Irritated Colin Prouse glanced at his watch. Of all the times why did Samantha plan to have the family photo taken today? “Because it’s Saturday, Silly, the kids are off from school.” He could see her laughing. His lips curled into a slight grin remembering her gentle ways. Pastor Boyd Thompson gave him a queer look. They had met in his office to discuss the final details of crafting Colin’s church doctrine. Both Independents, their churches had no affiliation, yet they hoped to work together in unison.
“Boyd, we need to cut this short. In an hour and a half my wife expects me present. We’re having a family portrait done at Pinkston. If I’m late there’ll be--.”
“Go on, no need to tell me what there’ll be,” Boyd rolled his eyes and shoved him out the door. Colin took the shortcut down Rolling Hill Boulevard, then sped to fifty, only to come to a crawl once he reached its crest to avoid traffic from Graybar’s Department store.
At home Samantha paced the floor. Joy and Erin sat sober faced, dressed in shades of navy and yellows on the sofa. Chris was still in his room and Colin’s tanned suit lay on their bed. Would he please hurry since it was late?
Coming home from successfully posing for the family portrait, Colin remembered he needed to buy some refreshments at Graybar’s on his way to the men’s study group at seven. At six-fifteen he left after hurriedly finishing dinner. The line at the check out at the store was long. He finally got through. It was now ten minutes before the meeting started and he was known always to be punctual. If it hadn’t been for the photos--. It had become dark, streetlights flickered on and off, headlights came on reflecting off his glasses. He stepped on the gas- a few raindrops splattered on the window, he blinked, a silver wall of metal flung at him, a flash of light--darkness--silence.
Samantha saw Oliver as he crossed the street. This wasn’t a good time for a visit. There sat Christopher, her fifteen year old, on a step sulking after he’d bolted out of the house. The argument that his new friend Sonny didn’t suit his mother had resulted in his slamming the door, shouting loud enough for the neighbors to hear. What had gotten into the boy lately?
Samantha stood stiff, a frown on her face. Her arms crossed over her chest. She was ready to lay into him about raising his voice, when she noticed Oliver. Whenever he showed up her heart lifted, she couldn’t help it. She’d convinced herself it was their friendship yet--.
As he walked toward her she marveled at his agile, well toned body that seemed to vibrate with energy at every step. Six feet tall, brown wavy hair and eyes that changed from gray to blue with the mood of the sky, he looked like a model out of the pages of GQ. Why he had stayed around after she rejected him at the start was a mystery. Maybe it was the boys. Erin had told her he’d adopted Oliver as a dad.
Oliver stopped and said a few words to her obstinate son, took the Atlanta Tribune he’d carried under his arm and pointed to it. He nodded, grinned and came up the walk of the old Victorian house to where she stood. Samantha threw up her hand and rolled her eyes.
“Did you hear him spouting off?”
“Sure, half a block away; nothing new, is it?”
“You’re right,” she sighed, wiping her hand on her apron. “Come on in, I’m baking cookies for the church picnic tomorrow. By the way, you’re invited.” She gave him a sideway glance knowing his answer.
“No thanks-no picnic. You know where I stand on that.” He followed her to the kitchen. The aroma of ginger cookies wafted to them through the open door.
“You didn’t let Chris lick the bowl?”
“I wish it were that simple,” she said. He took a seat at the table, while she tended to the cookies. She set a plate with one Ginger-bread-man and a glass of milk before him knowing he wouldn’t eat two.
“I thought you might want to take a look at this article.” He spread the local section of the Tribune before him. “Here, let me read this to you while you finish filling your picnic basket.” He began reading from the Tribune after he swallowed a bite of the cookie. Judge Pelham has concluded a six week trial, awarding a young couple two million dollars for the wrongful death of their nine months old infant son.
“Oliver--please--don’t! “ Her hand motioned him to stop. Her eyes clouded over. “I don’t want to hear about other people’s problems, not today anyway. I have enough trouble right now. Chris,well,you heard him,” she sighed.
“Chris is just acting out, it’ll pass. You know the Raging Hormone bit people use to excuse their teen’s tantrums.”
“Oh--right, to excuse their tantrums. Am I excusing my son’s behavior? I don’t think so.”
Samantha felt her chin tremble, her tears catching in her throat but she was not going to cry. She turned and roughly handled the dishes in the sink.
“I’m sorry, Samantha, it’s got to be discouraging at times, not having a man around, especially with growing kids. That’s one of the reason’s the article caught my attention. It wouldn’t bring your husband back, but it could help you secure their future if you could get a substantial sum of money for their loss. The story is so like yours, you might just want to talk to a lawyer to see if you have a case.”
Samantha turned from the sink to look at him. She hesitated, then wiped her hands and glanced at the article.
“I don’t have a case anymore, I settled with the insurance company for this,” she gestured, encompassing the house.
A door slammed somewhere and not a minute later, Joy stormed into the kitchen followed by a bawling nine-year-old Erin.
“Mom, Chris yanked Erin around. He is so mean. Daddy wouldn’t let him get away with it, are you?” Joy demanded. At the same time she glared at Oliver. Samantha paused, her hand pressed lightly into her abdomen where it felt sore. Joy’s remark twisted her stomach in a knot. Samantha frowned and drew her lips into a thin line to keep from answering her daughter.
“Looks like you have your hands full right now; I’ll leave the paper here for you. Read it when you have time. It’s an interesting write-up. Who knows, you may change your mind yet,” Oliver said. “See you later.”
He got up straight-faced ignoring Joy and made his way to the door. Knowing him, Samantha assumed he was miffed at her daughter for interrupting.
“There’s trouble waiting for you,” she heard Oliver mumble as he passed Christopher who now stood in the doorway.
On his short walk home, Oliver’s thoughts drifted to a year ago when he had met Samantha. Stone-Edge, an older suburb east of Atlanta, lay sleepily among ancient oak trees and gently sloping hills. The oldest homes were quaint Victorian houses like Samantha’s. Some of the newer custom homes were larger, simpler structures like his.
Oliver had met Samantha at Ann Bradley’s, who never let an opportunity pass to welcome new members to Stone-Edge. Ann’s well attended neighborhood parties served to help newcomers ease into smooth transitions. In the course of the afternoon, her southern charm usually won her the confidence of a new resident.
Ann sat with Samantha near the pool sipping tea when Oliver entered. His gaze met Samantha’s and for an instant their hearts met. Later, when Ann had left; when Samantha returned his smile, he took Ann’s chair. Although the conversation at first made him feel awkward as he had on his first date, his eyes lingered on her etching her beauty into his memory. Samantha’s slender body had just the right symmetry to make her sexy. Her shoulder length, flaming hair and sparkling green eyes, she had to be of Irish descent, made her irresistible at least to this thirty-something bachelor.
After that day, their acquaintance began to flourish; Oliver’s hopes of romance soared. A week later, he had met her sons and her daughter Joy, to whom he instantly took a dislike and decided to avoid as much as possible. The boys bonded with him, especially Erin, the youngest who shook his hand, then showed him the new cello his mother had bought him for his birthday.
On a balmy evening, a few days after he met Samantha’s family, he sat with her on the swing under the oak. She looked at the starry sky and sighed. He put his arm around her shoulder and drew her to him but she’d stiffened at his touch.
“I’m sorry, I--can’t.” She got up, wrapped herself more tightly in her sweater and started to walk away.
“Samantha, wait!” Perplexed he jumped up and caught up with her. They walked silently into the house where Joy tried to draw her mother away to another area to show her some papers.
“Wait, Joy, I have to show Oliver out,” Samantha said then turned to Oliver who stood nonplussed and automatically followed her to the door.
“If you want to talk, give me a call,” he’d said still dumbfounded. What had gone wrong? He knew their attraction was mutual yet she’d acted coy like a school girl when he’d touched her. Well, he could be coy; he would distance himself and see what happens.
Several weeks passed before he knew Samantha wouldn’t make any effort to contact him. He wasn’t ready to forget her, he hadn’t been able to though he tried. Shouldn’t he have pressed harder to find out why she had resisted him that night?
He’d just let her push him away without an explanation. But, he thought surely she would come around, pursue him somehow. If she was playing hard to get, he’d look forward to the chase.
Now, he’d had enough of the one-sided game. If nothing else, he would question her to help him understand her hesitation.
Humbled but still confident, he walked the block to her house on another evening when the sky was bright with a full moon. The house was dark except for a single light in the front room. Joy opened the door after he knocked, giving him first a surprised look which changed swiftly to irritation. Her large blue eyes narrowed into a squint and her lips drew downward.
“Is your mom in?” he asked trying to sound at least positive.
“I’ll get her,” she snapped and disappeared. When Samantha saw him, her face showed surprise and, he thought, relief.
“Oliver, I had no idea--.” She seemed at a loss for words; she just stood, not finishing her sentence.
”Let’s go back to the swing, where we left off,” he said. She followed him outside and when they sat on the swing, at first awkwardly silent, he finally continued, “First I want to apologize if I’ve offended you.”
She stared at the moon but in the bright light of it, her eyes seemed sad. “Oliver, there are a lot of things you don’t know about me. I can’t get involved romantically with a man, even to the first stage of a kiss. My husband was a pastor and we are devout Christians living by a different moral law.”
Samantha looked into his eyes with the same sadness she’d looked at the moon. “Oliver, are you a believer?”
He sucked in his lips. Would she know if he lied? What if-then what. He had no idea how to pretend to be a Christian. She’d find out and never trust him again.
“No, I’m not.”
“Can we be friends then?” she asked in a small voice.
“Can we?” He couldn’t imagine it yet, he knew he would try, at least for a while.
“Erin talks about you all the time, he’s missed you.”
“For Erin I’ll be your friend,” Oliver said. Erin needed a man to take his father’s place and Christopher needed a buddy. His heart felt heavy with foreboding and hopelessness. He’d been under the influence of Samantha’s kind of faith for much of his early life and had developed an aversion to religion.
A year later, though he didn’t know how, they were still friends, bonded together by Samantha’s two sons. Nevertheless, with his new strategy, something good was finally going to come of his perseverance after all.