Five year old Elana stuffed her pool towel under her chin more securely while she watched the ladybug crawl up the rose bush. “Why do you think the ladybug likes roses so much?” she asked Manolita, her father’s housekeeper, as she waited by the pool. Her father had promised to come swimming with her and she wasn’t allowed into the pool until he got here.
Manolita looked up from her magazine, smiling at the precocious young girl. “The ladybugs protect the rose bush from the aphids, carina.”
“What do the aphids do?” Elana asked, more curious than ever.
Manolita chuckled. A more curious child, she’d never met. “The aphids suck the juice out of the rose stems, killing that part of the rose. They also leave a sticky mess that the ants then come and eat. It’s all a circle of life.”
“What’s the circle of life?” she asked, glancing over at the door to the house, wishing her father would come out. She’d been waiting forever!
Manolita shrugged and glanced over her shoulder. It was her day off today but no one was here to watch out for Elana. She was too young to be left alone, but her employer said he would be here. “The circle of life is what keeps things going. Some things live, some die and others feed off of both the life and the death.” She had plans, she thought mutinously, although this wasn’t the first time that Signor Catelano had neglected to be here to watch his daughter. The man was one of the worst fathers she’d ever encountered.
Elana wrinkled her nose. “Nothing lives off of the death of others, Manolita. That’s just…gross!”
Manolita laughed softly at Elana’s horrified expression. “Of course it does. How do you think the leaves decompose each winter?”
Elana rolled her eyes. “They just blow away,” she said as if that were the most obvious thing in the world.
Manolita shook her head. “Not really. The worms eat the leaves, the slugs eat the other material like wood and such, the birds eat the worms and slugs, the fox eats the birds and….” She thought hard, not sure what ate foxes so she improvised, “and Sasquatch eats the foxes.”
That got Elana’s attention. Elana pulled her focus away from the ladybug and over to the woman who was more mother than household employee. “What’s Sasquatch?” she asked, her big brown eyes staring up at Manolita.
Manolita stood up as Signor Catelano walked out into the sunshine, clearly not prepared to swim as promised with his daughter. That wasn’t any of her business, she told herself firmly. She had errands to run and this man had made her late. “I’m sure you’re Papa would love to explain that to you, carina.” She tossed her magazine onto the table and grabbed her purse, walking out the side door before the old man could come up with some reason why he couldn’t stay and play with his daughter this afternoon. “Adios!” she called out, waving her hand as she let the gate to the backyard close behind her.
Elana watched her housekeeper walk away, then turned to smile up at her Papa. “Are we going swimming today?” she asked eagerly.
Rufus glared at the now closed gate with irritation. “I can’t swim today. But how about if you come watch television while I have a conference call?” he suggested.
Elana wasn’t very interested in television. It seemed that she always watched television when Manolita left for the day. “Why don’t we do something together?” she suggested. “We could have a tea party!”
Her heart sank when she noticed the distracted look in his eyes a moment before he turned and walked away. “Papa?” she called out to him, trying to get his attention again.
But he was already bustling off to his office so she picked up her pool towel and followed him inside, accepting that she probably wouldn’t be able to swim until Manolita returned.
She sat in one of the chairs in her father’s office while he spoke to various people on the phone. With a huge yawn, Elana looked around, trying to think of something she could do. Her father probably would be on the phone for a while and he didn’t have any toys in his office.
After ten minutes of sitting still and trying not to make any noise, Elana was bored. She could draw on the paper from his printer, but he didn’t have any interesting colors to use, only blue and black ball point pens. She could do somersaults on the carpet in front of his desk, but she knew from experience that he wouldn’t like that either. Out of desperation, she pulled down one of the books on the shelf beside her. She didn’t really understand the words, but the pictures were interesting, so she let her eyes drift over the words beneath each of the photographs, slowly letting her young brain recognize the letters. Once she recognized the letters, she sounded them out in her mind, then after several minutes, she was able to put two letters together. Sounding out the words was fascinating to her. Her chubby finger moved along the page while her lips formed the words.
She found that she was fascinated by the way the words formed a sentence. She didn’t always understand the sentence, or even the most of the words, but was eager to read ahead and find the next few words that she could comprehend. This was exciting stuff! The book was about different words and their meaning and she went through one word after another, absorbing as much as she could. How exciting! A whole book filled with letters and sounds and words that made sentences!
She settled more comfortably in the big chair, her mind continuing to wrap around the words. One after another, she sounded them out, reading all the text she could.
A long time later, she glanced up, feeling hungry all of a sudden. When she saw her father, she stopped and raised her eyebrows. “Is something wrong, Papa?” she asked him, sitting up and becoming slightly anxious.
Rufus looked across his office at his daughter. He’d always thought she was an extraordinarily pretty little thing. But for the past hour, he’d sat at his desk, transfixed by the sight of his precious angel teaching herself to read the dictionary.
He chuckled and shook his head. “There’s nothing wrong at all,” he said softly, pride coming through in his voice. “You’re perfect.”
He looked at his daughter, truly amazed by her intellect. Briefly he thought about her future, about what she might be able to accomplish with that curious little brain of hers, but then dismissed the idea. The future meant marriage and babies and he knew instantly that no man would be good enough for his little girl. She was too smart, too sweet and just too perfect!
Picking her up into his arms, he chuckled at her squeal of excitement as he playfully tossed her over his shoulder. Heading out of the house, he jumped into the pool with his little girl in his arms, laughing at how horrified she was that he was still fully dressed and in the pool.
10 Years Later….
“Come on! We’ve got to get home!” Elana urged her friend. But Cindy didn’t care about the science project that was due the next day or the fascinating experiments of the dissected grasshopper that had been carefully examined and researched.
“Will you relax,” Cindy urged. “You’ve already caught and dissected all the bugs. We’ve probably gotten an ‘A’ already just with all of your bug parts pinned up on that giant board of yours.”
Elana glared at Tim Grantfield, the main reason Cindy was dragging her feet. “Cindy, we’ve only done the experiments. We still have to write up our findings. And you said that would be your part of this project. We’re not going to finish it on time if you don’t hurry up and stop flirting with Tim!”
“We have plenty of time,” Cindy argued, glancing behind her one more time. “The science fair comes every year. A boy like Tim Grantfield comes only once in a lifetime!” She melted with joy as Tim winked in her direction.
With a sigh of frustration, Elana walked on ahead of her friend. Cindy was lost now that Tim was showing interest. As much as she resented it, she knew that the rest of the project rested on her shoulders. She hated writing, but she was proud of what she’d learned while dissecting the grasshoppers. They were interesting creatures with lots of moving parts, all of which she had diagrammed after meticulously taking them apart. Of course, she’d only done this to the grasshoppers she’d found dead on the ground. As a budding scientist, she didn’t have the heart to kill an innocent grasshopper only for scientific research. They had a place in the food chain and taking some of them out of that chain, just to pin up on her science project display board, wasn’t right. Ethics had to be maintained!
She sat down at her father’s new computer, a tough looking desktop with the newest Pentium III processor. She was just as excited to be working on the new computer as she was to write up her findings on the grasshopper dissection. Technology ranked a close second to discovering how living this worked.
Glancing at the clock, she noted that it was only four o’clock in the afternoon. That meant she still had at least two hours before dinner, plenty of time to finish up the report.
Her fingers typed as quickly as possible across the keyboard, her mind shifting from one part of the grasshopper to the next, eager to explain all the various parts of the creature and why God had created each with their specific parts. She explained the complex eyes, the amazing legs that allowed the grasshopper to jump more than twenty times its body length. She was just amazed by all the amazing parts of the grasshopper.
When Manolita called her down to dinner, she shook her head. “I’ll be right there!” Elana called back, her fingers moving faster over the keys, desperately trying to get this one last thought into the report before she stopped.
An hour later, Manolita carefully placed a sandwich at Elana’s elbow, cut up into small triangles, along with a glass of milk. “Eat,” Manolita admonished.
Elana glanced to the right, then smiled briefly up at Manolita. “Thanks,” she sighed, grabbing one of the triangles and taking a bite out of one corner. She didn’t bother to look away from her computer screen, her mind already shifting back to describing the technique she’d used to dissect the legs and discover why the grasshopper was able to jump so far.
A long time later, she heard a soft voice. “Carina,” Elana heard and felt the gentle hand on her shoulder. She jerked awake, already feeling the pins and needles tingling along the back of her arms and hands.
“What happened?” she asked, still groggy as she tried to focus on her surroundings.
“You fell asleep again on your computer, Elana,” Manolita explained, bustling around Elana’s bedroom to tidy things up. “And you didn’t eat your dinner. You have to eat a good breakfast this morning to make up for that,” she urged.
Elana sat up in her desk chair, looking around. “I fell asleep finishing this report,” she explained, pushing her heavy, long hair out of her eyes and looking down at the neatly printed copy. “I think it’s going to get a good grade.” Feeling enervated now that she remembered what she’d been up to until the early hours of the morning, she jumped up and hurried to the shower, eager to dress for school. All of her fatigue vanished with the anticipation.
“You’re late,” Manolita shouted out a moment before Elana closed the door to her en suite bathroom.
“I know. Aren’t I always?” she called back, a smile of expectation on her pretty features as she thought about how impressed her science teacher would be with her project. It took her less than five minutes to shower but she took more time with her hair and makeup, wanting to look good when she presented her project to Mr. Dryfus, the science teacher she hugely admired.
When she emerged from the bathroom, she glanced back at Manolita who was still cleaning things up. “Where’s my father?”
Manolita snorted. “He left earlier this morning on another business trip to Barcelona. He said something about buying a house over there, trying to steal it away from some man, grumbling about everything, just like he always does.”
Elana laughed, knowing that her father tended to grumble a great deal about people in general and some he particularly had strong, negative feelings towards. “Well, he’ll be back in time for the weekend, won’t he?”
“Who knows,” Manolita replied as she slipped out of the room. “I’m making you eggs for breakfast. You need protein to get you through the day.”
Elana didn’t argue, intent on pulling down a clean pair of jeans and trying on various shirts, straightening her hair into a smooth waterfall today instead of the wavy mess it tended to prefer. When she emerged from her bedroom twenty minutes later, she danced down the stairs, her grasshopper report in one hand and the large board with her diagrams and various grasshopper parts pinned neatly to the front. “Want to take a look at my science project Manolita?” she asked eagerly, her big brown eyes excited to show someone her discoveries.
Manolita shook her head with a chuckle. “If it’s going to show me all those icky bug parts you’ve been looking at under that microscope of yours, then no. I don’t want to see it. But I’ll drive you to school today so you don’t have to carry that all the way.”
“Great!” She sat down at the breakfast table, enjoying the sunshine streaming through the large windows. “Can we stop by and pick up Cindy as well? She helped me on the project too. It was a joint effort.”
Manolita snorted in disgust. “What help did that other girl provide?” she challenged as she poured a glass of milk and set it in front of Elana who was already daintily eating the cheesy eggs Manolita had cooked a few minutes earlier.
Elana couldn’t answer, so she simply shrugged her shoulders and kept on eating. “I have a French quiz today as well.”
Manolita immediately switched into speaking French, quizzing her charge on the various vocabulary words. The morning was swift and a bit chaotic, but Elana and Cindy arrived at school fifteen minutes early so they could deliver their science project to the appropriate position in the school library where the teachers would review the projects and present grades and awards. Elana looked at her board with pride, ignoring Tony Edwards who snickered at her grasshopper findings. Tony preferred architecture and had done a mathematical equation on how bridges held up their weight. Elana dismissed his project as irrelevant. He didn’t even work with anything alive! What’s the point?
He walked by her, shaking his head. “I’m going to come in first place this year,” he whispered softly so the nearby teachers couldn’t hear. “You’re run on winning this every time has come to an end, little girl!”
Elana glanced over at his science project and rolled her eyes. Pulling out the report she’d worked on last night, she plunked the thirty, neatly typed pages down in front of her science board, slipping Cindy’s one and a half page synopsis into her book bag before walking over to the teachers and handing them another copy of her report. “The first three pages are an outline, Mr. Dryfus. The following pages get into more detail.”
She smiled brightly as the science teacher looked down at the huge report and swallowed, silently shaking his head in horror at the amount of reading he was going to have to go through. “Um…very good, Ms. Catelano. I’ll get right on this,” he said and grasped the report gingerly. “I’m sure you’ve done a very thorough job on your science project.”
“Thank you Mr. Dryfus.” With that, she turned on her heel and walked to her first class of the day.
Elana found Cindy waiting for her out in the hallway, leaning against Tim’s locker and looking at the boy as if he were some sort of demi-god. “Come on Cindy.” She smiled politely to Tim, but sincerely didn’t understand Cindy’s fascination with the opposite sex.
Cindy waved to Tim as she tripped along behind Elana. As soon as they rounded the corner, Cindy eyed Elana with trepidation. “You’re mad at me because of the report I did, aren’t you?”
Elana sighed and shook her head, not really sure what she was feeling right at the moment. She was more nervous about the competition, she supposed. Elana might have pretended to dismiss Tony’s bridge project, but she silently admitted that it was quite impressive. Her competitive nature just couldn’t rest, for some reason.
“Why would I be mad at you? Could it be because your report was hand written and the project instructions required the report to be typed? Or was it because the report didn’t go into any of the details I gave you? It barely even covered the hypothesis. And most of the words were misspelled.”
Cindy had the grace to look ashamed. “Well, you didn’t spell most of those words for me and I’d never heard of most of them.”
Elana sighed, not really angry with her friend, but anxious about the competition. She wanted to win! “Cindy, you should have come home with me last night. We could have done this together.”
“Yes, but Tim called me last night as soon as I got home and asked if he could take me out for a soda. We met at the diner last night and he was soooo sweet!” she explained, melting against the bricks of the wall. “You just don’t understand.”
Elana refused to sneer because it would only show Cindy how little she really did grasp about male and female relationships. “I’m all for cute boys, Cindy,” she said smartly, ignoring Cindy when she rolled her eyes. “But when it’s time to work, we need to focus.”
“Well, you wrote a book last night. So we’re okay, right?”
“Yes, but you didn’t contribute anything to this project.”
Cindy looked mortified. “Are you going to tell Mr. Dryfus?”
“Why would I do that?” Elana asked, genuinely perplexed.
Cindy was relieved. “Great. In that case, you can wear my black mini-skirt tomorrow for the awards ceremony,” she said, linking her elbow through Elana’s and dragging her over to their first class just as the first bell rang. “And you’re going to look fabulous. But I get to borrow your hoop earrings.”
Men! Elana vowed that she’d never allow a man to get in the way of her studies. They were such ridiculous creatures. A grasshopper was much more interesting to study, at least in her opinion.
Gaston winked at the woman in the long, black dress, smothering his chuckle when she glanced around the room to see if anyone else was looking. At twenty-five, he wasn’t one to turn down something so freely offered. A moment later, she separated herself from the group and walked over to where Gaston was leaning against one of the marble columns in the ballroom.
“I don’t think we’ve met,” the lovely blond woman said as she sauntered up to the tall, amazingly handsome man in a tailored tuxedo.
“Gaston Montebello,” he said, taking her hand and bowing gallantly low. “And you are?” he asked, but he already knew the answer. Or as much as he needed to know. She would be his next mistress, he decided.
“I’m Jennifer Markley,” she replied, moving slightly closer. “And I believe you’re an exceptionally naughty man.” Her voice had dropped to a lower, huskier tone and Gaston considered her assets carefully.
“Is that your husband?” he asked, glancing to the man in his fifties who didn’t even realize that his arm candy had strayed.
“Soon to be my ex-husband,” she smiled, taking another step closer. “Do you care?”
Gaston thought about it for a moment, but then shook his head. “Not at all.” Women were lovely creatures, but he could always tell when a woman was dissatisfied with her current lover. And ex-wives were especially creative in bed, wanting to prove that their sexuality hadn’t disappeared along with their husband’s interest.
He danced, wined and dined the woman for the evening and by midnight, she was in his bed. By morning though, Gaston had decided that she might not be mistress material after all. He found that he wasn’t as immune to her married status as he would like.
As he scrolled through the latest stocks on his computer, he came to several that seemed to be good investments. He sent notes to his assistant, giving him directions on how to research each one. He then sent a message to his father, giving him a head’s up on the possible investments.
“I missed you,” the redhead said, sliding into his lap and forcing him to push his laptop out of the way before she sat on it.
He sighed and took in her sexy appearance. She was wearing his shirt which irritated him. Why did women always seem to think it was okay to wear his clothes?
But instead of showing her his irritation, he allowed his hands to rest on her hips. “I’m sorry to rush out, but I have a business meeting in an hour.”
She pouted prettily at him, wiggling her hips in a way that normally he would find interesting. This morning though, he found her only mildly amusing. “Isn’t there anything here that might be more interesting than a boring business meeting?” she asked, leaning forward so he could see that she wasn’t wearing anything underneath his shirt.
“You’re a lovely lady,” he replied, irritated with himself for not remembering her name. “But unfortunately, I really have to go.” With one arm around her waist, he stood up and swung her around so she was sitting in the patio chair by herself. “My housekeeper will fix you breakfast.”
With that, he touched her cheek gently to soften the blow, but quickly walked out on her. His thought the previous night that women with ex husbands were creative was still accurate, but the night had left a bad taste in his mouth. He found that he wasn’t as interested in women who would cheat on her husband as he’d originally thought.
Five Years Later…
Gaston folded his hands in front of him, feeling uncomfortable in the grey morning suit. His best friend was getting married, although why Gary had decided to tie the knot was a mystery to Gaston. His friend professed to the woman. In Gaston’s opinion, women were pretty little thing, entertaining at times but he knew all too well that their sense of fidelity was far short of his requirements. Better to enjoy them on a safer playing field instead of marrying one.
So he’d decided to let things ride. Gary and his soon-to-be bride, Adriana, had been living together for the past several years. Happily, Gaston had always thought. Adriana was beautiful with a thriving real estate business. Gary was a successful financial analyst living in Manhattan. Gaston didn’t understand why the two of them had to muddy the waters with a vow of ‘happily ever after’ when they were doing just fine as they were.
None of his business, Gaston thought with resignation as the music started up, announcing the bride was about to walk down the aisle. Gaston, along with the rest of the congregation stood and turned to face the doors at the end of the cathedral to witness the bride enter.
He had to admit that the woman looked stunning in her wedding finery. Her blond tresses were curled around her face and her lush figure seemed to fill out the wedding gown well. Gary was a lucky man, Gaston thought. As the Best Man, Gaston stood next to his friend as the priest cleared his throat, ready to start the ceremony.
Gaston glanced over at Gary, trying to discern the other man’s mood. Unfortunately, his eye caught Adriana’s eyes instead. Gaston was just about to look away when Adriana winked at him Gaston was so surprised, he couldn’t look away immediately. When he continued to look, Adriana gave him a sultry smile. He pulled his eyes away, assuming he’d just misunderstood the message she’d been sending. He cleared his throat, ignoring Gary’s surprised glance and focused only on the minister and the words of the ceremony.
When the tedious ritual finally ended, Gaston was relieved to walk out of the church, more than ready to head over to the reception. He needed a drink. A stiff one! It was hard to stomach a wedding ceremony in the best of circumstances. But when one was wondering what the bride’s messages were, it was even more difficult.
He leaned against the bar, watching the rest of the guests as they started milling about the reception area. There were bouquets of flowers everywhere with white table clothes, white roses, white bows and white garlands on every possible surface. Seemed like a complete waste of time and money in his opinion, but he was just the Best Man so he kept his mouth shut.
Sipping a pretty good glass of scotch, Gaston watched as the bride and groom enjoyed their first dance together. They looked good with her blond beauty against his darker looks. They will make beautiful portraits, he thought cynically.
The dance ended and everyone clapped politely, Gaston continued to nurse his drink as he watched the proceedings.
“You’re looking lonely,” a pretty red-head in a low cut, pink and purple dress said as she leaned against the bar. The position gave him the advantage of seeing her lush breasts pressed higher and he was so irritated he had to look away. He really wasn’t in the mood. Weddings just killed all the romantic thoughts in his mind. It wasn’t that he was against marriage. He just thought weddings were a bit overdone. He supposed that was just the cynical, male part of his brain thinking.
“How are you?” he replied politely, but not very interested in flirting. He stepped away, intending to move off into the darker parts of the terrace so he could be alone and not impose his cynical mood on any of the other guests. As he neared one of the overhanging trees, he spied a bench and headed towards it.
He was almost there, ready to just take a seat until he was needed again. He had a perfect view of the wedding festivities so if it appeared that he might be needed, he could hurry back into the fray. He was just about to take a seat when a soft, feminine voice had him halting in his tracks.
“You’ve been avoiding me,” Adriana said, her white gown glowing in the night air. “Why is that?” she asked, sauntering closer.
Gaston stopped and turned to fully face her, wondering why she was here instead of on the dance floor with her new husband. “Adriana,” he replied as a greeting, nodding his head slightly. “You look lovely tonight.”
She smiled and he could see her white teeth and her exquisite eyes. “Thank you very much,” she said with a small laugh. She almost skipped her way across the grass, eliminating the space between them. “And I think you look absolutely marvelous. But then, I’ve always thought that.”
Gaston’s eyebrow went up at her comment, but she couldn’t see that. “Where is Gary?” he asked.
Adriana shrugged. “Who knows? He’s probably halfway to getting drunk by now.”
He wasn’t sure how to reply to that. “Shouldn’t you go find him? It is your wedding night, after all.” He was getting an unsettling idea about her goal right about now.
She shook her head, the sparkles in her hair reflecting the small amount of light that was able to reach them underneath the branches. “Gary can take care of himself.” She moved closer, one hand coming out to slide up Gaston’s vest. “I was coming here to take care of you,” she explained, tilting her head back to look up into Gaston’s dark eyes. “I’ve always thought you were an exceptionally handsome man, Gaston. Why didn’t you ever make a move on me?”
He caught her hand before she could undo any of the buttons on his starched, white shirt. “Because you were living with my best friend,” he replied with increasing revulsion. Tossing her hand away, he stepped back. “If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to head back to the party.”
She quickly stepped in front of him. “Why don’t we just have our own, private, party?”
He shook his head, keeping his face impassive. “Because I only find women attractive when they aren’t cheating on their significant other.”
With that, he stepped around the lovely, if faithless, bride and headed back to the party. He desperately wanted to leave this farce of a celebration but he couldn’t do so without explaining to his friend why he was departing. So he walked to one of the tables and ordered a fresh drink from the bartender, then struck up a conversation with the others around him. But even by the end of the night, he couldn’t remember anything he’d said, too furious with the bride and how she was treating his best friend.
Women…did any of them have the ability to remain faithful to one man?
Doubtful, he thought as he passed by the reception and headed out into the night.