I started speaking with the stranger on the phone, even when I knew I should transfer him directly to the minister. But I couldn’t help myself; there was something about his soothing, deep voice that called to me. It made me yearn to be a better person than I was. His voice encouraged me to take risks, made me yearn to have a connection with a complete stranger . . . if only for a little while.
He didn’t know the struggles I’d had with my weight or my extreme shyness with the opposite sex or my difficulties maintaining friendships with other girls.
I was a volunteer at the church, helping out by answering phones on Fridays. The work helped to take my mind off my personal problems. But when I first heard that sweet, husky, masculine voice speak on the other line, I knew all my efforts to shut myself off from the world were a complete failure. I was
The man sounded desperate. I glanced toward our minister’s door, which was still closed. That was a sign that he didn’t want to be interrupted. Usually, when his door was closed I took messages, but some sixth sense cautioned me to keep this man on the line for as long as possible. I was truly afraid to think what he would do if I hung up too soon.
“Are you okay?” I asked as gently as possible.
He sighed heavily. “No, if you want to know the truth.”
I was drawn to him, drawn to his sad, hopeless tone and to his honesty. “Anything you want to share?”
He sounded so put out. I’d been that way many a time—depressed and sick and tired of feeling that way. It was a vicious cycle.
“Bad morning?” I asked gently. Everyone has those.
He chuckled in a wry way that seemed to say, You don’t know the half of it. “Yeah, it was a bad morning. In fact, I’ve had a pretty tough day.”
“What exactly is wrong? Maybe I could help.”
“Well . . . you’re going to laugh.”
What a strange conversation! That was the exact opposite of what I thought he’d been going to say. But it gave me hope that perhaps he wasn’t in as bad a place as I originally thought.
“I won’t. I promise,” I vowed.
“If you do, I’ll hang up.”
“Don’t you dare! If you do, I won’t be able to forgive myself.”
“We couldn’t have that now, could we?” he said with a tinge of humor.
Oh, his voice was like satin, sinuous and luxurious. I sighed. My emotions were on a roller coaster; I felt exhilarated and worried and antsy, all at the same time. Yet how could this be? How could I be drawn so completely to a man I’d only spoken to for a few moments on the phone? Nothing was making any sense.
“Hello? Are you there?”
“I’m here. Believe me, I’m not going anywhere,” I said in all honesty. “Now, tell me what happened today.” Even after this brief conversation I could tell that his voice sounded calmer. Feeling encouraged, I prodded, “Please?”
“I just dropped my daughter off for her first day of kindergarten.”
“Why would that upset you?” I struggled to understand. I’d heard that most people celebrated their child’s first day of school.
“Because she’s all I have left.”
Of course I should have forwarded the call right then to the pastor, but I decided to admit something as well—something dark about myself that I preferred to keep hidden away.
“I know how you’re feeling. Well, at least I think I do. I’m alone in the world, too.” I took another deep breath. “It’s hard, isn’t it?”
“What happened to you?”
Well, that was the kicker, wasn’t it? Was I willing to share secrets about myself in the way I was asking him to share with me? Instantly I knew the answer—a resounding yes! After all, I had nothing to lose.
“My dad left before I was born. My mother just died about a year ago,” I explained. “I don’t have any brothers or sisters; not even a lot of friends, I guess. I’m pretty shy . . . and on the chubby side.”
There. I’d said it. My weight was always on my mind. Though I wasn’t anywhere near obese, I was certainly aware of my thirty extra pounds, enough to admit it to a stranger.
A stranger who, for all I knew, might never see me in his lifetime.
“I’m sorry,” he said sincerely.
His sweet acceptance of my problems made me want to melt in my chair! Feeling daring, I even managed to admit a little more. “A counselor told me I’m afraid to create bonds with other people.”
“I don’t know. I don’t remember ever having the chance.” I chuckled softly. Gosh, I sounded so pitiful! “I’m okay, though.”
“No. I have, uh . . . trouble meeting men. As I said before, I’m not the prettiest gal in the world. And I’m pretty introverted.”
“Looks aren’t everything. As for being introverted, you haven’t sounded shy at all to me.”
To my surprise, I realized he was right. We’d been having a real conversation for several minutes.
“I don’t even know your name,” I said.
“Nice to meet you, Julie. You sound like a very nice person on the phone.”
“You, as well.” I rolled my eyes. Honestly, what was I doing? This Emmitt needed to speak with the pastor and forget all about me.
Still, there was something about his voice—his wonderful, oh-so-soothing voice—that encouraged me to keep talking. I wasn’t ready to let him go.
“I know all about counselors and labeling,” he said.
“You’ve been to see them, too?”
“Oh, yeah. Too many to count. You know how it goes, what they say. ‘You need to give people a chance.’ ”
“ ‘If you do, they just might surprise you,’ ” I finished with a small laugh. “I guess these counselors use a lot of the same lines.”
“So, were they right? Have people been nice to you when you’ve given them a chance?”
I tried to think of my latest experiences. “Yes. I gave the librarian a chance, and she’s been very nice.”
He laughed. “Good for you.”
“No, seriously, sometimes I think that advice is terrific. On good days I feel like everyone deserves a chance. On bad days, when I’m up in the middle of the night, I feel like I’m never going to be happy again.”
“I felt that way today when I dropped off Brittany,” Emmitt said. “I felt like I was losing my little girl. And I wasn’t quite ready to let her go.”
“I bet she’ll be so excited to see you when you pick her up from school. She’s going to give you a big hug and tell you all about her day.”
“I bet you’re right.”
To my surprise, I noticed that the pastor’s door was open. “Emmitt, I’m going to transfer you now. Take care, okay?”
“I will. You too, Julie. For what it’s worth, I’m really glad we spoke today.”
His words were a soothing balm to my heart. “For what it’s worth, I’m glad, too.”
I put him on hold, then peeked into Pastor Jonathan’s office. After telling him about Emmitt, I transferred the call and then sat back in my chair, reflecting on what had just happened between the two of us.
Emmitt was the first person I’d ever told about my parents. He was the first person besides a counselor to whom I’d admitted how much my shyness bothered me. I wondered what in the world I had heard in his voice to spur such an outpouring of information.
I wondered what he was like, what he did for a living, where he lived. Maybe he lived close by, since he knew our pastor. I thought about his husky voice and the intimate way he’d spoken to me—like we were sharing secrets and I was his special friend.
But most of all, I felt thankful for our brief conversation. Even though he had called the church for help, his lovely voice had healed me in numerous ways.
I tried to put both Emmitt and the phone call out of my mind during the next week. Thinking about him and things that could never be would do me no good. Of that, I was sure.
Still, his phone call affected me in ways I could never have imagined. While smiling over his quips at the market, a cashier initiated a conversation with me. Before I knew it, I was laughing with her about the latest tabloid headlines.
I forgot to feel sad when I went to work at the phone company. The ladies I worked with chatted with me more than ever. One even complimented me on a new outfit. Emmitt’s soothing voice kept me company when I drifted off to sleep every night.
The following Friday I went back to volunteer at church. I was in the midst of collating papers when Pastor Jonathan approached me. “Julie, may I speak with you, please?”
“Of course, sir.” I hurried over to the small reception area in his office. “Is anything wrong?”
He looked puzzled for a moment, then shook his head. “No. You know, I was actually going to ask you that question.”
“Well, I know you’ve had a lot going on.”
“That’s true, but suddenly I feel better.”
He tilted his head. “Has anything happened recently to change things?”
How could I tell my pastor that a phone call from a stranger had changed my life? I couldn’t!
“Nothing really, Pastor.”
He looked disappointed. “Oh. I thought a certain person who called last week might have meant something special to you.”
“What do you mean?”
“Emmitt. He’s a friend of mine. A very lonely, very great friend of mine. He’s called three times this week. Each time I talk to him, all he does is complain about the receptionist. I finally dragged it out of him that he was looking for a certain one.”
He smiled broadly. “Really. I guess the two of you had a lot to say to each other.”
“I don’t know about that. All I know is that I felt comfortable with him. And that felt really good.”
“I’d go with that feeling then. Those comfortable, good feelings are worth savoring.”
I left his private office feeling curiously lightheaded. I wasn’t quite sure what Pastor Jonathan had wanted to get across to me while we were sitting there. Had he wanted to encourage me? Push me toward his friend?
All I knew was that there was a very good chance I might be able to speak with Emmitt again that day. That thought made me tingle with anticipation. Every time the phone rang I jumped an inch. But for over two hours, I handled mundane calls from parishioners.
And then he finally did call, and I practically melted onto the floor from his velvety greeting.
“Hey, Julie. I thought you’d never come back.”
“I can’t believe you remember me!”
“I’ve thought about no one else since we’ve last spoken.”
“I heard you called earlier this week.”
“Who told you that?”
“Well, I can’t very well get mad at him, can I? Yes, I have called there—to speak to you, but also to speak with the pastor.”
“How’s Brittany enjoying kindergarten?”
“Would you believe she loves it?”
I chuckled. “Yes.”
“Her teacher likes her, too. Says she’s as bright as a polished button. I’m trying really hard to get used to the idea that Brittany is doing so well without me.”
“You two sound so close.”
“We are. I’m a landscaper, so we spend a lot of time together, especially in the winter. I’m going to really miss her when the weather gets cold.”
I was so happy to speak with him and so happy for him, I felt at a complete loss for words. Feeling flustered, I said, “Well, it’s good to talk to you. I’m glad you’re doing so much better. Shall I transfer you to the pastor now?”
“Actually, no. I called to talk to you . . . and to ask you a question.”
“Would you go out with me?”
“We don’t even know each other.”
“I think I know you better than most people.”
He had a point. “You’ve never even seen me.”
“Does that make a difference?”
“It might,” I hedged.
“Hey, have you thought about what I might look like?”
“Only about a thousand times.”
“I’ve thought about you, too, though I must admit my daydreams were nothing like the reality.”
I didn’t know what to say to that. I tried to hide my insecure feelings with humor. “Ha, ha. Has Pastor Jonathan been talking about me to you?”
“He has, but he didn’t mention your looks when we talked. It turns out he thinks very highly of you.”
“I’ll have to remember to thank him.”
“You do that. So where would you like to go eat?”
“I never said I’d join you.” I was getting nervous now.
“Please? There’s a great coffee shop nearby.”
That did sound good. “I don’t know.”
“You’re smiling. I think that means you want to.”
“I am not. I’m not smiling at all!” I retorted, then practically fell off my chair when I saw a darkly handsome man approaching with a cell phone next to his ear.
“You are smiling!” he said. “And you look amazed. What do you think of my surprise?”
I stared at him in astonishment. “I can’t believe you did that.”
“You sneaked up on me like that!” I took in his appearance. His eyes were dark and his hair was jet black. He had a strong jaw and well-defined shoulders. The way he looked at me made my mouth go dry. His gaze was heated and, surprisingly enough, appreciative.
Had anyone ever made me feel so special? It had been a long time if they had. Too long for me to even remember.
“So, can we have lunch together?” he asked.
Yes! my heart screamed, but my brain was far more suspicious. Suddenly I was very aware that I wasn’t a size six . . . or an eight. Heck, I wasn’t even a size twelve on a good day! And this Emmitt, he was so handsome he could probably have had any girl he wanted.
Had he been imagining that I was far prettier? Was he disappointed? Was he just making an offer now because he didn‘t want to hurt my feelings and take it back?
“Come on, Julie. You can say yes,” he coaxed, still in that wonderful, velvety voice. His perfect features frowned for a second. “Don’t make me beg, Julie. Remember our counselor phone calls? If you say no, you’ll put me in therapy for a year.”
I couldn’t help it; I burst out laughing. Even though our appearances may have been deceiving, we still had our same conversations, our same ironic humor.
Even though Emmitt was breathtakingly handsome, I looked in his gorgeous, dark eyes and saw a hint of sadness there. To him, our outer shells meant little. He was still the same man who cried at his daughter’s first day of kindergarten and who’d called his pastor for moral support.
The man who’d spoken with the woman answering the phone like we’d been friends forever.
“Just let me get my purse,” I said softly.
We ate at the coffee shop, and after a few awkward moments we started talking once again just like we did on the phone. I told him about growing up with just my mother for company; he told me about his wife and how devastated he’d been when she’d left him.
It was a nice lunch, and though I had a hard time ignoring his looks, I did my best. Obviously Emmitt just wanted to be friends. We dined several more times together. Each time he looked genuinely happy to see me.
Then, one day out of the blue, he called me at home.
“I have another offer for you, Julie,” he said.
“Brittany and I would like you to join us for lunch at our house.”
Tears welled up in my eyes. I knew how hard that offer had been for Emmitt to make. He was so protective of his daughter. Obviously, he truly trusted me. There was no way I would refuse that invitation.
“I’d love to come, but only if I can bring dessert.”
“You’ve got a deal.”
Frantically, I made a large batch of brownies, then did my best to get ready. For some reason, my appearance mattered even more to me than ever. I didn’t want Brittany to tell her father that he had an overweight, ugly friend.
I brushed my hair until it was glossy, then slipped on a casual pair of boot-cut jeans and a pretty lavender blouse. Silver jewelry complemented the rest of my outfit.
Following the directions that Emmitt had given me, I drove to his house. I was greeted with a surprise: He didn’t live in a small townhouse, like mine. Instead, his house was a rustic log cabin surrounded by the most beautiful gardens I’d ever seen. Just being around all that beauty made my throat catch. And my body shivered when I saw him, clad in snug-fitting jeans.
“You made it,” he said, smiling brightly.
“I did. Your place is amazing.”
“I told you I was a landscaper.”
“All of this puts that job in a whole other category!”
He laughed at my enthusiasm. “Well, I like to putter around the yard—and hang out with my number one gal. Brittany, come out and meet Julie, honey.”
Slowly, a lovely little girl sporting the same jet-black hair as her father appeared. She walked slowly toward me, using a cane only slightly for guidance. A cane?
I gazed at Emmitt in confusion. “She’s blind,” he said, matter-of-factly, loud enough for Brittany to hear.
“I can’t see,” she echoed.
Tears pricked my eyes again, and this time one lone tear made its way down my cheek. “How nice to meet you, Brittany. I’m Julie.”
She reached out a slim hand to mine, and I took it without hesitation. “I’m glad you came to have lunch with us. Are you my daddy’s friend?”
I caught Emmitt’s eye. He nodded then.
“Yes, I am. I’m your daddy’s friend,” I said, kneeling down to her level. “Maybe one day soon we’ll be friends, too?”
“I’d like that,” Brittany answered. Then her sweet little button nose turned toward the basket I still held in my other hand. “Are those fudge brownies?”
“Yes. Do you like them?”
“Yep. Come with me, Julie. I’ll show you our house.”
As she guided me forward, her little voice chirping away, so many things about Emmitt now made sense. Now I knew why he had been so worried about his daughter. Now I knew why he didn’t trust everyone instantly.
Now I knew why he didn’t care so much about a having a beautiful girlfriend. Maybe he’d learned that it was what was inside a person that mattered the most.
We ate hot dogs and potato salad and chatted with Brittany. Both she and Emmitt had two of my brownies each. Then, an hour later, when she went to her bedroom for her nap, I held out my hand to Emmitt.
“Thank you for a wonderful lunch. It means so much that you trusted me enough to meet Brittany.”
“I’m glad you met my daughter, but I’m also very glad you wanted to spend time with me.”
The tension between us was intense and electrifying. “I like you very much, Julie,” he whispered.
“I like you, too,” I admitted.
“I want you to know . . . I find you very attractive.”
“What?” His words absolutely stunned me. I couldn’t imagine he meant what he said.
Emmitt slipped an arm around my shoulders and pulled me close. “I don’t want to hold a bone-thin woman in my arms,” he said in a husky voice. “I want a woman with attractive curves and a deep, meaningful personality. I want a woman with pretty lavender eyes and who has the sweetest voice I’ve ever heard on the phone. I want you.”
I blushed at his wonderful, delicious words. “I think you’re very handsome.”
He laughed. “Good. Does that mean you’ll let me kiss you?”
“I can’t wait a minute longer, Julie,” he whispered.
And then he did kiss me, right there on the couch. It was no tender, tentative kiss, either, but one full of passion and arousal. I felt his body harden and my insides ignited as well. As far as I was concerned, the two of us were meant to be together. Right this minute—and forever. After several long minutes we were out of breath and intoxicated.
“I’d better go home before we forget to take things slowly,” I said.
He brushed a hand through his hair. “You’d better. All I want to do right this minute is take you to bed.”
His honesty and his obvious yearning for me made my heart beat wildly. “I’ll call you tomorrow?”
He shook his head. “Nope. Call me tonight. I can’t wait that long to hear your voice.”
Oh, his words were spellbinding. “I will call you,” I replied. “Just as soon as I get home.”
He kissed me deeply again. “You’d better.”
“Tell Brittany goodbye?”
“I will,” he whispered, as his lips found mine once again. Before I knew it I was locked in his embrace again, unable to do anything but open my mouth for his kiss.
Emmitt made me feel whole and beautiful. I never wanted to leave his arms, but I knew I had to.
I did call him that night—and the day after. Soon we were a couple, or rather a trio, because Brittany loved me, too.
I felt whole and happy, and told Pastor Jonathan that I felt like a new person, both inside and out. I had pride in myself and a new confidence that everyone around me seemed to notice, and all because of the love of Emmitt and Brittany.
One night Emmitt and Brittany asked me to marry them. I cried when I said yes. It was one of the sweetest moments of my life.
So that’s how Emmitt and I found each other. We found each other during a very tough week in a very tough year. We found each other in a place where we least expected to find love.
And we found love in the most wonderful, incredible way possible, first as friends and then as lovers.
We weren’t unlovable people. We were just two people in need of love with the right people. I’m so glad he called the church that one day and that I fell in love with my perfect stranger.