Dinner went well, thought Marcus. He was all caught up on Ruth's various siblings and their families.
"I feel like I've monopolized the conversation," said Ruth.
"Not at all," said Marcus. "I wanted to know how everyone was doing."
"How about you, Marcus? What brings you back to Riverton?"
"I'm not really sure."
"You aren't sure?"
"The simple answer is that I lost my job and thought I'd take some time to think about what I really want to do now."
"Oh, Marcus! How awful!"
"Not really. I got a good severance package and now I've a chance to really decide what I want to do."
"How long have you been looking?"
"I can't say I've truly been looking. My job ended December 31. Since then I've put my loft in the city up for sale and moved back here."
"You'd like to stay in Riverton?"
"I don't know, really. I might. Tell me, why did you come to stay with your parents instead of one of the others?"
"It was easiest for me. Everyone else is busy with their jobs and families."
"You have a job, too."
"True, but it's very slow in January and February. My boss really struggles trying not to lay off anyone, so was thrilled when I asked for a leave of absence. She even agreed to water my plants and take in my mail. I will go back on Saturdays, when one of my sisters or brothers are free to be with Mother, to pick it up."
"I see," said Marcus. "Why didn't you marry Bobby White?" Had he really asked that? Sure he wanted to know but .... "I'm sorry. It's none of my business."
Ruth reached across and placed her hand over Marcus' hand on his wine glass.
"It's OK, Marcus. Even back then I was more embarrassed than hurt. Everyone expected we'd marry after high school."
"I think I did, too. Not because we were in love, but because it was the way things went. If you went steady with someone in high school, you married them."
"Do you want to talk about it?"
"You are the first person to ask me that."
"Everyone just gave me pitying looks back then. People stopped talking when I entered a room, so I knew they were talking about it, but they didn't seem to want me involved in the discussion."
"If you want to talk, Ruth, I'm more than willing to listen."
"Thank you, Marcus. How about we talk over dessert?"
"You still drink tea?"
"I'll make a pot to have with the pie."
"Thank you, Marcus."
Marcus and Ruth decided to have the pie and tea in the living room. They sat on the couch in front of the fireplace.
"Oh," said Marcus. "Riverton Bakery still makes the world's best coconut cream pies!"
"Marcus, you are the easiest person to please," said Ruth with a smile.
"You just know what I like best."
"We were good friends."
"What happened to us, Marcus?"
"We grew up, I guess. You started dating Bobby."
"Ah, Bobby. He's the only boy that ever asked me out here in Riverton."
"I guess all the others felt you were spoken for since you were dating Bobby."
"Probably. I was flattered that he asked me out. He was eighteen, good looking, and had a car of his own. Many girls were jealous."
"Everyone considered us a couple and expected us to marry as soon as I finished high school. Even Bobby and I. We discussed getting married. He'd graduated two years ahead of me and had been working in the auto parts plant outside of town. I took a job at the craft store. We talked of getting engaged at Christmas and marrying the following June. It seemed like the right thing to do."
"When I came home from university for Christmas, I heard he was married and you'd moved."
"He married Mary Jo Anderson at the end of October, which was only right as .... "
"He'd gotten her pregnant."
"I see. That must have hurt."
"Oddly enough, it didn't hurt that much. Still, I knew everyone in town felt sorry for me, so I applied for jobs in nearby towns. I got my present job in a gift store in Elmville. I lived at home for a while as it's not much of a drive. I looked for an apartment there, though, and moved as soon as I found one. I didn't want to be around when Mary Jo's baby was born. I figured if I was gone there'd be less talk and that would be better for the baby as well as Mary Jo and Bobby."
"You were very gracious and generous."
"Thank you, but I don't think I did much, really. It was best for all of us."
"Weren't you mad that he cheated on you? You were the wronged party."
Ruth laughed. Marcus looked at her, surprised. "I'm sorry, Marcus," she said with a smile. It just struck me funny."
"You said he cheated on me."
"In a way. Bobby said at the time he didn't cheat on me."
"But he got Mary Jo pregnant?"
"Right, but in his mind it wasn't cheating because we didn't ..."
"We didn't. I told him I wanted to wait till we were married, but if I were to be honest, I never felt like I wanted to do more than kiss him. Maybe I was just too young. Maybe I realized I didn't really love him."
"You didn't love him?"
"No. I always knew that."
"But, you'd have married him?"
"It was expected, since we'd been dating so long, so, yes, I would have.We might have made each other happy, but we might have made each other quite miserable. As it turns out, Bobby really did love Mary Jo. They are happy together and both are friends of mine now."
"I guess it was all for the best then."
"It was. My gosh. Look at the time! I have to go. Dad will want to talk a bit before he goes to bed."
"Thank you, Marcus. The meal was great and the company even better. I really enjoyed this evening."
"So did I, Ruth."
"Do you have plans for tomorrow evening?"
"I've no plans at all."
"If I pick up some TV dinners on the way home from the hospital, do you think we could eat them together in the den watching Jeopardy?"
Marcus laughed. "I'd like that. And ... I'll beat you at Scrabble after."
"Ha! In your dreams! You never beat me."
She smiled up at Marcus. The years seemed to melt away. This was his Ruth.
Over the next few weeks, Ruth and Marcus spent a lot of time together. When Ruth's mother came home from the hospital, she made it clear she had no desire to be hovered over, which gave Ruth even more time to be with Marcus. They had a snowball fight, made a snowfamily, went skating, watched movies and favourite TV shows, and talked. Marcus couldn't recall ever feeling so happy. He loved Ruth. He had always loved her, he knew, but now he was also in love with her. He had lost her when he was sixteen, but he was getting another chance. He couldn't lose her this time. He needed to figure out what he was going to do with his life before he could ask anything of her. That meant deciding what to do about his mother as well as a job.
"Talk to her, Marcus."
Marcus had been sitting on the couch, staring into the fireplace. He was having a morning coffee. Ruth would be helping her mother get bathed and dressed. She'd be over in a little while.
"Hello, Molly. Talk to her?"
"Everything. She's a bright girl. She might have some ideas for you."
"What's wrong, Marcus?"
"You read my thoughts. You tell me."
"She's told you things she has never told anyone about her and Bobby. Surely you can talk to her."
"I just think I should know what I'm doing first."
"Marcus, do you want a future with Ruth?"
"Then now is a good time to learn to share your problems, your thoughts, your feelings. It's what you would need to do in the future."
"You might be right."
"I'm always right, Marcus."
Marcus smiled and turned to look at her.
"Why, Molly, how spiffy you look today." Molly's dark, drab dress was now a pretty lilac gown with deep purple flower garlands embroidered on the bodice and sleeves.
"I am, in a sense, a reflection of your happiness."
"You've come a long way in a month, Marcus."
"With your help, Molly."
"I've not done much."
"Are you going to turn modest on me now?"
"I'm always right, Marcus, but only you can decide what you do. In the end, it's your choice. Always."
"I read the letters, Molly. The ones from my mother."
"They should have told me about her."
"Probably. Remember, they loved you. They did what they thought was best."
"I know, Molly, but that doesn't make it easier."
When Ruth arrived at ten, she could feel the tension radiating from Marcus. As she hung her coat in the closet, she asked, "Marcus, is something wrong?"
Marcus smiled at her. "No. I just want to talk to you about some things this morning."
"I've tea in the living room."
Ruth noticed a pile of letters, next to the tray that held the teapot and mugs, on the coffee table in front of the couch.
"They're from my mother."
Ruth turned her focus from the letters to Marcus.
"Not the woman I thought was my mother. My birth mother."
Ruth continued to look at Marcus' face. He was so serious. She put her hand on his arm.
Ruth nodded. "After your father's funeral, I was visiting with Mother. She seemed to be lost in thought when she said, very softly, 'I wonder if he ever told Marcus.' I asked her what she meant."
"I see. Your parents knew all along then?"
Ruth sat on the couch and pulled on Marcus' arm to get him to sit beside her.
"They'd been neighbours for many years, Marcus. They knew Archie. He was only six years older than my oldest brother."
"A lot of people knew then."
"Perhaps. Most probably didn't think about it much. They all knew your parents had lost Archie. Your mother wasn't a local girl so no one knew who she was. I think they mainly thought of your grandparents as your parents, really."
"When did you find out, Marcus?"
"I found the adoption papers while going through my father ... grandfather's desk after the funeral. He had left an explanatory note written at the time of the adoption addressed 'To Whom It May Concern.'"
"That must have been difficult."
"I felt like my whole life was a giant lie."
"They loved you, Marcus."
"I know. I think they should have told me, but I've come to accept they did what they thought best."
"I better pour the tea before it gets cold."
"OK. What about the letters, Marcus?"
Marcus handed her a mug. "I didn't read them when I first found them. I was feeling bitter."
"You've read them now?"
"I have. She wrote to me on my birthday every year. She loved me."
"I'm sure she did, Marcus."
"I was never told about the letters. My grandfather left no note attached to explain why I was never given them. The old note with the adoption papers said she hadn't wanted to tell the man she was marrying about me. But, she did eventually tell him. They wanted to meet me. I guess my grandparents didn't agree. I have a younger brother and two sisters I've never met."
Ruth put her tea down on the coffee table so that she could wrap her arms around Marcus. Marcus responded by enveloping her in his arms and pulling her close. He needed this. He needed Ruth. Ruth pulled back a bit to look up at Marcus' face. She reached up to wipe the tears from his cheek, tears Marcus hadn't realized he'd even shed. He smiled.
"Sorry," he whispered.
"Don't be," said Ruth. "Not with me."
Ruth's hand went from his cheek to the back of his head, to pull him closer. She kissed him gently on his lips. When she started to draw back, Marcus realized this was their first kiss and he decided to make it last a little longer and put one hand behind her head to halt her retreat by few minutes. After the kiss they sat quietly holding each other.
"Marcus, are you going to contact her?"
"I want to, Ruth, but I'm scared. That last letter is ten years old."
"She might have moved."
"I checked the phone listings online. Her husband still is listed at the same address."
"I see. Are you going to phone her?"
"I've thought about it. Maybe this evening. Will you be here to hold my hand?" Marcus smiled at Ruth.
Ruth smiled back "I'll be with you whenever you need me."
That evening, after dinner, Ruth sat on the living room couch next to a very tense Marcus. In one hand he held a slip of paper with the phone number; in the other, the cordless phone. He took a deep breath.
"Ready?" asked Ruth.
"As I'll ever be."
Marcus started pushing the buttons. He heard the phone ring. Once. Twice. "Hello?" said a woman's voice.
"Is this Mrs. Harmon?"
"The former Susan Brant?"
"This is Marcus, Marcus Thompson."
"Marcus? My Marcus?"
"I think so."
Marcus heard her start to cry and a younger female asked, "Mom? What is it?"
"Really?" he heard in the background.
"Marcus?" he heard the younger voice say into the phone. She must have taken it from her mother.
"Oh my god! Marcus! Mom has waited so long."
"I only found out that I was adopted a few months ago."
"I'm your youngest sister, Amy, by the way. Gosh. It's so good to hear from you."
"Hello, Amy. I only recently read the letters my mother wrote to me. I never knew about you and Paul and Sheila."
"We've all wondered about you, Marcus. Mom wants the phone back so I'll say goodbye for now."
"Marcus, where are you? May I come see you?"
"I've moved back to Riverton to live in my grandparents' house. Saturday, I'm going to Elmville with a friend. It's not that much further to Waterburg. If it's alright, perhaps we could visit you."
"Would you, Marcus?"
"If you'd like me to, I would."
"I'd like it very much. What time should we expect you?"
"Would 2 PM be alright?"
"It would be fine."
"I'll see you then. Bye."
Marcus push the button to end the call and put the phone down on the coffee table. He turned toward Ruth. "I did it."
"Yes, you did."
Ruth hugged him.
"You do realize you are the friend I spoke of accompanying me."
"I thought I might be." She smiled at him. "I want to be with you, Marcus."
"I don't know if I could do it without you, Ruth. You give me strength."
"When will you be moving back to Elmville, Ruth?" asked Marcus.
"I am supposed to go back to work the first Monday in March."
"Do you enjoy your job?"
"I do. I love working in retail. I like interacting with people."
"Have you ever thought of doing something else?"
"If you could do anything you wanted, what would you do?"
"You have a lot of questions tonight, Marcus."
"Humour me. What would you do?"
"I'd like to have my own store. I've been with my boss at the trade shows when she's placed orders. There are some fascinating things I would love to stock. I'd have a rather eclectic store I think."
"You have great taste. I bet it would be very successful."
"Are we talking job here or life in general?"
"I would like a family of my own. A house. I'd like to help my dad retire. Actually, I've been thinking of staying here instead of going back to Elmville."
"Dad feels he can't retire. Part of it is money. He can't get a pension till he's 65 but that's only a few months away. It'll be enough for him and Mother. The other part is the shop. He inherited the bookshop from his father. He doesn't want to see it close. I wish I could buy it from him. I'd change it so it wasn't just books. I'd also take back the half he divided off."
"He divided it?"
"About six years ago. He split the shop and rented out part. It's been empty for several months though and it's really worrying him. I went to the bank to ask for information on a business loan."
"It didn't go well?"
"I know about selling. I know about products. I don't know how to write up a business plan."
"No more questions?"
"Will you kiss me?"
February was flying by, thought Marcus as he set things up in the dining room. It was already half over. It had been a very busy couple of weeks.
Marcus had had a wonderful time with his newly discovered family. Amy, age twenty, still lived at home while she attended community college. Paul, at twenty-three, was usually away attending university but had gone home that weekend to meet Marcus. Sheila, at twenty-six was married and had a sweet little girl just a year old. They gave him such a warm welcome, even his stepfather. His mom had been so emotional they all kidded her about the amount of tissues she was going through.
Marcus had been meeting with Mr. Timms about the bookshop and building. Riverton seemed like a great place to stay and he had decided what he wanted to do. The first step was a little local investing. He'd told Mr. Timms not to say a word to Ruth. Yesterday, Ruth had commented that her father was wearing his 'Christmas face.' When Marcus asked Ruth what she meant, she explained it was a kind of grin, like he had a secret he was bursting to tell but wouldn't.
The real estate agent had told Marcus that a buyer had been found for his loft. The sale would close March first and he'd make a tidy profit. He knew exactly how he wanted it spent.
"A Valentine's proposal, Marcus?"
Marcus turned around.
"Molly! You look beautiful!" She wore a white silk gown enhanced with gold embroidery around the neck and hem. Marcus would almost swear he saw a halo.
"You are happy, Marcus. Truly happy."
"I am. And really in love. With Ruth."
"She loves you, too, Marcus."
"I know. I feel it. I think I've always loved her."
"Yes, I think you have."
"I was just wondering-"
"I know what you were wondering." Molly blushed.
Marcus couldn't help laughing. "Well, are you always with me?"
"I was." Molly blushed an even deeper red.
"You'll be fine now, Marcus."
"You are leaving me?"
"I'll be reassigned to a newborn."
"I'll miss you, Molly."
"I'll miss you, too, Marcus. Goodbye."
Marcus must have been standing by the door waiting for her to ring the bell, thought Ruth, as it opened practically before her finger was off the button.
"Marcus!" exclaimed Ruth when she saw him. She felt a shortness of breath. She had never seen him like this. He was absolutely gorgeous in a tux.
"Ruth? Are you OK?"
Oh my, thought Ruth. I don't know if I'll ever be OK again. Aloud she said, "Of course, Marcus. I'm fine."
"Are you going to come in?"
Ruth realized she was still standing on the porch, staring.
She stepped in and Marcus closed the door behind her. Marcus had asked her to dress up this evening and she was glad now that she had. She slipped her boots off and put them on the tray. As she took off her coat, she was pleased to see Marcus reaction to the scoop neckline of her red velvet dress, even though she was sure he wasn't half as dazed as she'd been seeing him. When she bent forward to put on her shoes, she heard Marcus gasp and realized that might not have been a good idea in this dress. She quickly straightened up.
Marcus thought he'd die from a lack of oxygen if he didn't start breathing again, but it wouldn't be easy. Ruth looked perfect in the long red dress. She definitely was not a little girl anymore. He offered Ruth his arm, which she took, enchanted by the formality. When they entered the dining room, she stopped.
"I thought a smaller table would better for the two of us tonight."
"And I wanted room for dancing after dinner."
"We've never danced together. I'd like to change that."
"I'd like that, too."
"Shall we eat?"
Marcus seated Ruth and left to get their dinner from the kitchen. He brought back individual bowls of salad and plates with chicken parmesan and penne pasta in tomato sauce.
"It looks delicious, Marcus!"
"Thank you, but I must be honest. I got it from the deli counter and only heated it in the microwave."
Ruth smiled at him. "You were always honest. In this case though, it changes nothing that it came from the deli except to show you are brilliant to think of it."
"You were always good for my ego, Ruth."
"I only speak the truth, Marcus."
When they'd finished eating, Marcus asked, "Ruth, will you dance with me?"
"I'd love to dance with you, Marcus."
Marcus got up and went to the sideboard, where he had earlier placed a portable CD player and turned it on. Soft music filled the room. He went to Ruth and offered her his hand. She took his hand and went with him to the open area of the room. As they danced, Marcus gently and slowly drew her closer. He congratulated himself for thinking to move the large old oak dining table to the basement in favour of the small bistro table from his loft.
After two songs, Marcus felt he better move on with his plans, though he hated to let Ruth out of his arms.
"Are you ready for dessert?" he asked.
Ruth smiled up at him. "This isn't dessert? It's delicious."
Marcus returned her smile. "I agree, but I've something else in mind."
As he had done earlier, Marcus offered his arm to Ruth and escorted her to the door. He paused as they passed the sideboard and table to shut off the CD player and snuff out the candles. He led her into the living room. He had done some rearranging of the furniture in this room, too. The couch was pushed back against the far wall from it's usual position nearer the fireplace. The coffee table was placed up tight to it. The area in front of the fireplace, which had a cozy fire burning in it, was clear of furniture. On the floor was an old quilt and some cushions. Marcus lead Ruth to the cushions.
"Oh, Marcus! It's just like the winter picnics we had when we were kids!" Ruth smiled at him.
He grinned back at her. "I always enjoyed them."
"But, we weren't dressed like this then," said Ruth.
"True. We can adjust, make a new tradition. Why don't you sit while I make some tea and get the dessert?"
While Marcus was gone, Ruth sat on the quilt with her knees pulled up under her chin and her arms wrapped around legs, looking into the fire and reflected on the last several weeks since Marcus had reappeared in her life. They'd been so close as children. Those had been happy times, but not as happy as the present. Marcus, the man, retained all the best character traits of Marcus, the boy, but was so much more. So much more. She'd read in novels of kisses that excited, that left people feeling lost in a fog. Until the last couple of weeks she hadn't believed it possible. She'd always felt kissing was very nice but in the last couple of weeks, since Marcus had first kissed her, and followed it with many more, she finally understood.
When Marcus returned with the tray, he saw Ruth sitting by the fireplace, gilded by the light from the fire and felt a special glow. This was right. Ruth had heard him enter the room and turned to smile at him. Marcus walked over and placed the tray on the quilt next to Ruth before sitting himself on the opposite side of the tray.
"Marcus! Cherry cheesecake! You remembered."
"How could I forget? You insisted on it for every picnic."
"Not every one."
"Maybe not, but it seemed like it."
As they drank the tea and ate their dessert, Marcus started to reveal his plans.
"I've decided what I want to do in the future."
"But, I'm going to need some help."
"I've made an investment in a business; bought it and the building."
"Here in Riverton."
"What kind of help do you need?"
"I know about business and accounting but I know nothing about retailing."
"Retailing? You bought a store?"
"Yes. Ruth, would you consider being my partner?"
"My life partner ... my partner in all I do."
"Marcus? What are you asking?"
"Marry me, Ruth. Help me renovate this old house into a home for our family. Help me make a successful business."
"Marcus ... "
"Or forget this house and the business and marry me because I love you. I've always loved you. I lost you once and I never want to lose you again."
"Oh, Marcus, I love you. You are everything I need."
Marcus moved the tray that now held the empty cups and plates, to the coffee table and settled close to Ruth. Ruth gently caresssed his cheek and whispered his name. Marcus drew her close and kissed her long and deep. At the conclusion of the kiss, he held her tight.
"Is that yes a question or an answer?"
"An answer. I realized earlier how much I loved the boy you were and how very much more I love the man you've become. I want you in my life always."
Marcus kissed her again. This time when the kissed ended he got up and went to the desk by the window and returned with some papers. He sat down close to her again.
"I considered buying you a diamond ring but I thought you'd appreciate this more."
"Marcus! You bought Dad's shop! This is why he's been wearing his Christmas face."
Tears started to run down her cheeks.
"Ruth?" asked Marcus, concerned.
Ruth placed the papers away from her on the quilt and turned to Marcus. She placed her arms around his neck.
"You are incredible, Marcus," she said with a smile.
He placed his hands on her cheeks and gently wiped the tears away.
"You are happy?" he asked.
"Ecstatic," she said just before she started to kiss him, pushing him back so that they ended up lying on the blanket.
Marcus broke the kiss to ask, "Would you still like to be a June bride?"
Ruth, who was lying on top of Marcus, raised her head and looked thoughtful.
"That would be lovely. But, Marcus ..."
"I really don't think I can wait."
"That's good," he said as he rolled her over so that he was on top. "Because I know I can't." He resumed kissing her.
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