Claire tried three times to do the button on the back of her dress. Her hands were shaking so badly she couldn’t do it. “Help!”
“Calm down,” Michelle came in and buttoned the top two buttons. “It’s just a movie with dad. Do you think the heels are necessary? Aren’t you a little overdressed?”
“You kids just don’t know how to dress for an important date,” Claire said.
“Well, you do look really good,” Claire appreciated her daughter’s unsolicited appraisal. She really did look good if her daughter said that without prompting. Her stomach did a little flip when she heard the knock at the door.
Seth stepped onto the rug and stomped the snow off his shoes.
“Why don’t you come in and say, ‘Hi,’ to the kids while I get my earrings?” she said. She hadn’t missed his appreciative look. It made her feel even more nervous and excited inside. He was wearing her favorite cologne. It made her a little dizzy.
“Hi, how’s my big boy?” Seth grabbed Thomas and turned him upside down. Thomas started laughing. They roughhoused while she put in her earrings and grabbed her purse.
“Michelle, Aunt Lorrayne’s on her way down; don’t let the kids stay up too late,” Claire said.
“Don’t worry,” Michelle used a voice that said the kids were going to bed the second it was bedtime.
Seth stepped out the door first and offered her his hand so he could help her down the steps. She wasn’t used to him taking care of her like this. His hand felt warm in hers, and she didn’t want him to let go, but he did as soon as she was down the stairs. He went on ahead and opened the car door for her. He offered his hand again when she got in.
“So, Clive Paris called me last week. He got me a job interview at Staley College. I’d be in charge of the accounting department,” he said as the car pulled onto the street.
“How’d it go?” She was thrown off-guard. She knew Seth couldn’t remain jobless forever, but she didn’t expect anything to come this soon.
“It was a great interview. I met the people in the department. They seemed hard working but likeable,” he told her.
“What would the work day be like?” She wanted to know.
“Eight to five, Monday through Friday,” he said. “No overtime, except maybe four or five times a year when reports come due.” He glanced at her, then pulled the car over to the side of the road.
“Is something wrong with the car?” she asked.
“No,” he said. “Look, it’s just an interview. I’m not going to take a job you don’t want me to take.”
The look in his eyes drew her in.
“Alright.” she said. “I’m just worried that. . .” her voice trailed off.
“The last job. The people you worked with. The way you all competed with each other. I’m worried you’ll get caught up in that again,” she looked down at her purse.
“This job won’t be like that,” he said. “There’s no competition. We’re doing accounts for the college. We don’t recruit; we just keep track of the money. If they offer me the job, we’ll talk about it before I take it. We’d have to move; figure out other things.”
The reassurance in his voice calmed her. “We could talk about it some more right now.”
He pulled the car back onto the highway. He started to talk about the job with the enthusiasm he had been holding back. He really liked the idea of being in charge of a department.
Seth pretended to watch the opening trailers and the beginning of the show, but he was really watching Claire. He’d never seen her looking so beautiful and animated.
He decided to take a chance and hold her hand. It took him half-an-hour to work up the nerve. He slid his hand over to where hers was resting in her lap and covered it with his. He waited to see what would happen.
She was a little disconcerted when she felt his hand on hers. It was an unspoken question, an invitation, a hope moving from his fingers to hers. She sat there like that, enjoying his touch, enjoying the promise brought with it.
When she didn’t turn her hand over to hold his, He thought maybe he had moved too soon. He felt a little disappointed, but he could wait. He pulled his hand back and rested it on the arm of his chair.
She was surprised when his warmth left her hand. She glanced over at him. He was looking at the screen like nothing had happened. She realized he’d taken her lack of response as a rejection. She moved her hand up to where his was resting and twined her fingers through his. He smiled. They both returned to watching the movie, each enjoying the warmth of a question answered, an invitation accepted, and hope moving forward.
After the movie and dinner, he drove her back home. He went around the front of the car and opened the door. This time, he held her hand until she was safely at the top of the steps.
“Do you want to come in for a minute?” She asked in the flooding warmth from the open door.
He shook his head. “I think I’ll just go back home.” She stood in the door and watched until the car disappeared.
“How’d it go?” Michelle asked from the couch.
“Great. It was a lot of fun,” Claire said as she released her feet from the heels. “I’m going to bed. Don’t stay up too late, punkin’.” She kissed Michelle’s hair and went to get ready for bed.
While she was putting on her pajamas and brushing her teeth, she wondered why he hadn’t kissed her. She couldn’t figure it out. But it had been a nice evening. She fell asleep glowing inside from newly born love.
Seth drove home thinking about the evening. He’d wanted to kiss her at the door, but he knew she wanted to take this slowly. Kissing tonight would have presented expectations too soon for Claire to meet. He knew she still needed time to trust him, to see that he fully intended to follow through on his promises. He could wait. She was worth waiting for.
The next morning, while the kids were watching cartoons, there was knock on the door. Claire opened it to see a man holding a bouquet of flowers in an exquisite vase. “Are you Claire Sneddecker?” he asked.
She felt excitement bubble up inside of her. “Yes.”
“These are for you.” The man turned and walked back down the sidewalk.
She brought the fragrant bouquet into the house and set it on the table beside the little tree.
“Hey, mom got flowers!” Sherridan yelled.
“Let me smell, mommy! Let me smell!” Thomas said, running over to the table.
“No one touches unless I’m here,” She instructed as she tilted the vase for each child.
“Dad sure went overboard on this date,” Michelle said as she came in to examine the delivery. “Did you open the card?”
“I’m not sure they’re from your dad,” she said.
“Come on, Mom, who else would they be from?” Michelle asked.
Claire took the card out of the little plastic pick and went back to her bedroom. She closed the door and opened the envelope.
Inside was a note in Seth’s handwriting:
I’m looking forward to many more dates like the one we had last night.
Two weeks had passed since Seth sent the flowers. He called her every day to see how she was, and they’d started going on dates together alone. She was puzzled because still he didn’t kiss her. She could tell he wanted to, but something was holding him back. They hadn’t discussed their living situation either. She thought that maybe that was because he needed more anger counseling before she and kids started living with him. She wasn’t sure. She decided not to ask. She wanted him to be the one to initiate her permanent move back into his life. She was thinking about that on this particular Saturday as she shut the door behind him and the kids. He was taking them for their weekend visit.
“Guess what, Dad!” Thomas said as Seth buckled him into the car. “We got a kitten!”
Michelle and Sherridan got into the car just in time to hear this last part.
“Thomas, you weren’t supposed to tell!” Sherridan said.
Seth’s face was livid. “You kids stay in the car,” he said between clenched teeth. He half-ran up the sidewalk and pounded loudly on the door. “Claire! Claire! Answer this door!” he yelled.
Thomas shrank down in his booster and started to cry.
“It’s alright, Thomas. It’s going to be alright,” Sherridan tried to comfort him.
“What if he hurts the kitten?” Thomas sobbed.
“He’s not going to hurt the kitten,” Michelle said.
Sherridan said what they were all thinking, “What if he hurts mom?”
“He’s not going to hurt mom,” Michelle said, but as hard as she tried, she couldn’t make her voice sound sure.
All three children watched from the car as their dad pounded on the door and their mom opened it. All three children were afraid.
“Thomas told me that you got a kitten!” Seth hollered when she opened the door.
She straightened her back and raised her head. “We have a kitten in here. Do you want to see it?”
“Having dogs confined to one area of the house is one thing. Having a cat roaming around is something else! We are not going to have a kitten in our house,” he yelled.
“Seth, people can hear you clear down the block,” she said as if she were having a normal conversation with someone. She was amazed at how calm she felt in the face of his rage.
“I don’t care if people can hear me clear down the block! I’m not having a cat in my house!” he yelled.
“The cat’s not in your house. It’s in my apartment,” she said.
He turned abruptly and started walking. She watched from the window as he passed twice, evidentially walking around the block. He knocked on the door, a little softer this time.
She opened the it.
“Could we at least talk about this and decide together?” he asked.
She nodded. “Why don’t you come in and see for yourself?”
He stomped the snow off his shoes and took them off while she searched the back of the apartment, calling, “Here, Mr. Toliver. Here kitty.”
She came back carrying a calico ball of fur. She set it down in the middle of the living room and started pulling a piece of string around. The tiny kitten pounced and stalked, pounced and stalked while he watched from the couch.
“I think you could have at least asked me,” he said. His voice was normal now.
“I found the it yesterday out in the snow. I think someone dumped it. I told the kids I was going to take it to the shelter while they were at your house. I figured that way they wouldn’t get attached,” she explained.
“Why didn’t you tell me that?” He wanted to know.
“You know why,” she said.
She saw the recognition of her implication in his eyes.
“Did I pass?” he asked.
“Seemed like a normal fight to me,” she said.
She handed the string to him. He pulled it around and watched the kitten chase it. With his other hand, he reached over to wrap her fingers in his own.
Out in the car, Michelle was becoming more and more worried. Mom shouldn’t have let dad in the apartment when he was that mad. She should have locked the door.
“Stay here!” she ordered Sherridan and Thomas. She bounded up the sidewalk and burst into the door.
“Mom, are you alright!” She yelled and then stopped. Her mom and dad were sitting on the couch, playing with that stupid kitten. She couldn’t believe it.
“Go get back in the car and tell your brother and sister everything’s o.k.” her mom said.
She went back outside. She couldn’t believe this. They were messing around with that cat while she and the other kids were freezing in the car.
“Claire, you picked the wrong name,” Seth told her.
“What do you mean?”
“All calicos are girls.”
“Oh. I had trouble telling what it was.” She giggled a little, then stopped herself. She hated it when she giggled.
“I guess you could keep the kitten,” he said.
“I can’t. The landlord doesn’t allow pets. I have to get it out of here as soon as possible,” she said.
“Well, if you have a box, I could take it to my place. The kids would enjoy having it at our house,” he said.
She couldn’t believe it. “Are you serious?” She asked.
“I guess,” he said.
She went to get the box. She gathered the cat litter, litter box, cat food, and dishes she had purchased and lugged it all out to the car. Thomas and Sherridan got really excited when they realized what that meant. Claire was a little excited too. She and Seth had their first real fight as a new couple. They’d both played fair, and he’d controlled his temper.
The next Friday, Seth pulled up in front of Claire’s apartment. He was looking forward to seeing her. He was also nervous. He had a question, and he was afraid of the answer. He’d gotten a job offer and knew that he was ready to move on with his life; he needed to know if Claire was ready to move on with him.
Claire was dressed up. Seth had promised her a romantic dinner and dancing. She loved dancing. She knew he didn’t, so she had been surprised when he had suggested it. She was a little disconcerted when they pulled up in front of their house.
“I wanted to surprise you with a nice dinner here,” he said.
“You could have asked me if I wanted to come here first,” she said coldly. She thought he should have known that this house meant anything but romance.
“Do you want me to take you home, to your apartment, is that where home is, Claire!” Seth started to shout.
“Well, you built it all up, dinner and dancing,” Claire snapped. “And instead you bring me here.”
“I can’t make every date the ultimate date. Sooner or later you’re going to have to come back to reality. A house together is reality. This is reality,” he said.
“So, all that talk about us moving, about us having our new house together, that was just talk. You haven’t changed, have you?”
He made a disgusted noise and looked out the window.
That did it. She got out of the car and walked toward Grace’s house. A snowy/rainy mix was sleeting down, and she slipped a couple of times on the sidewalk.
Fifteen minutes later, there was a knock at Grace’s door. Seth, sopping wet, was standing there in the rain.
“Um, is Claire here?” he asked.
“Sure, come in, you must be chilled through,” Grace said.
“Thanks, but I’d rather not,” he said.
Grace left the door standing open and walked to the back of the house. She came back followed by Claire.
“What are you doing?” she asked. She couldn’t believe he was standing in the cold and wet.
“I was hoping we could talk,” he said. He looked miserable.
“Alright, I’ll get my coat,” she said.
“Um, we can talk here if it’s alright with Grace,” Seth offered. “If you’re uncomfortable going to our house.”
“Fine by me,” Grace said.
“No, let’s go to our house. I think it’ll be alright,” she said.
While they were walking toward the dark house, He held onto her arm above the elbow in case she slipped. His teeth were chattering, and he was shaking.
“Are you alright? How come you’re so wet?” Claire asked.
“After you got out of the car, I went for a walk. I needed to think and to cool off,” he said. He walked up the front walk, opened the door and switched on the light. She drew in her breath. The room had been transformed into a romantic hide-away. A card table covered with a red checked cloth sat in the middle. The chairs were covered in white with red ribbons around the backs. A vase of lavender roses adorned the middle of the table, China and crystal surrounded it.
“Oh, it’s beautiful,” she breathed. Then she felt immediately guilty. She turned to him, and without thinking, put her hand on his head and smoothed it over his close-cut hair. “I am so sorry.” She said looking into his eyes. “Please forgive me. I had no idea you had. . .I am so sorry, please forgive me.”
“I didn’t think about disappointing when I planned this. I know you love to go out,” he said. He gave her a small grin. Then he became sober again. “Claire, I . . .”
“Why don’t you go change before we talk?” she said. She was worried about him being so wet and cold. “You could even take a hot shower. I’ll just sit here and enjoy the room.”
What he needed to know couldn’t wait. He shook his head a little. “I need to say this now, and I need you to give me your honest feelings.”
Her voice was soft, and she looked down, “Alright.”
He reached over and tipped her face up gently. She allowed it. “I need to see your eyes. I’ve been so afraid of your eyes for so long, but I want to see your eyes,” he said.
“Alright.” She felt really shy and self-conscious with him looking at her like everything depended on this.
“Are you doing this marriage restoration thing, are you dating me, because you have to or because you want to? Because if you’re doing this because you have to, you don’t have to anymore. I’ll leave you alone, forever if you want me to. I don’t want you to be with me if you don’t want to be,” he said.
Her mouth trembled a little bit and her eyes filled, “I want to be with you more than anything, but not if you’re going to go back to being that person you were before. I can’t stand the thought of losing how you are now to that person you were then.”
He bent down and brushed her lips with his own. She drew in her breath. He made her dizzy. She’d never had a kiss before that made her dizzy. This was their first kiss, their second first kiss. She could feel the kiss from the top of her head to the bottoms of her feet.
“I promise you that I will never be that man again. I’ve made you promises before that I haven’t kept. But you can trust these promises because I have Christ as my back up now.” His voice and eyes told her he was being honest with her. “I love you, Claire.”
“I love you,” she echoed.
He kissed her again.
“You really should go get dried off,” she said. She didn’t want him to leave to go upstairs, but she didn’t want him to get sick either.
When he came back down, he drew her up against his chest and danced slowly around the room with her. She hadn’t been this close to him for a long time. It felt good to be pressed up against him with her head on his shoulder. After three songs, he stopped and pulled her to the coach.
“There’s something I want to ask you,” he said. He looked down and pulled nervously at his jeans.
She waited expectantly. She wasn’t sure what he was going to say, but she knew she wanted to hear it.
“Would you and the kids move back in with me?” he said. “If you don’t like the job with the college, I’ll take a job as a janitor. I’ve seen some advertised. I’ll take the most disgusting minimum wage job just to be with you.”
“You can’t be a janitor, you call the plumber when the toilet gets plugged up,” she giggled.
He moved in a little closer. “I’d do it to have you back,” he whispered and touched her cheek with his hand.
“You don’t have to do it to have me back. You could have had me back the day you held your temper about the kitten. I knew then that we’d be alright,” she said.
“Then, I’ve wasted a lot of time,” he said. He leaned in and brushed her lips with his.
“I had one more thing to ask you,” he said.
He got down on one knee and pulled out a small box with a ring in it. “Would you marry me, again?”
She gasped with tears in her eyes and nodded. He took the ring out of the box and put it on her pinky finger. “You can have it sized later. I wanted it to go with your first wedding ring. We can have a ceremony if you want to.”
“I would love that,” she breathed.
He pulled her up onto her feet and started dancing with her, slowly. “We have to pick a song, you know, a song to be our song,” he said.
Claire moved around the room with Seth, enjoying his closeness, enjoying knowing he’d never let go, no matter what. Inside, she was thinking, “Thank you, Lord Jesus, thank you, thank you, thank you.” She realized that she was like Joseph. What those kids meant for evil, the Lord meant for good. And from now on, her life was going to be good; it was going to be sweeter than anything she could have imagined or hoped for.