Soon it was time for the children’s summer break and Peter wanted to plan a vacation for the adults of the house. He and Beth hired a nanny for a week and decided to take Anna and James to Brighton. Anna was excited for the change of scenery and the chance to scratch her travel itch a little bit. The day before departure Beth came to her room and asked if she had a good swimsuit for the trip. The equation of summer, beach, and water necessitating a swimsuit had not even crossed her mind. “I am so naïve sometimes,” she thought. She replied that she did not have one. “Well, James is here. He can take you shopping in Newbury. I’ll go get him.” Aunt Beth was gone before Anna could say anything. The last person in the world she would like to go swimsuit shopping with, would be James. “This is so embarrassing,” she thought as they sped down the road to Newbury. He pulled in front of a large department store and she quickly asked if he wouldn’t mind just waiting at the front for her. He gave her a grin like he knew her dilemma and said, “Sure.” She ran in and hoped this would be a quick transaction. When she arrived in front of the swim suit section, however, she was completely and totally overwhelmed. “Focus!” she told herself. She had read in the in-flight magazine that black was the most flattering; not that she had body issues, but flattering was a good thing. She made a couple of choices, tried them on, and settled on the most pleasing. At the last minute, she grabbed a large, white cover-up that resembled a burqa. In a few minutes she was walking away from the cashier with her purchases and looking for James. She found him outside leaning against a post. He looked quite happy to see that she was finished.
The next day, the interim nanny was thoroughly prepped and they loaded up in Peter’s car for their vacation. Anna wished for the super long seats of Roy’s truck as they sat squished in the compact European car. She didn’t mind being with James, but this was a little too close for comfort. She felt like he was breathing on her, and the butterflies resumed acrobatics with every breath. Their arrival at The Beach Hotel in Brighton was none too soon. She jumped out of the car and feigned a cramp in her leg. Peter went to check them in at the front desk. He and Beth had a suite. Anna and James each had single rooms. When Anna was able to go settle into her room, she noticed the outstanding view from her window. “Nothing like this in Tennessee,” she thought as she gazed at the sparkling ocean. Her reverie was interrupted by her phone ringing. “Beth here, we are all starving. Come meet us in the lobby and we’ll go for lunch,” her aunt said in one breath. “Ok, I’ll be down in a minute,” she said and hung up the phone. They had a fairly large lunch and then decided to go lay on the beach afterward. Anna came down to the lobby wearing her substantial cover-up. “Oh gracious, you look like an Arabian prince!” her aunt exclaimed. “Don’t worry, I’m pretty sure I won’t embarrass you once we get to the beach,” she said. The four of them went down to the beach and found lounge chairs in which to relax the afternoon away. Anna felt like they were all staring at her for the great reveal; like moving the bus for a famous home makeover show. She fussed with her towel and lounge chair long enough that she felt they had lost interest. Finally, she slipped off her cover and draped it across the chair. She had thought that the cover-up would make a fantastic pad for her chair. When she finally looked around at her vacation mates she saw the following: Aunt Beth was lying with her eyes closed, but a huge smile on her face, Uncle Peter was doing his best to stare at the sand, and James was staring at her with his mouth open. “I guess this black bikini was a good choice.” She smiled and closed her eyes to rest for a while. She awoke half an hour later to see James glaring at some men who had stopped to enjoy the view. His jealousy was a bit disturbing to her. She sat up and decided to try out the water. She was back in a few seconds. “That water feels like Antarctica!” she exclaimed as she ran back to her chair and her warm comfy cover-up. Beth giggled and said, “Yeah, welcome to England in early summer.” “I think I’ll go to my room and shower,” she said, hoping her aunt would not protest. “Do what you like. We’ll meet back in the lobby at 6:30 to go eat supper,” Beth replied. She went to her room and enjoyed being alone and quiet for a couple of hours. She opened her laptop, which she had snuck into her bag thinking they wouldn’t approve of her doing work on their vacation. She opened a file named Return to Pseumish and began reading the few pages saved there. “Hmm, I guess I shouldn’t work now. I’ll email mom,” she decided and closed down the file.
For three days they had a somewhat predictable schedule. Breakfast was at 8:30, beach or pool for a few hours until lunch, resting and shopping in the afternoon, and a fancy supper in the evening. The fourth day after lunch, Peter and Beth announced that they were going to spend the rest of the day in their room as they were tired of being the group entertainers. Anna and James would be on their own for afternoon and evening entertainments. James said he would be happy to tag along with whatever Anna wanted to do, since he had seen it all before. There were a couple of small museums and shops she wanted to see, so they departed from the hotel on foot. Walking through the Brighton Museum and Art Gallery, as Anna admired a display, James tenderly took her hand. She waited for the attack of marauding butterflies, but they were oddly absent. By the time they were nearly through all of her desired destinations, he was sneaking kisses on her cheek. “Where would you like to go for dinner?” He asked as he brushed his lips against her cheek. “Well, I’m sure you know more about the restaurants here than I do,” she said. She was so close to losing control. The desire to be held by this amazing man was all she could think of. “I know just the place. Let’s take your stuff to the hotel and then we can go eat,” he said with a wink that demonstrated how happy he was to be in charge of the evening. She knew why he picked that particular restaurant. It was very dark inside and each table was only lit with candles. There were large semi circle sofas around the tables and they were enclosed with soft curtains. It was absolutely the most romantic place Anna had ever seen. Afterward, she vaguely recalled the food, but mostly, she remembered James kissing her and telling her that, “I am so very in love with you, Anna.” They walked a few streets with his arms around her. Finally, she quietly said, “Do you want to come to my room?” He beamed from ear to ear and said, “Of course!” The months of pent up emotion and passions were slowly vented from them most of the night. In the morning, James told her that was the best night of his life. She highly doubted that was true, but was too happy to contradict him. He left for his room and she took a shower. She sat on her bed and finally took a moment to think. “What have I done?” The whole night had been in direct opposition to her morals. “Why did I give myself to him so quickly? I would never, ever have done this a year ago.” She began to feel sick to her stomach and tried to think of a way to undo what had been done. After breakfast, she told James she needed to talk to him. They met under a large tree, by a beautiful fountain. He quickly grabbed her and kissed her, but she pushed away. “James, I have to tell you something! Last night, um, I loved last night, and every moment with you, but it was a huge mistake. I am and have always been a firm believer in abstinence before marriage. I don’t know why I asked you to come to my room. I guess it’s just that I really like you. I mean, I love you. The thing is, I cannot do that again with you unless there is a solid commitment between us.” At first he was incredulous, “You’re joking, right?” When she shook her head, he became angry, “You’ve got to be bloody kidding me! Last night was the most beautiful expression of our love and I don’t care what you say, it wasn’t wrong!” She backed away from him and said, “I’m so sorry. This is just who I am.” She then turned and ran to the hotel and the safety of her room. She sat with her head in her hands for a few minutes. She knew she had just ruined the rest of the vacation for herself and everyone else. She could only imagine James marching around Brighton trying to dispel his anger. “What am I going to do?” she wondered. Just then, her phone rang. “Hullo,” the voice on the other end chimed, “This is Bob, from Barton Publishing. I hope I’m not calling at a bad time?” “You have no idea,” she thought, but replied instead, “No, this is fine.” He informed her that he really needed her to come to London right away to work on the book with him. They wanted to make some changes and she would have to be there for a few days as they were pushing to get the book ready for print. “Yes, of course, I’ll hop on a train as soon as I can.” “Thank You, God!” she thought as she hung up. Her escape plan was taking shape. She called the front desk and arranged for a taxi to pick her up in ten minutes and take her to the Brighton train station. She hastily packed, returned her keys, and was waiting in front of the hotel when her cab arrived. She purchased a ticket for the earliest departure for London and was seated on a train in less than half an hour. At that point, she felt it safe to call her aunt. “Aunt Beth, I’m so sorry, but I’ve heard from my publisher and I must be in London immediately,” she spoke quickly hoping to avoid any reproach from her aunt. “Alright, I suppose we could give you a ride, “ she said with obvious disappointment in her voice. “No, no, that’s not necessary. I’m already on a train headed to London. I am so sorry to abandon you on your vacation, but I think you can relax without me.” She tried to convince her aunt that she was fine and could navigate on her own. The publisher would be meeting her at the train station and would take her to a hotel. Her aunt seemed to be satisfied in the end and so Anna quickly hung up. She did not want to risk the chance that her aunt would start asking questions about James.
For two weeks she worked with Bob on perfecting the manuscript to her book. He was probably fifteen years older than Anna, but she thought he was such a kind and gentle man. They spent hours going over the book, eating, and just visiting. One evening she was in her hotel room relaxing alone. She and Bob were nearly finished with her book. Her phone rang and she assumed it was Bob and didn’t check the caller ID. It was James. She had no idea what to say to him, but she did know she wasn’t ready to see him. He made small talk and then came to his reason for calling, “I am actually coming to London tomorrow and I was wondering if I could see you. I miss you so much.” She could hear the longing in his voice, but she could not appease him. “Oh, James, I’m so sorry. We are still working on my book and I’ll be busy tomorrow.” She tried not to sound too business like. “Oh, alright. Good bye.” His voice was dripping with emotion, the same sadness mixed with anger he had in Brighton. She hung up and a shiver went down her spine. The next day she was a little bit distracted while she and Bob worked on the book. At the end of the day, however, the entire book was done and ready to print. She was so happy. “Um, Bob, would you mind if I stayed in the hotel room for two more days?” she asked. “Well, of course, we want our authors to be happy!” he replied with a smile. She tried just resting for two days, but was soon bored out of her mind. She decided to move to a hotel that was close to shopping and other entertainment. She had the advance money on her book, so she decided to treat herself a little. Shopping and looking at museums and parks are fun, but Anna felt so very lonely. “These are not things that people do alone.” As she stood in front of a shop window and contemplated some very bizarre fashion, her phone rang. Aunt Beth was calling. “Anna, dear, our anniversary is Thursday and we are having a big dinner party to celebrate. I would really love it if you would be here. Can you get away from London now?” Her aunt sounded like she needed Anna’s support for the preparation and the dinner. “Yes, we are finished with the book, actually. I’ll come tomorrow and that way I can help you with preparations,” she said. She wanted to ask if James was there, but didn’t want to open that loaded subject. She had no idea if her aunt would be angry about how she had left James hanging, or if she would take Anna’s side.
The next day, she packed all her things and took an early train to Newbury. As she settled into her comfortable room at Crofton, she was thankful to be here again. James was not there and so she felt more confident to be herself. Her aunt did not bring up what had happened in Brighton and didn’t mention James. She helped her aunt any way she could. The children were happy to have Anna back and she had fun playing with them. She was busy, but she couldn’t stop thinking about James. While in London she had thought she didn’t want to see him at all; however, now she felt she did want to see him. She wouldn’t call him, though. That would be way too forward for her.
The day of the event was bright and warm. The children were all shipped off to the poor nanny’s house for the whole day and night so preparations and party could each go smoothly. Early in the afternoon, Anna was fussing with some of the flower arrangements in the dining room when her aunt came in with a concerned look on her face. “What’s wrong?” she asked. “Well,” her aunt began slowly, ”you know I don’t want to meddle in your personal life, but James is here and I think you ought to give him the chance to talk to you.” Anna hung her head and then nodded. She realized that her aunt knew everything, but had not spoken to her about it out of respect for her. For that, she was very grateful. She found him on the couch, his head laid back. He was not his usual composed self. His hair was messy and he wore wrinkled clothes. He was staring at the ceiling in a daze, his face showing signs of sleepless nights. She sat next to him and they remained in silence for a moment. Finally, she scooted closer to him and began to comb her fingers through his hair hoping to smooth out some of the craziness. She said softly, “James, I’m here if you want to talk.” After a few minutes, he took a deep breath and began speaking. “That night in Brighton I felt the whole world slip away and happiness was the only thing around me. I felt for you what I have never in my life felt for anyone else. Then, the next morning that was all jerked out from under me. I thought any future happiness had been stolen from me in that moment. I know I reacted badly, but you have to understand I was absolutely crushed. I’m so sorry I was angry. I hope you can forgive me. I have come to realize that I love you so much, I will be willing to change my views on commitment just to be with you.” Then he began wrestling with his sport coat pocket and slipped off the couch onto his knees. He produced a ring box and revealed the most beautiful ring she had ever seen. The top of the ring was a tube made of filigree vines and leaves. On each leaf was a delicate diamond. There were also diamonds inside the tube that sparkled through the filigree in the light. Anna’s breath caught in her throat. “Anna, my love, will you please marry me so we can each have a future filled with happiness and love?” He looked at her as though he was hanging on his last hope in the world. She began to cry and could not speak, but she managed to nod her head. He grabbed her up off the couch and held her tight until she could speak. “I love you, James,” she said when she found her voice. He placed the ring on her finger and then began to kiss her so passionately, she thought she would faint. When he finally stopped to take a breath and stroke her hair she said, “When do you want to get married?” “Let’s see, today is Thursday, how about Saturday?” He had an enormous smile on his face, but she knew he was entirely serious. As she thought about the physical attraction between them, she knew that was a good idea. “Okay,” she replied. “Tomorrow we can make all the arrangements for a simple wedding here,” he said. She cringed at the word “simple”, but knew this wedding would be nothing like her first. She smiled at him and then said, “We really should go tell Peter and Beth.” Of course, her aunt and uncle were ecstatic. James and Anna stared at each other and smiled all evening. The anniversary couple didn’t mind because the tension of the past few weeks would no longer be in their home.
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