in however Andy would react.

It took an awkward moment for the gentle rebuke to register with Andy, and then he turned abruptly, pausing to stage-whisper to Susan. “He’s a new customer, try not to mess this up!” And with that he stalked off back to his office.

Susan turned back to the stranger. “Thank you. For the compliment, I mean.” You have the most interesting eyes. “So, would you like a Kenyan Roast?”

“Yes, I’d like to try that. I’ve heard of Kenyan coffee and am curious to find out if it tastes much different from other coffees.”

“Very well, sir, what size?”

“How about ten ounces?”

Susan’s mind whirled trying to remember if she had heard the number of ounces associated with their different sizes. I know the little weasel is watching, and there’s no way I want to have to ask him what size…”

“Whatever your smallest size is will do, ma’am, since I’m experimenting with something new.”

Is he a mind reader, too? “Okay, and what would you like in it?”

“Oh, just the coffee. No cream, no sugar, nothing else.” His smile grew wider again. “I actually want to taste the coffee.”

Susan laughed, and so did he.

“Yes, I see how those would defeat your experiment, unless you want to compare Kenyan cream as well.” How long has it been since anyone made me laugh?

They chatted idly about his recently acquired hobby of comparing coffee from different countries as she prepared his order.

She finally put his coffee on the counter, with insulation sleeve logo facing him and smiled at him. Kind, considerate, handsome. What a nice afternoon treat. “That will be…” she rang up the order on the register, “four dollars and thirty eight cents.”

He already had his wallet out and was peering into it.

No wedding ring, she noticed.

He looked up with a thoughtful expression. “Do you have change for a fifty?”

“Oh, sure. No problem.”

He handed her a fifty and she started to make change when her smile faded sharply. Suave, debonair… could this “nice” guy be a con man, passing counterfeit fifties? Andy never mentioned if we have a bill checker.

With no other recourse that she could think of to check the authenticity of his money, she slowly handed him his change.

He accepted it with a nod and a thank you. And then… leaned over enough to drop the entire handful of money into the tip jar.

Susan’s eyebrows went up as he gave her one last smile, picked up his coffee, took a sip, thought about it, nodded with a smile, and started away from the counter.

Susan’s mind raced. Lord, did he mean to do that? He had to mean to. Hardly anyone even seems to notice the tip jar. It’s partly hidden by the cookie display. A forty-five dollar tip for a five dollar coffee?! If the bill was counterfeit… what would be the point of using a counterfeit bill if you give all the change back as a tip? A free coffee?

“Sir…? Sir…!”

He paused and turned enough to look at her. “Just to brighten your day,” he said and started to walk toward a table again.

“Sir, that’s too generous… that’s… I don’t know what to say.”

He stopped again, turned and then walked back to her. What is that look? Sympathy? Does he think I’m poor? Well, I guess I am, but that…

“Ma’am, I just thought you were having a hard day, and I thought a big tip might let me see more of that beautiful smile of yours. I certainly didn’t mean to offend you.”

Beautiful smile? “You gave me a… what…” forty-five divided by five… times a hundred… “a nine-hundred percent tip because you like my smile?!”

“Well, let’s see…” he began as he gazed up and to the left in concentrated thought.

Just then Andy came storming back from his office. “What’s the matter sir, did she get your order wrong?”

The stranger’s smile disappeared completely as he turned toward the manager.

“Did she…” Andy started to continue, but was cut off.

The stranger straightened up and seemed to gain an inch or two in height, and looked very stern as he thrust a finger back toward the office door and said in a commanding voice, “Get out.”

Andy stopped so quickly he almost toppled and was turning around before he even regained his balance. He literally ran the few steps back to the doorway without a word or a glance back.

Susan took in the whole scene with astonishment. Who is this guy? A cop? A general? Definitely not a crook, anyway. The stranger seemed to deflate, closed his eyes, and put his hand to his forehead and rubbed it.

“I’m sorry. I’m very sorry. I hope I haven’t made things worse for you.”

Worse? It can’t get much worse. And why should you care? “Don’t worry about it. This is just a temporary job anyway. Until I can find something that pays better.”

He lowered his hand and looked at her again, and now he looked weary.

Looks like he has his own problems. “I was working for Nolan’s car dealership until they closed a couple of months ago. Everyone got let go.”

He looked into her eyes again. “That must have been tough.”

Susan nodded. Compassion. Not just chatter.

Susan glanced at another customer walking in, and back to the stranger. The stranger glanced at the new customer and back to Susan.

He raised his cup in a casual toast, and started to return to the seating area. He paused again to tell Susan with a wink, “Next time I’ll just give you an average tip.”

She laughed, “Yeah, okay.” ‘Yeah, okay…?’ The best I could come up with was ‘yeah, okay?!’

“Yes sir, may I help you?”

It was much busier than Susan would have liked since she had an extracurricular activity of trying to keep tabs on the man who took a seat by the corner table closest to the front window. He had nursed his coffee for quite a while, reading and looking out the window. He must have carried the book in his pocket, since she hadn’t seen him carrying one. Then he’d left without her seeing him leave and she was surprised at how empty that made her feel.

Then Brenda came in to lead for the going-home crowd, and Susan’s job was basically to help her and try to learn as much as she could. Andy came and went, whenever the line got more than two people long, but he said very little to Susan and avoided looking at her. None of the work was hard, but there were too many little things coming way too fast to absorb it all.

Susan got off at 7:00 PM, and felt completely worn out. She wasn’t used to being on her feet all day, let alone struggling to learn so many details so fast. After hanging up her smock and getting her purse and jacket, she waved goodnight to Brenda as she walked through the main room toward the front door. What a day. I was so good as a processing clerk. Now it feels like I’m back in high school again. As a freshman.

She opened the door and laughed. A fifty-six year old high school freshman!

Susan stepped to the side of door and leaned against the outside wall between the Coffy Corner and the Chinese restaurant next door, took a deep breath and exhaled slowly while looking up at the sky. Wednesday evening… Daylight Savings Time. Still plenty of time to eat out and walk home. But it’ll be cheaper to…

A cab had been parked almost right in front of the Coffy Corner, and it caught Susan’s attention now as the back door opened up and a man exited, putting away a cell phone. He left the cab door wide open.

“Hi,” he said with a sheepish grin.

Susan looked at him with a mixture of surprise and concern and couldn’t think of what to say.

“I, uh, hope this doesn’t make me look like a stalker… I left, I went home, actually, and, uh, actually, I couldn’t stop thinking about you.”

Wow. He likes me.

“So, I came back. I planned to come in and ask you to dinner, but after making a fool out of myself in front of your boss and possibly endangering your job, I thought it’d be better to wait outside.”

Well, I could sure use a free meal. But are you a stalker? A self-deprecating, congenial, considerate big-tipping stalker? Susan laughed, and he brightened up considerably. “How long have you been waiting?” She glanced at the cab. Did you just get here in the nick of time?

His gaze went up and to his left. “Um…” his gaze came back to her, to her eyes. “About six hours.”

“Six hours?!” Why would you wait six hours?!

He looked sheepish again and looked down, around, anywhere but her eyes, and talked fast. “Well, I don’t know your name, well, actually I know your last name from when your boss was fussing at you, but that’s not enough to find a person, and I don’t have your phone number, or address, and I couldn’t be completely certain you’d be coming back to work here if that kid fired you or you got fed up with him, so I didn’t want to take a chance of missing you. When I got back here, I made sure you were still here, and then I just sort of camped out.”

She looked at the cab and back at him. “You hired a cab for six hours just to sit and wait?!”

“Oh, no! He’s only been here about twenty minutes.”

She cocked her head. You waited six hours and then called a cab? How did you know when I’d get off? Lord, is this guy safe?

“Well, he was here earlier, too. Twice, in fact.”

Now she looked more puzzled, and he continued to rush his explanation.

“In case you got off work at five. Or six.”

Wow. A Knight gallant or Don Quixote? Either way… you really seem to like me. Why? I don’t know anything about you. “I don’t…”

“Oh!” He put out his hand. “My name is Charles Parker. And I’m between jobs at the moment, but I assure you I’m a reputable man. You can call my pastor or someone if you’d like a personal reference.”

Your pastor? He does seem to have something of your Spirit, Lord… Susan slowly reached out and took his hand. “How do you do, Mr. Parker, my name is Susan Taggart.” Still though, there are wolves in sheep’s clothing…

His face lit up as they shook hands.

And you’re out of work, eh? Yet leaving forty-five dollar tips and hiring cabs to nowhere? Are you that desperate for a dinner date? “Well, I still have my job, Mr. Parker, so if you’re out of work, maybe I should pay for dinner.” No! Why did I say that?! I can’t…

Charles laughed merrily. “Well, I have enough savings to last awhile, Susan, even including food. May I call you Susan? And please call me Charles!”

Susan paused, then bowed slightly. “Very well, Charles. Were you serious about dinner? I’m beginning to get a little hungry.” I could eat a horse as long as I get off my feet first.

“Oh, yes, absolutely!” He fetched a list out of a pocket, and talked rapid-fire. “I have a long list of possibilities, depending on what you’re in the mood for. Almost any type of food, fancy or laid back. Dancing afterward, too, if you’d like to, but I imagine after working on your feet all day, you’d rather eat in a casual place where we can take our shoes off and save the dancing for another night. What would you like?”

Dancing? I’m going to disappoint you there… “Uh, you know a restaurant where we could take our shoes off?”

“Several.” He ushered her toward the cab’s open door, and he followed her in. “What would you like to eat? What kind of dinner music would you like?”

Less than an hour later, Susan and Charles were finishing hot dogs barefoot in the grass in a back corner of the Chilhowee Park amphitheater, listening to a classical concert.

She leaned back, relaxing and drinking in the music. An unexpected event, with an unexpected man, at the end of an… unusual day. Well, not quite at the end.

She sat up a bit, getting uneasy. Just what might your expectations be for the end of our date, Charles Parker? Our date? Yeah, last minute or not, this is a date alright. And I didn’t even have time to worry about it ahead of time.

Susan cast a discreet glance at Charles’ crotch. No noticeable bulge. But a man I hardly know will be taking me home. Am I really safe with him, Lord? He’s much stronger than I am, and in the coffee shop he showed a temper, and a lack of control. Still, he mentioned having a pastor. Even a nominal Christian wouldn’t try to force himself on me, right?

Unconvinced by her attempt to assure herself, Susan shivered despite her jacket. Early May in Knoxville, Tennessee was having typically warm days and cool evenings.

“Not much of a crowd,” Charles observed. “Suits me, though,” he said while looking at Susan again.

“Too early in the season. Too chilly,” Susan replied.

“Hmm. I was thinking of ice cream for dessert,” he suggested, nodding toward the refreshment stand, “but I guess it’s too cool for that.”

“Oh, it’s never too cold for ice cream.”

“Are you serious?!” He jumped up. “All right, girl, what flavor are you tonight?”

What flavor am I? “What flavor am I? What do you…”

“Hmm. You look like chocolate to me. Do you feel like chocolate to you?”

She furrowed her brow. “You mean do I feel like having chocolate?”

“Yes, of course! I’m sure they’ll have vanilla, too, maybe strawberry, but probably not much more. It’s not Baskin Robbins, you know. So, out of this enormous selection, what are your taste buds salivating for?”

What flavor am I? Is that just a cutesy way to ask what flavor I want, or is he being devious trying to dig deeper? “Chocolate.”

“Chocolate! We have a winner!” Charles whipped out his cell phone and pretended to make a call. “Nat, sell vanilla, buy chocolate! Corner the market, Susan is a chocolate girl!” He dropped the phone back into a pocket and ran off to the refreshment stand, still barefoot.

Susan is a chocolate girl? Is this guy stable? Is he more dangerous than I thought? What have I gotten myself into… A wave of concern crossed Susan’s mind and she closed her eyes.

Stephanie, where are you? What are you into now? Jesus, please look after my daughter. Please protect her. Protect her? It feels kind of useless to ask you to protect her, she’s already been into so much evil, so many boys, STDs, and who knows what else. Please keep her as safe as you can, God. I don’t know why you haven’t kept her safer than you already have, but please keep her safe from now on. Please touch her heart, help her find forgiveness, help her find your love, real love.

When Susan finished praying a few minutes later and opened her eyes, Charles was quietly sitting beside her again. Oh no, he picked now to be The Quiet Man, she thought as she brushed away tears. Some date. He’ll think I’m a basket case.

He gave her an ice cream and ventured, “If you’re worried I’ll want to have sex on the first date, I won’t.”

She turned toward him again. So you’re willing to wait all the way until a second date? “Oh, you thought… No, I… I’m concerned about my daughter. I didn’t hear you come back. I didn’t mean to look like…” she turned toward the concert again, “…I don’t know what.”

“Susan, are you a Christian?”

Well, you’re direct, aren’t you? Don’t want to waste time on a goody-two-shoes? Or since you apparently go to Church, maybe you’re only interested in a Christian woman. Well, win or lose, here goes… She looked at his eyes so she could carefully measure subtle aspects of his reaction. “Yes, Charles, I am. I…”

Charles whooped and pumped a fist into the air very unsubtly. “I knew it! Well, I couldn’t be absolutely sure without asking you, of course, but I thought you were!”

You’re glad I’m a Christian! So maybe you’re a real Christian and not just a Church-goer who thinks he’s a Christian? Is that part of why you like me?

He beamed and turned to sit cross-legged facing her. “I became a Christian about a year ago. I wasted most of my life, but thank God he didn’t give up on me.”

Susan blinked, and a smile crept onto her face. Now that sounds like the real thing. Is that why… I’m so attracted to you?

“He changed me, Susan. Radically, completely. I don’t mean I just started going to Church, that doesn’t mean much by itself.”

She nodded in agreement. Exactly…

“I mean he changed my heart… he filled me, with himself.”

Oh, praise God, you’re a real Christian, all right…

“I don’t know how to describe it! But, well, when I saw you in the Coffy Corner, there was something about you that was different. I thought, I hoped, that maybe you were a Christian, too.”

Oh, my! Her smile grew into a shy grin and she looked down.

“Something about your face, your smile, your eyes.”

My eyes. You were going great with the face and smile. Why did you have to mention my eyes?

“You were obviously having a hard time, but despite that, you seemed… Well, I guess you seemed to have God’s Spirit shining through you.”

Wow… that’s… a surprise. Oops, he’s waiting for me to say something now. “Well, that’s… very nice. I didn’t become a Christian until I was forty-five, but ever since I’ve loved God with all my heart, and I guess every real Christian hopes their faith is real enough for others to see, somehow.” And you’re a young Christian. Is that why you’re so excitable?

Charles nodded. “That should be inevitable, I think, that the closer we get to God, the more like him we become, the more obvious it should be to other people.”

Susan smiled, and studied his face. He also seemed to be studying hers. Handsome, considerate, and an eligible Christian.

She sighed inwardly. Why are my eyes such a big deal to me? Just a silly romantic notion. Totally unrealistic. It’s unfair to expect a guy to see it… yet I can’t let it go!

She sighed and looked back at the symphony as they finished a number. On impulse, she started putting her shoes back on.

Without a word, Charles did likewise. “Shall I get a cab to take us home now?”

“Take us home…” She gave her head a quick shake to get her thoughts on track. “Yes, if you don’t mind, I would like to get home. It’s been a long day.”

He nodded, using his cell phone to call a cab.

When he hung up, she said, “I hope I haven’t… I hope I… well, I’m not sure how to say it. I haven’t been on a date in… oh, my. I’m embarrassed. I haven’t been on a date in decades.”

Charles stood, offered her a hand up, and they started walking toward the parking area. “I noticed in the store that you aren’t wearing a wedding ring. If you haven’t been dating lately it must mean you’ve just recently become single?”

“Oh, no, I’ve been single for… over fifteen years, I think.”

He stopped and stared at her. “And you haven’t had a date in that time?”

Susan blushed. Why should that surprise you? I’m old, my hair makes me look even older, I don’t wear much makeup… “No, no dates. I… I haven’t been looking, for anyone, to date, I mean…”

“You must have been fighting the men off left and right. Or perhaps you only recently took off your ring?” He looked genuinely puzzled.

She looked into his eyes. You don’t look like you’re teasing, but you can’t be serious.

“I don’t even want to take my eyes off you.”

“What?” Susan tilted her head. Except for God, my entire life has been a failure. My body is a worn-out rag. How can you want to look at me? Her eyes started to water.

He took her hands in his, and struggled for words. “Susan… your smile makes my heart beat faster… I love being in your presence, I love being near you. I’ve been married twice before, but that was before I was a Christian. I’ve never felt this way about anyone before. I didn’t know it was possible.”

Charles continued to talk, but Susan’s mind lost track of what he was saying. Her head was swimming, and she was trying not to cry as her mind played over and over, ’Your smile makes my heart beat faster.’

He dropped her hands and started digging into a jacket pocket, and she lowered her gaze to his feet.

She put her hand on her purse just to have something to do. I’m a mess. How can he like me?

He retrieved a pocket-sized package of tissues and pulled one out and offered it to her.

Do you think of everything? She took the tissue and wiped at her tears, then blew her nose. “I don’t know what to say. I don’t even know what to think! This is so unexpected.”

“I understand. I think. I didn’t expect anything like this either, honestly. I apologize if I’ve been too bold… I get that way sometimes. And this whole being-a-Christian business has had me dealing with a lot of emotions I’m not used to. I’m sorry if I came on too strong, or too fast.”

Susan nodded slowly and looked up. She started walking again, and he walked beside her. “I’m sorry, too. I don’t know why I started crying, but, your… attention… isn’t something I’m used to.” And I don’t know if I can get used to it. I don’t know if I want to get used to it. “And I don’t want to lead you on, Charles. I don’t know if there’s room in my life for a man. Any man.”

He didn’t reply right away and she glanced at him. He looks lost in thought. What are you thinking now? Tell me something!

They walked on in silence for a minute or two, with Susan fretting every step. They saw their cab pull up and walked over to it. He took a position to open the door, but waited. She knew he was looking at her, but she kept her eyes glued to the door.

“I hope you at least have room in your heart for a new friend.”

She finally looked up at him. “Are you mad at me?” How badly have I disappointed you?

“No.” He opened the door for her. “I’ve gotten mad at just about everyone I’ve ever known at one time or another. But I suspect you may be the exception.”

What does that mean…? she pondered as she got in and slid over. ‘Your smile makes my heart beat faster,’ you said. Has no one else ever made your heart beat faster? Have I ever caused anyone else’s heart to beat faster? Just by looking at me, that is. Does he really like me that much? Is that a good thing? For me? For him?

“Where to?” the cabbie asked, and Charles looked at Susan expectantly.

“Oh, uh, 124 Whitehurst Street, please.”

Charles smiled. “So you’re not afraid to let me know where you live? Have I at least convinced you I’m not a stalker?”

“Not necessarily. You could just be a very polite, big-tipping stalker.” She looked over for a moment and smiled at him, then looked back out the front window of the cab. His face lit up when I smiled at him. And all I did was smile.

She looked at him again and they gazed at each other. Why does gray hair on men look so much better than gray hair on women? And your hair is complemented so well by those gorgeous dark gray eyes… Eyes! Back to eyes again!

Susan looked out her passenger window and they drove on in silence for a while. When was the last time I had sex with Marty? Almost twenty years ago. For twenty years I’ve gotten along fine without a man… no, I’ve gotten along far better without a man. Married for fourteen years. It started out okay, but it didn’t take long to become… more trouble than it was worth? That might be sacrilegious, but it seems accurate. The last ten years with Marty were certainly miserable.

Her thoughts drifted back to the man beside her in the cab. The Quiet Man again. I don’t want John Wayne or Sean Thornton. I want what I’ve always wanted… She kept looking out the window and was startled by the recollection of an old dream that had been a constant in her youth… A romantic stranger swept into the ballroom and ignored the other finely dressed ladies and takes her hand. They begin to dance and he looks deep into her eyes… and he notices. He’s the one man in all the world who truly notices her eyes. He describes them, and like a magic spell all the other people disappear… he lifts her into his arms and carries her up the curving staircase… to his bedroom. He knows her secret, and he owns her, body and soul.


Susan flinched, and realized Charles had been saying something finally. Then she realized the cab had stopped… in her own driveway.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

“Yes, I’m sorry. I was just lost in thought.” She gathered her jacket and purse and put her hand on the door handle.

“May I see you again?” he asked.

She paused for a moment, then looked at him. “Just as friends?”

It was his turn to pause. “On any terms you choose.”

Wow. That’s a powerful statement. Much more than I deserve. More than anyone deserves, I think. “Then I would like to see you again, as a friend. I don’t know if we could ever be more than that, but I know I need more time. I’m completely out of practice with having a male as a… friend.” Come to think of it, maybe I’ve never had a true friend who was a male.

He nodded. “Could I come by your shop tomorrow and get your phone number?”

The thought of him in the coffee shop was a pleasant one. “Oh, please do.” She opened the cab door. Sorry, buster, if you were expecting a kiss, that’s not on the menu.

“I’ll be looking forward to it!”

She saw him smiling again from the corner of her eye as she started getting out. Ask him.

Susan stood up but didn’t move. I can’t ask him! He won’t know and it will ruin the evening. It may ruin the friendship.

Something inside was compelling her, but her mind was fighting it. Ask him.

She sat back down on the edge of the back seat, still facing out.

He leaned toward her. “Is something wrong, Susan? Do you want me to walk you to your door?”

She shook her head, eyes watering again. I can’t! It will break my heart to hear his answer!

She wanted to get up, to run into the safety of her home, but the question held her in place. Ask him!


“Yes, what is it? What’s wrong?”

“You said earlier that you liked my eyes.”

“Yes, I like them very much.”

“What color are they?” She scrunched them shut and set her jaw as she waited for a crushing blow.

“Dark brown, with a delicious tinge of green around the outside edge.” His voice was calm, warm, deep.

Susan stopped breathing. She felt like she was going to throw up. Or faint. Or both.

She didn’t move. He waited patiently for her.

She finally inhaled quietly, then began breathing heavily, while making a conscious effort to appear normal.

“Thank you for dinner and the concert, Charles. I’ll look forward to seeing you tomorrow.” And with that she stood, closed the door, and walked to her house. It was a just a small ranch house, but it was the home she grew up in.

She noticed the cab was not leaving yet as she removed her keys with a shaky hand and let herself in. She closed the door behind her and looked through the spaces in the lace curtains without touching them to see the cab back out of her driveway and disappear down the street. She sank to her knees and sobbed.

“Oh, God! Oh, God… he knows my secret! He knows! He knows my secret! The littlest bit of dark green right around the edges! No one’s ever noticed that before, no one! But he saw it! He saw part of me no one else has ever seen!

Long years of anguish poured out of her soul as she wept, going over and over the last few minutes in the cab.

Susan finally slipped into bed in her usual night bra and panties and reached over and turned off her bed-side lamp. She took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, relaxing her body as the air left her lungs. And she remembered the handsome stranger who came to her rescue in the coffee shop.

‘A beautiful woman’ he said. The first words he ever spoke about me. ‘A beautiful woman.’ ‘Lady,’ he said.

Her mind followed the events of the day, focusing on the little comments he had made. ‘I couldn’t stop thinking about you.’

‘What flavor are you?’ Was that his sense of humor? Expressed in silly verbal twists? ‘Susan is a chocolate girl.’ Hmm, don’t know if I like that or not. ‘…there was something about you that was different…’ oo, definitely like that. ‘Something about your face…’ ‘you seemed to have God’s Spirit shining through you.’

She turned and pulled her extra pillow into her chest and cuddled it, picturing Charles talking softly at the concert. ‘Something about your smile…’ How many times did he say something about my smile? And how he responded to my smile! Just a simple smile… he lit up every time I smiled at him. ‘Something about your eyes!’

She moaned without realizing it. ‘Dark brown, with a delicious…’ delicious! ‘… tinge of green around the outside edge!’

Her mind floated to filling out job applications, school forms, health records, and getting her first driving license: eyes, brown. Eyes, Brown. Eyes, BROWN. Marty… my life-altering Marty Mistake… ‘That top matches your brown eyes…’ the only thing he ever said about my eyes. One of his few attempts to compliment me.

Now in her mind Marty was yelling again, cursing, threatening, before she left for work. She was going to be late. And she would never see Marty again.

‘I’m sorry, Mrs. Towns,’ she remembered the banker saying, ‘but Mr. Towns is on that account with you. We had to let him withdraw the money.’ And the credit cards… I was on the hook for those, too. The lawyer… who first suggested the lawyer?

‘We’re going to have to close the store…’ after nineteen years? How am I going to pay the mortgage? Four hundred dollars a month… My home… why did I let Marty talk me into mortgaging the house? My parents’ house, my home. My children’s home. All my memories…

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