Authors: Gail Sattler
But this also meant he would be alone with Gary traveling from Shannon's apartment to the church parking lot.
The thought made Todd break out into a cold sweat.
He looked at the empty front seats, thinking he should have the grace to move from the back seat into the front. But the last thing he wanted to do was sit beside Gary because that meant he would have to talk to him.
By the time Gary returned, Todd was settled in the front seat, buckled in, ready to go, and praying they caught every light green.
The second Gary started the engine, Todd leaned forward and turned the radio up, not caring what kind of station it was or what was playing.
Even though the music was loud, the lack of conversation hung in the air between them like a cold, looming black cloud. When they were a block from the church, Gary reached forward and turned the radio down. The lightness of Gary's tone was completely negated by his words. “You know, SandersâI don't know if you think you're trying to be funny, but you might notice I'm not laughing.”
Steeling his courage, Todd turned to Gary. “You know, for once, I wasn't trying to be funny.”
Gary kept his face forward, not looking at Todd as he spoke, which only seemed to accent his words. “I think it would be in your best interests if you kept out of this and started minding your own business. What I do with Shannon is none of your concern. I like the way you do your job, and I enjoy working with you, but I would hate to suddenly start finding too many mistakes while you're still on probation.”
Todd's head spun. He had expected Gary to confront him, but he hadn't expected this.
Before he could put two thoughts together to respond, the car stopped in the parking lot beside his car, the only one in the entire lot.
Gary still didn't turn his head but kept his face forward, watching ahead of him through the windshield. “I'll see you tomorrow at work, Sanders. Good day.”
Todd exited Gary's car quickly.
He stabbed the key into the lock, slid in, and slammed the door. Instead of starting the car, he whacked the steering wheel with his fist and muttered under his breath.
He was only trying to protect Shannonâfrom Gary and from herself. He hadn't considered that his actions could mean losing his job. He needed the job. If he lost it, he wouldn't be the only one to suffer, and he couldn't let that happen.
And if Gary would stoop so low as to threaten Todd, then he wondered if the man would use his power and authority at work on Shannon. While Gary wasn't her supervisor, as he was Todd's, he was still second in command over the branch. As such, he had some degree of authority over every department, even if only by influencing the one person higher than Gary in the corporate ladder.
Todd clenched his teeth as he started the car. Shannon didn't know who she was getting herself involved with. He doubted she had the slightest idea of what the man who said he wanted to learn about God really wanted. Or what he was willing to do to get it.
But Todd intended to tell her.
It took every ounce of Todd's self-control to drive within the posted speed limit to Shannon's apartment.
The time it took for him to park the car, walk to the main door, press the button, and wait for her to respond gave Todd time to calm down and think more clearly.
He was angry with Gary, but he couldn't be angry with Shannon. She was only doing what she thought was best. He couldn't belie her efforts in what she saw as the right and noble thing, even though she was wrong.
Shannon's voice crackled through the intercom. “Hello?”
He cleared his throat and tried to sound cheerful. “Hi, Shan. It's me. Todd. Want to do dinner?”
“Todd?” For a few seconds, he heard static sparking
through the metal grating. “Uhâit's kind of early for dinner; we just had lunch. But come up. I guess.”
When the elevator door swooshed open on Shannon's floor, he found her waiting in the hallway outside her door. She stood with her arms crossed, and she wasn't smiling. “What are you really doing here? Even you can't be thinking about eating again.”
“I wanted to talk to you about something.” He glanced both ways down the hall. He was prone to public displays and appreciated when he had an audience that was amused by his antics, but that was when nothing important was at stake. This time he wanted everything he said kept between him and Shannon and not her neighbors. “Can we go inside?”
Shannon stepped back and extended one arm but said nothing.
The second the door closed, Todd could no longer hold back. “I don't think you have any idea what you're dealing with. I came here to tell you to be very careful with Gary. You're in way over your head.”
Her eyes narrowed. “I thought I knew what he was like, but I'm wondering if I've been wrong. On the way to church, he talked to me about how he has to put on a tough, hard-edged facade in front of the men at work to earn and keep their respect. He says part of that includes acting like a ladies' man.”
Todd crossed his arms. “He's only telling you what you want to hear.”
Her voice lowered. “I'm not stupid, Todd. I've seen him in action at work. I'm only saying we talked, and I think I have to make some allowances for him. I at least have to think about it.”
“You don't need to think about it. I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt, too. He said something in the car, though, that made me realize not only have I been right, but he's even worse. And you can forget any romantic notions he has for you. He's only trying to mislead you. He has nothing good or noble in mind for you. You shouldn't be seeing him outside work. And that includes church. You think you're safe on Sunday morning, but you're not. Not with him.”
“What did he tell you in the car?”
“I'd rather not say now.”
Shannon tipped her head and studied him, not saying anything while the seconds dragged on like hours. “Why are you doing this? What do you have against Gary?”
“I have nothing against him.”
Her posture stiffened even more. “It sure sounds like it to me. And besides his interest in learning more about God and Jesus Christ, he said he wanted to be sure I liked chocolate kisses. It looks as if he might be my Secret Admirer after all. He's hinting, trying to build the suspense. He's waiting for the right moment to tell me.”
Todd's restraint exploded in a puff of smoke. He waved one hand in the air, barely able to keep from yelling. “Can't you see he's lying to you? He's just using that because he knows it's a soft spot with you. Just like going to church is a soft spot with you.”
“How dare you!”
He stepped closer and lowered his voice. “Shannon, I'm not saying these things to make you angry. I'm only saying this out of concern because I, uh”âhe swallowed hard and cleared his throatâ“I like you a lot. I don't want to see you get hurt, and I think your spending time with Gary is a bad idea. I only want to help you.”
“I have to finish what I started, with or without you. Surely you agree that Gary needs someone to walk through this with him. Maybe next week you should go to your own church.”
Todd's heart sank. “What?”
She checked her watch. “And I can't go out to dinner with you. I had already made plans to go out with a friend for dinner. In fact, I think you should leave now.”
Todd felt as if he'd been smacked in the chest with a two-by-four. He wanted so much to reveal his proof that Gary was lying to her, but he couldn't tell her he was her Secret Admirer now. He'd had dreams of the right momentâin a romantic atmosphere, wrapped in each other's arms, soft music playing in the background. Maybe even feeding her chocolate kisses by hand or sharing chocolate kisses between real ones. Not only was there nothing romantic about this moment, but she was throwing him out of her home. She was so angry with him that he had a feeling she'd never believe him.
“Fine,” he muttered, trying to take her rejection like a man. “I guess I'll see you at work tomorrow.” He turned on his heel and stomped to the door.
As he stepped into the hallway, he felt Shannon's fingers touch his arm, stopping him in his tracks.
“Todd, wait. I want you to understand why I'm doing this. I have to give him a chance. God gives us all a chance, regardless of whether we deserve it or not. I have to do the same.”
Todd's head spun. His thoughts and emotions had ricocheted in his head and heart in so many directions and on so many levels that he didn't know what to think anymore. He felt himself going into auto-pilot mode with his reaction.
He turned around. “So in other words you're telling me don't go away mad; just go away.”
She smiled. He felt himself melting into a puddle on the floor.
“Yes, something like that. Good-bye, Todd.”
The door closed.
Todd's brain was so numb he didn't remember the drive home, only that he was there.
He sat at the kitchen table and did the same thing he did every day when he couldn't get Shannon out of his mind. He tore a piece of paper out of the pad, opened the rhyming dictionary, and began to compose his newest poem.
Your merciful spirit soothes my tortured soul
Todd grimaced and crumpled up the paper. He didn't want to acknowledge her anger or her forgiveness or that he was feeling rotten from arguing with her. Shannon was intelligent and perceptive. If he mentioned anything even remotely related to what had just happened, she might figure out why her Secret Admirer would say such things, then know who he was. He couldn't afford for that to happen. Not now. Not until everything was perfect between them.
He tore off a sheet of fresh paper and tried again.
Your shining smile fills me with happiness
Todd flipped through the book and harumphed when he discovered there was no exact rhyme for happiness. He wadded up the paper and closed his eyes to picture Shannon in his mind before he started again.
Like the sweet, clean scent of a tangy apple
Todd buried his face in his hands. That apple shampoo was affecting him more than he thought. This time he ripped the paper into multiple pieces and pushed them to the center of the table.
Like the sparkling spring sunshine in the month of May,
Like the sweet, clean scent of a fresh bouquet,
Like the beauty and fullness of a rose when it's blooming,
My love for you is all consuming.
Your Secret Admirer
Todd smiled. This was one of his best. In fact, it was so good he thought when the day came to reveal himself to Shannon, he would share a case of chocolate kisses and go to the florist and pick out a nice red rose. Or maybe one of those two-toned ones, because he knew she liked them.
As Todd tied the ribbon and attached the kiss, his thoughts drifted back to the situation with Gary. Of course, Shannon was right. God had given Todd more chances than he could count, when he was nowhere near looking for God's heart. He had to step back and let Shannon handle Gary in whatever way she thought best. Even though it hurt, Todd knew he would have to pray for Gary, even if it took ten years or more, just as Craig and Shannon had prayed for him.
The events of the day also proved to him he never wanted to fight with Shannon over Gary again. He didn't want to fight with her about anything. It was too painful. He'd put her through enough over the years without adding more tension. When he thought of what could have happened by fighting over Gary, he felt sick. He didn't want to lose her over something that needed to be in the Lord's hands.
Todd shut his eyes. His heart pounded. During the time Shannon spent with Gary, he couldn't help but worry that she might like Gary better than she liked him. Regardless of what Todd knew or heard, he had to leave that in the Lord's hands, too. The battle of love wasn't always won by the person who was the most deserving. Not that he deserved Shannon. He was trying his best to make things right from the past, though. He could only hope and pray it was enough.
He opened his eyes and stared blankly at the wall. If Shannon did choose Gary over him and Todd came out the loser, then it would be inappropriate for him, as the Secret Admirer, to keep telling her how much he loved her, because her heart would belong to another.
But that didn't mean he wouldn't keep an eye on her, just to be sure she was safe and happy.
“Hey, Shan. Are you going out for lunch with Gary again today?”
Shannon cringed at Nanci's question. In the last couple of weeks, she'd gone out with Gary almost every other day. She hadn't realized it had become a topic of conversation among the other staff, although she hadn't been trying to keep it a secret. Before she could tell Nanci she wasn't going out today, Faye piped up.
“No, she went out with Gary for lunch yesterday. She'll be staying here today because it's Todd's turn.”
Nanci drew in her breath sharply. “Wow. I wish I had your love life.”
Shannon steeled her nerve and turned toward Nanci. “It's not like that at all. Todd and I are just friends. The same with Gary.”
She could tell from Nanci's expression and the expressions of those around who were listening that no one believed her.
“It's true,” she muttered, as she resumed her work.
Unfortunately, her words were truer than she wanted them to be. She didn't have a love life. Gary was a ministry. Nothing more, nothing less. She wanted to keep things as they were now, which was the occasional lunch on a weekday and church on Sunday.
Shannon's hands paused over the keyboard.
Church on Sunday.
She couldn't believe how much she missed him. Not that she really saw him any lessâshe saw him every day at work, plus
she saw him for various reasons several times a week after work
ing hours and on weekends. But she missed not being with him during the Sunday worship services. She'd been with him two Sunday mornings, first at her old church, then at her new one; yet now she felt the loss when the seat on the other side of her was empty, which had been the last two Sundays.
Shannon sighed. She deeply regretted telling him not to come with her. After two weeks of being with him during the service, and now two weeks of not having him there, she had to admit she missed him. She wanted to take back her words but didn't know how.
Shannon glanced at the doorway leading to the dispatch office, where Todd was hard at work. He was still the same old Todd she'd always known, but at the same time, he was completely different. It didn't make sense, but it was true.
The day of their big argument about Gary, Todd had let it slip that he liked her. She could tell from his face he hadn't meant to say it out loud, which only emphasized he meant it.
She couldn't help herself. After all this time, she liked him, too. She didn't know when it happened, or why, but she found herself thinking about him often. If the man in question hadn't been Todd Sanders, she would have wondered if this was what it was like to fall in love.
Shannon closed her eyes. The pressures of her job were becoming too much for her. Surely, she was going insane.
She glanced to the side, at Faye, hard at work.
The meeting she'd set up between Faye and Craig had gone well. Craig, being Craig, had convinced Faye to attend a church service again. In fact, she'd heard about her first visit back to church in over three years from Todd, who sat with them that morning. He'd been relieved Faye was over the crush she had on him and encouraged she had responded well to the pastor's sermon.
She turned her head toward the doorway to the dispatch office.
She didn't want Todd to sit with Faye and Craig at her old church. She wanted Todd to sit with her and Gary at her new church.
She looked back at her computer screen, which had gone blank from inactivity.
It was true she had gone out to lunch a number of times in the last couple of weeks with Gary. She'd enjoyed the time she spent with him. But Gary mentioned repeatedly he felt rushed while they talked, and he didn't like it. Shannon felt the same way, as she had many things she wanted to say to him that couldn't be limited to five or ten minutes.
She wasn't sure when it started, but Gary began to ask, over and over, if they could go out in the evenings to talk. But the places he suggested weren't what Shannon considered conducive to talking about opening one's life to God. They were romantic getaways, places more expensive than she'd ever been. Even though Gary hadn't said so out loud, Shannon suspected that if she agreed, just by the atmosphere and what went with it, more would be expected of the relationship than ministry.
Lately, Gary had also been inquiring about a boyfriend. When she finally gave in and told him she had no boyfriend, his questions started becoming more personal, even suggestive.
She didn't want to cross that line or have that kind of relationship. At least, not with Gary.
Nanci's words about her “love life” replayed in her mind. Despite what Gary was hinting at, he was a ministry. For all the time she spent with Todd, he was an old friend, now that she could call him a friend. The only love she had in her life was her Secret Admirer, a man she didn't know. Or if she did know him, she didn't know who he was. So he didn't count.
Yet both Gary and Todd worked with her. In the months since she started receiving the notes, no other man in the office acted differently around her. Most of them barely noticed her at all; they only looked in her direction long enough to make sure their time cards landed in the right basket when they tossed them on her desk. Since she had no other candidates, either Gary or Todd could likely be the Secret Admirer.
Gary was a charmer. He knew what women liked, and women knew he knew. She could imagine Gary doing something romantic and fanciful to win the heart of a lady, especially because he was so aware that women soaked up his attentions. If pressed, Shannon had to admit she was not immune to Gary's charm, either. His polished manners and the way he presented himself suited the role of a handsome and dashing suitor.
The other possibility was Todd. Todd wasâ
Shannon shook her head. Todd was
the Secret Admirer.
She resumed her work until Faye told her it was time for lunch break. Faye ended up sitting with someone else, so she found herself once again sitting with Todd, as Faye had predicted.
As usual, Todd was in a happy mood, and soon, he had her laughing so hard she nearly choked on her salad.
Now was not the time to talk about Gary, about whom they had agreed to disagree. Before she could gather up her courage to ask Todd to join her and Gary the following Sunday morning, another employee appeared at their table to engage Todd in a conversation; one of the drivers had damaged a van.
While they talked, Shannon studied Todd. She would never have thought of him as responsible; yet he was a good fit in his position. He admitted the driver's degree of fault, but he also pronounced a fair judgment and recommended against disciplinary action for a number of good and valid reasons. Shannon knew Todd would stick up for her in the same way if something happened. Because Craig knew she had been seeing a lot of Todd, her brother continued to give her updates on his progress with the Lord. Yet, for all the changes, he was still the same old Todd.
When they were finally alone again, Todd turned to her and sighed. “I have to ask you something. I'm having my mom over for dinner tomorrow. Do you know what I can cook her that's good and healthy, too? Something with lots of vegetables. Remember it has to be easy, because I'm not very good in the kitchen.”
Shannon smiled. Yes, he was still the same old Todd Sanders. She remembered one day when Todd and Craig had set something on fire in her mother's kitchen. Since it hadn't been an oil-based fire, Todd had used the sprayer from beside the kitchen sink to extinguish the fire. Her parents had arrived before the smoke residue cleared completely, but fortunately, the rest of the mess was cleaned up, except for one slightly blackened area on the hood above the stove, which remained to this day.
“I can't think of anything healthier than some nice stir-fried vegetables, maybe with cubed chicken and noodles. You can do that, can't you?”
Todd's eyebrows raised. “I don't know how to stir-fry noodles. I also don't know how to cook vegetables unless they come out of a can.”
Shannon rolled her eyes. “Canned vegetables are already cooked.”
“Really? Then I'm halfway there. Can I buy cooked noodles, too, and just mix them together?”
Shannon tipped her head to one side slightly. He looked on the verge of desperate. She didn't know why cooking vegetables for his mother was so important, instead of just cooking her a nice meal, but she didn't need to know. Something inside her wanted to help him. “I'm not doing anything tonight. If you want, we can go shopping together. I'll show you what to buy, and I can tell you how to cook it.”
“I have a better idea. How about if I buy double of everything I need, you show me how to cook it, and then I'll cook the second batch tomorrow by myself?”
She wanted to protest and tell him he wouldn't enjoy the same thing two days in a row. But she often stir-fried a meal one day, then enjoyed the leftovers more the next day when they were already cooked and all she had to do was reheat them.
More important, she needed a chance to be alone with Todd. It had been on her conscience for two weeks that she should apologize to him for the way she told him not to attend church with her when she took Gary. Also, she wanted to reinvite him and hope he accepted. She didn't know what was wrong between Todd and Gary, but ever since they'd attended church together Shannon detected a strain between them. Not only did Gary tend to be more critical of Todd, Todd stopped joking when Gary entered the room. She didn't want something she'd said or done to affect their working relationship, especially since Gary was Todd's supervisor. But first, she had to find out what was wrong so she could deal with it.
“That sounds like a great idea. It's time to get back to work. I'll see you at 4:30.”
An afternoon never passed so slowly.
Every minute felt like an hour.
At 4:30 sharp, Shannon walked into the dispatch office, her purse slung over her shoulder. “Ready to go?”
Todd looked up at the clock. “Actually, no. I have to wait for Dave to call in and let me know he doesn't need a helper. If he doesn't, then I can go.”
“No problem. I'll be at my desk. I can always find something to keep me busy.”
At 4:37, the radio beeped, signaling Dave's call. After Dave confirmed he didn't need a second man sent out, Todd packed up his paperwork and poked his head in Gary's office. Gary was busy typing on his computer, but he acknowledged Todd with a nod.
“I'm gone for the day,” Todd said from the doorway, not stepping inside Gary's office.
“I hear you're doing something with Shannon.”
Todd stiffened from head to foot. What he did on his own time was none of Gary's business. What he did with Shannon was especially none of Gary's business. But he wasn't going to hide the fact he spent time with her. Every day she didn't go out to lunch with Gary, Todd made sure he took his break at the same time as Shannon. Everyone saw them together, including Gary, and Todd didn't care. As far as everyone was concerned, they were old, childhood friends, and that was exactly what he wanted them to think. “That's right.”
“She tells me she's not currently dating anyone. I trust that includes you, too.”
Unfortunately, it did include him. In the time he'd spent with Shannon since he started leaving her the notes, the right moment had never come up to tell her how he felt. He rationalized the delay not by admitting his fear of rejection, but by telling himself she was still enjoying reading the notes every morning.
Todd crossed his arms and stretched himself to stand as tall as he could. “For now.”
Gary continued to type on his computer. “Just making sure my options are open.” Gary's hands stilled, and he raised his eyes to stare at Todd intently as he spoke. “And that they stay open.”
“That's up to Shannon now, isn't it, Gary?” Before Gary could respond and before Todd said something he would regret later, he clamped his mouth shut. He spun around to leave and froze.
Shannon was standing in the doorway leading into the dispatch office.
Todd's heart pounded. She was standing where Gary couldn't see her. Since she hadn't spoken, he didn't know she was there. And Todd intended to keep it that way.
In two steps, he was at her side. Without speaking, he gently gripped her elbow, guided her so she turned around, and nudged her to start walking. She didn't say a word until they were outside in the parking lot.
“What was that all about? What's up to me?”
“Whether or not you decide to go out with him.”
“Go out with him?” Shannon sputtered. “Why are you discussing with Gary who I'm going out with?”
Todd rammed one hand in his pocket for his keys. As he did so, his fingers brushed the note he'd intended to leave in Shannon's drawer but hadn't because they'd exited the building together. “I wasn't discussing anything. Gary brought it up, not me. I told him what you did is up to you. But I think you know by now how I feel about your seeing Gary.”
Her face tightened. “And you know by now how I feel about him. This is my decision, as you said.”
Todd's stomach clenched. He'd watched Gary pour his seductive routine over Shannon for the past couple of weeks. From what he'd seen, she was falling for it because she wasn't telling Gary to take a hike. She still went out with him for lunch about every other day. From the things Gary said to Bryan and Rick upon his return, he knew Shannon had omitted parts of the conversation when she recounted to him what was said. Not that she owed him an explanation. What she did and whom she chose to spend her time with was her decision. Regardless of how it hurt. “If you don't mind, I don't want to talk about it.”