Monday, February 28, 2011


          The crowd of noontime customers had left; my small but popular café, the Lunch Box, was finally quiet. Good. I needed to think. "Kitchen's clean," Rita said. "I'm out of here. I'll lock the door."
"See you!" I called, wiping another table until it shined.
I serve breakfast and lunch at the café close about two, clean things up—Rita helps—and then I stay to prepare tomorrow's special.
She headed for the door.
"Uh-oh! I think you have a customer."
"Too late."
"It's Tom. How'd you snag such a hunk?" she asked with a laugh.
The door closed. Rita was gone. Tom—the reason I needed to think—dressed in jeans and a white polo shirt, stood inside, looking sheepish. And very, very handsome. "Hey, want some help? I can mop floors."
He smiled at me, and my blood heated up. Get a grip, Kathy! "Rita already did that."
He stepped aside; I locked the door. Then I closed the blinds over the big front windows, casting the café with its tables, chairs and booths into dimness. "Smells great in here," he said.
"Today's roast beef special."
He ambled over and sat at the table I'd just wiped. "I'm sorry about last night," he said, his eyes locked on mine.
"I'm the one who should apologize," I said softly.
"I should've said something before I..." His voice faltered.
"Before you kissed me like that?"
"Right. Before I kissed you like that."
"I shouldn't have bolted into the house."
I pulled out a chair and sat across from Tom. Ours has been a curious relationship. We grew up neighbors. We paled around. Never dated. We knew each other too well. He went off to college and came home a lawyer. While away, though he didn't talk about it much, he suffered through a painful breakup.
I went to culinary school and then took over the café from Mom and Dad, who retired. Like Tom, I'd stumbled through my own relationship disaster.
He toyed with the saltshaker on the table. "I never intended to ambush you—that's what it must've seemed like last night."
"I was surprised." I could have added, But thrilled. But I didn't.
The truth is, in high school I'd developed feelings for Tom. Whenever he came home from college, the feelings intensified, but I always hid my fondness for him and made excuses: He's two years older than you, Linda; you'll make a fool of yourself; he doesn't feel the same way about you; he has someone else. My biggest fear—I'd lose a friend.
"Maybe we need to talk," he said, batting the shaker from one hand to the other.
"I agree."
"We're not teens," he added. "We're almost thirty. Not a time to play games."
What complicated our friendship is that about two months ago Tom and I started seeing each other as companions to several social events. I'm the one to blame: I asked him if he'd go with me to my cousin's wedding. Two weeks later, he asked me to a banquet honoring a fellow lawyer. Last night, we attended the must-see concert of a group that was popular when we were in high school.
During the first two occasions, we smiled at each other and laughed a lot. Last night, though, we held hands; and after the concert, as we stood on my front porch in the moonlight, Tom suddenly gripped my arms and then kissed me—a toe-curling kiss that melted my heart and set off an alarm in my brain. Danger!  Hardly able to breathe, I darted into the house.
Tom tilted the shaker now, sprinkled a bit of salt into his right palm, and tossed the salt over his shoulder. "What was that for?" I asked.
"Good luck. I have a confession to make."
I sat straight. I couldn't imagine—
His Adam's apple bobbed. "I've wanted to kiss you for a long time, Kathy. And well...last night"—he shrugged, sheepish again—"seemed like the right time. I couldn't resist any longer. How long have we known each other?"
I bit my bottom lip and then said, "Um...twenty years probably."
"Time for me to be honest, don't you think?"
I gulped. "I've thought about kissing you, too," I said, and decided to give him a real dose of honesty. "Like a million times."
A warm smile lit his handsome face, "Really?"
"Really. What happens now?"
He reached across the table and gripped my hands. "I think we can make this work, you and me."
"It's scary."
"I know," he said. "We don't want to wreck a friendship."
"Maybe we'll end up...broken hearted. It happens."
He squeezed my hands. "No way. Not if we stay honest."
While my heart thundered, he stood and leaned across the table. His soft brown eyes locked with mine again. We kissed for a second time, a kiss that sizzled. When he sat down again, I blew out a long breath. Wow!  "Honesty," I said, "is a lovely way to go."
The End
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Monday, February 14, 2011

A Valentine's Day Kiss

          “Oh, look at this!” The brunette standing next to me in front of the rack of Valentine cards handed me one. “Perfect for your girlfriend.”
The card promised love forever. “Nice,” I said, and handed the card back. She gave me a curious look, and my heart rate spiked. 
She was beautiful—soft blue eyes, heart-shaped lips, and a dazzling smile.  And then I noticed the nametag on her blouse: Casey. "You work here?" I said.
 “Manager." She tucked her long black hair behind her ears. "People keep putting the cards back in the wrong slots, so I’m rematching the cards with the envelopes."
“Good idea."
“Not very often I see a guy looking for a Valentine two weeks ahead of time.”
I shrugged and explained I was an electrician, part of the local construction crew building the addition to this super mall. It was lunchtime. I’d eaten a sandwich on the job and had ditched my coveralls to come inside, wander around, and ended up in her Gifts Forever shop.
 “How about a Valentine for your man?” I showed her one I thought a bit romantic—one I would’ve like to have gotten from Meredith.
“Very nice." Then she said, "Sorry," and skittered away to help a clerk working the register.
I left and meandered about the mall only to spot her later at a table in the food court, eating by herself.  I couldn't walk by—I felt totally attracted to her.  I wandered up to her table. “I’m Andy Parker,” I said. “Hi.”
“Casey McFarland. You didn’t buy a card, did you?”
“Still lots of time. ” I cleared my throat. “You work at the gift shop everyday?”
“From ten till five, weekdays.  Nearly all day Sunday.”
I glanced at my watch. “Got to get back to work. Um...look, maybe I’ll see you around again.”
The next week, I ate lunch twice with her at the food court.  I learned that we were both single and that she was taking an all-day Saturday college course, working on a BA in business. She told me she’d once been engaged to a charming chameleon.  “Sometimes,” she said, “he’d speak fondly of our marriage plans, kids, a future, but when he thought we were getting too serious, he’d withdraw. We split up. It’s been eighteen months."
I blinked. I couldn’t believe how similar her experience was to mine.
I told her my story about Meredith.  We were engaged to be married on Valentine’s Day last year. But two weeks before the wedding she told me she didn’t think her love for me was strong enough for marriage. The relationship died. The wedding was canceled.
“I’d bought her a wedding-day Valentine card,” I said. “It said something about making her my bride on Valentine’s Day—how special that was. But I ended up tearing it into a million pieces.”
“Can’t blame you.”
“Actually, I was in your store, curious to see if I could find one like it. Just to read it again, I guess. A way to finally put Meredith behind me.”
That night Casey and I went to a movie, a chick flick that was pretty funny. We enjoyed pizza and Coke after. 
When we said good night at her front door, my heart triple-timed. I wanted to cradle her face in my hands, kiss her lightly on those beautiful lips. Maybe she wanted me to, I don’t know. I was waiting for her to raise her head, her lips. Maybe she was waiting for me to bend my head, offer my lips.
Neither one of us did anything. The truth is I was afraid—I didn't want to get hurt again. Or to hurt her. Maybe she was afraid, too. Finally, I swallowed and told her I'd call. We went out twice after that: a hockey game and a concert. We held hands and laughed a lot, but I was still afraid to take the next step—a kiss.
The night of Valentine’s Day, I picked up her up to go to dinner. When she let me into her apartment and closed the door behind us, I dug a red envelope out of my topcoat pocket and handed her a Valentine card, hoping my face wasn’t as red as the envelope.
“For you,” I said hoarsely, my blood racing. “Something to let you know I think you’re...great.  And I'm...”
"Sort of wary," she finished for me.
I nodded, happy she understood what was going on with me.
"Me, too," she said. "A bit wary." She picked up a red envelope from the coffee table that looked exactly like mine.Before she handed it to me, she said, “Won’t you be my Valentine?"
Her soft brown eyes were the warmest I'd ever seen. I felt my cheeks flush.  "Yes...yes, of course," I said. "As long as you'll be mine." I cradled her face in my palms. And kissed her on the lips the first time. Soundly.

The End
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