Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Contest Entry · #1942702
What's in a Name?
Mama said she'd raised me better.
She did, but it seemed that he’d forgotten a few of the details over the years. This is the twenty-first century, and things are done differently these days. At least he thought so until he met up with Daphne, then his sense of propriety went to hell.
Thirty-one years old, Lee was a living example of the ‘Lucky at work; unlucky at love’ adage. Not really a stereotype of a modern nerd, he was still in good shape, running two to three miles each evening, and watching his diet. No one else would, that was sure.
His only fault was being painfully shy, due mostly to his affinity for numbers, a passion since childhood. Numbers offered him a seemingly absolute grounding in reality, given his experience growing up with human perversity. People change all the time; numbers, not so much.
There were other nerds in his group, actually containing a couple of attractive women, although they might not be considered ‘hotties’ by sports-bar standards, they caused more than one night of uhm… ‘thoughtfulness’ on his part.
One refuge that offered him some relief from daily stresses was the large pond that his work complex surrounded. Replete with ducks and turtles, the fountain in the middle provided a cooling mist and soul refreshing whisper of falling water. The tall bay laurel trees formed a perimeter around the pond, providing shade and shelter for those who rested beneath them.
Simple enough, Lee thought, but the loneliness that he’d endured had taken a toll on him, something he was loath to admit. Sitting along the bank during his lunch hours offered him solace, but little else. He had, however noticed a young lady from his building sitting on the opposite side of the pond each lunch hour admiring, no doubt, the serenity of the small park-like area.
One afternoon on impulse, he decided to catch a sunset off the pond, and sat himself on his favorite clump of grass, a steaming cup of herbal tea in his hand. The pond was unusually placid that evening, as the usual breeze was absent, but watching the remaining sunlight glancing from its surface was relaxing, purging the days pressures from his soul.
Enough time had passed to lull him into a quiet period of meditation, but that reflection was disturbed just as the sun disappeared in the distance. A soft noise, accompanied by a strangely familiar scent caught his attention. As he turned toward the sound, he beheld the silhouette of a shapely woman, backlit by one of the large lights surrounding the pond. She appeared to be braced against the trunk of the tall laurel tree under which he’d sat.
They looked at each other in silence for a few moments, before she spoke. “Your heart is heavy, young scholar. Each day your loneliness wears on my soul.”
As she took a step into the light, he noticed that she was dressed rather oddly, at least by current styles. Long, light brown hair, bound by a bright yellow band across her forehead, flowing to her waist accentuated a classically sculpted face, beautiful by anyone’s standards. Her face portrayed a quiet sadness, as did her voice.
The long, flowing gown she wore draped across a shapely body, not showing too much, or too little to suggest immodesty. She seemed regal, he thought. His quick mind scanned her figure for adornments, but there were none, and he wondered how she’d suddenly appeared next to him, and why.
She slowly approached him as he watched, mesmerized, and reached out her hand to touch his face. The effect on him was electric, as he felt a jolt of strong energy surge through his body. Still, she gave him no cause for alarm, even as her forehead wrinkled a bit, as though deep in thought.
Finally her eyes met his, and she smiled. “Lee, think about what change you’d like made in your life to make you happy.”
All this time he’d focused on her elegance and graceful carriage, but having spoken his name, a new mystery was born. Shaking his head, he composed himself enough to make his own inquiry; “What’s your name? I don’t believe I know you.”
Her smile widened and she replied, “Of course you know me Lee, we’ve had lunch together now nearly every day since you first arrived in this place. My name is Daphne. Now, what change would you like in your life to make you happy, if you could?”
After some thought, Lee replied, “Mama said she'd raised me better than to wish for anything I wasn’t willing to work for, but if I had a ‘do-over’, I’d…” then his voice trailed off as he fought to contain an unexpected welling of tears in his eyes. As his vision blurred, he felt Daphne’s touch once again on his cheek, and then silence.
Once he’d wiped his eyes, Lee looked about him but saw that he was now alone. The only evidence of Daphne’s visit was the strong scent of what he now recognized as bay leaves, and the residual prickling of her touches upon his face.
Was this just a dream, he thought? Most probably, as he’d been exhausted after a hard day’s work, his mind had wandered from reality. As a scientist, he attributed his experience to an overactive imagination.
The sun had set, his dream was over, so Lee collected himself and returned to his apartment. He felt an odd tension from his evening at the pond, but again, put it down to fatigue.
His weekend passed uneventfully, but the memory of his strange dream at the pond kept scratching at the back of his head. Just what DID he want to change in his life? He knew he wasn’t satisfied with his life the way it was now, but to change it? How would he start? What could he do?
His work sucked up all of his available time, and he had to examine why. It was mostly because there was nothing else in his life to fill the space that work didn’t fill. A social life would have been this balance in his life that he missed, but how?
Monday morning began as usual, and Lee was able to immerse himself in the usual intricacies of his work, only relieved by his lunch hour. As before, he left the office for the pond and his favorite spot beneath the tall bay laurel tree for more meditation on his life. This time however, he was somewhat surprised to find his favorite tree in full bloom, yellow-green blossoms covered it in profusion, and the perfume playing around it was almost soporific. Oddly enough, it was the only tree around the pond that displayed this unique beauty, but today he accepted it as a bonus to his lunch break.
“Excuse me,” came a soft voice from behind him. He looked up to see the young lady that he’d seen across the pond each day. “May I join you for lunch?” He noted that she was looking up at the tree as she spoke, but the sound of her voice sent a shiver up his spine.
She was very pretty, in the ‘girl next door’ respect, and Lee felt an attraction to her immediately. Her wide, bright smile warmed him as he gestured to a spot on the grass next to him. He nervously shifted his seat as she sat quite close to him, but pleased to have been noticed.
After a minute or two she began to chat with him a bit, and Lee found it very easy to exchange personal information and anecdotes with this woman, unlike many of his unsuccessful attempts with others in his past. He sensed no agenda, nor did he discover any socially inspired barriers with her as they chatted away.
All too soon however, they found themselves alone at the pond, and discovered that they’d overstayed their lunch period by half an hour. Both struggled to their feet, apologized to each other and made to return to their work. Glancing over her shoulder, the young lady shouted out to Lee, “Same time tomorrow?”
For the first time in a long time, Lee felt a surge of happiness sweep through his mind as he waved assent back at her. Now he had something to look forward to whenever he returned to work. As he sat back at his desk, it dawned on him that he’d never even asked her name, nor she his. Laughing to himself, he resolved that it’d be one more reason to make their rendezvous at lunch the next day.
The next lunch meeting went much further than the last, and they found a common bond that amazed both of them. If Lee believed in love at first sight, this would have been the event that would’ve convinced him. Nonetheless, they were late returning to work once again, but this time he had the courage to ask her for a date, which she accepted. He also had the presence of mind to ask her for her name.
As she hurried back to her work, she looked over her shoulder with a wide smile on her face and replied, “Daphne; Daphne Kaladosis!” Taken by surprise, all Lee could do is follow her figure as it entered the building across the pond.
Looking back at the resplendent tree next to him, he shook his head in confusion, and wondered; what were the chances? Two Daphne’s within a few days? That coincidence continued to plague him throughout the afternoon, and as he finished work, he wandered back down to the pond, mostly to recall the details of his ‘dream’ that past Friday, trying to find a connection with his current relationship.
Lost in his thoughts, Lee finally looked up and noted that the sun had begun to set, but its final rays still illuminated the blossoms of the bay tree under which he stood. The effect was startling and electric. The tree was absolutely ablaze in light, and as he moved away from it to view it better, he saw the figure of the woman that he’d met the previous Friday.
Daphne stood as before, her right hand against the trunk of the tree, and the last rays of the setting sun gave her a surreal look. She was smiling at him, and as he remained rooted there in awe, she said, “Lee, enjoy your gift, have a good life, and don’t forget to visit me often.”
As he tried to digest her comment, she faded before his eyes, disappearing entirely, leaving him alone with his thoughts, and wondering if he was losing his mind.
The next several months were defining in the life of Lee, with him and Daphne forming a strong and loving relationship. He felt fulfilled, and life finally had meaning.
A couple of months after he proposed to Daphne, he finally had the courage to sit with her and relate his dream that first Friday before she’d come to him, and the second vision as they embarked on their courtship.
Her sudden silence puzzled him, but soon she began to explain why her father had given her the name of Daphne.
“My father named me after Daphne, a Greek forest nymph, hoping I would resist the unwanted attentions of unworthy suitors. Daphne had resisted the amorous demands of a god, Apollo, having turned into a bay laurel to escape his lust.”
This puzzle began to come together for him now, but it wasn’t compatible with his scientific training. But, that would be a conundrum for another day, he mused.