"This is my car, here." I informed Max, as we reached the slot I had parked in.
"The blue Jeep?" She questioned.
"You got a problem with a woman driving a Jeep, Maxine?" I teased.
She raised both eyebrows and laughed deeply. "I guess not. See that green one three spaces over?" Still laughing, she pointed to our left.
I couldnít help it. I cracked up. "Youíre joking?"
Holding her sides and leaning against my car, she shook her head. "Nope. Thatís mine. This is strange, even for me."
Once our laughter subsided, we looked from first one car to the other and back again. I quickly shook my head once more before speaking.
"Max. This is strange, no question about it. And it is funny. But Iím not sure itís THAT funny. You think maybe this is one of those cases where weíre both just so nervous we over-reacted?"
She was standing up again, next to my Jeep and reached skyward in a long stretch. "Maybe. Sure. Yeah, I think youíre right. Thatís exactly what it was. Laughing hard is great medicine for terror. Right?"
Unlocking the door on the driverís side, I looked up. Would I ever not feel that catch in my chest when I looked into those eyes? I wondered, silently. "Terror? God, Max. I said I was nervous, not terrified." I chuckled softly.
Our hands reached the door handle at the same time. She smiled. "Who said I was talking about you? Maybe Iím the one whoís terrified." Her eyes left mine and found something on the pavement to look at.
If I wanted to have dinner with this gorgeous woman, who seemed to have just walked out of my dream, (and I definitely DID want to have dinner with her) I was going to have to take the lead. It was not my style but I was not about to miss what I was convinced would be the chance of a lifetime.
"Yeah?" She looked up, in my direction.
"Is your car locked?"
I cleared my throat. "Well, I was just thinking we could just take my car. I mean, Iíd bring you back to yours after dinner. If you donít mind, that is. I mean, it would give us more time to talk is all." I just knew I was rambling and sounding like an idiot.
"Sure. Okay. That makes sense. Just let me put this in my car and we can go." My tall companion indicated her briefcase and started toward the green Jeep.
I reached out, taking her hand in mine. "Why donít you just put it in the back, with mine? I mean, what if you need it later? Iím hardly ever without mine."
"But I didnít see a...oh, you left it in the car. Well, I do feel naked without it."
Uh-oh. Where did that come from? No. No. No. Max, donít paint images like that in my head. The eyes and the shivers were already more than enough to handle in one day. I vigorously shook my head, trying to clear the unbidden image that was rapidly altering my body ..um.. chemistry.
"Gillian? You okay?"
Max reached over and touched my face, which did nothing to dull the sound of my racing heart. Completely without conscious thought, I moved my hand to cover hers as it caressed my cheek. Green met blue and the music I heard morphed into a voice.
"Gillian? Gillian, you okay?"
"hmmm? Oh. Oh, sorry." I blushed and felt the heat rise to my face. "I..I was distracted. Sorry. Where were we? Oh, yes. Your briefcase."
"Yeah. I feel naked without it."
No, Gillian, I scolded myself. You will not go there again. What is wrong with you, girl? Snap out of it.
"Right. Here. Just toss it back there while I unlock the other door."
Once we were both inside and buckling our seat belts, I looked over. Starting the engine, I asked: "So. Where you wanna eat?"
"Actually, Iím not sure a restaurant is the best idea." She seemed to have something on her mind, so I just listened. "What I mean is I really want to be able to talk with you."
"Me too," I assured her we both wanted the same thing.
"Good. Well, itís just that in a restaurant someone will always be interrupting us. Not to mention the lack of privacy." She adjusted her shoulder harness. "Gillian, I ...what I mean is...I know it sounds strange but I feel like I have always known you. And yet, weíre strangers. For one thing, I would really like to know more about this dream youíve been having. Iím not sure we can say all we want to say in a crowded restaurant."
I had been listening to everything she said and she had a point. A very good point. "I think youíre right, Max. I really hadnít thought about that. Why donít we just go to my house and Iíll fix us some dinner while we talk. Iím a pretty good cook so Ptomaine shouldnít be a factor."
Chuckling, "I hadnít considered poisoning much of a risk when I left the apartment earlier. Youíre a good cook, huh?"
"I believe I said a pretty good cook. Iím no Wolfgang Puck, but if you donít mind every day, real people food, Iím your gal."
"My gal, eh? I like...I didnít mean that, Gillian. I.."
"Hey." I took her trembling, damp hand. "Relax, Max. I knew what you meant. I donít live far from here. How about we just go to my house and figure something out from there?"
She tried to take her hand back; but having seen her other hand reaching for the door handle, I held on tightly.
"Listen," she almost whispered. "This was a bad idea. I better just let you go on home."
I outright gripped her hand. "No way, Max. Let go of that handle right now and listen to me."
Her head snapped up and she looked at me in child-like surprise.
"Does this have anything to do with your being gay?" Blue eyes got bluer, and bigger. "Because I can only guess at the shit youíve had to endure from some women. But know this, Max. I am not one of them."
Tears were starting to pool in those incredible eyes. It made my heart ache just imagining the ignorance and cruelty that could make this strong woman feel such pain.
Gingerly, she eased her hand from my grasp and cleared her throat. "I just donít ever want you to be uncomfortable around me. Thatís all. I didnít mean anything sexual by what I said. Honest."
I leaned forward till I was almost breathing in her ear. "Thatís too bad, Max. Your loss, though." I playfully smacked her shoulder. "See there? I am not made of blown glass. I wonít break and I wonít bolt so chill out. Iím starving. My house then?"
The flush that crawled up her face and down into the flesh that peeked from her slightly open silk blouse did not escape my attention, either.
She gulped. I smiled.
"Um. Okay. Your house it is. Only letís pick up something on the way. No sense you having to cook. This way thereís no dishes either. Whadda you think?"
I chuckled. "How did you know I hate to do dishes?"
"Didnít. Just know itís not on my list of favorite things to do. Especially when I would much rather be getting to know the person whoís been in my dreams for nearly 30 years."
"Well. There ya go. Weíre already making progress."
"Well, we know I live in a house and you live in an apartment. We know we both carry briefcases that we...um..would really rather not be without. And now we know neither of us likes to wash dishes. Question is: can we decide what to get for dinner?"
Laughter filled the Jeep. "Weíre both intelligent, rational women. I bet we can come up with something. How about Chinese?"
A thought came to mind. "Actually there is a terrific little Chinese place on the way home. Itís not far from here. They make great Chicken Curry."
"Oh. I love Chicken Curry. Extra chicken, steamed rice - not fried - and lots of it. What do you know? We even like some of the same foods. So where is this little place?"
"Not far. About ten minutes east, near the mall. Friend of mine owns the place."
"Jack? You know Jack? Where do you know Jack from?"
She seemed so surprised, I couldnít help smiling. "He was my ex-husbandís best friend in college."
"John? Johnny Dalton was your husband? I had no idea. You didnít say you were divorced when you introduced yourself. At group, I mean."
She was so adorable when she was taken by surprise, I almost forgot to answer.
"Weeeellll?" Up went those dark brows again. Damn, I loved that.
"I didnít. Oh. Well, Iím divorced."
"Very funny, short stuff."
Slapping her hand, I laughed. "Donít call me short."
"Oh. OK. But I can call you ëstuffí, right?"
Pulling into one of the five spaces in from of Jackís Oriental Eats, I mock glared. "What kinda stuff you gonna call me?"
Max reached one long arm over and turned off the engine. Then she looked me right in the eye and grinned. "Oh, I think I might call you all kinda stuff before weíre through."
"Mmmm" I couldnít find words to answer that and, at the very core of my being, I winced at the "weíre through" part of what she had said.
"So. You were married to sexy Johnny Dalton. Damn. I honestly had no idea heíd ever been married. That must have been very hard for you. I mean..."
"Oh, I think I know what you mean, Max. Itís all right. I know all about John. Well, I know now. I sure as hell didnít know then. Sorry. It was a long time ago anyway. I was only 20 and the marriage was over and done with in less than a year. Old news. Jack was Johnís roommate in college. Thatís how I met him. Weíve been buds ever since."
Max nodded but I could see she was thinking about something. Probably wondering what it was like to wake up one day and find out your shy husband was a homosexual.
"Max? You wanna go in and order some Chicken Curry or you want me to just go ahead and order for both of us?"
She waggled those sexy brows of hers. "Oh no, donít even think about it, Emmy. Iím going right in there with you. I happen to know this is Jackís night to close. He has some splaining to do."
"Emmy? Whoís Emmy? An old lover, no doubt." I fought the hurt that had leaped into my throat.
"Donít be ridiculous. Iím turning 30 soon. Not 90. I would never call you by the name of an old lover. Itís your eyes, sweet stuff. They remind me of emeralds."
"Yeah. Bright, clear, luscious green.
And priceless. Now, letís go harass Jack."
Jackís Oriental Eats was one of my
favorite places to eat. He not only owned the small restaurant but was
the primary cook as well. I knew how he prepared the food and, truth be
told, had even learned to do it at home. Still, it was great to be able
to just go and pick it up, or eat there, and chat with my old college pal,
sometimes. Jack never used MSG in his food or took shortcuts with the preparations.
His prices did not reflect the extra time and care he took and we had been
round and round about that, on more than one occasion. The vegetables were
always cut into bite size pieces. Bite size for humans, not Cyclopsí. A
pet peeve of mine at some oriental places. To save time some cooks left
the veggies in huge chunks that ruined the blend on the taste buds. Jack
was careful not to overdo the fat content of the food either and I appreciated
that on many levels.
The smiling man, small only in stature, nearly leaped from behind the counter when he saw Gillian come through the door.
"Gillian! You cute little pervert, you! Where the hell have you been?"
I started to protest his verbal assault, but quickly found myself practically airborne. How a man only three inches taller than me could do this was still a mystery to me. I was suddenly grateful I nearly never wore dresses anymore, as he lifted me like a damned barbell and spun me clockwise over his red head.
"Jack Jenkins you put me down this instant or Iím gonna tell all these nice people what really goes into that Moo Goo Gai Pan!!"
The man had never moved past adolescence, I mumbled to myself. One sharp swat to my ass and he lowered me back to the floor, giggling like a school boy.
"Sheís only kidding folks. Eat up." No one had even missed a beat. The regulars had gotten used to Jack and the crazy antics.
"Yeowch, Jack." I scolded as my hand rubbed the offended area.
Still being playful, and more than a little ornery, he reached toward said ass. "Here sexy, let me do that."
I started to swat at his hand and tease him with a good one-liner when I saw the strong hand appear and grab his wrist. It had entered my field of vision so quickly it was almost a blur.
Jack and I both spun toward the voice. His hazel eyes grew round in surprise as he met the icy blue gaze of his long-time friend.
"I wouldnít do that if I were you, Jack old boy."
I swallowed. It was hard to tell if Max were serious or not. Boy. She sure looked serious. At that moment, I wondered if Max were in the local theater group because if she werenít Jack, was in deep doo. Thatís when the red light started flashing in my mind. He was reaching for my ass. My innocent friend had been reaching for my rear end just as Max had come through the door, after stopping to get a newspaper. Uh-oh. But wait, what was going on here? Was she just being protective of another woman? Over-reacting to what must have looked like a bit of groping on Jackís part? And why did just the thought of those icy eyes excite me?
"Max! Hey, woman. This is Gillian Montgomery. Gillian is an old friend of mine from college. Gillian, this is...."
The ice began a slow thaw but the rigid jaw told me she was not a happy camper.
"Itís okay, Jack. Max and I know each other." I interrupted him.
Bushy red eyebrows reached into the hairline. "Oh, reaaallly? You and Max.."
"Shut up, Jack." Max actually growled at the man.
I reached over and softly took the clenched fist in my small hand. My tall, would-be, protector looked at me, puzzled. Without thinking, I brought the fist to my face and brushed the knuckles with my lips. My eyes sought hers and held them, assuring my new friend of my safety. Slowly, and very gently, I opened the fist and kissed the palm of her hand. Never once did my gaze stray from the crystal blue eyes of my dinner companion. The eyes softened and I felt her left hand join the left in my embrace. It felt cool to the touch. I pressed the palm into my warm cheek. Somewhere in the distance, I heard two moans, so soft they were almost inaudible as they blended and became one.
Jack looked at the two friends he had always thought least likely to even KNOW one another. Then he smiled and shook his head.
"Well....Shut my mouth."
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