This story won an honorable mention in the 71st Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition.
The End of Desire
“Here let me help you with these,” the kind old gentleman said as he leaned down to pick up packages off the ground. Alona had dropped all of her Christmas gifts trying to fish for her car keys in her coat pocket. She looked down at the man and said, “ Thank you, I really appreciate it.” She knelt down to help him. When he stood up and she saw his face she gasped. He looked so much like her grandfather. She starred at him in awe. He smiled and asked, “Are you alright?” “I’m so sorry, I know I was starring but you look so much like my grandfather,” He just smiled and did not respond. “Can I help you to your car?” “Thank you, its right over there,” pointing to her blue Honda. He walked over to her car and waited for her to open the trunk. She still had more shopping to do and felt, for some reason, that she had to explain to him where she was going from there. “I have to go to the toy store down the street to pick up a race car set for my nephew,” “Well, how about that, I was just headed there myself, do you mind if I join you?” Alona felt something strange about this man. He seemed warm and caring. She could see it in his eyes. She did not fear walking with him though her thoughts told her to be careful. He was, after all, a total stranger. He reached his hand out and said, “I’m sorry, I did not introduce myself, my name is Abraham Jennings.” She stretched out her hand and shook it, he had a strong handshake, she thought. “My name is Alona Powell.” They began to walk along the sidewalk. It was wet from the earlier rain. The dampness and the night air made it seem very cold. Alona crossed her arms to try and keep warm. They entered the toy store to the sound of Christmas carols. She always loved hearing the carols but sometimes it made her sad. She was reminded of how lonely she was and how this time of the season seemed to make it worst. Both of her parents died when she was young. She and her brother were pretty much raised by her grandparents. When her grandparents died, just six months apart, her brother Frank and her were left on their own. He was nineteen and she was seventeen in her last year of high school. They lived in their grandparent’s house until Frank got married. By then, Alona was in college and moved to one of the dorms. Frank had two children now, a boy and a girl, five and six. Alona finished college and got an apartment not far from her work as an accountant. “Oh Mr. Jennings, look, I found the race car set.” she said with excitement. “I was afraid that I had waited too long to buy one,” she smiled as she held it up for Mr. Jennings to see. “Any young boy would love that gift,” Alona looked at him for a moment and asked, “Mr. Jennings, would you like to go have some hot chocolate?” “I would love to, maybe it will warm my old creaky bones,” he laughed. Alona paid for the gift and had them wrap it. She noticed that Mr. Jennings did not buy anything and she wondered if he really went to the toy store with her for himself or her. They settled into a booth at a little coffee shop. You could still smell the donuts that were baked that morning and it made Alona hungry for one. The waitress approached them and asked for their order. “I think I will have one of those jelly donuts and a cup of hot chocolate,” “That sounds like a good idea, I’ll have the same,” said Mr. Jennings. He looked at Alona as the waitress walked away and said, “Now, tell me what is troubling you.” Alona was taken back by his perception and felt a little violated. It was like he crawled into her mind and invaded her privacy. She began to feel annoyed with this gentleman and thought that maybe she had made a mistake in being too friendly to him. As if he could read her mind, he said, “I’m sorry, I have offended you, it’s none of my business to question you about your life.” She looked into his kind eyes and saw her grandfather once again. All of her feelings of resentment seemed to fade away. She thought, “Why not, I’ll probably never see this man again, I might as well tell him my whole boring story.” She began to tell Mr. Jennings all about her childhood, the loss of her parents, her grandparents. How lonely she felt. She was twenty-six and never had a serious relationship. She just wanted a family. Her long brown hair kept falling into her face and she would brush it away with her hand. Her eyes were dark and shaped like almonds that looked more radiant beneath her high arched brow. Alona could not see the sadness in her own eyes. She tried to cover her pain with a self-assuring attitude but her eyes reflected the sadness in her soul. “You know, Alona, I think life is going to change for you real soon.” “How do you mean?” “I think you are going to meet someone special that you can build a life with- a family.” “Sure, that’s what they all say.” she said cynically. “Don’t be such a skeptic, you were not met to be alone. There is someone for you, you’ll see.” They talked a while longer about life, happiness, childhood memories. It started getting late and the coffee shop was getting ready to close. Alona stood up and put her coat on and turned to Mr. Jennings and said, “It has really been a pleasure talking to you. I am so glad that we met.” “Some things are by chance, my dear, and some things are meant to be,” he said as he placed her hand in his and gently stroked it. They walked out into the cold night air and toward Alona’s car. “What will you be doing for Christmas Mr. Jennings?” “Oh, I have a busy time planned,” She smiled and sighed with relief that he would not be alone. They approached the car and Alona fished for the keys in her pocket and dropped the gift on the ground. She bent down to pick it up and heard, ” Please, let me help you with that.” She shot a look up with surprise because she knew that it was not Mr. Jennings’s voice. She stood up and faced a much younger man, tall and very handsome. He was smiling at her like he was excited to meet her. He knelt down and picked up the gift and handed it to her. She could not take her eyes off of him. She extended her hand and said, “Hi, my name is Alona.” He grabbed her hand and told her his name was Jake Taylor. Suddenly she remembered Mr. Jennings and turned her head to look for him. He was gone. “What could have happened to him,” she thought. She hoped he did not leave because she was ignoring him. “Are you looking for someone?” “Ah, yeah, she said, there was an older gentleman standing here a minute ago.” “I didn’t see anyone” “But there had to be,” she explained, ”I just had hot chocolate with him in that coffee shop over there.” Everything seemed so strange to her. She started to wonder if she was just dreaming. She opened the trunk of her car and placed the gift inside with the others. “No, she thought, everything is in the trunk just the way she placed it earlier with Mr. Jennings.” Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of Jake’s voice. “Maybe your friend had to rush off some where, it’s the holidays and maybe he had a lot of things planned.” “No, I just meant him tonight, I just think it is strange the way he took off,” “Well, you know, some things are by chance and some things are just meant to be,” The words shot through her like a bolt of lightning. “This must be some kind of dream, she thought.” How could two strangers, say the same exact thing to her in the same night? How strange this whole event was. “I know this is awkward, but I would like to see you again. Is it possible to get your phone number?” “We can meet some where very public if you want.” ”I think that would be nice. Why don’t we meet at that Coffee Shop down the street tomorrow night.” “Seven o’clock?” “Seven is fine.” The teakettle was whistling and broke Alona’s concentration. She was curled up on the couch with her favorite afghan and reviewing the night’s events. She could not get out of her mind what Mr. Jennings and Jake said. “It was probably just a coincidence, she thought.” As she poured her tea she smiled and felt her spirit leap with anticipation. She had not felt that kind of excitement over a date in a long time. It was not that she did not have many dates, she did. It just seemed that no one lit a spark, no one touched her within. Alona sat down at the same booth her and Mr. Jennings shared. The waitress appeared with her order book ready and asked her what she wanted. “I am waiting for someone so can you give me a few minutes.” “No problem, just let me know when you are ready.” It was another cold December night. The streets were busy with holiday shoppers. All of the stores were brightly decorated. The town was small but offered a nice variety of specialty shops. The streets were lined with brick sidewalks and vintage streetlights. It seemed the perfect place for holiday shopping where you could stroll by the storefronts without feeling rushed. Alona looked down at her watch. It read 7:10. She thought, “Oh no, don’t tell me he’s not going to show.” Her thoughts were interrupted by a familiar voice. “Am I late?” Alona looked up and smiled and oh, there goes that feeling again. They talked for hours. The conversation went in so many directions from favorite restaurants to cars, occupations, politics, religion, and family – as if they were old friends reuniting after a long separation. Finally the shop closed and they were forced out into the cold. Jake walked her to her car. He did not ask her to go anywhere else with him but she seemed to understand why. “Can I call you?” “I would really like that.” She gave him her number and got into her car. She looked up at him as their eyes met. He leaned down his face close to hers and said, “Drive safely, I’ll talk to you later.” The drive home was filled with thoughts of Jake. She felt like she had really gotten to know him in a few short hours. It turned out that they had a lot in common. They like many of the same foods, books, and movies. He liked the theater, skiing, dancing and fishing. Though she could do without the fishing, the rest were all things she loved to do. Two days passed and it was Christmas Eve. No phone call from Jake. Alona always went to her brother’s house on Christmas Eve and spent the night. This way she could celebrate with family and see the kids open their gifts. She hesitated leaving her apartment in hope that Jake would call. She made sure her answering machine was on, if he called, she would know. When she got to Frank’s there were several cars lined up on the street. She recognized one of them. It was Uncle Lou and Aunt Marie. Lou was her father’s brother. He owned his own printing company and always wanted Frank and Alona to work in his business. He wanted to make sure they were taken care of but they both had other interests. When Alona walked into the house the family boxer immediately greeted her. With his front paws firmly plastered around her waist he stretched to plant a kiss on her face. Alona put her hand on his head and pushed him down. “Good Major, good boy, now stay down.” “Alona, come on in,” Frank shouted from the living room. The crowd was just getting ready to sing Christmas carols. Frank’s wife, Sharon was an excellent piano player and every year she set the background for caroling. It was after midnight before everyone left. Alona was busy in the kitchen cleaning up while Frank and Sharon saw the last guest off. “I’ll finish the rest of that in the morning,” Sharon said as she appeared in the doorway. “It’s not a problem Sharon, let me do this for you.” “Grab a cup of coffee and come sit in the living room with me so we can talk.” Alona dried her hands and poured a cup of coffee. She carried it into the living room and sat down on the couch across from Sharon. “So, what have you been doing lately,” Sharon asked? “The same old stuff, working, exercising, working.” “And who have you been dating lately?” Alona did not take Sharon’s question as an intrusion. She was like a sister to her and they shared a lot about their lives with each other. “Well, I met a man named Jake that I think I could really like but he hasn’t called me since our fist date.” “When was your fist date?” “A couple of days ago.” “Oh, that doesn’t mean anything. Two, three days is nothing. It’s Christmas. He’s probably busy doing something or other.” “Could be. I just- .” Alona smiled and looked down at her coffee cup. “You have a glow, Alona! This one is for real, isn’t it?” “W e l l, I don’t really know him all that well but he sure has something that I think I could get serious about.” “I am so glad. You have dated so many guys that just didn’t do it for you. You sure this one doesn’t fit the same profile as the rest?” “Oh no, this one is different.” Christmas morning came quickly with the children screaming and ripping open presents. Alona looked at the clock. It was only 6:00 A.M. She got about three hours of sleep. Though she didn’t mind. She had a great night with family and friends and the joy of seeing the children so excited brought back some very happy memories. Christmas was one of the things she remembered about her parents. She still had some old pictures of their holidays together and she would try to remember the very moment when the camera clicked. Sometimes she would rehearse in her mind the entire day. Of course, much of it was probably improvised, but whatever she felt she remembered, was always warm and peaceful. Alona arrived home around 9:00 P.M. that evening. She had not called her answering machine to retrieve her messages. She decided that she would rather be pleasantly surprised if Jake called. She looked over at the machine as she walked into the kitchen. It was blinking. She had messages. Her finger touched play. “Alona, this is Joyce, hope everything is fine. Just wanted to wish you a Merry Christmas and see if you are still going out with us on New Year’s Eve. Talk to you later.” “Hey, it’s John. Listen, would you be interested in buying a brand new printer? My boss over ordered and I can get one for you real cheap. Let me know.” John always had a deal going. “Alona, this is Jake. Hope you are having a great Christmas. I just got some tickets to a New Year’s party at my grandfather’s country club and was wondering if you would like to go. It’s in New Egypt, a real nice place. I think they are having a DJ from a local station. You can call me. My number is 984-0937.” “So-he called. Yesss. Forget Joyce, this girl is going out with J a k e !” Alona did not call Jake that night. She did not want to appear over anxious. The next day was a Sunday so she assumed he would be home. She would call him then. Her fingers trembled and her heart raced as she dialed the number. She felt like a schoolgirl calling her first boy The phone rang several times before he answered..She told him she would love to go with him to the party. She wasn’t sure if she should try to continue the conversation but it did not matter because Jake led the way. Just like at the coffee shop they talked for hours. It was as if they could not get enough of each other’s conversation. New Year’s Eve could not come quick enough. Alona even shopped for a new dress. She wanted it to be sexy, but not too much. Sultry, yet modest. The dress she bought outlined the curve of her body with a slight slit up the side. It was not too tight and not too revealing, just a tiny bit of cleavage, just perfect. Just in case he didn’t notice, it was red. When Jake arrived she took a quick look through the security-hole in the door. She gasped over what she saw. He was breath-takingly handsome. “He just gets better each time I see him, she thought.” When they arrived at the country club a valet took their car. People were arriving in tuxedos and gowns. Alona was afraid that she was underdressed. She looked at Jake and smiled, it didn’t matter. The seating was pre-arranged and they searched for their table. Jake seemed to know many of the guests. He pulled a chair out for her and she sat down. She looked around at the crowd. “There must be hundreds of people here, she thought.” “Alona, I would like to meet my grandfather.” She stood up to shake his hand but quickly put her hand over her mouth instead. It was Mr. Jennings! “Alona, is something wrong?” Jake asked. ”I think I know. What a surprise to see you here, dear. I see that you have met my grandson.” Alona was numb, she could not speak. She sat down and looked at Jake. He was starring at her with confusion in his eyes. “What do you mean, she met your grandson? Do you two know each other?” Alona finally spoke, “We met in town and had hot coco together.” Alona stood up and extended her hand to Mr. Jennings. “Mr. Jennings, it is a pleasure to see you again.” “Is this the older gentleman you were talking about the night we met?” Jake questioned “Yes, funny isn’t it. Who would have guessed?” Alona looked at Mr. Jennings and smiled, almost knowing what he was thinking. He looked at her, smiled back and gave her wink.
© 2005 Vickie Van Antwerp