For those of you who enjoyed the couple of chapters I shared a few months ago, I thought I'd share a bit more. I'm still trying to decide if I want to edit and try to publish the book or not. While I ponder it, here's more of the story...
**Warning - a bit of language and romance ahead
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Tammy blustered in indignation. “Don’t you DARE have any contact with that son of a bitch.”
“Calm down, Tammy. It’s just a text, nothing more. You really don’t have to worry.”
“Are you serious, ‘lizabeth?” she screeched incredulously. “Do you not remember how many phone calls we had just like this? Calls where you’d analyze his asswipe behavior to the nth degree? Calls where you’d sob heartbrokenly over that piece of shit? Because I remember; I remember every single one of them. Promise me that you won’t contact him back.”
“Come on, T, you know I’m way stronger now than I was then. You know how far I’ve come since Carter…”
“Exactly,” interrupted Tammy impatiently, “I know how long it took you to heal and find your way out of the abyss known as Carter Colone. I know how he almost destroyed you. Finally, you’re living your life on your own terms and not even thinking about him and poof! he shows up to disrupt your life again.”
“It’s like he’s got some sixth sense when it comes to you or something. Don’t let Elizabeth be happy; show up and fuck her over just like you did the last time.”
“I probably shouldn’t have even told you about it. It’s just, well, it was so weird seeing him at the grocery the other night. I hadn’t seen him in like three years, how weird is that? Clarksville isn’t that big, but we managed to avoid each other for all that time. And, well, it’s hard that I didn’t know the last time I saw him would be the last time. Does that make sense?”
“Listen to me, girl, He is bad news for you. I’m not sure why he’d text you to begin with, especially since the coward couldn’t even speak to you when he saw you the other day. What I do know is that you don’t have to answer him. Promise me you won’t answer him.”
“Umm, well, ya know, I don’t…”
“Oh my god! You’re kidding me! You already answered him. I swear, Elizabeth Dornan, I knew you had a self-destructive streak but I had no idea how deep and wide it was!”
At that, Elizabeth felt the need to set her best friend straight. “Just wait a minute, T. Just because I texted him doesn’t mean I’m self-destructive. It just means that I wanted to respond. Don’t go blowing this up out of proportion! I should’ve never even told you.”
In a bit of a huff, Tammy took a deep breath and offered, “Well, don’t say I didn’t warn you. And don’t be surprised when he hurts you. That man is toxic, and I hate him worse than I do Kelly.”
“Wow, that’s pretty drastic right there. If you hate him worse than my ex-husband, then he really must be a piece of shit. I thought we’d already established that Kelly was one of the worst human beings who ever lived.”
“Let’s put it this way, ‘lizabeth. One a scale of bad news to infinity, Kelly barely rates an evil. At least Kelly loved you; all Carter did was use you up and throw you away. I’ll talk to ya later, I guess. I’m really too worried to keep talking now.”
“I’m sorry, T, I never meant to upset you. I just wanted your opinion and you definitely gave it to me. Are we still on for drinks tonight?”
“Of course, doll. I’ll see you tonight at _____________ at 6:30. Ciao!”
Reflecting on that conversation as she continued her drive in to work, Elizabeth was still a bit surprised at the vehemence in Tammy’s voice when she’d told her about Carter’s text. “There’s no harm in texting him back,” Elizabeth said to the empty car. “I mean, it’s not like he’s trying to get back together or anything. We can just be friends, you know.” Even as she said it aloud, Elizabeth couldn’t help wonder if she were deluding herself.
The rest of the morning passed in a bit of a blur, classes and students and colleagues and the like. When she was finally ready to take a lunch break about 1:30, Elizabeth was starving. Since the weather was gorgeous, she retrieved her lunch from the faculty fridge and took it with her to the courtyard on the hill outside of Benson Hall. There was a brick ledge along a back retaining wall, and Elizabeth chose it as a perfect spot for an al fresco lunch.
“Ahh, sandwiche nicoisse,” she murmured to herself as she smiled drily. Yeah, even a tuna fish sandwich sounded exotic if you said it in French. “Hmm, I wonder how you say that in Italian; I should ask Rene when I write him next.” Pulling out her current novel, Elizabeth quickly lost herself in a tale of vampires and lust and romance. “It might be total fluff,” she thought as she read, “but I enjoy the escape that it provides me.”
“Ms. Dornan, it looks like you’re enjoying a lovely lunch out in the sunlight,” Dr. Mueller offered as greeting.
“Hello, Charles, yes, the sunlight is delightful. Would you like to join me?”
“No, no, dear, I’m just on my way to class now. Tell me, what has you looking so ravishing today?” He meant it; her black sheath dress and short boots managed to be effortlessly elegant and fashionable. While the cut of her clothing was modest, nothing could truly hide those curves. And Charles didn’t want to get started on those red curls and green eyes.
Elizabeth blushed. Dr. Mueller was charming if a tad ridiculous in his gallantry with her; he was at least 70 after all. “Now, Charles, be careful or you’ll break my heart flirting with me.”
Laughing heartily, Dr. Mueller offered with a wink, “Elizabeth, dear, if I were 20 years younger, you’d need to worry. For now, you might keep your eyes open. You never know who might have his eye on you.”
Sauntering off, he whistled as he walked away from a rather dumbfounded Elizabeth. “What on earth did he mean by that?” she considered. Pondering that, Elizabeth spent a bit more time enjoying the sunlight as she read and finished her lunch. Gathering up her belongings, she headed back to her office to finish some paperwork before her last appointment of the day.
Benson Hall was very quiet when Elizabeth stopped by the departmental office to retrieve her mail. She hadn’t checked her mailbox all week, so there was quite a bit for her to sort and read. At first glance, most of the communications were invitations to attend or speak at professional seminars, and a few items were sales oriented. Two documents specifically grabbed her attention: a heavily embossed cream envelope with old-fashioned longhand on it and a pearl grey shimmery envelope.
Quickly sorting through the stack of mail back in her office, Elizabeth tossed the seminars and conference notifications that didn’t interest her, and only held onto a couple that looked promising. She opened the grey envelope; as predicted, it was a wedding invitation for a former student. Because she knew she wouldn’t do so otherwise, she took a moment to rsvp to that invitation by email and added the event to her online calendar. Elizabeth didn’t want to miss it, and she recognized that she needed to make note in the moment or she’d forget.
That accomplished, Elizabeth turned her attention to the embossed envelope. Opening it, she unfolded the expensive stationery and read. It began simply enough. “Dearest Elizabeth, unwittingly, it seems that you have beguiled me, captured me fully in your web of seduction.” Wait. What? This had to be a joke, right? Elizabeth actually looked around her empty office to see if anyone were standing nearby and laughing. Seeing no one, she continued reading the letter silently. “I spy you on campus and follow you with my eyes, longing so to speak with you, but I’m not sure of what I’d say. Like some lovesick teenager…”
“Whoa,” she breathed aloud in shock. “This person knows where I work. He wrote me a letter and thinks he’s in love with me and knows where I work.” This was starting to get a little bit scary. Part of her thought it was weirdly romantic and part of her was convinced she was about to be murdered.
“My desire for you paralyzes me, so much so that I risk only writing you a letter lest you destroy me with your rejection. You deserve so much more from the man who’d dare to love you. Yet I cannot help but fall in love, more in love with you each passing day than I can even try to attempt to control.” He didn’t write like someone of today, especially like one of the young kids that she taught. He sounded mature and haunted and sincere and strangely out of time. But how could that be? He didn’t know her, so how on earth could he love her? This was ridiculous.
Nevertheless, Elizabeth couldn’t help but continue reading the letter. “The thought of you lying in bed reading my words etched on this paper fills me with a kind of excitement, a longing so intense, that I dare not commit the details to paper. Know this, dear Elizabeth, you haven’t heard the last of me.” Her heart beat fast; her palms were damp; her breath was shallow. Elizabeth was afraid, but she was also enthralled. Here was the grand romantic gesture she had craved. Here was romance and passion and manners and desire. This mystery man had finally reached a part of her that she couldn’t control: Elizabeth longed to be desired, intensely, passionately, uncontrollably desired.
Shaking a little, Elizabeth set down the letter and walked over to the window in her office to gaze out at the crisp, fall day. “Get a hold of yourself, girl,” her inner voice counseled. “This guy might be some wacko instead of the knight in shining armor that you picture. I mean, let’s be real. Who sends a letter like that?”
Just when she thought her Friday couldn’t get any more bizarre, Carter Colone walked into her office. The text that morning had been bad enough, and now he was here. Standing in her office. Looking just as dangerous and ruggedly handsome as always. “No, this can’t be happening,” she thought in a panic.
“Hey there, Liz, I hope you don’t mind that I stopped by,” he grinned as he greeted her. Leaning against the doorway, thumbs hooked casually into the pockets of his leather jacket, long hair falling over his eyes just a bit until he shook it out of his way, Carter was every inch the bad boy that she’d found attractive for so long.
“Oh, h-h-hi Carter; you’re pretty much the last person I expected to see today,” she stammered.
“Even after my text, huh? That’s good. I like it when I surprise you.” When all she did was stare at him, he continued, “I have some time before I pick up Lucy from school. How about grabbing a cup of coffee with me?”
She hadn’t thought that far ahead, hadn’t rehearsed what she’d say to him if he wanted to see her much less go grab coffee. Nodding, Elizabeth acquiesced, “I g-g-guess so.”
“Well, come on then. Let’s go.”
“Um, no, I need to have my car. I’ll meet you at the Starbucks on ________ in 20 minutes. First, I need to finish up a couple of things here.”
“Okay, Liz, I’ll see ya in a few minutes. I’m glad you want to talk.” With that, Carter walked out of her office confidently.
Muttering to herself, Elizabeth quickly stuffed the letter she’d been reading and her laptop into her school bag before she locked her office and walked briskly to her car. She never saw Barrett watching her intently from down the hallway, never saw the scowl of disappointment on his face.
Pulling into the parking lot of Starbucks in her aging mini-Cooper, Elizabeth nervously repeated this mantra to herself, “It’s only coffee. Just listen and say little. This doesn’t mean anything.” Over and over again, she’d repeated these words to herself as she drove from Vandy to meet Carter as planned. If she kept repeating it, she would believe it. Isn’t that the way it worked?
He was waiting for her inside, kicked back at a tiny table, two drinks waiting in front of him like sentinels. Half-grinning at her, he gestured to sit down, “I thought you had changed your mind. I’m glad you didn’t.”
Heeding her own advice, Elizabeth just nodded in reply. She didn’t trust herself to speak.
Carter continued, “I’ve been thinking about you and about what happened between us, and, well, I didn’t like the way we left things. I’ve worried about you.”
Warily, she waited to see what else he’d say.
“I mean, I know you felt like I blindsided you. And once we got home, you just disappeared. I moved my stuff out and never heard from or saw you again, for at least a couple of years. It was like you fell off the face of the earth.”
“What did you think would happen, Carter?” Even asking that simple question cost Elizabeth too much. Saying his name cost her too much. She began to doubt if she could handle this conversation.
“I don’t know, ‘lizabeth, I just didn’t think I wouldn’t see you again. I guess, maybe I had hoped we’d be friends after you were finished being mad at me.”
She just stared at him, unsure of what to say next.
Carter barreled on, “I gave you your space and didn’t try to contact you, but you never tried to call me or text me or see me or anything. Did I mean so little to you?” Carter’s face transformed into one of hurt and disappointment, “Don’t you miss me anymore, ‘lizabeth? I miss you every day.”
“I, I, I don’t know what to say Carter.”
“Say you miss me. Tell me you still care about me. I’m sorry I hurt you, hon.”
This was everything Elizabeth had ever wanted to hear him say, but suddenly she realized that he was still playing her, still lying to her. In surreal fashion, she gazed down upon the both of them in her mind’s eye and watched the interplay with a critical eye. Now was her chance to tell him what she really thought. Now was her chance to put the son of a bitch in his place like he deserved. Strangely, though, she found that she didn’t want to bother.
“Carter, I do forgive you. I don’t hate you and probably never could. You don’t need to worry about that,” she reassured him.
Smiling brightly, he reached across the table and took her hand In his. “So you do care about me? Say that you’ll let me take you to dinner tomorrow.”
“No,” she shook her head sadly, “dinner isn’t going to work for me.”
“That’s okay,” he countered, “we can do another day or lunch or whatever you want.”
“You don’t understand. Just because I’m not mad at you doesn’t mean that I want to see you. It took me a long time to heal the damage you caused, Carter, and I’m not willing to ever risk that again with you.”
“Elizabeth, don’t be that way,” he wheedled. “C’mon now, you know we were good together. Let’s be good together again.”
Rising from her chair, Elizabeth picked up her drink and her purse as she stood. “I’m glad you’re doing well; I hope you’re happy. But there can never be anything between us again. Thanks for the coffee, Carter; I’ll see you around.” With that, she walked into the fall sunshine, got into her car, and pulled back onto the highway.
Proud of herself, she sighed long and ragged. “Good girl,” she announced to the empty car, “you held it together and stuck to your guns. You’re stronger and smarter than you realize.” Elizabeth allowed herself to bask in the good memories of her relationship with Carter in the time that it took her to get home to Franklin, then she squared her shoulders and sternly reprimanded her reflection in the rearview mirror. “It’s done. Let it go, girl. Don’t let him undo all the healing you’ve managed in the past three years.”
With that, she grabbed her keys and belongings and went inside to love on Homer and get ready for cocktail hour with Tammy. A glance at her watch revealed that she had a couple of hours before she’d need to get ready and leave. That was perfect timing for a nap and a fantasy before she changed clothes and dolled up a bit.
“Hi Homer, baby, have you been a good boy today?” Homer danced and twirled at her baby talk; he really was too easy. Once he’d observed her peeing and opening the mail, Homer trotted back to his bed at the foot of the couch and curled up for his 15th nap of the day. Shaking her head in amusement, Elizabeth set the timer on her phone and stretched out on the chaise lounge for a little daydreaming and hopefully a little shuteye. Homer quickly bounded up next to her and curled into her side.
“Aahh,” she thought as she pulled up the minky blanket at the foot of the chaise, “this feels amazing. Now for a bit of fantasy mixed with memory…”
Later in the evening at the beach, he had walked her back to the house, chatted easily with her as they went. Their mission was simple: he was filling up the coolers while Elizabeth just needed to make a quick pit stop. Once she’d done just that, she waited for him on the back deck. The sun had just set, and the sky had turned that dusky lavender with bits of salmon that screams late summer on the coast. Walking up to her, he’d stopped arms’ length from where she stood gazing at the sunset and said huskily, “You’re very beautiful.”
“What?” she countered absently. Elizabeth had been so wrapped up in the scenery that she hadn’t noticed him walking out on the deck or speaking to her.
At that, he stepped into her bubble of personal space, placed his thick fingers on the outside of her arms, and repeated himself, “I said you’re very beautiful.” His gaze held hers without blinking; his fingers burned where they touched her arms. He said nothing else, just waited for her response.
Elizabeth didn’t immediately realize the inherent invitation in his words. Chuckling softly, she brushed the auburn hair from her eyes and smiled, “You’re too sweet to me. Thank you so much for including me in today’s festivities. You really made me feel welcome. I’m having a great time.” Then she reached up on her tiptoes to wrap her arms around his neck and give him a sweet hug.
If he hadn’t been smitten before, he was lost now. Taking a ragged breath, he placed one large hand on the middle of her back as the other wound its way into her mass of curly hair. “Elizabeth,” he sighed raggedly, “you have no idea what you’ve done to me, do you?”
Molded to him, breasts flattened against his broad chest, hands wrapped ‘round his neck, balanced by his hold on her, Elizabeth didn’t want to let go. This felt good, safe, right, even as she knew that hugging this very married man like this was wrong. This had stopped being a friendly hug 15 seconds ago. “What do you mean?” she asked in a small voice pressed against his chest. When he didn’t answer right away, she began to pull away, “I-I-I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to…”
He gripped her wrists, firmly but without hurting her. “Don’t stop,” he breathed as he pulled her back into the shelter of his body. “Don’t make me stop holding you.”
They stayed that way for the space of a hundred heartbeats, then she did pull away. “We have to get back; they’re waiting for the beer, wondering what’s taking so long.”
Turning to walk around the edge of the building and find the path to the beach, Elizabeth found herself caged by his massive body, backed up against the board and batten of the beach cottage.
“Just one more thing,” he whispered before lowering his mouth to hers, lips slanting slightly before his honeyed mouth touched hers. Eyes open, he tasted the corners of her lips first, planted butterfly kisses along the seam of her mouth, urged her mouth open with his hot, sweet tongue. As she opened for him, his grip tightened about her waist and he lost himself in the textures and flavors of her mouth.
Elizabeth was lost, falling through a waterfall of sensations as he kissed her more thoroughly than any man had ever done before. She melted into him, allowed him to grip her more tightly as she surrendered to the dark promise that kiss held.
Then she heard the children’s laughter. Returned to the moment, Elizabeth jerked away from him stammering, “Oh, um, I-I-I shouldn’t have done that. Gotta…go back down to the beach. T-t-take all the time you need to get the beer.” And she shot off into the night like banshees were chasing her.
He stood there for a long moment, relishing the way she had made him feel. Blood rushing in his ears, tendons in his neck corded with frustration, fists clenched in an effort to control himself, his heart skipped along in his chest, thumping along a pattern of desire that he thought had been long dead.
With that final thought, Elizabeth drifted off into a deep sleep, lulled into a gentle rest by the images she’d called to mind from August. She was unaware that she called his name as she gathered the blanket more closely to her in her sleep.
Beep. Beep. Beep.
Beep. Beep. Beep.
Beep... The incessant beeping of her iPhone woke Elizabeth from quite a lovely dream. Grumbling slightly, she suddenly sat straight up on the chaise where she’d curled up a bit earlier. “Damn,” she mumbled while glancing at the phone, “I’ve only got 20 minutes to get ready and meet Tammy.”
Throwing back the blanket, she jostled Homer who growled in response. “Get over it, hound,” she chided gently, “you can go back to sleep once I’m gone.” And with that, she shifted into high-gear. Smooth the hair, touch up the makeup, change the clothes. Elizabeth knew exactly how to transform her look from daytime professor to something a little edgier for cocktails, and hopefully a night of dancing afterwards.
She twirled in the mirror, taking in her figure hugging black dress and gleaming stilettos. Gold jewelry sparkled from teardrop earrings and a matching necklace that hung enticingly in her décolletage. Gold bangles danced on one arm as she applied the finishing touches of her look – shimmery body powder and daring red lipstick. Yes, she looked like a woman on the prowl on a Friday night. Smiling at her reflection, Elizabeth nodded in approval at her transformation. Chances are even her students wouldn’t recognize her if they saw her out tonight.
Grabbing her car keys and a sweater about the same length of her dress, Elizabeth hurried to reach __________ by 6:30 for drinks with Tammy. In case she ran late, she sent her a text as she pulled out of her driveway. “On my way!”
Forty minutes later, Elizabeth had pulled into the parking lot of the bar and took a moment to fluff her hair and reapply her lipstick. Tammy had texted that she’d already arrived and saved them spots at the bar, so there was no need to rush. Taking a breath to steady herself, she resolved to tell Tammy about the anonymous letter she’d received and having coffee with Carter. This wouldn’t be a pretty conversation.
“Hi doll, I’m sorry I’m late. You know me; I had to sneak in a tiny nap before meeting you tonight.”
“No problem,” Tammy reassured her. “I’ve been entertaining myself by enjoying the eye candy in this place. Have you ever seen so many handsome men in your life?”
“Careful now, you might get whiplash from swiveling your head around to check them out from every angle,” Elizabeth teased. “Now, what are we drinking?”
“I let that adorable bartender start us off with chocolate martinis, and they are delish. I guess the next round will depend on who’s buying them for us.” Tammy’s delighted laugh was just a bit loud and significantly seductive in its throatiness. She was one of those women who laughed wholeheartedly and without the demureness one expects of Southern women.
As Elizabeth took a sip of that chocolate delight, she surreptitiously surveyed the room for anyone she knew. A dark haired man in a grey suit caught her glance as her eyes flickered over him. Raising his glass in mock salute and smiling inquisitively, Elizabeth had no choice but to acknowledge she had seen him. She tilted her head slightly with a smile, then turned back to chat with Tammy.
“So, you’re not going to believe the crazy day I had today. It was like something out of a friggin’ movie. It all started normally enough, teaching and all that kind of thing. Well, then, I got my departmental mail and…”
“Excuse me,” the man in the gray suit had approached her from the other side, “but we would love to buy you ladies a drink and introduce ourselves.” He gestured to his friend on the other side of the room who raised his cocktail glass in salute.
“Well, we…” started Elizabeth.
Tammy interrupted her, rising as she spoke, “We’d love to join you; shall we, Elizabeth?” Without waiting for a reply, Tammy sauntered over to the other table, simply assuming that Elizabeth would follow.
“There goes my chance to tell her about my crazy day,” she muttered to herself.
“Allow me,” the suave man said as collected her sweater from the bar and guided her to his table by lightly touching her elbow with his fingertips.
Once they were all seated, Tammy started the introductions. “I’m Tammy, and this is Elizabeth. Thanks for inviting us over for drinks.” Tammy was naturally bubbly, the life of the party type, and this was certainly her element.
“We’re so glad you joined us. I’m Steven and this is Rick.”
With that, Steven turned to Elizabeth, angling his body towards hers in obvious interest, “So, tell me all about you. I saw you the moment you walked in the bar, and I have to know more.”
While she’d certainly heard every line before, Elizabeth couldn’t help but find Steven attractive. Tall and broad shouldered with dark hair and dark eyes, that man was just the right mixture of businessman meets rough trade. Dimples that flashed when he smiled genuinely and the heady scent of Italian cologne just deepened her interest.
Elizabeth glanced over at Tammy who was in animated conversation with Rick, lightly touching his sleeve as she listened intently to some story then threw back her head in laughter. Apparently, their girls’ night out would be more of a double date. Elizabeth didn’t think she was being disloyal to John since they had both continued to date others while seeing each other. She was having fun, so she just decided to enjoy the attention and interest of meeting someone new. It was Friday night in Nashville, and she was a single, attractive woman. Why shouldn’t she decide to enjoy herself?
Leaning in towards Steven, Elizabeth turned on her subtle charm, “What would you like to know? Choose well because I could never give away all of my secrets here at the beginning.”
Chapter twenty one
“What the hell am I supposed to do now?” raged Aidan as he paced along the edge of the deck at the hotel bar. A fifth of whiskey had done little to improve his already sour mood; now he was descending into the maudlin realization that the life he thought he shared with Jenny had been a lie. Lighting a cigarette even though he’d quit years before, he spat, “A divorce is the next logical step, right? Of course, the bitch probably wants that. I’ll be giving her what she wants, but I can’t stay married to her after, after…”
Muttering to himself, Aidan drank. The bitter liquid, hot in its strength, trickled down in his throat and into his churning stomach. His throat burned; his heart ached; the pounding of blood rushing in his ears had only intensified since the scene he’d witnessed that afternoon. “I probably oughta eat something,” he thought briefly. Dismissing the idea, he simply continued nursing one whiskey after another, hoping for the temporary oblivion it would eventually bring.
Tom counseled his friend carefully, “C’mon now, Aidan, you don’t have to do anything yet. In fact, maybe waiting would be a good idea. You and Jenny could talk, go to counseling, maybe work things out between the two of you.” No inkling of the cutthroat trial lawyer was revealed here; in this, at least, Tom was just a buddy looking out for his friend.
The waitress stepped out on the deck, “Y’all need anything else?” she drawled in a tired voice.
Tom replied, “No, we’re goo….”
Aidan interrupted impatiently, “Another bottle of Jack, a big bottle – put it on my tab, room 319.”
“You got it,” she assured them and hurried off to get another bottle.
“Aidan, you might want to take it easy buddy; you’re gonna have a hell of a hangover tomorrow if you keep drinking like this.”
“A hangover is better than feeling like, like this,” Aidan sputtered. “My God, Tom, I hate her. I friggin’ hate my wife. My wife…that’s a laugh. She hasn’t really been my wife for four years now. You know that, right? You know that she…well, she…” Somehow he couldn’t tell Tom that he’d been in a virtually sexless marriage for four years, couldn’t tell him that Jenny hated him for her surgery, couldn’t tell him that they’d been living like polite strangers for so long. Aidan just couldn’t say all of that aloud, so he drank instead and tried to tamp down the emotions that seemed to want to burst forth.
Sensing that Aidan was on the verge of breaking down, Tom clapped a hand on his shoulder and tried to steer the conversation a bit. “Stop thinking about anybody else. Tell me what you want, man. If you could have anything you want right now, what would it be?”
The waitress came back out and set the bottle of liquor between them on the table. Two fresh glasses of ice were arranged next to it. She even brought out the bucket of peanuts in case they wanted a snack. “Thanks, ma’am,” offered Tom.
“No problem, darlin’,” she answered saucily. That brought an arch to Tom’s eyebrow and a slight tilt to his head. When she smiled deeply and brushed his hand with hers while collecting the empty glasses, Tom realized he might have a potential rendezvous with her ahead. She sauntered back into the bar at that point, and Tom watched her with interest as she walked away. Reluctantly, he turned away from that pleasing view and back to his tormented friend.
“As I was saying, Aidan,” he continued, “what do you want, really want, right at this minute?”
Without missing a beat, Aidan steadied his gaze at Tom and answered readily, “I’d unsee what I saw about Jenny today, and I’d be lying in bed with the redhead.”
“Whoa, man, what are you talking about? That’s not the answer that I was expecting from you. Fill me in on what you’re talking about. What redhead?” Tom was shocked; Aidan wasn’t a cheater; it wasn’t in his makeup. In all the years he’d known him, Tom had never heard of Aidan even thinking about cheating, yet another woman was the first thing that came out of his mouth when he’d been questioned about what he wanted. Not any woman, mind you, he knew a particular woman he wanted. When Aidan didn’t answer right away, Tom prodded, “C’mon man, whatdya mean?”
“Okay, I can’t believe I’m gonna tell you this, but I just can’t get her off my mind. In fact, she’s the only thing that has gotten me through the last couple of months with Jenny.”
“Wait,” interrupted Tom, “do you mean…are you having an affair? Are you cheating on Jenny?” He was astonished; this wasn’t the man that Tom thought he knew. “I…I don’t know what to say.”
“No, no,” reassured Aidan. “I haven’t acted on my feelings for this woman. In fact, she probably has no idea that I even think about her. That’s what’s crazy. Just fantasizing about her has been enough to get me through the last few months. One meeting and dozens of fantasies, and I’ve convinced myself that I’m in love with her. How screwed up is that, right?”
Tom was astonished. His best friend was just now telling him that his marriage with Jenny had been rocky for years and that he was in love with another woman. “When the hell had all this happened,” he thought sarcastically.
Aloud, he simply said, “Okay, tell me the whole story.” And then he waited, like a good attorney, like a good friend, he waited for Aidan to tell him what had happened. “I can’t help you unless I know the whole story,” he chided.
With that, Aidan broke the silence that he’d held for almost three months. “She has this long, curly red hair – not like carrot red, more like this deep red brown color that catches the sunlight and glows somehow. And green eyes that sparkle with mischief and crinkle up on the edges when she throws back her head and laughs.” Aidan swirled his drink until bits sloshed onto the back of his hand as he thought about her.
Tom needed more details, so he just sat back and waited, nursing his own whiskey as he watched his best friend struggle to control the emotions on his face. His expression shifted from wonder to happiness to lust as he recalled the memories of this redhead he’d mentioned.
“Forget about what she looks like, for now at least,” argued Tom. And yes, even he realized how ridiculous that sounded coming from him of all people. “I want to know how you met, who she is, before you tell me about her looks.”
Aidan nodded, “Okay, okay.” He understood that Tom needed a frame of reference for his revelation about being in love with another woman. “I met her a couple of months ago at the beach. Remember that reunion trip to South Carolina? Well, she was there.”
“Oh, I remember. I was pissed that I couldn’t go because of the big trial I was litigating that week. It was all of our old fraternity brothers, right? And a few football players?”
“That’s right; it was the old crew from college. About 40 people came altogether, but less than half that many actually spent the whole weekend with us. Most people just came for the day and brought their wives/girlfriends. Some people even brought their kids.”
“Wait a minute. Wasn’t Jenny there?”
“Yeah, Jenny was with me. And so were all those other people, but all I could see was her. She literally took my breath away when I met her.”
“So why was she there? Who was she with?” queried Tom.
“You’re not gonna believe it, but she was there with Jim.” At Tom’s look of incredulity, Aidan continued, “That’s right – with Jim. I’m pretty sure that they were just there as friends though. I didn’t get the girlfriend vibe when they were together at all.”_________________________________________________________________________________