~ 2002 ~
High school senior, Rachel Bradley stood in front of the girl’s room mirror practicing her oral report one last time before the big presentation.
“Come on Rach. It’s time,” her best friend, Krissy, relayed.
“Thanks,” Rachel answered and took a deep cleansing breath. She brushed her caramel brown hair and straightened her button-down blouse. One of the buttons strained tight across her more than ample bosom; an unwanted gift from the Irish side of her family. Why did her favorite sweater have to be in the wash? Rolling her shoulders forward, she tried to loosen the fabric. What was worse, slouching or standing in front of her AP History class with a button threatening to pop? She studied her reflection: she’d have to slouch.
“Rachel! Let’s go!” Krissy called again.
Rachel forced herself to ignore the button and follow her friend. Outside the classroom, Ms. Roman stood tapping her watch. “We’re waiting Ms. Bradley.”
“Sorry,” Rachel said as she passed by the mousy brown-haired teacher, taking a place at the podium.
The bored class stared at her as she started telling her version of the Ride of Paul Revere. She spoke in poetic form, orating the historic tale of the fateful night Mother England brought war to wayward America.
After five of the ten minute long report, whooping and hollering interrupted her from the hallway. A second later the football team overtook the room, screaming about the state finals trip. A week before, they had won their place in the division and now, the following Friday, the team was set to leave. The coach must have let them run wild before piling on the bus to Hartford.
Annoyed, Rachel propped a hand on her hip waiting for the guys to leave. Ms. Roman did too, but was tolerant for the moment, letting the boys have their joy.
“Woo!” The captain, Kyle Jones hollered and buzzed around the room like a bee fresh from the hive.
The class riled along with him and before she knew it, Rachel was picked up and spun around in Kyle’s arms. Overwhelmed by the sudden upheaval and the fact that she was being held by the most popular boy in school, Rachel gave into the mini-pep rally. Set on her feet, she clapped and jumped up and down, truly caught up in the excitement.
To her horror, she realized the class and the football players were no longer cheering but now laughing, doubled over even and it seemed to be in her direction. Then it hit her, not the cheering, not the pointing, but the breeze of Kyle’s sputtering on her skin as he pretended to ravish her unclad breasts. Her shirt, that stupid button-down shirt split down the front clear to the bottom of her bra. It all happened so fast, she didn’t even know it had happened.
With a gasp Rachel pulled the remnants of the shirt together and with a powerful right hook punched him in the chin with all the anger and embarrassment she had inside her. In tears, she dropped to her knees behind the podium, humiliated. The students roared even louder and Ms. Roman let a shrill whistle out. “That’s enough class! Get it together. Football team – OUT! Kyle go to the nurse, you’re bleeding.”
Rachel curled behind the podium as Ms. Roman deftly draped her navy blue blazer over her shoulders for more cover. “Go to the bathroom, dear, then call your mom from the office.”
All Rachel could do was nod and endure the trickles of giggles as she slinked out of the classroom.
~ 2012 ~
Event planner, Rachel Bradley, flipped a page over the top of her clipboard. “No, no, no the white chairs are tied with black bows not red. The red bows go on the black chairs. Get it right people,” she bellowed to the ballroom full of employees setting up for San Diego’s Most Eligible Bachelor Annual Gala.
It was four p.m. and soon the caterers and bartenders would be there to start preparing for service. Rachel’s company, Soiree, was chosen to plan the event and she couldn’t be happier. Sure, a bachelor auction wasn’t the most politically correct event, but it was her company’s chance to finally make a name for itself.
Directing her staff through the microphoned ear piece, Rachel had the dressers finish the chairs, the florists adorning the tables, and technicians testing the lights on the mini-runway. The sconces dimmed and spotlight came on just as she looked up to see a tall, broad shouldered and thick-chested man sauntering across the room. Rachel couldn’t see his face, but she had a feeling it was going to be as gorgeous as his silhouette was.
The house lights brightened the room once again and he walked over to her. With a grin as wide as a crescent moon, Rachel grasped the corner of a table to stabilize herself in his beauty.
“Hi, I’m here for the auction,” he said. His voice was a deep baritone and resonated like a rumble of rolling thunder. “My name is Kyle Jones.”
Hearing the name Kyle Jones halted her heady thoughts. Kyle Jones, like that stupid jock back in high school, Rachel muttered somewhere in her brain. Thinking it was just a popular name; she discounted the moniker and searched her list. “Right, Kyle, you’re early.”
“Yeah, sorry, I came straight from the airport. My family was visiting from the East.”
He nodded. “Connecticut to be more specific. They always visit this time of year.”
Connecticut?! Rachel stepped back and got a good look at the man. His brown-green eyes focused on her as she studied him. Then she saw it, a triangle-shaped scar on his chin that made her blood run cold. She made that scar the day she clocked him for disgracing her in front of the whole class. Her peridot ring she’d always wore, had torn his skin sending him bleeding down the hall.
“Is something wrong?” he asked slowly, picking up her hesitance.
“Huh? Oh, right. No, there’s nothing wrong. You can change behind that partition over there.”
He narrowed his eyes. “I’m already in a suit. Are you all right?”
“Yep, sure.” Turning on her heel, she had to get away from him. Too many feelings overwhelmed her standing next to him: confusion, anger and unfortunately a little lust too. Boy, did he fill out! He used to be a good-looking kid, sure, with dusty brown hair, a lanky body and a pretty boy face, but now his hair was darker, jaw more chiseled and muscles bulked up his slender frame.
“Hey!” he called after her as she hurried to the bank of elevators.
Rachel pressed the button repeatedly hoping for a quick getaway. She lit up the letter B, there were plenty of things for her to check on in the basement of the hotel.
Kyle caught up to her as the doors started to close and followed her inside. “Did I do something wrong?”
“Why did you follow me?” Rachel shot at him.
“I don’t know what’s going on, but obviously I’ve done something to piss you off. Maybe some other guys would be cool with that, but I’m not.” He crossed his arms at his chest and his gray dinner jacket strained against his biceps.
Rachel matched his stance. “Oh you’re so sensitive now, aren’t you?”
His face contorted. “Where did you get this low opinion of me?”
“HA! I’ll tell you where Kyle Jone—“
From out of no where the elevator began to tremble and vibrate, then in the next second the whole car shook in a violent uproar. The lights flashed and died and suddenly the steel box let go becoming a careening silver bullet down the concrete shaft.
Rachel braced herself against the wall as Kyle spanned his arms from one side to the other. The emergency light popped on and Kyle reached for Rachel. “Get on the ground!”
“Do it!” he yelled. “We’re going to hit the bottom, it’ll save your life.”
“How do you know?” she cried.
“I was in Navy, now come here!”
Jetting out her hand, Kyle pulled her to the floor and instructed her to cover her head. Rachel did exactly what he told her to do as he laid next to her and the car crashed to the ground in a jolting spasm.
Rachel screamed and cried, scared and yet somewhat relieved that the falling stopped. The building still shook, but it was minimal as the crumpled metal coffin oddly protected them from further damage.
Kyle slid a sympathetic arm around her as she whimpered, frightened like a child. “You all right?”
Rachel nodded. She clung to him until the moment passed and she remembered who she was hugging. Pushing herself away, she wiped a hand across her wet cheeks. “Earthquake?”
“That’s my guess,” Kyle answered as he took off his jacket and unbuttoned his cuffs, and rolled up his sleeves to survey the wreckage.
He poked the buttons –no response; tried to pry the doors apart –they didn’t budge; he even nudged the ceiling panels to no avail. Rachel closed her eyes; sure they would never be found. Then she heard it, a metallic pop as Kyle broke through the fire escape door above them. She was impressed, although she didn’t say it.
“Ha ha! Okay, so all I need to do is wrap something around the cable up there and we can try and pull ourselves out. Hand me your bra.” He held out his hand, paying more attention to the cable than the daggers of hate Rachel was boring into him with her eyes. A beat later he turned to her. “Oh, sorry, could I please have your bra?”
Rachel shook her head, disgusted that he would ask her such a torrid request. “Use your tie.”
“I can’t use my tie, its cloth, not spandex and lycra like your bra. So if you want to get out of here, hand it over.”
“Find another way Kyle,” she sneered.
“Okay, let’s go back before the quake. How do you know me and why do you hate me?”
Rachel stood poking a finger in his chest. “I know you from Derby High School, you idiot! Your stupid jumping about during my history project split open my shirt and I was forever known as—“
“Big Boobs Bradley, oh my gosh,” he chuckled. Rachel rolled her eyes at the decade old nickname. “Wow, Rachel Bradley, I can’t believe it’s you. You’re so… so… beautiful. I’m sorry I didn’t recognize you.”
“Yeah, well, who cares. Let’s just focus on getting out of here.” She was all business now that the fear had faded.
“Right, so uhh…” he stared and gestured towards her chest.
With a sigh heavy enough to lift the hair that had fallen into her eyes, she asked, “It will get us out here?”
He bit his bottom lip trying to hide his smile. Rachel punched his gut. “Oww! Sorry. Man, your mean,” he laughed. “Yes, it’s my theory that if I can whip that thing around the cable we can use it to climb out. There’s a service ladder going up the shaft so we can get to safety from there.”
“And you learned this in the Navy?”
“Well, not specifically but learning to find logical ways out of trouble, yes.”
She narrowed her eyes on him. “Why were you in the Navy?”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
Rachel shrugged. “It’s a valid question to a man who wants my bra. If you answer correctly, you’ll get it.”
Kyle looked away then back at her. “I joined because I wanted to make my mom proud. She died the year before I signed up.” Rachel’s jaw went slack and Kyle raised his brows. “Did I answer correctly?” His tone reflected the pain that must have lingered inside.
Rachel saw the soft sincerity in his eyes and knew he was no longer the obnoxious boy but a mature and caring man. She touched his arm. “I’m so sorry Kyle.”
He shook his head. “It’s okay. She’s in a better place, not suffering anymore.” He took a deep breath. “But I don’t want to join her, so we need to get out of here.”
Rachel nodded. “Turn around.” He did and she tucked her arms inside her wrap-around black dress. Maneuvering the best she could, as she unfastened her brassiere and pulled it out through the v-neck. “Here,” she said holding out the garment.
Kyle turned around and thanked her, then used one end of the bra like a lasso trying to loop it around the cable. It took five or six tries until it finally linked and Kyle hollered with excitement and threw an arm around her. With exuberance she squeezed his neck and he lifted her off her feet.
Feeling a sense of déjà vu, Rachel paused locked in his arms. “Thank you for saving us,” she whispered, staring into his eyes.
Kyle set her down with a smile. “We’re not out yet.”
Testing his weight on the lycra, the stitches creaked but held secure. Then like a mountain climber he started up the wall. At the top, he locked his elbows over the edge and pulled himself through the panel. Rachel watched with a new appreciation of her former classmate and admired the amount of body strength it took to perform that feat.
Lying on his belly, Kyle poked his head through the square and held out one large hand for her to take. “Come on, I’ll pull you up.”
“Can you lift me?” she asked with doubt in her voice.
“I’ve got a hold of the cable, I can hold you.”
She had to trust him. Kicking her heels off, she grabbed a hold of his hand and pushed against the wall as he hoisted her up and out of the elevator. They were free!
They climbed up the service ladder until they reached the first floor. Kyle banged on the metal doors as Rachel called for help. Moments later, they heard voices on the other side clamoring to rescue them. Finally, after twenty long minutes firemen came into view through the slit. The crack quickly became an open door and Kyle guided Rachel into a fireman’s grasp.
Relieved, Rachel bawled as her feet touched the marble floor of the Hilton. The fireman, whose shoulder her head rested on, turned her around and Kyle was right there. He gathered her in his arms and Rachel let the rest of her emotions pour out.
As her cries died, Kyle tipped her chin up. “So Rachel, I have something very long and very overdue to say to you.”
Rachel sniffed as a smile grew on his face. “What is it?”
“I’m sorry for what I did in school and calling you Big Boobs Bradley. But for what it’s worth, that my favorite day in all of high school. You mesmerized me then and you mesmerize me now. How about I make it up to you and take you out one night?”
Rachel nodded, grinning from ear to ear. He was more than that stupid kid now; he had seen her through the worst experience she’d ever endured and brought her to safety. He was sweet, caring and kind, and so much more than a crass teenager he once was. “I’d really like that.”
Kyle brushed a hand across her cheek, cupping her face in his hand. “I would too.”
On her tip toes, she touched her lips to his, kissing him as natural as breathing itself. Years of animosity melted away in that one, warm, passionate kiss and Rachel slowly pulled herself away.
“Does that mean I’m forgiven?” he asked, his thumb absently playing on her hairline.
“Yes, Kyle, I forgive you,” she said and their lips met once again.
Many thanks to Karen Zandstra’s winning story idea. I hope I did it justice.