I was never a fan of arranged marriages - especially after my mother’s ended after such a short span. It would have been the last thing I would have got involved in. So it was a bit strange for me as I waited for the flight to land.
Here I was sitting with a stranger who seems totally at ease. Comfortable enough with the situation to actually take a nap in the flight. I wasn’t sure what exactly was bugging me more. His apparent acceptance of the conditions we faced or for my biological father having reached out to me from beyond his grave.
Whatever it was it had made me emotional and quick to anger. Unfortunately there was no one around whom I could take it out on. Definitely not the young man sleeping serenely in the aircraft seat next to me.
I took a deep breath and held it, just like my yoga teacher had taught me to help deal with the stress, releasing it slowly as the plane began to land. It was now time to see what the future held.
One Month Ago
When my mother, Monica got the invitation for the reunion to my biological father's regimental reunion I was surprised. She had not kept in touch with anyone from the regiment over the ages especially so after she married my step father.
I knew he was not my biological father but he was my true father in every other sense. I never thought of my younger sister, Sarah, as a step sister and we were literally one happy family. Then the letter came. It was from a colleague of my biological father urging my mother and our full family to attend as there was something important that he had to share with us at the reunion.
It took some convincing and a couple of phone calls from this gentleman for us to agree to attend. Thankfully they were hosting the party in a town just three hours away so we decided to drive down the morning of the event and stay one night before we returned.
As we loaded the car with a food hamper up front and our party clothes in a suitcase in the rear I fought with my sister over who would get to sit where. I had no clue just how life changing this experience was going to be.
We were all dressed up and heading into the party when the gentleman who had convinced us to attend caught up with us. He was very happy that we had come and when I was introduced to me the Colonel looked at me up and down in a way that had me feeling uneasy.
When we entered we were introduced to a number of people and I was sure I would never remember all their names. There was a festive atmosphere and everyone seemed very excited to meet me. The buzz restarted as another lady and her son walked into the room. The Colonel went out to the door to escort them in.
After dinner the speeches began and I resigned myself to being bored out of my skull for the next half hour when I heard my name. The Colonel was asking me and a young man called James to join him. Both of us looked equally puzzled as we went to join him.
"Samantha and James" the Colonel began, "I have been privileged to serve with both your fathers. God bless their souls. It was the night before they died that they made this pact and made the rest of us regimental officers witnesses to it."
"The two of them were the best of friends and wanted to be relatives. They decided that once both James and Samantha were grown up the two would have to spend one week together to get to know each other. If at the end of the week they decided they were compatible they would be married."
My audible gasp was the only sound in the party hall as the Colonel continued, "Naturally there is an incentive for both of you. Should you spend the week together and at the end decide that you do not wish to marry you will get twenty thousand each. If one of you decides to leave half way through the week, the person who leaves will not get any money but the other one will get their twenty thousand. And last if both of you should choose not to go the money is to be given to charity."
The Week Begins
As I stood waiting for the luggage to arrive I sneaked a peek at James as he stood still with his expression blank. Even that night he had been calm and unruffled. The terms of the pact were clear and we were both to give our decision to the Colonel the next morning. Needless to say I got no sleep that night as I spent hours debating the pros and cons of the situation.
Naturally both of us had decided to give the week a shot while I'm sure both of us felt that it was never going to end in marriage. After all how can you decide to get married to a person you have only known one week. The Colonel had been delighted with our answers and a few days later the site for the week long trial had been fixed.
We were going to a resort in the mountains. I guess it would be nice to get away from the heat of the summers and take a break from work. The bags came and we got out of the airport to look for the vehicle that was to take us to the resort.
The first day we didn't talk much after checking into the resort. On our arrival we were given an itinerary for the week.This is what it read like
Day 1 - Arrive and settle in
Day 2 - Visit Botanical Gardens
Day 3 - Visit Historical Church
Day 4 - Visit Local Market
Day 5 - Visit Boat Club
Day 6 - Visit Local Handicrafts Workshop
Day 7 - Take decision and leave
Seemed an easy enough week to me. We ate dinner in companionable silence and we were leaving to return to our rooms, he passed some comment about how beautiful the locale of the resort was. I agreed and ducked into my room.
The next morning I got a call at 8 in the morning telling me that the vehicle was ready to take us to the botanical garden. Two minutes later James called up saying that he was waiting in the lobby. I quickly got dressed and went down. The place was two hours away and the music in the cab was loud. Still I was glad I did not have to make any small talk and looked out of the window.
Once we reached James and I went into the gardens and ambled around. He seemed equally puzzled about the horticulture and I wondered what our fathers were thinking sending us to look at trees and flowers. As we walked down the mud track and came round a bend we saw a couple sitting down below the trees on a bench kissing. Like a school child caught by a teacher both our eyes locked and then we started to laugh.
"Well, I guess I know what my Dad was hoping" he said after he stopped laughing.
"I'm not sure my Dad would approve" I smiled back.
"I guess not" he said as he held out his hand to me. I looked at his hand, and back into his smiling eyes and placed my hand in his.
"This is strange isn't it?" he asked as we held hands and walked down the track.
"It sure it" I agreed.
"I almost didn't come" he confided "It sounded like a really stupid idea to me but my mother got all sentimental about it. Sort of asked me to take it as a last wish of my father."
"I didn't want to come too" I replied " but came because of similar reasons. I guess the whole situation is strange."
"Well strange or not, we're stuck together for a week, so lets have a nice holiday together okay?" he said.
"Not a bad idea at all, and if you have looked at enough trees and flowers, I think we can go back to the resort." I replied.
He laughed and said I think I'd like that. As we left the botanical garden he bought a pot of petunias while I climbed back into the vehicle. He came and gave me the pot.
"For you, as a memento of our first date" he smiled.
The Rocky Road
That evening we sat and chatted about all kind of things in the couple of hours we got before dinner. Now that the ice had been broken it seemed that we had a lot of things in common. The next day the visit to the Church was about as dull as the visit to the botanical gardens and I was beginning to get a bit restless.
James noticed that and asked "Would you like to go out for dinner this evening?"
"I would like that very much" I said.
We asked about good restaurants and were told that there was a good place to go about an hour away from the resort. So James fixed up a reservation for us that evening.
As we were halfway there the driver of the cab said that there had been a mountain slide and we would not be able to get to the restaurant. James looked at me and I just shook my head. It was not to be, so we drove back to the resort.
A little peeved at being all dressed up with no where to go I told James that I would eat in the room and would see him in the morning. He let me go as he paid the cab driver off. About half an hour later I was in bed with a book that was failing to keep my attention when I heard a knock on my door.
"Who is it" I shouted.
"Room service" came the reply.
"I didn't order anything" I said as I got up to open the door.
"I know" said James, "But I did."
He wheeled a trolley full of food and a bottle of wine into the room. Suddenly the evening was beginning to look up again. I should have been worried about letting him into the room lest he get the wrong idea, but instead I was smiling and shutting the door.
It was difficult to understand just why I trusted him, but I suppose the situation was strange enough without me having to dissect it. I decided to just go with the flow. We ended up having a good time along with a good meal. He gave me a chaste peck on the cheek as he left for his room. And I had a silly smile pasted on my face as I lay in bed to sleep.
The Week Continues
The trip to the local market proved interesting as I hunted down bargains and shopped for souvenirs.I was not surprised to hear James grumble as I led him from shop to shack as I looked through the local wares. I had heard about the unique local jewelry here and was keen on picking up samples of it.
James was also keen on picking up some local jewelry, and asked me my opinion while I sifted through some earrings for my sister. I felt the slightest tinge of jealousy when he picked up a couple of rings and a pendant, till he said his mom would love it. We had lunch at an interesting little place and headed back to the resort.
The next day we went to the boat club. They had boats on hire and I went to see what we could get for the day. James did not look too keen at the thought of boating but as I obviously was he kept quiet. I got us a good price for a paddle boat for half the day. James wanted to try out the restaurant at the boat club and we would be back by lunch time.
I jumped into the boat and waited while James got into the boat. He did not look his usual calm self, in fact he looked a little green as he put on his orange life vest. As we pulled away from the jetty I hoped he was not feeling unwell.
"Are you alright?" I asked,"You look a little green."
"Actually I'm quite well," he said nervously as he looked at me, "I just can't swim."
"You can't swim?" I asked incredulously, "I don't believe it."
"Oh you better believe it" he said as he nodded at me.
"How come you never learnt?" I asked
"Well, my mom doesn't swim and there was no one around to teach me" he said with a slight wistfulness in his voice.
I suddenly went back to the summer when my step father took both Sarah and me to the pool to teach us swimming. I guess I tool my step father for granted but James, he never had a father around and no father substitute as well. The thought made me feel sorry for him. I wished I could do something to cheer him up.
Since he was still on tender hooks on the lake I decided to give him a break by heading back to the boat club earlier than I had planned. He looked visibly relaxed after we were back on solid ground. As it was too early to go in for lunch we sat down on the steps nearby and held hands as we talked softly.
He had been older when our fathers had died and he had memories of both of them. Memories that he shared with me. Something melted inside me as we sat there while I listened to him talk about his memories. Here was a connection, a shared past that I was not even aware of.
That evening we ordered room service and sat and watched TV in my room. I felt more connected to him than to anyone else I had ever considered as a life partner before. He teased me, made me laugh and left me wanting more when after dinner he gave me a peck on my cheek and left for his own room.
As I tossed about restless in my bed that night I was hit by the realization that I did want more from him. I sat up in bed and put on the lamp as I wondered how I was going to tell him this. he had never said anything about his feelings and I did not want to come off as the fool who fell in love with him.
Hang on a second, did I just say fell in love with him??? This was not good, not good at all. I got up off the bed and began pacing. It was the situation, it was odd to be in a romantic place with a handsome man whom I was supposed to pick to get married.
Yes, that was it, I was not in love with him. I was not going to say a word to him. We were going to have a nice week together and then go back into the real world and pick up our real lives. That's the way it was supposed to be I told my traitor of a heart.
The next morning I was feeling a bit low. It was technically our last day together, tomorrow we would fly out and maybe never meet again. I don't know why that made me feel depressed. As we rode to the Handicrafts Workshop James tried to make some casual conversation with me, but I didn't want to talk.
Soon he realized that and stopped speaking to me. He put his head back on the seat and went off to sleep. That irritated me even more. How could he just fall off to sleep like that in any given place? I mean really was he normal? My irritation was just building up over nothing.
We went through the entire workshop with me in silence and James asking our guide a few questions as we went from room to room. After we went back to the cab he turned and looked at me.
"What's the matter with you?" he asked.
"Nothing is wrong with me" I lied curtly.
"Then why aren't you behaving normally?" he wanted to know.
"Who said I'm not normal?" I almost shouted, "Do you think you know me after barely a week together? Leave me alone, I don't want to talk to you"
"Fine" he said as he turned away from me and looked out of the window.
I went straight up to my room as the cab reached the resort without waiting for him. I slammed the door shut and did not get any satisfaction from the petty act. I wanted to cry and I wanted to fight. I wanted to tell him not to leave me, I wanted to hit myself for wanting him.
Aches and Breaks
I decided that I needed to cool off so I stripped and went into the shower. I felt much calmer after soaking my head and came out of the shower with a towel round my head and slipped into a robe.
I knew I was acting irrationally but I couldn't stop myself. I decided what I needed was a nice long walk. Yes that was a good idea, specially since that would prevent me weakening and going to talk with James.
I got dressed, put on my sneakers, tucked a couple of apples in my jacket pocket, put a bottle of water in another and headed out.
The area around the resort was truly beautiful. I decided to head for the closest hill to get a better view of the area. It was going to be a good hike, all the better to suit my present mood i decided.
I looked around and felt good. I was no longer thinking about James or obsessing about our possible future. No one fell in love and married in a week. It was preposterous and it would never work. I was going to go back to my regular life and yes I was going to be alright.
I climbed up the hill as and where I could after leaving the track. I was working up a good appetite. So I took out an apple and began to munch as I climbed higher up the steep path and then I fell. I slipped and the apple flew from my hands as I tried to balance myself. I skidded down the mountain and was beginning to panic as I hit my head on a rock and passed out.
I felt like a blanket of dark was over me and I was struggling to come out from under it. I could hear some people talking but could not make out the words. As I struggled to come around I felt someone place a cool cloth to the area on my head which felt like it was on fire. Then I drifted out again trying to escape the pain that was making itself felt.
The next time I woke up it was dark and I heard James talking softly to me. He held my hand and I could feel his eyes on me as I tried to pry open my eyes. And then I heard his words.
"Thank God you are awake" he said as he kissed the hand he held, "You scared a couple of decades off me falling down like that, let me call the doctor"
I blinked and focused on his face as he used the phone next to the bed. I tried to speak but could not form the words very clearly. I managed to ask, "What happened?"
"Where am I" I asked.
"You are in the hospital. And you are safe. I couldn't stand the thought of losing you. I've been going crazy waiting for you to wake up." he said.
"I saw you stomping off from my window" he said as he took my hand in his again, "I thought I'd leave you alone. Then I got mad and decided to find out just what was bugging you. So I came down and followed you." he said.
"I was some distance from you when I saw you slip and fall. I got to you as soon as I could and then you were unconscious and I was so scared. I thought I would lose you. I picked you up and brought you back to the resort. Then they called an ambulance and had you brought to the hospital" he said.
The doctor came in at that point with a couple of nurses and they started asking me questions and poking and prodding with instruments. James went into the background and I tried to smile as I caught his eye.
"Why couldn't you stand the thought of losing me?" I asked James when the health care professionals finally left us alone.
"I couldn't stand the thought of losing you because I love you," he said simply. "I know that was not the plan and that we were to just have fun this one week and part ways, but some where along the line I just fell in love with you."
"You love me?" I asked in wonder.
"Yes i do, and since I've been thinking about how upset you were at the week coming to an end, I'm hoping" he paused as he looked into my eyes "that you feel the same way. Do you love me Samantha?"
"Yes I do," I replied as tears came into my eyes, "that's why I was being so rude. I thought I'd fallen in love with you and you did not want me."
"Good lord, woman" he groaned, "couldn't you have just told me that instead of charging off to climb a mountain?"
"I'm sorry," I apologized " but staying away from you seemed a better idea than telling you I loved you at the time. Especially since I thought that you did not love me."
He took me as gently as he could into his arms then, and gave me a kiss. This one was no chaste peck on the cheek.
The Week Ends
As the seventh day of the week dawned I got up in the hospital grateful that my Humpty Dumpty act had not netted me any broken bones. I had some might colorful bruises that promised to get even more colorful as the days passed.
I looked over and saw James where he lay asleep in the uncomfortable hospital chair by my bed. My body may be bruised and battered but my heart had never felt better. I thought about our conversation the previous night and smiled.
Thanks to my fall my parents, his mother and the Colonel were flying in this morning. We had a decision to make today and I knew what my answer to the question was going to be. I just had one condition...I wanted a Claddagh Ring for my engagement. And as I knew James had picked out one on our shopping trip I was not going to be disappointed.