“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.