By Luanna Stewart
Woo boy, alone with her at last. But where to go? Sitting on a crowded subway wouldn’t allow him to concentrate on Jojo and what she said. And wouldn’t give him nearly enough time to look at her. He’d wait until they got to Central Park and maybe inspiration would strike.
This date had to be perfect, and Shawn was getting the signal it wouldn’t be easy. Sure there was interest in her eyes; he’d experienced it enough from other women over the years to spot it. But there was also a reticence, a distance he aimed to bridge.
Silence fell between them as they headed for the train. Heck, he hadn’t felt this nervous around a girl since high school. Say something, you idiot!
“So, how’ve you been?” Oh yeah, really cool.
“Busy lately, with the holidays coming up.”
“I’ve seen your vlog.” He sensed the tension from her body as soon as the words were out of his mouth.
“You have? Why?” She laughed, seemingly nervous and unsure herself. Not at all the image she conveyed on screen.
“I like to keep up with what my friends are doing.”
“Yeah, but you’re a guy.”
“I had noticed.”
“No, that’s not what I meant. You can’t be interested in shoes and make-up.” She cut him a glance. “Can you?”
He laughed. “Only when they’re on a woman.” He reached for her hand. “You were talking about these gloves the other day.” He gave her hand a squeeze and didn’t let go.
“Wow, you really have been watching.”
“Like I said, I like to keep up. Should I buy a pair for my sister?”
“Definitely. The hat that goes with them is cute too.”
“There’s half my Christmas shopping done, thanks to you.”
They got off half a block from the park, pausing in the sun by a wrought iron bench. “You feel like a walk?”
“Sure.” She scampered ahead, relieved to be in the fresh air. Holding hands was too much, too soon. She took a deep breath, concentrating on the oxygen filling her lungs, her chest, her muscles. Smooth and easy. There was plenty of air, plenty of space. She didn’t have to be here, she could leave. She chose to be here.
Shawn put a handful of coins in the meter and joined her on the sidewalk. He reached again for her hand. Who would have thought that she’d be walking through Central Park holding hands with Shawn Davis? Not her, except in her fantasies.
Out here, with other people milling about, her heart rate stayed normal and she wasn’t breaking out in a sweat. She could do this. She could be a normal person.
Now for some casual banter. Work was always a safe topic.
“You mentioned being in town for business. What do you do?” Of course she already knew, having spent several minutes the previous evening checking all the social media sites.
“I’m an architect.”
“Very cool. What have you designed? Anything I’d have seen?”
He chuckled. “No, not yet. I’m in a large firm and just getting established. I’m with a team designing a remodeling project over on Seventh Avenue.”
They came to a fork in the path and she moved to the right, while Shawn moved to the left. They laughed, he gave a slight tug on her hand, and just like that she was chest to chest with the sexy man of her dreams.
She started to shake and felt like she was choking.
By Kris Calvert
Shawn could feel her warm body shudder in his arms, and he knew it wasn’t because she was chilly. Snow began to fall right on cue as if he’d ordered the white stuff from the heavens himself, and he stared into her eyes and thought of nothing but kissing her.
“Well, this is what awkward looks like,” she said looking everywhere but his face.
“No.” Shawn pulled on her hands begging her to catch his gaze. “Awkward would be having you in an embrace like this,” he said, pulling her so close their hips collided. “And your ex-boyfriend, grandmother, or priest happened to catch me.”
Her breath quickened, the clouds of warm air giving away her excitement. “Catch you…what?”
“C’mon,” he said, pulling her along the pathway and quelling his urge to engulf her red lips. “I want to show you something.”
They walked in the gentle quiet the blanket of snow provided, as he weaved the two of them hand in hand through the lower part of the park. Content in their silence, Shawn lived on the intermittent squeezes she gave his fingers each time he ran his thumb across her knuckles.
When they made the turn into the Shakespeare Garden, Shawn turned to take both of her hands as he walked backwards. “I know a bank whereon the wild thyme blows, where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,” he said. “Quite over-canopied with lush woodbine, with sweet musk-roses and with eglantine.”
“Why are you quoting A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream?” Joanne narrowed her eyes and gave him the kind of suspicious smile that said she didn’t know where he was headed with his reference, but she was willing to play along.
“Don’t you like Bill?”
“Shakespeare. I might be an architect, but I believe in art—art in structure, art in performance, and most certainly art in words.”
Shawn let go of one hand to beckon Joanne into him. Looking to her feet, she reluctantly agreed to follow and rolled her eyes, nervous as to where he was taking her and the conversation.
“Well, just like you choose your words carefully in your video blog, which by the way I loved the post about scarves. I think you’re absolutely correct. They are fashion statements and not just something to throw around your neck in the winter.”
She dropped his hands, crossing her arms in front of her chest. “Now you’re just mocking me.”
“I’m not,” he exclaimed. “I think you’re right. Form and function.”
Unmoving in her stance, Shawn knew he had only a moment to put the magic back in the moment.
Moving into Joanne, he refrained from touching her but matched her posture, crisscrossing his arms over his chest. “This is my point exactly. Words matter. It’s why one needs to choose them carefully. If you don’t,” he said, leaning his forehead into hers. “Someone might get the wrong impression.”
She broke into a smile. Shawn knew he’d finally tapped into the unspoken feelings he always believed were hidden just the below the surface of their friendship.
“Come here,” he said, pulling her farther into the garden. “I’ll prove it.”
“Prove what? she asked, taking his hand once more while he pulled her along begrudgingly by the arm.
He stopped them both in front of a twenty-foot granite bench that curled inward at each side. Placing his hand in the small of her back, he ushered her to the right hand side of the bench, setting her snuggly against the curve.
“It’s cold,” she said as he walked away.
“It’s worth it,” he replied. “Something remarkable is about to happen.”
Walking to the opposite end, Shawn sat and winced. She was correct. The granite was freezing.
“So?” she asked.
Shawn gave her a sly smile, turned his back, and began to whisper as softly as he could into the frigid granite. “Welcome to the whispering bench, Jojo.”
She didn’t have to say a word. The look on Joanne’s face told him everything he needed to know.
“What is this?” she whispered, turning into the bench herself.
“This is the whispering bench. Here, you can only tell the truest truths ever known.”
“What kind of truths?” she whispered into the bench.
Her words were loud and clear in Shawn’s ears.
“The kind of truths you keep to yourself deep in your heart. And remember, words matter.”
Shawn and Joanne sat in silence for only a moment.
She wasn’t sure if it was the buzz in her head or the butterflies in her stomach that spurred her bravery, but she opened her mouth and exactly what she was thinking came out. “I’ve always thought you were handsome.”
At first, she was stunned at her words but then she took a deep breath, deciding to buy into the only truths rule of the whispering bench. That and the fact that she didn’t have to look him in the face when she said it.
“I’ve always thought you were beautiful.”
“What?” Joanne said at full volume.
Shawn laughed soft and low as he turned around to gaze upon her flushed face. Circling his finger, he silently asking her to turn around again. Shawn leaned into the cold granite and whispered what he’d longed to say for years. “Jojo, I’ve always loved you.”