She was back in her old stomping grounds for a few hours. Heart heavy, she grabbed a table at Starbucks to nurse her Venti Cinnamon Dolce Latte. With a deep sigh, she hung her head and felt her shoulders droop. When could find something to live for? She needed a hero. Her heart needed a hero.
Yes, she had Jesus. She pulled out her journal and scribbled out a prayer to him.
Jesus, please help me fight this loneliness and despair. I can’t believe how lost I feel right now. I only have you to lean into. The pastor I’m closest to is on vacation for a few more weeks and my dearest friend is out of town on business. Family? Ha! Lotta good they do. Just help Lord. Please give me a tangible sense of your presence. I’m afraid. She signed her name to the prayer on the lined paper. Julianne.
Setting down her pen she brought her cup to her lips and felt the warm drink radiate throughout her body but not quite to her cold nose and toes. It was early spring but lately she just couldn’t get warm. Low blood sugar? She shrugged and shook her head. Did it even matter why?
She picked up her pencil and doodled a bit as she scanned the other occupants of the small café. What was it about this place that attracted people? Sure the drinks were good – but expensive. The environment, cozy. But it seemed almost every table was filled and her tiny one was close to several others. There wasn’t much space to maneuver much less have a private conversation.
She looked up into smoky grey eyes framed by dark lashes behind wire-rimmed glasses.
“Tristan?” She gulped and flipped her journal.
“Is that seat taken? It seems this place is filled to capacity today.” He motioned to the chair across from her tiny table.
“No. Go ahead.”
He nodded to her journal. “If you would rather be alone…”
She shook her head. “Anything but that, please, have a seat. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen you. What have you been up to?
The chair squeaked against the tile floor as he pulled it back and sat down, loosening the red scarf that was tucked into his black trench coat. “Well, after working for other IT companies I finally got around to starting my own business and so far, we’re doing pretty well for ourselves. Remember, John?”
She nodded. How could she forget the screwball of their class? Intelligent but always making people laugh.
“He’s my partner and it’s been a great thing to have him on board. He keeps me from letting the challenges get me down.”
She smiled and nodded. Yeah, she could see John doing that.
“So, what have you been up to? You look more beautiful than when I saw you last, which was, what, about a year ago?”
She swallowed and raised her cup to her lips to take a sip. How was she to answer that? She set the cup down. “I work for a company downtown shuffling papers and answering phones. I’ve got a day off today.”
“Let me guess, you are Executive Administrative Assistant to T.J. Banks.”
Her eyes widened. “How would you know that?”
His grin was as cute as it ever was with those straight teeth and those lips she always dreamed of kissing. But he had never looked at her that way.
“I make it a practice to keep up with my competition. I suspect T.J. wouldn’t be half as successful if you weren’t managing his life.”
He put up a finger to stop her. “Julianne, I’ve known you for years, you love to be in charge and keep things flying along and rarely do challenges throw you for a loop as you seem to anticipate far in advance of everyone else the troubles that may present themselves.”
“Maybe at work, but it doesn’t translate well in everyday life.” She reached and folded her journal closed and stuck it in her bag.
“Whoa. Hold on Julianne, I didn’t mean to offend you. T.J. and I play racquetball every other week and he speaks highly of you. But why so down? You look great and have a fantastic job.”
“I may need to quit soon.” She spoke just above a whisper but he heard her and frowned.
She reached down to pull out the local paper, folded but open to an article. She placed it in front of him. “That’s why.”
She watched Tristan scan the article. He looked up at her puzzled. “Why would you want to quit?”
“Management is trying to throw me under the bus with this. I had nothing to do with any of those deals but someone has it in for me and the rumor mill is moving at warp speed.”
“They can’t fire you over this even if you were a part of it.”
“T.J. wouldn’t fire me. He doesn’t believe it and tells me to ignore it.”
“But they are making it difficult for you to work.”
She shook her head. “They are making it difficult for me to even breathe. I’ve started getting panic attacks when I walk into the office because of the harassment.”
His strong square jaw dropped. “And T.J. allows it to continue?”
“Neither of us knows who is behind it. It’s phone calls and unsigned notes and we can’t find the source.” She let her finger trace the edge around the top of her cup cover. She blinked back the tears.
A strong hand grabbed hers and gave a squeeze. “Julianne, I know it’s been a few years, but I feel like you’ve been one of my dearest friends forever, I’m worried about you.”
She looked up into those eyes that had never failed to mesmerize her. “I’m worried about me too.” With her one free hand she leaned her head forward and scratched her scalp and leaned her forehead into it.
“Julianne?” His voice was as rich as chocolate and as sweet to hear. His other hand came across to wipe away a tear that had started to make a run for her chin.
“Why did you leave me?”
My head snapped up. “What? I never left you. You wanted Anna and she seemed perfect for you. You made it clear you didn’t want me around. Third wheel and all that.”
He wasn’t smiling anymore, his eyes looked sad. He pulled her other hand down and now both were held captive. They finally felt warm in his and that tingle of something trickled up her arms straight to her heart.
“Anna wanted a job and thought she could get there by climbing over me. I was an idiot to let myself be snowed by her act and I was foolish to have tuned out your words of caution. When I finally realized what had happened I was alone and you were long gone. I didn’t realize I had driven you away.”
“Well, you pretty much told me to mind my own business and find someone else to love, you weren’t interested.”
“I said that?”
She nodded. “I’m not surprised you don’t remember, Anna was quite a distraction for you.”
“And yet, as I stepped back and tried to assuage my wounded ego, all I could think of was you.”
“You never called.”
“You changed your number. It was like you had disappeared. You moved and didn’t tell anyone.”
“Not true. John knew.”
“But I had asked him to only contact me if there was an emergency.”
Tristan shook his head. “I guess my broken heart wasn’t an emergency to him – but it sure felt like one to me.”
“I’m sorry, Tristan. I really am. You deserved better than her.”
“What I never deserved though, was you.”
“You never even wanted me.”
“Now that’s where you would be wrong, Julianne. I wanted you very much then and even more so now.”
“You don’t know me anymore. I’m not the same girl.”
“According to T.J. you are and even more than that. You’ve grown up, matured and even with that bulky coat you still fire my blood.”
She tried to pull her hands back. “I think I had better go.”
“Please. Stay. Just a few more minutes.” The plea in his eyes did something to her brain, making her unable to move her legs. He squeezed her hands and smiled.
“I have been praying for months for an opportunity to run into you. I’ve looked for you everywhere I could think of. T.J. refused to help because he thinks I want to steal you away from him.” He chuckled. “Little does he realize what I really want to steal is your heart.”
She turned away from the entreaty in his eyes. “You took it a long time ago and never gave it back.”
“Maybe it’s time I fixed that.”
“Maybe an exchange? I keep your heart and I give you mine.”
Her eyes flashed to his face. He was serious.
“I don’t like being the consolation prize, Tristan.”
“Never that, Julianne. You could never be that. You were the first prize I never felt worthy of qualifying for.”
“What is it you really want from me?”
He grinned, “Do you really want to know?”
“I want you by my side as my wife, in my bed as my lover and in my home as mother to our children.”
Her jaw dropped and her heart skipped a beat.
“But I’ll settle for dating you first until you are comfortable with the idea of the rest.”
“Just like that?”
“I told you, I’ve been praying for months over this. It’s always been you in my heart that I’ve wanted.”
Tears came and she bit her lip before responding. “You think meeting me here today was an answer to that prayer?”
“Sure, why not?”
“Because it was definitely an answer to mine.”
He leaned forward and wiped a tear away with the pad of his thumb and then let that same appendage trace her lips.
“I really want to kiss you now.” He said, his voice husky.
“I really want to be kissed.” She gave a feeble smile. Was this really happening?
He leaned forward and pulled her face towards his across the tiny table. Their lips met in a soft kiss and finally she felt warm, all the way to her toes.
He released her and sat back with a soft smile on his lips, and a hint of moisture in his eyes. “Julianne. Please don’t make me wait too long to say yes to my ultimate plan.”
“Because right now I wish I could take you home and finish what that kiss started, but I can’t do that unless we are married.”
She felt the heat rise in her face and she grinned. “The feeling is mutual, Tristan.”
He tucked his scarf back into his coat, rose and finished with his buttons. “I think we need a walk. He grabbed his coffee and hers and waited for her to rise and zip up her jacket.
She looked out the glass windows. The sun was peeking through the clouds. She put on her gloves and grabbed her drink and threw her bag over her shoulder. “Yeah, a walk sounds good.”
She thanked God for bringing a hero back to help heal her broken heart. God, you are so good! She smiled up into Tristan’s eyes.
“What?” he asked.
He bent and kissed her again on the sidewalk, letting this one linger a bit longer. He pulled back and groaned. “The shorter the wait the better.”
Julianne, leaned into his side as he put an arm around her, “I agree.”