The Blossoming of Steven Dawson - part 1

Steven Dawson took up his laptop and laid it on the pull-down table in front of him. In about thirty minutes he would arrive at Winstable station, and usually he could write a few hundred words in his current story before he arrived. But today he just couldn't concentrate, and the computer sat on the table, its cursor blinking and ignored.

Misaki, he thought. What a beautiful name. For a beautiful woman. She had recently joined one of his classes in EFL, English as a Foreign Language, intended for new arrivals from overseas who spoke little or no English. She was Japanese, from some place whose name he had a problem to remember, had arrived with her mother, who was apparently a high-powered research scientist, and Misaki had grown up to be her mother's assistant - housekeeper was what it amounted to.

Steven had met the mother, when she brought Misaki along to class for the first time. The word 'samurai' had sprung to his mind as being the best description of her. Proud, ruthless, single-minded - well, she would have to be to have become what she was. He had googled her. The description of her research was Greek to Steven, or perhaps he should say Japanese, he thought wryly, but she was here at the request of a prestigious research institute in the nearby university town..

Misaki was the Yin, or female principle, to the mother's more masculine Yang. Whereas the mother displayed her uncompromising characteristics, Misaki was very feminine in that particular way which Steven associated with oriental women: shy, self-effacing, gentle. During the mother's introduction of her daughter, Misaki had occasionally looked up shyly at him with her dark eyes. He had put her age at around middle to late twenties.

"Do you speak any English?" he had asked her.

" A rittle," was her reply, from which he understood that she had the oriental problem with 'l' and 'r'. "When I was young - in school," she went on. "Not use after."

"Don't worry," he smiled. "It will come back very quickly."

And it had come back quickly. Only a month or so after her joining the class she was composing long sentences in her work book, and was able to converse much more fluently. She had more or less lost the confusion of 'l' and 'r', too. After two of those weeks he had come upon her sitting alone in the school canteen during the lunch break, and asked if he could sit with her. He had questioned her a little about her life, and helped her with intelligent guesses when she ran aground, and she in her turn had asked him about himself. He asked whether her name had a meaning.

"Yes," she said. "It means frower. Not ordinary frower. Frower from tree, like cherry."

"Ah, blossom," he said. "The kind of flower on a cherry tree - cherry blossom." And she had nodded her acquiescence.

Misaki was, he discovered, a completely different personality from the shy, demure person she was when her mother was around. Still demure, but much more outgoing. She took a lively part in the lessons, teased her fellow classmates and was teased by them in her turn, and joined them in the school canteen for breaks and at lunch. He noticed early on that she seemed to have a special place for Samir, a young, and, thought Steven, far too good-looking young man from Syria.

Samir and Misaki made much better progress than the other students and kept pace with one another, each egging the other on. It was, he thought, time to move them up from the beginners' class to the intermediate one, and he knew he must move them both, however much he might wish to separate them.

Steven was one of those lucky people who had found his rightful place at work, and did he but know it, was much appreciated by both students and staff alike. But he did not know it, for Steven was a man with little self-confidence outside the classroom. He could never have worked in a secondary school, much less a sixth form college. He would have been totally unable to control the hormone-rich youngsters, testing the limits of their world, but in the more mature world of English as a Foreign Language, his students were more interested in learning as quickly and as well as possible than in creating a disturbance.

New acquaintances in his home village of little Stoke Fercroft, of whom there were not many, were often surprised that, at the age of thirty two, he should still be single and living at home with his widowed mother but they quickly understood. Steven was in love with the place where he was born. He was not an extrovert, did not easily make new friends, but in Stoke Fercroft he knew pretty well everyone, and there were rarely new people to meet. He went to the concerts given by the choir, in which his mother sang, or the ones provided by the musical Mason family and their friends; he enjoyed the plays of the amateur dramatic society; and he was a member of one of the thriving reading circles. Apart from that he had aspirations as a writer and had had several short stories published.

He was averagely good looking, but his shyness was the handicap which had kept him single, and he was not particularly stressed about the fact. And perhaps a rather dominant mother had helped to keep the occasional interested young lady from pushing him too hard towards the upheaval which a lasting relationship would cause. He had, in other words, become too comfortable. Stoke Fercroft had everything he wanted.

But he had become aware that his comfortable existence had been threatened in recent weeks, and the onset of that threat coincided very closely with the arrival of Misaki Kagamura. It was not long before he had begun to be disturbed by the gentle way she watched him in the classroom, the demure way she answered his questions, her inclusive smile when he looked her way. And suddenly Stoke Fercroft no longer had everything he wanted.

Steven usually ate lunch with the students. A couple of times he managed to place himself beside Misaki only to find that the ubiquitous Samir plumped himself down on her other side and engaged her attention rather more exclusively than Steven appreciated. From time to time she tore herself away from Samir, and directed some comments to Steven, but all too soon she was talking to Samir again. He gave up his attempts to wangle a seat beside her.

But to his surprise he more often than not still found himself beside her, inhaling the faint perfume of her, listening to the music of her voice as she talked to blasted Samir. It was not now his manoeuvring which placed her beside him, but it seemed too frequent to be coincidence. He particularly enjoyed the sense of closeness - just not often enough - when she turned to speak to him and leaned towards him almost conspiratorially.

The trouble was that he did not see any way of testing the waters with Misaki. Wherever she was Samir was sure to be. If he was not there at just that moment, he would pop up before Steven had been able to spot his advantage and overcome his inertia. Steven had no chance of speaking to her privately, and if he was honest, not much idea of what he could suggest if he had had the opportunity. His train took him home too relentlessly to allow time for much else.

This morning's train pulled into Winstable station. He sighed, and packed his unused computer in its case again, and walked the short distance from the station to the school. When he entered the classroom he began each day's ritual of greeting each student in his or her own language.

"Salaam aleikum, Ali," he said to one of his Arabic speaking students.

"Good morning, Mr Dawson," replied Ali, for part of the ritual was that the students replied in English as formally as he had addressed them.

"Konichi wa, Misaki san."

"Good morning, Mr Dawson."

And so on round the room. There were a number of Arab students, two Farsi-speaking Iranians, a couple of Thai women, and one young man from China. Two of the Arabs were from Syria and had Aramaic as their native language, the language of Jesus, and although Steven was not religious, he felt a strange sense of history when he greeted them with "Shlamo", in which he recognised a kinship with the Arabic "Salaam" and the Hebrew "Shalom".

Steven did not speak any foreign languages himself, if one excludes his schoolboy French, which was only nearly good enough to cope with the occasional televis0ion news item from France.

He looked round the room again.

"Samir hasn't come yet?" he asked.

"He has a bad cold," said Misaki. "Maybe infruenza. He said yesterday his bones ache."

"Influenza," corrected Steven, emphasising the 'l' sound.

"Influenza," repeated Misaki, and the other students began to practice saying the word.

"So we won't be seeing him today," said Steven.

"No," said Misaki.

Steven began his class, and pushed his students hard. When it was time for the lunch break he called Misaki to him.

"Since Samir is not here, I wonder whether you would like to have lunch with me today," he began a little nervously.

"I was going to visit Samir in the lunch break," said Misaki. "See if he is alright. If he needs anything."

Steven was disappointed.

"Never mind," he said. "Perhaps another time," and he turned away.

His disappointment must have shown in his face for Misaki caught his arm to stop him.

"So sorry," she said. "Of course we can go for lunch together. I can visit Samir after school. Or better still I can visit him for lunch, and have dinner with you this evening?"

"But don't you have to get dinner for your mother in the evening?"

"Not every day. Sometimes she stays at the university and has dinner with her colleagues. Then she comes home by the late train. That she does today. I will be eating dinner alone."

Steven could not believe his luck.

"Then dinner it is," he said.

"Dinner will be more fun," she replied. "Give us more time to talk."


During lunch he rang his mother to tell her that he would not be home for dinner.

"Shall I save you some? You can warm it up when you get home."

"No thanks. I'll be having dinner with some colleagues. It came up at short notice. I won't need anything."

A white lie, he thought. No, two white lies. Misaki is not a colleague, and she's not 'some', only one. He shrugged off the lies and went to lunch.

At last he had his chance to spend some time alone with Misaki. He was too realistic to expect miracles, but it was something to look forward to, and hopefully to look back on later. A pleasant memory in the making, as it were. It would be the closest he would probably come to Misaki before her course of study was finished.

When lessons for the day were over, she came up to his desk to speak to him, allowing the other students access to him, and waiting patiently until all of them were finished. He had a dreadful feeling that she had remembered a prior appointment, real or fictive, and that she was going to cancel tonight's dinner, but when she finally had his attention, she merely wanted to suggest that he pick her up at home, so that she would have a chance to freshen up and change into other clothes. She wrote down her address for him.

He hoped the relief did not show in his face, but she gave him a look of concern as she turned away. Steven sat down in his chair with a sigh; of relief that she had not cancelled; and of anticipation for the evening in her company.

At six o'clock he was ringing the doorbell at the address he had been given, and only a few moments later, she opened the door and invited him to come in whilst she finished her preparations. She did not appear to be wearing make-up, except perhaps a touch of lipstick, her hair shone even more than was its wont, and altogether she looked to Steven's eye absolutely beautiful.

"Is there somewhere you would specially like to go?" he asked.

"There is an inn not far from here which I visit from time to time. They have very good food. Perhaps we can go there?"

"Sounds delightful," he said.

Misaki put on her overcoat, picked up her handbag and was ready. It proved to be a ten minute walk to the pub, which, he noted, was called the Jolly Miller. Once inside they went to the bar to order. She recommended one of the dishes, a venison stew, to which he made no demur, and she made as if to pay for her own dinner.

"No, Misaki," he said, more firmly than she had known him. "You're giving me the pleasure of your company this evening. The least I can do is buy your dinner."

"Thank you," she said, gave a shy smile and put away her purse.

"What would you like to drink?" he asked.

"A glass of white wine, please."

"I think I'll have a sherry whilst we wait, and a glass of red with the meal."

They found themselves a table not too far from the fireplace, where a cheerful fire combatted the slight chill in the evening air.

"You seem to know this pub well," he began.

"Yes," she replied. "I usually come here when my mother has an evening at the university. It's not much fun making dinner for one."

"Do you know many people here?"

"Hardly any," she said, a little sadly, he thought.

"So you usually eat alone when you are here?"


Well, at least she didn't say something like 'no, Samir often comes with me' he thought to himself. He was thankful for small mercies.

"You must tell me when you are going to be alone for the evening," he went on. "Perhaps we could keep each other company again."

"You do not have someone to go home to?" she asked.

"Only my mother, and she doesn't mind if I stay on at work."

Not that it's happened more than a very few times, he thought, and he had had to give a good reason each time. He reminded himself to put together some plausible lies on the train journey home, and then mentally kicked himself for thinking about the journey home when he still had the pleasure of the evening before him. Time enough ...

"You have no wife?" she asked.

"No," he said, rather more shortly than he had intended. Even though his single status was perfectly reasonable, there were times when he felt a bit self-conscious about it.

"So you have no children either?"

"No. The one is rather dependent on the other," he smiled.

"Not necessarily," she smiled back. "But that is a pity."


"I was thinking of how you help your students - how you treat them. If you were to treat your children the same way, I think they would be very happy children."

Steven blushed at the implied compliment, and was silent.

"Before we get too far along, was there anything particular you wished to talk to me about when you asked me to join you for lunch?"

"No. I just thought it would be nice to have lunch with you."

"How nice," she said. "And instead you are having dinner with me."

Steven said nothing, merely blushed again.

" You will have to keep talking longer," she said with a mischievous smile.

"Unless I let you do the talking and merely listen," he countered.

"Be careful," she said. "I might throw in a question now and again to be sure you really are listening, and not thinking about next Saturday's football match at your local club. Are you interested in football?"

"Not in the least."

"A very determined answer," she said. "What are you interested in, if I may be so bold as to ask."

"Of course you may. I enjoy music. There are quite a few concerts in our village. I write. I'm working on my first novel."

"Ah, so if I lose your interest it will be the plot of your novel which distracts you rather than the football club."

"You will not lose my interest, Misaki san."

"Oh! So formal! Have I offended you with my jokes? Tell me about your novel."

"You could not offend me, Misaki," he said, and she had no answer, and he went on to give her the gist of the story he was working on.

Their meal came and Steven changed from sherry to wine, as he had said. Over the meal they questioned each in more detail about the other's life. She had nothing to say about her father, and he did not press her. She had lived during her earlier years with her mother at her maternal grandparents, and had been brought up more by them than by her mother, who was working hard to establish herself in her career, which frequently took her away from home for longer or shorter periods. It was only when Misaki was old enough not to need supervision that she moved fully to stay with her mother. As she grew older, she had taken care of their home, and finally been unofficially employed by her mother, who paid her what could only be called pocket money for the work she did.

For his own part, he told her of his interests, and acknowledged a certain shyness, which he thought might explain his single status.

"But you are not shy with me," she pointed out.

"Possibly because you are one of my students," he said.  "I find that I lose something of my shyness around them."

"So you are here merely with one of your students?" she asked, not without some asperity, which was not lost on Steven.

"No, I didn't mean that," he flustered. "Merely that I have got to know you as one of my students, and that has rubbed away my shyness. And it's not often I have dinner with a beautiful woman."

Misaki made no comment on his compliment, and he feared that he had perhaps overstepped a boundary by being too personal. But after a minute or so of silence, she returned to their conversation, and his momentary uncertainty evaporated.

Over dessert he suggested a liqueur for Misaki, and himself took a glass of cognac, as they lingered over coffee. Steven was very much aware of how time was passing, and long before he would have it so, it was nearly time for his train back to Stoke Fercroft.

He walked her back to the house and turned to face her as they said goodnight. She was of similar height to himself, and he was very disconcerted to discover how she encroached on his private space, standing very close to him. He had noticed it before, at school. Must be a Japanese thing, he thought. He wondered whether he was expected to give her a peck on the cheek, but could not bring himself to test it. When he had finished thanking her for the wonderful evening, and was turning to go, she caught his hand and turned him back to face her.

"Thank you, too, Steven," she said. "I may call you Steven outside of school?"

"Of course," he replied.

"I enjoyed this evening very much, and if you will permit, I shall tell you next time my mother is working late, and perhaps we can do this again?"

"I should like nothing better, Misaki," he said, before giving her a smile and walking away towards the station.

Steven had much to think about during the train ride home. What about Samir was one of his first questions for himself. Did she ever have dinner with him? She certainly had a lot of lunches. He went over the details of their conversation during the evening. He had learnt a lot about Misaki tonight, and nothing of it had reduced the interest he felt. She had obviously not been offended by his compliment. He was excited by the idea of another dinner with her next time her mother should be having a late evening. He wondered whether she might be interested in coming to Stoke Fercroft one Wednesday to test Sid's Boeuf Bourguignon at the Stonemason's Arms, or maybe Patty Trevor's delicious dinners on the first Friday of each month when she took over the kitchen of the Stonemason's. Or perhaps a concert?

He was so engaged in these delightful plans that he suddenly found himself on his own street with no plausible story for his mother, for he was sure she would be wanting to know all about this rare event which had broken the rhythm of his life.

Fortunately, she was too full of her own day to give him too much of a grilling, and he escaped again the next morning without arousing any suspicions. He wondered how Misaki would react this morning, but realised afterwards that he should have relied upon her discretion. She merely thanked him quietly during the first coffee break and promised to contact him next time her mother had a late evening at work. In every other respect she was Misaki as she had always been in the classroom.

Samir was still absent, and, when Steven came into the canteen at lunch time, he saw that Misaki was sitting by herself. She waved him over and he gratefully accepted her invitation to eat lunch together. Their verbal exploration of each other continued over the meal, and they appeared so deep in discussion that no-one from the class disturbed them. There was nothing unusual about Steven's sitting with a student. He usually sat with them, most often as part of a group, sometimes with just one, and on those occasions, the others left him alone, since he could be discussing the student's progress.

However much he might have wanted to sit with Misaki every lunch, he realised that such favouritism could be misconstrued, or arouse dissatisfaction amongst the students at the thought that one of their number was perhaps gaining preferential treatment.

In any event Samir was soon back in class, and monopolising Misaki's time as he had before. Steven began to doubt the likelihood of another dinner when Dr Kagamura was working late, and was thus pleasantly surprised when Misaki confided to him one day a week or so later that she would be alone on the evening of the following day, if he would be interested in keeping her company.

He tried hard to keep the elation out of his voice when he thanked her, and spent a good deal of his free time the rest of that day and during the train ride home to working on a plausible excuse for his mother's having to eat her dinner alone again the following day, and why she should not worry about keeping some warm for him. He decided that keeping as near the truth as possible would be a wise move.

"By the way, Mother," he said, as they were seated at table. "One of my students has invited me to a little get-together tomorrow evening, and I have a mind to go."

"How nice," said Mrs Dawson. "It's not often you have that kind of invitation."

"Actually it's more frequent than you perhaps know," he lied. "But usually I just go along for a quick drink, and then leave early to catch my train home. Not that it happens all that often," he added with absolute truth.

"Shall I keep your dinner warm?!

"No, don't bother. We'll be eating at the party."

"Alright. Maybe I'll ask Nora Hopkins over for a spot of company."

And that was that.

The following evening started out as a repeat of the first evening, but as they sat down to dinner, she told him that there was a concert in the town, if he would like to go, and as a consequence they ate rather quicker than previously, and set off for the concert venue. It was a soprano of some local renown, who was beginning to make a career in the opera house of a nearby town. They enjoyed themselves no end, and were still talking animatedly when they arrived back at Misaki's home.

"Misaki, thank you so much," he said. "I had a wonderful time, and not just the dinner and the concert, but your company as well."

"Domo arigato gozaimashta, Steven san," she said with a low bow.

"No, Misaki san, it's I who should thank you. I do so enjoy these evenings with you."

"And I with you," she said demurely.

Once again, she stood close, closer than people normally did, and he wondered again whether it was a Japanese thing to invade one's space in this way. Not that he saw it as an invasion exactly.

"I must go," he said. "My train leaves shortly."

"I know," she said.

And she stepped even closer and pressed her lips - such soft lips, he managed to think - to his. She drew back, but he was not willing to let her go so easily, and pulled her to himself again for a second kiss.

"Good night, Misaki," he said, still holding her to himself.

"Good night, Steven."

And she turned and went into the house.

When he arrived home Nora Hopkins was still there, the two women sitting over the kitchen table. Supper dishes were in the sink, and his mother had brought out a sherry bottle, and the two ladies were enjoying a tipple. His arrival reminded them of the lateness of the hour, although it was only ten o'clock, and Nora and his mother began the long slow process of winding up their evening.

"Did you have a nice time?" asked his mother, and Steven was forced to admit, without a trace of untruth, that such was the case.

"What was it? A birthday party or something?" asked Nora.

"No, nothing like that. More a spur of the moment thing."

"Your students must really appreciate you," she said. "Inviting you along like that."

He smiled and said nothing.

The next day at school Steven had a definite feeling that there was a more open warmth towards himself from Misaki. Not, he hoped, so much so that the other students would notice, but enough that he felt more warmed by her glances. Or was it, he wondered, wishful thinking?

One thing which was beginning to prey on him was the ubiquitousness of Samir, for already the next day he and Misaki were as inseparable as they had always been, and Steven made a mental note to take the matter up with Misaki in as innocent a way as he could, since he had decided to try and take their relationship to a new level. He wanted to invite Misaki to come for a visit to Stoke Fercroft, and the occasion would be a performance of the local amateur dramatic society, who were putting on "The Importance of Being Ernest". This was scheduled to take place in a couple of months.

Steven's chief problem was that the play would run quite late, too late for the last train back to Winstable, and he was concerned about the logistics of Misaki staying overnight. He and his mother had a spare room, and there were rooms to be had at the Stonemason's Arms, but he did not know how his mother would react to having a strange woman to stay, nor yet how Misaki's mother would react to her daughter being away overnight, however well-chaperoned. He wondered whether inviting Dr Kagamura and putting them both up at the Stonemason's could be a solution, but realised that he would have to take it up with Misaki herself.

One Monday morning she told him to his delight that the following day her mother would again be working late, and would he be interested in having dinner with her that evening. Naturally he was pleased at this, both for its own sake and for the chance it would offer to discuss his problem. He was less pleased on the day of the dinner when he saw Samir rush over to Misaki at the coffee break with an excited expression on his face, say something to her, snatch her up in his arms and give her a resounding kiss on the cheek, while Misaki laughed and hugged him back.

Steven tried to put this out of his mind, not to let it spoil his evening with Misaki. He explained his idea, and possible solutions, and asked for her input. She was very quiet for a minute of two.

"My mother does not know that I have been seeing you," she said finally "And I do not know how she will react to the thought that I have a man-friend. She sees me as her housekeeper and tends to forget that I am a woman and that I might have a life of my own."

"I'm in a similar situation," said Steven.

"What have you told your mother about your late evenings?" she asked.

Steven was embarrassed.

"Once I had a working dinner with some colleagues," he said. "And the second time some students had a party and invited me."

Misaki broke into a fit of giggles.

"You have a bigger problem than I," she said finally. "So what are we to do?"

Steven suggested his idea of having Dr Kagamura along, and introducing the two mothers to each other. They could hardly make a fuss in front of each other, he thought, but Misaki was afraid that it could end up being a frosty theatre visit, and Steven was inclined unwillingly to agree. Another problem was that Dr Kagamura would have to be made aware of the fact that her daughter was seeing a man. But, as Misaki said, that bridge would have to be crossed for both of them sooner or later anyway.

They had not decided on any particular course of action when it was time for Steven to set off for the station, and Misaki was thinking aloud about having a talk with her mother. They walked to her home hand in hand, and Misaki stood as close to him as ever as they said goodbye. Again she kissed him, and again he held her for a second kiss. They were interrupted by an imperious voice from the doorway of her house, and to their consternation discovered that Dr Kagamura had apparently not spent as much time as normal with her colleagues, and had arrived home by an earlier train.

Her first words were in Japanese, and Steven had no idea what she had said, although he could make a reasonable guess as to the general import. Misaki answered her mother in English, and at last he could take part in the discussion, however passive his role might be.

"Steven cannot stay and talk now," Misaki was saying. "His last train goes in twenty minutes, and he must go to the station."

Steven grabbed his chance.

"What Misaki says is true, Dr Kagamura san," he said. "There is no later train to Stoke Fercroft this evening. However I would be only too happy to come here tomorrow evening after work if you wish to speak to me."

There was a moment's silence from the steps.

"Very well," Dr Kagamura said. "I will expect you here tomorrow evening around five o'clock. Now I assume you have said sufficient goodbyes to my daughter."

"Sayonara, Misaki san," he said to Misaki, and bowed formally.

"Sayonara, Steven san," she replied, equally formally, and returned his bow.

He turned to Misaki's mother.

"Sayonara, Kagamura san," he said, with another bow and the mother was compelled by her culture to respond in kind.

"Sayonara, Steven san.  Ashita made" she said. "."

"She says 'until tomorrow'," whispered Misaki.

"Good luck, Misaki," he whispered back, and left for the station.

Steven had much to think about on the journey home. Misaki, he felt sure, would be interrogated by her mother this very evening, and he decided that the time had perhaps come when he must speak to his mother about Misaki. His only problem was that he still did not know the nature of Misaki's relationship with Samir. That Steven himself, at thirty two, was older than Misaki he did not doubt. He had still not asked her age, but was sure it was in the late twenties. Not an insuperable obstacle. But Samir, he felt sure, was more of an age with Misaki. He wondered whether she kissed Samir goodbye, and indeed, whether Samir enjoyed the company of Misaki on some other of Dr Kagamura's late evenings.

He decided, however, to postpone talking to his mother until he had had his conversation with Dr Kagamura the following evening. If he was to be shown the door, and forbidden further contact with Misaki, there would be nothing to tell.

He was on edge the whole of the next day, and was in one sense relieved when the school day was over and the students were going home. He called to Misaki to stay for a few minutes, and waited until the other students had left.

When they were alone, he took hold of her and gave her a kiss.

"How did it go last night?" he asked.

"It did not 'go' as you put it at all," she answered. "My mother merely said that she would wait until this evening before dealing with the situation."

"She said that: 'dealing with the situation'?" he asked. "How did she seem to you?"

"I don't know," said Misaki. "She gave me a look like thunder as she said it, but nothing more."

"Well, let's go and face the dragon," he said, and Misaki laughed.

"That's no way to talk about the woman who holds the future of our relationship in her hands," she said.

"Yes, I'm sorry to say that about your mother," he said, as they left the room. They walked towards her home in silence for a few moments. Suddenly it struck him.

"What did you say back there?" he asked.

"Back where?"

"In the classroom. When I called your mother a dragon."

"I said that's no way to talk about the woman who holds the future of our relationship in her hands," said Misaki.

Steven stared at her for some moments in silence.

"But what about your relationship with Samir?"

"Samir? What has he to do with it?"

"I thought you were such good friends. You eat lunch together almost every day. You drink coffee together every day. I thought he was on the way to become your boyfriend. I never understood why you asked me to have dinner. Not that I didn't enjoy dinner with you," he hurried on. "But I didn't think there was more room for me in your life than a few dinners."

"But I kiss you when you leave," she said.

"Yes, but..."

"But what? Do you think I kiss Samir also?"

"I have no idea, and no right to ask."

"You have every right to ask, because I kiss you! I hold your hand! Oh, I will never understand this so-called culture of yours!"

She laid her hand on his arm.

"Steven," she said gently. "Do you not know about Samir?"

"Know? Know what?" he asked.

"Samir is happily married. Has been for six years. He has been trying to get his wife accepted for immigration, and he just heard that she has been accepted a few days ago."

"So that was why he was kissing you?"

"Yes! Did you think...? Oh, Steven, you silly man!"

And to prove her point, she gave him a kiss.

She immediately became serious.

"I shouldn't have done that," she said. "Not before we have met my mother."

"That bad, is it?" he replied glumly. "Can she forbid you to see me?"

"She'd better not try," said Misaki fiercely. "Or she'll have to find a new housekeeper. But first we have to face the dragon."

They set off for her home, arm in arm, and sometimes hand in hand.

He shook her gently.

"That's no way to talk about the woman who holds the future of our relationship in her hands" he said.

Misaki laughed, and kissed him again, and dragged him away to meet her mother.

© James Wilde 2015