“Don’t ask me to marry you.”
Ten seconds before Clara Ani blurted out that startling plea she’d imagined she’d say yes if he did. Samuel Freeman was in theory the man she always wanted. More than his good looks and chivalry, in the one year they’d known each other, he’d shown himself to be her number one cheerleader, finding ways to support her career. He was not commitment shy, a big check in his favour, had his finances in order and lived in a house he gave her the key to the front door.
In theory, he was the right match. Clara wanted more than a right match, she’d just realised.
“All right,” he said, stressing each word. His expression had gone quickly from baffled to quizzical, then to worried, and settled now on mildly playful. Sam preferred to see the fun side of most situations. “Is a predictable move, taking your girlfriend to a fancy dinner and slipping your hand in your breast pocket in the middle of it, is it not?”
“A little.” Recalling, a little too late, Clara thought, that they might have an audience, she cast a covert glance to her right and left, and was relieved to find none. “Or it could be I’m the dreadful girlfriend who assumes a proposal is in order when it’s not.”
He retrieved his hand from the breast pocket of his suit, a ring box in it. “It is—was. A year together, first as friends, then lovers and I figured it was time for the next step. We have something good, I believe. Why don’t you want this?”
Always the straight shooter, Clara thought. It made it easier for her to be the same. “Until a minute ago I wanted it, a lifetime commitment with you.”
“What changed from one minute to the next?”
“Everything.” It shocked her that she didn’t want the ring, or him any longer. “I want that one thing we don’t have. Love.”
“We don’t have love?” A frown appeared to chase off the baffled calm. “I care about you in a way I’ve never done another woman. That is love in my book.”
“In mine it’s a genuine and deep affection. Sam.” Saying his name made her sigh, for she liked it. She liked a lot of things about him. “We’re good together, and are likely to always be. But why settle for good when spectacular is possible?”
“What the heck are you talking about? You want the storybook painted idea of love where the heart skips a beat, the world whirls and when it stands still, all you see is this one person?” Disbelief smeared his voice. “Is that what you’re after?”
“It sounds foolish, doesn’t it, to wish for something so intangible?” Intangible, abstract, impossible. Non-existent, most likely. “I want to feel it, to have someone feel it for me. I want marriage, children, a home. But more than those, I want love. To fall in love, and I wish I did with you.”
“Is there someone else?”
“But you want there to be. When you can’t fall in love with me, you want someone else.”
“Oh, Sam. It hurts me to have to hurt you.” It broke her heart to see the cloud of disappointment in his gaze. “I wish I can rebury this sudden desire for love where it laid unnoticed all my life.”
“Clara.” With a sigh, he opened her palm and set the box on it. “This is us. You and I, what we can be. What we can share. I’ve never been the type for sentimental words, but I do love you. I want you, no other woman, and that’s never going to change.”
Clara’s eyes misted at the words every woman wanted to hear. “You love me, but you’re not in love with me. There’s a difference, Sam.”
“With me, there’s no difference. Love is love.” He closed his hand over hers. “You know I’m a one-woman man. I’ll be faithful to you, if that’s what worries you. I’ll try my darndest to be, at least.”
“I know you will. I know you are now.” Perhaps she was a fool. She certainly felt like one. “I’m sorry I’m hurting you. It’s the last thing I want to do. But if I have to always wonder and wish for it, I’d be hurting you in a different way.”
“Jeez.” Releasing his hold, he picked the wineglass to take a deep sip. “No. I’m not accepting your no. It took a while to find you and I’m not letting go easily. So, think about it. I’ve got my trip to Port Harcourt, and when I’m back in a week, we’ll talk again.”
“When have you ever known me to be whimsical?” Clara asked.
“Never. Still, even the best of us have that moment of uncertainty and mild confusion.”
“I’m not uncertain or mildly confused.” It should insult her that he thought those to be the problem, but Clara understood him. “In a week when you’re back, none of this will change.”
“Then I’ll have to convince you. For now, it’s Valentine’s Day and even though my girlfriend is being totally unromantic, we’ll finish dinner and go see that movie.”
“The ring?” It still sat on her palm.
“It’s yours. It was yours from the moment I thought to buy it and I want only you to wear it.”
“I will never wear it, Lina.” She’d said no to the movie, so he’d brought her home early. And with her family gone for the weekend she was alone.
“The man you’ve been dating for nine months wanted to propose to you and you stopped him before he did?” Her sister, Paulina, had shock in her voice. “Are you having a just-turned-thirty crisis?”
“I could be. Heck, I don’t know what’s going on with me.” Antsy, she paced her bedroom. “I like Sam. Until that instant when I blurted those words, I thought I loved him. No. I do love him.”
“Then what are you doing?”
“Seeking in love, not love.” With a sigh she plonked down on the bean bag. “I want to be in love, Lina. We used to talk about it. Don’t you remember? How we’ll meet that dashing man, lose our train of thought while staring at him and fall in love?”
“Allow me to remind you we were pre-teens and teenage girls seeing life through the tinted glass of romantic animations and books.”
“And movies. Don’t forget movies like A Lot Like Love,” Clara said. “You’re right. We were girls at the time. All the same, love is not limited to fiction. On this earth where we live, people fall in love. Every day people, unexpectedly and without looking for it, fall in love, and I want that experience.”
“I want to experience Chanel bags, Ferragamo dresses, Jimmy Choo shoes and a bank account with US dollars. You know what I’ve got? My trusted customer at Main Market and Turkey-made wears at best.”
“Cynical much, are we?”
“Realistic much. And I hate that I’ve to be.” Paulina’s groan tickled her eardrum. “But is Valentine’s Day and I’m spending the evening with my daughter and mother, so my faith in love and romance is down the dump.”
“Mine would be too if I haven’t had a man nibbling various intimate parts of my body for eons,” Clara teased.
Paulina laughed. “You slut. I should hate you right now.”
“You don’t, you can’t, you never will,” Clara droned, smiling at their old joke.
“Sadly. But what are you going to do about falling in love?”
“Go out and make it happen.”
Her sputtered laugh made Clara grin. “That’s the way it happens. She steps into a room, her gaze locks with his, and her heart does the rest. Can’t happen if I’m indoors. And as you said, it is Valentine’s Day. Cupid is shooting his love arrows and I want to be struck by one.”
“It’s official. You’ve lost your mind. But as your sister who loves you whether she wants to or not, I’m going to offer you one gift, and that’s this wise thought. Take a good look at that ring, remember how amazing Sam has been, give him a call and begin your future—with him.”
“No. No. No. And no.” Clara rolled to her feet and aimed for her closet. “The thought may be wise, but no one does wise on VD. They do silly, spontaneous, and magical. That’s what I’m going to do.”
“If at the end of this evening you don’t fall in love, then what?”
“There’s tomorrow evening, and the evening after that, and other evenings. Days, too. Lina, I won’t settle for a sparkle when I can have the fire blazing.”
*** *** ***
Something Called Love is on OKADABOOKS.