"Something Worth Waiting For - Short Story"

"Something Worth Waiting For"

© R. L. Brown 2005

“Daddy! Kady’s here!”

Joshua Brooks put down his newspaper as his two little girls jumped up and raced across to the front window. He followed them over, looking out at the young woman bending over the lawn mower in the middle of his sun-drenched garden. For some reason that morning it unsettled him, even though there was nothing at all out of the ordinary in the occurrence - Kady Harrison had been coming to mow his lawns every other Saturday morning for the last two and a half years.

As though she sensed them watching her, Kady looked up at them with a wide smile, paused for a moment to return the girls’ enthusiastic wave before turning her attention to her task.

Chloe and Peta went straight back to their game on the carpet, but Joshua remained by the window. Even after all this time it was difficult watching someone else take care of his yard work, despite it making perfect sense in the circumstances.

It was just another one of many adjustments he’d had to make when his wife had died early into their marriage, suddenly leaving him alone with two small daughters. By God’s grace, it hadn’t taken Joshua long to build his fledgling software design business into a home-based job and between the two sets of grandparents he’d been able to juggle the demands of his clients and the needs of his children surprisingly smoothly. But after a few months of trying to do everything, Joshua had accepted that there were some areas where he needed outside help.

Faced with the choice between arranging for someone to baby-sit the girls while he mowed or hiring someone to do the yard work, it had seemed obvious that his time was far more valuable spent with his daughters.

Joshua returned to his seat on the lounge and spread the paper open again, but his thoughts were far away as he watched the girls singing and giggling as they held a pretend birthday party for one of their toy ponies. They were both school-aged now, and there wasn’t really any reason why he couldn’t leave them inside on their own and do the mowing himself these days.

Except that things were working fine the way they were - and he loathed change.

Frustrated that he couldn’t relax with the paper as usual, Joshua wandered through to the kitchen to prepare a snack for the girls. The sound of the mower dropped a key as Kady worked her way along the side of the house, appearing in the back yard several minutes later just as Joshua finished putting the drinks and fruit onto a tray. Kady’s face was almost completely hidden by the wide brimmed hat, dark safety glasses and large industrial ear-muffs she always wore, but he could tell from her moving lips that she was singing away as usual. She reckoned it was one of the perks of her job to be able to sing at the top of her voice all day long without anyone overhearing.

Joshua leaned his elbows on the counter and watched as Kady worked her way back and forth across the yard. She’d told him many times that he needn’t stay home on the Saturday mornings she came, but he liked the routine . . . and found himself looking forward to chatting over a cold drink before she left for her next job.

Is that what his life had come to? Organising his life around a ten minute chat once a fortnight - because it was the only social life he had?

Joshua shook his head, annoyed with himself, and carried the tray through to the lounge room. After placing it on the coffee table he strode back over to the huge front windows and stared out at the immaculate garden and onto the street beyond. The windows weren’t barred and keeping him from the world outside, but they may as well have been.

And in that moment Joshua realised that making his life as predictable and inflexible as possible no longer gave him comfort.

It made him feel trapped.

Although Joshua had been barely conscious of the continual hum of the mower, the abrupt silence when it stopped was like an end-of-school bell, signalling the chance to escape from his increasingly uncomfortable thoughts. He waited only for the rumble of the mower being wheeled down the driveway to jump to his feet and retrieve two cans of soft drink from the fridge.

The juicy green smell of mown grass enveloped Joshua as he opened the front door and stepped outside, feeling a little guilty he hadn’t realised how hot it had become outside his air-conditioned home. From the shade of the verandah he watched while Kady loaded the mower and the rest of her equipment onto the back of her ute, her every movement vigorous and sure. As unlikely a career it was for a girl, there was no question that Kady Harrison was good at her job.

When she joined him a few minutes later, and dropped with relief into her customary position on the top step, Joshua immediately noticed that the small area of Kady’s face visible between glasses and hat was deeply flushed and sparkling with perspiration.

“Are you sure you won’t come inside where it’s nice and cool?”

“Oh, no - I’ve seen your immaculate cream carpet,” Kady laughed, raising one of her heavy work boots to show him the grass clippings still clinging to it, “and honestly it’s cool enough here in the shade. If I went inside I mightn’t be able to face coming back out into the heat.”

Joshua sat down beside her, opening one of the cold cans and inserting a straw into it before passing it to her.

“Thanks, Josh - you’re a life saver.” Kady took the can with a gloved hand, and leaned back against the brick wall.

Joshua opened the other can for himself, and for several minutes they sat in companionable silence, listening to the summer operetta of cicadas and the sound of children splashing in the pool next door. Completely relaxed in Kady’s company, it was hard now to believe how very displeased he had been the first time she’d arrived to mow his lawns.

When he’d made the first phone booking with the local Lawns & Landscapes contractor, he certainly hadn’t expected to open the front door the next Saturday morning to a girl he and his late wife had gone through high school with. He’d stared at Kady in a total loss for words, the Lawns & Landscape emblem on her khaki work clothes leaving no doubt about her reason for being there.

Although they’d been in several of the same classes in their small Christian school and he remembered her as a nice enough Christian girl - in those first raw months after Linda’s death the last thing Joshua wanted was to see anybody who’d known him and his wife. The thought of someone innocently asking after Linda filled him with dread.

Overwhelmed by the extent of his grief and frightened that he might be unable to contain his emotions in front of others, Joshua avoided any situation where people might express their sympathy or ask how he was coping. Even though he was appreciative of the prayers and practical support from their church, he made sure he and the girlsarrived just in time for the services and left almost straight after the final “Amen.”

Taken unawares like this by an old school friend at his front door, Joshua had no idea how to deal with the situation - but after several moments of painful silence Kady had made some light remark about many people being surprised when she turned up for the job, and then gone straight onto discussing the yard care arrangements in a reassuringly professional manner. Joshua was finally able to let out a long breath of relief when she returned to her ute and began unloading her tools.

It was only when she’d finished her work that first morning that Kady had quietly mentioned she’d been praying for Joshua and his daughters and would continue to do so, then immediately turned and left without even pausing to wait for a reply he was incapable of giving. She’d never mentioned anything about Linda again and grateful that she seemed to understand his situation without needing to probe for details, Joshua gradually became comfortable in her presence.

Slowly the darkness of that terrible time began to lessen and Joshua found the strength to go on through leaning on God and pouring out his pain and fears in prayer - but he’d become so adept at cutting himself off emotionally from everyone around him that he now had no idea how to bridge that gap. Up ’til now he’d thought himself content - but all of a sudden that morning he’d become acutely aware of just how lonely he was.

Kady was one of the few people he actually stopped to chat with and although he looked forward to it immensely, the truth was they rarely spoke about anything deeper than at a surface level.

“I think it’s about time for some more mulch on the front garden,” she said now, suggesting that she bring a trailer load to spread on her next visit. They spoke about the yard for a little while, until Kady finished her drink and put the can down on the tiles beside her and began fiddling with the straw.

“You haven’t changed your mind about not going to the school reunion this Friday night?”

Joshua sighed deeply. His initial reaction on receiving the invitation a few months ago had been an unhesitating “no”, and he’d nearly thrown it straight in the bin. He’d wished he had when his mother spotted the invitation the next time she’d dropped by and insisted on babysitting the girls that night so he could go. She’d kept on at him until Joshua had ended up paying for his ticket just to keep her happy - but as he’d admitted to Kady when she’d first asked him about it, he’d never really had any intention of going. Speaking with people one at a time was difficult enough for him, en masse would be a nightmare.

“Except for you I haven’t had contact with anyone from school for years. It’s not like I really know them any more,” he answered, deliberately non-committal. “What about you - do you still keep up with anyone from school?”

“Yeah, I’ve managed to keep in contact with a few friends, but there were some really wonderful people in our year that I’ve completely lost touch with. I’d love to have a chance to catch up with them and see how God has led their lives.”

“Do you think there’s any point in trying to go back after all this time?”

“I guess I don’t look at it just as going back - everything changes so much once you’ve left school. I’ll get to see old friends, but there might be the chance of making whole new friendships too.” Kady was twisting her straw into complex knots as she spoke, “Something I strive for in my Christian life is to make the effort to come into contact with a lot of different people and trust that God will bless the conversation - whether it’s an opportunity to speak to someone who doesn’t yet know God personally, or the chance to stir along another believer. Most of the people in our year were professing Christians - but who knows, God might lead me to speak to someone on Friday night who’s struggling with their faith or who never really knew Him at all.”

Joshua frowned as he listened to Kady. That was one of the things that had been troubling his thoughts all morning. While keeping to himself had been safe and uncomplicated - not only had he been missing the friendship and support of others, it meant he had very few opportunities to witness or to encourage anyone himself.

Was that why God was bringing the whole reunion thing back to his attention? After all this time he shrank from the idea of letting himself get involved with other people again . . . but Kady was right. He really should try to be more outward looking. Opening himself up to others always carried the risk of being hurt, but surely by now he should be able to trust God to lead him through that too.

Perhaps he should give the dinner on Friday night a second thought - maybe it would be a step in the right direction.

“I guess it would be interesting to find out what has happened to everyone after all this time,” he admitted finally.

Kady was smiling wistfully, her knees tucked under her chin. “Yeah, I often wonder what they’re all doing now. It’s been ten years - so I suppose they’ll all be grown up and married.”

The sight of her sitting there like a tomboy with her hair pulled back in a ponytail and crammed under her hat made Joshua grin suddenly - Kady still looked pretty much as he remembered her on the first day of high school.

“You’re not.”

“Nope - not married, and I guess you’re inferring I’m not grown up either.” Kady climbed to her feet, her easy laugh like a gentle chime, “Thank you so much for the drink, but I’d better get going - another quarter acre to conquer before lunch time.”

She started down the steps before pausing and looking back at him, “But do come on Friday night, Josh - it might be a good chance to get back into contact with some Christians your own age again. And it would be nice for me not to be the only person on my own.”

And before he quite realised it, Kady was gone. Normally she stayed longer than this, and it was unusual for her go without spending at least a few minutes chatting with the girls. Joshua had been too absorbed in his own thoughts to notice anything different about her . . . but perhaps there was something on her mind?

Joshua wiped the sweat from his forehead and took another drink of iced water from the glass in his hand. It was even harder than he’d anticipated - it had only been about half an hour and already he was exhausted and longing for the cool refuge of his own living room.

After much thought and prayer he’d decided to take this first step out of his comfort zone and try making some changes in his life, but right now he sincerely wished he’d left everything the way it was.

Joshua drained his glass and looked around the crowded function room - the soft lights hanging from the fabric-draped ceiling reflected in the polished chrome of the dining chairs. A string quartet was playing soothing classical music in one corner, and Joshua wished there was some place he could just stand quietly and listen to it.

But there wasn’t. Shortly after walking into the room with a group of old classmates he’d discovered how very conspicuous he was if he were standing alone and not talking with anyone. He’d scanned the room several times but not seen Kady anywhere. She must have been held up - it just wasn’t possible that she wouldn’t be coming.

Another couple had spotted him temporarily unattended and were walking over to him. Joshua fixed a smile on his weary face as he mentally searched for a name. He was generally good with names and faces, but while some of his old acquaintances looked almost the same, others, especially the girls, had changed markedly. And the whole test held the added challenge that nearly half the people in the room he’d never seen before - the partners of the old school friends.

Joshua was relieved to find the right name just before grasping the outstretched hand, but his mind was elsewhere as he was introduced to his classmate’s wife. Surely everyone in his year wasn’t married - but perhaps the others who weren’t had enough sense not to come. There was only one young lady he’d noticed who seemed to be there alone, but unlike him she looked perfectly comfortable amongst the crowd.

Dressed in a sparkling sapphire blue gown and strappy high heeled sandals the girl was on the far side of the room and Joshua couldn’t recognise her, but for some reason she’d caught his eye several times. She was always involved in animated conversation with one group of people or another although she inevitably moved on to the next group alone. Probably not very alone though - he’d caught her glancing towards the door a few times and assumed her partner was merely running late.

Turning his mind with effort back to the conversation, Joshua went again through the motions of asking all the right questions of the people in front of him and delivering his own condensed version of the last ten years of his life.

By God’s grace, speaking to those who knew of Linda’s death was not the ordeal he’d anticipated, but he’d never enjoyed the pressure of constantly talking to different people in a setting like this. Kady might thrive on it, but he found it draining and longed for time alone to recharge. Joshua did want to get involved in other people’s lives again, but he was the kind of person who preferred to do it with one or two people at a time.

The couple he was speaking to moved off and he found his eyes straying to the attractive girl in the sapphire dress yet again. Still unpartnered, she was moving with graceful purpose toward another couple standing near the string quartet.

A few people were beginning to choose places at the long dining tables and more to escape any further conversations than from need, Joshua went into the men’s room. When he came back out most people were either seated or milling around the tables and his eyes drifted across the crowd until he spotted the young lady he’d been aware of all evening. Her back to Joshua, she was taking a seat at the end of a nearby table, opposite the couple she’d been speaking to. A few empty seats remained between her and a large group of people at the other end of the table who were very much caught up in their own conversation.

As he watched, the man opposite her stood up and waved to someone across the room, and taking his wife to another table, left the young lady in the sapphire dress sitting alone. Joshua watched her and fought a sudden desire to go and sit with her.

As he’d told his father earlier, when he’d dropped his daughters at his parents’ home and received an unwelcome pep talk about prayerfully considering remarriage, it was just not something he’d wanted to pursue. His marriage with Linda had been wonderful, and it was a far greater blessing than he could have possibly imagined, but having experienced the reality of what was involved in a godly relationship, he no longer looked at marriage with the naďve and starry eyes of a besotted youth.

The love that he and Linda had shared was precious, but it had taken hard work and a mutual commitment to God to build and nurture. He’d had a crush on Linda since they met at the start of high school, had finally asked her out in their senior year and they’d married not long after graduating from university. But even with their long friendship and the fresh joy of newlywed desire it was only by God’s grace and constant effort that they’d learned to accept each other’s faults and differences, and to not let their love become dulled by the grinding monotony of daily life as well as its exhausting challenges.

Still sheltered from sight in the alcove leading to the restrooms, Joshua glanced again at the girl sitting alone at the table, her glossy brown hair spilling in thick waves over her shoulders. She was playing idly with her cutlery and wasn’t even glancing around anymore. Most people were seated now and it really looked as though she were there alone.

No , Joshua thought, letting out a long breath and returning to his theme, when you knew how vulnerable you had to become to your spouse, marriage was far too great a risk to even contemplate - especially when his daughters’ happiness would depend on it as well as his own.

Still, his eyes lingered on the woman at the table, now extending one long creamy arm as she lifted her glass for a waiter to fill. Why was he even thinking about marriage - he was just considering whether to sit with a single lady and keep her company. The fact he felt attracted to a woman for the first time since his wife’s death had nothing to do with it.

Yes, it did, Joshua admitted to himself ruefully, so he’d better find somewhere else to sit. If he ever did contemplate marriage again, he wouldn’t let his decision be influenced by something as powerfully deceptive as physical attraction or romantic love. Surely it would be wiser to leave all the emotions out of it and make a straightforward commitment with someone of like mind?

And yet . . . Joshua closed his eyes and leaned back against the wall. . . he had been in love before, and he couldn’t bear the thought of anything less.

Oh Lord, he prayed inwardly, what is going on? I just want to find somewhere to sit!

He looked around the room with renewed determination to find a place somewhere else, but felt that he’d rather sneak out the back door than take a seat at one of the other noisy tables, where people laughed and chatted loudly. Kady was nowhere to be seen - why had he even come?

Joshua was seriously contemplating the back door option when he saw the slender girl in the sapphire blue dress get to her feet, and glance about the room. The couple who had been opposite her had now taken a seat at another table, and it looked as though she was going find somewhere else too.

His heart in his mouth, he watched as she picked up her glass as though considering it before putting it down and dropping back into her seat, straightening the knife she’d been playing with earlier. Joshua guessed she’d decided that she could neither abandon the things she’d used nor carry them off with her anywhere else.

He began walking towards her table, his decision easy now that he saw she was probably feeling as self-conscious and awkward as he did. He would push all his other conflicting thoughts aside and just do the decent thing and keep another single person company during the meal. It had been a ridiculous flight of fancy to even consider that someone like her would possibly find a plain, dull widower the least bit interesting anyway.

“May I sit with you?” he asked as he came up behind the young lady who was now playing with her napkin.

“Josh!” The young lady turned quickly, and as she stood up a buzz of recognition shot through Joshua like an electric shock, “I really didn’t think you would come.”

For the second time in his life Joshua found himself staring at Kady Harrison in a total loss for words. Full glossy lips he’d never noticed before were curved in a delighted smile, and her eyes sparkled with pleasure. He’d never even wondered what colour her eyes were behind her dark glasses, but now he saw they were like lustrous bluey green marbles, flecked with gold light. Dusky curls fell around her heart shaped face and across pale, well toned shoulders. He regarded her for several stunned moments but this time Kady didn’t break the silence, grinning up at him instead.

“Kady . . . I didn’t recognise you,” he stammered eventually. “You look beautiful.”

“I guess I’ll choose to take that as a compliment.” Kady’s tinkling laugh suited her as perfectly in her sophisticated evening dress as it did in her rugged khaki work clothes. “I suppose it is rather an unexpected transformation considering the way you normally see me.”

“Yes . . . it is.”

She glanced around the room, her forehead creased in a tiny frown. “I’m probably overdressed, I usually am whenever I go out somewhere. But after what I have to wear for work six days a week, I think I tend to overcompensate a bit when I finally have an excuse to dress up.” She looked back up at Joshua, “So, do you still want to sit here now you know it’s only me?”

“Of course,” he said, his heart still hammering.

“Good - it will be a relief to be able to relax with someone I really know.”

Joshua sat down in the next chair, still struggling to take in the difference between the way he’d always perceived Kady Harrison who mowed his lawns and this gorgeous young lady beside him. She had stretched out her hand and taken her glass by the stem, twirling it absently.

Joshua was fascinated by her long, slender fingers and manicured nails and without thinking asked her how on earth she kept her hands and skin so beautiful with the work she did. Not seeming to find anything strange about his blurted question, Kady put down the glass and held out her hand for his inspection.

“I think vanity is my besetting sin,” she admitted a little ruefully, “I actually spend a very indulgent hour at the beauty salon every week, although I justify it as my compensation for having such an unglamorous job. Everyone thinks I’m mad always wearing my gloves and long sleeved work gear even in the heat of summer, but after paying for the beauty salon I feel compelled to protect my investment even if I do get rather hot.”

She looked up at him and laughed, “Enough about my vanity - how are you surviving the evening?”

“Much better than I expected - I’m so glad you talked me into coming,” Joshua replied with enthusiasm, his contemplated exit via the back door completely forgotten. “And you looked as though you were having a great time catching up - who all have you been talking to?”

Kady began relating her many conversations and Joshua leaned closer to hear her voice over the noise of the room, unexpectedly delighted by the delicate aroma of her fragrance. It was so different to the pungent tang of petrol and cut grass he usually associated with her - but then everything about Kady was so different tonight. Her voice and gestures were the same old Kady, but suddenly there was so much more to her than he’d ever imagined.

Heads together and amid much laughter they compared notes about the old school friends they’d met, as well as the impertinent and tactless questions they’d each had to answer. Kady had always been bright and bubbly, but tonight she was even more vibrant than ever . . . she literally sparkled.

Was he being a fool to hope that she was enjoying his company as much as he was enjoying hers?

Joshua hardly noticed the pauses when the grace was asked and their meals were served, but halfway through the main course he frowned unconsciously when a voice interrupted their conversation.

“Kady, darling! How long has it been?”

Breaking off mid-sentence, Kady jumped to her feet and embraced the very pregnant woman who had paused beside their table.

“Narelle! Gee, could it be two years?” Kady stood back and regarded her friend’s blossoming figure, “You look just beautiful! I’ve lost track now - who is this in here, number three or four?”

Narelle rubbed her swollen belly, “Lord willing, numbers four and five.”

“Wow,” Kady kissed her again, “that’s fantastic! How long to go?”

“Less than two months, I hope. But what about you?” Narelle had taken Kady’s bare left hand in her own, “Still not married I see. No significant other lurking in the background?”

Joshua looked quickly down at his meal, listening intently for Kady’s reply. He’d known she wasn’t married, but had simply assumed that since she’d never mentioned a boyfriend that there wasn’t one. He held his breath, waiting, suddenly sure a girl like Kady couldn’t possibly be single, but must have a fiancé or boyfriend who’d been unable to come.

“Nope, the same as always, still just me and the Lord,” Kady answered softly before quickly turning the conversation, “But what is it like expecting twins?”

“Crowded - with four elbows and four knees digging into me I can never get comfortable - but it’s wonderful,” Narelle told her before pressing Kady’s hand against her stomach, “Look, they’re moving now - can you feel them?”

Kady’s face was a picture of solemn concentration as she stood still as though listening intently, and then jumped suddenly squealing with delight, “I felt them! Wow - it’s so incredible!”

Joshua watched in amazement as both girls giggled, and Kady placed her hand straight back onto Narelle’s stomach. He’d loved feeling his daughters move inside Linda’s womb when she’d been pregnant, but somehow he’d never thought of Kady being at all maternal like that.

“Ow! That kick was aimed straight at my bladder,” Narelle complained with a grimace. “I’d better go, I’m on my way to the ladies room. Again.”

Kady returned to her seat beside Joshua, grinning widely. “How amazing - I actually felt the babies move, Josh.” Her gaze shifted back to Narelle, walking awkwardly toward the rest rooms.

Something stirred inside Joshua as he watched Kady staring wistfully after her friend. In the past he’d seen her only as strongly independent and unromantically practical, and had never stopped to wonder why she wasn’t married. From their many conversations he knew how involved she was with her own church and several other groups she helped out with, and took it for granted that she revelled in her freedom. But he’d never seen this side of her before, and now he wondered if perhaps Kady wasn’t as perfectly content in her situation as he’d assumed . . . .

Over the last few years he’d come to know so much about Kady - but in reality knew nothing about her feelings, her hopes or dreams. Just as he’d never shared his own emotions with anyone but the Lord, he’d never thought to ask Kady the way she felt about anything.

And right now there was something that had become desperately important for him to know.

“How come you’ve never married, Kady?” he asked quickly, before his courage failed. “Do you prefer being single, or have you just never met the right man?”

Joshua’s heart pounded as he waited for her reply. He knew she’d heard him - she’d taken a deep breath straight after he’d spoken - but she remained staring at her plate for so long that he began to regret ever asking the question.

But when Kady finally turned to look into his face, he could see from the seriousness in her expression that she hadn’t been offended, but had been carefully considering what to say.

“No, I did meet the right man once, a very long time ago,” she answered slowly, her beautiful eyes holding his. Joshua felt suddenly afraid, knowing instinctively that this was no glib public answer that she could have given anyone else that evening, but that Kady was speaking from the depths of her heart.

“He was very young, but he had an unshakable faith in God and the most humble spirit - he was everything I could have ever wanted,” she continued softly. “But he was in love with someone else. I waited and prayed and never stopped loving him, but I don’t think he really even knew I existed. And no-one else has ever compared to him since. That’s all.”

“I’m sorry.”

Feeling as though his heart had been wrenched from his chest, Joshua turned away from her, unable to bear meeting her eyes any longer. What hope could he possibly have with her, if none of the countless men who must have courted a girl like Kady could hold a candle to her first love?

He was a dull, taciturn and over-serious widower - and Kady had known that for nearly three years - there was simply nothing he could ever do now that could change the way she thought of him. Had she seen the real question in his eyes, is that why she’d told him the whole truth?

After a little while he heard Kady sigh.

“Oh, well - it was all a long time ago,” she said a moment later, in an attempt at her usual light-hearted tone, “life goes on.”

She turned back to her meal, but poked at it with her cutlery in silence for several minutes before making a strained effort at conversation. Joshua tried his best to respond, but he was consumed with regret for asking that question - all the sparkle had evaporated from the evening . . . and from Kady.

Why couldn’t he have left things just the way they were?

When their plates were taken away, Joshua felt their awkwardness even more keenly and offered to get Kady another drink from the servery. He took his time on his way there and back, praying desperately for God to soothe his aching heart and mind. Until tonight he’d had no idea how much he’d cared for Kady - and now that he did it was only to find out how hopeless it all was.

As Joshua approached their table several minutes later, he saw another woman standing beside Kady and speaking with her. When he recognised her as Sandy Miller, a pushy and gossipy girl who’d left in Year Ten he was tempted to turn around and go back the way he came. He’d never particularly liked Sandy - but that had been over ten years ago and he knew he should give her the benefit of the doubt now. And if Sandy hadn’t changed, Kady would probably appreciate the moral support.

Kady was patiently listening to Sandy relating some long tale as he joined them, so Joshua didn’t interrupt but quietly took his place beside Kady, touching her gently on the arm before passing her drink to her.

“Thanks, Josh.” Kady glanced over her shoulder at him as she took the glass, and though her eyes still seemed sad her smile was genuine enough.

“Oh! So you finally got together with Joshua Brooks after all!” Sandra gushed, looking from one to the other with new interest, “I can remember you saying in Year Seven that he was the only guy in the world for you, and you were still head over heels in love with him when I left at the end of Year Ten - even though he only had eyes for that Linda girl. I’m so glad to see you got him in the end.”

Kady had frozen like a statue, her full drink still raised in mid air. Joshua stared at her in shock, equally unable to move or speak and struggling to take in what Sandra had just said. Time seemed to stand still as he watched the liquid in Kady’s glass trembling and he wondered absently whether it was about to spill.

After what seemed like an eternity, Kady slowly put her glass down on the table, running her tongue over her lips before speaking.

“No, Sandra - I’m not together with Joshua at all - in fact he did marry Linda,” Kady’s face was as red as it had been mowing the lawn the previous Saturday but her voice was firm, “I know Joshua very well because he’s one of my clients in my landscaping job that I was telling you about.”

“Oh . . . oh, I see,” Sandra’s face had turned as red as Kady’s, “I must have mixed you up with someone else, it was such a long time ago, wasn’t it? Oh, look - they’re serving the dessert at my table - I’d better go, knowing my Markie, he won’t think to keep any for me.”

Kady closed her eyes and breathed out slowly, before turning to the dessert plate in front of her and picking up her fork. Joshua watched her helplessly as she dragged it through the custard sauce that lay beside a slice of rich chocolate cake, making spiky lines of yellow extend to the very edge of her plate.

Her mortification was palpable, and Joshua wished he could think of something to say to ease her embarrassment, but he couldn’t. It was bad enough that he’d put Kady on the spot about her first and only love without some stupid girl blurting out about a school-girl crush she’d obviously rather forget.

“I’m sorry, Josh,” Kady said finally, her eyes still firmly on her plate. “I’m sure that was the last thing you wanted to hear tonight - especially after me pouring out my heart to you. I could have died when Sandy said that - I had no idea she even knew,” she shook her head and laughed a little wryly. “I guess it serves me right for trying to force God’s hand. I’m really sorry I made you come tonight.”

Joshua frowned at her in confusion as she intently mashed a strawberry into pulp with her fork. Kady wasn’t denying anything that Sandy had just said - but she was embarrassed for his sake . . . because she’d regretted telling him about the only guy she’d ever cared for . . .

The pieces were slowly dropping into place in front of Joshua, but he was sure he must be putting them together wrong. The picture that was forming in his mind couldn’t possibly be true . . .

Everything had felt so right between them tonight until he’d asked why Kady had never married - and when she told him he’d felt so miserable he’d turned away from her and she’d seemed equally crushed. But if what Sandra had said was true - and Kady had been speaking of her feelings for him . . . then when he’d cut her off cold in his disappointment, never dreaming she could possibly be referring to him - did she think he’d rejected her . . . again?

Joshua’s heart was beating unpleasantly fast, his feelings a sickening mix of hope and fear. He must be misunderstanding everything, it couldn’t possibly be that way. He had to be wrong - but there was only one way to find out, and he’d taken so many risks tonight that he wasn’t about to stop one short now.

“Please Lord, may your will be done,” he begged, taking a deep breath, “and may I have the strength to accept it.”

“Kady --” Joshua cleared his throat, wishing his voice would hold steady, “Kady . . . it’s not too late is it?”

She glanced at him quickly, biting her lip.

“What for Josh?”

“For us?” He swallowed hard, and finding the words too difficult to form he reached across and covered her hand with his. He felt her long, slender fingers tighten around his, and seeing the hope in her shimmering eyes gave him the courage to continue, "Kady - I never realised until tonight how important you are to me, and now that I know --”

A shout of laughter from the other end of the table made Joshua jump, and he squeezed her hand urgently, “Look, can we leave now and go and get coffee some place quiet where we can really talk?”

Kady looked at him for a few moments, before turning to stare at the uneaten dessert on her plate.

“Kady?” he prompted when she still hadn’t answered and his nerves could stretch no further. Although he still held her hand in his, at that moment she seemed so far from his reach.

She sighed heavily, and shook her head.

“Sorry.” Kady’s tone was regretful, but she slipped her hand out from under his and picked up her fork again.

“No?” He didn’t want to believe that was her answer.

“No,” she said firmly, but Joshua’s heart skipped a beat at the cheeky smile she shot him as she dug the fork into her uneaten dessert.

“At least not until I’ve finished this. I reckon since I’ve waited this long, I’m going to have my cake and eat it too.”

~ The End ~

© R Brown 2005