Authors: Nia Ryan
Tags: #christian, #christian romance, #courtship, #first love, #love, #marriage
Copyright © 2010 Nia Ryan
This book is a work of fiction. Names,
characters, places and incidents are either products of the
author's imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to
actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely
coincidental. All rights reserved. No part of this publication can
be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means,
electronic or mechanical, without permission in writing from the
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Edition: Smashwords 2010
, Shannon thought.
There was an amazing guy in the backyard. He
was cleaning her father's pool. She couldn't stop staring at him,
imagining he was somebody who'd played basketball sometime in his
recent past, maybe even tried out for the Lakers.
He was wearing baggy shorts with cargo
pockets topped off with a big green Hawaiian shirt with yellow
parrots. He was dancing while he poured in some sort of chemical
from a white plastic jug. His height, which she estimated at an
astonishing seven feet, added a comicality to the presentation.
She hadn't known Dad hired a pool man. It had
always been a point of pride for him to do things himself. He used
to joke about his menial tasks. She remembered the way he said it,
with a little smile.
Shannon, my first job was when I was five
years old, sweeping the porch for my mother. And now it's my last
job. The only difference is, I do it better now. But not with as
much interest or heart
It would have hurt his pride to hire
somebody. But perhaps his strength had lessened in his last year,
the life force abated to the point where he had to get some
The water in the pool was low. The guy began
filling it with the patio hose while glancing at his watch,
deciding if he had enough time to wait for a hundred gallons or so
to be added, an amount which would keep the skimmer from going dry
and burning out the pump.
With a start she realized he didn't know Dad
had passed away last night. And she wasn't sure of the protocol of
such a thing. Did she simply go out and tell him? Or did she wait
for the monthly bill to arrive and include a note with the payment:
Please take some pumice to the tile next time. FYI--Joe Ireland
She sat down on the couch and watched through
the sliding glass doors as the guy cleaned the pool. Memories of
the night before played out in her head. She remembered fighting
for breath from fright, and sitting bolt upright in her bed, having
been awakened by her brother's phone call in the dead of night.
"I'm still at the hospital," Phil said.
"Gone? What do you mean?"
"You know ... gone ... he didn't make
She'd rushed to the airport and grabbed the
first midnight shuttle from San Francisco to Los Angeles, where the
doctors at UCLA explained in detail why the 12 hours on the
operating table had failed to restore Dad's tired heart. Phil drove
her up from West Los Angeles to the San Fernando Valley to Dad's
house, where she'd collapsed on the couch and grabbed a few fitful
hours of sleep.
The memory evaporated, bringing her back to
the here and now, which was filled, not with memories of the past,
but instead the more immediate sight of the giant outside the
window, standing on the far side of the swimming pool, he as
completely oblivious to her presence as she was aware of his.
He was about finished and stood by the fence,
coiling the hose. She would have to tell him about Dad. At the
moment, however, she had nothing suitable to wear, having slept in
her business suit, which was now hopelessly wrinkled.
She quickly returned to her room and opened
the closet to a full rack of her mother's clothes. Cleaned and in
plastic. Dad had never been able to give them away, even though it
had been two years since Mom died. She threw on her mother's
old-fashioned robe which completely covered the wrinkled suit
before making her way to the sliding doors which opened onto the
pool. It was now or never. She stepped out in full view of the pool
man, who stopped dancing. He looked at her, and she at him, at his
bright blue eyes, a nose a bit too wide, setting off a clean-shaven
face which seemed permanently fixed on the friendly setting,
perhaps because of prominent dimples and lips upturned at the
edges, the lips not too thin and not too full.
"You're Shannon," he said. His voice was
medium timbre, of a tone which suggested he was not of the whining
variety, nor yet was the type to issue the stentorian commands
typical of other big men. This was not a guy who bellowed at
sporting events, or yelled at the kids. It was the voice of a man
who probably favored reason over brute force, a pleasant, earthy
voice, and it suited him.
Not to mention the great tan, doubtless
perfected by thousands of hours spent in the reflected glare of
countless swimming pools. She noticed his teeth were less than
perfectly straight, hadn't had the benefit, as hers had, of
orthodontia, one thing her father had splurged on. The slight gap
between the front incisors was somewhat charming, cute, even.
Dear Lord, I'm cataloguing him
, she thought.
It must be
the shock of Dad's passing
"Yes, I'm Shannon. How did you know?"
"There's a resemblance to your father."
"Dad showed you my picture," she said. A
statement, not a question.
"Yes. But I must say, Shannon, it didn't do
you justice. Your eyes are much greener. And your long red hair is
absolutely stunning in person. I take it your Dad explained
everything to you. Is that why you're here?"
His words landed like a hammer blow,
reminding him of why she was here. Her father was dead. She was
here to make the final arrangements. For a brief instant, she
wondered if she had the strength to continue standing.
He dropped the hose in the pool and walked
towards her, hand outstretched in greeting, perhaps not
understanding the reason for her silence.
"Where are my manners? I'm Johnny Murphy. But
please, my friends call me Stretch."
Up close, she was forced to tilt her head
straight back to continue the eye contact. It was time to tell him.
The first time she told someone of her father's passing would be
the hardest, because once the words were out to a complete
stranger, it somehow made it final. Made it real in a way keeping
it all inside never could. Even if it was simply a matter of
informing her father's hired servant. Later on, it would be easier
to make this admission when forced to announce her father's passing
to other relatives, co-workers, State officials, bankers, lawyers,
and the rest of the Lilliputian myriad whose business it was to be
kept informed of the passing of the people they'd kept strapped
down while still alive.
He was getting closer.
She found herself bracing for whatever
run-of-the-mill faux sympathetic comment it was he chose to offer,
it being important as a means for clearing the air of sentiment in
order to get straight at the business of officially processing the
death of Joe Ireland.
"Stretch. Please." His hand floated toward
hers. Fingers twice as long as her own. And three times as thick.
"Okay. Stretch. I ... my dad passed away last
The handshake never made it. There. It was
out. And it wasn't so bad, really. The sun continued to burn off
the early morning Los Angeles haze. The world continued revolving
without shudder or shimmy. Rivers hastened their way to the
It was just a few quiet words escaping into
the air, but words which had a powerful effect all the same.
Stretch Murphy's piercing blue eyes focused on something inside
For some reason, she felt ashamed. As though
she had admitted a terrible personal weakness.
I have no father.
I am alone. I am suffering. I am something abnormal. Please look
away when I am passing by. My father is dead.
She waited for whatever stock phrase Stretch
would offer to get them both past the point where it was an issue,
and free them to get on with the business of deciding what to do
about cleaning the blasted pool in the weeks ahead while the estate
was being settled.
"I have no words," he said finally, his eyes
focusing on hers. "I know all the standard phrases. But somehow
none of them seem to fit. All I can tell you is I'm terribly,
terribly sorry for your loss. Your father was a great man. A man I
am proud to have known. I considered him a friend. I can't believe
he's gone." The man seemed to be shrinking before her.
With a start, she realized he was going down
to one knee. "It's a shame he won't be there to give you away when
we get married," he said.
Of all the things he could have said, this
was the most unexpected.
It's a shame he won't be there to give
you away when we get married.
It was something in his eyes, and
the way he'd gone to one knee as he said it.
"Excuse me? When we what?"
"When we get married. That is why you came
down, isn't it?"
"I don't know what you mean. Is this a
Stretch appeared genuinely hurt by her
comment. But then, slowly, understanding began to spread over his
somewhat uneven features, and he began to rise once again to both
"He didn't tell you, did he?" Stretch Murphy
"Tell me what?"
"About the arrangement. About us getting
married. He was supposed to tell you this week. I thought you were
here to meet me and my folks. We're supposed to have the ceremony
this Saturday and celebrate at Ireland 32 afterward. My dad's
reserved the main room just for us. There will be lots of great
Irish food and traditional dancers and everything. My mom's going
to make her famous Irish dumplings."
With that, she managed to get back inside and
lock the door. She ran to her cell phone and dialed Phil.
"There's a guy in the back yard," she said.
"He's saying some strange things. Should I call the police?"
"Is he about 10 feet tall?" Phil said.
"He calls himself Stretch," Phil replied.
"He's a friend of Dad's. Been helping Dad with the pool. He's okay.
Nothing to worry about."
Phil's voice was gravelly, and slurred. There
was a lot of background noise, like people talking and yelling.
"Phil are you okay? Where are you? You sound
"I haven't been home since I dropped you off
last night," he said.
"You haven't been drinking, have you?"
"Naw, I called my sponsor and we stayed up
"The big guy outside is babbling about
marrying me," Shannon said.
"I don't know anything about that. Now if
you'll excuse me, I'm going to crash. Call me later."
She put the phone down and went back to the
window. The guy was still there, but sitting at the patio table
with a big frown on his face. She paced a bit, wondering how long
he would sit there. She looked again. He was still there.
It occurred to her he was sitting there
because she had upset him, had simply slammed the door in his
I'm not being a good Christian,
I've hurt his feelings. Phil says he's okay. Is there
any chance what he's saying might be true? There's only one way to
She opened the door and stepped out
"I'm sorry," she said. "I think we had a
"Oh, no!" Stretch exclaimed. "There's no way
I can make you understand what's going on if your father didn't
tell you first. I dump it on you ice cold, you'll never believe
I'll just let him talk for a minute,
"Would you like to explain it to me?"
"Yes, but this is going to sound all wrong.
The timing is terrible. Joe couldn't have passed away at a worse
time. You see, your dad had this idea. When I first met him, he
said he wished I could meet you. He wanted to find a husband for
you, because he said you were unable to find anyone for yourself,
that you were putting your job and your career in front of the
things that really mattered in life.
That does sound like something Dad would
"But then he took it a step further," Stretch
continued. He met with my parents, and they all arranged for us to
get married. A formal arrangement between the two families. Your
father even brought in his lawyer and we all filled out papers and
everything, spelling out the amount of the dowry, and