I Do!

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Peter Lawrence's suitcase hit the floor with a thud. He hadn't heard a sweeter sound in five years. He was home. All he needed now was Serena. Checking his watch, he knew she wasn't due for another few hours. He had time. Tonight would be perfect. He'd make sure of it.

Back on U.S. soil for the past nine hours, he was tired but exhilarated. He had good news, such good news that if he were fifteen instead of thirty-three he'd dance a gig across the light grey carpeting covering the living room floor. As it was, he confined his exhilaration to shooting an imaginary basketball across the airy expanse and through the huge windows looking out on the most wonderful city in the world--New York.

Peter smiled and hummed New York, New York on his way to the shower. In twenty minutes, he was refreshed, dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt and rattling through the refrigerator knowing Serena would have enough food to feed the entire staff at WNYC after a tense news night. Well, he thought, there would be no news people here tonight, just him and the woman he loved, Serena Howard.

Peter loved to cook. It had been years since he lived in a place where he could cook, but the brownstone house he shared with Serena had a wonderful kitchen. In minutes, the counters were filled with the makings of a romantic meal. The steaks marinated in a wide flat-bottom bowl, the salad was tossed and in the refrigerator and the baking potatoes were making the kitchen smell as warm and cozy as the baking bread. Dessert, he thought when everything was baking, simmering or waiting for the right time to be put in the oven. Pulling one of the many cook books from the kitchen shelf, Peter opened his favorite one and looked up the recipe for chocolate mousse. With that done, he moved the newspaper and quickly set the table for two, adding candles and the flower he'd brought for Serena.

Wouldn't she be surprised to see him, he thought. And with the news he had to tell her. He picked up the paper. It was three days old. As he started to throw it out, the headline jumped out at him, Rainbow Room Wedding Contest. That would be perfect. Serena would love getting married in the Rainbow Room. What a wonderful place to get married, he thought. Reading further, he discovered the rules only required a 100-word essay on why he'd like to get married in the Rainbow Room.

Unconsciously, he reached for the pencil and pad that sat next to the land line phone she refused to give up. He thought of Serena and their years together--fourteen wonderful years. Love poured into him and the words came through his pencil without effort. Years of knowing her, seeing her smile, talking to her, making love with her, garnered feelings inside him that were hard to control. Stopping at only one hundred words was difficult. He could describe Serena for a least a thousand more.

Reviewing the paragraph, he sat back wondering if he should really enter the contest. His chances of winning had to be small. Millions of New Yorkers read the Times every day. His entry couldn't have much of a chance. Yet Peter found himself opening his laptop and typing out the entry with only a few editorial changes.

Opening his mail program, he typed in the address and hovered over the enter key for a moment before pressing it. He'd just opened his heart and delivered his message of love to the power of electricity and some stranger at the Rainbow Room or their agent. He'd often told Serena he loved her, but never had he put as much into words as he had in the letter.

Nothing he'd written was a lie. He'd loved Serena Howard since first seeing her across the main campus at Harvard University on his first day at college. He knew then and there he wanted her and he felt the same now.

Returning to the house, he checked the meal and his watch. Serena should be home soon. He imagined how surprised she'd be to find him here a day early and with news that would change their lives.


Serena Howard looked over her reading glasses at her vice president and long time friend, Chase Roberts cross the floor of Serena's office and flopped into a chair in front of the desk.

"So, rumor has it Mr. Right will actually be in the country this weekend."

"Don't call him that," Serena said, her tone low and serious. "And sarcasm will make you old."

"I ought to call him Nathan Detroit and you Miss Adelaide."

"Nathan Detroit!" Serena Howard repeated.

"Serena, anyone who's been engaged as long as you two could only be Nathan and Miss Adelaide."

Closing the file she'd been reading, Serena thought Peter was nothing like Nathan Detroit. He was dependable and loving and would never skate around getting married.

She couldn't help being anxious about him coming home. This was his third attempt. Each time he'd called to say he was coming, something would come up before he made it back to New York and she'd be left disappointed and depressed. Crossing her fingers, she prayed nothing would go wrong to keep him from stepping off the plane and onto U.S. soil tomorrow. If everything went right, if no world crisis happened, no plane crashed, or no government toppled to send him running toward disaster, the two of them would be together in twenty-four hours. She could feel herself shivering at the thought that something might spoil their reunion.

Trying to avoid thoughts of these mishaps, Serena had dove into work. It only made her day worse. Her newest client, Athena an up and coming actress, wanted S.M. Howard & Associates to turn her into the next Beyonce. If they could do it overnight, they'd get a bonus. If not overnight, their deadline was the weekend. Serena had been looking for ideas and ways to get the starlet's name and face in print and video. Obviously, the woman had financial backing. S.M. Howard didn't come cheap and this woman wanted results, and she wanted them fast.

Giving her full attention to Chase, she asked, "Why don't we get out of here early for a change? If I look at this folder again I'll. . ." She left the sentence hanging and stood up. Chase stood too.

As the two women left the mile-high building in mid-town Manhattan, the cold January wind gusted around them. Serena pulled her coat collar closer to her neck. Chase's comments bothered Serena. She and Peter had been engaged a long time, since they were in college. Actually, they'd become engaged as sophomore's but didn't tell their parents until graduation. That was nearly fifteen years ago. She'd never thought they'd be engaged this long, yet getting married had never been convenient.

Peter returned for graduate studies in journalism after undergraduate school. She went to work for a public relations firm. After their two year separation, he was assigned to the Middle East, a place that wasn't safe for a family man. They postponed marrying until he returned home. Then she began her own business and worked night and day to get it off the ground. She had no time for marriage then and Peter was reassigned to Paris and later Japan. He'd spent a few years at a local TV station in New Jersey. At that time, he'd asked her to come and live with him. It was the only time in their relationship when she thought she might lose him. S.M. Howard & Associates had just begun to turn a profit. Marrying was inconvenient then and it wasn't any better now.

Serena walked silently with Chase toward the curb. She suddenly didn't want to go home. Tonight she didn't want to be alone, didn't want to sit next to a phone that could ring and destroy her one weekend with Peter. She was sure it would be short. If he made it home, it would only be to tell her where he was being assigned this time.

"Let's go get something to eat," Serena suggested as they reached the street and a taxi stood before them.

"Sorry," Chase smiled. "I have a date." She slipped into the back seat of the cab and pulled her briefcase and the ends of her coat with her. "He'll be here this time, Serena. Go home and get a good night's sleep. It's only one more day."

The cab swept away from the curb leaving her alone. Tomorrow, Serena thought. The wind grabbed at her, tearing her hair and reminding her she was standing on a street corner. Quickly she hailed a cab and headed for home.

Serena sat forward in the taxi the moment it turned onto East 88th Street. The light in her window was on. Her brain, registering the fact that Peter was home and the hammering of her heart, occurred simultaneously. She was out the door, throwing the fare at the driver, and rushing up the five steps to the front door in record time. She didn't even know if Peter knew he always turned the light in the upstairs hall on when he came in. It reflected through the windows and Serena found it a welcoming beacon.

"Peter!" she called, closing the door and dropping her briefcase. She was afraid she might be wrong and he wasn't there.

"In the kitchen," he called.

Serena's heart soared. Peter stepped through the kitchen door into the hallway. She wanted to run to him, but fear kept her in place. Suppose she was dreaming. Suppose he was only an apparition, and those broad shoulders and slim waist, that athletic build and dark skin would dissolve into thin air.

"I'm real," Peter said, as if he'd read her mind.

He was here. He was really here. He moved toward her. She was sure it was him. He wasn't the small figure on her television screen, or the static photograph she saw each morning when she woke. He was real. He could walk and talk and hold her close.

Suddenly Serena heard her own footsteps. She ran, her heels clicking a rapid staccato against the polished hardwood floor. Peter opened his arms and she flew into them. He caught her, whirling her around like a human cyclone. When he stopped, he set her on the floor and gazed into her eyes. She saw passion there, raw, powerful, exciting.



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