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For The Strength of Youth

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Submitted by Steven ODell on 5 July 2007 - 11:27pm.

Chapter 2

Two days had passed and Jenna was beginning to feel let down. She’d had no call yet from the mysterious young man who had crashed the party. There was only one logical conclusion—he was simply a gatecrasher. No one knew him or had invited him. He would have been forcibly ejected from the party within minutes had he not left when he did. It was all so daring of him and she was dieing to know who he was and why he had done it, but now she was starting to think he'd done it simply on a whim or as a dare and that in the end he would never call her at all. Some college prank or hazing assignment, most likely. Very immature of him, to say the least.

But, perhaps the party itself was not a total loss. She had, after all, met Perry Rollins. He seemed a nice enough man—polite and gentlemanly and so good-looking. It could be that he, too, would understand all too well the curse of beauty as she did. Still, something inside her yearned to again see the dangerous, exciting man who now had her phone number, but not her name. Well, if he waits too long, I shall be very angry indeed, she thought. Perhaps I should be angry even now—this is no way to treat a lady. Yes—yes, I shall tell him off and hang up on him when he calls...if he calls. She corrected herself and was surprised to find her heart sink at the thought.

Within seconds, it rose again dramatically as the phone rang. She surprised even herself with her speed and unthinking response. The phone was at her ear almost before she was aware of it.

"Hello?" She stood breathless and awaiting an answer—a male voice. Please let it be him.

"Are you alone?" came the voice on the other end.

It was him. She froze a few seconds before answering. "Yes...yes, I am." Her eyes closed involuntarily, as if to shut out the world and be even more alone than she already was—alone with this mysterious stranger. "I thought you'd never call," she said demurely.

"That would be no way to treat a lady, now, would it?" He said it matter-of-factly and she laughed silently to hear him repeat her very own thoughts. Eyes still closed, Jenna fought to calm herself and take control of the situation, finding it all but impossible, so excited and intrigued was she. Her free hand rose to brush back her hair and then came to rest at the base of her neck, just above her breasts. She was breathing shallowly and rapidly in anticipation. "Who are you? Why did you ask for my number?"

"Why did you give it to me?"

Confused, she answered hesitantly. "I don't know. Something about the way you spoke, I guess. I thought you could be trusted—can you?"

Many seconds of silence went by before he answered pleasantly. "A bit late for that now, isn't it?"

"Yes, I guess it is. My name is Jenna. May I have yours, please?"

"Sure; it's Tom. When can I see you?"

"Tom what?" she asked, trying to maintain some degree of control. She hated herself for the difficulty that she was feeling in her attempt to do so.

"Does it matter, really? What's in a name? A rose by any other name, as they say...." He stopped and waited.

"Shakespeare—what a surprise. An educated gatecrasher," she shot back in an attempt to be witty. Suddenly surprised by her own insolence and inwardly wincing from the pain she may have caused, she waited silently for what seemed ages before he responded, all the while holding her breath and hoping he would not hang up.

"I wanted to take you to a nice place I know of, but if you would rather not...." He again waited without finishing the sentence.

Her mind was racing. What should I do? What do I say? Jenna blurted out her answer from instinct rather than premeditation. "Try me!" Oh! So stupid! How ungraceful.

"Alright, seven o 'clock tonight, then. What's your address?" Silence again as he waited for her response.

Why am I doing this? Jenna's thoughts were positively whirling in confusion, but before she could think rationally, he had her address and had hung up the phone. Jenna sat down heavily, exhaling in resignation. Tom—that's all she knew. His name was Tom. I must be mad, she reasoned and shook her head before placing it firmly between her open palms.

The phone rang again. A second time her hand shot out to bring it to her ear. "Yes? Tom?"

"Tom? No, this is Perry. From the party, remember?"

"Oh, yes. Of course I do. How are you, Perry?" It was a strange anti-climax when compared to the feeling she had felt so brief a moment ago.

"Fine, thank you. I wanted to say how much I enjoyed talking with you the other day. You are a very charming woman. I had hoped to ask you out and get to know you better. Tonight, perhaps?"

"Oh, I'm sorry, Perry. Tonight is just not possible."

"I see. A date with Tom, I take it?"
"Umm...well...yes, actually. Could we make it another time?" she recovered.

"Yes, of course. It would be my pleasure. Tomorrow night, then?" He never missed a beat.

“Alright, Perry. Tomorrow at seven, I will be ready. My address is…”

"I already know your address, Jenna." Her silence told him she was stunned, afraid or both and he rushed to reassure her. "I asked our hostess, that's all. She had seen us talking so pleasantly and she thought it no breach of trust to tell me where you live. I got your phone number at the same time. Was I wrong to ask her for it?"

So smooth, she thought. Not, 'was the hostess wrong,' but 'was I wrong?' Very smooth, indeed.

"Little we can do about that now, so I'll see you tomorrow at seven, okay?" Her inference was that she was a likely bit peeved at him, but willing to forgive. The truth was that her irritation stemmed from the letdown after her initial adrenaline rush while talking to Tom. There was a danger, a mystery and the excitement of the possibly taboo there. It was now over all too soon and back to the mundane. She was drawn to Tom, she knew. That's all she knew about him—just Tom. It was quite maddening.

Perry, if he noticed, chose to overlook her implied resentment and simply continued. "Fine, then I will see you in about twenty-five hours. 'Bye for now" and he disconnected.

Startled, Jenna looked at her watch. He was right about the time, which meant that she had little more than an hour to be ready for Tom. She dropped the phone sloppily and ran to prepare herself. There was a shower to get, her hair to be done and just the right dress to choose. Makeup, fortunately, was a small issue for one blessed with such features as she, but tonight Jenna fretted over it as never before, all the while feeling foolish for doing so and yet unable to resist.

The appointed hour came and the minutes ticked by—five, ten, and now fifteen. Excitement and anticipation had begun to turn to frustration when the doorbell finally rang. Though expected, it still startled Jenna enough to make her jump in the midst of her incessant pacing. Her hands fairly shook as she opened the door and her eyes met his.

"Please forgive my tardiness, Jenna.” He spoke her name as if it were a sacred to him. “I wanted this wrapped properly before I gave it to you." He handed her a small box with a bow on it and a single red rose tucked through the wide ribbon, adorned with Baby's Breath and the fragile fern greenery that completed the magic. It worked for Jenna and all thoughts of resentment vanished instantly like frost before the sun.

"Oh...," she stood breathless and melting.

"Please, allow me." Tom took the rose from the ribbon and began to pin it to her dress before she guessed what he meant to do. She shivered at his touch as his hands deftly pinned the corsage above her left breast. Frightened and excited simultaneously, she thought he spent a bit too much time pinning it to her.

"I must be careful. Can't have a pin harming such lovely skin, can we?"

Jenna could feel her face begin to heat and she was certain she was blushing. "Umm...shall I open this now or later?" she avoided the question.

"What would be your preference?"

“Now, I think.” Eager to change the mood, she dove into the task of opening the box, only able to nervously smile where she felt she should be saying something eloquent to show her gratitude. Each time she tried, she saw that his eyes never left hers and she nervously retreated again into silence and to the task at hand.

Finally, with the ribbon untied and the lid removed, Jenna saw a roll of paper inside, held by a ribbon of the same color as the outer one, but more delicate and befitting this new task. "What is it?" she asked, looking directly at him this time. A brief smile graced his lips and his eyes sparkled brilliantly, nearly laughing, if that were possible. Jenna felt drawn into the dark depths of those beautiful dark eyes. She saw in them a warmth and genuine passion, hidden just out of reach, but there for the taking by the right woman.

"Please, read it." His eyes now looked to the roll and again to hers, expectant and waiting.

Jenna turned to the nearest table, set the box down and opened the roll of paper by sliding the ribbon off one end. As she unfolded the parchment, the text on it and the feel of it struck her in a manner that she could not explain. It seemed as if she were about to get a revelation of some sort. There was the feel of great antiquity to it and somehow she could sense that it had a spirit of its own. Graphic adornments around the corners and edges, penned in a fragile and delicate hand, added a sense of romanticism to the entire presentation. The text was in black ink and bore the look of quill-penned calligraphy. All of these details told her it was perfectly exquisite—and this before she had even read a single word of it.

Startled at her feelings, she began to read and as she did, she also began to melt from the passion of these written words. This was a love letter and she knew suddenly that the feelings of its antiquity were no accident. This was the genuine article. She looked again at the wooden box. It, too, was not of recent construction and she now noticed the handcrafted and delicate details of it that she had failed to see before. "I don't understand...." she began and ended.

"Read on and you will." Again his eyes, now moist, motioned to the paper and this time they stayed there.

The words were the sincere and passionate words of a man deeply in love. They were the rare and beautiful words of the heart, spoken to the woman of his desires. She was a precious jewel to him and he left no doubt of that in every phrase he penned. Everything about it was surpassingly magnificent. His heart ached to be one with her and Jenna felt that he would die if it could not be so. Jenna caught her breath and shaking her head in disbelief, told Tom, "You can't give this to me."

"It's mine. I can give it to whomever I choose," he spoke softly and firmly.

"No, you don't understand. I can't take it."

"Correct me if I'm wrong, but a moment ago you were the one claiming not to understand. Now you're saying it's me? Aren't you a bit confused?"

"No...well, yes, but...." Jenna closed her eyes for a moment, hoping the confusion would all go away. When she opened her eyes, Tom was gone. Just as quickly the puzzle was solved when she heard him again, now from behind her.

"Would you like to sit and discuss it?" He had silently walked around her and now stood beside her couch, as though in no hurry to leave.

"Mmmm...you know, I think we can talk this over later. I am rather hungry all of a sudden," she lied.

"Shall we?" Tom offered his arm to her and she felt no choice but to accept.

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