Authors: Sara Hooper
“I want to believe that,” she answered. “You’re who I want and all I need, but my father isn’t in the best of health, and I don’t want to be saddled with guilt over following my heart and not my heritage. Mother loves you, that’s obvious. He wouldn’t admit it if he saw you as a positive in my life. Too wrapped up in that damn culture thing; too selfish to let someone else be happy. But, he’s worked hard to give me a life; I owe him for that. Do you understand what I’m trying to say?”
“I understand,” Shane said. “I’m having some trouble dealing with the memory of Amanda, too. Like using the guest room to sleep with you instead of the bed I shared with her. It’s hard to make changes and decisions when your heart and reality aren’t on the same page. We can work this out somehow, if that is what you really want. If you need more time, we can do that, too.”
“No,” Gina replied, stepping toward him and taking his hand. “No, this is our time. I’ve missed you!” She kissed him on the cheek with a big smile. As easily as that, they were locked in a tight embrace, each locking into their emotions, their wants and their love.
She took his hand and led him to the bedroom the same as she had done before. Quietly, they undressed each other and climbed into bed. It was natural to them, so much of what they each needed and wanted; this brief separation had not changed that. More than before, this was their consummation of sorts, a commitment of allegiance in a way. They would be in it together and would form their own relationship, not of culture, not of direction, not against memories, but of love. He entered her gently, making love to her easily. Gina welcomed his body into hers, giving him all that she had, all that she had withheld before. Passion and oneness drove them as they lofted to climax together. But, this time it was different, more sensual, more desiring, more certain, more them. When she cuddled up to his back afterwards, he pulled her hand around him and squeezed it tightly. “I love you,” he whispered.
“I love you too,” she answered. It was a good and restful sleep for both of them. The commitment had been made; the pact was formed. Little did they know how important that pact would become.
The next morning as Shane was leaving, they embraced, both sensing the difference from such typical mornings of their past. “I’ll call you,” she whispered as he kissed her forehead. Shane accepted this, understanding that she was telling him to let her manage them in her own way.
“I’ll be waiting,” he answered.
Two days later, when his phone finally rang on Saturday afternoon, his heart leapt for joy when he saw “Unknown Caller” appear on its panel. “Hey, Sweetie,” he cheerily said into the phone.
A pause, then a deep voice with a heavy Indian accent. “Mr. Ryden?”
“Ah, yes, this is Shane Ryden.”
“Mr. Ryden, this is Mr. Singh. Amlan Singh, Gina’s father.”
“Oh, yes sir. How are you?” Shane tried to hide the shock at this much unexpected call while bracing himself for a confrontation with this overbearing man.
“Gina gave me your number. She is here visiting us. I asked her for it.” Short, chopped sentences bespoke the harshness he could deliver. A flashback to the dinner flitted across Shane’s mind.
“That’s fine, Mr. Singh,” Shane said, trying hard to sound casual despite his apprehension.
“I wanted to explain some things to you firsthand. Do you have a moment to listen?”
“Yes sir, I certainly do,” Shane offered, noting that he didn’t say “to discuss some things.” Shane steeled himself for whatever might come from the father of the woman he loved and intended to make her a part of his life - a permanent part.
“First, Mr. Ryden,” he began. “I want you to understand the customs and culture of my homeland, India. Do you know much about our culture or even about India, Mr. Ryden?”
“Ah, not really, Sir. No, I don’t,” Shane hesitantly admitted.
“That’s the problem with Western men,” Mr. Singh began. “They want to date our daughters and get all involved with these beautiful women, but they don’t want to take the time to learn about them, about their beliefs, their families, all those things that should matter. Always thinking you're superior, you Americans. And, in time, you treat our daughters as if you are supreme. I’ve seen too much. I don’t want my Gina to be a victim. I’m sure you can understand my position.”
“Excuse me, Mr. Singh,” Shane interrupted. “I’m sorry, but I, in absolutely no way, feel supreme or better than Gina. Let’s get that straight in the beginning. As for knowing something about Indian culture, I have just never been exposed to it. I’ve never had a reason to learn about it, but I do now. Still, that doesn’t mean I don’t respect it, and it certainly doesn’t mean I don’t respect Gina in every way possible. I love her, Sir; I love her deeply. Let’s start from that perspective, not from your assumption that I’m a typical Westerner, as you call us. Don’t assume that I would ever treat her less than my equal! I’m not that kind of person, and I’m certainly not that kind of man. I don’t know how you can judge me; you don’t even know me. In fact, you act as if you don’t want to know me.” He felt good about the firmness in his voice.
“How old are you?” the father suddenly asked.
“I’m thirty-five,” Shane answered. “And, I’m aware that Gina is much younger. But, she is also very mature and worldly. I don’t see our age difference as being a major point of discussion. It’s how we feel about each other that is important. I love her.” Shane let the silence hang between them before continuing, “I respect her as a person and as a woman. I care deeply for her and her well-being.”
The old man on the phone cleared his throat. “And, you’re rich,” he said sternly. “Gina isn’t. We aren’t.”
“That is neither here nor there, Mr. Singh. All relationships are not based on wealth and material things. I don’t care about money. I am a successful dentist, that is true. But, I assure you, money is of no consequence to me. I don’t flaunt it; I don’t live a luxurious lifestyle and I don’t disrespect women - no woman, ever! I volunteer, I give, and I care about people who have less. That is who I am, Mr. Singh. I hope you will accept me as that person. Gina has.”
“She isn’t accustomed to a high-society way of living.”
“That doesn’t matter to me or to Gina. What is your point, Mr. Singh, what exactly is your point?” Shane was slightly perturbed at how the conversation was turning.
“My point is that I don’t want to see Gina give up herself to the rich and famous that make up your society, Mr. Ryden. That is my point.” His voice was even more firm now. “She will lose her roots, with that kind of lifestyle.”
“No she won’t. That’s a weak excuse for not letting go of her, of giving up your control, of her seeing me, being involved with me. Our relationship isn’t based on who has more or who has less. It’s based on mutual attraction, what we see in each other and what our emotional needs and desires are. That is all, Mr. Singh. Our love isn’t based on or in spite of culture, race, wealth or any other superficial thing. It’s based on us, period.”
“In India, it can be much different,” the father offered.
“That may be true in India, Sir, and in the U.S. as well, but it isn’t true with Gina and me. It doesn’t apply to us. It’s not part of our attraction and it’s never going to be a part of our life. Is that your major complaint about me seeing her? The age, the wealth, the society in which I live? Is that it?”
“It’s a concern, yes.”
“Then you should put that concern aside now, this moment. Look, Sir, I am in love with your daughter. Not her family, not her possessions, nothing but her. I hope you can understand and accept that. I am asking you to.” Shane hoped he would give them his approval, that he would just say it.
“Gina is of age in this country. She was born here. Legally, I cannot control her now. I just want the best for my daughter. I don’t want to see her hurt or in a marriage that ends in divorce after two years.”
“Mr. Singh, we haven’t even discussed marriage. We are not going to rush into that. I respect marriage, I have been married. I know what goes along with it and I honor it.”
“Your wife died, Gina told me. I’m sorry to hear that. Surely you understand my concern with Gina being so young. Her whole life is before her. She has told me she loves you, too. I only want her to be happy.”
“I am glad to hear that, Sir. You can ask me anything, discuss any concerns you have about our relationship or talk about anything else you need to, but don’t assume that I am after anything from Gina, because I am not. It’s just that simple.”
“Well, thank you for your time, Mr. Ryden. Good day.” With that, the conversation ended. Shane held the phone in front of him for a minute, staring at the instrument as if it could explain the purpose of the call.
Guess I answered his question before he asked it
, Shane said to himself.
I wonder if she was listening.
At least now he knew that Gina had made her decision and her move toward asking for her father’s approval. Otherwise, she would not have shared his number, and her father would not have called. Shane was relieved, but anxious.
Two hours later, his phone rang again; the same “Unknown Number” displayed on the screen. Shane ignored it at first, but changed his mind. “Hello,” he said into the receiver, not wanting to take a second chance at it being her father.
“Still speaking to me?” Gina’s voice was full of concern, but he could hear her slight smile with those beautiful lips curling slightly up.
“Of course! Why wouldn’t I speak to you? How did it go on your end?”
“When he came out of his study, I asked if the conversation went well. He just said, ‘We’ll see.’”
“Well, at least that doesn’t sound hopeless. Were you worried?”
“With him, I never know what to expect. I thought he might have raked you over the coals. He usually does. I’ve grown to expect it.”
“Did you ask him to call me?” Shane wanted to know her involvement.
“No, not at all. I was in the kitchen helping my mother. He walked in and asked for your phone number. I asked him why, and he said it was time the two of you discussed some things. That was it. I hadn’t even discussed you with him. In fact, I only nodded at him when I came in the house. We actually hadn’t spoken until he asked for the number.”
“Honey,” Shane said tenderly. “We are bigger than anything he or anyone else can throw at us. If he wants to attack me, I can handle myself and my intentions as far as you are concerned. I was firm, but respectful with him. Actually, I feel better. I think he sees that I won’t let him run all over me or us. I will defend us against him and his attitude. I promise you that. I love you, Gina. I love you for you, not your family, nothing else but you. Understand?”
“I love you, too. I’ll call you tomorrow when I get home. Okay?” It was a new day; he could tell it in her voice.
“Sure, get some rest. I’ll talk to you tomorrow. Kisses.”
“Kisses back,” she said. He could hear the little smile she offered through her voice.
Gina didn’t call the next day. She didn’t have to. Shane was waiting in her driveway when she arrived home from San Francisco. They hugged as soon as she got out of the car. Hand-in-hand, they climbed the rickety steps to her apartment in silence. As they stood in the bedroom undressing each other, the color difference of their skin no longer seemed as stark; they had made a commitment to each other and their worlds had merged. Her father had sealed that pact whether he realized it or not. They would face whatever the future brought to them.
A week later, on an easy Saturday morning as they lay in each other’s arms quietly enjoying the peacefulness between them, Gina’s cell phone rang from the bedside table. She reached over, pushed the button and turned to Shane smiling as she said, “Hello.” Instantly, her facial expression changed from a smile to shock. “When? Oh, no! Yes, I’ll come. I’m on my way in an hour. No, I don’t mind. I want to come, Mama. I’ll be there quickly!” Turning to Shane as she threw the cover off her naked body, she said, “It’s my father. He’s had a massive heart attack! My mother is in a mess. I have to go there.” Shane jumped out of bed as she headed to the shower.
“I’m going with you,” he said matter-of-factly. “I’ll book a flight while you get ready, then you can pack a few things while I shower. We can be there within three hours if we hurry.”