The Magic of Dating
“The Mistletoe Martini. Had you pegged as a margarita girl.”
I lower the glass to the bar and turn to my left at the sound of the unfamiliar deep voice. Gulping at the sight of him, the vodka burns. My eyes scan up and down, allowing the sip to coat my throat. He wears the hell out of his black suit, his broad shoulders filling it out as if it was made for him. Definitely designer. Definitely expensive. The green holiday tie adds a festive touch to the suit.
“What gave it away?”
The good-looking man doesn’t miss a beat. “The heels.”
In case I missed his point, he motions to my three-inch black stilettos. The ones I “borrowed” from the girlfriend of my cheating ex. Man, was I ever lucky we have the same shoe size.
My brows furrow. “I didn’t realize shoes and drink choice correlated.” Or the fact that a man would notice such a frivolous thing.
Without asking permission, he slides onto the empty stool, angling his body my way, his legs straddling it. “The ones with the red sole always do.”
The bartender sidles up across from him, but the stranger pays him no attention. “Can I get you anything?”
I sneak a peek at his shoes. Black, shiny and polished oxfords. Two can play this game. “A hot butter rum for the gentleman,” I blurt, my eyes staying put.
“And a margarita for the lady,” the sexy stranger rasps.
“Salt or no salt?”
“Salt,” the two of us state at the same time. I could question him further but decide against it, instead studying his profile. Perfectly styled, dark black hair. Clean-cut, chiseled jaw. This late in the day, it had to be done recently. Not even a hint of stubble.
Stubble’s my favorite. Scruff I’ll tolerate. Anything longer? No thank you, kind sir. Experience has taught me the ones with the beards can’t be trusted. Not when they have them when I meet them, nor if they grow one while we’re together.
The bartender taps the bar and walks away.
“What brings you to this fancy establishment on a night like tonight?” the attractive man wonders.
My shoulders lift. Having no good reason, I say, “Seemed like a good night to get wasted.”
He questions me with a raise of his brow. Just the right one. Cool trick. “On a Tuesday?”
I lean in. The cool and fresh scent of his aftershave—a hint of bergamot—tickles my nostrils. It’s reminiscent of Dad’s, one no other man has ever worn. “It’s the holidays. Grueling hours at work the past few weeks warrant the two-week break.”
“What’s your profession?”
“Photographer. Maternity, kids, holiday shoots. I draw the line at weddings. Who needs to be around all those happy and sappy people professing their love?” The words sound okay in my head, but hearing them aloud makes me cringe.
It’s not that I’m against love and the happily ever after. It’s just that I’m realistic. Like things a certain way. And beyond cynical after a few nasty breakups.
So, yeah. I’ll pass on all things wedding.
A chortle jumps from the stranger’s perfectly sculpted lips. A perfect Michelangelo carving on a real-life man.
“Got it. No weddings. Even if you find the one?”
“‘The one’ is a load of malarky. All I’ve found are the one who walked away after two years, the one who thought it was cool to cheat, and the one who asked if I’d be okay with sharing the bedroom with another man before we even had sex. And a whole bunch of other ‘ones’ who barely made it to the third date.”
The bartender returns with our drinks. I suck down what’s left of my martini, promising myself not to go too far out of control. My fingers trace the edge of the margarita glass, collecting the excess salt. I pop the finger into my mouth before I can think better of it.
“Care to join me for a late dinner?”
The question catches me off guard. It’s already past nine. Why does he think I haven’t eaten?
On looks alone, this guy’s my type. But I thought the last two were too and look where that got me. I stall for the time needed to come up with a good excuse for why I’m turning him down. “I’m meeting a friend.”
“What time are you meeting her?”
Again, I’m confused by the question. “He’s running late. He’s always late, so I’m not sure what time he’ll actually show up.”
It’s the man’s turn to be confused. “He?”
“I said friend. You assumed one of the female variety.”
“Could he be the one?”
I choke on the sip of margarita. The kind gentleman pats my back, helping to move it down the correct pipe. His touch warms the spot, and electricity courses to other parts of my body.
He only removes his hand when I’ve composed myself. “No. He’s certainly not the one. West’s a friend I’ve had for a long time. More like the brother I never had.”
The entire Murrtham clan has always been more family than friends. West and I have known each other since grade school when I was the new kid in class. He boasted and bragged about his family’s Christmas tree farm, and years later, a sense of jealousy eclipses me that he gets to live on that gorgeous slice of heaven. Even tried “dating” his brother Gavin for a little while hoping to become a Murrtham one day so I could live there too. That ended in epic failure. He’s had eyes for only one woman his entire life. But hey. Can’t blame a girl for trying.
“How about we grab a table until he arrives? You need to eat dinner.”
My concentration drifts from the Murrthams back to the man. “Who says I didn’t eat already? It’s past nine. Who the heck eats dinner this late?”
“Dessert then. Or a late-night snack.”
“Late-night snacks are for late nights. Midnight and after.” My mouth gets ahead of me. As if my stomach can tell time. As if “late-night snacks” is a category on a menu that can only be eaten at a specific time of day.
“How about we call it food? Will that get you to stop challenging everything I say?” There’s no hostility in his voice. His words are formidable, but his tone is not.
My mouth opens to refute, but no words come out. Huh.
“I’ve rendered the lady speechless. One point to Josh.”
Josh. Would have guessed a Jonathan. At least I had the first two letters correct.
“Great. A man who references himself in third person,” I mumble loud enough so he can hear me.
Ignoring my dig, he says, “Didn’t catch your name.”
“Because I didn’t throw it.”
Just when I thought maybe he could thaw my frozen heart, my mouth disagrees.
Except it seems this man is truly up for a challenge.
“Is this the alcohol talking, or are you always so sassy?”
“Came this way. My mother always said I should have been born a redhead for how much sass and attitude I give her. I’m also responsible for all her gray hairs.”
Josh reaches his fingers out, stopping just shy of fingering the ends of my chestnut locks. “This color suits you. Where are we on the food?”
A laugh tumbles out. He’s persistent, I’ll give him that.
“But my friend…”
“Until he arrives. Let me buy you something to help sop up the martini and margarita in your stomach. Then, when he comes, I’ll let you be on your merry way.”
I study his eyes, the intensity in the golden orbs, the color similar to whiskey, an alcohol I won’t touch. “What if he comes before the food gets ordered?”
“It’s not a date.” I don’t miss the way his voice catches on the word date. As if he wants it to be one. “He can join us.”
“He’s not really good at sharing. He doesn’t play nice with my gentleman suitors.”
The comment doesn’t faze him. Josh leans in close, his hot breath stimulating my neck. “Good thing I’m not one of those.”
Without time for a response, he pushes off his stool, swipes his glass off the bar and does some funny motion with his head before stalking off. I can’t help but spin on my stool, watching his every step. And damn if I’m not inclined to follow him.
“For food,” I mutter to myself. “I could use some snacks.”
I leave the siren at the bar, covertly adjusting my hard cock as I stride to my regular table in the back. I can’t guarantee she’ll join me, which would be a pity.
She’s gorgeous. She wears the hell out of the skinny jeans and off the shoulder satin shirt. Paired with the heels, she’s a knockout.
And I won’t lie and say I wasn’t hard the minute she opened her mouth. Her sultry voice lured me in, but her words further captivated me, enticing me to issue challenges I’d never otherwise do.
I don’t dare a glance back to the bar. I’ll give her ten minutes. If she decides not to let me treat her, at least I’ll get to dispose of this nasty, hot buttered rum. Why? Why would anyone even think this concoction is worth adding to a menu? Holiday time or not, no thanks. Butter and rum do not belong in the same sentence. It doesn’t work for LIFE SAVERS either.
“Your usual, Mr. Bartlett?” the waitress asks. I come here often enough, she knows me. My favorite meals. My normal beverage. Hell, she probably can forge my name on a credit card receipt if she had to.
“I need a menu, please.” Thinking positively, I add, “Actually, two.”
Noelle’s eyes widen. “Not dining alone tonight?”
“If all goes to plan, no.”
Her eyes light up. “Sure thing. Be right back.”
Before she can escape, I say, “And a whiskey neat.” She eyes my drink but doesn’t comment. All the best ones know to keep their opinions to themselves.
“On it.” She flitters away.
Noelle’s my favorite waitress here at Sterling Obsidian. Even when she first started with little to no experience of working in such a high-class establishment, there was something about her. Her eagerness to learn. To please the customer. She had it in spades. It’s paid off quite well for her.
Eight minutes after sitting down, a pair of heels click my way. My concentration trained on my phone, I don’t look up, but I can’t help the smirk forming.
“I paid for our drinks. Didn’t want you to think this was a date or anything.”
Her comments entitle her to a glance. With her clutch on the table, she glides into the booth across from me. Without another word, she opens the menu, flipping pages with barely a glimpse in my direction.
“The first date shouldn’t be at a restaurant you frequent often.”
Her head picks up so fast, I’m surprised she doesn’t have whiplash. Her eyes hold my gaze steady, the effects of her martini not quite settled in. Moments of silence, of us staring, pass. When she finally speaks, I’m not sure what to expect.
She clucks her tongue. Which would normally annoy the hell out of me, but for some reason, the sound is endearing.
Endearing, Josh? What the hell kind of froufrou shit did they lace your drink with?
“I wholeheartedly agree. Unless your endgame is only a first date. But if you want more than one—”
“At least four,” I interrupt. Four will get me past her “three dates” stipulation.
If she’s astounded at my insinuation, she hides it well. “Okaaaaaay. And how often do you frequent Sterling Obsidian?”
“More than I care to admit. In all fairness, I have a lot of business dinners here.”
“What do you do for work?”
“I’m a financial analyst.”
“Right?” I chuckle, adding a little more levity to our conversation. The one I don’t want to end anytime soon. Unfortunately, she’s not amused.
“What does that entail?”
My jest falls short, and she stares again. “Do women actually fall for that?”
I shrug. “You tell me. Did you?”
She crosses her arms across her chest, lifting her boobs. I don’t allow my eyes to linger. Thankfully she speaks. “Hardly.”
“Damn. Better work on better material for our first date.”
Her mouth opens, but anything she’s going to say gets cut off when a man walks up to the table. He tries for intimidating, but he falls short. His scrutiny travels between the two of us, ending on her.
“Thought we were meeting at the bar.” He hefts a thumb over his shoulder.
“We said eight, West. It’s almost nine-thirty. Did you think I was waiting all night?”
I stifle my laughter at the way she’s not afraid to put him in his place. Under the table, my cock presses against the zipper.
“So, what? You found a replacement?”
The hard lines of her face soften. “Not sure anyone can ever replace you, Westy.” She scoots nearer to the wall and pats the bench beside her. “Sit. Josh and I are getting snacks. Late-night or other varieties. We haven’t decided yet. You’re in time to help us decide.”
I extend my hand. West lets it hang in the air before finally shaking it curtly. “Josh Bartlett. Good to meet you.”
“West Murrtham,” he grunts, taking a seat next to the woman whose name I still don’t know.
His last name niggles something in my brain. “Any relation to the tree farm owners in Lyndon?”
“One and the same,” the woman provides with a smile. “You know it?”
“Just happened upon it a few weeks ago. Walked away with two trees, both for my mom’s house. And her house is hardly big enough for one tree, let alone two.”
“Thank you,” West replies a bit automatically.
“I’m biased, but they have the best trees in the state of Oregon.” Pride infuses her voice.
“Try the entire Pacific Northwest,” West adds defensively.
“Mom and the triplets seem satisfied.”
Noelle approaches our table, a much-needed break to dissolve the tension gravitating around us.
“Have you decided on what you’d like to order?”
“Oh, shoot. We haven’t had a moment to look. Can we have like five more minutes? What time does the kitchen close?”
“Eleven. Holiday hours started this week. I’ll stop by in a few.”
“Josh, what are you in the mood for?”
“Their oysters Rockefeller are to die for. Or we could do the flatbread pizzas. Less of a ‘snack’ but not a full entrée.”
She looks at the other guy. “What about you?”
“I came for a beer. Though giving it some thought, not sure a beer should be on the menu in a place like this. Why are we here anyway? Why not Drake’s?”
“Mistletoe Martini, duh.”
If she hadn’t told me they were friends as close as siblings, I’d question their close-knit relationship. I don’t even know her name, yet an envious streak parades through me.
West looks at her glass. “Didn’t realize the Mistletoe Martini masquerades as a margarita.”
“Josh here ordered this one for me after the martini. Knew I was more of a margarita gal. It slipped my mind how expensive they are here.”
He raises a brow, about to call her out, so I interrupt. “Noelle’s going to be back before we know it. We should be ready with our order.”
A woman’s “fine” has never been so enticing as the one she just uttered.
A little while later, we’ve consumed all the drinks—a beer for West, my whiskey neat, two margaritas for Marisa. Yes, Marisa. She didn’t give it up, but West let it slip, not realizing she was keeping it from me. It suits her. Just like everything else about her I’m learning.
Imbibed with more alcohol, her lips are even looser, her tongue more quick-witted. I’ve never been so painfully hard without the prospect of release. But oddly, I’m enjoying it.
Her earlier comment about West not sharing her has proven true. Every time he looks my way, there’s a sneer or a scowl. He’s über-protective of her, that much is clear. I’m on my best behavior so I can score her number. Because when we have to say goodbye at the end of the evening, I want it to be with a plan for a next time.
When he leaves to hit up the restroom, I make my move.
“You weren’t kidding about the no sharing. You’re sure there’s nothing going on between the two of you?”
“Quite sure. West isn’t the settle down kind of guy. He plays the field.”
“I thought weddings and marriage weren’t for you,” I remind her, showing her I listen and absorb information.
“Not now. But I won’t say never. Just with West. That’s never happening. The man will forever be a bachelor.” Her lips purse, the recent application of lip gloss shimmering.
“Some men aren’t cut out for monogamy, the whole settling down.”
Thankfully West arrives back at the table to miss my comment. I don’t need to start an argument with the guy.
“I should take off. Up bright and early on the farm tomorrow.” He leans in and swipes his lips across her cheek. A thunderous uproar mounts inside.
Which is not even a little bit fair to Marisa. We’ve been chatting for two hours at most. She’s known this goon all her life.
“You’ll be okay getting home?”
“Think I can manage the walk.”
“K. See you on Christmas.” With a curt nod and a grumbling of my name, he saunters away.
“You live close by?” It did cross my mind how she’d be getting home tonight. Figured her “friend” would give her a lift, but he couldn’t be bothered to stay long enough for that. But it opens up an opportunity for me.
“The apartments across the street. Another reason I chose this spot. No need to get behind the wheel of the car after all the drinks.” Her words slur to some degree. Whether she invites me to or not, I’ll be walking her home.
“It’s about that time to call it a night myself. I’ll see to it that you get home safely.” I flag down Noelle and when she brings the bill, I slap down my card for her to run.
“You sure you don’t mind if I take all the leftovers?”
“Nope. Company holiday lunch tomorrow and a client dinner party. They’ll just go to waste.”
“Should have thought to order another serving of the oysters. You weren’t kidding about how good they are.”
It’s too late to order them now because the kitchen’s long been closed. I’m hit with an even better idea.
“Tell you what. You give me your number and let me take you out for a date someplace else, we’ll come back here for date five, and you can order all the oysters you want.”
I’m sure I’m pressing my luck. I basically just asked not only for her number, but for five subsequent dates. I’ve never been one to back down from a challenge or not go after what I want.
The alcohol’s taken away some of her inhibitions. She slumps against the velvet bench, her arms crossed haphazardly over her chest. She’s taken the bobby pins out of her hair, letting the chestnut tendrils hang loose. What I wouldn’t give to run my fingers through the silky strands.
Her mind’s working out my proposition, but the words haven’t fully processed. I don’t want to lose out on what I want, so I give her the time she needs to make sense of them.
And when she does, it has her sitting up ramrod straight.
“Five? We’ll come back here on date five?” Her incredulous tone does nothing to alleviate the situation in my pants.
I cross my arms over my chest. “Guess it depends on how badly you want the appetizer.”
“Right. I live across the street. I can come here anytime.”
Noelle drops off the bill for me to sign, but Marisa grabs it before my fingers can take hold. She opens the billfold slowly, her eyes bugging out at the total price.
“Yeah, or maybe I’d be wise to let the financial analyst foot the bill.” She shoves it toward me, not indicating her agreement or not. But there’s time for that. All I need is her number and one date.
“So, how about your number?”
A MONTH LATER
The doorbell rings as I apply the last of my mascara. Swiping the lip gloss across my lips, I check my appearance in the mirror.
Josh didn’t give me any clues as to where we’re going tonight. All he said was, “Not quite as fancy as Sterling Obsidian but fancier than Drake’s.” As if that sums it up.
I went with a little black dress and one-inch heels, pairing them with a beige wrap around my shoulders.
The bell rings again. In the month since we met at the bar, I’ve learned a lot about him, number one being he’s persistent. Ironically, it’s not annoying. Ultimately we want the same things—to spend more time and get to know each other. I’d be a fool to turn down the date. I’m not saying we’ll get past one, but the potential is there.
I throw open the door. His finger hovers above the doorbell.
“You’re early,” I declare.
“Couldn’t take the chance you’d replace me if I showed up even a minute late.”
It’s corny—cheesy, even—yet it’s enchanting. It’s very much what I’ve come to recognize as Josh.
“I’d have at least let you take me out to dinner before I traded you in. I’m curious to find out where we’re going. What a first date looks like with Josh Bartlett.”
“Is the suspense killing you?”
“I wouldn’t say it’s killing me, but I do want to know.” My fingers reach out to his chin, the skin smooth on my finger pads. “You got my subtle hint?”
“Hints,” he emphasizes, “but yes. Don’t get used to it. At least not on the work days.”
I can’t hide my disappointment or the pout of my lips. “Fine.”
“What? No kickback? No sassy remark to dispute the fact that tonight won’t be the last time we see each other?”
My eyes roll at his petulance. “It’s too early in this relationship to be showing all my cards.”
He perks up on relationship. “So you admit we’re in one?”
We’ve had many text disagreements about what it means to be in a relationship. He’s on team relationship starting from date one. I’m on the opposite side, though I haven’t quite figured out which date solidifies it. We’ll either get there. Or we won’t.
“Did you see the triplets today?”
A layer of confusion masks his face. “No, why?”
“Seems like maybe they’d put you in this funk.” I’m pushing my luck by pressing his buttons, but as much as he loves his siblings—twelve-year-old triplets—too much time spent with them alters his mood. Sometimes significantly.
And that’s just through text communication.
“This funk is all courtesy of you.”
“Hey. That seems highly unfair. It’s been less than five minutes.”
He digs his phone out of his pocket, his fingers scrolling over the screen. Under his breath, he counts. “Seven, eight, nine. No ten.” He looks back at me, his golden eyes darkened by the gray sweater. “Ten times you asked where we were going. And that’s just today.”
I admit I was a little aggressive in my messages. Got my own funk going on after dealing with a couple of unruly toddlers at my last photo session today.
“Sorry,” I apologize. Because I can be a bit much sometimes. Especially when I’m pushed to the brink. It’s hard to lose my cool on kids, even the brattiest brats. “Truce?”
He chuckles. “Doesn’t there have to be some sort of agreement, a compromise of sorts, on both parties’ parts to call a truce? You can’t just say truce and be done with it.”
As much as he gives as good as he gets, I like that he challenges me and doesn’t let me get away with bullshit. It’s refreshing.
“Did you make a reservation?”
“Are we going to be late?”
His eyes scan my face, looking for a reaction I haven’t given him yet.
“We’ve got time.” His answer brokers no way for me to move this along.
“Do you think we should go? Just in case? Maybe there’ll be traffic.”
His lips quirk into a smirk, and his fingers push back the stubborn tendril of hair from my face. “I’m not giving up where we’re going.”
I admire his tenacity. It irks me, but for some strange reason, I respect him more.
His eyes are full of hunger, and not for food. Like he’s going to lean down, close the distance between us, and kiss me.
I have mixed feelings about that, none of which I’d admit aloud or even to myself.
His finger disappears all too soon from my face, and he states, “We should go. Don’t want to hit too much traffic.”
“Can you at least tell me the city?”
I roll my eyes at his less than helpful hint.
“If you were anyone else, I’d already have tonight’s exit plan mapped out.”
That gets his attention.
“But since I’m me, you’re willing to stick it out until the end?”
“Call me crazy, but yes.”
“Crazy is the last thing I’d call you, Marisa.”
Josh drives a brand-spanking-new, just off the lot, Jaguar. The streetlamp illuminates the hunter green color and once inside, the interior lights highlight the black leather seats.
“I see financial analysis is working for you.” Which I knew when he dropped two hundred dollars on drinks and snacks the night we met. But damn. This car has it going on.
A large screen displays in between the seats. Since the car’s off, I’m not sure what information it gives, but I can use my imagination. The three dials are large, way more fancy and impressive than any car I’ve ever owned. It’s weird to ruminate about a car’s dials in this way, but they’re just comprehensive. The steering wheel has buttons on it too. It seems more like what I imagine a spacecraft dashboard would look like, not a car. Maybe the new car smell is getting to me.
“Christmas bonus came in handy this year. But don’t let it fool you. It replaced a ten-year-old Infinity.”
“Which was probably still more expensive than what I make in a year. Even then.”
I live comfortably as a single twenty-five-year-old woman. Rent is my biggest personal expense, and also my biggest professional one. The photography studio I rent isn’t huge, but it’s not cheap either. But I get by, saving a little more each year. Before he died, my dad made some smart investments, and the interest on them cushions my bank account nicely.
Josh stays quiet, maneuvering the car away from my building, down the street to the on-ramp of the highway.
“What kind of car do you drive?”
“A Jeep Cherokee. Five years old. Definitely nothing luxury about it.” But she’s all paid off, and she’s mine. Something to be proud of. “She’s a bit of a pain in extreme weather—hot and cold. She prefers the averages.”
“Has she told you this herself?”
I like how he asks without mocking me, like he’s genuinely curious and doesn’t think my conclusion is odd.
“She makes it quite known when she’s reluctant to start during the blistering hot days and the frigid ones.”
I’m not sure I’ve ever discussed the temperament of my car with anyone, least of all a guy I’m on a date with.
“Back to the question earlier.”
“Be more specific.” He expertly navigates a change of lane, even using the blinker.
“How many dates qualify it as ‘dating’ versus being on a date with someone?”
“Told you. One.”
“So, you’re telling people we’re dating?”
“I’m not sure who you think all these people are I have to tell, but if someone asked me if I was single, I would say I’m seeing someone.”
I press further. “Does seeing someone equivalize to dating?”
“Run that sentence back again.” His deep voice ignites a fire in my belly, one that I enjoy.
“Does seeing someone equate to dating?”
“You did not use that word the first time.” His voice stays level. He’s not ruffled by the conversation we’re having.
“Which word?” I play dumb, though I know exactly what he means. I’m not sure why I have the habit of creating my own words. My third grade teacher double-crossed them all out in red pen, yet it didn’t deter me. I just stopped doing it in his class.
“Did you understand my question the first time?” I like the satisfaction of knowing he doesn’t rankle easily. His levelheadedness bodes well for me.
It’s several minutes before he answers. As I sit in the silence of the car—he hasn’t even turned on the radio—my eyes drift to the sight in front of us. I don’t know how long it’s been since we left nor how much longer to our final destination. The sun’s just beginning to set, the sky blanketed in bright oranges and reds.
When he first suggested the early time, I almost balked, but I decided I need to be open-minded about the entire situation with Josh. He intrigues me. Has since he first spoke to me at the bar. And I want to see what he plans for a first date.
And I may be getting ahead of myself, but I want to see what he has planned for future dates too.
“I’m fairly certain the word equivalize isn’t in Merriam-Webster, but I kinda get what it means. And I’d say yes. Seeing someone and dating are the same. In the beginning stages.”
“You have a lot of strong opinions about dating. Especially for a man.”
“So I’ve been told,” he mutters, his opinion on that topic coming through loud and clear.
For once, I decide not to push him. Not to press my luck. Not this early on.
“My father died when I was ten.”
I can’t help the gasp leaping from my mouth. “I’m sorry. For the loss of your father and my shock. My dad passed away a few years ago. I can’t imagine losing him when I was younger.”
“I’m sorry for your loss. Does it get easier every year for you?”
“A little. I still feel his loss immensely at certain times of the year. Christmas, my birthday, his birthday, the anniversary of his death.”
“Father’s Day,” he adds, a melancholy tone I know all too well. He directs the car off the exit, and stopped at the light, looks over at me. “How did he die?”
“Heart attack. His second one.” The first one was a wake-up call, ten years earlier. He did all the right things—changed his diet, lost weight, worked out. But his heart just gave out, and then he was gone. I’ve told the story too many times, but I don’t have it in me to share with Josh. Not tonight. Even if he deserves it most. “How about yours?”
“Car accident. They told us he’d make it. It was a minor injury to his leg. He died on the operating table.” Wistfulness layers his tone, the loss still affecting him years later.
My hand finds its way to his thigh, my fingers squeezing gently. “I’m so sorry. That must have been horrible for you.”
“It wasn’t easy. But the reason I bring it up is that soon after, my mom started dating a man. I thought it was too soon, especially to be considered dating, but they didn’t care what I had to say. Less than a year later, they were married and pregnant a couple of years after that with the triplets. He’ll never be my dad, you know, but the man loves my mom, treats her with the utmost respect, and if I had to choose someone for her to replace Dad, I couldn’t have picked a better man than Shepherd.”
I try to make sense of the connection in his story to his thoughts on dating. Luckily he continues, filling in the missing holes.
“When it’s the right woman, dating can start on the first date.”
“You can’t know I’m the right one this soon.” My words are whispered, afraid to give voice to them.
But that idea is crazy. Ludicrous, Absurd.
“Want to take bets?”
This time, my exclamation bounces around the car currently driving us to our first date.
I don’t know what to think, how to act, what to say in response.
“It’s okay, Marisa. I’ll believe it enough for the both of us.”
PART TWO COMING NEXT WEEK!