It was her light blonde hair with pink ends. Or maybe it was her blue eyes, like blue ocean swells or stormy skies. Justin couldn’t decide. He stood there staring at her feeling equal parts mesmerized and a complete dork. Her present was still in his hand. It hadn’t occurred to him yet to give it to her. Phillip had shown him a picture of her and she was pretty there too but there was a boundless energy he felt instantly attracted to that outshone any physical beauty she had.
She trained those blue eyes on Justin. “Hi! Are you here for my party?”
“Yes,” he said. His lame response sent blood rushing into his cheeks. “You must be Ophelia. You look just like the picture Phillip showed me.” It took a great deal of energy not to turn around and walk away. This was not going like he’d hoped.
“Oh, you must be Justin!” the woman in the wheelchair sitting nearby said. “Glad you could make it. Phillip wasn’t sure if you could or not.”
“Come along,” Ophelia said, grabbing his hand. “These other two are going to help Anna in the house, and then you can show me what you brought.” Her hand was soft and delicate. She pulled him into the house. “I’m glad you could make it, though I hope you really wanted to come because, I don’t know how he does it, but Phillip can be really persuasive.
“I wanted to come,” he said. She turned around and smiled at him.
“Good,” she said. “Tonight’s going to be a blast. I’ll tell you something. I don’t think I know half the people here. My friends tend to bring other friends and the next thing I know we’re spilling out into the yard.”
The two men that had been outside with Ophelia and Anna were just getting her into the house. “Bryant and Garrett both have worked for Calvin Klein and a bunch of other ones but I can never keep track of them all. So, is this for me?” She pointed at the bag Justin held.
Justin handed the bag over to Ophelia. She pulled the tissue out and pulled out a smaller dark brown bag. “Wow, Justin,” she said, a blush spreading across her cheeks.
“What is it?” Anna said.
“It’s a $100 3kg bag of Vlahrona chocolate,” Ophelia said, looking wide eyed at the package. “That’s amazing. And too much.” She looked up at Justin.
He pointed to the bag. “There’s something else.”
She reached in and pulled out a jar. When she twisted the lid, a gold twinkle lightly waved with the air movement of the house. She laughed. “Edible gold foil. I love it!”
Her laugh, he thought. Like twinkling bells. I‘m so much in trouble.
“Phillip told me you’re a pastry chef and so I went to Orson Gygi. The sales people there were very helpful.”
Ophelia jumped up and hugged Justin. “Thank you. It’s really too much but I still love it anyway. No one’s got me expensive pastry making stuff before.”
Justin smiled down at her, hugging her back. “You’re welcome.” Her hair brushed against his cheek. It was like down feathers and smelled slightly of apples.
“Come here. I need to show this to someone and I want you to come with me,” she said, stuffing the gifts back in the bag, and taking Justin’s hand and dragging him across the room.
She introduced him to so many, he lost track of names and faces after the first ten minutes. All he could think of was that she had her hand firmly in his the entire time, even when she could have let it go. They had circled back to the front room where they found Anna sitting in Bryant’s lap laughing while the other man was goofing off in Anna’s wheelchair. A movement caught Justin’s eye and he saw Phil standing there with the oddest look on his face. In the next moment, Phil had left and Anna was scrambling to get back into her wheelchair.
“What was that all about?” Justin asked Ophelia. She had run to her sister and the two men helped her get out the door the way she had come in. Justin walked up behind Ophelia to see Anna tearing down the street. Ophelia turned around, her face troubled.
“I don’t know,” she said. “I have never see Phil act like that before.”
“I hope he’s ok,” Justin said.
“Me, too,” Ophelia said. “Poor Anna. Seriously, he looked creeped out and furious at the same time. I didn’t know a face could look like that.”
“Your sister is his girlfriend, right?” he said. “Maybe he thought something else was going on than what it really was?”
“Yeah, but Bryant’s just our cousin, that doesn’t mean . . .” She trained off. “Phil has never met Bryant before. Oh, no! I hope they’re both ok. I’m sure Anna will call me sometime later about it.”
She sat mulling it over for a minute before looking back up to Justin, a megawatt smile on her face.
“Have you been having a good time so far?” she said.
“Yes. I don’t think I’ve met so many people in one place at one time before,” he said.
She laughed. “It does tend to get out of hand. I just can’t say no to some of them. And this is the mess I ended up with.”
He looked around. “I think it’s great,” he said. He wracked his brain for something else to say. He went with the easiest topic hoping it wouldn’t bore her away. “So how do you know Phil?”
“That, my friend, is a very long story,” she said, patting him on the chest, a sly smile on her face. “But let’s just say that when he started officially dating my sister, there were more than myself who were over the moon about it. I don’t know if Phil’s told you much about my sister, but she lost her husband to a car accident about twelve years ago. I think she convinced herself stubbornly that she would be single for the rest of her life. Until she met Phil, that is. Fireworks went off, almost literally.”
“Sounds like a story for a less busy setting,” he said.
“Definitely,” she said. She looked around for a moment. “Phil says you’re a doctor.”
“I’m a physician’s assistant,” Justin said. “I wanted to practice medicine but I didn’t want to have to go through the time and expense of medical school.”
“Oh,” Ophelia said.
“What’s your favorite thing to bake?” Justin said. He was desperate to find a way of keeping her talking.
“I’d have to say sugar cookies,” she said.
“Really?” he said.
“The recipe I could do in my sleep and what you can shape and decorate out of them is endless,” she said. “My turn! Are you a soft or a crunchy cookie kind of guy?”
“Honestly, I never really thought about it,” he said. “If a cookie is good, I eat it.”
“That, sir, is a good answer,” she said, smiling. She gave him a hard look. “What did Phil tell you about me?”
“He said that you work at a bakery and you love your family,” he said.
“Hmm,” she grumped skeptically. “That’s true enough, I guess, particularly my niece and nephew. Brody, my nephew, he’s this adorable red-headed kid who loves video games and acts all grumpy all the time. But he’s really sweet deep down inside. I take it as a personal challenge to get him to laugh every time I see him because I know he hates it. And then my niece, Zoe, she reminds me of a shy version of myself when I was her age. She’s sweet and gives the best hugs.”
“So I take it you were never shy,” he said.
“Nope,” she said. “I think people are great. Even you.”
“Wow, you already think I’m great?” he said, smiling.
“Oh course!” she said. “I have a sense about these things. Who else would let me drag them all over my party, introduce them to a bunch of strangers, and then buy someone who’s basically a stranger really expensive but super cool birthday present?”
“That would be me, I guess,” he said.
“Did you know you have the most fantastic color of eyes?” she said, staring into his face.
“Actually, I do know that,” he said. “Everyone from my grandma on down has told me that.”
“No false humility,” she said. “I like it.”
“Would you go out with me?” he said. It tumbled out of his mouth before he could really think about what he was saying.
Ophelia blinked. “Sure. I’m single; you’re single, I hope,” she said.
“As single as they come,” Justin said.
“Ok, Mr. Single-as-They-Come Justin, when are we going out?”
He pulled out his cell phone and gave it to her. “Add your number and I’ll call you.”
There was a small smile on her face as she typed in the information on his phone and handed it back. She had put as her contact name “Your Worst Nightmare” along with her number.
“Really?” he said. “That bad, huh?”
“Sometimes,” she said. “But maybe for you, I won’t be.”
Homesite of author Whitney Sivill. I'm a mother of three, a wife and a student. In between, I write clean romances, fantasy tales, and mid-grade & young adult fiction. I might throw in the occasional fanfiction, too.