Jaeger's coffee shop on Fifth Street had a reputation for decent coffee with atmosphere and a quiet get away from it all. When things were in turmoil all around, it was a wonderful place to go to ease the tension—if only until the coffee was drunk and the customer exited the building, into the morass of events and life in general.
Fredrick Jaeger and his family had transplanted their German roots into the heart of a foreign country and made it their own private world. The shop had been running for over sixty years and today, on the anniversary of the opening of the shop, filled to the brim with old and new customers wanting to celebrate the event for many different reasons.
From now on, this isn't specifically about Jaeger's coffee shop, but more the odd story or two to warm the heart. Take a seat, grab a coffee and let's begin….
Kirsten Van De Pelt pushed back her reading spectacles onto her head and rose from her seat at the coffee shop she frequented every other day of her teaching semester. It wasn't close to the University, but not too far away that she couldn't take her bicycle for the ten minute ride and have a leisurely coffee while pouring over her students papers.
At fifty-five, she prided herself on her fitness and general all-round appearance. Not bad for a soon to be retiree . The thought made her smile in amusement. She'd spent thirty two years in teaching and the last twenty-five years at the Lane Development University in Landers. A medium sized town in the heart of Silicon Valley . Her teaching subject, history, seemed out of place at times in this technological world she lived close too. However, her classes were always full and the faculty had been dismayed by her request for early retirement, three months before. Yes, in a little under three weeks after the finals she'd been gone at least temporarily from Landers. Her dream of travelling to see ancient historic sites in Europe and Egypt initially was merely a visit to the travel store to make the arrangements. The brochure had arrived that morning and today instead of her students papers she'd been perusing the various options for her trip.
“Hey be careful.”
Kirsten glanced up sharply and looked into the annoyed features of a woman who had coffee running down her hands from a spilt coffee cup. “I'm so sorry. Please allow me to replace the coffee. I was preoccupied.”
The stranger allowed her pale blue eyes to gaze intently into Kirsten 's vivid green ones, and then peered at the brochure held tightly in the woman's hands. “I can see that.”
The clipped reply had Kirsten 's hairs on the back of her neck prickle in irritation at the woman's tone. “It was an accident and I have offered to replace what you lost.” Her own voice rose slightly as her head moved upwards in a gesture of bravado. She wasn't going to let this woman intimidate her.
Silky ash blonde hair swung neatly over the denim jacketed clad shoulders of the woman who was at least four inches taller than Kristen was. “I haven't the time.” Her head turned and with it the hair flew across her left cheek like a mask. “ Bill , get me another Latte and I'll meet you in the car.” A cell phone bleep and the stranger picked it up immediately barking out shortly, “Yes.”
Kirsten felt much like one of her students when she was in a bad mood or her lecture hadn't gone well and dismissed them in a harsh tone. Picking up her small knapsack, she placed the brochure in the zipped compartment and hurriedly moved past the woman who was talking avidly on the phone. Moments later, she was unlocking her bicycle from the rack a few feet away from the shop and with a shrug settled the knapsack on her thin shoulders and mounted her bike. Taking one last look at Jaeger's and the obnoxious woman she'd accidentally bumped into. Surprised, she saw the woman leaning indolently against the wall of the shop looking in her direction. Disconcerted Kirsten peddled furiously away toward the university
“ Kirsten , wait up a minute I need to speak with you.”
Kirsten stopped in her tracks as she heard the voice of the Assistant Dean of the university. “Anything wrong, Susan ?”
Susan Armstrong , a large woman with a cheery smile for everyone, took several paces forward and stood next to Kirsten . “Nope, why? You look mighty guilty. What have you been doing that maybe I should know about?”
“Nothing, you know me, always worried.” Kirsten shrugged.
“Yes and we love you around here for it. You must be one of the few long term teachers here that everyone including the students has no problem with. Oh, I wish we had a lot more like you. We are going to miss you—I wish you'd reconsider.”
Though silently proud of her success and popularity, Kirsten shook her head and quietly replied, “You know I won't. I've had a marvelous career here and now I need some time for me. Can you understand that?”
Susan smiled warmly and took Kirsten 's arm as they carried on walking toward the lecture hall Kirsten was using that day. “I understand perfectly. When Peggy had that accident and I had to take a long holiday afterwards to recover, yes I most certainly do understand wanting some time to address what's important in your life.”
“That isn't what you wanted me for though is it?” Kirsten felt sympathy for the woman she was about ten years younger than her and her partner Peggy Shropshire were iconic figures in the town for their views and lifestyle in general. They lived in a goldfish bowl—not something, she was interested in.
“No it isn't. Do you recall that about two months ago I mentioned I'd secured Corley Anders to give a few guest speeches and a couple of lectures? She has that hugely popular real time artifact show on TV—she's made history sexy. Do you know her?”
Kirsten frowned unable to recall anything about the woman or the show. Then again, she had been preoccupied with her own issues lately. The name seemed to ring a bell and she was certain it had nothing to do with television since she rarely watched any. “I don't seem to …”
“No problem.” Susan interrupted. “Anyway, she's due tomorrow. I was hoping that after I've taken her around the university and introduced her to the different personalities—you know some of our department heads will be less than happy if they are not introduced personally.” Susan stopped talking and smiled winningly at Kirsten .
Quizzically, Kirsten smiled. “You were hoping I'd what exactly?”
“Oh, Kirsten , didn't I say? How addled of me.” Susan chuckled as they came to the lecture room door. “Why because you are head of the History Department and yes I know Ralph Stein is taking over most of your duties these days, however I thought you could take her under your wing so to speak. She'll be here for three days and from what I've seen, she's positively gorgeous.” Susan winked.
Kirsten shook her head. For years, Peggy and Susan had been trying to pair her off with eligible girl friends—none had lasted beyond a few dates. “I'm sure she is. When does our celebrity have her first guest speaking?”
“Tomorrow evening the tickets sold out within half an hour when they became available two weeks ago. I take it you didn't buy one. Well you wouldn't would you, if you didn't remember she was coming. The Dean is over the moon and those means brownie points for a change in our academic area and you know that we need it. Those sports and technology fields have made us the poor relations for way too long. Right, I have to go. See you later, Kirsten .”
Kirsten watched Susan leave with a friendly wave of her hand and she rolled her eyes. The name Corley Anders did ring a bell though, however exactly why for the life of her didn't recall. With a slight chuckle, she remarked quietly to herself, “Retirement is a must if I can't remember something as important as a visit from a celebrity in my field.” She opened the door of the hall and walked in with her five-five stature upright and confident as she headed into the throng of her full class.
There appeared to be a flurry of activity as Kirsten rode her bike into the yard outside the main building. Stanley , the janitor was quietly moving the students away toward their classes. As she stopped, she saw a large black jeep with tiny silver lettering adorning the sides parked directly by the bike stand—she couldn't get in to stow her bike away safely.
Sighing heavily, she propped her bicycle against wall of the building and walked over to the vehicle blocking her access. After a night of restless sleep she'd woken later than expected. Every time she reached out to decipher exactly what was keeping her awake, it floated away just out of reach and that was annoying. Now this! How can it get any worse?
Hoping someone was still inside the vehicle, she knocked on the dark glass of the driver's side. Seconds later the window slid down silently.
Opening her mouth to speak, she was dumbstruck when she recognized the person at the wheel—the obnoxious woman at the coffee shop.
The same cold tone Kirsten had heard this woman used on her cell was imprinted indelibly on her brain as it was focused on her. Frowning slightly, she swallowed hard and then said as politely as possible, “I need to park my bike. Can you move a few feet forward please?”
Pale blue eyes once more assessed her and Kirsten felt like a bug under a microscope. “Sorry.” The vehicle hummed with life, moved away to the spot marked visitors, and stopped.
Kirsten sighed heavily and collected her bike, parked it, locked it, and pulled out her books and notes from the pannier on the back. As she did, she dropped several books and swore under her breath. “This is going to be one of those days for sure.” About to pike up the books, she was surprised when that same cold voice spoke again.
“Here let me.” A well manicure hand reached down and collected the books from the pavement before handing them to Kirsten . Then she stood beside Kirsten silently.
Licking her lips, Kirsten smiled slightly. “Thanks.”
Kirsten nodded and began to move away then she turned and said, “Are you looking for someone or need to be in a particular place?” She didn't exactly look like a first year student, but could be a mature student. Appearances could be deceptive but Kirsten assessed the stranger to be in her late twenties, maybe thirty. .
There wasn't an immediate answer and then the voice with a slightly warmer tone replied, “ Susan Armstrong .”
“Oh, right. Well if you go inside the building turn left there's a small corridor leading to the Dean and Assistant Dean's offices. Jenny , their secretary, will help from there.” Kirsten debated offering to show the woman herself but decided against it.
A slight movement of the head brought the ash blonde hair floating over those shoulders again—it was almost like watching one of those ads for shampoo. “Thank you.”
“You're welcome. Have a nice day,” Kirsten replied politely, heaving her workload more comfortably into her arms and set off toward the lecture halls. She mused over the woman's identity and the irony that they should meet again so soon. “Got to be a trick of the fates,” she mumbled before a rush of several of her students came toward her excitedly almost knocking her over.
“You talked to her, how cool!”
“What did you talk about?”
“Is she has knowledgeable as on the TV?”
“Do you know her what's she like.”
The questions and comments all jumbled together and Kirsten held up her hand. “O kay , Ben , you go first what are you talking about?”
“Why Corley Anders of course, where have you been hiding for the past five years, Ms Van De Pelt ?”
Kirsten scratched the back of her neck. “I must have. Let's go inside or we'll all be late for class.”
As they groaned in disappointment, Kirsten silently chastised herself for not offering to show the woman Susan 's office. That was Corley Anders ! I swear I know that name from somewhere. I'll have to think harder as to where .
Kirsten was half way through her second lecture of the day and her students were some of the best she'd ever taught barring the class ten years earlier when she'd had a multitude of students who gained their degrees with flying colors. These days it was a challenge to keep many of the student's attention span on the subject of history.
“O kay , we've talked about the political situation with regards to artifacts found and let's say cautiously collected over the years. Who can tell me anything about the Rosetta stone and why it's so important to ancient Egyptian scholars?”
Several hands shot up, Kirsten glanced around her eyes seeking and finding someone she knew would know the answer but was too shy to say so in public. “What about you Adam ?”
Adam Rodrigo shuffled in his seat and looked all around him in the hope he wasn't the one questioned. Hesitantly he replied, “It was found by Napoleon's army in 1799. It's called the Rosetta stone after the area where it was found. It's the key by which hieroglyphics are deciphered.”
Kirsten grinned at the young man. “Excellent. Now who can tell me why that is and who actually brought the interpretation to the world in general?”
Kirsten didn't have time to select anyone as a voice from the far recesses of the room shadowed in only a half light concisely answered, “In 1824 Jean Francois Champollion , worked out using the Greek language, one of three languages on the stone, the other two were ancient languages long forgotten. Instead of letters, the stone used picture symbols in the ancient texts. It's a unique find and located in the British Museum in London . I'd recommend the museum anytime for research. They have glorious finds and wonderful libraries open for students and the public.”
Kirsten stopped dumb in her tracks. She knew the voice although she considered that it could be a hearing deficiency. When the voice stopped, the person loomed out of the darkness and her class almost brought the roof down with their applause and whistles. It was Corley Anders . The woman was becoming a nemesis. Attempting to stop the noise, Kirsten shouted a few times for quiet and then gave up—they would cease in time—her lecture might as well be over.
Amazingly, Corley Anders walked down the steps of the tiered benches toward the front of the room and the podium where Kirsten stood. With a simple hand in the air the room went deathly silent.
How did she do that? I've been trying for over thirty years. Darn woman .
Kirsten thought uncharitably before she listened in amazement at the next words the Anders woman said. “It's a pleasure to be in the same room again as my old teacher Ms. Van De Pelt . Her dedication in making historical factual knowledge appealing helped me to choose the current career I'm involved in and why I chose to make do the guest lectures here at Lane University . Let me say to all those who think that this course is a fill in—you really haven't listened hard enough. I hope you all appreciate how lucky you are.” Corley Anders gave Kirsten an enigmatic look and then a round of applause began.
Kirsten allowed the applause to die down as it became clear where she'd seen the name before—in the honors list for history and art ten years earlier. The woman however, didn't look familiar at all. However, back then, students all looked the same in slightly differing degrees. Unless you stood out in a crowd, no one really noticed an individual with so many students filtering through. Corley Anders obviously wasn't the outgoing type back then. Boy has she changed!
“Well what can one say after that other than it's a pleasure to have you attend out university again Ms. Anders . O kay guys you can go early, however I expect you to have the assignments I gave you three weeks ago on my desk at our next session. And that means you too, Dan Bovich. ” Dan Bovich stood out he was that type of person but Corley Anders nope not in my lectures at least I would have remembered .
The room burst into short laughter as eyes crossed to the young man in question. He preferred to chat up the ladies rather than do any actual serious work. They began to file out though some lingered in the hope of speaking with Corley.
“You have a succession of fans.” Kirsten pointed to several small groups hovering near the exit.
“Hmm, one of the hazards of being successful.”
The limited reply had Kirsten wondering what to say next. Then decided to collect her papers and take a ride across the university grounds and stop by her favorite copse of trees and have lunch.
“Will you be attending the faculty lunch?” Corley asked coolly.
Kirsten shook her head. “I've never been one for the formal lunch scene. Besides, I have a picnic lunch prepared and I like to eat outside whenever I can. It's a glorious day out there today.” She was babbling and didn't know why.
Corley nodded then looked at the room and the last lingering students who hadn't quite worked it out that the celebrity wasn't going to grace them with personal interviews. “Yes, it is. Do you remember me?”
Taken off guard by the remark, Kirsten looked directly into Corley's eyes. Her answer must have been written in ink onto her irises as she saw the imperious nod from the younger woman. “I'm sorry, no. Your name did ring a bell when Susan , that is Susan Armstrong , mentioned you to me yesterday. I don't watch much TV,” she said. That was a lame statement.
“I should have known you wouldn't—I wasn't exactly a burning star back then—more like a shrinking violet.” The voice didn't sound bothered either way.
Changing the subject quickly Kirsten replied, “Do you know where you're going for lunch? I can take you to the refectory,” Kirsten replied with a tight smile.
Corley shifted her gaze to the exit. “Not a problem. Susan is waiting for me outside. It was a pleasure to meet up with you again, Ms. Van De Pelt . Perhaps we can discuss something more interesting after the speaking engagement tonight.” She didn't wait for an answer. Instead, she jumped down from the podium, walked rapidly toward the exit, and disappeared.
All Kirsten could do was stare at the retreating woman and wonder what was going on in her life. In all the time I've worked here I've never had such an overwhelming sense of lack of control. Ever! Muttering under her breath, she said, “I'm getting too old for this.”
Her bike ride to her favorite place on the university grounds beckoned her. As she rode, she allowed the sensation of being free to filter through her body. The light breeze blew through her brown hair lightly smattered with grey. Fortunately, with a short style, it didn't obscure her view.
Five minutes later, she settled under the trees and opening up her knapsack, removing the picnic box—two apples and a tuna mayo sandwich with a small bottle of sparkling water. It was in total contrast, she suspected, to what she would expect Corley Anders was having with the Dean and heads of departments.
Munching on her first apple as an appetizer, she pulled out the travel brochure again and looked at an appealing but expensive tour. A week around the main tombs and the Sphinx, then a week on the Nile on one of the small paddle steamers they used. It reminded her of a crime novel by Agatha Christie ‘Murder on the Nile '. “I hope that doesn't happen.” Then the tour would take her on a four week tour of Italy , Germany and France to many of the ancient buildings and sites she'd only ever read about. Leaning back, she closed her eyes for a few moments and allowed the wondrous sites she'd only dreamed of seeing slip like a movie through her mind. Opening her eyes with a happy sigh, Kirsten began her lunch in earnest. Half an hour later, she checked her watch and sighed heavily. She had another four hours before she could go home. Today home had an appeal that called her name.
“Hi, do you mind?” Corley Anders asked as she pointed to a spot next to Kirsten .
Shocked to see the celebrity standing over her, Kirsten blinked rapidly to clear the sun shining directly into her eyes. Shading her eyes with her hand, she looked up and said, “No.”
A moment later, legs clothed in black denim stretched out next to her. “It's very peaceful here. I remember it well.”
“You do?” Somewhat disconcerted and frowning, Kirsten added, “Of course you do. Lunch must have been quick—usually they drag on for at least two hours.”
Corley threaded her fingers together and settled back against a tree trunk and equably replied, “I'm taking a rain check. I needed to call some of my colleagues for an update on a project and it took longer than I expected.”
“ Dean Jefferies will be put out…opps maybe I shouldn't have said that.” Kirsten felt her cheeks sting with warmth.
“Jefferies can be put out all he wants it isn't my concern.” Her eyes scanned the area toward a path about three hundred feet away, where a few students were walking toward the buildings. Otherwise, no one was around. Then her gaze finally settled on a stone statue to the left of the path. “I remember that statue. Did anyone ever claim that they made it?”
A tender smile crossed Kirsten 's face and she chuckled softly. “Nope. It's rather good isn't it? You know I come here every other day, even back then, and I never saw anyone work on it. I always thought it was a romantic night fairy or pixie.”
Corley switched her attention to the woman at her side as a flicker of a smile was playing with her full lips. “Artistic pixie…my, I never knew you had such a fanciful imagination, Ms. Van De Pelt .”
With a shrug she said, “ Kirsten .”She saw a shrewd glance catch hers. “It seems odd that you call me that…besides, you aren't one of my students now.”
“True I'm not. Susan tells me this is your final semester and then you're going to retire. You don't look old enough for retirement.”
Kirsten smiled as she looked at the brochure laid next to her and picked it up idly and showed it to Corley. “I'm working out a trip. I figured I'd go while I have my health. Besides, retirement isn't so strange at this age in my profession.”
Corley didn't reply immediately and then asked, “How old are you, Kirsten ?”
Taken by surprise at the question, Kirsten automatically answered, “Fifty-five,” before she wondered what it was to this young woman.
Almost absently, Corley quietly said, “Twenty years or so to the old adage three score and ten the mythical lifespan of man.”
“I think it's been revised to more eighty rather than seventy these days. Thank you for reminding me of my upcoming mortality. Unfortunately, I'm not in a position to debate that subject right now. I have a class in ten minutes.” Kirsten laughed hollowly and stood up
“I didn't mean to be rude, Kirsten .” Corley rose fluidly and they faced each other.
“I'm sure you didn't. As I said, I have to go. Have a good afternoon. Oh, the student's union building has great sandwiches and coffee if you didn't have any lunch.” Kirsten stowed her picnic debris away in her knapsack and mounted her bike riding away with a cool goodbye.
“Well that is something that has changed—it sucked when I was last here.” Corley muttered as she watched Kirsten leave. Then she looked down at the brochure that Kirsten had been reading and picked it up. About to call her back, she didn't and flicked her gaze over the dog-eared pages Kirsten had been looking at. With a fleeting smile, she pocketed the brochure and walked to the stone statue. It stood two feet tall and was an intricately carved vase with roses. It had taken over six months to carve at unusual hours and she should know. Her fingers touched the delicately carved petals of one flower and she sighed, “Hello, old friend.”
Susan Armstrong sat alongside her lover of eighteen years and touched the delicate hand tenderly. “I can't believe it was so easy for you to talk her into this, Peggy , and for three days. I'm still in amazement though I shouldn't be—you can be very persuasive.”
Peggy Shropshire smiled warmly as she looked first at the hand that held hers and then to the woman who held it confidently. She'd fallen in love with Susan at first glance, in Jaeger's coffee shop where she'd been working part-time as a waitress, not that she knew that at the time. Susan at twenty-four, new to the town and the university where she taught English Literature, came by for coffee at the shop every Friday after classes finished for the week. Peggy had been in an abusive relationship with a three year old daughter and had lived in the town all her life. Her parents had disowned her at an early age and she'd been a wild child growing up, never finishing school and ending up pregnant at eighteen. They'd begun a remarkable friendship that had blossomed into love after two years of slow courtship on Susan 's behalf. Susan had been one of those people happy with the skin she lived in and the choices she made. Peggy had been less confident but the love they shared allowed Peggy to make the right choices when she was ready. Since that time, they'd simply grown to love each other more and more as the years went on. Even her parents had finally forgiven her and had in the last fifteen years become closer and allowed themselves to enjoy their granddaughter growing up.
“I didn't know you enjoyed history so much you didn't hear me speak to you,” Susan chuckled.
An apologetic shake of the head was her reply. “I'm sorry I was thinking.”
“About what I said or was it something else?” Susan replied with interest.
Peggy smiled warmly. “About you and I and how we met. Because it's tied with Corley, it was where I met her for the first time at Jaeger's and how she came to be in our lives remember.”
Susan felt herself drift off into her own memories of that time, her brash confidence in who she was and what she was doing, until she met Peggy and her whole life changed. At least her perspective on it, the shy young woman who was her junior by about three years had a very different view on life and in the quiet times at the coffee shop they'd talk. Peggy had an intelligent mind that was never nourished. She made it her goal to help the young woman reach her potential even with a child in tow. Jane had been a precocious three year old when they'd met and she'd loved her immediately much as she'd done her mother. There had been no pressure from her to go down the route of a romantic relationship. It just happened. Never for one minute regretting giving up all her big plans to travel the world and move around in her career to experience more of what life had to offer. Right there in that coffee shop she'd found all the experience of life she'd ever need.
Corley had been a shy student and had used her free time away from her studies to work a couple of shifts in the coffee shop, mostly over the lunch time rush. It was there Peggy , who often joined Susan and her introspective colleague Kirsten , for coffee had befriended Corley. They'd planned a break away and Corley had offered to baby sit the youngster. It had been an arrangement that lasted through Corley's time at Lane .
“I remember, she was really good with Jane and it lasted. Jane 's confidence reached an all time high when Corley had her join the apprentices for that dig in France last year. I figured she'd be too busy these days to attend her old stamping ground at least at the moment.” Susan mused as they both looked at Corley who was charming the pants of every male in the room along with many of the females too. She'd come a long way in the years since leaving here.
“I wrote to her three months ago and she offered to give a few lectures. She told me many institutions paid big bucks for the privilege of having her speak. However as this is her original stomping ground she agreed for free.” Peggy said quietly.
Susan turned to her lover with a quizzical expression. “You must have said something really powerful to draw her back here.” They'd never discussed the correspondence with Corley that Peggy had been doing since the young woman had left Lane . The last time they'd seen her had been six years ago when Peggy had been in that terrible accident that almost cost her, her life. Corley had taken Jane to a dig site she was on for six weeks during the school holidays while her mother recovered and she and Susan could recoup from the trauma.
Peggy smiled and squeezed the hand that held hers gently. “I did, with the most powerful thing in the universe. Look she's coming our way and we didn't listen to the end of her speech I hope she doesn't ask questions.” Peggy scrunched up her face at the idea.
Susan laughed loudly and a couple of people close to them gave them strange looks. Corley arrived at that moment and for a few seconds simply watched the interaction of the two women, she had long since associated as friends. Good friends, even if their contact in the last few years had been spasmodic at best.
“I see you two are still the same.”
Peggy stood up and walked the few feet to wrap her arms around the woman who seemed to be taller somehow and that was impossible, just went to show what confidence did for a person. “It's wonderful to see you Corley and thank you for this. After this coup Susan is sure to become Dean when Jefferies retires next year.”
Corley grinned. Her face became more beautiful with the natural skin tone and bone structure in perfect harmony. “It was my pleasure. How is Jane doing in Mexico ?”
Peggy grinned. “Thanks to you she's the senior shift excavator on the dig—its apparently a prestigious assignment.”
“Yes it is. Ask Ms. Van De Pelt . I don't see her here unless she's become a secret smoker and is outside.” Corley shifted her glance swiftly around the room.
Susan chuckled. “ Kirsten and smoking…the woman would have you taking your finals again if she heard that. She's almost a health guru around here. The kids at Lane call her eccentric because she rides that darned bike everywhere. Although they do say it in a fond way and they love her and will miss her when she's gone—we all will.”
Corley didn't say anything but gave Peggy a tight smile. “She's really going to leave here then and retire? I figured this was her life she never seemed to have any other hobbies.”
Susan gave Corley a strange look and then smiled. “Oh, Kirsten has hobbies it's just that they all begin with the letter H and end in Y . She's immersed herself so much in the subject she loves she doesn't see what other aspects life has to offer and believe me I've tried.” A wave from Dean Jeffries toward her had Susan apologizing and moving toward the small man.
Peggy gave Susan a warm smile as she left then shook her head. “These intellectuals haven't a clue at times. Sorry you come under that category too I suppose. I forget that sometimes.”
“I'm glad you do. It makes me feel like a real human being again and yes we do sometimes tend to let things float by us especially in the history field. So much of our time is taken up with the past we forget about the present or the potential for the future,” Corley admitted softly.
Softly Peggy said, “You haven't though…have you? That's why you're here isn't it—especially when I mentioned a particular person.”
Corley gave the woman a tight smile. “Yes, but we shall see if I can move a mountain to get her to see me as I do her.”
“I was thinking that after your final visit to Lane the day after tomorrow, do you want to join me at Jaeger's the usual time?” Peggy was watching several people move closer obviously intent on speaking with Corley.
Corley grinned and hugged the older woman warmly. “You got it. I'll be there.” Pulling away, she sighed slightly. “I have to go,” she said nodding toward the gathering crowd. “The fans are about to pounce.”
Peggy watched as Corley waded into a group of young people and completely captivated their attention in seconds. The Corley she knew years ago had certainly grown up and she hoped that the real reason she was here wouldn't be lost in the morass of her popularity thereby creating an even bigger barrier than there already was.
Sitting back down, she contemplated the rest of the evening. Susan had promised a late supper at their favorite eatery—a small Chinese restaurant two blocks from their home.
Kirsten listened to the lecture Corley Anders was giving. The celebrity was there to give three lectures and today she embarked on her first. Impressively, the woman had captivated her audience with insight into how she used her knowledge of history and produced a riveting television series that caught even the general public's imagination.
Two hours later, there seemed no end to the stream of questions her students continued to barrage the celebrity with until Corley held up a hand and brought the room to a sudden silence. “I'm due a break guys. The next lecture is at two this afternoon for those who can attend. I'll hand you over to Ms. Van De Pelt .” Corley turned with a slight smile at the teacher. “All yours,” she said as she waved toward the students waiting intently for what was next.
Kirsten nodded and moved to stand next to Corley as she did she felt a little of the confidence the woman oozed fall on her shoulders—it was really quite an odd yet exhilarating sensation. “O kay , as you've been informed, Ms. Anders next guest lecturer is at two. She's going to introduce the Italian Medici family to you. For those of you working on your master's degree I suggest you make it a priority to attend. The others…well I guess we'll see you here anyway.” She grinned at the crowd who all applauded, “Don't forget I'm taking notes and there will be a test. See you all later.”
A loud groan greeted the words as they began to file out.
After most of them, except for a few stragglers, had left the room, Kirsten turned to Corley. “It was an informative lecture.”
Moving her head to one side, Corley studied the lecturer intently. “I learned from the best. Are you really taking notes?”
Kirsten felt herself flush at the comment. Is she talking about me ? Slightly disconcerted, Kirsten quietly answered, “Yes. I haven't experienced the outside world like you. I'm the old staid academic.” She shrugged. “Never been out of the four walls so to speak.”
Corley continued her assessment of Kirsten her eyes taking in the slightly flushed skin on her cheeks and the way her small snub nose wrinkled in self-depreciation. Moving closer until they were almost touching, Corley reached out and touched one of Kirsten 's pink cheeks lightly. “Old—I don't think so. Staid— absolutely not. Academic—yeah you are and we are all grateful for that.”
Kirsten felt her skin burn at the feather light touch and she was hypnotized by the pale blue eyes that sought out her grey ones. It was as if she was seeing this woman for the first time and felt an instinctive need to feel those hands all over her body and those full lips touch hers. God I must be under the same spell she has the students under. Shaking away the sensual thoughts, she found her voice. “Thank you. However, you're being generous. I suspect today you'll have to have lunch with the Dean or he'll send out a search party.”
Corley moved her hand away and she flicked her gaze to the exit. “You're right and I did promise Susan . Will you be attending?”
Kirsten began to pack up her notes and books. “Nope, it's been so long since I went to a formal lunch I doubt he even puts my name on the invite list these days.”
“That doesn't bother you? What about your ambition?” Corley asked her gaze capturing Kirsten 's intently.
For a second Kirsten couldn't breathe and then she concentrated hard on the questions. “I'm glad really. He can be rather ponderous and repetitive. As to ambition, I've achieved what I wanted here. I'm retiring soon so there's no need for me to attend.”
“If I ask, you will you come?” Corley's voice insisted quietly.
“Why would you want me there?” Kirsten asked in astonishment.
Shrugging, Corley turned away and picked up her valise. “Forget it. I'll see you after lunch, Kirsten .” Her legs moved quickly to leave.
Kirsten once more stood stock still wondering why this woman affected her in so many ways and on so many different levels. She didn't know what to make of it.
Ten minutes later, Kirsten stopped her bike at the copse, settled down next to a tree, and removed her knapsack with her lunch. Munching on a chicken sandwich, she read the notes she'd made during Corley's lecture. What an exciting life she led and all in the pursuit of history—it was quite remarkable. In fact, the more she thought about it the more she realized that the nondescript student of years ago had transformed not only her appearance but personality too. It was an amazing feat. The name always rang a bell, but the woman herself was a stranger. Corley had turned out to be a beautiful, confident, and talented woman who turned heads wherever she went—even hers. The idea that Corley Anders , or anyone of that age group, would look at an old fuddy-duddy like her romantically, or in any other context that would mean a relationship, made her stomach churn in quiet disappointment. Kirsten finally concluded that the reaction was connected to Corley somehow. How could it be that someone she hadn't really known existed two days ago, now caused her so much subjective thought?
“ Ms. Van De Pelt ?” A young man with a crooked smile and tousled brown hair stepped from trail and offered her an envelope. “I was asked to hand this to you personally.”
As Kirsten took the envelope and with a thoughtful thanks, the young man jogged off down the side track and was out of her sight by time she opened the envelope. She looked at the contents and found it was a large piece of parchment hieroglyphs covering the whole of the area.
Startled, Kirsten looked all around her to see if anyone else was there—no one was. Scratching the back of her neck, she glanced at the intricately painted message. I need to find my copy of the Rosetta stone interpretations. A deep smile grooved into her face as she relished the task of deciphering the note. The more she looked at the message the more she appreciated the work that had gone into the artwork on the parchment. “This is impressive. I wonder who sent it. Better yet, I wonder what it says.”
Kirsten finished her sandwich and then walked over to the nearby statue. To her, it represented peace. It made her smile as she fingered the smooth surface of the vase shape, reflecting that there would be stories in the future about why it was there and the mystery of who produced it. Just like a piece of history in the making and she felt part of it in an odd way. In another way, it made her sad for when she left the university she would have to leave this too. To touch the statue had become part of her daily routine and the thought of not seeing it would be as hard as not being here. Sighing slightly, she touched several of the crafted rose petals, with a small laugh she whispered, “I still think you were made by a romantic pixie or fairy.”
A few minutes later, her lunch packed away and the mystery parchment safely tucked into her shirt pocket she headed back toward the buildings and the rest of her afternoon.
Kirsten was pouring over her books and notes in her small office in the main building as she strained to work out another meaning for a row of pictures. She looked at the clock on the wall and groaned. It was almost ten. The deciphering was taking longer than she thought. Maybe it is because I'm hungry. Her thoughts vied with the parchment and with who sent it clouding her powers of observation. Stretching, Kirsten touched a picture of a foot. Whoever did this is a superb graphic artist. Realizing she wouldn't finish that night, she carefully folded the parchment and locked it in her drawer. “Tomorrow for sure. Corley is taking my first lecture so I might slip away and …” Shaking her head, she knew she wouldn't. The woman had a charismatic effect on everyone she met and that hadn't been lost on Kirsten .
Switching off the light, she headed for the bike stand and hoped the batteries still worked on her lights. If not, she'd have to call a cab.
A few minutes later, she was cursing her stupidity at not changing the batteries and with a shrug headed back to the main building and the phone in her office. Just as she mounted the pavement, the headlights of a vehicle caught her in their beam keeping her there as the vehicle stopped in front of her.
The driver's window came down and surprise, Corley Anders head popped out. “Are you having trouble?”
Kirsten saw the quirky smile that appeared on the woman's lips. Is she laughing at me? “I'm good thanks.”
The door of the vehicle opened and Corley jumped out. “Don't you have lights?” she asked inclining her head in the direction of the teacher's bike.
“Yes, I do actually. Why are you here?” Kirsten replied shortly.
“I was in the area. Do you need a lift?” Corley replied with a smile.
Frowning, Kirsten didn't believe her. Ever since that moment in the coffee shop two days ago, this woman had turned up unexpectedly at almost every juncture. If it didn't sound so ridiculous, she'd think Corley was stalking her. “What the hell, yes, I could do with a lift. I live on St. Bernardo 's Avenue. Do you know it?”
Corley nodded. “You're working late is it on anything in particular?”
They both climbed into the car and within seconds headed out of the university gates.
“Nope nothing special. You?” Kirsten answered unsure why she didn't say what it was she was working on.
Corley gave her a quick look then returned her attention to the road. “ Yes, I'm working on something special.”
Kirsten nodded. “I guess after what I heard today you would be.”
Corley asked sharply, “What were you told?”
“Oh, I was speaking metaphorically. You being in television, I'm sure there is always something special going on…or at least it seems that way from your lectures.” Kirsten was unsure why Corley had sounded defensive.
“Ah, yes of course the television series. Have you ever watched any of my shows?”
“Of course.” Corley turned and gave Kirsten a glimmer of a smile.
Kirsten shrugged. “Sorry no. I rarely watch television. Though now that I've met you, I might catch the odd show…you make it sound so interesting.”
“Thank you. I won't hold my breath waiting for fan mail from you though.” Corley negotiated a tight left turn that took her into the avenue Kirsten said she lived. “What number?”
“Oh that was quick. Fifty.”
“I guess it would be in comparison with a bike. Do you own a car? I don't recall you ever having any mode of transport but the bike.” Corley slowed the car toward the house with the number fifty painted on the letterbox outside a white picket gate.
Kirsten chuckled. “Honestly I never learned to drive. My mind was so preoccupied with historical facts I never got around to it. My father was the same. My mother was the only one in our family who could drive. She had to give up her license recently because of poor eyesight—she was gutted.”
The car stopped and Corley turned to look closely at Kirsten . Her voice had taken on a happy lilt while she talked of her parents. “Are both your parent alive?”
“Yep, runs in the family—longevity. Grandparents on both sides lived into their nineties. My dad is eighty-five he thinks he'll manage a hundred.” Kirsten smiled as she recalled her mother's face at that comment being only months younger than her husband and her subsequent reply. If he was going to live to be hundred, he'd better expect her to stick around too.
Corley just watched the animation on the teacher's face it was infectious. “My father died of a heart attack when I was twenty-five. My mom suffers from arthritis and can hardly walk without aid these days. She will be sixty next year. I guess my prospects are pretty much reduced—you'll probably outlive me.”
Kirsten reached out and laid a hand on Corley's arm. “Don't say that. It doesn't necessarily mean you'll end up the same. You could end up being a hundred too like my dad thinks he will.”
Corley reached out and traced the worry line that had furrowed on Kirsten 's brow. “I'll take that sage advice onboard. Thank you, Kirsten .”
A lump stuck in her throat as she stared up into the young face inches from her. It was so very tempting to kiss the lips that shimmered with lip gloss in the dim light. “Thank you for the lift.”
“My pleasure. I'll see you tomorrow. Sleep well, Kirsten .” Corley smiled wryly and then turned on the ignition and the engine purred into life.
“You too, Corley. Good night.” Kirsten climbed out of the vehicle and watched as the car moved away. In deep contemplation, she walked up to the door of her house, inserted the key, and unlocked the door. The darkness enfolded her like a shroud and for the first time in a very long time, she felt alone as an abject loneliness invaded the soul.
Rain came the following day. Kirsten rushed out of bed at seven-thirty then realized that her bike was still on campus. She would have to sacrifice her normal slow routine if she was going to catch the bus. Walking would have been preferable but with the rain, it wasn't a sensible option. Quickly showering and dragging on her clothes, Kirsten figured if she was out of her door by eight-ten she could catch the bus that stopped at the top of the street at eight fifteen if she walked quickly. If the bus appeared, she would run. At best, the schedule was tight and after locking the door, she rapidly walked down the path to the gate and was about to set off in the direction of the top of the street when a quiet familiar voice called her name.
Kirsten was astonished to see Corley with her head out of her car waiting a couple of yards past her gate. “Corley, what are you doing here?”
With a slight smile, Corley answered, “Waiting for you. I figured as your bike was still at the university and you hadn't transport that you might need a lift since it's raining.”
Standing at her gate, Kirsten felt pleasure that the woman who must have a thousand more things to do that pick her up had made the effort. “Thanks, I'd appreciate that.”
A few minutes later, they were heading off toward the University. The bus Kirsten had intended to catch sailed by the top of the street—she'd have been lucky to have caught it.
“I'd have been late,” mumbled Kirsten as her eyes watched the bus slow down for the next stop as they sailed by it.
“Well, it was good that I came. I wouldn't want you to miss my last lecture,” Corley replied with a wry twist of her lips.
“Do you mind if I ask you a question?”
“Go for it.”
“What do you do when you're not on television?” Kirsten wasn't sure why she wanted to know and waited for the reply.
“The schedule is pretty grueling. The series takes up about eight months of my year. The actual filming only takes about three months to complete. We carry out research for five months before we do anything,” Corley replied factually.
Kirsten nodded and then asked, “Does that mean you take a vacation for the other four months.”
Corley laughed and the deep sound rumbled pleasantly through the interior of the vehicle. “Hardly, it's only University professors who have that luxury.”
Kirsten felt her face flush and she placed a hand to one of her glowing cheeks. “Sorry.”
Eyes flashed in Kirsten 's direction for a few seconds before returning to the road and the sign that told them they neared the campus. “I do take vacation time obviously. It's good to relax for a while, but usually only about three to four weeks max. The other time I spend on private digs with friends or old colleagues.”
Kirsten allowed the information to absorb before she sagely replied, “You're almost a workaholic.”
Corley stopped the car in front of the main building and turned off the ignition. Swiveling in her seat to look directly at Kirsten , she said, “I had my reasons.”
It was an odd comment and Kirsten didn't know if she should pursue it but found the words passing her lips before she could stop them. “Had, does that mean you're going to change your life?” The intent gaze Corley used on Kirsten had her fidgeting in her seat. It was hypnotic and all consuming.
“I'm hoping too, but it involves someone else and that remains to be seen if they feel the same way I do.” Corley's features remained impassive as she spoke.
Kirsten dropped her eyes to the fingers threaded together on her lap. Her stomach had turned somersaults when Corley answered her question. Irrationally her mind didn't want to hear that Corley was involved with someone. “Yes, the interaction of another in your life can change its focus…quite unexpectedly at times.”
Corley merely nodded and they exited the jeep. “Yes, it can. I'll see you at the lecture in an hour, Kirsten .”
Kirsten felt bereft at the words, wanting to remain in Corley's company a little while longer. It was irritating and yet satisfying all at the same time. What the hell is happening to me? I've never felt like this before and for a young woman who could be my daughter. It is totally ridiculous. “Yes, do you want to have a coffee? We have time.”
Corley shook her head. “Sorry, I promised Susan I'd check in with her before the lecture. I have to leave for New York early this evening.”
There it was the end.
“Of course you do. I'll see you in the auditorium at nine-thirty. Thanks for the lift.” Kirsten smiled and headed toward the main doors fully expecting Corley to follow her—she didn't.
Tears welled in Kirsten eyes as she retreated to her office locking the door behind her. She really was having a middle-aged crisis and she was helpless in stopping it. It was just as well Corley was leaving that day—it might have hurt more if she'd stuck around for a longer period. Sitting at her desk, she unlocked the drawer that held the parchment and she gazed at it intently. She would concentrate on it and forget that Corley Anders had ever entered her life.
The auditorium was packed to the rafters, not only with students but faculty and apparently the local press whose camera's never stopped flashing through the two and half hour lecture.
Corley, from Kirsten 's vantage point, seemed unaware of the attention, speaking to the room as if she was doing a one on one rather that to at least two hundred observers. It was a mark of her confidence and, Kirsten admiringly admitted, her knowledge base. Is there no end to her talents?
Susan Armstrong snuck into the room by the side door and sat alongside Kirsten . “She's good isn't she?”
Kirsten smiled slightly her eyes shifting from the she in question to her friend. “Yes, she is a remarkable young woman.”
Susan nodded. “Do I detect a note of interest beyond the professional, Kirsten .”
Kirsten gave her full attention to Susan and grimaced. “Of course not. She's …well beyond anything I could ever hope to have in my life.”
Susan grinned and then placed her hand on Kirsten 's tensely clenched fist. “Stranger things have happened, Kirsten . Don't give up on love.”
“I'm fifty-five and I think love gave up on me long ago. The show is about to end I think. Is the department heads meeting still on at two?”
“That's why I'm here actually. Jeffries has an unscheduled meeting with the board of trustees so he postponed the meeting until next week. It means you get the afternoon off so enjoy it.” Then, Susan as silently as she arrived, left.
Zoned out of what was happening at the podium, Kirsten was embarrassed when Corley placed a hand on her shoulder and whispered, “Was it that boring?”
“Oh, my goodness no, it was wonderful.” The gushing words and her expression must have looked like a fan clinging to every word Corley said.
There was a lightening of Corley's otherwise bland expression as she smiled. “Thank you. It's all yours.”
Standing, Kirsten addressed the room and five minutes later sank down in her chair where she'd originally been sitting. Her equilibrium had dramatically shifted since Corley Anders had entered her life. In the space of three days, she was literally swept of her feet and didn't have a chance to object or put up a fight for her sanity. There were times when the heart really was the clown of the circus of life—it teased you with what could never be.
“It was a pleasure to meet you again, Kirsten . Perhaps if I'm here again we can have that coffee together.” Corley held out her hand and Kirsten automatically placed hers in the strong grip.
“Yes, assuming I'm still here then,” Kirsten replied absently.
Enigmatically, Corley replied, “I'd find you. Goodbye, Kirsten .”
Typically, the woman left without Kirsten having the opportunity to reply and she sat bereft. Yes, life was playing the jester at her expense. Standing, she considered her options. As it was raining her favorite spot was out of the question for lunch, which left the coffee shop or the mystery note, the last worked better she was dying to know what the parchment said and now had the luxury of the afternoon to decipher it fully.
Kirsten smiled in satisfaction as she moved back in her chair to appraise the results of her research. Now finally, she had all the pieces and could put them together. Glancing at the clock it was three-forty and she concentrated on her mystery task without interruption.
Assembling the lines of text she'd compiled she sorted through it like a jigsaw puzzle and as the words became clear she blinked several times thinking that she got it wrong—she hadn't. No matter how she resolved the puzzle it still led her to the same conclusion.
Kirsten , meet the artist who lost her heart a long time ago and captured the beauty of the moment for all time in a statue. If I'm not there, another clue will become known to you.
Scrambling to her feet, she rapidly left the room and without a care of the heads that turned in her direction as she ran out of the building. Her instinct was to get her bike but instead she ran past it toward the place that for years had been her haven of peace. Who is this mystery person who professes to have created the statue for the love of me? Five minutes later, she saw the statue and the copse of trees she loved but no one was there. Did I take too long to work the puzzle out? Has the moment been lost to me forever? The identity of the sculptor had gnawed at her for ten years and she needed to know who it was—it would be a fitting end to her career at the University.
Approaching the statue, she still didn't see anyone and sighed heavily until she spied at the base of the statue a piece of parchment that was wedged in a crevice. Carefully removing the delicate paper, Kirsten opened it and one word was written in beautiful calligraphy—Jaeger's.
“Why there?” Kirsten drew in a breath and then turned back. She needed to get her bike. She prayed that the mystery person was as good as their word and would be there.
Fifteen minutes later, her cheeks red with the exertion of riding as fast as she physically could. Thankfully the roads were quite dry and when she arrived she flung the bike against the wall of Jaeger's coffee shop and walked in. Her eyes scanned the tables but she saw no one familiar—a crushing blow.
“Do you want your usual Kirsten ?” James Jaeger the grandson of the original owner asked.
Kirsten nodded apathetically and sat down heavily at a table that overlooked the street. Her hand curled around the two pieces of parchment, which she eventually unrolled and stared at as she berated her foolish thoughts. “What the hell was I thinking? I must be mad,” she whispered and then her head shot up as someone answered her question.
“If you're mad then it's catching.” Corley Anders stood in front of her with a wry smile tugging at her lips. “Do you mind if I sit?”
Kirsten didn't know how to respond. Was Corley the person who sent me the notes? It would fit. She has the experience to create the puzzle. But the statue?
A waitress brought her Turkish coffee with a friendly smile and looked at Corley for any order when Kirsten said automatically, “Latte would be good, Jessica .”
“Sure thing Kirsten ,” the waitress left them alone.
“Thank you. How did you know?” Corley sounded hesitant, which was in total contrast to all previous meetings.
“You asked someone to get you're a latte the first time we met here. Look is this some kind of joke?” Kirsten replied accusingly, as she took a mouthful of the bitter beverage and felt her lips twist as the taste exploded on her taste buds.
Corley studied Kirsten 's tense features and sighed. “Will you let me tell you a story? It might help you understand me.”
“Are you telling me that you created the statue and that these,”—her finger pointed to the beautiful parchment drawings and calligraphy on the table—“these belong to you too?”
Scratching the top of her head, Corley gave a shamefaced expression and nodded. “Please let me explain, Kirsten . I know this looks ridiculous but I had my reasons.”
Kirsten heard the sincerity and pleading in the voice and she gave Corley a hard stare. “O kay , but it had better be good.”
Jessica , their waitress arrived with the latte and when she was gone, Corley began her story.
“I came to Lane when I was eighteen fresh out of high school with no real plan on what I wanted to do or even what subjects I wanted to study. I was good at art and thought seriously about that but I also loved delving into the past. Then I saw something that changed my life forever.” Corley sipped her latte and fell into silence.
“What did you see?” Kirsten asked in moody fascination.
Corley felt herself lost in that very memory and with a tentative smile quietly replied, “A woman rode by me on a bicycle. She had a look of pure enjoyment on her face that I've never forgotten to this day.” Corley heard Kirsten 's sudden intake of breath but carried on with her story. “I found out who that was and joined her classes. That enthusiasm of life I saw on her face was equally as rewarding with her teaching of her subject. I fell in love and hoped that one day I might convince her that I was worth noticing outside the classroom.”
“You fell in love with me?” Kirsten asked in disbelief. Her palms felt sweaty as she tangled them together unsure what was really going on.
Corley looked across at Kirsten and caught her gaze. “Yes.”
“That's impossible. You were a child barely out of high school.”
Corley gave a pained expression. “Precisely why I never said anything. Besides, I was quite shy and retiring back then.” A quirky smile tugged at her lips. “I decided on a different method. I began to create a symbol of my love.”
Kirsten almost hissed out her next words. “The statue.”
“Yes, the statue. I used to watch you eat lunch every other day under that copse of trees weather permitting. In the evenings, I would go with a torch and create the patterns. It wasn't easy but it became my labor of love.” Corley rubbed her nose in slight embarrassment.
“It's beautiful. I'll miss it when I retire as much as I will the University,” Kirsten admitted quietly.
Corley grinned allowing those words to give her courage to continue. “When I finished it the last week of my finals I was going to ask you out when I graduated.”
“You didn't…I would have remembered that.” Kirsten frowned. “Why not if you felt so strongly about me?” Kirsten asked unsure if she dare hear the reply.
“Because I overheard a conversation you had with Susan .”
“ Susan ? You mean Susan Armstrong ?”
“Yes. You were explaining, in no uncertain terms, that there would be no way you would go out with someone ten years younger than yourself. It was never going to happen. We had a twenty year difference I basically shrank into the background. I didn't feel confident to say anything to you or even acknowledge that the statue was mine.” Corley drained her latte.
Kirsten watched the action and she felt drained herself— this was all too weird and totally crazy. I must be mad. That was the true explanation. Things like this didn't happen to people like her. This was like living in a movie and she was no star. Not like the young woman in front of her. Yet, her heart responded with an overwhelming thumbs up. “Ten years later you've decided to do what exactly?”
Corley wiped the froth that had attached itself to her top lip and quietly replied, “I've decided that I've lived with the knowledge I love you for too long and I want to share it and the only person to share it with is you.”
Kirsten didn't know what to say. At the same time, she felt her body responding to the hand that reached out to touch hers tentatively. “I don't know what to say.” Which was the truth—a cop out—but the truth?
“There is only one thing to say. Tell me, do I have a chance?”
The intensity of the question wasn't lost on Kirsten as she looked at the hand that held hers. Sighing heavily, she replied, “I'm about to retire from a career I love. I'm fifty-five, in the middle stages of life. I don't even know where I'm going with what's left of my life. My life is in its autumn years and yours is in its spring. Look at you…you're a celebrity and could have anyone you wanted.”
Corley tightened her hold on Kirsten 's hand and forced their eyes to meet. “I love you, I've loved you from the first moment I saw you. Every day I think about you. There isn't a day that goes by that I don't have that image of you riding your bike around campus.”
There was so much sincerity in the words that Kirsten felt tears flooding her eyes in compassion. “Images can be deceptive and that was ten years ago.”
“Ten years, twenty, fifty it won't change the way I feel about you, Kirsten . All I want to know is how you feel and if you could ever feel the same about me. I know this is out of the blue and that you'll need time. I'll give you time…I won't like it but I will.” Corley spoke quickly with a desperate quality to her voice.
Kirsten felt that the universe had just dropped a load on her shoulders that she couldn't possibly take on—or could she. “I do need time, Corley. I don't think I could cope with the limelight, and let's face it. someone like you with a lover old enough to be your mother would get people talking.”
Corley nodded in understanding biting her bottom lip in response to prevent her from speaking out that Kirsten 's fear were ridiculous. They weren't, the media would have a field day, but it wouldn't stop her loving Kirsten . “Does it matter what other people think Kirsten , shouldn't it only be about what we want, you and I. Those things would happen for a short time then when the five day wonder is over you'd still have me and my love isn't that worth a little exposure-it is for me.”
Kirsten didn't know what to say her heart felt the pull of Corley's intense emotions but her mind, yes her mind refused to allow her to travel that path.
Sighing heavily Coley stood up. “Take my card. If you decide you want to see me again, call me.”
Kirsten took the card and looked at the delicate writing on the embossed surface. “O kay .”
Corley hesitated and then with a determined expression asked, “ Kirsten , will you at least let me kiss you goodbye.”
Taken aback at the request, Kirsten allowed her heart to answer. “Yes.” She stood up and moved around the table so they were close together. Expecting a quick peck she was amazed, stunned and anything else that could possibly describe the sensation of Corley's lips on hers for those brief seconds.
Kirsten rocked backwards and would have fallen she was sure if it hadn't been for the table against her back keeping her upright. Her fingers touching her lips her whole body in sensuous rebellion as she watched Corley leave Jaeger's and possibly her for good. As she did, Susan 's words echoed in her head. Stranger things have happened, Kirsten , don't give up on love.
Kirsten knew in that moment that the rest of her life was in the balance. She had the option to do what she always did or…take a chance. There really wasn't any contest.
Corley heard her name and swung her gaze to the person who had said it. “ Kirsten ?”
Kirsten fuelled as much courage as she could and moved to stand as close as possible to Corley without them actually touching. “I need to ask you one question, Corley.”
Corley grinned. “Only one? O kay , shoot.”
Kirsten moved slightly and trailed her finger down Corley's cheek. “Promise me you won't trade me in for an older model.”
Corley laughed so loudly she was sure the whole world could hear it. “Oh, you have that promise.” Then hugged Kirsten to her and gave out a heavy sigh of satisfaction. “I love you Kirsten Van De Pelt . I always will until the day I die.”
Kirsten felt the tears that had hovered since she'd begun this slide into the unknown flow gracefully. “If this isn't love that I feel for you Corley I don't what it is but it's wonderful. Even if it's for this moment in time or the next fifty years, I'm going to keep craving the sensation.” Her lips moved to capture Corley's and she knew the rest of her life really didn't matter as long as Corley was part of it.
Life was what you made of it and love—well love was something you couldn't say you were too old to appreciate or experience.
The door of Jaeger's opened and with it, the potential for more stories for another time perhaps…
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