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HOW WE MET
I am falling like a falling star who has finally found her place next to another in a lovely constellation, where we will sparkle in the heavens together.
Finding Love Where You Least Expect It
Any emotion, if it is sincere, is involuntary.
"I can't believe you're making me do this," I yelled downstairs to my mom as I hopped on one foot from my bedroom to the bathroom, trying to fasten a sandal.
"Just go and have fun," my mom called back. "It's not like you have to marry him."
Two weeks before, my mom had been in contact with a long-lost family friend. Our families had been neighbors until I was in the fifth grade. Coincidentally, they had a son who was one year older than I was.
In the course of catching up on the past ten years, my mom and his mom had arranged a date between the boy and me. (Although, at the age of twenty-one, he could hardly be called a "boy" anymore, but that's the way I remembered him.)
I hurriedly dressed and brushed my hair (a little haphazardly, with low enthusiasm for my date), and I thought about the boy I used to know.
I remembered being told that when he was only one year old, he brought a baby gift to my mom the day I was born. I thought of an old photograph in my scrapbook, his arm around me as we waited to go inside church for Easter service. As an awkward ten-year-old, I hid behind my mom when he tried to talk to me.
I remembered him as a self-conscious twelve-year-old, with buckteeth and a round belly. We went to the same elementary school, and when we passed in the hall, I would lower my head and avoid eye contact, trying desperately not to be noticed. But he always spotted me and managed to embarrass himself with an awkward "hello."
What have I gotten myself into? I thought as I quickly coated my lashes with mascara and gave one final glance at myself in the mirror.
The doorbell rang. I heard my mom walk to the front door. I stood silent, listening.
"Well, hello!" My mom was full of hospitality and enthusiasm. "It is so great to see you after all this time."
He answered back with an uncomfortable and embarrassed voice. I rolled my eyes.
This is going to be loads of fun, I thought sarcastically.
The phone rang. It was my best friend calling to see if I had met "my date" yet.
"No," I said, "but I hear him talking to my mom downstairs, and he sounds really dorky."
Then I had an idea: "Hey, why don't you meet us tonight? That way, if things don't go well, I'll have an excuse to leave and end the date."
My friend was game, more out of curiosity than a willingness to help me, so we arranged to meet at a restaurant downtown.
I walked down the stairs, trying to plan a last-minute escape. Could I feign illness? Fall and break my leg? Run out the front door and hide until he finally left?
I followed my mom's voice coming from the kitchen and reluctantly walked toward the noise, dragging my feet as if I wore cement shoes.
As I turned the corner and entered the kitchen, I saw him immediately.
Has there been some mistake? I thought. He didn't look like the boy I remembered.
He was sitting at the kitchen table, across from my mom. He had impeccable posture, with broad, muscular shoulders. His face was tanned. His hair was dark and perfectly trimmed. His deep brown eyes glistened as he smiled at me. And his teeth—his glorious teeth—were perfectly straight (years of braces, I thought) and brilliantly white.
"Hi," he said. "It's nice to see you again."
His face was beaming. A strange, unexpected electricity filled the air.
He stood to shake my hand. He was tall and fit, and well-dressed, too. He was confident and poised—so different from the shy boy I was expecting.
I was speechless. I stuttered and stammered a feeble "hello" before shaking his strong hand.
Nervously I said, "Uh, I think I forgot something." I ran back up the stairs and shut myself in the bathroom.
My heart was racing. That was no boy in the kitchen— certainly not the awkward boy I remembered. He was a man—a very handsome, polite man.
Adrenaline filled my ears and made them burn. My hands were shaking. I threw open drawers and began redoing my makeup—this time with care and precision. I brushed my hair and straightened my dress.
Should I change clothes? I wondered. No, that would be too obvious, too weird.
I walked back downstairs, giddy with nerves and excitement. We said good-bye to my mom, and he put his hand at the small of my back to lead me to his car. I was shaking.
As we sat side by side in the car, I discovered his charm went far beyond the handsome smile and strong physique. Our conversation became effortless, with no stops or awkward gaps. We told stories from our childhood and laughed about the times we had been so nervous around each other. We learned we had a great deal in common, that our connection was deeper than the history we shared.
My friend met us at the restaurant, ready to save me from my blind date. But she wasn't needed.
"You can go home," I told her. "Things are great; I'm having fun."
"Are you sure?" she asked. "You hardly know this guy."
"Actually, I've known him all my life," I said. "And I think I'm going to marry him one day."
Two years later, I did marry him. And one year after that, we had our own little boy.
In our den, next to wedding photos and a picture of our son's first birthday, a photograph of two children—one three years old and the other four—hangs above the couch in an antique brass frame. The boy has his arm around the girl. They are sitting outside a church—he in his Easter suit and she in her new dress and bonnet. The girl is shy and looking at the ground. The boy has a twinkle in his eye. He is smiling at the camera, smiling at me as I walk past the picture on the wall.
Could it be, I often wonder, that the boy knew all along?
A Change of Plans
I was a twenty-eight-year-old nurse in need of a change. My life was in turmoil, and the chance to work as a traveling nurse in Hawaii seemed to be an ideal opportunity. My plan was to work for four months, while exploring the islands in my free time. I would sit alone on the beach, ponder my future, and then return to New York to resume my life in the big city.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, a young man was also in need of a change. Accounting in his hometown of Sydney had left him restless. His new plan was to work as a flight attendant for two or three years, see the world, and then resume his well-ordered life in Australia.
That day in August was like most days on Oahu: sunny and warm with palm trees swaying in the breeze. I planned to bike over Diamond Head to Hanauma Bay and join friends for a day at the beach. I envisioned a day lazing in the shade with a good book. I was down on men but high on Hawaii.
When I reached Hanauma Bay, I faced a dilemma. I wanted to lock my bike with my friends' bikes, but I had forgotten the combination. The bike racks were in the parking lot on a cliff high above the beach. I needed to leave my bike with someone I could trust while I searched for my friends on the beach far below.
That's when I noticed a sweaty, red-faced young man sitting in the shade of a banyan tree. Judging from his flushed face and his bicycle propped against the tree, I assumed that he planned to sit in the shade a bit longer. He wasn't much to look at, with his damp hair plastered to his forehead, but he seemed safe enough. And since he already had a bike, I doubted he would steal mine.
He agreed to watch my bike while I hiked down the hill to find my friends. When I finally returned and secured my bike in the rack, he asked if he could join my group. I wasn't thrilled with the prospect of giving up my solitude to keeping company with a stranger, but I couldn't really refuse since he had been guarding my bike for the past twenty minutes.
Then he asked if I'd go snorkeling with him. Snorkeling? What a pest! Visions of reading in that quiet spot in the shade seemed to grow even dimmer. I told him that I didn't have any money to rent equipment. He offered to pay. What was I to do?
As the day wore on and the beach started to empty, I learned that his name was Phil, that he, too, was twenty-eight, and that this was his first time in the States. His accent was a bit hard to follow, and we had to resort to spelling words at times to communicate. He was the first Australian I had ever met, and I was amazed at the differences in our common language.
Although I still wasn't excited about making small talk with someone I didn't know, I discovered that Phil was easy to talk to. And he had been very sweet to watch my bike and to pay for my snorkeling equipment. Before I knew it, I heard myself offering to buy him a beer for his generosity. I had arranged to meet him at his hotel for one beer, just one, before joining my friends for the evening.
A few hours later in the hotel lobby, I spotted one of the best looking men I had seen for a long time walking toward me. Tall and dark, Phil was a cross between Tom Sellick and Burt Reynolds. He certainly scrubs up well, I thought. I later learned that those were his exact thoughts about me. Apparently, I hadn't been much to look at after cycling over Diamond Head either.
We spent the evening dancing in the disco at the top of his hotel. It offered a panoramic view of Waikiki, with mountain silhouettes to the west and the lights of the marina to the east.
The next few days we spent discovering just how romantic Hawaii is. We caught the bus to a beach popular with the locals for body surfing. We hiked to Sacred Falls and swam in the icy pool at the foot of the falls. We watched fabulous sunsets from the patio of his hotel while sipping exotic drinks. The air smelled sweet, tropical flowers bloomed on every corner, and we seemed to be surrounded by couples in love.
It was an extraordinary few days, made all the more special by the knowledge that it was only temporary. Phil would return to Sydney, and our time together would be just memories. I felt safe knowing that he would be half a world away. I had no plans to become involved with anyone at this point in my life.
But plans changed. Phil managed to swap schedules with his good mate Nyle and surprised me with a visit in October. We spent the time on Kauai. We swam at a secluded beach on the Na Pali coast, which could only be reached by hiking through a tropical rain forest. We took a Zodiac raft trip even farther along the rugged coast, through caves, to view a part of the island accessible only to boats and serious hikers. We spent the last night in a rustic cabin in the national park surrounding Waimea Canyon. Kauai lacked the nightlife of Waikiki but offered more remote beaches for long walks in the moonlight. This time when we said good-bye, we planned to meet in New York after my nursing assignment finished, so that I could show Phil another side of the States.
Once again, plans changed. In December Phil returned for my last week in Hawaii. It was our chance to explore Maui. We hiked into Haleakala Crater, ate ice cream cones with the tourists in Lahaina, and drove the dizzying road to Seven Sacred Pools. We raised the rite of picnicking to new heights with champagne toasts on cliffs overlooking the pounding winter surf of the Pacific.
Perhaps it was when we were standing on the rim of Haleakala Crater, wrapped together in a blanket, watching the sunrise; or while we hiked through the bamboo forest to Jackass Ginger Falls, the air heavy with the scent of ginger and plumeria; or when we ate a midnight snack of tempura mahi-mahi sandwiches in a diner on Hotel Street. At some point, before I was ready to admit it to myself, our plans for the rest of our lives changed.
Now—twenty-five years, two kids, and one mortgage later—our plans are to someday return to visit the places where we each took a chance and opened our hearts to a stranger. The kids plan to join us, too. That's one plan we definitely plan to keep.
Taking the Time
All love that has not friendship for its base, is like a mansion built upon the sand.
Ella Wheeler Wilcox
I spotted Ray immediately. He stood out as the most handsome man in a group of thirty singles sipping wine and subtly checking one another out. Divorced seven years, I had fine-tuned my ability to spot a good-looking man without a gold ring on his left hand.
About the same time, Ray's eyes swept around the hotel lounge and caught my gaze. He smiled—a terrific, crooked smile—and took a few steps toward me.
Another woman, dressed in basic black with a stunning jade necklace, who obviously took an interest in Ray, stepped between us and started chatting with him. I heard words like "golf" and "eighty-two" and "that seventh hole." Apparently they had already met on the golf course, perhaps at an event, like this theater evening, sponsored by the activities club to which I belonged. I turned to talk with a man to my right, hoping my quick smile covered my disappointment.
The woman who planned the evening handed me a ticket to the play. "I put you by that guy over there," she whispered, nodding in Ray's direction. "He's new to the club. I figured you'd make him comfortable."
So, I would get to meet him after all.
Eventually Ray and I wound up side by side at a table of hors d'oeuvres, spreading brie on crackers. We talked about the kind of inane topics one discusses at events like this: the weather, our jobs, an upcoming hike sponsored by the club. Ray compared his ticket to mine and noted that we were seated next to each other.
He had dressed well for the evening: gray slacks and a navy blazer. I could tell he would look equally good in shorts and a polo shirt out on the golf course.
That evening promised to be memorable for me. But Ray talked of nothing except his work as we walked the half mile from the hotel to the theater. I had little interest in the woes of a restaurant owner. I went home thinking about the play we'd seen, not Ray.
I doubt he gave me a second thought, either. I had a cold and had coughed or sucked on cough drops throughout the performance. At intermission, when Ray and I might have been sharing refreshments, I went outside and hacked into the warm summer air.
It was not love at first sight.
Several weeks later I went with a male buddy to a dance for singles cosponsored by three singles clubs. A small local band filled the air with a rhythm that set my foot tapping. Magic touched my dance shoes as I waltzed and foxtrotted, cha-cha'd and rumba'd with a number of different men for at least an hour.
When the band took a break, my last dance partner and I sat down to catch our breath. Soon he went to get us drinks.
Then Ray approached, flashing that terrific smile. He drew a chair up to the table, and we chatted for a few minutes. Had I thought any more about the play we had seen together? Did he think the clouds gathering outside threatened an early summer storm? Wasn't the band outstanding? Ray seemed more at ease than he had the night of the play—funnier and more interesting. I was eager to dance with him. But when the band took the stage again and the music started, he just kept talking. I dropped hints about the beat of the song. He talked some more. I finally asked him to dance.
Ray's sense of rhythm wasn't as great as his smile. He mumbled something about how I had obviously taken a lot more dance lessons than he had, and then we finished the song in an uneasy silence. As another number started up, we thanked each other for the dance we had shared and wandered in separate directions to find new partners.
It wasn't love at second sight, either.
A week later, exhausted from several hectic days of administering final exams to my high school students, I wanted to crawl into bed with a good book. But a girlfriend called and asked me to go to another singles' dance. The last thing I wanted was to push myself to get dressed up and act clever, friendly, and upbeat, but she talked me into going. Then when I had my face, hair, and evening bag ready, she called to say that she had decided to stay home. Since I was overdressed for crawling into bed with a book, I picked up the car keys and headed out.
When I walked into the ballroom, a bit nervous about going alone, I promptly saw several men I knew. Relieved, I found an empty chair along a wall and put on my dance shoes. There was no live band; Instead a DJ played nonstop music, mostly swing. Like the week before, I danced till I was breathless.
I headed toward the ladies' room to freshen my lipstick, when I saw Ray enter the room with a small group of people I didn't know. I judged from their dress that they had come to the dance after a round of Friday night golf. Ray wore a yellow polo shirt that showed off a nice tan as well as an appealing set of biceps—and again, that fabulous smile.
My knees grew weak. Maybe we had parted ways too hastily after that first dance.
"Hi," I said. "Nice to see you again."
He returned a greeting that was just as welcoming. We visited for a bit, and then he pulled me in to dance. We danced closer than I would have wanted to if his arms hadn't felt so comfortable. He put his cheek against mine, and I leaned into him, as we swayed in time to the music.
Excerpted from Chicken Soup For The Soul Love Stories by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Peter Vegso. Copyright © 2012 Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, LLC. Excerpted by permission of Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, LLC.
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