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    Synopsis:

    Texas authors have once again allowed their creative minds to open up and expand the Universe in which they live with short stories that capture one’s emotions through the everlasting medium of storytelling.

    This fifth volume of award-winning short stories takes readers on a personal ride of growth and understanding, then a jaunt through history both factual and fictional, then a trip of magic, suspense, and much more. Those are just a few of the emotions one will experience as they read the 12 winning short stories from prolific Texas authors.

    Among the Thorns

    Patricia Taylor Wells

    I stood there like a statue—frozen in place, unable to speak or even blink my eyes. It was almost dark. We had been talking outside the restaurant where we had met that evening for almost an hour. The lights in the parking lot flashed across the rooftops of automobiles and onto the pavement, leaving Bryan’s face in half-shadow. His eyes narrowed as he waited for me to continue. But there was nothing left to say. It was over. The eight long years we had been seeing each other had finally come to an end. I had thought the news about my job offer in Seattle would make Bryan realize that he couldn’t live without me. I should have known by the fact we had never moved in together that the commitment I had hoped for wasn’t coming. Somehow, there in the semi-darkness, I finally saw what a dead-end street I was on. And for the first time, I didn’t feel the panic, the heartache, the emptiness that always washed over me each time I had thought about leaving him. I walked away without even looking back. How proud I was of myself as I drove back to my lonely apartment.

    I decided not to take the position in Seattle. In truth, I had not seriously considered it at all. I had used it as a pawn to get what I wanted from Bryan, but it had failed. If I stayed in Dallas, at least I would be surrounded by friends, plus I could easily visit my family in Austin.

    It was hard not having anyone special in my life. I kept busy with work and a variety of activities designed to attract the young and single, like the wine pairing class at La Fontaine’s that met every Thursday evening for six weeks. There was nothing better than sampling good food and wine to soothe a broken heart.

    Several of the tables were already filled by the time I arrived at the restaurant for my first class. I sat at an open spot across from two girls who were much younger than me. I noticed an attractive man, probably early thirties, who was sitting one table away from mine. After a moment or two, he got up and walked my way.

    “Is anyone sitting here?” He gestured at the empty chair next to me.

    “No, it’s all yours,” I said, barely looking up from the brochure with that evening’s wine selections and small bites. I wasn’t good at casual conversation.

    Eventually a younger guy joined the two girls. The three of them were soon deep in conversation. The guy sitting next to me made a few comments now and then, but mostly we remained silent. I had never felt comfortable offering my opinion, even about something as benign as a glass of wine, to people I didn’t know well.

    When the class was over, the man extended his hand as he stood up to leave.

    “I’m Bryan, by the way,” he said. “Bryan Winters.”

    Just my luck – another Bryan.

    “And I’m Lori Hunter.” I shook his hand.

    “Do you ever go to the wine tastings at Pascal’s?” Bryan asked.

    “Occasionally,” I lied. I don’t know why I wanted to impress him by pretending to be a regular at the most popular wine bar in the city.

    “Maybe I’ll see you there sometime. Nice meeting you.” Bryan turned and walked away before I could even respond.

    He’s not interested, I immediately concluded.

    By the end of the fourth class, Bryan and I had become good friends. As we were walking out together after the session, he asked if I would like to have dinner with him over the weekend. I accepted, and on Saturday, we enjoyed a quiet, romantic evening at The Candlelight Inn. In the days and weeks that followed, we spent hours talking on the phone or texting. He made me laugh and I felt comfortable being with him. Bryan was a financial planner and a successful one from what I could tell. Finally, a guy that had it all together. Everything about him looked promising.

    As Thanksgiving came around, Bryan hinted that he had nowhere to go for the holidays. Although I felt like it was a little too soon to introduce him to my family, I invited him to come to Austin with me. He did and from that point on, our relationship grew even stronger. Both of us had made plans to spend Christmas with our families; me in Austin and Bryan in Florida. But at least we would be together on New Year’s Eve, the day we were scheduled to return to our jobs in Dallas. I was excited about how well things were moving along.

    I arrived in Austin on the day before Christmas Eve. The next morning, I received a call from a coworker in my Dallas office.

    “Hey, Lori,” Allison greeted me. “A beautiful bouquet of roses just arrived for you. What do you want me to do with them?”

    “Roses?” I questioned. “Who are they from?”

    “Let me see,” said Allison. “The card says Love, Bryan.”

    “I don’t understand,” I said. “Bryan knows I’m in Austin. Do me a favor and call the florist. There must be some mistake.”

    My heart quickened as I tried to figure things out. The roses must be from the other Bryan, I ventured. He’s probably trying to get back with me. Why would I have even thought of that? Was it possible I still had strong feelings for him? Strong enough to hope the flowers were from him rather than the new man in my life. Or maybe I just enjoyed the thought of him pining away for me.

    Allison called me back after she spoke with the florist.

    “Okay, there was a mistake,” she explained. “The flowers were supposed to be delivered on New Year’s Eve, not Christmas Eve.”

    “Well, then tell them to come pick up the flowers, but make sure they send me another bouquet on New Year’s Eve.” I hung up the phone and quickly shoved any thoughts about my former boyfriend into the back corners of my mind.

    I decided not to tell Bryan about the mistake. I was certain now that his plans included a lot more than dinner and dancing when we saw each other again in Dallas. He was going to propose. I practically floated in mid-air as I shared my news with my sister and mother. I knew the look on their faces. They were certain I was making too much out of a bouquet – that my expectations were sure to end in disappointment. I didn’t care what they thought. I knew in my heart that Bryan wanted to marry me. I was thirty years old and I was done wasting time on men who weren’t ready to make a commitment. My day had finally come and I was soaring above the clouds.

    I returned to work the following week on New Year’s Eve. When my flowers arrived that morning, I was appalled. Some of the petals were faded and tired looking. I quickly determined they were the original roses the florist had mistakenly delivered on Christmas Eve, and once returned, were put back in the cooler to await redelivery a week later. I couldn’t believe it. I wasn’t about to let Bryan see them. I knew how important this day was for him.

    I picked up the phone and called the florist, insisting they deliver fresh roses to me immediately. Yes, I knew how busy they were on New Year’s Eve, but it was their mistake for delivering the flowers the wrong date, and to resend a worn-out bouquet on the intended date was unacceptable. Later that afternoon a new vase of roses arrived at my office. One day, I thought, when Bryan and I were old and gray, we could sit back and laugh about this.

    Our New Year’s Eve started off with dinner at The Candlelight Inn, where we had shared our first date together. Next, we went to the rooftop club of a hotel where we had gone several times for cocktails and dancing. It was one of our favorite spots. By the time we got there, the place was packed. Bryan grew increasingly impatient as the hostess searched for our reservations on the long list in front of her.

    “Last name Winters, you said?” the hostess looked up at Bryan.

    “Yes, I called over a week ago, right before Christmas,” Bryan replied.

    “I’m sorry, sir. I don’t have you on my list.”

    “I made reservations,” Bryan insisted. “This is your mistake, not mine.”

    “Let me check with the manager. I’m not sure we can fit you in. You see how many people are here.”

    Bryan’s scowl intensified as he watched the hostess walk away. She came back with the manager who reluctantly told us the best they could do was to seat us at a small round table they would have to squeeze in against the back wall near the kitchen.

    “Just do it,” Bryan grumbled.

    The location of our table was undesirable, but at least we had one. I tried to make light of it. After all, this was going to be the biggest evening of my life. What difference did the size and location of the table really matter? I waited patiently for Bryan to ask me to dance, but he seemed too disturbed about the lost reservations to enjoy himself. Finally, I asked him to dance.

    We made our way over to dance floor. I was glad to get away from the noisy kitchen area that made conversation difficult and romance almost impossible. The band was playing a slow dance. Now perhaps, Bryan would relax and remember what this night was all about—two people in love whose lives were about to change forever. We had barely made a few rounds when Bryan suddenly stopped and let go of me.

    “Let’s go,” he said.

    “But we just got here,” I said as he escorted me off the dance floor. The hostess shook her head as we walked past her and exited the club.

    At first, I thought Bryan was eager to leave so he could propose to me. Why else would we leave so soon? But the weight of his mood dashed all my hopes. By the time we got to my apartment, I was in tears. Everything about this evening had been jinxed—the flowers, the lost reservations, and our unfinished dance. He certainly wasn’t going to propose among all these thorns. Maybe he never intended to in the first place. Had I dreamed all this up? I felt like an absolute fool.

    Once inside my apartment, I quickly ran to the bedroom, slamming the door behind me. When I didn’t return after a few minutes, Bryan knocked softly on the door.

    “Lori, are you okay?” He said through the door.

    “No,” I answered.

    “Would you come out, please?” Bryan’s voice was tender.

    I reluctantly opened the door. Bryan took my hand and lead me to the sofa. After we sat down, he held me tight against him while I soaked his shoulder with my tears.

    “Honey,” Bryan said. “Please listen. I love you. Don’t be upset. I just wanted everything to be perfect this evening. The only thing that really matters is how I feel about you. I mean that.”

    Bryan brushed the hair out of my eyes, then tilted my head and kissed me. I pulled away from him and turned slightly so we were facing each other. He took both my hands in his.

    “Lori, will you marry me?” he asked.

    I didn’t know what to say. Bryan shifted uneasily as the silence between us grew even louder. I had waited all my life for this moment. Now that it was here, all I could think about was the other Bryan.

    Why I wrote the story:

    “Among the Thorns” was inspired by an incident involving roses that were delivered to me on the wrong day when my husband and I became engaged.

    Both of us now laugh when we think back on all the frustration created by the florist’s attempt to redeliver roses that were a week old. The other details of the story are all fiction and even the ending surprised me, which just goes to show how unpredictable relationships can be and why the choices we make really matter.