Saturday, April 30, 2011

Love at Second Sight

A male voice from behind me called, "Mari Jo?"
I didn't turn immediately. I didn't have to. I recognized the voice.
I grabbed my two suitcases from the airport carousel, then whirled, and that's when the sight of Joel Woodard sent goose bumps racing up and down my arms, as if I were seeing him for the first time.
His eyes were as blue as a cloudless summer sky, his hair a cross between brown and blonde. "I thought Ginny was picking me up," I said.
"The bride-to-be is much too busy." He smiled and bowed slightly. "She asked me, her loyal brother, to help out." He looked at his watch. "Besides, it's late. Ten-thirty. She needs her beauty sleep." He smiled again, an amazing smile, white teeth flashing. "Let me carry your bags."
Something strange was happening here. His smiles created a sudden tingling that danced up my spine. How could this be? I'd known Joel for years. He was Ginny's older brother. I'd been her best friend since fourth grade—twenty-five years. In two days, I'd be her bridesmaid. Joel was in sixth grade when we first met. I wore ugly braces. He was tall but skinny.
On the way home in his car, I caught the scent of his cologne wrapping itself around me. I tried to ignore the scent and was happy to discuss Ginny's upcoming wedding, but just before we arrived at my folks' house, where I'd be staying, he changed the subject. "How's your job in the big city?" he asked.
"The excitement of being a city auditor is wearing off."
"You've been gone four years?"
"Almost five. I've been thinking of moving back. Being close to my folks again. And old friends."
"Good," he said softly. "Everyone's missed you."
My face felt warm. "Does that include you?"
"Of course," he said, and offered a mischievous grin.
The rehearsal went well. Later, during the dinner at a restaurant, Joel sat next to me. Each time our arms touched, or our knees bumped, a shudder swept through me. He surprised me when he asked, "Anyone special in your life, Mari Jo?"
I shook my head. "How about you?"
"No one."
Why had he asked? Why was I thrilled when he said no one, my heart thumping? Was I crazy? How could I find myself suddenly attracted to a man, who, when we were kids, thought of his sister and me as...well, brats? In junior high and high school, we practically ignored each other, though he liked to tease me about my blonde hair, calling me Goldilocks. Get a grip, Mari Jo!
The wedding went smoothly. No fainting. No lost ring. Ginny was elegant in her white satin gown. During the ceremony where ever we sat or stood, near or far apart, Joel and I exchanged glances. Shy glances, really.
How odd, I thought, to know my best friend's older brother all these years and now to wonder if he's interested in me. How odd that I should be feeing his way about him—both of us in our thirties—as if I were a silly teen with a crush on the most handsome boy in school.
At the reception, after the catered meal was cleared away, I caught only glimpses of Joel during the cake-cutting, garter-tossing, and bouquet-throwing rituals. Later, couples crowded the dance floor.
I was sitting alone at a table, a bit tired and wistful, when I felt a warm hand suddenly resting on my shoulder. I looked up into smiling blue eyes.
"I like your hair down like that," Joel said, his voice husky, as he touched a curl. "You've always had beautiful blonde hair."
"Thank you." Oh Lord! My heart rate spiked, and my words sounded like a croak.
"Dance with me?" he asked. "I think we need to talk."
As the band played a slow ballad, Joel took my hand and led me onto the dance floor.
"Something's going on with us," he said, sounding a little bewildered.
"I think so, too." I settled into the warm comfort of his arms.
"A chemistry between us I've never felt strange."
"Like a magic pull," I said.
"That's it! You feel it, too?"
"Yes. All of a sudden...irresistible."
"Oh wow!" He pulled me in close. "I'm so glad—I thought I was out of my mind. It's like love at first sight, but we've known each other forever. Crazy."
"Crazy," I repeated.
"All these years—we've never kissed."
As the slow music continued to drift over us, my head dropped to Joel's shoulder. I snuggled deeper into his arms and imagined his lips pressed against mine. "That's a detail," I said, "that we'll have to take care of right now."

The End
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Friday, April 15, 2011

Fit for Love

When the music stopped, I wiped my face on my sleeve and wished I were anywhere else but on a gym floor in Ellie Mae's Health Club with twenty-nine other sweaty bodies—male and female—doing aerobics. Everyone looked reasonably fit and well-toned. Except me.
Catching my breath, I stumbled over to a metal folding chair on the sidelines where I'd left my towel. The others strolled around the gym, either cooling down or checking their pulse. I grabbed the towel and collapsed on the chair. All I could think of was getting out of here, hurrying home, and tumbling into a hot bubble bath.
"Your first time in an aerobics class?" a masculine voice asked.
I yanked my towel away from my face, opened my eyes, and realized that the instructor had pulled up a chair and was sitting beside me. A sweat-soaked tank top and gray sweatpants sheathed his lean but muscular frame. Before he started today's session, he told us he was substituting for Ellie May, who was on a well-deserved vacation for the next month. He was her nephew. His real job was teaching P.E. and coaching football at Roosevelt High School. He looked to be about my age. Late twenties.
"Very first time," I mumbled, and gazed into the most startling blue eyes I'd ever seen. "I think I'd rather shovel coal."
He smiled, and I couldn't help but notice the delightful way his smile brightened his blue eyes. "I saw you struggling," he said. "You might like to sit the next set out. Then join us for the last one."
I felt totally embarrassed. Did he think I was that out of shape? I was sure that the baggy sweats I'd chosen to wear hid the ten pounds I was trying to lose. "Seriously," I said, "I think I'm headed for home."
"Look, no need to kill yourself the first time out. Start at a slow pace. Your own pace. Keep at it. Don't get discourage. Gradually you'll see great improvement in respiration and pulse rate, blood pressure—all those vital signs."
"I don't know," I said, and shrugged.
"Trust me..." he said, looking at me quizzically, probably wanting to attach a name to me.
"Tracy," I said. "My name's Tracy Sullivan."
"You can do it, Tracy. Believe in yourself."
Danny Carter was his name. Something about this man invited confidence—his ready smile, his easy manner. I stayed that night for the final session and discovered he was right. I worked at my own pace, and after three more sessions, though I still wasn't dancing smoothly like my classmates—I probably never would—I felt I was improving. After one of the sessions Danny ambled over to me and said, "You're looking good, Tracy."
I felt myself blush. "Thanks."
"Notice any difference in yourself?"
"A lot more energy." I didn't know if I should admit this or not, but I did: "Clothes fit a bit looser."
He smiled—I loved that smile. "Keep up the good work," he said.
Listening to the gossip among the other women, I knew he was single. Never married. I wondered, Could he be...? But I shook my head before I finished the thought. Why would he be interested in me when he could pick from so many shapely, leotard-clad women dancing in front of him, many of them probably single like me?
 After another session he asked what had brought me to Ellie May's. I told him about the stress of working part-time and finishing graduate school, then struggle of finding a job in an accounting firm close to home so I could be near my elderly folks. "I needed release from the strain," I said. Then I smiled, feeling a little sheepish, and added, "I also need to drop a few pounds."
"No boyfriend?"
"Not much time for one."
Saturday morning, after my fourth week of aerobics, feeling good about myself—I'd dropped four pounds—I sat in my chair on the sidelines, taking my pulse. The second session had just ended. Danny pulled up a folding chair and sat next to me. His nearness ignited a sudden rush of quivery excitement in the pit of my stomach. "Vital signs improving?" he asked.
I nodded. "Just like you said they would."
"This is my last week," he said, "and I need to congratulate you. By far, you've shown the most improvement of anyone else here."
I felt myself blushing again, but I smiled. "That's because I was so far behind the others. Thanks. I owe everything to you. I was ready to flat-out quit that first night."
"I know. But you hung tough. Showed determination. Grit. I love those qualities—it's the football coach in me." Suddenly he looked unsure of himself, his brow wrinkling. "Would you have time for dinner and a movie Saturday night—I hope you're not busy."
I nearly fell off my chair. I gulped. I'd come here to relieve stress. Lose weight. Compared to the other women, I was clumsy at best. I danced like a clunky marionette, half of my strings attached. I never in my wildest dream thought...
"I'd be honored," he said.
"I'll make time," I said, and knew my vital signs had suddenly spiked off the chart.
The End
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