Brett knew from the moment Isabel ran away like a frightened kitten that she was the one for him.
Her fearful dark chocolate eyes pricked his heart. She’d obviously been hurt. He longed to comfort her and promise no one would ever hurt her again.
He would have to move slow to prove that he could be trusted—that he wouldn’t hurt her like those before him. That was fine with him. It would give them time to really get to know one another without the emotional complications.
He stood in Griffin Park by the water fountain watching for her.
There – the girl with chestnut hair pulled back into a pony tail, eyes darting around, hands sunk deep in her jacket pockets, shoulders raised giving her the appearance of a turtle cautiously peeking from its shell.
Her eyes connected with his. He smiled and waved.
When she was near, he took two steps and fell into stride next to her. “Good afternoon Isabel.” He pulled a tri-folded sheet of paper from his pocket and handed it to her.
She looked into his eyes, then took the paper, unfolded it and read it. Then her eyes met his again. “You really did it.”
“Of course I did. You said you wanted a contract … and now you have one.”
“Do you have a pen?”
He quirked an eyebrow at her.
“I need to add my signature. Do you have your copy with you? We should each have a copy with both our signatures … to make it official.”
“Of course.” He stifled a smile. He pulled another tri-folded sheet from his pocket, along with a pen. Things were off to a good start. He had predicted her need to make the contract “official”.
They stopped by a picnic table and she added her signature to her copy as well as to his. “You need to sign your own copy.” She looked at him, lips in a pinched line, as she handed his copy back to him.
He took the sheet and added his signature above hers, then refolded it and placed it, and the pen, back into his pocket.
They walked along the river that ran next to Griffin Park. Isabel kept her hands in her pockets. Brett’s fingers tingled with the desire to hold her hand in his. Remember, go slow. Don’t frighten her away.
They stopped to watch a couple sailboats float by on the breeze. “Have you ever been sailing, Isabel?”
She shook her head. “I … I can’t swim.”
He barely heard the words as she mumbled with her head down.
“You don’t have to know how to swim to go sailing.”
Her head whipped up and she stared at him through wide eyes.
“You can wear a life jacket. I wouldn’t let you fall overboard.”
Isabel shook her head, and they continued to walk.
They stopped at the park concession stand. Isabel ordered a cheeseburger, fries, and a coke, and promptly pulled money from her pocket to pay for her food.
Brett forced himself not to frown, then ordered his own cheeseburger, fries, and coke, and paid for his order.
They took their food and drinks to a picnic bench and sat down.
“Isabel, do you work?”
She finished chewing her bite of cheeseburger and swallowed before answering. “Yes, I am a freelance writer.”
“So you work from your home?”
She nodded. “Do you work?” Her eyes met his as she waited for his answer.
“Yes, I am an artist, and I teach art classes in my studio.”
He watched a spark light her eyes, but just as quickly as it came, it disappeared. “Do you like art?”
She nodded but did not meet his gaze.
“Would you like to see my studio?” He held his breath as he awaited her answer.
He released his breath, a bit deflated. Oh well, at least it hadn’t been a “no”.
When they finished their lunch, they continued their walk around the park. Upon returning to the fountain, Isabel said, “I need to get home.”
“Isabel, I enjoyed our time together today. I hope you did too. Should we meet at Mario’s Pizza Palace next week?”
She looked up at him and he’d have sworn the corners of her lips tipped up just a bit. “Yes.”
Then she turned and walked away.
He watched her until he couldn’t see her anymore, but she never looked back at him.
* * * * *
As weeks passed and turned into months, Brett’s heart longed for the day when Isabel would finally feel secure in their relationship. When she would truly know and understand that he wouldn’t hurt her—that she could trust him.
Through the months, she did start to open up. But they were baby steps.
His heart warmed and a smile stretched his lips as he remembered the first time she’d smiled at him. Then the first time he’d heard her laugh out loud.
It was their fourth visit to Mario’s and he wanted to make her smile again. “I read your texts the moment you send them to me, and the other day I received one of your texts. I was reading it, and I walked into a pole.”
Her laughter had bubbled forth like water from a spring and he loved the sound of it.
* * * * *
Today—the one year anniversary of the day they signed their “friendship contract”–they plan to have dinner at Mario’s Pizza Palace.
Brett’s gut was in knots. One year was a milestone and Isabel had opened up to him quite a bit. Tonight he’d be picking her up and they would drive together in his car. They’d done this about half a dozen times now. He’d held her hand each time they walked through the park for the past four months, but what did it mean to her?
His nerves were on edge the moment she got in the car. She chattered about her work on the way to Mario’s, but he only half listened. He parked the car and they walked into Mario’s hand-in-hand, his heart thumping like it wanted to break out of his chest.
They took a seat in a booth near the back of the restaurant. “So, what are we having tonight?”
She looked at him with a gleam in her eyes he’d never seen before. “How about spaghetti?” She giggled.
He grinned. “Are you serious?”
“No, but I’ll never forget the look on your face as I caught you slurping a noodle the last time.”
He chuckled. “That was the first time I ever heard you laugh.”
Isabel reached her hand across the table and touched his. “You know, you really have helped me during this past year.”
“I’m glad.” He gave her fingers a gentle squeeze.
“You know, I’ve been thinking about our relationship and our contract.”
He raised his eyebrows but didn’t say anything. He held his breath to hear what she would say next.
“I think it’s time for a change.”
Brett sat up, leaning harder on the table, every nerve and muscle in his body tensed.
Isabel slipped a hand beneath the table, reached into the back pocket of her jeans and pulled out a folded sheet of paper. She opened it and showed him her copy of their “friendship agreement”. She folded it again as her eyes held his gaze. Then she ripped the paper in half and in half again and again, until it was just a pile of small pieces on the table between them.
Brett’s heart pounded and his palms sweated, but his eyes were locked with hers.
“Brett, I think it’s time this relationship moved to the next step—something more than friendship.”
The breath he’d been holding burst from his mouth and he breathed normally again. “Are you sure?”
“As long as we can continue to take it one step at a time.”
Brett reached and brushed a thumb across her cheek. She clasped his hand and kissed his palm, and his heart leapt for joy. It would take a little more time, but one day he would make Isabel his wife.