A Little Help, a short story by Gabriella Balcom at Spillwords.com

A Little Help

written by: Gabriella Balcom

 

Glancing around him, Reuben saw all the desks were empty. He and Beryl were the only two people remaining in the office. Everybody else had left for lunch, but she had a habit of bringing her own food from home and staying at her workstation to eat it. Sometimes she continued to work while eating. He often did the same thing.
The clock on the wall caught his eye and he realized only fifteen minutes of their break remained. Despite racking his brain, he still hadn’t come up with the perfect plan. Each idea that entered his mind seemed more idiotic than the last.
If he didn’t act soon, though, he’d run out of time again. Thinking of all the lost opportunities which would never come again, he couldn’t stand the idea of this being another. Lame or not, he had to do something. Say something. Making a decision, he stood, took a shaky breath, and crossed the room. “Beryl…,” he began. But when she looked up from the book in her hands, Reuben completely lost his train of thought, and his mind went blank.
She set down her book and a partially eaten sandwich, grabbed the paper napkin off her desk, and wiped her mouth and cheeks with it. “Did I get it all or did I miss some?” she asked.
He had no clue what she meant, but horror flooded him as it dawned on him that he’d been staring at her. Good grief. No telling what she must think of him. “Uh, what do you mean?” he forced out. Sinking through the floor and never being seen again seemed like a decent plan right about now.
“By your expression, I figure I must’ve had something smeared on my face, right? My sandwich had a ton of mustard and mayonnaise slathered on it, so…” She glanced down at her white blouse, sighed, and dabbed at it with her napkin. “You know, it never fails. Whenever I wear light colors, I end up getting food on myself. Just once, I’d like that not to happen.”
Reuben hadn’t even noticed the droplets of mayonnaise on her, but couldn’t hold back his chuckles. She joined in and he started to relax. “I do the same thing. I always say I’ll be more careful the next time around, but guess what?”
Beryl grinned. “So, was it mayonnaise you saw on my face, or mustard?”
“There’s nothing there — now,” he replied.
She sighed. “That wasn’t a real answer, and since you won’t give me one, I guess it must’ve been mustard, huh?”
More than a little guilt ate away at Reuben. He believed in being honest and didn’t want to lie to her outright, but at the same time, he didn’t want to admit he’d been unable to tear his eyes off of her. Therefore, he chose to say nothing.
“Do you need my help with something?” she asked. “Is that why you came over here?”
“Uh…” Studying her bright eyes, he got lost in them, and couldn’t come up with an answer to save his life. But lucidity returned once she glanced away. “Yeah. I had a little trouble printing some pages I need.”
“Did you send your print job to the right printer? We have three on the main floor and two others down the hall.”
He blinked.
“That’s what I call a lost expression,” she commented. But she quickly reassured him, “Don’t feel bad. It’s always okay to ask me for help. Regarding the printers, I’ll show you what I’m talking about.” She stood and walked toward his desk, and he followed her.
Joe passed them on his way to his own cubicle and frowned. “Where are you going? Are we cleared to leave early but no one thought to tell me?”
“I’m going to help Reuben,” she replied.
“With what?”
“Printing.”
“But I thought you’d shown him how to print weeks ago. More than once, if I’m remembering right.”
“She might have,” Reuben answered with a shrug. “I’m clueless when it comes to electronics.”
“That’s strange.” It was their supervisor, Linda, speaking. She’d come up behind them quietly. “You have no problem with generating the monthly reports for me, Reuben. Creating the graphs and charts. Even printing them out and collating them. At least, I’ve never heard of you having trouble.”
“Probably ’cause he asks Beryl to show him how every time.” Joe smirked.
“Yeah, I admit it,” Reuben said. “I’d be lost without her.” Realizing what he’d said, he amended it. “Her help, I mean.” He glanced over at Beryl, thought her face was a bit flushed, and wondered why.
“It’s sweet of you to say that,” she told him. “And you can come to me anytime you have a question or need something.” Sitting in his chair, she asked what document he needed to print, and he silently pointed at his screen. She made a list of office printers, circling the correct one for him to use. Walking him through the steps to send a print job to the correct location, she jotted down the instructions, and then returned to her desk.
Afterward, Reuben felt incredibly lightheaded. His head pounded as he retrieved the printed pages from the printer. He felt no better when he entered the men’s restroom, and he hoped sitting in a stall for a couple of minutes would help him calm down. Just being around Beryl affected him this way every time, but he always took special care to make sure their coworkers didn’t notice. He didn’t want her to notice, either. With everything the poor woman had been through with her louse of an ex-husband, Reuben didn’t want to do anything that might make her uncomfortable — or interfere with their getting along. He considered they had a friendship of sorts and didn’t want that to end.

***

“Hon,” Marina whispered. “If you don’t tear your eyes off that gorgeous hunk of man, someone’s going to notice. That or they’ll hear your heart thumping out of your chest.”
Beryl made a face at the other woman, and quickly looked away from Reuben who’d just come out of the men’s restroom. She forced herself to stare at her computer instead and tried to collect her thoughts. “Do you think anyone else saw?” she asked her friend.
“No,” Marina assured her. “They’re busy gossiping about Sam.” Their former boss, he’d been fired for coming into work drunk as a skunk, as the saying went, and it seemed that was all anyone talked about lately.
“I can’t help it,” Beryl murmured. “Reuben’s such a great guy.”
“And a looker, too. But seriously, hon — the man can’t figure out how to work a printer. Or much of anything electronic. He’d dumber than a bag of rocks with stuff like that.”
Beryl rolled her eyes and shrugged. “So he’s not comfortable with them. Honestly, I don’t care. He’s intelligent, kind, and funny when he wants to be. I haven’t seen anyone as considerate as he is with our older clientele. Even the staff. We’ve talked about so many things over the past few years. It’s just so easy with him. We actually have a lot in common, and I’m pretty sure he considers us to be friends. I mean, I do too, but I — I’m careful not to show any interest beyond that.”
“Why, girl? According to you, he’s a catch. Total prime rib.”
Once she’d stopped laughing, Beryl spoke. “He is. And he’s not a playboy or one to jump from bed to bed. He hasn’t gotten involved with anyone at the office, and we all know Bethany tried as hard as she could. Carl did, too, even though Reuben’s straight. He doesn’t drink. Doesn’t do drugs. We’ve even spoken about God. Our beliefs are the same, Marina. Reuben’s everything a woman could want in a man.”
“Everything you want, honey. But you’re real churchy and white bread, if you know what I mean. I prefer guys who aren’t as squeaky clean. You know, ones who play the game and show a girl a good time. Guys who get crunk and know what to do with the junk in my trunk.” Both of them giggled, eliciting curious looks from some of their coworkers. She lowered her voice. “Maybe I feel that way ’cause I haven’t found one I want to settle down with yet.”
“Could be. But even if you find one who seems good, or everything you’ve been hoping for, he could still turn out to be a huge mistake.” Beryl rolled her eyes. “I learned that the hard way with Travis.”
“I hope that piece of shit rots in jail,” Marina hissed. “I hate cheaters with a passion. But I hate men who abuse women even more than that. I believe there’s a special place for them in hell’s deepest, darkest pit.”
Beryl ignored her friend’s language. “He was the worst decision I’ve ever made. I didn’t leave him when I should have. I’ll always regret that, but what does it say about me? Certainly nothing good. And that is why I’ll never let Reuben know how I feel about him.”
“What? You’re denying yourself a chance with a good man because your ex-husband was human garbage? That makes no sense, Beryl. It’s not your fault Travis abused you.”
“I know that. But I just… I should’ve left the first time he turned mean. Staying in an abusive marriage for years was my fault. And it changed me. I’m not who I used to be. It’s like a part of me is broken inside. I’m not as open as I used to be. I don’t smile as much or have as much hope for the future. When I eat out, I never sit with my back to the door. Sometimes I don’t…trust people. Not like I used to anyhow. I had extra locks put on my doors.”
“Hey, girl, I had more put on mine, too, and bars on my windows. That’s just common sense because robberies happen.”
“Maybe, but I’m just — different. Not sweet and dewy-eyed anymore. Reuben wouldn’t want to deal with all my emotional baggage. He shouldn’t have to. And there are plenty of women out there who aren’t trying to pull themselves back together.”
“Oh, baby,” Marina murmured. She stood with no warning and wrapped Beryl in a hug. “I didn’t know you felt like this. Nothing’s wrong with you. The problem was him — that lousy piece of crap, Travis. You’re an incredible person. A beautiful woman inside and out, and any guy would be so lucky to have you.”

***

“You’ve seen for yourself now,” Eros said. “Don’t you think they deserve happiness? I do.”
Aphrodite said nothing, but studied the mountaintop to which she’d transported them. It was thousands of feet above the valley and she took in the panoramic view. Woods blanketed the mountain range, which stretched in all directions, interspersed with more valleys, pristine lakes, and streams. Stunning wildflowers sprawled across rolling meadows, where wild animals contentedly grazed and roamed, unaware of the deities’ presence.
“If someone doesn’t help them,” Eros added, “there’s no telling what may happen. And for many humans, this is their favorite season. The birth of Dionysus. A time of love and happiness.”
“They refer to it as Christmas. And those two will probably muddle through somehow.”
“All they’re doing is muddling, with no happy ending in sight.”
“If it bothers you so much and you think they need help, then help them.”
“We haven’t involved ourselves in the affairs of mortals for a long time. And I have never been as adept as you, great Aphrodite. You’re the Goddess of Love. The strongest champion of love in the universe. The —”
She burst into laughter. “Have you heard the human phrase ‘sucking up?’”
Eros froze. “I would never.”
“Of course not.”
“The very thought is insulting.”
“What’s insulting is your conniving.” Aphrodite eyed him with cool eyes, then snorted. “Go away and let me think.”
“About how to help them?”
“No. About my real responsibilities.”

***

A week later

“I love decorating,” Marina enthused. “And we’re going to have this office looking better than it ever has before.”
Beryl grinned at her. “Since you’re so gung-ho, you’re welcome to come do my place next. I haven’t gotten my tree out of the attic or set up anything else, either.”
“I had my tree up the day after Thanksgiving.”
“I’m not surprised.”
“Quit lolly-gagging,” Tim teased as he walked by, carrying two boxes. “If I gotta help, so do you two.”
“Are you blind or something?” Marina retorted. “Don’t say I’m lolly-gagging when I’m clearly dilly-dallying.”
A snort was her only response.
“Just go without me,” Beryl urged her friend. “I’m not really in the mood to…”
“Forget it.” Marina eyed her, hands on hips. “No matter what excuse you come up with, my answer’s gonna be ‘nope, nope, and nope.’ So come on.”
Beryl sighed, but gave in. Christmas was typically her favorite time of year, but it sometimes brought her a good dose of melancholy, too. This year, she felt it stronger than ever. Even the most mundane tasks reminded her she was alone and lonely. Every day, she heard coworkers talking about shopping for their partners and children, wondering what to buy them to show how much they were loved. Grocery shopping put her in the proximity of happy couples whose eyes glowed as they looked at one another. Husbands and wives walking along hand-in-hand or accompanied by their broods. Grandparents speaking about a loved one having done this, another having done that. She’d also noticed more animal families lately. Cows with their calves in a meadow she routinely passed going to and from work. A mama cat and her kittens who lived next door. Did every living soul except Beryl have someone to share his or her life with? It sure felt that way.
“Hon, you gonna keep daydreaming or help me get the lights stapled up?” Marina asked.
Beryl hadn’t realized her friend was offering her one end of them. Not till now, that is. “Can I answer truthfully?” she asked. “I have several print jobs I haven’t finished, letters to get out, and…”
“Remember what I told you earlier?”
“Nope, nope, and nope?”
“Yep, yep, and yep.”
Knowing how stubborn the other woman was, Beryl imagined her as a cartoon general, tromping around barking out orders, and enforcing them with a tiny stun-gun. But instead of putting out large jolts of electricity, it gave small zaps that made people’s hair stand upright. Imagining her coworkers walking around like that, Beryl couldn’t help but snicker.
“I’m waaaiiittttting,” Marina pushed.
Beryl took the proffered end, a staple gun someone had gotten out, and dragged a chair to the right spot. She was putting up lights within moments. All around her, other employees bustled back and forth, equally occupied.
When everything was said and done, she had to admit the place looked great. Lights sparkled in every direction. Garlands, wreaths, and bows of all colors and sizes were positioned around the room. They were on doors, walls, and some of the desks. A human-sized, inflatable Santa, bag of gifts slung over a shoulder, stood by a tree in the center of the room. It was decorated to the hilt and blazed in glory, “gifts under it,” although Beryl didn’t know if they were real or not. A few employees were busily wrapping empty boxes, no doubt to put with the other “presents.” Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph, and more holiday figures were here and there, along with other decorations. Someone had found tinsel and draped it over everything, the light making it shimmer and shine.

 

Two weeks later

“I’d like everyone’s attention for a few minutes,” Beryl announced at her job. “Some of you know about the work I do with disabled children. For the rest of you, though, I’ll explain real quick. Kids with disabilities often can’t participate in the activities kids with no issues take part in. Many times, they feel different. Left out. I help organize fun activities for them. Nothing huge. Just small events at my church. The children can come and play games, draw and paint, listen to story time, go out on a nature trail. Stuff like that. And volunteers are available to help them as needed.”
“That’s nice and everything, but what does it have to do with us?” Joe asked with a frown. A few of their coworkers nodded.
“Let her finish talking and I’m sure we’ll find out,” Reuben said quietly.
“The church just texted me with some bad news,” Beryl explained. “We had enough volunteers lined up for our next event, but two of them called in to say they can’t help out after all. They’re sick. Another two said they have to leave town unexpectedly, so we’re short people. We need some more to replace them. This upcoming event is our biggest one of the year and it revolves around Christmas. We go all-out with lights. Decorations. There’s a gingerbread house kids with wheelchairs can go through and even eat cookies and candy off the walls. We have an inflatable snowman for kids able to walk or crawl in on their own. Or be carried, I guess. Santa will be there, listening to what everyone wants to Christmas, and he and his elves will give away stockings and presents. This is a big deal for us. For the kids who come each year, too.”
“Don’t you and your church prepare ahead?” Joe asked. “You don’t have backups chosen?”
“We usually do, but this is the first time we’ve had several folks become unavailable at the same time. And the main people who are sick have never missed an activity, so we assumed they’d be there.” She frowned. “It’s strange, but those two came down with a second round of chicken pox.”
“That is weird,” Joe admitted. “I thought you couldn’t get chicken pox twice, only once.”
“Me, too,” Linda and Reuben said at the same time.
“Well, since you’re asking for volunteers to fill in, I can give you my answer now,” Joe said. “I can’t help.”
“How do you know?” Marina demanded, snorting as she looked him up and down. “She hasn’t even told us what day the event is.”
He shrugged. “Hey, I helped with the decorating here when I was asked to. I think that’s more than enough do-gooding on my part.” Turning, he walked away. Two other people followed him.
“The church event is a little over a week from now — on the Saturday before Christmas,” Beryl told everyone else. “I need at least two people to help, if possible.”
Linda frowned. “What time does it start? And how long will it run?”
“It goes from noon till four in the afternoon,” Beryl replied. “Just four hours.”
“I wish I could come.” Linda bit her lip. “But I’m set to leave town the Friday before that. I won’t be back till late Sunday. Gosh, I’m sorry.”
“Dang it,” Marina muttered, then eyed her friend. “Girl, I’m out, too. I’d help if I could. Really. But our family reunion is coming up. It runs all weekend long. That weekend. I have to be there since I’m in charge of it this year.”
One by one, the rest of the staff denied being able to assist. The only person who hadn’t said anything yet was Reuben.
“I’m free that Saturday and I can help,” he offered. Although his voice was quiet, Beryl noticed the glimmer in his eyes.

 

Saturday before Christmas

“You almost got one,” Reuben told the little girl leaning on crutches. “You were super close. Try again, okay? Take your time.” He helped steady her when she let go of her right crutch to throw a dart at the balloons tacked to a board on the wall. A loud pop echoed through the room. “Wow!” he exclaimed. “You got it. Great job, sweetie. And you won a stuffed animal, too.”
Giggling, she dropped her crutches and launched herself into his arms. He caught her as she threw her arms around his neck, then hugged her back.
Beryl had to turn away from the sight to wipe her eyes. When Reuben approached her, grinning ear to ear, she forced herself to act normal. “We’ve worked for the same company for years, but I didn’t know you were so good with kids,” she told him.
He shrugged. “I love them. Always have. I hope I have a dozen of my own someday.”
Half an hour later, Beryl watched him finger-painting with a little boy in a wheelchair. The child beamed at the man, basking in his praise and encouragement. Despite the fact that she’d been dreaming of having children for years, she’d chosen to be on birth control the entire time she’d been with Travis. It was the only thing she didn’t regret about her marriage. Seeing Reuben’s gentleness and patience with the disabled kids sent a new round of wistful thoughts running through her mind. A powerful longing shot through her, and she hurried away before he caught her ogling him like an obsessed groupie.
“Beryl,” Alan called from somewhere in the distance. “Where are you? I’m in the hallway. Do you have a minute free? If so, will you come here, please?”
She stepped out of the main room and gasped, “What happened to you?”
“I think it was a plant,” he replied. “Maybe.”
“Since when are you allergic to any of the ones here?”
“Never.” Alan grimaced at his arms which were covered in a thick, bright-red rash. “I’ve never had a reaction to anything in my life. This is unbelievable!” He scratched his left forearm and winced. “It itches like crazy, Beryl. I don’t know what to say, but I’ve got to get this checked out. I won’t be able to take the girl — oh, geez, my brain’s scrambled. I can’t remember her name. What is it?”
“Valerie.”
“Okay. I can’t take Valerie on the trail today. You’ll have to get someone else.”
Beryl watched him dash toward his truck and shook her head. First Mary and Ellen got chicken pox. Next, it was Roland and Faye leaving town. And now Alan was gone. She’d scheduled herself to take little Alex down the nature trail, but couldn’t push both his wheelchair and Valerie’s at the same time. Neither of them deserved to lose out and be disappointed, but now it seemed one might be.
Hurrying toward the remaining volunteers, she saw all of them were occupied with kids and wondered who she could possibly ask for help. Everyone was busy. However, she caught sight of Reuben waving goodbye to the boy he’d partnered with in the pushed-wheelchair race, and approached him. “Where’s he going?” she questioned. “Are his parents taking him somewhere for food before returning? If so, there’s no need. We have plenty of things to eat here.”
“They’re leaving and not returning,” Reuben replied. “His parents said something important came up.”
Consulting her clipboard, Beryl took a deep breath. “That means he won’t be here for the checkers tournament. You’d promised to help him with that, but do you think you could help with a different child instead?”
“Of course.”
Twenty minutes later, Beryl pushed Alex’s wheelchair down the gravel pathway leading from the church to the forest behind it. Beside her, Reuben maneuvered Valerie’s. Poles decorated to look like peppermint sticks lined the path on either side of them. Christmas lights had been strung from them, swaying and sparkling in the wind.
The church members had put a nature trail in the woods two years ago. Part of it ran alongside a natural stream which fed into a pond, and they’d later added a small grotto. The trail currently had a small botanical garden, a wishing well, a gazebo, and a covered pavilion.
Alex and Valerie chattered excitedly about the games they’d played, others they’d signed up for, wishes they planned to make, anything, and everything. Before the kids and adults could reach the forest, however, shouts rang out from behind them.
“Beryl!” someone yelled. “Stop for a second, please.”
She and Reuben turned around to see two volunteers running toward them from the church. One, an overweight man, panted upon reaching them. “A couple more kids left early.”
The woman with him nodded. “Someone said you could use our help. We can take these children if you want.”
“Thank you,” Beryl responded automatically. Before she knew it, the volunteers were moving the kids’ wheelchairs ahead on the path.
Reuben said nothing as he watched them disappear, but for a moment, Beryl thought she saw regret in his eyes. Her own disappointment crushed her and she fought to maintain her composure. She’d been looking forward to the nature trail, mostly because she’d wanted to spend time with Reuben and show him around.
Knowing she should head back to the church to start the cleanup, she frowned but didn’t move. She didn’t want to go back.
Reuben turned to leave and a wave of regret swept over her. She longed for him to stay and blurted out, “I really wanted to show you the trail.” Horror and shock immediately rocked her. She wanted to clap a hand over her mouth before anything else could slip from her lips. Why in the world had she said that out loud? But then she saw his expression.
Reuben smiled at her, delight written all over his face. “That’d be wonderful,” he said. “I’d still love to see it.”
Her heart fluttered and she couldn’t help but smile back.
They didn’t say anything else until they entered the woods. “I’m glad you asked for volunteers,” he told her. “I’ve had a great time today. What you’re achieving here with these children is wonderful. I think doing things for others, especially those who can’t do certain stuff on their own and need help, is one of the best ways we can reflect God’s love. And it’s a good way to honor Him.”
“That’s exactly how I feel,” she replied fervently. “The majority of the world sees kids with disabilities as impaired, deficient in one way or more. But it’s almost like they’ve been given extra love and joy.”
This sparked animated conversation between them as they slowly walked down the path. But they went silent briefly when the other volunteers reappeared with Alex and Valerie, heading back to the church.
Only moments later, Reuben said, “Beryl, I don’t think I’ve ever told you how much I admire you.”
“Thank you,” she replied. Once she processed what he’d said, though, her heart leaped within her. However, she saw he was frowning. “Is something wrong?”
He flushed although he still gazed warmly at her. “Not really. I just didn’t plan on telling you that. I mean, it’s true, but I didn’t mean to say it out loud.”
Happiness and hope surged through her. Basking in his regard, she wondered if her delight was as obvious as it felt. “I admire you, too,” she confessed. Strangely, she felt better for having finally admitted it to him.
A gust of cold air burst through the trees right then, hit her head-on, and she shivered. Her jeans kept her legs warm enough. However, her short-sleeved t-shirt, which featured Christ surrounded by children and forest creatures, didn’t do the same for her arms. Goosebumps already pebbled her skin.
“It got chilly fast, didn’t it?” he exclaimed. “That’s strange because I thought it was supposed to be warm all day and well into tomorrow. Good thing I was busy with the kids and forgot to take off my jacket. Here…” Reuben removed it and placed it around her shoulders.
Meaning to thank him, Beryl glanced at him and found herself unable to speak. It was as if she were caught in a spell. Time stood still as she gazed into his blue eyes which studied her so intensely. Surely the warmth — no, the heat — she saw in them was real, not something conjured out of her own need and loneliness. Her gaze fell to his lips and Reuben stepped closer. She wished with every fiber of her being that he’d kiss her and close the gap between them. However, it dawned on Beryl what she’d done, and she tore her eyes from his and stepped away.
Reuben swayed, appearing a bit dazed. Shaking his head, he blinked, cleared his throat, and put more space between them.

***

Aphrodite shook her head. “Stubborn, uncooperative things,” she muttered. A faint sigh came from behind her and she whipped around to glare at the thicket. “Get your nosy self out here,” she ordered.
“I’m sorry,” Eros offered as he stepped into sight. But then he grinned. “I knew you couldn’t resist. And they did need your help.”
“What do you mean — did?” she snapped. “They still do. I will not let some strong-willed female thwart me now that I’m trying to help her.”
“But he’s resisting, too, isn’t he?”
The Goddess of Love grimaced. “Yes.”
“If you’d like, I can fire a few arrows…”
“No. No need to force what already exists. They just need a — little nudge.”

***

Beryl led the way down the trail in silence, Reuben a few steps behind her. If she could go back in time, she would, and she’d be nothing but appropriate. She went from wondering what he thought of her now to worrying about it. She’d stopped herself, but even so, he might consider her actions brazen and cheap.
Strains of classical music wafted through the woods and they stopped beside the stream to listen.
“How odd,” Beryl murmured, frowning.
“I like it,” Reuben said.
“Oh, I didn’t mean that the way it sounded. I like the music, too. What I meant is the church had this trail wired for sound so they could make announcements out here and broadcast services or special events. But the last thing I heard was that the sound system had stopped working.”
“Sounds like it’s working just fine.”
“Yeah, it does. I didn’t know they’d gotten it fixed.”
Neither of them noticed the speakers up high in the nearby trees. Unattached electrical wires hung from them.
Beryl and Reuben watched the water running past them for a few moments, just listening. “This stream leads to a little pond and a grotto,” she shared. “There’s a wishing well also. We tell the children it’s magic.”
He smiled. “I bet they love that.”
“They do. So do their parents. Everyone comes with pennies to throw into the well. A few times, I’ve seen children pull handfuls out of their pockets.”
They exchanged grins.
“I can imagine that,” Reuben volunteered. “Adults might do the same thing. First wish, second wish… hundredth…”
They walked for a few more minutes before coming to a fork in the trail. Beryl took the right-hand turn, rounded a bend in the path, and they saw the pond a couple hundred feet ahead of them.
“That’s beautiful,” Reuben murmured, his voice infused with awe. “I bet people enjoy the picnic tables and benches, too.”
“This spot is everybody’s favorite. People come to sit and read a while. Or just to relax and listen to the water. Marriage services have been held out here, along with birthday celebrations. I’ve even seen kids doing their homework by the stream. It was already here years ago, but the church had it cleaned up and widened a little. Then they built the pond and added benches and seats.”
“I definitely see why the place is so popular.” Reuben studied everything for a few moments. “It’s peaceful. Soothing. Most getaways like this charge an admission fee.”
“Some church members donated the funding to have this done, and the church decided to make it free for everyone.”
The classical music playing gave way to “Silver Bells.”
“By the way, the wishing well’s over there.” Beryl pointed to their right. “It’s a little hard to see from here.”
Reuben instantly took off in that direction and she followed with a smile. In only moments, they came upon the small stone well partially embedded in the ground. Lush green moss covered the sides, stunning flowers growing around it. Purple, pink, and blue morning glories entwined their way here and there, along with roses, violets, and other plants.
Reaching into his jeans pocket, Reuben pulled out coins. He tossed a penny into the well, then closed his eyes for a moment.
She assumed he was making a wish. Prepared with pennies of her own, she took one from her shirt pocket, stepped up beside him, and dropped it into the wishing well. She shut her eyes also and made her wish.
They both stood there with their eyes closed, listening to splashing sounds and Christmas songs. When Beryl finally opened her eyes again, rays of moonlight glinted off the sparkling water. She blinked. “How long have we been standing here?”
“Not more than a few minutes.” Reuben frowned at the encroaching darkness around them and glanced at his watch. “Where’d the sunlight go? It’s too early for the sun to have gone down. Was a storm supposed to come in today?”
“Not that I know of.”
“All I Want for Christmas if You” swelled around them. Little lights shown from everywhere, looking like stars. Then a brilliant glow illuminated the grotto. Beryl tilted her head back and gasped to see the moon directly above them.
“It looks so close, doesn’t it?” Reuben asked, his eyes wide and wondering. “Almost like I could reach out and touch it.”
Deep, throbbing violin notes ebbed and flowed, and the sounds of the stream now seemed a part of the music. Even the twittering birds and rustle of the forest added to the harmony. Then a woman began to sing.
Beryl shivered, although she realized the air had warmed up quite a bit. “That song — it’s an older one but I’ve always loved it. It’s been years since I last heard it, though.”
“It’s ‘Muskrat Love,’ right? Captain and Tennille?” Reuben smiled at her. “That was my Mom and Dad’s favorite. They used to play it all the time and dance to it. Hearing the song brings back such happy memories, and I love it, too.” Beryl trembled. “Are you cold?” he asked. When she didn’t reply, instead staring at him without a word, he moved slowly toward her. “Beryl?”
His voice sounded low — raspy. Gazing into his eyes again, she thought the blue had grown deeper. Without thinking, she walked forward until they were almost touching. She froze and held her breath when she realized what she’d done. The years of hiding her feelings grated on her and she didn’t want to anymore. Her hopes and dreams cascaded through her, rocking her with their intensity.
“Are you all right?” he asked.
At that moment, she saw something she’d only dreamed of in his eyes — the truth — and her heart pounded. “You — do you feel something for me?”
He reached out to gently touch her cheek with a shaking hand. “Beryl,” he whispered, “God knows I don’t want to scare you or lose your friendship, but yeah…” Fear shown in his eyes, along with vulnerability, and he bit his lip. “I’m crazy about you. You’re an amazing woman.”
Her heart sang in tune with the melody around them. “I’ve never met anyone like you,” she admitted. Speaking the words aloud, she was shaken to the core, both terrified by her own temerity and grateful for it. And the floodgates of her emotions opened. “I’ve been fighting the way I feel about you for a long time. Years.” Her pent-up longing surged through her, and she knew she had to tell him the truth. “What I feel for you is much more than just admiration.”
Reuben opened his mouth but nothing came out. He cleared his throat. “You deserve happiness and everything good in the world. I’ve dreamed of sharing your life with you, because…” Tears welled up in his eyes.
Hers teared up, too, and she reached out to caress his face. “I love you, Reuben,” she whispered.
Releasing a shaky breath, he said, “And I love you, Beryl.”
When he enfolded her in his arms and held her tightly against him, she let herself relax fully for the first time in so long. No, it felt like the first time ever. He kissed her forehead, and Beryl felt like she was finally home.

 

The End

Series Navigation<< Terry Christmas, Everybody!Christmas Tea >>
Latest posts by Gabriella Balcom (see all)
This publication is part 89 of 93 in the series 12 Days of Christmas