If Trish sat any closer to Brad, she would be in his lap.
Scott Williams watched his friend keep shifting closer to her husband on the couch and Brad keep trying to squeeze closer to the arm of the couch.Trish was doing it deliberately. Scott’s parents, sitting at the other end of the long couch, had plenty of room, but Brad hadn’t caught on to that fact yet. Scott wanted to laugh. The games newlyweds played.
No, he had to revise that, it wasn’t just the newlyweds. His sister, Heather, was sitting in her husband Frank’s lap, and they had been married ten years now. Heather was pregnant again and refused to sit down to rest so Frank had solved the problem. Heather didn’t seem to mind. She was flirting with her husband, whispering things in his ear when she thought no one was watching. Frank was enjoying it, Scott noted. He suspected they would come up with an excuse not to linger after the party was over.
His birthday party. He was thirty-eight today. Scott looked at the coffee table and was grateful to see there were only two gifts left. He really appreciated his parents’ efforts, and he was enjoying the night with his family and friends, but right at this moment he wished he had spent his birth-day alone. He felt lonely, and being here just made the problem worse.
He sat in the winged-back chair, his long legs stretched out in front of him, a bowl of cashews at his elbow and his second diet cola beginning to sweat. His parents had cooked out for dinner, barbecued chicken with roasted potatoes and fresh ears of corn. It had been a fun dinner, it always was when all the family was together, but he hated feeling like a third wheel. It had never bothered him before that everyone but him had someone special, but it was bothering him tonight. For the first time in his life he felt envy and it was a disquieting sensation.
He should be married by now. For years his focus had been on building his career, serving in his church, being a loyal friend, being a much loved uncle to his niece and nephew. He had never thought he needed a wife to make his life complete. He had been wrong.
His gaze settled on Amy a couple steps away, holding his next-to-last gift. When he saw her, his face relaxed into the special smile he reserved just for his niece. She wore the dolphin shirt he had brought back from Florida for her. It was her “most favorite” shirt she had told him when he had arrived that night. Heather said she had trouble getting it off long enough to wash it. Scott grinned. He would buy this little lady the moon if she wanted it. She was four, and he adored her. Amy grinned and climbed into his lap. “Uncle Scott, this feels like a book,” she told him importantly. He took the package and weighed it in his hands. “I think you’re right. Like to help?” He turned the package to let her at the tape. With full concentration, Amy worked at ripping the paper. “Thank you, Mom.” Margaret had bought him a cookbook, this one on breakfast foods. She knew he loved to cook, had seriously considered becoming a professional chef back in his college days. He didn’t have company for breakfast very often; he promised himself he’d rectify that problem.
“I think you’ll like the muffin recipes,” she said with a smile.
Scott added the book to the small stack of gifts on the floor beside his chair. “Last one,” Greg, his nephew, told him as he brought over a two-foot-long package. Greg was eight years old, further evidence of how time slipped by without Scott realizing it. Scott could remember the pleasure of holding him as an infant, could remember the way Greg at two and three had always found him at church on Sunday mornings, and Scott would pick him up and carry him and make him feel important.
“Thank you, Greg.”
The gift was from his dad. Scott opened the package as Amy held it steady for him. His eyes lit up when he saw what it was. A new fishing rod. “This is great, Dad.” The perfect gift for a man with a new boat.
Larry smiled. “You’ve about worn out the last one I gave you,” he said. Scott had to agree. But that fishing pole was lucky. He had caught his biggest bass with that rod. Still, this one was a beauty. It would be a pleasure to break it in.
He had spent the morning out on the water doing what he did every year on his birthday, evaluating his past year and laying out his priorities for the coming year. It had been hard to face the truth. He was thirty-eight, alone, and even his mom no longer asked when he was going to get married and have a family. As good as his life had been to date, he had been wrong to assume he wanted to spend it alone. He wanted what his friends and family had. He wanted marriage and kids.
The cake was brought in from the kitchen and the candles lit. Scott looked around the group that gathered around the table, especially the kids, and he grinned and turned his attention to the candles. He paused to make a wish.
Lord, how did I ever think I could go through my entire life single? I’ve enjoyed the freedom and the success in my career, but I never intended it to become a permanent arrangement. There isn’t someone to go home to tonight, and I’m feeling that sadness. I really miss not having a wife and having that close, intimate friendship I see in these couples around me. I want to change that, Lord. I want to get married. I want to have what the others around me have. I don’t want to be alone anymore.
Scott blew out the candles.
It was a cold morning for late August. The darkness was giving way to the dawn, creating an early-morning twilight. Jennifer St. James pushed her hands deeper into the lined pockets of her windbreaker, trying to ward off the chill. The wind coming off the lake was sending shivers up her spine. The peaceful beauty of the deserted beach, however, more than made up for her discomfort. It had been a difficult night.
She walked along the water’s edge, kicking up sand and watching the water smooth it back into place.
Her older brother had drilled safety precautions into her for so long that she reacted by instinct, her feet breaking into the start of a sprint to ensure she wasn’t pinned between water and a threat. No sane person was up at this time of morning.
“Easy!” the man walking a few feet over from her exclaimed, “I didn’t mean to startle you.”
Jennifer let her sprint fade away and came to a stop several feet up the beach, her heart racing. He had said good-morning. That was all. Good-morning. She’d made a fool of herself again. She felt the heat warm her face. Was she cursed to live her entire life starting at every surprise? She had badly overreacted. She rested her hands against her knees, ignoring the hair that blew around her face, trying to still her racing heart. She watched the man warily as he moved toward her. He was a tall man, reminding her somewhat of her brother’s build, probably a basketball player with those long legs and upper-body muscle. As he drew nearer she could see dark brown hair, wavy in a way that made her envious, clear piercing blue eyes and strong features; he was probably in his mid thirties. She had never seen him before, he was the type of man she would have remembered. Not that she came to this stretch of beach very often anymore. Her gut clenched. She hadn’t been back in precisely three years. “Are you okay?” He had stopped about five feet away.
She nodded. Why did he have to be out taking a walk this morning of all mornings? The beach was supposed to be deserted at this hour. The last thing she wanted was conversation with a stranger. She looked and felt a mess. Normally she could care less what she looked like, but when it led to being embarrassed, she cared. Her jeans were the most ratty in her closet, and the jacket hid what had once been a paint sweatshirt of Jerry’s.