“Feliz Cumpleanos! Happy Birthday,” Sean turned his head as he heard the sound of several children shouting. Laura had not been on the beach this morning when he went running, and since he didn’t know where she lived, he had no way of finding her until her shift at the restaurant started later that afternoon. He had decided to have lunch in the town square in the hope he may have seen her there, and after a long drawn out lunch, he was just about to give up and go back to his hotel. However, the commotion with the children shouting now drew his attention.
Laura’s face broke into a broad smile as she heard rather than saw the children approaching. She was just setting up the room for today’s English lesson for them. She turned towards the door just as they all ran in, straight up to her, shouting “Happy Birthday! Feliz Cumpleanos,” and holding out presents and cards for her.
“Oh thank you!” she cried happily, hugging and kissing each child in turn as they handed her their cards and gifts. “How sweet of you all to remember, and so many presents! All for me?” she asked surprised and touched by their thoughtfulness.
“Yes! Si! Open them, Abre abre!” the children shouted, English and Spanish mixing together in their excitement.
Laura sat down and reached for the nearest card, “Happy Birthday Laura!“ she read, “love from Marco”. Laura smiled at a small boy with a big grin on his face, “Thank you, Marco, did you write that yourself?” Marco nodded vigorously. “Well it’s perfect, I love it! well done!” Laura enthused. All of the cards, including Marco’s appeared to be home made, as, she suspected, would be the gifts.
“May I add my warmest wishes for the birthday girl!”
Laura looked sharply towards the door, her body responding to the deep timbered voice with the distinctive accent she had initially mistaken for American. There he stood, his immaculate clothes enhancing the appeal of his muscled masculine figure. He remained still in the doorway, waiting for some kind of response from Laura. Not knowing exactly what he was expecting.
“Thank you” Laura said. She had not expected Sean to turn up here, to a children’s English lesson. She felt insanely happy to see him again, and could feel the unmistakeable spark of attraction in the air between them, setting her senses alight with awareness.
“Miss Laura, esta bien?” Laura felt a tug at her dress and looked down to see one of the children looking from her to Sean and back again.
“Yes, yes, I’m fine.” And then feeling she couldn’t very well ask Sean to leave, but neither could she ignore the children, she stood up and spoke, “Children, this is Mr Fenton, he’s from Canada. Sean these are my English students.” Then turning to the children, Laura asked, “Everyone, would you like to tell Mr Fenton your name and say hello?”
Sean then listened and watched as each child in turn said “Hello Mr Fenton. My name is..” Once again, Laura had surprised him. An English teacher too? Although this didn’t look much like a classroom, with several mismatched chairs and tables in the room, no books and no whiteboard his curiosity was well and truly aroused. He turned to Laura.
“Would you mind if I stayed for the lesson?” he asked politely.
Laura‘s heart felt like it was going to beat its way right out of her chest it was pumping so hard. What was he doing here? Stay for the lesson? Is that what he’d said? Sure she was glad to see him again, but she was still so uncertain of what she wanted from him, or what he wanted from her. This situation was doing nothing to answer those questions for her. She also wondered how she would be able to concentrate on the lesson with him there. Still, she thought, she couldn’t very well say no, when he had asked so politely, and the children, were already offering him a chair, including him in their group, already at their young age, full of the Mediterranean warmth and sharing, typical of the Spanish people.
“Well it seems the children want you to stay” she replied cautiously, avoiding revealing her feelings towards his presence there. She felt his eyes on her as she turned to the pile of cards and presents on the table. What did he want from her? Laura wondered. He had already said he had no time in his life for a relationship, and she thought she had made it reasonably clear that she wanted more than a holiday romance whenever he could spare a moment to visit her. So was he just stubbornly trying to get her to accept his offer to have some fun while he was here? Or was there a possibility he was willing to offer her more? Hell, she didn’t even know what he really thought of her. Her mind was bouncing from one question to another without finding any answers. She realised she had to push those questions to the back of her mind for now, and concentrate on the lesson.
“Well, children” she said gathering all the cards up in a pile. “I think we should get on with the lesson for now, and I’ll have a proper look at all of these afterwards!” The children all nodded and quickly found seats, settling down and looking up attentively and respectfully at their teacher.
Sean found himself fascinated by both Laura and her lesson, and the next hour flew by in a flash! Laura seemed to command respect as she stood at the front of the room, and spoke in a clear loud voice, modelling words and sentences for the children to repeat, praising their attempts profusely, and coaxing them into practicing the correct English pronunciation.
Not one word of Spanish was spoken for the entire hour, and Sean found himself impressed at every change of pace in the lesson. Laura seemed to have a talent for knowing exactly when to switch activities to keep the children’s enthusiasm high and also prevent them from becoming bored. Both the children and Laura drew Sean into the lesson, as he was asked endless questions.
“What’s your favourite animal?” asked one.
“My favourite animal is a dog,” he replied
“What’s your favourite food?” asked another.
“My favourite food is cheese.” He replied, following Laura’s lead in modelling the language clearly, although he wondered if they could hear the difference in his Canadian and Laura’s English accent.
Sean also seized upon the opportunity to ask Laura a few questions too.
“What’s your favourite colour?” he asked, since it was her birthday, he thought he would like to get something for her.
Laura was surprised at how comfortable she had actually felt during the lesson in spite of, or maybe, she thought wryly, because he was there. The children had warmed to him straight away, and he had good naturedly joined in their question and answer games. She regarded him now, the force of his gaze upon her even when asking such an innocuous question made her insides melt. God, did he even realise what effect he had on her. All she wanted to do was throw herself into her arms, any willpower she possessed deserting her when her body responded to what felt like a primal instinct, compelling and unavoidable.
“My favourite colour is yellow,” she replied, hoping her voice did not betray her sudden nervousness. She held his gaze for several moments, before the sound of sniggering jolted her back to where she was as she saw the children looking at her and Sean, and beginning to whisper behind their hands. She saw Sean’s face twitch into a smile as he winked at two boys sitting to his right. At that she clapped her hands together, embarrassed by his audacity to flirt with her during her English lesson. Well it was time get him back she thought.
“Right then class, let’s finish our lesson with a song. How about ‘One Finger one Thumb?” she said to cheers from the children as they jumped up noisily pushing tables to the side of the room, leaving them all sitting in a circle of chairs facing inwards. Sean wasn’t familiar with this song and Laura, seeing his questioning look said, “Don’t worry, it’s quite simple, just follow the children’s lead.”
Laura started them off with her beautiful tuneful voice, yet another talent, thought Sean in amazement, would she never stop surprising him? Beautiful, bilingual, athletic, a talented teacher, great with children... Sean’s thoughts were interrupted as he realised the song had actions. He did his best to keep up with the children, naming and holding up various body parts, standing up, sitting down and all in a particular order, getting progressively faster and faster. The song finally ended with everyone laughing good naturedly as they flopped back into their seats, tired from their exertions, mainly mental, and ready, Sean noticed as he glanced at his watch, for siesta.
He waited at the back of the classroom as Laura opened all her presents and cards from the children, as she had promised. Sean was happy to watch the obvious delight on her face as she thanked each child individually for the multicoloured home-made cards, sweets and trinkets she had received. The children clearly loved her, and she them. He could feel the warmth radiating out from her as she said goodbye to her class. He then felt that warmth wash over him as she turned to face him and offer him her undivided attention at last.
“I didn’t know you were a teacher.” He said, moving towards her across the classroom.
“I’m not really” she replied, “I mean I don’t get paid or anything, these aren’t official classes, I just do them because the kids enjoy them. And so do I” she added with a smile.
“Yes, I can see everyone was having lots of fun, me included.” He said with a laugh. “So what is this room if it’s not an ‘official’ classroom then?”
“It’s just an unused shop. One of the kids’ parents owns it. Once he found out I was teaching the kids in the park each week, he offered to let us use this place for free!” she replied.
“So this room is given for free, you give your time and considerable teaching talents for free. And you get nothing in return?” he asked, genuinely impressed by what she was doing.
Unfortunately Laura took his comment and question completely the wrong way. “Does it surprise you that some people might actually do things because they want to rather than for any kind of financial gain?” she answered tightly, gathering up her belongings. Of course Sean was wealthy and probably unaware of the many small acts of generosity that kept a small community like the one in this town alive. His lived his life in a totally different world to her, she suddenly realised. She was a small town girl, doing things on a small scale, living a simple life she thought ruefully. He was worldly wise, could just buy whatever he wanted and his life was undoubtedly lived on a grand scale, anything but simple. She drew away from him, suddenly feeling like a huge gap had opened up between them that she could not, or would not try to bridge.
“I didn’t mean it like that.” Sean began. He was well aware of charitable work, he donated a large amount of money each year to various charities, and felt it his duty to help those less fortunate than himself. He had just never seen or experienced quite such a selfless act of giving in person.
“Laura, wait” he said, and reached out his hand to touch her arm as she moved to leave. She stopped dead at his touch, the contact sending electricity whizzing through her, awakening her senses further to this man who kept on drawing her inexorably in to him, no matter what he or she said or did. Pedro was certainly right about there being some kind of connection between the two of them. She was just too unsure of what it was, and whether it was actually a good thing, since their meetings always seemed to end in arguments or tears or both. Determined not to let that happen again, Laura put down her things and turned to face Sean.
“I meant, I was impressed by you giving your time to teach. I think it’s a wonderful thing to do. It’s just not something I’m used to, people doing things for no payment. In my line of work, payment is very important for everyone involved in each deal. This is a new experience for me.”
Laura regarded him thoughtfully. He did seem genuinely surprised to find she taught these children for no money. He wasn’t criticizing her for it, she really shouldn’t take offense, she told herself.
“These children came to me to learn. They have a genuine desire to learn English. I help them as best I can, but I think I mostly just build their confidence to have a go. I can’t afford books and decent resources for them, but I can afford to give my time.” Laura stated simply. She felt as though she wanted to give these children so much more, just as her mother had managed to find a way for her to take advantage of every opportunity that came her way, to learn and experience new things. But on her meagre waitress wage, she knew that would never happen. Certainly not now that she wouldn’t even have that money coming in.
“So when the restaurant closes, will you find a job that still allows you to teach these children in your spare time?” Sean asked, as if reading her thoughts.
“I suppose so” Laura replied, “I haven’t really decided what I’m going to do yet.”
“What is it you want to do Laura?” Sean asked again, the question that was playing over and over in Laura’s mind with no obvious answer anywhere in sight. She looked harder at the man standing before her. His mere presence bringing about such a conflict of emotions in her she was struggling to know which way to turn. She felt more comfortable and at ease with him than she had with anyone else since her mother, she admitted to herself. It felt as though he had unlocked emotions and doors inside of her that she believed shut away forever. But despite feeling so at ease with Sean, physically she was a mess. Her body responded to just the thought of him, and standing so close to him she felt so utterly out of control and on edge that it terrified her.
“I want to be with you” she wanted to scream out loud, but she knew their lives and their worlds were so far apart that it was useless to hope for such a thing. She didn’t want to be his holiday girl, waiting around for his brief visits in between his work, just when he could spare her a moment. Nor could she leave this town she now called home, she had made a commitment to teach these children for a start, she couldn’t just walk away from that. No, she decided, she had to find a way forward for herself here. She looked up at Sean who was regarding her with a quiet and patient interest. He looked so relaxed leaning back against the wall, one leg resting lightly crossed in front of the other, his arms crossed loosely in front of him and his smouldering black eyes looking at her. Me, she thought, he’s looking at me! She found that her hope of some kind of future with Sean Fenton just would not die. She looked back at him searching for some kind of sign that he felt more for her than just a very strong physical attraction. She longed to step forward and lose herself in another kiss. The memory of the last time their lips had touched flared up her senses to an even more heightened state than there were already and she felt her pulse quicken. Tearing her eyes away from him, she desperately held onto her sense of self preservation, of not wanting to be hurt. He was leaving in a couple of days, kissing him was not going to make him stay, or her be able to cope with his departure and more easily. She took a pace backwards and looked down at her hands, her fingers weaving in and out as her nervous energy sought an outlet.
“I don’t know what I want to do,” she finally replied, “Yes, I will look for something that will allow me to continue teaching these children. There are plenty of cafes where I could waitress, or I guess there’s always the hotel, they’re always looking for staff in one department or another. Something will work out.”
Sean felt a frustration at her lackadaisical attitude towards life. She clearly had so much to give and so many skills. Why did she have no dreams, no drive?? And why did he care so much, he thought. Why shouldn’t she find another job as a waitress and continue her life here as she had before he arrived? He was leaving in two days, what she did was none of his business. Yet his whole body told him a different story. He did care about Laura, he admitted. But right now he couldn’t see what that meant. He couldn’t change the fact that he had to leave this town, and Laura seemed determined to stay. Unless he could persuade her to leave? Or was there something or someone else holding her here?
“Must you stay in this town Laura?” he asked, fishing for a response that might allay his suspicions that the Fernando she spoke of was more than just an acquaintance or a friend.
“My life is here.” Laura replied. “The children I teach, I have my apartment, friends, it’s my home.” But as she answered Sean’s question, Laura realised how small that life was. She spent most of her time at the restaurant, teaching the children, or alone, running, shopping. Sure she was well known by the locals in this small town, felt welcomed and often invited to join people for meals. But apart from Fernando, whom she now knew would be spending less of his time with her, she didn’t really have any friends her own age. She had always shied away from invites from the local crowd her own age, to go out dancing or drinking. She preferred to spend time alone. Or did she? She wondered now if it was what she wanted, or what she felt she should do, what she felt she deserved. She was well aware that her guilt had shaped her life these past four years. It was only now that she was beginning to feel that she was ready to change that, and doubting her conviction about the way she had lived her life since her mother’s death.
Sean watched as Laura touched her scar again, deep in thought after her flimsy answer to the question he had raised about her leaving this town.
“Laura, you would make friends anywhere you go, and every town has apartments and places to live. I’m also pretty sure that there would be children to teach anywhere.” He pushed her again. “Are they your only reasons for staying in this town?”
“Where are you suggesting I go, Sean?” Laura asked, frustrated and confused.
Where was he suggesting? He thought? Was he suggesting she come with him? That wouldn’t help, he thought morosely. He was too busy with work to have enough time for her. Besides which she was proving to be too much of a distraction from any work he had to do.
“I don’t have the answer Laura, I just don’t think you should limit yourself to staying in this one place. There is so much out there to see and do. Aren’t there places you want to go? Things you want to see? Surely you have dreams Laura?”
Places I want to go, thought Laura sadly. She and her mother had spent so much of their time together talking of travelling and all the amazing places they wanted to visit. They were all set to finally go on a long awaited trip to South America when the accident had happened. That was the day Laura had stopped dreaming. Laura found it hard to remember her dreams, both because she had kept them locked away for so long, and because they were locked away with the pain of that day. Letting one out would mean having to finally deal with that pain and guilt. Was she really ready to do that?
“I don’t know that I do have dreams, Sean” Laura replied. He could hear the sadness in her voice as she said those words, and this time he could not stop himself reaching out to offer her comfort. He took her in his arms and held her close, wanting more than anything to lessen her pain.
Laura accepted his embrace wordlessly. She felt his strength flowing into her and such comfort being in his arms that she was surprised to find that there were no tears. The emotional ups and downs of the past few days had left her feeling empty. Perhaps she had no more tears left in her.
Sean held her in silence for what felt like an eternity to Laura. Breathing in his exotic spice scented cologne and feeling his body pressed against hers, had brought her mind to an abrupt standstill. Gradually she became more and more aware of every inch of his body touching hers. His strong arms enveloped her completely, one hand resting on her waist, the other cradling the back of her head against his chest. She could feel the muscles in his chest and stomach hard and masculine up against her own body. The flimsy material of her dress and the cool thinness of his shirt did nothing to insulate her against the intense heat of attraction raging between them.
Slowly, she felt his arms loosen and begin to release her, and she gasped at the acute sense of loss she felt as he stood back from her, his eyes downcast and his long supple fingers now raking through his thick black hair.
“Thank you” murmured Laura, willing him to look her in the eye so she could see what he was feeling. Did he feel the same unstoppable attraction for her as she did for him? She couldn’t be sure. She willed it to be so, but kept on coming back to the fact he had stated that his work was for more important to him than any personal relationship ever would be. Hoping for more was a waste of time.
“I’d better get going” Sean said, slowly raising his eyes to meet Laura’s own direct gaze. It had taken all of his willpower to pull back from that embrace. She had been so upset, it would have been wrong of him to take advantage of her like that. But he was slowly beginning to realise that he just could not leave Laura in this small Spanish town and continue on as if he’d never met her. However, knowing what he couldn’t do, did not help him see what he could do.
“Yes, I should be going too, Pedro will be expecting me at the restaurant soon.” Laura said, not wanting Sean to leave, but not knowing what would happen now. Would she even see him again? All the paperwork for him buying the restaurant was completed, did he have any more reasons to come to the restaurant? Did he want to see her again? Surely he did, he had after all found her here, at her English lesson. Laura could not bring herself to ask him these questions. What good would it do anyway, he was leaving so soon, she just had to accept that.
Laura gathered up her belongings and headed for the door. Sean followed her out into the street and waited as she locked the door behind her. They faced each other in awkward silence for a few moments before Laura managed a quiet, “I have to go,” as she lowered her eyes and brushed past Sean, walking away, her heart causing her real physical pain at her emotional distress and uncertainty of her future and whether or not she would ever see Sean again.
The story continues tomorrow....