To Rid A Guilty Heart

New York City

November 1996

“Here’s your coffee,” Sabrina’s friend Tamara said as she joined her in line for the Lucy O’Dell Show. Young women, hundreds deep, lined the hallway of NBC Studios waiting to be chosen for the talk show’s live audience. Bryce Butler, TV’s number one star and sinfully gorgeous, tall, dark and muscular hunk, was scheduled to be interviewed.

“Thanks Tam,” Sabrina said dodging a glare from the woman behind her. Wonder what her problem is?

Tamara turned her wrist reading the time. “Only an hour left, are you nervous?”

Sabrina blew into the tiny lid opening at the steaming liquid; her ice-cold fingers huddled around the heavy paper cup. “A little, but I seriously doubt we’ll get to see him up close.”

“Oh come on, like the man won’t catch your eye and recognize you immediately. You’re way prettier now than those yearbook pictures you showed me. I still can’t believe you covered up those big blue eyes with tortoise shell frames.”

“Yeah the eighties weren’t kind. It took years to straighten my hair from those awful perms.” Sabrina’s laugh gave way to a whine. “But seriously, what is Bryce going to do hop off the stage and say hi? I doubt it.”

“Probably not, but what are you going to do? We didn’t come all the way from Maine not to talk to him. I’m sure he remembers you.”

“Oh I’m sure he does, but it’s not a happy memory. Our break up was awful.” A pit of regret landed heavy in Sabrina’s belly.

She tugged her golden brown locks out from the arm Tamara slipped around her shoulders. “I know sweetie, but this is your chance to right the wrong so you can move on, right? Why don’t I try to talk to the security guard? It can’t hurt to try. I mean, how often is Bryce in New York, he hates to fly.” A trivia tidbit, that came easily to one of his biggest fans.

But Sabrina’s recollection of Bryce’s trait was more than a fast fact. “That he is,” she said remembering the time they flew to Florida with his parents and he squeezed her hand so tight during a spot of turbulence it caused a stress fracture in one of her metacarpals. He felt so bad about the accident that he bought her the most beautiful bracelet she had ever seen made of rose gold filigree and fresh water pearls.

She twisted the bracelet around her wrist and smiled to herself. He might be a tough guy detective on TV now but Sabrina knew the real man, insecurities, imperfections and all.

Bryce Butler was Marshwood High School’s captain of the football and swim team, lead actor of the drama department and best bass voice in special chorus. If there was something to conquer, Bryce could do it no matter what the subject. Well, except for math and science. And that’s where Sabrina came into the picture.

Sophomore year she was assigned to tutor Bryce in his struggling classes. He needed to keep a B average and without her help he would’ve failed. They worked for months and when he came home with a B+ in both Algebra and Biology he swept her into his arms planting a full kiss on her lips.

It came to Sabrina, a girl who knew the inside of a library better than the inside of gym, as a shock, but with that one kiss a fire sparked between them. From that point on they were Marshwood’s golden couple. She cheered at all of his games and plays and he attended her science fairs and mock debates. They were the perfect complement to each other. That is until senior year, a month before graduation.

The swim team had finished their last meet and Sabrina waited for Bryce outside the locker room, but something was wrong. Minutes had passed and he hadn’t come out. Knowing the whole team had exited, Sabrina went inside. And there, around the corner against the lockers was Bryce, still in a towel kissing Mindy Reese. She had him pressed against the metal doors, arms draped around his neck, her bare leg running up his, her long blonde hair was blocking his view. Bryce pushed her away and Sabrina saw the look of shock on his face.

She spun around and bolted from the room with Bryce quick on her heels. As expected it caused a heated argument. Bryce claimed Mindy had bombarded him and he tried pushing her away, but she kept forcing herself on him. Sabrina didn’t believe a word of it and left him and their relationship in the hallway behind the pool.

The day after graduation, one Bryce didn’t attend; she found that he moved to California with his parents as he prepared to attend USC. It was also the day his teammate and best friend, Jimmy White, told her exactly what had happened after the swim meet. It was just as Bryce had said; Mindy slipped into the locker room and waited outside the showers for him, then went after him like a praying mantis ready to devour her mate. Sabrina was distraught at the revelation and kicked herself for not believing Bryce in the first place. But there was nothing she could do about it. Bryce was gone and she had no way of getting in touch with him.

A year later, when Sabrina began college she started seeing Bryce on television and in movies. He had made it to Hollywood and her chances of ever talking to him again dwindled to nothing. That is until Tamara read a blurb in TV Guide that Bryce was making a rare appearance in New York.

Now, as she stood in line this was the only chance she had to shed the guilt she had held onto for five years. Cindy, the other friend she brought for moral support, came up to her with arms laden with shopping bags. “Where’s Tamara?”

“She went to talk to security. What did you buy?”

“Oh, just a few things for Christmas, there’s only three weeks left to shop, so I made the best of the waiting time.”

“That’s good enough for me. Hey, stay here so I can go to the bathroom,” Sabrina excused herself.

She returned a few minutes later with Tamara. “What did security say?” Cindy asked and the girls huddled together.

“He said he had absolutely no pull, but I could ask the stage hands when we get inside.”

Sabrina sighed. “If we get inside. This line is getting bigger by the second.”

“It wouldn’t if you didn’t stop adding people to it,” an angry voice muttered.

Sabrina turned to find a disturbed woman behind her. “Excuse me?”

“You heard. You keep adding people, moving away, leaving and coming back. You should get to the back of the line for all the rearranging you’ve done.”

“Look, we’re all together, so what if one steps out for a moment? We’ve been here since five a.m.”

“Yeah, we all have. These other two should get to the back of line!”

Sabrina gasped. “What’s with the attitude, lady?”

“I’m just sick of it! We’re all here not being able to pee or leave for coffee and you three are you’re taking advantage of us!”

A security guard came up, hearing the raised voices and immediately Sabrina pleaded her case as the woman spouted out her annoyances to the guard. After minutes of fighting and more and more women joining the side of the disgruntled lady, Sabrina threw her hands up. “All right! Stop! I give up. Come on guys, let’s go,” she said turning to her friends.

“But Sabrina,” Cindy exclaimed.

“We can’t leave. What about Bryce?” Tamara added.

Sabrina shook her head. “It’s not worth it. I don’t want to see him like this. Let’s just forget it.”

They left 30 Rockefeller Center, walking to the stone stairs above 5th Avenue. In tears, Sabrina dropped to the top step, her face in her hands. Tamara hugged her. “Hey, it’s okay. It wasn’t your time. If it were meant to be then we would have gotten in.”

Sabrina sniffed. “Yeah maybe. I just want to move on. My love life is completely stunted and I know it’s because I never got to tell him ‘I’m sorry’. It’s like I’m cursed and I can’t even make it right because he’s famous.” The sobs came from out of nowhere, surprising her. She didn’t realize she felt this emotional about the whole incident, but she did.

After a while, it was Cindy’s idea to do something fun to take their minds off of Bryce Butler and his ridiculous fans. They agreed on visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art and they hailed a cab to take them through downtown traffic.

It took forty minutes to go the thirty-seven blocks to the museum. Every street was gridlock with day workers, Christmas shoppers and the somber line of cars waiting to park at St. Patrick’s Cathedral where there was a memorial service commemorating the anniversary of the John F. Kennedy’s death.

But as the car was about to turn onto 83rd Street, Cindy jolted in her seat. “Oh my gosh, it’s him!”

“Who?” Tamara feverishly searched the surrounding streets.

“Bryce Butler, it’s him!” Cindy yelled again.

Sabrina sighed. “Oh stop it. It’s just a billboard.”

“No!” Cindy said again and planted a hand on Sabrina’s head, turning her gaze out the window. “There, it’s Bryce Butler!”
Sabrina’s eyes focused on the tall, dark haired man in a long black coat pulling a suitcase out of a parked limousine. He straightened to his full height and there was that unmistakable smile. It was him. “What do I do?” she panicked.

“GO!” Tamara and Cindy both shouted.

Sabrina jumped out and dodged the oncoming cars, each leaning on their horns in long blasts. She noticed that Bryce looked up at the commotion then returned to his task. But in a split second did a double take back to her. His inquisitive eyes narrowed and Sabrina gave him a wave as she walked closer. He tipped his head towards her then turned to his assistant, directing the girl to take his luggage. A group of fans stood to one side, Sharpie markers and headshots in hand waiting for his attention.

“Hi Bryce,” Sabrina worked up enough gumption to say.

“Sabrina Watters, what are you doing here?” The corners of his lips turned up as his eyes, those same smoldering brown eyes she used to get lost in, gazed at her through his lashes. She sighed, not audibly she hoped, as he held a finger aloft. “Give me one second.”

He turned to the fans, signing their photographs. They thanked him and ran away chattering about meeting him. Bryce and Sabrina were left alone on the sidewalk in front of the opulent Wisteria Hotel. “What are the odds of seeing you here?” he said with a shake of his head.

“Probably one in million,” Sabrina shrugged. “I tried to get into the Lucy O’Dell Show, but there was an incident, so my friends and I started for the Met instead. But seeing you sort of stopped that from happening too.”

“Wow, pure coincidence. How lovely,” he said with a twitch to his brow as he stuffed his hands in his pockets. “How have you been? It’s been a long time.”

Sabrina rang her gloved hands together. Was it the breeze that picked up freezing her or the flash of remembrance of their last meeting chilling her to the bone? Either way, nervousness crept over her. “I’m uh good. I’m a biology teacher.”

“In South Berwick?”

“Oh no, I’ve moved. I live in Portland now. How about you?” Stupid question Sabrina. “Oh geez never mind, umm how’s the show going?”

He chuckled, her favorite tiny freckle on the upper corner of his mouth twinkled as he did. “It’s good. Long hours, I just got out of work uh,” he checked his watch, “Ten hours ago. I took the red-eye last night and went straight to the interview from the airport.”

“You must be exhausted?”

“I am, but—“

The scamper of heels on the cement behind them caused Bryce to circle around. Tamara and Cindy ogled at him like a couple of groupies at a concert. “I can’t believe it’s you!” Tam shrieked.

Sabrina playfully rolled her eyes. “Bryce, these are my friends, Tamara and Cindy, fellow teachers.”

Tamara shoved a camera in Sabrina’s hand. “Would you mind if we took pictures Bryce?”

He gave a gracious smile followed by saying, “Not at all,” as he spanned his arms around both of women.

“Say cheese,” Sabrina said and took the picture.

When the giddiness had passed, it was Tamara who said, “Well, I’m sure you two have a lot to talk about. Cindy and I were going to head over to the museum for a while. Take your time.”

Sabrina’s eyes grew wide. With the girls around she was comfortable and now she had to face him by herself.

“It was nice to meet you,” Bryce said like a gentleman and shook each of their hands before placing one on the small of Sabrina’s back. “Would you like to come in?” he asked once they were out of earshot.

Sabrina gulped. “Yeah, maybe we can talk for bit. Well, that is if you want to. I- I mean, you did say you were tired?”

He shook his head, no and not a piece of jet black hair moved as he did and Sabrina laughed. Bryce rolled his eyes. “One of the draw backs of show business.”

The sound of distant shrieks caused them both to swivel left. Bryce grabbed her hand. “Another one is screaming fans. Let’s go.”

He pulled her into the hotel and his assistant was on the other side of the door waiting with a key. “Room 731,” she called out as they dashed into the elevator, evading the fast approaching girls.

Inside the room, Bryce latched the door and shed his coat to the nearest chair. “Make yourself comfortable. I’m just going to hop into the shower and get this goop off my face and hair.”

Sabrina nodded. Slipping off her own jacket, she admired the elaborate décor of the suite. Plush burgundy carpets, gold chandeliers, ornate gilded tables, crystal lamps; the whole place was fit for royalty. Heck the gigantic fruit, cheese and wine basket on the coffee table probably cost more than her monthly rent.

Curiosity and exploration soon led the way into the bedroom and her jaw dropped as she came in contact with an enormous king-sized bed. It had a plush cream and burgundy comforter and four massive pillows encased in satin. Seeing it made her remember whose room she was in and how in high school she and Bryce were an innocent couple in love. Sure, they had teenage hormones, but their families easily kept them in check and not once did their emotions get the better of them.

Hearing the water stop, Sabrina rushed into the front room and made herself comfortable on the gold brocade sofa. Minutes later Bryce emerged dressed in an easy black t-shirt and jeans, towelling his hair dry. A waft of fresh soap and shampoo filled the room.

“Thanks for waiting. I feel much better.” He joined her, opening the fruit basket, popping a grape in his mouth. “Hungry?”

“No, thanks. Bryce, I don’t want to take up a lot of your time. I just have one thing to say,” Sabrina began, twisting the ring on her finger.

“Right down to business huh? You were always one to get right to the point,” he said, a bit of annoyance coming through his tone. Leaning back, he exhaled. “Ok, what do you have to say?”

Sabrina scoffed. “Oh, so now that we’re out of the way of your fans and my friends who adore you it’s back to the real Bryce right?”

“Hey, you came to see me. You hunted me down, so what do you want?”
“I didn’t hunt you down! I only came to see you to- to- to settle things between us. The way we ended has always bothered me.”

“Bothered you? You dumped me Sabrina. How could it have bothered you!” Irritation grew in his voice. Sabrina noticed his brows met in the middle and jaw tightened, pressing his lips into a line.

“Yeah, well…” she started to yell, her cheeks burned and eyes threatened to tear. “Well, maybe I felt bad.” She jerked away, those tears stinging, wanting to be set free, but she had controlled her emotions this long. She wasn’t about to cry in front of him.

Bryce cupped her chin, facing her to him. His voice softened as he spoke. “I know you Brina. Your eyes glow turquoise when you’re trying not to cry. What do you mean, you felt bad? You saw what you saw and you made your decision no matter what I said and what we had. ”

She blinked, clearing her vision. “Yeah, I did, but as hard as it to say this, I jumped to conclusions. Your friend Jimmy told me what happened in that locker room. I tried finding you to apologize and at least clear the air between us, but you were gone. I’ve had to live with the guilt all this time. That’s why I came here: to say I’m sorry for not believing you.”

Bryce let out a ragged breath and stood, pacing. “You’re saying sorry now? Sabrina, I couldn’t go to my graduation, I left our hometown and never looked back all because of the words you said to me outside that locker room. You should have believed me then. I loved you. Being in love means trusting the one you’re with. That skank threw herself at me! And instead of being able to run to you for comfort and tell you what happened, you bit my head off and threw us away! ”

Sabrina stood, catching his arm halting him. “I know Bryce. Don’t you think I know that now? I am sorry. So sorry! You may not see me all the time, but I see you everywhere from television to pages in magazines. I am constantly reminded of what I did. I’m so tormented that I drove five hours to get here, just so I could clear my conscience.”

Tears flowed down her cheeks and Sabrina jutted a fist out wiping them away. Bryce took her hand away and used his thumbs to push away the watery trail on her face. His eyes locked with hers, heat emanated from them like they used to anytime they bickered. “Is that the only reason you came here?” She nodded and he peered down his nose at her. “Really? There’s nothing else?”

She let out a harsh exhale. “What do you want me to say, that I’ve been pining for you since then? That there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t miss you? Or maybe you want to know that it’s impossible to have a relationship with another man, because my heart is still torn?”

His brows rose to his hairline but faded into a warm smile. “Yes, that’s exactly what I want to hear, because then you’d know how I feel.”

“Puh! Please, you date supermodels and actresses. You don’t long for an old, nerdy girlfriend.”

His lips captured hers, proving to her that he did. Locking her arms around his neck, Sabrina’s initial shock fled and made way for the surge of passion that filled her. He cupped her head with one of his big hands and pulled her body close with the other, enveloping her as fully as he could. Sabrina melted in his arms. Her lips, her heart, her soul remembering everything she had a shared in the life they had before. He was her first love and though they never shared the most intimate of fulfillment, they were older now and the urges she squashed down back then came forth like a wave.

Their lips parted and Bryce scooped her up in his arms carrying her over to the bed. He laid her down and Sabrina grabbed her hands full of his shirt, pulling him to her, kissing him. His fingers slid the buttons of her sweater from their place and slipped the garment from her shoulders. Sabrina paused, staring into his eyes. “Does this mean I’m forgiven?”

Bryce smiled and kissed her softly. “Brina, I was never mad at you, heartbroken, yes, but to answer your question, I’ve always long for my nerdy, old girlfriend. Those plastic models and actresses don’t mean anything. I’m still and always will be in love with you.”

Sabrina let out a noise that was a cross between a laugh and a cry and kissed him again. “I love you too Bryce. I love you too.”

* * *

One year later

A screeching shriek cut through Sabrina and Bryce’s Malibu home as Sabrina viewed the centerpieces a florist brought for their May wedding. She grimaced to the impeccably dressed designer and excused herself. Once out of sight Sabrina picked her pace up to a run as she followed the sound to the pool area. And there she saw it: a bleach blonde girl with her arms and legs locked around Bryce like a koala, peppering his face with kisses. “I love you!” she screamed as he pushed and pulled at the girl to get her off of him.

Sabrina giggled to herself but quickly cleared her throat. “Bryce, what the hell is going on!”

The girl whipped around and Bryce’s eyes widened to the size of baseballs. “Sabrina, honey, it’s not what you think,” he began as two security guards finally came to his rescue, pulling the crazed fan from him.

Sabrina, arms crossed at her chest, turned on her heel and stormed inside the house. From the sound of his sneakers on the tile, Bryce made a mad dash after her. “Brina, please baby, you have to believe me. I was in the gym and this psycho attacked me!”

Doing her best to play the part of jealous fiancé, she bit the back of her tongue hiding her amusement. Instead, she cocked an eyebrow skyward and pursed her lips, listening to the profuse confessions coming from Bryce’s mouth.

“You’ve got to understand. I barely got a chance to call security before she went after me. Did you see Frank and Johnny out there?”

“Bryce…. Bryce… Bryce!” she had to finally yell in between his nonsense.

He stopped and looked as scared as a child who got caught painting his brother orange for fun. “Yes?”

Slowly, she spread her lips into a smile. “Just get over here and kiss me.”

Bryce closed his eyes and breathed a sigh of relief and took two big steps, taking her face in his hands kissing her like she demanded. They chuckled as they parted and Bryce squeezed her in his arms. “Now that’s the girl I love.”

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Love And the Art of Self Defense

Liv trudged into the dressing room of the kung fu school, bowing to the practice mats and photographs of the elders that hung on the wall.  Acts of respect the school expect from its students.  She had been learning the art of ancient martial art since being accosted by a homeless man outside her downtown studio apartment a month ago.  The man chased for her a block before she hid away inside a shop as scared as a child who’d just evaded the drooling neighborhood dog.  Then and there she realized she didn’t want to be afraid, didn’t want to become victim and being a five feet tall, one hundred-thirteen pound woman living alone, that chance was heightened already.  Guns and knives were out of the question; dogs weren’t allowed in the apartment; so the only other option was to learn self-defense.  And the last thing Liv wanted was to go to one of those places with the giant foam-covered man who stole  women’s purse while they yelled, “I don’t know you!” and kicked him in the padded groin.  No, she wanted the real thing, like Bruce Lee.

Months before, one a desolate day Liv had rented Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story and found a piece of her life that had been missing.  She didn’t know why, but when Bruce and Linda Lee gave birth to their baby, Brandon, she burst out crying.  Was it the baby?  Was it the unity of love between husband and wife?  Maybe it was the sappy music crescendoing in the background?  Who knows? But something in that scene touched her and Liv’s thoughts echoed: this could be my life if I find my soul mate.

A soul mate was impossible to find though, heck even a boyfriend or a decent date was hard to find in this day in age.  Gentlemen were non-existent.  The boys, not men, at law school had been manipulative, fake and well – horny. As often as possible Liv would wonder, isn’t there a decent man out there?  One who was athletic, but not a jock; handsome but not arrogant; funny but not a jerk; sensitive but not a wuss… and was it too much as to ask for someone who kept his head out of his pants for longer than a minute.  Nope, her dream man was just that – a dream.

Her family had come to visit all of a week before and as she stepped behind the paneled wall into the dressing room, the loneliness hit her like a wave crashing against a rocky jettison.  But after crying for two days, her heart aching to fill the void of companionship, no more tears fell.  All hope was lost. Ignoring the pain and giving up the idea of finding anyone was all that ran through her mind now.  She didn’t care anymore.  She could do it.  Sure, she could live alone.  She’d finish school, get a better job, move into a little place where she could adopt a dog – ooh yes, a bulldog, like she always wanted.  It would great! No rules, no being bothered and she could to do anything she wanted for the rest of her life. She shrugged.  Sure, she could do it, she thought and her posture drooped.

The students came pouring into the back, tossing gym bags to the floor, tucking them under the benches, getting ready for class to begin.  There were hellos, bows and gestures as they greeted each other.  Liv remained quiet, tying her long brown hair in a ponytail and knotting her single striped, white sash around her waist.  Soon she started to recognize the nameless people coming in.  There was the little tornado kid, the blue-sashed suck up, the bald sweaty one, the tiger guy (name for the orangey stripes in his hair) and oh a new guy.  She looked once, then twice at the tall, handsome Asian man who followed Tiger guy in.  A tingle of attraction ignited a warmth in her belly as he did the same thing: a double take, smile and palm to fist greeting followed by a deep bow.  Liv bit her lip and swallowed. He was cute.

     Oh stop it! You don’t care, you don’t need a man, there’s no soul mate out there. But even as she thought it, her expressions betrayed her and she laughed as the new guy did the opposite of a strip-tease and danced as he pulled on his ballooning kung fu pants over his gym shorts.  The class was called and they stood in order of rank from highest sash to lowest.  With Tiger guy ahead of her and New guy behind, she did what she justified as being friendly and turned around. “You’re new here huh?”

“Uh yeah,” New guy said.

“Well, you can follow my lead if you need to.  I’ve been here about a month. I’m Liv.”

“Raylan, nice to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you too.”

The instructor called the class to begin and Liv smiled as they were lead into stretches.  After an hour of exercise, the class was dismissed and Liv went for a bottle of water.  Out on the school’s loading dock, it was a balmy California evening.  The cool breeze lifted the perspire-soaked hair on the back of her neck giving her a refreshing shiver.  A few students had trickled out the door from the rising temperature and funky smells of the sweaty gym clothes that overwhelmed the non-ventilated rooms.

“Hi, again,” Raylan said.

Liv turned; surprised that he had joined her. “Hi. Good class, wasn’t it?”

“Yeah, pretty good,” he answered.  He drank from his bottle, warm brown eyes scanning the surrounding parking lot.  “So what do you do?”

“Oh me?” Liv wasn’t about to let nervousness creep in. It’s just conversation, it doesn’t mean anything.  “I go to law school and work in a deli out of La Jolla Cove. You?”

He nodded to the adjacent Coco’s Café and Bakery. “I work over there.  Have you ever been?”

“No, I haven’t.  Is it good?”

“Yeah.  Hey, you should come in sometime.”

     It was a harmless statement.  Lots of people say that, right?

“Sure.”

“Great! When?”

     Okay that was weird.  Liv’s brows crinkled. “Uh, I don’t know Friday?”

“Sounds good.  What time?”

     What time?  I don’t know, does he own the place or something, why does he want me to try the food so much? Might as well humor him, it’s not a date or anything, he’s asking me to his job? “Umm 6:30?”

“Great I’m on the schedule.  I’ll see you then or well, wait, will you be here tomorrow?”

Liv nodded.  “Okay, well, see you tomorrow. I have to get going,” she excused herself and returned home.

Instead of skipping every other day at kung fu like she usually did, Liv went the next night and the next merely because now she had friends to meet.  At least that’s what she told herself.  Raylan introduced her to Sean (Tiger guy) his roommate and the three of them stretched, practiced and chatted throughout the next two classes.   The guys were easy to like, funny, attentive and yes handsome.  Then, it was Friday.

Confusion more than anxiety set in as Liv readied herself for dinner at Coco’s, Raylan’s restaurant.  She needed someone to talk to about the situation and who better than her best friend, Cora.

“I have a dilemma, I think I have a date,” Liv began after they finished the niceties.  She told Cora of Raylan’s odd invitation to the restaurant.  “So what do you think?”

Cora hummed. “I don’t know. How about you go a few minutes late and if he seems excited to see you then you know he’s happy you came. At least you’d know that he likes you.”

Liv liked that idea.  She ended her call and dressed in a butter-colored peasant shirt and khaki capris, cute but sensible.  She arrived at the café and the moment Raylan saw her, his face lit up like a child’s on Christmas morning.  “Hey, I didn’t think you’d come!”

“Oh sorry, I was on a phone call.” Yes, he’s happy!

Sitting her in his section, Raylan took her order.  Throughout the dinner, Liv watched as Raylan served others as well as herself.  He was funny, but not obnoxious; performed magic tricks for little kids and still stopped to talk to her without skipping a beat in his normal flow of dinner traffic.

When the meal was finished, he sat for his fifteen minute break. “So the other servers and I are going to T.G.I. Fridays for half price appetizers, would you like to wait and go with me?”

Liv nodded and Raylan beamed. “Good, because I don’t think it’s a secret that I like you.”

A flush burned her cheeks, but she stifled every instinct to yell out: HE LIKES ME!

But even as the sort-of date progress and Liv met Raylan’s co-workers, there was still the nerve-wrecking expectation of what would happen at the end.  Would he be a kisser? Would he be handsy? Dear God, I hope he’s doesn’t ruin this. 

They returned to Coco’s parking lot where Liv had left her car as Raylan drove to Fridays.  Like a gentleman, because he said his grandfather would kill him if he wasn’t polite to a woman, he opened the door for her to exit.  Liv stood and Raylan held his arms apart for a hug.  She followed his lead and embraced him, saying she had a nice night.

“I did too.  We should go out again?”

Leaning back, Liv lifted her eyes meeting his.  Was he going to kiss me?  But Raylan brushed a hand down her hair and set her cheek back to his chest for one last hug.  Stepping away, he promised he’d call.  “We’ll do a movie or something.”

“Ok,” Liv agreed, slightly taken aback by his lack of lustfulness that other guys had shown her in the past.

Driving home, she realized she liked the fact that he wasn’t pushy.  She had a wonderful night with a respectful man who made her forget about being lonely.  Don’t get attached, she reminded herself and tried her best not to think about Raylan as a romantic interest.

Hearing her phone ringing from outside her apartment, she rushed to unlock the door and caught the call before the person on the other line hung up.

“I hope you don’t mind me calling so soon, but I wanted you to know something.”  It was Raylan.

“What?”

“Well, you looked like you wanted me to kiss you before…”

She laughed, covering up the embarrassment of the truth.  Had he read my mind?

“… So I wanted you to know that I’m not going to kiss, until I really know you.  Is that okay?”

     Is that okay? Is the Pope Catholic?  “Yes, of course.  I really like that too.”

“Good.  I was so afraid you wouldn’t.  It’s just, I’ve been with other girls who rushed into relationships and I’d like to be your friend first.”

     Sigh. Is he for real? They talked for awhile and planned another date and eventually ended up seeing each other for a week.  They met at class and practiced together on a daily basis.  And when class wasn’t in session, they dated going to movies, parks, malls all the while talking about their families, learning about one another and enjoying the simple company of a new friend.  They held hands, visited breath-taking scenery, took pictures and hugged good-night, never once feeling the anxiety over who was going to make move at the end of the night.  For Liv, it was perfect and so precious that she found someone who didn’t play those stupid dating games.  She could be herself without the worry of whether or not he was going to force his tongue into her mouth.  She had dated the worst but somehow found the best in Raylan.

Years ago she’d written in her journal the qualities she wanted in a man and without dwelling upon these, Raylan would pop up with one of the distinctions she’d noted.  From something as little as being an Asian man with an American accent to being adopted and not hail from a female-submissive background to growing up in a small town and taking a tour in the military. It was beginning to feel like Raylan was handpicked for her.

A week from the day they met, Raylan walked Liv up to her apartment to say good-night.  She invited him inside as she put away the stained glass dolphin candle holder he’d bought at a little shop along the pier during their date.  While she arranged her gift on a table, Raylan sat on the sofa. “So we’re kind of exclusive now, don’t you think?”

Liv joined him, their knees touched as she sank into the cushion. “Yeah, I’d say so.”

“Maybe even like boyfriend and girlfriend exclusive?” He was adorable sounding like a school boy asking her to go steady. He fidgeted in his seat waiting for her answer.

Liv couldn’t help but grin. “I’d like that.”

He moved closer.  “So, would you mind if I kissed you good-night tonight?”

She shook her head and took a deep breath as he leaned, placing his lips on hers.  Soft, warm lips she was sure sparked the moment they met hers.  Startled by the fireworks lit inside her, she put herself, not just her lips into the kiss.  Their closeness, their bond, their friendship was wrapped up inside the kiss and the kinetic energy between them surged.  Never before had Liv ever felt anything like this.  It was reminiscent of every story book she’d ever read, every romantic movie she’d ever seen, it was…

Liv burst out crying, not knowing why, but one overwhelming thought ran through her head.  She panicked at her tears and Raylan reached behind pulling her head to his.  Their foreheads met and Liv cried, “I don’t know why I’m crying.”  But she did know.  She knew it now, he was THE ONE.  The last thing she wanted to do was ruin it and tell him, thinking that like a typical male he’d have commitment issues.

But not Raylan; he wasn’t afraid.  “I think I know why,” he whispered.  “I think we both know we found someone we were supposed to find.”

     Yep, he knew.  They kissed again through Liv’s happy tears.  And dare it be said – they lived happily ever after.

*** This story is 100% true, only the names have been changed to disguise the innocent. ***

Happy New Year!

Christmas is over, the tree is down. The champagne cork popped, the confetti swept up.  It’s time to get back to work.  This year already has had its ups and downs despite only being sixteen days old.  I’m sure many of you know I made it through a tough round with a small publishing house that was reading Beneath the Wall.  The editor liked it, but I had too many mistakes.  Luckily, she is a very nice lady and enjoyed the story enough to give it another chance after I fix my errors.  I’m working on them now, polishing the manuscript up so it shines like a diamond in a jewelry store case. 

In the mean time, this situation enabled me to bond closer to the women at Heart and Scrolls, the Romance Writers of America Central Illinois Chapter, I belong to.  I took a chance and stated my rejected feelings in an email to the group.  Almost every woman wrote back with full of support or advice from where to go from here.  The outpouring made me swell with female-pride.  If this same incident had been with a group of males, I bet they would’ve smack each other on the back and merely say, “Tough break dude, here have a beer.” (Of course I really don’t know, I’m not a guy and I probably just made a really sexist statement there… eh well, it’s my blog). 

Anyways, one fellow writer suggested I use my blog to write short stories and hone my writing abilities under a word limitation.  The theory being, if I can write a sharper story with fewer words, than my longer novels will be that much better.  So I am going to give it a try.  From here on out, I will designate a few blogs to being only short stories.  In the comment sections, please feel free and critique my entries.  I won’t get angry or depressed, I promise.  I really do feel the best way to improve is to learn from my mistakes. 

Thank you and enjoy my immediate next entry.  Short Story Number One.