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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