James sat in his daughter June’s room watching her sleep. He found it relaxing after chasing sales for the commercial property real estate group he worked with. He’d started with them as soon as college course work was complete and degree results were in hand before looking at job opportunities.
He’d always fancied a career in real estate but as the market had been in a down cycle didn’t expect to have that opportunity. But to his surprise after the first interview with a major agency he’d been sent out with one of their employees to prove himself in that profession. He locked down that sale within minutes much to the amazement of management and was hired on the spot.
His had been a quick success story and it was obvious he’d been born to sell. With each sale, his future with the company was enhanced, and within a short time he was being groomed for management positions.
It was while he was working for the company he met Gwen. She worked at corporate headquarters in human resources and their paths crossed for the first time when they rubbed shoulders at a training session. James was smitten and pursued Gwen with all the salesmanship he could muster.
To his dismay, Gwen was not reeled in as quickly as his first sale had been. She was dating around looking for a future soul mate, but was not quite sure how this brash young man would fit into her dreams. But James persisted undaunted, and slowly Gwen warmed to him. He was smart, he was successful, he was attentive, but would that last if she committed herself to him in marriage? She decided to break it off to test his reaction. Would he immediately seek comfort in someone else? If he did, no harm done. She would continue her search.
James threw himself into work to hide his disappointment. He had his heart set on Gwen and no one would substitute for her smile, the way she walked and the energy she exuded as she worked and enjoyed recreation activities. Gwen watched him from a distance and finally made up her mind. She would be Mrs James Watson.
Gwen manipulated management to have James assigned to help her plan for the next sales conference. James first tried to excuse himself from the invitation. What was management thinking? Was this a plan to move him from sales to some other part of the corporation he had no interest in? If that was the case he’d look to another company for his future. He had no idea Gwen was at work behind the scenes.
When management informed Gwen James had opted out she panicked. By this time her mind was made up and it seemed there was no time for playing games. She phoned James and requested he meet her for a dinner meeting that night to discuss the assignment. James was placed on the spot, he didn’t want this assignment, but the thought of being with Gwen again raised his hopes.
That evening when the two met at the restaurant Gwen made her move. There was nothing subtle about Gwen and she got right down to business. She berated him for not pursuing her over the several months they’d been apart. She’d been testing him to see how serious he was about their relationship. Was he serious about a relationship with her?
James mouth hung open in surprise as he took it all in. She’d been testing him? He was angry at himself, he was angry at her. But just as he was about to unload his frustration on her he looked up and saw her smile. James melted.
“What do you want me to do?” He sat uncomfortably waiting her response.
“Ask me to marry you silly!”
“But I don’t have an engagement ring,” he protested.
Gwen pulled a ring out of her pocket and put it on her finger.
“There, I’m engaged to James Watson now. That’s if you’ll have me! You can buy me a ring tomorrow if you want? I hope you do because I really love you!”
James shook his head in amazement. This was not the way he imagined one should get engaged.
Gwen looked at him crestfallen. “You shook your head, you don’t want to marry me? I know I’ve been awful to you the last few months. I’m sorry!”
Gwen rose unsteadily and began to remove the ring. Tears formed in her eyes.
“Don’t do that please, I’ve loved you from the first moment I set eyes on you, I want you to be my wife!”
James pushed his chair back and raced around the table to take her in his arms. He’d not realized he’d been shouting.
Every eye in the restaurant was turned toward them. Then, as if on signal they rose and lifted their glasses in a toast.
James smiled as he recalled that introduction to their marriage. He looked at his daughter and she opened her eyes sensing someone was watching. “Daddy!” She whispered smiling.
James smiled, His daughter had Gwen’s smile. He moved to the bed and extended his arms to enfold her. Gwen would have loved this carbon copy of herself. He sighed, Gwen had passed away at the birth of her little girl five years earlier.
The family had rallied around him. James’ mother and mother in law had taken it in turns to care for the child during day, and of an evening his sister-in-law had made herself available whenever James had evening appointments. They’d grieved together and it had created a strong bond between the families.
But into the fourth year, James’ mother had been diagnosed with cancer, Treatment was severe making it impossible for her to draw on energy required to care for house and child. Gwen’s mother had taken over despite James protests he’d have to find a housekeeper. It would be too much to expect this woman to care for his problems when she too had developing health problems. But his mother-in-law would have none of it!
The day after their conversation his sister-in-law arrived with her father and unloaded suitcases and her favourite bird that protested loudly at the relocation from its perch in the cage. She paused to greet the child in her mother’s care then strode purposefully upstairs to arrange things in the second guestroom. Eleanor was moving in!
That evening when James arrived home he studied the remnants of personal effects not yet taken in and headed inside to see what was happening.
His father-in-law Ron met him at the door followed by his wife Kate holding the child. June held out her hands to be picked up by her father smiling her Mother Gwen’s smile.
“Eleanor has moved in,” said Ron simply. “We’re heading for home now.”
James was irritated but tried hard not to show it. After all the extended family, had been so good to him. He’d never have coped in his grief at the loss of Gwen if it hadn’t been for them. It would be wrong of him to be irritated as they were just trying to help.
That evening as Eleanor fed June James studied her. She was very much like her sister and it was not surprising she’d just move in without any consultation. But thinking it over he was glad she’d taken that liberty. No doubt that would set some tongues wagging even though it was his sister-in-law. The thought of those wagging tongues made him laugh.
“What tickled your funny bone?” Eleanor looked up in surprise.
“Oh nothing, how are you going to concentrate on your PhD studies in this environment?”
Eleanor smiled. “I’m going to take a break from classes for a while but will still be able to do a lot of work on the internet. Mom will look after June in the mornings while I check out University and Public libraries and I’ll give you a hand evenings until June’s in bed. Then I’ll work on my thesis at night and give Mom a break looking after June early morning so you can get off to work. No big deal, women multitask! I know you have evening work to do.”
“I’m really grateful Eleanor.” James was warming to the idea. Even though they’d be on separate evening assignments it would be nice to feel there was someone else in the home. It had been so lonely evenings after his daughter was in bed asleep.
As the year went by James noted a bonding between June and his sister-in-law take place with mixed emotions. His sharing of June with his family on both sides had been the normal relationship between grandchild and grandparent, and of course other parts of the family, but this was becoming a much deeper bond. He’d noticed how June clung to Eleanor in excitement as Christmas gifts were exchanged. He felt a pang of jealousy. June was his child, a gift from Gwen. But that intimate love between parent and child was beginning to be shared between self and his sister-in-law. He was not able to understand his feelings as he watched that bond develop. Sometimes he wished Eleanor would just move out, but then he’d come to his senses quickly and realize he didn’t want that to happen. But she’d eventually leave to pursue a career and find a soulmate of her own. The thought of that made him feel wretched too.
It was New Year’s Eve. James had not had the time to take down Christmas decorations yet. Eleanor had declared a holiday from her studies so had been joining James to watch TV evenings during the Christmas break. Usually she fell asleep in her chair and James had to gently wake her and send her off to bed when he’d finished watching his favourite programs. But this evening she was alert and anxious to see New Year celebration on TV. James watched her out of the corner of his eye and smiled. She had the same mannerisms as her sister Gwen. The same nose, mouth and eyes. Could be twins, but they weren’t. Then a dark mood of depression engulfed him and he realized he’d miss her terribly when she left to pursue her career.
Eleanor felt the change of mood and turned to study his face. Their eyes met momentarily and both turned away quickly.
“Why the dark mood?”
James looked up in surprise, did multitasking include thought reading? He hoped not! He decided it was prudent to put his mind into neutral and stay silent. He pointed to the screen to deflect the question.
Eleanor smiled, men were so transparent. Her books on psychology were very enlightening. She settled back and stretched comfortably and her mind went into over drive. She thought of how comfortable she was in this place and with this man. She remembered what Gwen had whispered in her ear as she was dying and excused herself.
“I’ll be back in a few minutes!” Going upstairs she glanced at the hanging mistletoe and made a mental note to take down Christmas decorations. Then she stopped and looked back at the mistletoe. This increased her resolve and she sped upstairs and searched through trinkets in her dresser drawer. Then turned and made her way downstairs again. This was the time, she’d waited a long time for this.
Fireworks were exploding on the screen as she reached the lower level. She stopped under the mistletoe.
“It’s 12 O’clock,” she said in a clear voice.
James turned around in surprise and stared. She even sounded like Glen tonight, but this was not Gwen, it was Eleanor and he suddenly realized he needed her just as he’d needed Gwen. Then his eyes lifted to the mistletoe. Oh yes, the mistletoe and 12 O’clock. He slowly moved out of his seat and stood looking at her. If he did this there would be no turning back.
“Time’s moving on, do I have to stand here all night?” She laughed nervously.
James moved over to the mistletoe and kissed her quickly then drew back to see her reaction. Her eyes remained closed and she reached out for him. A wave of happiness swept over him as he held her and gently kissed her again.
Eleanor reached for his hand and placed something metal in it. He looked down in surprise and saw the ring Gwen had put on her finger on that happy dinner meeting long ago.
“If you place this on my finger you’ll be fulfilling Gwen’s last dying wish James. She knew I loved you”
James took the ring and placed it carefully on her finger.
“You’ve done me a great honour tonight Eleanor. I’ll love and cherish you for the rest of my life, and so will June love and cherish you as her mother.”
“© Copyright Ian Grice 2016 All rights reserved”