Finally chapter 3 is here!!! It is a little longer than the other 2 chapters because so much starts to happen. So brace yourself and maybe set aside a little more time to read it? (That’s why it took me a little bit to finally post it). Plus it gives everyone time to read the chapters or even reread them! I am excited to be getting further into this novel and to be getting closer everyday to publishing it. I’m not going to say much today because this chapter is super long. Don’t be afraid to tell others about it after I get it published or even now! Hope you guys enjoy this chapter and all the different emotions it starts to bring in and don’t be afraid to leave any comments for discussions or whatever you feel 🙂 . Thanks again you guys for reading!! OK, I’m going to post this chapter and get started on chapter 4 🙂
“You mind telling me what happened out there just now?” Aunt Bethany is drilling the moment I walk through her front door.
She is leaning against the door frame to the kitchen with her arms crossed across her chest. If looks could kill, I’d be dead a million times over right about now. There would be no bringing me back to life.
“Chill out, please. I’m not in trouble or anything,” I say as I try to forget about the incident with blowing the stop sign as the reason the cop pulled me over in the first place.
“That ticket he gave you didn’t look like anything,” she says with sadness seeping through. It is at this point I realize she’s scared for me because now my name is in the system.
I roll my eyes and throw my hands in the air in exasperation. “If you must know, it is a twenty-dollar ticket for blowing the stop sign down the road.”
“ARE YOU IGNORANT?” Aunt Bethany exclaims. She turns and walks half way into the kitchen leaving me with the uttermost shocked expression on my face. What?
Her house is beautiful. It is where I grew up for the last half of my life with a real bedroom that has real windows that look out to the spacious backyard. There is a narrow hallway by the front door that leads to the kitchen where an army could fit comfortably in to eat. There is a big dining room table that sits on the other end of the kitchen. I never understood why Aunt Bethany needs such a big table for just her and I; she always said it was in case we had company. Aunt Bethany always plans for the “maybes” and the “what-ifs”.
Through the kitchen there is another hallway with many openings to the decent sized living room that nobody really occupies, and to the two bedrooms; Aunt Bethany’s and mine, which is now referred to the guest bedroom. Although Aunt Bethany never has any guests sleep over, she still refers to my bedroom as the “guest bedroom”.
“What did you just say to me?” I ask, too shocked to move from my position by the front door.
Aunt Bethany peers her head around the corner to look at me. “You need to be careful, Hope. That rookie may just be a rookie, but he is very good at what he does in the force. If he finds out who you really are, Destiny Hope Connor, you mind as well be packing your stuff and head back to Chicago.”
I don’t say anything. I just keep staring at her like she’s crazy. She can obviously see the confusion on my face and continues, “You are a wanted person in Chicago for what you did to your father. You may have been only twelve years old, but they are saying you are psychotic and belong in an institution. Chuck Grady may have told you that you were using self-defense, but only to help protect you. The media and the courts don’t see it that way especially since your father is the top attorney in Chicago. Not to mention you are also the top of the boards for missing persons. Do you see now? You can’t be messing around with the authorities like that. Hope, we moved out here and changed your name so you could live a normal life and be protected. Not so you could go around being careless and getting into trouble every chance you get. This is exactly what I was afraid of happening when you decided to move into that dingy apartment of yours.”
Silence. The only thing heard when she stops talking. I’m left at a loss for words at this point. She can see that by the shameful expression on my face and; I don’t know if it’s out of pure curiosity or if she is trying to get a reaction out of me and lighten the mood; continues in a calmer tone, “What was that other piece of paper he handed you aside from the ticket?”
A moment is all it takes for me to realize I should answer her this time. I clear my throat and respond in a tiny voice. “His name and phone number. He wanted me to call him sometime.”
She is leaning against the door frame now, and staring at me with a hard expression. I take advantage of this moment where she isn’t scolding me and explain.
“I’m not going to call him. I don’t even want to see him again. I think he gave me the ticket because I wouldn’t give him any dirt on us. So, I threw the paper in the road,” I say in a rush of words.
“What do you mean by ‘dirt on us’?” Aunt Bethany asks as she crinkles up her nose at even the thought of someone in her field prying for information.
“Just that. He was trying to drill me on information about you because he said he didn’t know you had kids, and about us and our lives. I gave the ID that says ‘Hope Morris’ and that’s when he started drilling me. He wouldn’t let it go so I freaked out on him after he gave me the ticket.”
“I saw that part…” She starts to say, but trails off in thought; more like shock that the newbie was trying to play detective on us. She looks back up at me and says in a stern voice, “I want you to stay away from him. I don’t care what you have to do to avoid him, but do it. Understand?”
I nod once in agreement. Good thing she didn’t ask me if I liked him because she’s always trying to set me up with random people at the grocery store, on her daily walks around town, almost anywhere she goes so I was kind of expecting to hear about how I should date someone from her work. She’s always telling me I need to find a good man to settle down with, one that is going to take care of me. I hate to think about where that conversation would’ve led to at this point. For now, I’ll keep my feelings a secret from her…WAIT! WHAT AM I THINKING?! I’M NOT ATTRACTED TO HIM…am I? More like I don’t want to be attracted to him…I dismiss the thoughts before they even begin to make me start feeling things I don’t want to feel for this guy. I don’t ever want to see him anymore, remember?
“OK, come in so we can eat a nice meal together. I made tater tot casserole, your favorite dish. It may be a little cold now, so I’ll put it back in the oven for a few minutes,” Aunt Bethany explains as she turns to walk into the kitchen.
Aunt Bethany has the one rule about her house; do not walk through the house with your shoes on. She has a rug sitting in front of the front door for that reason, so people have somewhere to take their shoes off before walking through the house. I take mine off on the rug and walk into her kitchen.
The smell of her house makes me reminisce growing up here; the smell of freshly baked bread and lilacs. To some people, the smell may remind them of an old lady’s house, but to me it is home. The moment the smell reaches my nose, I instantly feel warm and cozy.
Aunt Bethany is putting the casserole back into the oven when I walk around the corner into the kitchen. Plates and silverware are set up for two on the dining room table. When she stands up and faces me, this is the first time I notice how seasoned she looks under the lights. Her hair has gone from a light brown to more of an ash color now. Wrinkles are starting to form around her eyes, corners of her lips, and cheek bones. Her eyes look more sunken in than the last time I saw her which was only a week ago; she looks tired. Her brown eyes that remind me so much of my mother and can look right through anything have gone to more of a pale brown color. Has she lost weight?
“Let’s sit down. The casserole has to heat up for about ten minutes,” Aunt Bethany says, motioning toward the dining room table.
I follow her to the spacious table and we sit down next to each other. She crosses her legs and folds her arms across her chest, almost like she’s cold.
“So, how was work?” She asks matter-of-factly.
“I don’t know. There is so much paperwork I must get figured out by the end of the month and I have no idea how I’m going to do it. If it wasn’t for my assistant manager keeping me going, I would’ve quit a long time ago,” I answer, thinking back on everything I was doing before Shayna told me to go home.
“You have had so much passion for that store, Hope. Even growing up it was your favorite place to be. I have no idea why given the state it has been in for years, but you always saw potential in it. The moment you came to me and said you were going to college for business management, I knew you were going to end up being the next manager of that store. That is one thing about you I have always admired, Hope. You always find the good in things no matter how much of the bad there is, and you always try to fix it and make it better. So, don’t let me sit here and get in your way and tell you that sometimes the bad can’t be fixed. I believe in you, Hope. I always have and I always thought that you can make the bad better because of your passion for making the world a better place. Maybe you just need to take a day or two away from it to figure it out, but don’t give up,” Aunt Bethany explains. She has become so much of a believer in miracles over the last few years. She says it is because she finally found God; I’m not even sure I know what that means. I don’t know if it is because of her old age nowadays or because she’s lost so many people over the years.
Not only did she lose her only sister ten years ago, but last year Chuck Grady called us to tell us he was retiring because he was sick with stage four liver cancer. He’s been on the donor list for ten months now, and Aunt Bethany knows as well as I do his time is running short. A week ago, she had to bury five of her best policemen due to a car chase near Columbus, Wisconsin. They were the ones that had been on the force for fifteen years plus. The car they were chasing at the time hit one of the squad cars head on going anywhere between seventy to ninety miles per hour which caused a huge ten car explosion on the main highway. They all were involved in the explosion along with seven other innocent people and nobody walked out of it alive. That story hit the top news broadcast right away; five policemen and seven others including two children under the age of five lost their lives in major car explosion on Highway Sixty.
“Chuck called today,” Aunt Bethany says when I remain silent after her speech.
I look up at her with worry in my eyes. “How is he?”
She takes a deep breath before answering, then says, “OK, I suppose. Still the same. He’s getting real sick and tired of waiting so long for a donor. He misses us. He always asks me how you are. He says he’s very proud of you for your achievements so far.”
I close my eyes to hold back the tears that are about to spill over any second. It takes me a moment to regroup before I can respond.
“I want to go see him, Aunt Bethany.”
“I know, me too, but you know as well as I do we can’t exactly do that…”
“So, tell him to come here,” I say, interrupting her. My own voice sounding urgent.
“Hope,” Aunt Bethany sighs. I don’t know if it is for her own sake to keep herself from crying or to comfort me or both, but she lays a reassuring hand on my shoulder and looks me deep into the eyes as she continues, “he can’t drive anymore. The cancer is starting to take over his motor skills…” She can’t finish because tears are now deceiving her as they fall down her face in a little stream.
“No…he can’t…” I choke out.
Aunt Bethany nods. “His family is admitting him into a primary care facility tomorrow morning. That way someone is always there to watch him.”
“He’s giving up. He’s waiting to die…”
“No, Hope, in his eyes he’s fought as hard as he could and he still is. He hasn’t given up…it’s just that…his body is dying faster than he can fight.”
My eyes become blurry as the tears I was trying so hard to hold back come bursting their way through and over the barrier. I lay my head in my hands and Aunt Bethany lets me cry. Chuck Grady has become more than a family friend, he has become family. Aunt Bethany has always looked up to him as more than a friend; she’s always seen him as an uncle to her in an odd sort of way. He has always been there for her whenever she needed advice or someone to talk to which is why he was the first person she thought of ten years ago when everything with my mom, my father, and I happened. After that, he turned into that father figure I’ve never had because he genuinely cared about me…about us. Knowing that his time is coming nearer every day has Aunt Bethany thinking more and more about what she is going to do when he is gone. Seeing her like that breaks my heart into a million pieces.
I hate crying even though it is a simple way to show emotions. I feel weak when I cry and I hate to show people my weakness, but crying in front of Aunt Bethany is a different story. I don’t feel weak crying in front of her; I feel like we are sharing a sad moment together and she never judges my feelings or the fact that I’m crying because she cries with me.
I cry for what feels like ages, but really only a few minutes. I cry until the timer on the oven buzzes indicating the casserole is warm enough to eat again. Without any of us saying a word to the other, I go to the bathroom around the corner to clean up while Aunt Bethany shuts the oven off and puts the casserole dish on the table between us.
We eat in silence. I think Aunt Bethany knows that silence is the best medicine right now especially after the conversations we’ve had tonight. Silence is my friend.
When we finish eating, I help Aunt Bethany clean up; my nightly duties whenever I have supper with Aunt Bethany. She always tells me I don’t have to help her because I’m her guest, but it feels wrong to sit there and watch her slave away by herself when she worked hard in the first place to put together a nice meal for us to enjoy. The least I can do is help clean up, I always say back to her. After a while she stopped saying anything at all, like she expects it now because it has become automatic routine for me to chip in and help. I clean the dishes while she puts everything into smaller bowls, and cleans the table and the counters.
A few hours have passed by the time we finish eating and get everything cleaned up. It is now almost 9:30PM and I realize I have to be at work by 8:00AM. I still have to shower and get my things ready for work in the morning which means by the time I finally get to bed tonight, it’ll be almost 11:00PM if not later. I am tired and have a lot on my mind; I have a lot more on my mind now after Aunt Bethany told me about Chuck. I hope she is going to be OK…I hope I will be OK… Her and I need each other in times like these which is why I will obey her orders about staying out of trouble…or trying to at least. Drawing more attention to us in a time like this could only end badly. It would end badly anyway…but I don’t want to upset Aunt Bethany more than she already is right now. Stress ages her and that is why she aged so much more than a regular person would have over the years.
“I should be going, Aunt Bethany. It’s getting late and I have to work in the morning. Are you going into work tomorrow?” I ask her. She took the last week off work for vacation time she hadn’t used up yet. I told her she deserved a vacation and that she needed to take one before all her stress put her in an early grave. I’m glad to see she listened to me for once.
“What day is tomorrow? Saturday? I might make an appearance for a few hours tomorrow if I get bored. If not, I’ll be going back Monday morning,” she says. “You have to work on a Saturday?” She sounds surprised.
“Yep, well this Saturday I do for a few hours. I usually don’t work Saturday’s, but my main cashier took the weekend off so I have to cover her shift tomorrow.”
“What about your assistant?” Aunt Bethany asks, curiosity perking in her voice.
“Shayna has to do the inventory counts tomorrow. She can’t run the counter and do counts unless it’s slow. Saturday’s are usually our peak days. So, it’s just me and her tomorrow.”
“Do you ever think about hiring some more help?”
I suck in a breath and exhale as I respond. “Yeah, but it has to be part time help right now. Just until I figure out our numbers and what we can afford to do and can’t afford to do. I put an ad in the paper for part time help thinking maybe a teenager looking for a first job or even a part time job would come in, but not yet,” I explain.
“Oh, OK. What time do you have to go in?” Aunt Bethany asks. She hates it when I have to leave after supper every night. She’s always trying to get me to stay the night or even just a few more hours.
“I’m sorry I was late today, Aunt Bethany. If I wasn’t late we would’ve had a few more hours to spend together, but I got caught up in my work. You know where to always find me, why don’t you come visit me?” I ask, putting a hand on her shoulder telling her to stop with the disappointment.
“Yeah, I guess I could come see you, but I never know when you’re home.” Here we go with the excuses.
“OK, well I’m just saying.” I give her a hug and make my way to the front door to put my shoes on. She follows right behind me.
“What are your plans after work tomorrow?” She asks, watching me put my pink tennis shoes back on.
“I don’t know yet, why?”
“Well, if I go to work tomorrow, it’ll be for a few hours in the morning. Would you want to come over for supper again if you aren’t doing anything?”
I think about my answer for a minute before I respond. As much as I love spending time with Aunt Bethany and eating her home cooked meals, I think I want to spend the night alone in my apartment. I haven’t been in there for more than five minutes every day for the last week, so I really should stay home tonight. Plus, after Aunt Bethany’s freak out on me about the cop, I need a night away from her to get my thoughts straight.
Instead of telling her how I really feel and risk upsetting her, I decide to go with a safer answer. “Can I call you and let you know? I don’t know what time I’ll be getting off work tonight…”
“OK,” is all she says to my comment. I hate it when she says very little with no emotion because it’s like having a very good poker face; hard to read and easily misinterpreted.
“I’ll text you when I get home,” I say as I’m opening the front door to walk outside.
“I hate when you do that, Hope. You know I don’t like text messages…”
“I know you don’t, but you’re going to have to get used to them, Aunt Bethany. After all, we live in the technology era.”
“I love you.” I give her one last hug and walk out to my car. Once I’m inside my car, I start it up and throw it in drive. Before I pull away from the curb, I look up at her house and see Aunt Bethany standing on her door step just like she was when she was watching me fight with Jason, the cop. I wave quickly to her and drive away. From the rear-view mirror, I watch her walk back into her house safely.
Driving back to the apartment there is no sign of the cop anywhere. Maybe he is taking a lunch break somewhere? One can only hope…
Minutes later, I am pulling the car into the public parking area across the street from the store and my apartment. I park in the back of the parking area like usual, I shoot Aunt Bethany a text message letting her know I made it home, and shut the car off. I know she doesn’t like texting, but it saves me from having to listen to her cry for the next two hours because I had to leave. This way, she knows I made it home and I can spare myself from the guilt she always makes me feel. I don’t expect a response back.
I lock up the car after getting out of it, walk back across the street toward the supermarket, walk around back to the rickety stairs that lead up my home, and make my way up the stairs slowly.
Inside my apartment, it is cold. The heat must’ve gone out again; the joys of having gas heat. I check the furnace that is in the living room/bedroom and notice the flame has gone out again. I open the furnace door on the bottom, careful not to burn anything, and reignite the flame. The furnace makes a loud WHOOSH-ing sound as it is reignited. I close the furnace door once I make sure the flame stays going. The furnace is so old it has a small rust hole that formed over the many years the building has been standing so air slightly gets in. If the wind hits it just right, it blows out the flame in the furnace. This is home, I remind myself.
I decide to take a shower to feel relaxed. I go into the bathroom which has no door; it is literally big enough to fit a one person stand up shower, a toilet, and a small sink. I can’t turn around without touching one of them. If I sit on the toilet, one knee touches the edge of the sink and the other knee touches the crusty white shower curtain that was left here. I always forget to buy a new shower curtain. Mental note: Buy a new shower curtain. This one does the job for now.
I turn the shower on all the way hot even though it never does get hot; it barely gets warm. It starts to get cold after a few minutes so I make sure to take quick showers otherwise I’ll be showering in ice cold water. I jump in, soap up, rinse off, and I’m out just as the barely warm water starts getting colder.
I’m dressed in sweat pants, a camisole, and my favorite sweat shirt from American Eagle. I walk back into the living room that is also my bedroom, and lay on the futon. I don’t even turn on the TV tonight. I don’t get many channels the way it is; only the local ones like the news channels and your average soap operas. I’m addicted to the show called The Bachelor, probably because I always fantasize myself as being one of the girls the guy chooses to be with at the end of the season. Tonight is the second to last episode of the season and both the girls that are left I want to punch in the face. The one cheated on him and admitted she didn’t love him the way he loved her, and the other one claimed she didn’t know if she even wanted to be on the show anymore. What the hell? Therefore, the couples only last a few months after the season is over, and then the next season the same girls are on the show again with a different Bachelor. That is Hollywood TV.
I don’t turn the TV on because my mind is swimming with the events of today; finding out more sad information about Chuck Grady, arguing with Aunt Bethany about my “carelessness”, getting pulled over and yelling at the sexy cop…The cop. He is now consuming all my thoughts as I lay on the futon in the dark, staring up at the ceiling. What is wrong with me? I roll over to look at the clock; 10:50PM. I close my eyes, hoping sleep will come because 8:00AM will come even faster, but it is impossible with the thoughts of the newbie cop rolling through my head. I replay what happened, and the exact words spoken over and over again until I’m no longer seeing images of him, but focusing on his voice; his sexy, movie-worthy voice until sleep finally grabs onto my consciousness and doesn’t let go.
* * *
A few days have gone by since my ticket incident. I haven’t seen the newbie in his patrol car riding around, thank God. I am not ready to see him again because I’m still peeved about the damn ticket he gave me; all because I refused to feed him any information on my and Aunt Bethany’s life. I am saddened all the same, though, because a part of me was also hoping to see him or at least a glimpse of him.
Aunt Bethany went back to work on Saturday, and ended up staying the whole day. It turns out she had a lot more paperwork to sort out than she thought because the guy she put in charge didn’t feel like doing his job while she was gone on vacation. She called me later that night and told me how upset she was about it. She stated she would never take vacation again. I had my choice of words with her after that which led to upsetting her even more until she made some excuse of being busy and had to let me go. I didn’t argue with her. I told her I would see her sometime this week for dinner, and then hung up.
Saturday at the store wasn’t as busy as I thought it was going to be. Shayna finished up her counts early so I had her watch the counter for the last half of the day while I tried to sort through more of my paperwork on my desk. At least make a little headway. Come 4:00PM that day, I realized I still wasn’t getting anywhere with it so I decided to leave it for Monday’s work load. We closed the store at 4:30PM that day. I called Aunt Bethany shortly after locking the doors, and told her I had other plans for the night; that I wasn’t going to make it for supper. By “other plans”, I meant going to my own apartment, changing into pajamas, ordering pizza and watching the reruns of The Bachelor until I fell asleep that night. Having a peaceful night to myself.
Today is Monday, the start of a new week. Pay day is Wednesday and I planned to pay the twenty-dollar ticket for running a stop sign on pay day. Monday, the day I was dreading because all the paperwork must be turned in before I leave work tonight. I called Shayna yesterday and asked her if she would come in on her day off today to help me get all the paperwork straightened out for the month. She is my life saver.
“Hope, you take all the miscellaneous receipts pile and I’ll do everything else,” Shayna says as we start to tackle the pile of paperwork in my office at 8:00AM sharp.
“You think we can get it all done today?” I ask while sorting through the piles.
“You’ve got me. I’m superwoman.” She throws me the biggest, cheesiest smile I’ve ever seen on this girl.
I smile back and get to work. I can’t help but laugh at her. She truly makes my work days better, and she’s always there to save my butt when I need her. I think it is safe to say I love this girl.
“I heard you got a ticket the other night out by your aunt’s house,” Shayna says after a few moments of silence. One thing I know about this girl is that she cannot stand silence for more than five minutes.
I sigh. “Yeah.”
“You want to talk about it?”
“What is there to say? The cop was a dick. He simply gave me the ticket because I wouldn’t give him any information about my aunt. How did you find out anyway?”
“It’s a small town, Hope. Everyone knows everyone and everything,” she replies without missing a beat. “Plus, that dick of a cop is my brother.”
I freeze. What is happening to all the air? I suddenly can’t breathe, like I’m being suffocated by her words. I take a moment to collect myself before I respond hoping she doesn’t notice my sudden hesitation.
“I didn’t know you had a brother,” I say attempting to make small talk that will hopefully lead away from this conversation.
“Yep. We are identical twins. Two minutes apart actually. Which reminds me, our birthday is this Thursday. I guess I’ll have to get him a ridiculous gag gift.”
“How old will you be?” I ask more on the fact I’m curious as to know how old he is rather than her, but I play it off like I’m more interested in her than him.
“Twenty-five,” she says without looking away from her pile of paperwork. It sounds rehearsed like she’s had to tell so many people.
“Looks like I’ll have to get you something for your birthday, you old fart,” I say, laughing to let her know it was meant as a joke.
“You’re funny,” she says, “but seriously, where’s your ticket?”
“In my purse, why?”
“Give it here,” she demands as she holds her hand out.
I stop what I’m doing, and dig through my purse for the crumpled-up ticket. Once I find it, I’m handing it to her with a confused expression on my face.
Shayna notices the look on my face and explains. “I’m going to throw it at my brother’s face tonight when I see him at Mom and Dad’s and tell him he’s an idiot. His ego sometimes gets the best of him.”
“That’s really unnecessary, Shayna. I was going to pay it on Wednesday and be done with it.”
She waves me off as if I’m being ridiculous. “Don’t worry about it. I told him he was a dumbass anyway for pulling you over. He should know better…”
“He was just doing his job,” I interject. It is then I realize I’m sticking up for him, and the look on Shayna’s face tells me she isn’t stupid either. She knows what I’m doing.
She sits back in her chair and folds her arms across her chest, still eyeing me suspiciously.
“You’re hiding something, Hope,” she says softly.
I’m staring at her without saying anything. Oh, no, she knows.
“What’s going on?”
“Nothing,” I tell her because it’s true. Nothing is going on.
“Are you sure? Jason told me you guys got into a pretty heated fight…”
“I may have yelled at him for my ticket and trying to pry, but that’s it.”
She’s staring at me hard now. One thing I’m not so sure I like about her anymore is she can see through all the bullshit.
“Yes, Shayna that’s it.”
“Then why are you defending him like you like him or something…?” Then it clicks in her head. “You do! Oh, my God you have a crush on my brother!”
“I knew it! Just by the way your expressions changed when I started talking about him, and by the way you were defending him. Oh, my…I’m definitely taking this ticket and throwing it at him…” She is full of life and excitement now.
I grab her by the arm to stop her from her excitement for a moment. “No, Shayna, you can’t tell him. I don’t even know if I want to see him again.”
She looks hurt by this. “Why?”
How do I tell her? “Because I’m not even sure how I feel yet. I just met him yesterday. Do I think he’s hot? Yes. Is he all I’ve thought about since then? Yes, but doesn’t excuse the fact that I’m not sure what is going on yet.”
“I’m sorry, I just got excited because you would be the first girl since his girlfriend of four years died in a car accident five years ago,” she says, and that completely guts me. “That is why he wanted to join the force because he thought he could help save lives, and help people obey the law so they don’t get killed or kill someone else. I guess it was kin of his way of remembering her or making sure she didn’t die in vain. He loved her dearly…”
That explains why he was so hard on me the night he gave me the ticket. With that being said, I am reaching over the table and ripping the ticket from her hands.
“I’ll pay the consequences for my actions,” I reply seeing the shocked look on her face. I suddenly feel my heart go out to him knowing what he’s been through. Maybe him and I aren’t so different after all.
“OK, I was just saying I could get him to take it off your record for you…”
“I’m no different than anyone else.” We both don’t say anything for a while after that. The atmosphere a little thick with awkwardness.
We spend the rest of the work day in silence. I think she got the hint I didn’t want to talk about him anymore. Not at work anyway when we are already piled high with paperwork. It takes us the rest of the day to finally get down to the bottom of the pile. See what silence and focusing on work can do?
“It’s 5:00PM and we are finally finished with your gigantic pile,” Shayna says. I don’t know if she was trying to be funny or if she was using a sarcastic eye roll tone.
I ignore it and say, “Thanks, Shayna. I can’t thank you enough. You literally are my lifesaver.”
“Do me a favor and take a few days off for vacation. You need it. You’re here way too much. And the only way you can repay me is if you give me that damn ticket.”
I’m staring at her, unsure if she’s serious or not.
She holds out her hand waiting for me to hand over the ticket. “Don’t make me come over there and find it myself.”
I think I hate it now when she bosses me around. I hand her the yellow piece of paper.
“Shayna, it’s only twenty bucks…” I am starting to say with an upset tone to my voice, but I am interrupted by her bluntness.
“That’s an extra twenty bucks that can stay in your pocket.” She’s standing up and stashing the ticket deep inside her jeans pocket.
I am standing as well, and starting to put stuff away for the end of day clean up.
“Oh, Hope!” Shayna exclaims, suddenly full of energy again.
I look up at her in a panic thinking something happened. My eyes wide with fear.
“Are you wanting to come to my wedding next month?” She asks. That was the panic?
I crinkle my face up because I am confused again. “You’re getting married?” I say it like it’s a surprise because it is a surprise to me.
“Yep! Been engaged for almost two years now! So, are you coming? I can give you an invitation when I see you next.”
“How did I not know…?”
“I may be talkative and a ball of energy, but I don’t go around blabbing my personal life to people at work. Only to the people that matter, and not everyone matters to me,” she explains so easily.
“Well, I’m glad I’m one of those people that matter to you,” I respond with a hint of a smile on my face. It does feel good to consider her my best friend.
“So?” She’s waiting impatiently on my response for the invitation. I can literally see her bouncing up and down like a puppy excited to play fetch.
“Yeah, of course! I’d love to come.”
“Oh, my gosh! Yay!” She squeals as she’s wrapping me into a tight hug while bouncing up and down. “OK, I’ll bring you an invitation next time I see you. Maybe you and my brother could go as dates,” she whispers.
“Let’s not go that far,” I say as I’m stepping away from her. “I’ll definitely be there, though.”
“OK, awesome! I’m going to go home now. You got everything or do you need me to stay to help clean up?” Shayna asks right before she reaches my office door.
“I should be OK. Thanks, though. I am going to take your advice and take tomorrow off, though. I probably should go see my aunt. I haven’t seen her since Friday.”
“Good. Glad to hear I can get through to you.” She smiles. “See you Wednesday, Hope. Tell your aunt I say hi.”
“Will do. Have a goodnight.”
Then she’s out the door leaving me alone in my cluttered office. Silence is the best way I work. An hour and a half later, the clock on my cell phone says 6:37PM, and I’m walking out of the store. I’m locking the front door when I hear a familiar voice behind me.
“There she is.”
I instantly freeze and close my eyes. Please don’t let this be him. I turn around to come face to face with the sexy newbie cop. He is smiling and walking towards me from his car that is parked in the middle of the road. The sun is setting so there’s more light in the sky tonight to see his face clearly. His grey eyes are sparkling like he’s excited to see me. That damn smile brings out his dimples…he even has dimples! I must remind myself to breathe in and out so I don’t pass out. I don’t want to give this guy any thought that he gets to me the way he does.
I turn to walk away from him toward my apartment stairs when I feel him grab me by the arm and spin me around.
“Wait! I’ve been waiting here in front of the store since my shift started three hours ago, hoping to get the chance to see you. Are you seriously going to turn me away like that?” Even upset his voice sounds sexy.
I look at him wide eyed and in shock that he just touched me. Not only touched me, but grabbed me and made me look at him. His expression even makes him look genuinely hurt. I muster up everything I’m feeling and use it against him.
“Yes, I am. What makes you think you deserve any of my attention?” I snap. The moment the words are out of my mouth, I’m instantly hurt. I think about what Shayna said to me a few hours ago, about what he’s been through and my heart is being torn in two. I close my eyes and I think he sees the hurt on my face because he let’s go of my arm.
I open my eyes a moment later and see him standing a step farther back than what he was, looking at me with a serious expression. He stands like that for a few moments studying me, and it’s at this point I think I’ve seriously hurt him.
“OK,” he says softly, “maybe I deserved that. Truth be told, I just came to apologize and to see that you were OK.”
“I’m fine, thank you.” I start to turn around again and head back toward the stairs.
“Wait!” He shouts after me.
I stop and turn to face him again.
“I’m not going to chase you…”
“Good, because I never expected you to,” I interrupt him.
“Can we just talk? I think we started off on the wrong foot,” he says. He looks genuinely concerned and I hate it. He’s trying to make things right.
“Fine,” I say, walking back toward him. “What do you want to talk about?” My arms are crossed across my chest indicating I mean business.
He lowers his voice almost to a whisper as he says, “For starters, let’s talk about how you lied to me.”
My heart stops and starts again. The expression on my face instantly goes angry.
“How did I lie to you, Officer?” I spit.
“Bethany Morris is your aunt, not your mother,” he says still in a whisper. “I asked my sister, Shayna, about it.”
I take a step back. “Are you going to give me a ticket for that, too?” I ask in a sarcastic tone. I don’t like where this conversation with him is going.
He sees the fear in my eyes and knows he has me where he wants me and continues, “Why did you lie to me, Hope?”
The way my name rolls off his tongue sounds so perfect. Why is my heart doing this to me right now?
“She raised me, so she mind as well be my mother,” I say matter-of-factly.
He nods, dropping the subject for now. Instead, he holds up the yellow ticket Shayna took from me.
“My sister threw this at me and called me a dumbass. Said you weren’t paying it?”
I should’ve walked back up to my apartment when I had the chance. Why do I feel like I’m being interrogated all the time by this guy? What is his deal? I now see where Shayna gets her bossy attitude from.
“She told me she was going to make you take it off my record,” I respond in a flat tone.
He nods and then starts laughing like he just thought of something funny.
“She did, huh?”
I nod. “Yes, can I leave now? Is this what you wanted to talk to me about?”
“Actually, I wanted to ask you out to dinner. If you didn’t have any other plans, of course. Then, I’ll think about dropping your ticket.” He winks at me. Is he seriously holding my ticket against me to make me have dinner with him? Forget it.
“In that case, I’ll just pay my ticket. Can I have it back, please?” I say, holding my hand out.
He holds his higher so I can’t reach the ticket. He’s smiling like he thinks this is a game that he’s having fun with.
“If that’s what you want, but you’re still having dinner with me. I’ll give you the ticket back after we eat if you decide you still want to pay it. By the way, has anyone ever told you how cute you look when your mad?” That comment has me heaving for air. Did he just call me cute?
I can feel my face flush, and I try to look away so he doesn’t notice. He gently grabs my face by the chin with one hand and makes me look at him. Dammit! Caught!
“Why do you always look away from me?” He asks. The expression on his face tells me he’s just trying to figure me out. What if I don’t want him to?
I don’t say anything. We continue to stare at each other this close for a couple moments. His eyes I can feel stare right through me, and it makes me nervous. So nervous I start to fidget and he notices. He let’s go of me and takes a safe step backward. He scratches at his chin and that’s when I notice he has a little stubble which looks like he hasn’t shaved in a few days.
He clears his throat and looks back at me. That’s when I notice he’s just as nervous as I am. Is he nervous about dating again since it’s been so long? Or do I just have the same effect on him that he does on me?
“Are you OK?” I ask. I’m surprised by my own sincerity in my voice. I actually sound concerned about him.
“Yeah,” he nods. “Is that what you’re wearing to dinner with me?” He eyes me up and down.
I’m still in my ripped jeans and t-shirt that says Arlington Supermarket on it. I look down suddenly embarrassed when I shouldn’t be. I should be proud to show off where I work. Why does he make me feel so many things including embarrassment about my job? He needs to stop…or I need to start taking control of my feelings.
I look back at him with confidence. “Is that a problem, Officer?”
He starts laughing. “Will you please stop calling me that? My name is Jason…”
“Yeah, but you are in an officer uniform. So, until I get to know you more and you’re not in uniform anymore, I will keep calling you ‘Officer’. That is what you are,” I explain with a hint of sarcasm.
“OK, fine. If you’re going to be like that, I’m going to start calling you ‘Supermarket Lady’. After all, that is what you are.” He narrows his eyes at me as he says the last part of that sentence. I definitely feel like falling over now.
He’s smiling as he notices the sudden flush of my cheeks. He is flirting with me and I think he enjoys seeing what it does to me.
“Fine,” I say as I’m trying to keep my emotions in check.
“OK, Supermarket Lady, please follow me to my car so we can go get something to eat. I don’t know about you, but I am starving,” Jason says.
I put my apartment keys back into my purse and start to follow him to his squad car. “Only if you insist, Officer.”
He shakes his head, laughing again. At least he’s getting some amusement out of this. To the point where he’s no longer interrogating me finally.
We get into his car and as he puts the car in drive he looks at me asks, “Where to?”
“Wherever you’d like, Officer. After all, you are the one driving so for all I know you could drive me to a corn field and leave me there,” I shrug.
“Why would I do that?” He asks, amused.
“I don’t why you would, but you could. I don’t know you that well, remember?”
“Well, let this dinner with me allow you to get to know me as Jason, not the Officer,” he says smiling.
“By the way, I must say I’m very fond of your feistiness,” he says as he looks at me out of the corner of his eye.
With that comment that leaves me speechless and fighting for air to reach my lungs, he drives away from the grocery store and down the road. I can feel him stealing glances at me as I watch the town of Arlington disappear out the passenger side window.
I try to relax and enjoy the scenery, trying not to think of where he could possibly be taking me. How did this happen? What am I doing with him in his car? He likes me and I think I may like him too, but I’m not supposed to for safety reasons…oh dear, what am I going to do? The most important question is, what if he finds out I’m really Destiny Hope Connor, a wanted person in Chicago, not Hope Morris? All these questions flash through my head frantically as I close my eyes and try to trust this guy I barely know. The same guy that waited hours outside my store to see me today…