Authors: Gail Sattler
“You're inviting me over to your place? And you're also going to feed me?”
“I guess. I just thought it would be a better place to talk.”
“That sounds great. I appreciate it.”
“I only have to finish what I'm doing.”
Todd lounged in Faye's chair until Shannon was ready, then followed her out and into the parking lot. Shannon unlocked her car door but didn't get in. Instead, she stood watching Todd, who was standing beside his car and pressing his hands to every pocket in his jacket, jeans, then shirt.
“I don't believe this,” he called out. “I must have forgotten my car keys in the office. I'll be right back, unless Gary sees me. Don't leave without me, because I've never been to your place before. I'm not exactly sure where it is.”
As Todd jogged back into the building, Shannon had time to think about what she'd just done.
Surely, she was losing her mind. She'd just invited Todd Sanders to her apartment. The apartment she moved into so she could get away from him.
That she felt sorry for him further confirmed she was losing her mind. She justified it by telling herself she was doing it to talk to him for Faye's benefit and was making the sacrifice for a friend.
Todd was back within minutes, and she was soon on her way, with him following. She pointed him to the visitor parking area, then entered the residents' underground parking area. She was about to push the button in the elevator when she realized she'd left Todd outside. Not only did he not have a key to get in, but he didn't know which was her apartment, although he certainly could find it from the listing by the door.
Instead of hitting the button for the fifth floor, Shannon rode the elevator to the lobby, where she walked to the main door to let Todd in, then took him to her apartment.
“This seems like a nice place. You like living here?”
“Yes. For an apartment, it's pretty peaceful.”
Having known him for years, she was comfortable with Todd's help in getting their dinner together. They only chatted about inconsequential things until it was ready and on the table.
For a second, Shannon hesitated. Even when she was alone, which was most of the time, she always bowed her head and gave God thanks for her meal and her day. She didn't know if Todd did the same.
She'd seen him in church, and Craig had told her about Todd's turning his life over to Jesus. She'd also seen him in action at work. All these showed a man living his faith. But this was the first time she was alone with Todd in a private setting. No one was there with him except her, and God, of course.
After knowing Todd for so long, there was no pretense between them. Sometimes she felt that Todd didn't consider her any differently than an annoying piece of furniture. He never pretended to be anything he was not, and he never changed his behavior because she was there. She'd seen him happy and sad. She'd seen him at his best, and definitely at his worst.
Todd smiled at her, clasped his hands, bowed his head, and waited for a few seconds for her to do the same. “Dear heavenly Father, thank You for the food we're about to eat. Thank You for Shannon and her willingness to open her home and share it with me. Thanks, too, for the good jobs You've given both of us, and I pray we'll be able to show Your glory to all who work there. Amen!”
“Amen,” Shannon murmured, unable to believe the tightness that formed in her throat from his heartfelt words.
Todd didn't wait for her to respond or start talking. He began eating right away. “This is great,” he said, speaking through his mouthful. “I didn't realize how hungry I was until we started heating this up. I didn't have time to stop for lunch. All I've had today was a bag of chips out of the machine and a few dozen cups of coffee.”
Shannon cleared her throat and reached for the salad dressing. “Yes, I had a feeling.”
After a few more hearty mouthfuls, Todd slowed down. “Actually, that's what I have to talk to you about.”
“You want to talk to me about your bad eating habits?”
He sighed while he rose and helped himself to another piece of lasagna from the pan. “No. About Faye and the coffee. She came in more times than I could count to bring me coffee. While I appreciated it, I think it's getting out of hand.”
“You admit you've been drinking too much coffee?”
He sat down at the table with his refilled plate but didn't continue eating. “Get serious, Shan. I think I'm starting to see what it's like when I did this kind of thing to you, and I'm sorry I used to do that. I wanted to talk to you about Faye.”
Shannon nodded. Of course she'd known what he was going to say. She'd already heard Faye's side of the story. Faye had made her feelings toward Todd rather obvious. Shannon knew him well enough to realize that if he returned her feelings, even in the slightest, he would already have asked her out. Still, she had to give him a chance to say the reason he was seeking her out. “Sorry. I didn't mean to be like that. What did you want to ask me?”
“I don't know what to do about Faye.”
“You know she likes you.”
“I know that. I think everyone in the office knows. And probably half the drivers, too.”
“Why don't you take her out a few times and see what happens? Faye is really nice. After awhile, it'll either work, or it won't.”
“It wouldn't be right to do that. I'm old enough now that I have to be realistic. Any relationship I enter into could develop into marriage, and I can't marry Faye. I don't know her that well, but I don't think she's a believer. I don't want to get into something like that.”
Shannon nodded. “I know what you mean. But I think Faye is a Christian. She's even been to church with me a couple of times. I get the impression that something in the church has hurt her, and she's stepped back. She doesn't want to talk about it, but I think she just needs some time to work things out, and she'll be fine.”
“I can understand her situation, but that doesn't change the way I feel. I have to figure out a way to tell her gently I'm not interested. It wouldn't be fair to go out with her when I know nothing would come of it.”
“You don't know that.”
know that.” Todd raised his fork in the air with his right hand and placed his left hand over his chest. “Because my heart already belongs to someone else.”
Shannon nearly choked on her food. Despite how ridiculous he looked, she knew he was serious. Todd may have been a lot of things, but he had never been a liar. The more she was getting to know the new Todd, the more she knew he wasn't a liar now. “I didn't know. Aren't you going to tell me about it?”
With his hand still over his heart, Todd shook his head. “Nope. It's a secret.”
“I think there are too many secrets around here,” Shannon grumbled as she stuffed the last bite of lasagna into her mouth. First she had a Secret Admirer, and now Todd had secrets, too. All those secrets were going to drive her insane.
Todd settled back into position and began eating again. “By the way, Craig tells me you're coming to the open house at church on Saturday.”
“Yes, I am. Are you going?”
He grinned. “Wouldn't miss it for the world.”
Todd straightened his tie, fixed the knot, and stood back to look at himself in the mirror, trying to get some satisfaction from his pristine appearance.
He yanked off the tie. It was his face, but he wasn't the man in the mirror.
The man in the mirror was dressed up in a neatly ironed shirt and black dress slacks, now minus the perfectly matched tie. He had just had a haircut and was freshly shaved.
He didn't know why he was trying so hard. Nothing he changed on the outside was going to make a difference to Shannon. She was never swayed by outward appearances. When she looked at him, she saw only a man who used to taunt and tease her when she was dressed up in her finest to go on a date. A man who frequently rummaged through her parents' refrigerator and ate the leftovers she had intended to take for her lunch at work. A man who made rude remarks to her in any situation.
In her position, he wouldn't have liked that guy, either.
He had to make up for every ignorant and stupid thing he'd ever done to her, and clothing and a haircut weren't going to do it. More than anything, he wanted to tell her how sorry he was, but he'd learned the hard way that talk was cheap.
Todd covered his face with his hands. “Lord God, I don't know what to do,” he mumbled between his fingers. A million thoughts roared through his mind, none of which would be helpful.
He walked into the kitchen to sit at the table where he had the rhyming dictionary, a pen, and a piece of paper handy.
Soon he had to leave for church, but he had enough time to write down his thoughts.
My heart longs for the day we can be together
In either fine or stormy weather.
In every way it's you I adore,
Because every day I love you more.
Your Secret Admirer
Without analyzing his words, Todd rolled the note, tied it with a ribbon, and attached a chocolate kiss. He'd already left the note she would find Monday, but this one he would leave for her Tuesday.
He didn't know if she could ever love him as much as he loved her, but so far, the fact that she was tolerating him gave him hope. He hadn't considered how he'd feel about writing the notes every day, but it made him feel good to know she appeared to enjoy reading them. But there was a benefit he hadn't thought of. Not that he would ever regard himself as the creative or artistic type, but pouring out his heart onto paper, even if she didn't know who was creating the words, was therapeutic. Since he couldn't tell her in person how he felt, writing the notes was the next best thing.
Never in his life had Todd waxed poetic, but now he was doing soâliterally. He found it ironic, since back in high school he'd passed English only by the grace of his teachers.
On his drive to church, he tried to compose more verses in his head. He wasn't having much success, except he knew what he wanted to say. For the actual writing of the words, the rhyming dictionary was probably the best purchase he'd ever made.
The parking lot was nearly full when he pulled in. The spot he found was farther from the building than ever before, giving him a slightly different perspective of the building and grounds from the usual.
The church wasn't big or grand, but the building was solid and well cared for. Since the board had been preparing for the anniversary celebration for months, some of the church's history had crept into the Sunday sermons. He'd learned the building had been constructed a year after the church was planted twenty-five years ago, due to the generosity of the parent church and a member of the missions conference. Even though he'd attended for only a year and a half, he knew both Craig and Shannon had grown up there, attending almost every Sunday. Everyone knew the Andrews family and loved them.
In comparing his own home life to theirs, he'd seen what he'd missed by not growing up in a stable environment. After experiencing the added love of extended family through other church members, he missed even more not having a network of people and programs to fall back on when he needed them. For a few years, however, that had been his own fault. Ever since he met Craig, Craig had given him an open invitation to go to church or even church activities if he didn't want to attend Sunday morning, which he hadn't. Todd had rejected Craig's offers of help, telling himself he could handle his life on his own. In so many ways, he'd been a fool. Ever since he had experienced the grace of God's love, he joined in freely, although for now the best he could do was help Craig supervise and provide transportation for the youth group's activities. He bit back a wry smile, thinking that most of the kids knew the Bible better than he did. But he was working on it, and Craig assured him that was what mattered.
As he walked closer to the building, he recognized
Shannon's car. Judging from her good parking spot, close to the building, she'd arrived much sooner than he had.
Fortunately, the weather was warm for an early spring day. The committee had been prepared for rain, but the weather was cooperating, ensuring the Saturday open house would be a success. The aroma of the barbecue already enticed him before he reached the crowd milling on the grass. The people gathered outside already exceeded the usual number present for a normal Sunday service. Judging from the cars, which were being parked on the street, the people inside would be almost equal to those outside.
He only waved a friendly greeting at Craig and Shannon's parents in passing, since he saw them every Sunday and a few days during the week, and continued on his quest to find Shannon. He found her with Craig, talking to some people he already knew, making it easy to slip in beside her and not raise any eyebrows.
After sharing a few comments about the number of people present, the conversation continued as it had prior to his arrival. Instead of joking around as he usually did with those same people, Todd kept silent. He listened and watched everyone else.
As conversation continued, each one of them occasionally glanced at him, probably wondering why he wasn't making jokes. Either that or they didn't recognize him since he was all dressed up.
Craig looked at him frequently, but Shannon didn't look at him at all. He had a feeling she was waiting for him to tease her about something and embarrass her in front of their mutual friends. It made him more aware of what a jerk he'd been to her in the past. It had been a year since the last time they'd been in church together, with the exception of a few weeks ago, when he'd tried to be with her and she'd pointedly ignored him. Before that, though, he'd embarrassed her often enough that she would have no reason now to think things had changed.
After the threads of talk about the anniversary celebration were exhausted, Brittany turned to Todd. She then looked at Shannon and back to Todd, as if she couldn't decide which one of them to speak to.
She turned again to Shannon. “I couldn't believe it when I heard you two were actually working together. How's it going?”
Shannon drew in a short breath. “Fine.”
A silence hung in the air within their circle, while Brittany waited for Shannon to say more, but she didn't. Brittany turned to face Todd. Since she appeared to be waiting for something, Todd thought he should answer, even though he considered her question intrusive.
“It's been fine, although we don't see each other all that much. It's a very busy place.”
Brittany turned back to Shannon with one eyebrow raised.
Shannon nodded. “It's the same building, but we work in different areas.”
Brittany's eyes widened. “Surely you must bump into each other sometime. What about your breaks?”
All eyes remained fixed on them. Todd felt strange with everyone staring at them. He was accustomed to being the center of attention, but this time, he wasn't trying to entertain. Instead, he felt like a bug under a microscope. And to have Shannon under the microscope with him made him angry.
He stiffened from head to toe. “I take my first coffee break at 10:15, my lunch at 12:30, then my second coffee break around 3:00, if I have time. Would you like to know Shannon's schedule, too? Is there anything else you want to know?”
Brittany's face turned beet red. “Sorry. I was just curious because you and Shannon always, uh, never mindâI think I'm going to get a hamburger.”
Everyone else mumbled their agreement under their breath, and the group broke up. They headed outside, including Craig, which left Todd as alone with Shannon as he could be in a crowd of people.
He rammed his hands into his pockets. He knew he'd been relentless at times with Shannon, using her as an easy target. She'd always been so graceful to put up with him that he hadn't considered what everyone else around them saw. He hadn't realized he'd been so bad that everyone would want to know how they could function in the same room together. “I didn't know we were going to be such a topic of interest. This is my fault for teasing you all the time. I'm really sorry.”
She tipped her head down, studying some spot on the floor as she spoke. “It's okay. I'm a big girl now. I can handle it.”
His heart hammered in his chest. “You shouldn't have to handle it. I wish I could take it all back, but I can't. Saying I'm sorry somehow isn't enough.”
She still wouldn't look up at him. “It's okay. I know you weren't that way on purpose. I guess everyone else who didn't know you as well as I did thought we were fighting all the time.”
Todd's stomach flipped over. The last thing he wanted to do was fight with Shannon, but he had openly taken out his frustrations on her. Guilt roared through him. He knew he should say something, but he didn't know what. The words spilled out of his mouth before he could think about what he was saying or stop himself. “I don't want to fight with you, Shan. But if it looked as if we were fighting, then we can always kiss and make up.”
Her head snapped up, and she stared straight into his eyes. All he could do was grin like an idiot.
“Get real, Todd. Honestlyâsometimes I just don't know what goes on inside your brain.”
He lost the grin and shrugged his shoulders. “If you won't kiss me, then how about if I get us a couple of burgers?”
“I'll get my own,” she muttered.
She turned and walked away, but Todd caught up quickly and walked beside her to the barbecue then stood directly behind her in the line.
“Are you coming back tomorrow for the service?”
She didn't look at him as she replied. “Yes, I had planned on it.”
“Are you staying for the speeches and stuff tonight?”
“Yes. Actually, I've been asked to say a few words, since I was the first baby born and dedicated here. In a way I'm almost dreading it, because lots of people here still remember that. I'm going to hear choruses of âI can't believe how you've grown up' for the next year, I think.”
Todd smiled. He also could say how much she'd grown up. The age difference of three years was nothing now, but he remembered what she was like when he first became friends with Craig. One reason he'd paid so much attention to Shannon then was because he was jealous that Craig had a little sister who loved and adored him, while Todd had felt alone.
He touched Shannon's arm gently with one finger, then ran
his finger up to her shoulder. While he cupped her shoulder,
he rubbed soothing little circles into her shoulder blade with his thumb, as he knew she liked. He dropped his voice to a low whisper so only Shannon could hear him. To further ensure
he wouldn't be overheard, he leaned closer to her so his
mouth was nearly at her ear. “I can tell you how much you've grown up, but then you could say the same about me, since we met when we were both kids. I won't talk if you don't.”
A few strands of her hair tickled his nose, but Todd didn't move. He'd never been so close to Shannon, touching her gently, when she wasn't backing away or screaming because he was tickling or poking her with something. His eyes drifted shut as he blocked out the smell of the meat on the grill and inhaled the heady aroma of her apple-scented shampoo.
He nuzzled in closer. “Mmm. . .you smell so nice.”
Suddenly, she stepped forward. Even though the spring air was warm, the abrupt separation felt like an arctic front had fallen
between them. “What are you doing? What's gotten into you?”
He felt his ears heat up as he became aware of their surroundings and the people around them, even though no one was looking at them. “Sorry. Is it almost our turn?”
As they filled their plates and found a place to sit and eat, Todd kept the conversation light. The closer they came to the start of the evening service, the more nervous Shannon became. Fortunately, it was easy for Todd to slip into his old behavior patterns. He made jokes and wisecracks and soon had her laughing, and with her laughter time passed quickly.
When the service began, he had convinced her everyone else who had been called on to speak was as nervous as she was. They listened to other people tell their stories of being with the church body in the last twenty-five years, some giving testimonies and some history lessons on the church's founding. Others talked of the transition from a home group to constructing and moving into a dedicated building. Most people simply shared times that were special to them.
Todd had never thought of what Shannon would be like in front of a large group; but once she overcame her fear of the microphone, she was a good speakerâclear, easy to understand, and entertaining. By the time she finished her short speech on growing up from birth to adulthood in the same congregation, he heard a few elderly ladies sniffling, none of whom was Shannon's grandmother.