To Stephanie, Andrew Simmons seemed like the perfect man. He was smart, handsome, kind, and athletic. And best of all, he was interested in her. As their romance begins to blossom, the truth about Andrew’s past comes to light. A misguided choice made many years before, hung over him.
When they start a family together, Andrew tries to move on from the past and enjoy his family life, but the past still haunts him.
As Andrew and Stephanie build a stable and happy home life together, they long for the day they can stop looking over their shoulders. With resilience and perseverance, can they overcome the dark cloud together?
Stephanie has a strange encounter at a place you wouldn’t expect to. It gets even stranger once she starts to get to know a co-worker named Andrew. Even though this story has some weird and strange things going on, the author uses that to her advantage. She knows just the right mix when it came to creating her characters.
She has one character whom I couldn’t figure out if she were a main or secondary character even though she’s important to the plot. But I do know that she would fit perfectly on any episode of the Discovery’s crime reality shows. Then things seemed to go downhill from there. If you like dark dramas then you might enjoy it.
Understandably, there will be some gaps but there were a few times when I wished for a little more so that I didn’t have a sense that something was missing that I might need to know later on. Then in one scene, Andrew makes a remark about a couple of the secondary characters. A period of time had gone by and I became confused when indirectly their ages come into play.
Things that you would think would be occurring in the real world start to do a 180 which makes things seem like they are going on for far too long. Sad to say that it starts to do the same thing for the story in general. It made me want to jump ahead and get away from what seemed like the “same ol’ same ol’”. Then it became hard not to do an eye roll because it starts to go beyond unbelievable – and yes I do know this is a work of fiction.
It may not be as long as some books, but for me the story became long-winded. I couldn’t even get a sense as to whether the ending was happy or not. The only thing I came away with was wanting to know more about what the They Loved Collection is about.
It was Monday, and Stephanie was supposed to go to the gym in the evening. By the time she walked out of the teachers’ room with Maya, she still had a couple of hours to spare. Maya left and Stephanie was now alone. She tried to decide whether to go home or stay around. Just then she remembered that she had to make a poster for the new drama play she was planning for that year.
She spent the next half an hour designing the poster and getting it printed. Then, she went to the notice board to put it up. No such luck. The notice board was all filled and she didn’t want to cover up any of the other posters. She scanned each one to see if there was anything that was past the event date so that she could ask the owner for permission to remove it.
While she was looking at the posters, she noticed Andrew’s soccer poster and read it once more.
“Interested in joining the soccer team?” came a voice from behind her.
Startled, she spun around to see Andrew standing behind her, smiling and looking down at her.
“You scared me,” she blurted out, placing a hand on her chest. Her heart was beating wildly.
“Oh, sorry,” Andrew apologized. “I didn’t mean to scare you.” Andrew looked genuinely worried.
Stephanie smiled at him reassuringly. “No, no. It’s alright,” she said. “I’m just looking for a place to hang my poster. I can’t decide which one to remove.”
“You can remove mine,” Andrew offered kindly.
“No, you don’t have to do that.” Stephanie blushed.
Andrew stepped forward, and before Stephanie could say anything else, he took down his poster. Then, he took Stephanie’s poster from her hand and, despite her protest, posted it in the now empty slot on the noticeboard.
“Don’t worry. I already selected my team and came here to take it down anyway.”
Stephanie couldn’t discern whether he was telling the truth or being sweet to please her. She was glad that her poster was now on the notice board though, occupying a prime spot that could grab lots of attention.
“You are too nice,” Stephanie complimented him.
Andrew smiled and said nothing. He glanced at his watch.
“Am I keeping you?” Stephanie asked, glancing at her own watch.
“No. I have about an hour to spare and was wondering where I could get a good cup of coffee,” Andrew explained.
“I know exactly the place!” Stephanie told him cheerily. She was encouraged by the fact that she hadn’t said anything stupid to Andrew yet. “In fact, it’s my friend Maya’s find. It’s on my way home; I could show you the spot. Have you met Maya?”
“I haven’t met most of the teachers yet.”
“You would have noticed her,” Stephanie quipped drily. “She’s bubbly and talkative, has short hair, and teaches math.”
“Ah, yes, I think I have,” Andrew chuckled. Even his laugh was enticing.
“Don’t tell her I called her bubbly,” Stephanie muttered in a low voice, glancing around them. Andrew cracked a smile and nodded. His eyes brimmed with humor and life. He had such a caring look and sense of gentleness about him. Stephanie tried to calm her stomach, which kept getting a swooping sensation every time she looked at Andrew.
They walked out of the school, and Stephanie directed him to the restaurant, the one Maya and she regularly visited.
“This place has the best coffee and cheesecake, approved by Maya,” Stephanie said by way of introduction. “Maya may be a math teacher, but her real expertise is food.”
“Approved by the expert. Got it,” Andrew replied charmingly.
Stephanie glanced at her watch again. She also had another hour to spare. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Andrew studying her.
“Why don’t you join me for a cup of coffee?” he invited. “Maybe you could lend me more expertise on food-related matters.”
Stephanie could feel her heart skip a beat and her face flushed with excitement. She searched for words to politely refuse this invitation, but truthfully, she wanted nothing more than to spend time inside the restaurant with him. “I’m not the expert,” she argued lamely. “It’s my friend Maya who’s the foody, but I will join you for that cup of coffee.”
“Consider this an apology for bumping into you the other day,” Andrew added and held the door open for Stephanie to enter.
Stephanie stepped inside, her mind screaming ‘be cool, be cool … don’t show how much you like him’.
They sat down with their coffee. Andrew ordered a doughnut and Stephanie had her favorite strawberry cheesecake.
“Give me a second,” Andrew said when his phone vibrated. He took his phone out and started typing. Stephanie took a bite of her cheesecake and waited for Andrew to finish typing on his phone.
“Where were you before coming here?” Stephanie asked, breaking the silence.
“I was in Ontario,” Andrew replied, looking up. He really had amazing eyes. “I worked at a private school there, and once my contract expired I decided to come here.”
Stephanie gazed at Andrew, infatuated. She really liked his accent and his handsome Scandinavian looks.
To think that Maya had called him a Viking!
“I can’t place your accent, where are you originally from?” Stephanie inquired. She wanted to know everything about him.
“You mean you want to know when I came to Canada?”
“Yes, something like that. I like a good story.” Stephanie took a sip of her coffee, barely tasting it.
“I am not sure whether the story is good or bad, but it is definitely a long one,” Andrew laughed.
Stephanie smiled, locking eyes with him. “I have time,” she encouraged him. “I have exactly one hour before I have to go to the gym.”
“Well, I came to Canada about four years ago,” Andrew began. “Before that, I was in Africa.”
“Africa? Really?” Stephanie could not hide her excitement in hearing that Andrew had been to Africa. She always wanted to go there and go on a safari in the Serengeti. Sadly, her bank account would probably laugh at her if she mentioned that, she reflected.
“It will be a complicated story if I keep telling it backward like this,” Andrew corrected himself, staring off into the distance. He looked like he was gathering his thoughts. “I’ll start from the beginning.” Andrew took a long sip from his coffee, leaned back on his chair, and continued, “I was born in Norway. I grew up there. After college I joined a club to play soccer. Then came the military, and I was stationed in Bosnia as a part of the NATO peace force there, after having served in the Gulf conflict.”
“I didn’t take you as a military man,” Stephanie interjected.
“I wouldn’t call myself that, either. I was just completing my mandatory military service, but I guess my timing was just awful. Most of my friends completed their service without leaving Norway, but I was specifically trained as a sharp-shooter and was flown all over the place.”
“How was the military?”
“It was awful,” Andrew recollected. “The Gulf was tough, but for me, Bosnia was worse. I hated to see all that destruction and despair, and after seeing some horrors and enduring what I had to endure, I knew I could not go back to playing soccer professionally. I did try, though. I tried it for a few months after I left the army until one of my friends suggested that I join him on his trip to Africa, and I agreed.”
“What made you want to go to Africa?”
“It’s funny now that I think about it. My friend Liam was leading a small group that was going to conduct a research program on malnutrition in African countries. He had a very loose schedule and was planning to travel all over the continent. His organization had partnerships with UNICEF and WFO, so he basically had UN clearance to move around. So, when he offered me a post to be a part of his expedition crew, I said yes. He invited me one evening, and by the next evening I was on a flight.”
Stephanie shrugged, and Andrew must have noticed her change of expression.
“Don’t think I was too reckless. I was perhaps young, a little foolish, and wanted to see the world. None of which were really bad decisions, at that point.”
“I wasn’t judging you.”
“Of course you weren’t, but I just wanted to make sure that you don’t misunderstand.”
“So, what happened in Africa?”
“It was all fun and games. We hiked, slept in the desert, and ventured into different countries and cultures. Those were the best days of my life. The real highlight was our climb up Mount Kilimanjaro. Have you been there?”
Stephanie shook her head, “Was it hard?”
“I won’t say it was easy, but it was worth every bit of it.”
“I wish I could go to Africa one day to see the big cats,” Stephanie sighed longingly.
“You like animals?”
“Lions!” Stephanie replied enthusiastically. “I love lions. I hope to photograph them one day. My father did last year, and he brags about that every chance he gets.”
“Wow! So you’re a photographer?” Andrew was eyeing Stephanie with interest.
“I own a camera, but none of those fancy lenses, so I can’t call myself a photographer really,” Stephanie added modestly.
“What do you photograph?”
“Anything and everything; streets, food, travel, birds, wildlife, portraits.” Stephanie was moving her hands around, feeling more comfortable expressing herself now. It felt like Andrew was an old friend.
“Photography has never been my thing, but I love birdwatching,” Andrew shared.
Stephanie opened her mouth to reply just as Andrew’s phone started ringing. He glanced at his phone and his face darkened. He looked tense.
He glanced at the door and then back at Stephanie.
“Please excuse me, my wife is here to meet me,” he announced, standing up.
Stephanie’s heart shattered into a million pieces. He has a wife! Why hadn’t he mentioned that already? Maybe he hadn’t gotten to that part of the story yet. Now, it seemed that not only did Andrew have a wife, but she was standing on the other side of the door to the coffee shop!
Stephanie could feel a knot form in her stomach at the thought of Andrew’s wife walking in to the restaurant and finding her sitting with Andrew having coffee.
Andrew took some cash from his wallet and placed it on the table. With a slight tense nod he walked up to the door and opened it.
There she was. Stephanie could not believe her eyes. She watched Andrew walk up to Roberta and greet her. Stephanie just about fell off her chair. ‘What just happened?’ she wondered. The door closed and she couldn’t see them anymore.
Stephanie sat there for a few more minutes. Just a minute earlier, she was listening to Andrew talk about his adventures in Africa. She had already been daydreaming about how she would go on a safari with him. Now, just a minute later, those dreams slipped away. He was married and married to that horrible woman, Roberta, no less.
Stephanie couldn’t eat any more of her cheesecake, and she stood up to leave. She didn’t feel like going to the gym anymore. Instead, she decided to walk home.
Stephanie was back in her apartment. It was a four-story building and she lived on the top floor. There was no elevator and climbing up and down the many flights of stairs would have turned away many people, but she didn’t mind at all. She loved the views from her top floor and she enjoyed the peace of not having a yard to maintain.
Stephanie was a rather reserved person. She didn’t speak to strangers too often, but once she got to know someone, she became open and talkative. She loved living alone in her apartment. She had a close-knit relationship with her parents and her siblings, but having a place for herself, and not having to answer to anyone about when she came home or went out, was a dream.
This evening in her apartment, she wasn’t the joyful girl she normally was. She sat looking out the window. The large window, by the dining room, opened to the back of the apartment building, through which she could see a set of small wooded hills. The room had one small table with four wooden chairs. On the opposite wall were a few photos Stephanie had taken. One was of an osprey flying away with a fish; another showed a sunset and the third, an eye of a heron.
Today, she sat there with a cup of hot tea in her hand. There was a novel on the dining table, but she didn’t feel like reading; her head was aching. She felt the need to talk to Maya, and she called.
“Hi, Maya.” Stephanie was sure that her voice sounded tired and weak.
“Hey,” Maya replied softly, sounding a little worried. Stephanie didn’t usually call Maya on a weekday. “I thought you were at the gym tonight. Finished early?”
“I didn’t go.”
“Why, what happened, Honey?”
“I don’t feel good.”
“I can tell by your voice. Do I need to come over?”
“No need,” Stephanie replied numbly. She tried to hold back the powerful emotions that were clawing their way up her insides. “I just wanted to tell you something.”
“What is it?”
“Well, I went to have a coffee with Andrew today.” Stephanie swallowed hard as if by doing so she could keep her disappointment from overwhelming her.
“Holy moly, what??” Maya sounded as if she was jumping over the rooftop with excitement.
“Hmm, it didn’t go as I hoped,” Stephanie tried to say offhandedly, but a single tear escaped her eye. She knew she was barely keeping it together.
About the Author:
When author Shawna James is not instructing at university or writing in her favorite coffee shop, Shawna spends most of her time reading, hiking, traveling abroad, and catching her favorite football games on Sunday afternoons.