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A JOYOUS HEART

WrittenBy... Jill Lynn Anderson

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A JOYOUS HEART
SKETCH
SWEET INTERFERENCE
EXCEPTIONAL LIES
WINDSONG

A Valentine's Day Short Story

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Ross adjusted the knot on his tie and brushed his hand down its silken length to straighten it.  He thought the tie’s texture most appropriate for the occasion.

 

He heard his front door open.  David, he knew.  Only his older brother had the audacity to walk into his condominium without knocking.

 

“Yo,” David said, giving Ross the once over.  “Your department do away with casual day Fridays?”

 

“Not going to work.  I’m flying to Denver.”

 

“Ah.” David grinned.  “Finally going to meet the mysterious Stephanie.”

 

“She’s not a mystery.” Ross smiled. “And I’m more than meeting her.” 

He pulled the ring box out of his pocket. “I’m proposing.”

 

David’s eyes widened.  “Marriage?”

 

“Is there really any other kind of proposal?” Ross’s smile brightened. “Yes, marriage.”

 

“Are you out of your mind?” David rushed toward him, arms flapping in agitation. “You haven’t even met her in person.”

 

Ross shrugged.  “Don’t have to.  I love her. She’s the one.”

 

“Ross, people don’t fall in love over the phone!”

 

Ross let out a long sigh.  His best friend, Carlos, had had the same reaction when Ross shared his plans with him.  Ross refused to justify his actions to Carlos, but David, well, David was his brother.  And he’d become Stephanie’s brother-in-law if she accepted his proposal.   Ross tried to keep annoyance out of his voice.  “How many times have you told me you married Linda because she’s your best friend?”

 

David fell onto the couch as if weighted by bewilderment.  “Ross, this is crazy.”

 

“Answer my question.” Ross demanded.  “How many times?”

 

“I don’t know.  A dozen.”

 

“More like seventy dozen.  My point is Stephanie’s my best friend.”

 

“ And you know this from talking to her on the phone?”  David moaned.  “Come on.” 

 

“Yes!  We’ve talked every day for nearly a year.  For hours every night.”

 

“Over the phone, though!”

 

“Yes, but so what?  I don’t see what difference that makes.  I know I’ve shared more of myself with her than with any other woman.  I know I’m in love.”  Ross put his hand on his chest to feel the joyous beat of his heart.  “I feel it here.”

 

“Indigestion.  Dude, chew some antacids.” David’s chuckle broke the tension rising between them. 

 

Ross smiled.  “No, it’s love.”

 

“Okay,” David said, calmer. “But why the rush to marry her?  Why not meet and make sure you’re compatible?  Get to know each other?”

 

“I already know we’re compatible, and I already know everything about her.  I know she’s brilliant.  I know she’s compassionate.  I know she’s independent.  I know she laughs at ‘knock knock’ jokes.  I know she cries at the opera. I know she loves her dog.  I know--”  

 

David motioned for Ross to stop.  “Fair enough, but, bro, what if she’s... “ He gasped. “What if she’s fat?  What if she’s toothless?  What if she’s--?“

 

“Looks don’t matter.”

 

David cocked an accusing eyebrow.  “To you?  Since when?”

 

Ross had to admit David had him there.  Blessed with good looks, Ross’s handsome face had attracted a good many fashion models in the past, and he’d once dated a Miss America contestant.  When  she was named first-runner up rather than winning the pageant, Ross lost interest.  Such conceit he once had.  But that was then, this was now.  Stephanie had changed him.  His love for her had made him a different man.  A better man.  He knew it without doubt, but a glance at his watch told him he’d miss his plane if he explained it in detail to David. “Trust me, her looks don’t matter to me, and my looks don’t matter to her.”  

 

David shook his head, doubt still etched in his face.  “Then if there’s no way to talk you out of this, for your sake, I hope she says no.”

 

Ross’s heart thumped.   Whether David knew it or not, he’d pinpointed Ross’s one fear.  Ross didn’t care much if his family or his friends thought he was crazy, but he did care if Stephanie thought it.  He hadn’t even told her he was coming.  He wanted to surprise her.  What if she thought his actions irrational? 

 

Ross calmed himself on the plane ride from Chicago by replaying many of their phone conversations in his head.  She worked at the same brokerage firm as his old college roommate, and Ross dialed the wrong extension one day when trying to reach Greg, and got Stephanie.   Something about her voice enchanted Ross.  The way she enunciated words so properly.  The calm, yet not overly soft, tone of her voice.  The way he could tell she was smiling when they talked.  And, most of all, the joyous beat of his heart  when they did.  I feel it here, Ross thought again, and placed his hand on his chest.  He smiled.  Crazy or not, he was a man in love.  God, please let her feel the same.

 

Once his plane touched down, Ross rented a car and drove directly to a florist near the brokerage firm so he could present Stephanie with a bouquet of her favorite flowers--peonies.  He held the pink bundle to his nose and knew instantly why Stephanie held such affection for them.  Ross smiled and whispered to himself.  “Say yes, Stephanie, and I promise I’ll fill each of your days with the fragrance of peonies.”

 

Mustering all the courage his twenty-seven years had awarded, he walked into the brokerage firm.

 

“Hello.” The receptionist smiled, and nodded toward the bouquet.  “I don’t suppose those are for me?”

 

Ross grinned.  “No, sorry.”

 

The receptionist inhaled.  “They smell heavenly.  Who’s the lucky woman?” 

 

“Stephanie.  Stephanie Raymond.”

 

“Oh my God.” The receptionist jumped to a standing position. “Are you her Ross?”

 

Ross smiled.  Her Ross.  He liked the sound of that.  “Yes. Is she in?”

 

“Yes. Oh, she’s going to be thrilled. I’ll call her out.  I’m Amanda, by the way.”  

 

Ross nodded.  “Stephanie’s daily lunch partner.  Nice to meet you.”

 

Amanda dialed.  “Stephanie,” she said.  “There’s someone out here who wants to talk to you.”  Amanda gave Ross a wink.   

 

If Ross wasn’t mistaken, tears shone in Amanda’s eyes as they both turned their gaze to the hallway as Stephanie approached them.

 

She looked as lovely as Ross imagined she would.  Shiny strawberry-blond curls graced a heart-shaped face.  A soft smile played on her supple lips.  Thin, but with curves in all the right places, her gait  was steady and sure--as aided by the seeing-eye dog Ross knew was ever-present at her left side.  Ross would be honored to be the devoted companion at her right.

 

Her smile brightened.  “Ross? Is it you?” She let go of the dog’s collar and held out her hand.

 

Ross grasped her hand; knew by the loving touch of her fingers she would say yes.  “How did you know it was me?” Ross laughed.  “The smell of the flowers?”

 

She shook her head and placed her hand over her heart.  “No, I feel it here.”

 

Ross pulled her into his embrace.  His love. His life.  His Stephanie.        

   

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