Romance Fiction posted January 9, 2022

This work has reached the exceptional level
After being jilted twice, a woman gives up on romance


by Ramona Scarborough

At age twenty-three and twenty-five, Amelia Perry had been left at the altar ... by the same man.

Yes, she had been a fool, but then didn't the song say, "Only fools fall in love?" She had fallen in love with his hands first. She had gone out with friends to a new piano bar called "Zing." She requested In the Mood just so she could lean on the Baby Grand and watch his hands caressing the keys. His nails were short and square with white half moons rising on them. When he finished, he smiled at her, a crooked smile, one corner of his mouth quirking upward. Caught, a butterfly in a net, she was unable to fly away.

The dimly lit lounge, cigarette smoke lazily twisting toward the ceiling, the distant click of glasses, it might have been a stage set for a romantic 30's film.

"You sing, don't you?" he'd said.

"Yes, how do you know that?"

"A sultry voice made for jazz. What would you like to sing? I can play most anything. I'm Charles Cartier, by the way." He pronounced his last name carefully, rolling it over his tongue like expensive wine, Car-t-ay.

In retrospect, she thought of his voice that night as a Machiavellian drawl. Another saying, "Love is blind," certainly applied.

Amelia, a small-town girl from a poor family became Charles' Eliza Doolittle. The opera, plays with hidden undertones, coffee bars with poets spewing pseudo wisdom became their late night habitats. Charles' mother, Mavis Cartier, footed the bills even though she told her circle at the Hyatt Country Club that he was "dating some empty-headed twit."

Charles fed Amelia Greek philosophy, thick psychology books, Eastern religion, and his choice of classic writers. He encouraged her to finish her degree before they married. No, he had insisted. At least one good thing had come from their relationship.

During her intense cramming for finals, she borrowed an afternoon to pick out china and silverware patterns with Charles' mother. She scurried along in her wake, as Mavis waved away a flowery pattern Amelia chose. Amelia saw herself clearly as Charles' rebellion against Mama.

Busy with studying, Amelia didn't hang around Zing to listen and watch what Charles was doing with those exquisite hands. A new chanteuse, Claudine Belden, with a long red mane and a body possibly made by Fisher was coaxing the blues right out of the horn. Claudine hooked her bright carmine nails into Charles' lapels as she extracted money from his back pocket. Together, they fled Chicago to New York while Amelia and Charles' wedding invitations were being sent out.

Amelia graduated, got a job as a graphic designer at CFA, Chicago's Finest Architects, and cried at night in her new stylishly appointed apartment. Charles played Night and Day in her dreams, smiling appealingly, his signature scent clinging to her sheets after numerous washings.

A year and five months later, she almost didn't recognize him slouched and unshaven in an overstuffed chair in the lobby of her apartment house.

"Amelia," he cried, as he uncrossed his long legs and got to his feet. "Amelia, I have no right to speak to you, but I must."

A bitter bile rose in her throat and her heartbeat thrummed in her ears.

"We have nothing to say to each other. Please go away. I have to get to work."

She turned to leave, but he grasped her arm.

"I will be here when you come home. I'll be here every day until you speak with me and hear my side of the story. Mother's cut me off. I have nowhere to go."

She wrenched away and ran toward the entrance, her stilettos clicking on the stone foyer floor.

However, at work, she couldn't get him out of her mind. Pity is not love, but it's close kin of love. He had helped her to become the person she was now. She knew him well; he would continue to come to her apartment building, maybe even start sleeping in the lobby. She sighed. She'd let him sleep on the couch until he could support himself.

He got a gig at a supper club not far from her apartment. He cooked her Eggs Florentine early in the morning before she went to work after he had been up until two am. When she had a trying day, he rubbed her feet, then her back and eventually all of her. He pledged his undying love and wanted her to set a wedding day. She was twenty-five. Most of her friends were married. She loved his congenial companionship. No forest fires had started from sparks with other flames, while his touch was a conflagration.

"May twenty-fourth, my mother's birthday."

The pink shell gown she chose with a soft ruffle hugging her shoulders wouldn't have pleased Mrs. Cartier, but she wouldn't be attending the nuptials anyway.

On May twenty-second, she let herself into their apartment burdened with shopping bags filled with new clothes for their modest honeymoon at a small resort. Smiling, she dropped her finds on the sofa and walked into the kitchen. An evil premonition swept over her when she spotted the envelope propped against the sugar bowl.

"Amelia, darling, I will always love you, but I just can't see myself committed to one person for the rest of my life," he began.

"Why did you ask me to marry you then?" She screamed at the spicy paprika walls they had painted together.

As she read the rest of his excuses, blood charged up into her head and she clutched the knobby arched back of one of the chairs they had bought at an auction. Her lunch lurched and she raced for the bathroom. The note fluttered to the floor. When she came back, she picked up the treasonous letter and made confetti, which she flung out the window. Then she lay down on the cold kitchen tile, beating it with her fists and sobbing.

At age thirty-two, Amelia had vaulted up the ladder of success by working so many overtime hours her cats were practically orphans. Her office overlooked other high rises and her staff called her Miss Perry. She had plenty of friends who thought her to be the ultimate sophisticate. They weren't aware of her earlier double abandonment. She thought of the maxim, "Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me" and revealed nothing.

Her closets now held the kind of clothes Mrs. Cartier would have approved for a daughter-in-law. Amelia rarely dated and when she did, nights out usually had some connection with her career. If an attraction began forming, she snuffed it out before any burning passions could develop. She was content with her life as it was, or so she told herself.

A new architect, Dray Fenton, moved into the office next to hers when another long-time employee retired. She was introduced by the firm's president. Dray looked like a lumberjack.

"Pleased ta' meet ya,' Miss Perry."

Dray's large hand engulfed hers as he shook it. He held it two seconds too long and she immediately pulled away.

Three days later, he strolled into her office.

"Want to take a helicopter ride?"


"You know that green space project we're doin' for the county along the Des Plaines River? Well, I hear you're the lady in charge of makin' the bid, linin' up the contractors, and presentin' it to the county. I'd like ta' see the lay of the land myself since I'm drawin' up the plans. So, I hired a whirlybird for this afternoon, and I thought maybe you'd like a peek yourself."

Good grief, had they hired a hillbilly?

"No, I have a lot of phone calls and e-mails to answer but thank you for inviting me." She tried to be cordial to all employees and it had paid off.

He began laughing. "You're afraid to go up, aren't you?"

The nerve! "No, of course not. I just -"

"I'll be back at one sharp ta' get ya'" He saluted her and turned on the heel of his worn boots.

She considered running after him to tell him she had no intention of going. But then he might tell everyone she was afraid of heights and that wouldn't fit her take charge persona. All morning, she punched in phone numbers, scrolled through messages, and downloaded stats. She skipped lunch in case it might make a return visit in another form.

He loomed in her doorway at one. She grabbed her jacket off the back of the office chair and marched out ahead of him as if she were airborne every day. Her stomach growled as they rode to heliport. A grin creased Dray's wide jaw, but he didn't comment on the embarrassing gurgles.

Arriving at the airfield, Amelia pulled in a deep breath and followed Dray. Wearing high heels made it difficult to keep up with his long strides. Getting into the copter in a pencil skirt was akin to staging a personal burlesque show. Dray's grin got wider as he helped her get in. He gave a thumbs up to the pilot and the helicopter rose at an alarming rate.

When they hovered over the proposed area, Dray leaned out the helicopter's door, while Amelia practiced deep breathing exercises she'd learned from her therapist.

Back at the office, Dray's suggested combining these before-pictures, his drawings, and Amelia's computer-generated sketches of the finished project to be shown at the county presentation. When these were completed and presented, the contract was signed that same day.

During the next few months, she came to rely on Dray. He met his deadlines. He asked the right questions. Her original conclusions about his intellect faded. The shift from a professional relationship to a friendship was so gradual Amelia didn't realize it had happened. At a conference, she introduced Dray as a friend instead of "my colleague."

The day it became something more was dreadful. Her older cat, Sukie had died the night before and she had felt like calling in sick but there was a project she had to finish. Dray came into her office.

"I was sorry ta' hear about your baby dyin'" He plunked an envelope down on her desk and hurried out. On the envelope was an ink paw print, probably made by his dog, Jake. She read the message, got up from her desk, and walked to his office.

"Thank you," she said, waving the card and brushing away tears with her other hand. He came around his desk and held her. She didn't step back. She leaned into his wide comforting shoulder and let go of the pent-up emotions that were always threatening to expose her as vulnerable.

They stepped into each other's world as naturally as if they had known each other from childhood. Amelia hired a personal assistant for handling paperwork so she could go hiking with Dray on weekends. Dray looked especially handsome in a tuxedo when he attended his first opera with her.

When Amelia was thirty-three, Dray got down on one knee and proposed. Amelia turned pale and thought she might faint. "I don't think I want to get married."

"Do you love me?"

"Yes, but ..."

"Afraid of heights and marriage, just do a little deep breathin' darlin' and say yes. I'm Dray, not Charles."

When Amelia walked down the aisle on her wedding day, Dray stood waiting. "Third time's a charm," she thought. "I never saw this coming. I've been blindsided by love."

Unexpected Romance writing prompt entry
Writing Prompt
The topic for this contest is: Unexpected Romance. For poetry or prose. The story brings two people together, two people who don't necessarily realize that they belong together but the audience is rooting for them.
Pays one point and 2 member cents.

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© Copyright 2022. Ramona Scarborough All rights reserved.
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