"When Love and Fate Collide"

Larry picked up the receiver of his phone. The dial tone hummed softly as Larry tightened his grip on the receiver. He paused, with his finger dangling over the phone's buttons. 'Maybe it's too soon.' He made a movement towards dropping the receiver back into its cradle, but then stopped himself with another second guess. 'I really want to make this call.'

Again, he stopped short of pushing the first number and crushed his eyelids shut as he contemplated his situation. He had such strong butterflies in his stomach, and he was so anxious to enhance the euphoria he'd been feeling so powerfully as of late. But something within those butterflies instinctively told him to go against his urge to place the call. The timing wasn't right, and he knew it…..he just didn't want to accept it.

With great difficulty, which was plain to see by the expression on his face, Larry gently placed the receiver in the cradle of the phone, looked at it for a moment and sighed. He knew he was doing the correct thing. It was just so hard to turn away.

He slowly moved away from the breakfast bar and over to the couch, amid the silence of a warm, overcast late-evening. The slight buzz of the traffic outside the building was no more than a calm melody of the city, soothing and inviting; and the absence of his cousin this evening created a unique silence that Larry's often-hectic life rarely witnessed.

With a slight smile growing upon his face, he allowed himself to sink back into the couch and reflect on the evening. It had been a wonderful few hours he'd just spent, and he wanted to relive each and every moment. Not forty-eight hours earlier, he'd felt like his world had crashed down on him, and that he was going to be abandoned yet again. It was with good reason that he had a very difficult time trusting people, and the events that occurred a couple of days earlier had reinforced his cause for being so wary of others. Then, almost as quickly as things had turned upside-down, he took control of his fate, shared a pure honesty from his heart and watched as life began to make sense once again.

Larry looked up to the ceiling and his smile broadened, accompanying the intensifying elation of the butterflies. His only thoughts were of Jennifer, the woman of his dreams. It was truly adoration at first sight for him when they'd met a couple of years earlier; but the more he got to know the beauty of her soul, the more enraptured Larry became. He'd almost lost it all two days earlier, when Jennifer had announced she'd been offered a promotion which would have resulted in a move to the west coast. It had been excruciating for Larry, knowing he was about to lose the woman who made him feel what he knew could never come from any other, and he almost let her go out of fear of expressing his feelings. Fortunately, a timely dream made him realize how hard it would be for him to exist in a world without Jennifer, and he took the dramatic step of telling his blonde girlfriend that he wanted her to stay with him in Chicago.

Two nights later, after Jennifer happily agreed (to her own great relief as well) that she didn't want to leave Chicago and wanted to keep Larry in her life, the couple had their first date in this new chapter of their relationship. It had been a romantic and cozy picnic dinner in a nearby park, followed by a drive to Evanston and a long walk, during which they'd held hands for the very first time. They shared some tender moments during the walk, then a few stories and laughs on the drive back. The evening culminated in a soft, passionate kiss outside of Jennifer's apartment door. Now, all Larry could think about was Jennifer.

He looked over at the phone again and debated calling her. Was it too soon? Should he let sleeping dogs lie? Or was she hoping he'd call? He was dying to hear her voice, which could easily send shivers through his body. He wanted to learn more about her, hear about her dreams and goals, listen to tales of her upbringing, feel her happiness and heartache, engulf himself in her emotions as she spoke, and drown in her laughter.

'My God…..I'm in love.'

Larry stood up. He'd made his decision. It was time to take control of his fate once again.

He walked towards the kitchen, passed the breakfast bar, and went to the window. He slid the pane up and stepped through, onto the fire escape. Larry leaned against the rail and looked up towards Jennifer's apartment. He smiled and winked.

"Goodnight, sweet princess," he said in a gentle, deep tone. "Tender dreams."

Larry sat on a step of the fire escape and took a deep breath of the fresh summer breeze. He looked at the city falling asleep right before his very eyes. He was at peace, comforted, knowing that he'd made the right decision. So many times before, he'd allowed his anxious side to get the best of him and make for a humbling experience; but not tonight. It had been the greatest night of his life, and Larry was not about to do anything that may tarnish it.

He eased back against the uncomfortable steps and enjoyed the moment. It was late, but he wasn't tired. He was the exact opposite – alive, energetic and enjoying each one of his senses as though he'd just gained them back after a long absence. It was a perfect night.

Some time later, Balki had arrived home after his date with Mary Anne and had ducked his head out the open window when he noticed Larry on the fire escape. Instinctively, he thought perhaps his cousin was struggling with something, but Larry quickly dispersed that notion with a smile. He assured Balki that he was just fine; more than fine, in fact. And Balki, in turn, became ecstatic for his cousin. It was very rare for him to see Larry in this state, and his good mood was contagious. Balki was aching to join his cousin and talk the night away, but he respected his cousin and wanted him to continue enjoying his evening without distraction. With a grin, Balki wished his best friend goodnight, then went to his bedroom to write Mary Anne a love letter before turning in.

Time was escaping Larry. He had no idea how long he'd been on the fire escape before Balki had returned home, and he didn't have a clue what time it was. He remained outside, completely oblivious to the ongoing work of Father Time, despite watching Chicago wind down into a dozy state. As he continued to enjoy the summer night and his beautiful thoughts, something caught his attention. It took a moment for him to register what had snapped him out of his mindset, then the distraction appeared again. It was a sound from inside the apartment. A short, repetitive sound that lasted only a couple of seconds. It was a knock.

Larry cautiously stepped through the open window, first noticing that Balki had not exited his bedroom. 'This isn't waking him up? He must really be tired.' There was another knock. Larry quickly moved over to the door so the knock wouldn't waken Balki. He unlatched the lock and opened the door.

"Jennifer?" he whispered. She stood before him, in the summer skirt and blouse she'd worn on their date.

She smiled meekly. "Hi."

Instinctively, Larry asked, "What time is it?"

Jennifer paused, almost embarrassed. "It's almost three."

Larry's eyes widened. "It's almost three?" 'So that's why Balki is so sound asleep.' He had suddenly realized that he'd spent so much more time on the fire escape than he'd thought. His sudden shock ending, Larry's instincts quickly set in again. "Is everything ok? Are you alright?" He escorted Jennifer into the apartment and softly closed the door.

"Well…" Jennifer began slowly, looking at the floor. She paused.

"Jennifer, what is it?" Larry asked comfortingly.

She looked up so her eyes met his. At that moment, as she looked into Larry's soulful, compassionate eyes, she felt the doubt she originally had fade away in a blink. "I was so worried about coming down, but…..I just had to."

Larry was painfully curious about this, and was worried something was wrong. He patiently listened.

Jennifer took a swallow, then gently began; "Larry, I've been thinking about you all night. I had such a wonderful time on our date, and I learned so much about you. I guess I didn't want the night to end yet. I've been sitting up there, going back and forth about whether or not I should call you."

"You wanted to call me?" Larry's voice came out in a stumble with disbelief.

She nodded shyly. "Yes. The more I thought about it, the harder it became to not call. Then I started thinking about coming down. I kept wondering if it was a bad idea because we had such a special night, and I was afraid that calling or coming down would be wrong. Does that make sense?"

Larry looked at Jennifer's gentle brown eyes, smiled and took her hand. "It makes perfect sense." Her expression grew into a bright smile before Larry moved close and the couple shared a loving kiss. Larry then led Jennifer over to the couch, where, for the next few hours, they talked softly in the dim light of the apartment.

Larry and Jennifer watched the sunrise together that morning. The brilliant colors that emerged over the landscape made the overcast skies from the night before a distant memory, but only enhanced the incredible night the two had shared. Right then and there, they both knew it would be the first of many special nights for them.

Soon after the rising of the sun, Larry and Jennifer moved back over to the couch and, not long after, fell asleep in each other's arms.

It was love.