(#1 in the "Love is..." Series)
“Good morning. Did you type up those reports, Miss Maxwell? Miss Maxwell? Hello, earth to Morgan!”
“Oh!” I snapped my attention back to the present. “I'm sorry Ja—Mr. Scott.”
Embarrassed, I explained, “I was just thinking. I'm sorry. What did you say?”
“Um, well, yeah, just a little. I'll try not to let it happen again, sir.”
“It's okay, Morgan. We all do it. And you don't have to call me 'sir.' It makes me feel old.” He smiled understandingly, and I couldn't help but smile back, though I still felt embarrassed and knew my face must be red. I have always hated how easily my red-headed complexion causes my face to get red (even when I don't feel embarrassed, people still tell me it's gone red)!
“Now, did you get those reports typed up, Morgan? I mean...Miss Maxwell?” Now it was his turn to seem embarrassed.
“Yes, sir...I mean, Mr. Scott. They're in the Completed Reports file on your desktop.”
“Thank you. If you don't mind, why don't we call each other by our first names. It will make things simpler for both of us. Is that all right with you?” There was that slow grin again. My breath tightened a tad in my chest.
“That would be fine...Jason.” I couldn't look him in the eye anymore, for some reason.
As he turned and walked into his office, I sighed and tried to calm down. I mean, it didn't mean anything significant. It was just...more efficient…to dispense with the formal titles. At least, I tried to make myself believe that.
I turned back to my computer and pulled up the schedule for the day. The next appointment started in an hour, but it was supposed to last until after brunch with the governor. I needed to get started preparing for it. I picked up the bag with the few decorations that I had personally chosen the night before, and I headed to the conference room to try to turn a stark, all-business room into an elegant business-lunch room. I was just putting the final touches on the centerpiece when my boss walked in.
“Wow, Morgan! This looks great! I guess I'll keep you around for a little longer, huh?” I could tell he was joking and just smiled back.
“Oh, I forgot the hanging chandelier piece,” I added. I stepped up on the chair but couldn't quite reach the ceiling. I then stepped up on the table, gingerly reaching around the centerpiece.
“Be careful, Morgan!” Jason warned.
I got it hung, but as I turned around to head back down, I got a little giddy and began to sway. “Morgan!” Jason grabbed me around the waist, steadied me, and then held my hand until I jumped back down onto solid ground again. Even then, he kept one hand on each of my arms as he asked, “Are you okay?”
I closed my eyes, shuddered, and then nodded as I opened my eyes. He shook me slightly, just for emphasis, as he gently berated me, “What were you thinking? If you're scared of heights, ask me to do it! I don't want to lose a good secretary...or...a pretty red-head.” His hands moved up to my cheeks, and he cupped them and leaned closer as though he were getting ready to kiss me! My heart still pounding for a different reason now, I lowered my eyes and stepped back until he dropped his hands.
“You're my boss,” I explained softly.
When he still had not responded after several moments, I finally, reluctantly glanced back up at him, not wanting to see the hurt or anger I was sure I would see. Perhaps there was a little hurt there, but I saw mostly determination and even possibly a little admiration.
“You're right, I'm sorry,” he apologized. I'm sure my eyes widened with surprise. I certainly did not expect that! “It won't happen again... until you want it to.”
In reaction to all of the excessive emotions—fright, embarrassment, romance, concern—I giggled and said, “Well, if you play your cards right, it might happen again...later.”
He relaxed and smiled, “Really, Morgan? Do I have a chance?”
“Maybe,” I flirted. Then I dropped my eyes again and felt my face getting red again. I sobered, “But we will need to figure out the boss/ secretary dynamic.”
He immediately sobered, too. That determination showed again as he stepped backward. “Right. I'll get right on that. Immediately. This is now my pet project.” Attempting to lighten the mood further, he grinned and winked. I couldn't help but smile back.
Just then, the governor's aide walked in. I quickly brought Jason his notes and laptop. He thanked me casually but gave me an intense look with those clear blue eyes of his. I probably flushed yet again as I scurried out of the now “elegant” conference room and headed back to my desk.
Thankfully, their meeting lasted past my lunch hour. I was so glad that Jason had insisted earlier that we hire caterers and servers so that I did not need to worry about anything until they were all done.
I left for a quick lunch in the cafeteria and a brisk walk to get some exercise. I got back from lunch, but because they were all still chatting in the conference room, I went back to my normal work. I then worked for a couple of hours more. Just after Jason's clients left, after 2:30 pm, I realized that I needed to clean up the conference room. Before I could even get out of my chair, however, the door opened again, and someone said, “Hey, Morgan.”
I immediately jerked my head up to see that my old high school friend Tony Brown had just walked in. My mind would not wrap itself around the fact that he was standing right in front of me again! I had never expected to see him again. Time froze as my mind raced back to my church youth group days when I had “had a crush” on Tony.
We had only been friends, but we would sit together on the church bus, and he would talk to me about a lot of things, mostly about his current infatuation—with someone else. Though he may have been my first “love,” that “love” had remained unrequited. Thankfully I had finally realized that he was a bit of a “player,” a flirt, and I lost respect for him. Then my attention had been diverted to Mike, who pursued me and eventually dated me for a summer before dumping me for another girl just a couple months before my Senior Prom. I never became interested in anyone else that year (I was too heartbroken and, truth be told, too bitter and unforgiving to feel love). Therefore, I asked Tony to go with me to my Senior Prom just as friends, since he could not attend his own school's prom for some reason. That was one of the things I regret most about high school—going to that prom. Not that anything bad had happened. Just nothing good had happened. I refused to dance the fast dances (I didn't know how and felt too self-conscious to try), and Tony did not want to dance many slow dances with “just a friend” when the current girl he was chasing, Kimberly, was there. He had danced the last dance with her, not me, his date.
My mind fast-forwarded through all those years after we lost touch with each other, while I went to college and then joined as a staff member at the college, until we reconnected again just a few months ago on Facebook. I had deduced from some of his posts that he had gotten some girl pregnant, refused to marry her, but insisted on still being the daddy in his child's life. I knew that a different woman called him her best friend (“bestie”) online all the time and that he had just ended a relationship with yet another woman.
And here he walks through the door in the flesh!
“Tony! What in the world are you doing here?!?”
He swaggered up to my desk and said, “Oh, I just drove four hundred and fifty miles to come see you.”
“You should have called first. I'm working.”
“It's okay. I'll go check into my motel while you finish up, and then we can have dinner tonight, all right?”
I hesitated. I did not want Tony to think that I wanted to date him, but then again, I had not made any specific plans yet, and Tony was an old friend who had come to see me. I would do the same—had done the same—with several of my old college roommates I still saw every few years. Surely it would be appropriate and polite to accept.
“Okay. Where would you like to eat at?”
“I'll scout around near my motel and [FB] message you. What time do you get off?”
“Okay, see 'ya then, Morgan.” His dark brown eyes held this strange look, a somewhat intense look that carried determination, self-confidence (almost to the point of pride), and something else I could not immediately identify. It couldn't be possessiveness, could it? No, surely not. Not Tony. Not after he had never even noticed me in the first place. And surely not after all this time. I realized that I really didn't know him anymore, because we had both changed.
I looked up and realized that my boss, Jason, was standing at the corner of his office and the lobby watching us.
“Tony, this is my boss, Jason—uh, Mr. Scott.” I couldn't believe that I had really called him by his first name in front of Tony! I'm sure I flushed yet another time—how many times had my face gotten red in just that one day?!
Tony glanced at Jason's sober expression and back to my flushed face, and I could just see the wheels turning and the warning lights flashing. He slightly smirked and waited for Jason to walk over to him and stick his hand out for a handshake.
“And who is this, Morgan?” Jason addressed me but was looking at Tony the entire time.
“Oh, I'm sorry! This is my old friend from high school, Tony Brown. We were in the youth group together at our church.”
“I see.” His tone was polite but his eyes and expression hardened.
Just as I decided to try to ask Tony to leave, he turned, winked at me, and then walked out, without a single polite word to Jason.
Jason turned slowly toward me and asked quietly, “So...an old friend, huh?” His tone did not belie any special emphasis, yet I knew he was asking me if I was ready to be totally honest with him.
I tried not to sound defensive, but I also did not want to sound like I was sugar-coating the truth. I took a deep breath and began, “Yes, we were only ever friends. He was always interested in some other girl—several other girls, actually. But...I did have a crush on him at one time--” I would have continued, but the phone rang, and I had to answer it with as calm and business-like a voice as I could muster at that moment when I felt anything but calm and business-like.
Jason laid down several file folders in the bin on the corner of my desk and then turned and walked back to his office. I didn't see him for the rest of the afternoon, which was a little odd. Normally, he would come in and out, ask me questions in person, and meet with his appointments in the lobby before showing them back to his office or a conference room. But he holed himself in his office and only called me once to ask a quick question about one of the reports. I would have worried about it a lot more, except that I got busy with several phone calls and letters and my own work.
When it was 4:45 pm, I straightened and tidied up my desk, filed my unfinished work in the next day's folder, and put the phone on voicemail. I walked around to Jason's office and knocked on the door. He saw me through the glass and motioned me in.
I was about to bring up the subject of Tony, when he turned his back to me and said almost gruffly, “I'll be working late tonight. I'll need you to type up some more reports first thing in the morning.”
I felt ignored, rejected. Fine, if that's how he wanted to play it, I was too upset to take the time to mend the very fragile relationship. I said, “Yes, sir. Good night, sir,” and spun on my heel and left. I was so tempted to slam the door, but I didn't want to act like a juvenile.
I briskly walked to my car, got in and locked the door, and then turned my cell phone off silent. Yes, there was a message from Tony. He wanted me to meet him at 5:30 pm at a restaurant that serves breakfast all day. Good, I loved breakfast any time. That was halfway across our small town, only about ten minutes away, so I took a few minutes to calm down, listen to some Christian music, and pray.
“Lord, you know how my day went today. You know all the ups and downs I went through. Please help me to respond thoughtfully and not react immediately. Give me wisdom to deal with Jason as my boss. Help me know what to do in this situation. And especially help me now with Tony. Please give me wisdom on how to treat him. I know I need to be kind and patient and gentle with him, but show me how to show agápe love to him without him misunderstanding and thinking that it might possibly lead to eros love. I feel so confused and frustrated, Lord. Please guide me and comfort me right now. Thank you for all you have done for me and continue to do for me every day. Thank you for dying on the cross, Jesus, and saving me from my sins. Please help me to show others the grace and forgiveness you showed to me. In Jesus' name, Amen.”
Feeling calmer and refreshed, I drove to Denny's while letting my Christian music blast. I took a deep breath and walked into the restaurant, looking around for Tony. I did not see him yet, so I told the hostess to show me a table for two and to keep an eye out for him.
I had been waiting for about five minutes, when Tony finally sauntered in, hat turned almost sideways and his shorts hanging dangerously low over his hips.
He winked at me and said, “Hi, Pretty Lady!” while sitting down, and I was a little taken aback by his overbearing attitude. Fortunately, the waiter came then, and I deliberately tried to calm down as we ordered. I focused on deciding which of their breakfast plates to eat this time. If a restaurant serves breakfast food all day, I order it almost every time. I splurged on an omelette.
“So why are you really here, Tony?” I asked him after we had ordered. “And why didn't you tell me you were coming?”
He smirked and leaned back in his seat. “I wanted to surprise you! Aren't you surprised?”
“Um, yeah, quite a bit. But I don't usually like surprises. I like to plan and prepare for things.”
“Well, I really didn't know myself until just yesterday. I ended up getting an extra vacation day and a half from work, so I decided to pop over and see you for the weekend.”
“So, you're here for the entire weekend?”
“Oh, yeah! Is...that okay?” Finally, his confidence seemed to waver a bit, and he seemed like the old Tony who had seemed to care about others' feelings.
I hesitated but politely answered, “Well, I guess it's okay. I don't have anything planned except for choir on Sunday, like usual.”
“Great!” His smile returned. “Do you remember the last time we ate breakfast together?”
“Of course!” I smiled. “After my Prom, at 1 am. Or something like that, right?”
“Yep! That was a pretty good night. I still remember it. I don't know if I ever asked you then, but did you have a good time?”
I hesitated. He was finally acting like himself, without an attitude, making real conversation as if he cared about my opinions, but if I honestly answered the question, I would probably hurt his feelings. How much should I say?
“Well...um...I have a few good memories from that night, but it wasn't the best night for me.”
“Why not? Was it because of me?” His big, brown, puppy-dog eyes seemed to say, I may act tough on the outside, but inside I've been hurt more than you know.
My heart tightened a little. “Well, you know...I told you that I wished we had danced the last dance together.”
“I know. But surely that wasn't the only thing that would have made it a bad night for you, was it?”
“Well, no...I mean...I didn't really know how to dance. I was scared of embarrassing myself and you. And I didn't really like most of those people—my classmates. It was the whole dance scene. And I have always struggled with self-consciousness.”
“So there was nothing that I could have done to make you feel less self-conscious? Come on, Morgan. There's something you're not telling me. I can feel it. You can tell me. I can take it.” And he gave me one of his “crinkly” smiles that used to melt my heart.
“Well...I don't know if I should tell you, but...”
“Okay,” I took a deep breath, prayed a quick, silent prayer, and continued, “here goes. I used to have a crush on you.” I watched his reaction. Surprise and then a kind of flattered pride flashed on his face. I hurried on to explain, now that I had taken the plunge. “That was before Mike and I went out. I had pretty much stopped liking you in that way when I started dating him, but then he dumped me. I was disappointed, bitter, and hurt for a long time after that. I knew none of the guys from school would ever ask me out, because I was the nerdy, shy, Christian weirdo—the outcast—at school. So I didn't think I would even get to go to Prom. And then when you told me you weren't going to your school's Prom (I forget why), I really thought we could go as just friends. That was why I asked you, and I had that ‘friends’ idea in my head all the way up until the night of the dance. Then I got really uncomfortable taking Prom pictures with my parents posing us holding hands and stuff, like we were actually a romantic couple! That was the first reason I was self-conscious. The next was, because, like I said, I was a social outcast already. The main reason, though, was because deep down, I really did want you to look at me like I was a girl worth looking at. And when you decided to dance with Kimberly that last dance, I felt hurt again. I felt so worthless to everybody.”
I finally stopped. Maybe I had been too honest.
He just kept staring at me in shock.
Our food came, and I hurriedly stuffed my mouth so that I wouldn't say anything else. He still hadn't said a word.
“Wow!” he finally commented. “I never knew any of that. I'm sorry.”
“It's okay. I'm over it now. That was, what, seven years ago? I've moved on. I just thought you should know the whole story....Since you were the one who brought it up.” I tried to smile to ease the tension.
He smiled back. “Okay, I guess I did pressure you to tell me, huh? Okay, how about we start over again?”
I hesitated again. His behavior earlier at the office had indicated something more than just catching up with an old friend. “Start over again as what, Tony? As friends? Sure. Just friends.”
Now it was his turn to look hurt again. Then he threw up that tough-guy facade. I realized then that it was a defense mechanism. He was trying to keep himself from feeling hurt yet again. At that flash of insight, I wondered who had really hurt him since high school. I prayed silently again.
He put on that actor's face and said loudly, “Just friends?? What do you take me for? Of course just friends!”
I tried to give him grace in responding to him, though my first, fleshly reaction was to throw up a wall of my own and cancel the rest of the evening. I didn't want to be seen with a loud, boisterous, prideful guy. But life isn't all about me and my image. Or even my comfort. At least, I told myself that several times while I took a few deep breaths and tried to remember my prayer just before I drove over here. I silently chanted the main word that I wanted to remind myself: agápe, agápe, agápe. Self-less, self-sacrificing, compassionate love that is not easily provoked, rejoices in truth, is patient, is kind, endures all things, believes all things, hopes all things [I Cor. 13]. How could I show that to Tony now?
I decided to turn the conversation to him. I would show interest in what he was interested in. “So, what have you been up to these last seven years?”
He told me all about his problems and how he had moved several times. I learned about his relationships and his children. (Yes, more than one. Three, actually!) After he had talked a lot about himself, he said soberly, “Thanks for listening, Morgan. You were always a great listener. I don't really have anyone who seems to care enough to listen to me rambling on and on about myself.” And he gave his genuine smile.
He insisted on paying for my meal, even though I really didn't want him to. I didn't want him to think this was a “date” date, but I didn't want him to think I was a feminist, either, so I just let him pay. I offered to treat him to an ice cream cone instead. He agreed and wanted me to ride in his car there. I didn't trust him that much and didn't want to be trapped without any other way home, so I drove to the ice cream parlor separately.
While licking our ice cream cones quickly so that they wouldn't melt in the summer heat, Tony asked me about my story. I told him about choosing my college. I went into detail about how hard it was for me to decide anything, especially something so important as to which college to go, and how I finally felt God's leading me to this one. I told him how I never could choose a major so I graduated with a major in Humanities, which included a little of every subject. Then I told him how I got to stay on staff at the college, how God seemed to open the door for this opportunity that I hadn't even looked for when the head of the secretarial department offered me this job I didn't even know existed.
He truly seemed interested in my story and asked questions here and there to clarify what I was trying to say, especially about my feelings about each decision.
When our ice cream cones were finally all gone, I said, “Well, I've had a long day. I'd better get home.”
He said he would follow me to my house. I told him he didn't need to do that, that my house was several miles from his hotel, out of his way. But he insisted that he would be worried unless he saw me home. So, against my better judgment, I let him follow me.
We drove to my house and got out of our cars. As we met on the sidewalk, Tony asked, “So do you work tomorrow? I want to spend more time with you.”
“Yes, I might be able to ask for a few hours off early, since it seems like it will be a slow Friday, but I can't promise anything.”
“Okay, I understand. Maybe we could at least meet for lunch?”
“Yeah, we can do that. You'll have to meet me at the cafeteria, because I only get a half-hour off for lunch, and that's not long enough to go off-campus. Unless I can get the entire afternoon off. Better meet me at the entrance to the cafeteria, and I'll let you know then. Will that work?”
“Yeah, that will work. So I guess this is goodnight, Morgan,” murmured Tony, his dark eyes intense with passion.
I stepped back and said evenly, meeting his eyes coolly and almost reproachfully. “Goodnight, Tony. See you tomorrow at lunch.” I casually reached into my purse and pulled out my keys.
Stepping toward me again, he said huskily, “Does it have to be goodbye, too?”
“Tony! You know I'm not that kind of girl! I said, 'goodnight.' Now go to your motel and cool off.” I turned and ran up the steps, fumbling with the keys. Why can I never remember which way this stupid key turns? I thought.
As I pushed open the door, I looked over my shoulder to see where Tony was. He hadn't moved any closer, thankfully. He seemed to be surprised and thoughtfully watching me. Maybe I had given him a better model for how a date should end between two believers. Maybe my piety had not only taken him by surprise but also given him something to admire. I didn't know, but I tried to smile politely and called again, “Goodnight!” before I closed the door.
I quickly locked the door behind me and then ran around to the window in the front room to peek out the curtain. He was slowly walking around his car toward the driver's side, but just after he opened the car door, he paused and looked back toward my window, noticing that I was watching him. He smiled slightly and waved lightly at me. When I politely waved back, he got in his car and drove off.
I collapsed onto the sofa. Whew! What a roller-coaster day! I had been through both ups and downs, surprises and disappointments! As I got undressed out of my work clothes into something more comfortable—sweats and a cami—I pulled out my laptop to check my emails. After spending an hour checking personal emails and Facebook, I opened my favorite Facebook game and escaped from all the thoughts running around inside my head. But after about a half an hour of that, I made myself quit and begin to get ready for bed. While many thoughts clamored for my attention, I tried to push them away by singing my favorite song silently to myself. It didn't work. I turned all the lights off and put the pillow over my head. It didn't work either. Finally, I turned all the emotions and ideas and memories into a prayer.
“Lord, You know what happened today. You know what happened with Jason, and You know what happened with Tony. You know all my feelings about each one. Please help me to think about both of these guys the way that You would want me to. Help me to see their good points, give grace for their bad points, and not overreact to either one. Give me wisdom and humility in dealing with them. Help me to stay on the right path but give me direction to know which is the right path. Thank You, Lord, for my job. Thank You for the boss you gave me. And thank You for the opportunity to get to know Tony more. Help me to be a good influence on both guys. Thank You for this soft bed. Thank You for a working car. Thank You for food. Thank You...for a roof over my head. Thank you...for Your salvation. And...help me to get a good night's sleep. In Jesus' name, Amen.”
I yawned and rolled over. I was finally able to relax enough to go to sleep. However, I woke up in the middle of the night in a sweat after a dream where both Jason and Tony were pulling my arms in opposite ways. It took me over an hour to get back to sleep. The alarm went off way too early.
Read all of #1 Love is Not Arrogant or Rude to find out what happens!
A little about me...
I have been married to the only love of my life, Chris, for 15 years and am a homeschool mother to two energetic boys, ages 11 & 7. I love Bible study and am passionate about the importance of filling our minds with truth that points back to Jesus (Philippians 4:8). I write Christian Romance books, because I need them not only to escape from the overwhelming stress of everyday life and relax but also to vigilantly guard my thoughts.