Stephanie and Josh: Love’s Growing Pains III
“Hey Steph,” Josh began, jolting Stephanie back to reality away from her flurry of thoughts; “I want to tell you that I am actually happy to see you again. You are looking very stunning by the way” Josh said in a soft measured tone. It was as if in the stillness of that evening’s drive, Josh had begun to think seriously about his future with Stephanie. He took a sideways glance at her and smiled.
“Thanks, you are not bad-looking yourself. All you need is to take a shower after and you’d be as radiant as I used to remember” Stephanie said smiling.
The discussions flowed from there as they began to talk in somber and serious tones about their present lives. Stephanie spoke about her company dramatically downsizing and letting a significant number of former employees leave. She spoke about how her drive and work ethic were the only things that helped to persuade her employers to keep her even though she took a little pay cut to retain her position. She also wasn’t too happy with the fact that they moved her away from New York City. But with the spate of firings going on around her as businesses began to crumble and disappear, she thought it best to remain with a guaranteed job until she could find something better. After all, it wasn’t as though she was not earning enough money to be very comfortable. She suggested rather comically, while looking at Josh, that it was providence that brought her back to Indiana, for she queried, if she hadn’t returned, how indeed they could be having this date.
Josh listened attentively and smiled whenever Stephanie chuckled. In his mind, he was remembering the spontaneous and free-spirited woman he used to love. As the discussions carried on, it became clearer to Josh that she was still fun to hang out with.
He looked sideways again at Stephanie who had strangely fallen silent, staring intently, as he began to talk about himself. This was because the cute smile on his face had disappeared and was replaced with a sad, somewhat pained expression. It was as if he was having great difficulty expressing himself. That keen expression struck a familiar chord in her. It was that same dazed, innocent and painfully-obvious look that he had when she first met him in New York.
He began by narrating about the loss of his mother to cancer the year before and how it completely devastated him and his only sister. Then he recounted the stress of his job, and how it severely impinged on his social life. He talked about his desire to leave Indiana for one of the really big cities out there where he could actually get to enjoy life in between the hectic hours at his current job of saving lives. Then he spoke of a recent heart surgery that he and his medical crew performed which failed to save a young girl—how the loss of that poor girl’s life sent him into throes of sadness and guilt for many days. It didn’t even help matters that he did not have a serious dedicated woman in his life at that time to help him out in his time of great emotional distress.
As he spoke in such soft earnest tones, he struck a sympathetic figure that Stephanie’s heart went out to him. She fell in love all over again. Here was a man who is loved and respected amongst his colleagues, adored by many, and who could probably boast of having accomplished quite a lot in his life; here was a man who had many beautiful young women eager to date him—so eager in fact that they could practically do anything to curry his favor. Here was a man that was always full of smiles and laughter and an easy-going disposition as though he had no cares in the world! But despite all that anyone could have said about him positively, he was altogether vulnerable—behind the laughter and the chuckles was a man who had deep worries and concerns, and who was clearly in need of a good woman to love and support him when it mattered.
That at least was the impression that Stephanie got as she watched the keen face talking at length about his personal life. Suddenly overcome with great feeling, she gently placed a hand on Josh’s hand which was resting on the car’s gear.
“Look Josh, I have no right to suddenly appear out of nowhere to tell you what you should do with your life. However, I think you need a woman who cares for you to be by your side when it counts; someone to reassure you that everything is going to be okay” Stephanie said slowly trying to mask the depth of feeling she was experiencing.
“Thanks sweetheart” Josh began. What? He called her sweetheart? Stephanie’s heart skipped a beat because it was the first time Josh had used such an affectionate term to address her since she came back to home. As a matter of fact, Stephanie felt the sincerity in his voice at the moment, for it sounded not like those casual terms of endearment that people might regularly bounce around their supposed paramours.
“I agree with you Steph. I don’t know what I could have done if Katie was not around all this while” Josh said emphatically.
“Katie? Who is Katie?” Stephanie shot back quickly, slyly moving her hand away to her forehead as if trying to scratch an imaginary itch.
“What do you mean? Don’t you remember Katie? I was merely agreeing to the sentiment that I needed someone around when times were rough. Katie was there for me” Josh answered with an air of aloofness as though he did not realize what Stephanie was getting at.
“You must forgive me, but I don’t quite remember that you’ve ever mentioned this Katie to me. What, is she your girlfriend or something?” Stephanie asked trying to sound somewhat amused.
“Catherine—my younger sister Katie. She’s been living with me for a while” Josh replied with a smile.
“Ohh, you cheeky devil!” Stephanie shot back in relief as she playfully smacked his arm.
Josh pulled into the driveway of a beautiful white house. Katie, who was bent over, attending to some vegetables and flowers in the garden, stood up, smoothed out the creases in her clothes and started walking towards the front of the house.
“We are here. Welcome to my humble abode” Josh announced as they began to alight from the car.
“Hmm, nice house. Nice neighborhood too. I guess I should not have expected anything less huh?” Stephanie asked in a half-appreciative, half-teasing voice. She laughed again as they walked up the driveway towards the house’s huge oaken front door entrance.
“Oh, I am sorry you hate it, but at least it protects me from the elements” Josh shrugged pretending to be offended at the subtle dig.
“Hahaha. Oh shut up. It is a nice house” she said.
At that moment, from the right side of the house, Katie announced her presence.
“Oh, Stephanie, here is my sister Katie. Katie, this is Stephanie. You remember I mentioned a few days ago that she was coming over today” Josh said by way of introduction.
“Oh dear! You should have mentioned it to me much earlier today before you came home so that I’ll get everything in order. I am just coming from the backyard garden!” she yelled.
“Hello Stephanie. One of my friends is called Stephanie, but we all call her Steffie. Please may I call you that? She smiled and extended her wrist towards Stephanie for a handshake because her hands were still covered in dirt.
“By all means please. It is no problem at all” Stephanie said, ignoring the barely outstretched wrist and giving Katie a hug instead. “I used to have a green thumb too. You must promise to show me your garden when you can. And between sisters, I have to tell you that you are doing a marvelous job looking after this big brother of yours!”
Katie and Stephanie hit it off excellently. Soon they were inside the house chattering and laughing loudly as if they had known each other all their entire lives. Josh excused himself from their company and went to prepare a guest room for Stephanie. Then he came down to the living room, and informed Katie that he had prepared her room. They were still chatting animatedly in the living room when Josh excused himself to go and freshen up. He disappeared to his bedroom to take a shower and slip into some fresh clothes.
When he came back, he was surprised to see the two women in the kitchen making dinner. Stephanie had already slipped into one of Katie’s outfits and was in the kitchen helping her to cook dinner. They were talking about anything and everything all at once—laughing and smiling all the way through. It was clear that Katie had immediately warmed up to Stephanie. Maybe she is different from the other women I used to hang out with, Josh thought as he watched them.
He would have preferred to take Stephanie out to a restaurant in order to have some more quality time with her. He knew he had to be with her only for this weekend and he was trying to make the best of his limited time, but there was simply no way he could separate the two women. He was left wondering what sort of strange bonds often binds women who had never actually met that you could be forgiven to think that they were long-lost sisters. At any rate, he still had the whole day tomorrow to hang out and connect with Stephanie romantically, so he went to the living room and collapsed into the sofa to watch television.
Not long afterwards, dinner was served. They all ate with great relish and toasted to good health over a bottle of champagne.
As they were eating, suddenly Stephanie asked:
“Katie, so why does your brother not have a girlfriend?”
There was an awkward moment of silence at the table. The truth of the matter is that Katie was used to playing hostess to a number of women that sometimes accompanied Josh home. But being the protective younger sister, she never really liked any of those women even if she had to play the part of the gracious host. As a matter of fact, she was convinced that they were after her brother for very flimsy superficial reasons namely his looks and his career. She would nevertheless continue to tell his brother privately that none of these women were good enough to be with him. Therefore the way the two women bonded gave away Katie’s preference. So without even spending much thought on the question, she replied,
“Girlfriend you say? Come on, I have to beat women away from him with a stick. What he needs is a good and loving woman whom he could actually consider marrying. I know it’s not my place, but I was under the impression that you are precisely that sort of woman, Steffie”
“Uhm, ladies, what am I—chopped liver? I am still here at this table. Keep talking as if I am not sitting right here!” Josh added comically as they started laughing.
When dinner was over, Josh started gathering up the dishes to wash them. Stephanie then went to the room prepared for her to take a shower since it was clear that she was spending the night at Josh’s house.
“Hey, what’s wrong with you?” Josh asked his sister when Stephanie was clearly out of earshot. “Were you trying to propose to her on my behalf or what?”
“Oh come on. I know it is hard for me to tell which woman you actually care for on a deeper level, but I think I can say that you still have some feelings for this one. You two used to love each other before and I am sure the attraction is still there. Don’t you dare hide it from me either. Besides I like her too. She doesn’t yet know of all these other women in your life and you need to let her know so that you don’t break her heart.” Katie replied.
“Those other women were mere acquaintances and you know that. It is not like they were my girlfriends or that I was romantically attached to them in any meaningful way. And why are you passionately speaking up for someone who dumped me years ago when it suited her? Aren’t you supposed to be on my side in this?” Josh asked searching Katie’s eyes intently for an answer.
“Look Josh, I am sorry. What you do with your love life really shouldn’t be my business but there is something different about this one. Don’t you feel it? In fact, I wouldn’t even have a problem with her spending the night in your own bedroom. After all, these floozies you bring around eventually wind up spending the night in your bedroom despite the fact that you usually prepare a guest room for them. If anyone deserves your time like that, it should be Steffie. Goodnight bro, I am going to bed”
With that, she left Josh with the dishes in the kitchen, and walked out.
As Josh began to wash the dishes, he was thinking hard about what his sister said. There can be no denying the fact that Stephanie was still attractive. Besides, he also got to see her domestic side as well. Even though he had decided that he was never going to fall in love again, was it possible that for one more time his heart could find the means to love once more?
Katie tiptoed to the kitchen again and saw Josh quietly doing the dishes completely oblivious of her presence. He was wrapped in his own thoughts. So she sneaked up on him, tapped him on the shoulder and said:
“Have fun tonight” with a twinkle in her eye, she thrust her crotch forward at her brother mimicking a Michael Jackson dance move.
“Gerrout you witch!” he shouted as he threw a spoon at her. Of course he completely understood what she was implying. She giggled and finally disappeared to her room.
Moments later Stephanie came down to the living room where Josh was already sitting down watching television.
“Where is Katie?” she enquired as she came to sit beside Josh on the plush sofa.
“What do you think? It is my house so don’t you forget that. I think she has retired to her room to give us some privacy”
“I absolutely love your sister. I am sure you must have picked up on that” she said demurely.
“I get that a lot. Most people who have interacted with her say that the little rascal is an angel but I don’t see it” Josh replied absentmindedly.
Her hair smelled really nice and she looked very seductive in her nightie. As she sat and carelessly placed her head on Josh’s shoulder, he could not resist the thought of kissing her. It had been a long and tiring day, but he was glad that it ended on a very high positive note. Now, sitting beside this gorgeous woman whom he used to love, he felt a rush of emotions as he desperately wanted to kiss her. Those luscious lips of hers, he thought. He remembered in the past how that whenever he moved in for a kiss, she would smile tenderly at him, close her eyes and part her lips. He remembered her habit of momentarily opening her eyes and searching his face after the first few seconds of kissing. Then she would close her eyes again and kiss him even harder. He remembered the way she became breathless as the kissing continued. She would be literally out of breath but at the same time holding on fiercely. He remembered how magical it was when their tongues intertwined. It was just too much for him to bear. He knew he was just going to have to kiss her again even if for old memories sake. He wanted her, and he knew she wanted him. At this point all he wanted was to make up one reason to turn off the television, and escort her to his bedroom because the evening was already far spent.
(to be continued..)