“Where would you like to eat?” Curtis whispered into Rachel’s ear. His cologne was woodsy. Not what she had expected from a straight-laced man. His 5 o’clock shadow scratched the back of her ear when he spoke. The office was empty except for the two of them standing in the lobby trying to decide where to have dinner. Curtis leaned against the wall when he arrived and Rachel slid in his arms. They’d stood there, chatting about their day for over thirty minutes.
“No where.” She leaned back on her heels and pulled his arms tighter around her waist. Her fingers were laced between his and she resisted the urge to kiss his hand. “I want you to come back to my place.”
“You aren’t hungry at all? My stomach is eating my spine.” He squeezed her.
“We can grab some Boston Market on the way.”
“If you’re sure that’s what you want.”
She laid her cheek against his arm and watched the cars pass by on the road outside her office. “That’s exactly what I want. Boston Market at my place. A quiet evening in.”
“I suppose we could be classified as an old dating couple now.”
“Why because we’re eating in?”
“We’re eating take-out.”
“Well if you want something else-“
He pulled her in close to him and rested his chin down on her shoulder. “If that is what you want then that is what you’re going to have. My lady gets what she wants.”
She reached back and touched his rough face. His stubble gave him a rugged look Rachel tried to resist.
“If we’re going to get it though we should go.”
She laid her head against him one last time. Even with him standing behind her holding her close there was distance between them. She wanted more of him. Her heart ached to hear his deep voice or to feel his soft fingers caress her skin. He wasn’t willing to start a physical relationship with her, which only made her want him more. Slowly she turned to face him.
“Do you want to pick up the food or should I go?” She held his hand while she spoke. She didn’t want to let go of him until they were each in their own cars.
“No reason for you to go. Head home and I’ll be there soon.” He leaned down and kissed her tenderly. She released his hands and slid her arms around his waist. Why wouldn’t he start a physical relationship? Her insides screamed but she knew on that point he wouldn’t budge.
“I’ll wait while you lock up.” He said and led her by the hand to the front door. She locked everything and kissed him again before she got in the car. Rachel drove through town to the tree-lined streets leading to her home. She had never noticed how many kids lived on the block closest to her house. Today she watched elementary aged boys running around the yard and girls off to the side chatting in small huddles. She heard a familiar song on the radio.
A familiar tune played quietly on the radio. She turned it up a bit. “Woo-hoo, I love this song.” She cranked the volume button to the right and screamed out the words of the song while tapping out the rhythm on her steering wheel.
It didn’t matter that the woman she let cross the street in front of her car crinkled her nose and smirked a bit. Singing opened her up. At least the woman didn’t see her waving her arms around at the next stoplight. Throwing off inhibitions and cutting loose was good for a person every once in a while. She wasn’t going to live every moment of her life in a stiff, regimented schedule with no time to decompress.
She turned in her driveway and gathered her purse, sweater and satchel from the passenger seat. Curtis said she’d have about twenty minutes before he’d be there with the food. She came in the back door and set her things on the counter then walked to the front of the house and got the mail from the mailbox on the front porch.
“Junk, Junk, Junk.” She tossed them in a pile. The rest went in the wire mail basket. The clock in the kitchen clicked out the seconds and the refrigerator hummed to life. She scooped up the credit card applications to shred and pushed the answering machine.
A robotic voice said “You have no messages.” She switched on the shredder and shredded those few things.
“Oh no, my lilac sweater is still at the cleaners.” Rachel turned off the shredder scurried in her stocking feet from the kitchen up the steps to her bedroom. That lilac sweater always drew compliments and the weather was cool enough today that she could have wore it. Not that it mattered that much. What she had on was just fine.
“But these pants aren’t comfortable.”
Would Curtis worry too much about her outfit? It wasn’t a first date by any stretch. When they’d met she was in jeans and an Old Navy T-shirt.
“Where’s the blue one?” She scanned across her closet from left to right. Her finger stopped on her blue top. It looked great with jeans. She pushed the hangers to the side and pulled out a sweater then her favorite jeans. The outfit flattered her figure without being sensual then slid on her house slippers. She was attractive but relaxed. Curtis had a knack for being early. She shot a glance to the clock and dashed downstairs to tidy up before he arrived.
There wasn’t much to do after her weekend cleaning spree so instead she lit candles around the room, turned on a CD of piano music and set two places at the dining room table. This was a real relationship. Not since her breakup with Nate had she had an adult meal at home. Instead they’d eat out someplace and then end the evening at one house or the other. The Chinese takeout her and Curtis had shared on moving day didn’t count. She felt more like a woman, an adult.
And now her man was here.
She watched him get out of the car with the bag. She went through the kitchen and out the back door. “Anything I can help you carry in?”
I left something in the car.” He said.
She grabbed the one small bag, closed his car door and held the door for him. He put the bag he was carrying next to the one Rachel brought in and went back out the door. She lifted the food out and started scooping potatoes, vegetables and baked apples in to serving dished.
“I thought the point of eating take out was to avoid a mess.” He said when he walked back in the house and saw what she was doing.
“It’s our first meal in as a couple. I want it to be nice.” She said then she smiled and looked up at him.
“Here.” He handed her a bouquet. “Put these on the table too. They’ll look nice.”
She took the bouquet of mixed flowers and smelled them. She loved the way different flowers always seemed to blend to make a fragrance as beautiful as the blooms. She’d yet to find a combination of blooms that didn’t smell great together.
“Thank you.” She said, still not putting them down.
“You’re welcome.” He kissed her then started collapsing the bags. They carried the serving dishes out to the dining room.
“Music, candles and flowers. Rachel are you trying to seduce me?” He said when he walked in.
She laughed at his movie reference. “I won’t tell.” And she set the bowl down. They filled their plates and ate without saying much for the first few minutes. It was Rachel who first broke the silence.
“Beyond being a Mortgage Broker what do you like to do?”
“Eat?” She smiled.
“Exactly. I love to eat. It keeps me alive.”
“Boston Market sustains you, huh?”
“I like spending quiet time at home. My workdays have crept from eight or nine to more like ten to twelve some days. After all that time with people, ringing phone and paperwork it is nice to come home and have a quiet dinner and put my feet up. What about you?”
“I love to read. Give me a romance novel and I’m a happy woman.”
“Oh, you don’t read those things do you?”
“Those things?” She put her fork down. “Those things can be great.”
“But you always know what’s going to happen in the end.”
“And you don’t know in a movie that they’ll live happily ever after?”
He shrugged in response.
“That’s what I thought. The fun in them is the adventure. You know that the good guy will be handsome and perfectly romantic. Then one or the other will feel intimidated by the relationship or have a personality problem. There will be attraction; a wrench will be thrown in the works. Then they will live happily ever after.”
“And yet you read them?”
She smiled and shook her head. “I like predictable.”
“Somehow I knew that about you.”
“Is that a bad thing?”
“No. Predictable.” He smiled at his joke.
“What was the most unpredictable thing that has ever happened to you?” Curtis asked. Icy fingers of fear pricked up and down her skin. Curtis looked up at her and his smile dropped. “Are you okay?”
She needed to get a grip. Don’t ruin this moment with that. Don’t let the Fratboy ruin this moment. She cleared her throat. “I’m fine. I’d have to say the most unpredictable thing I’ve done was one summer during college instead of getting a summer job I pulled some money out of savings and spent two weeks in southern France near the French, Italian, Swiss border.”
“Impressive. What was it like? I’ve never been over there.”
“It was a bit intimidating to tell the truth.” She took a sip of water. The fear was fading but she hadn’t yet regained her carefree mood.
“Did you know the language?”
“I spoke French pretty well. Unfortunately I had studied French all through high school and college but everyone failed to tell me that in France they don’t speak French.”
“What do they speak then?”
“Verlan?” He pronounced it with a hard American accent.
“No, it’s Ver, like in Very. Ver-law. But you have to talk through your nose at the end.” She smiled and demonstrated. He repeated back with an increasingly bad American accent.
“Okay, I can’t say it. What is it?”
“Then why didn’t you just say French slang.” He laughed and tried to say Verlan again.
“Because it’s called Verlan.” She smiled. “It is a crazy language. They flip the syllables around and use different verbs. It’s like French pig Latin but people use and understand it.”
“Guess you learn something new every day.” He pushed his plate back.
Rachel stood to clear the table. Curtis stopped her by putting his hand on hers.“
Go sit. I’ll clear these up.”
“You don’t know where they go.”
“Go sit down.” He pointed to the couch then stacked the plates and serving dishes. Rachel scooped up the napkins with the last bowl and followed him to the kitchen.
“I thought you were sitting.”
“I can’t sit down in the other room while you clean my kitchen.” She rinsed the plates and arranged them in the dishwasher.“I still get credit for being a nice guy.” He gave her a bowl and she put it in the top.
“Yes, you get credit.”
In five minutes the kitchen was picked up and the leftovers were in the fridge. They walked back to the living room and sat down next to each other on the couch. She leaned her head against his chest and listened to the thudding of his heart. Curtis squeezed her against him and she tilted her head up to look at his face. The last of his aftershave or cologne filled her nostrils. She pressed her face in to the side of his neck.
“What are you thinking about?” He said.
“Nothing. I’m enjoying the quiet.” She was thinking about how she was living a romance novel.
“I was thinking about you.”
“What about me?”
“I was thinking that when I met you there would have been no way I would have imagined I’d be dating you.”
“Why’s that?” He pulled his arm tighter around her.
“You aren’t really my type?
She laughed. “That’s fine because you’re not my type either.”
His cell phone chirped on his hip.
“You need to get that?”
“No, that is a business call. There aren’t mortgage emergencies after seven so it can wait until morning.”
“You don’t answer your business phone after seven.”
“Not unless I’m expecting a call.”
She couldn’t imagine ignoring any call, whether business or personal. What if there was an emergency that needed to be handled before the next morning. He didn’t budge. It was as if the phone call never happened. Until a couple of months ago it was rare when she left the office before seven.
“You’re not even a little curious who called you.” She said.
“Nope.” He kissed her forehead. “Not a bit.”
“I can’t imagine.”
“It takes a lot of practice but now I don’t think twice about it. I even have two cell phones with two different numbers. I forgot to take my work one off and leave it in the car. Usually I don’t carry it when I’m with you.”
They sat in silence again for two or three minutes.
“I’m going on the women’s retreat at your church with my mom.”
He leaned back and spun to face her. “Are you really?” He was beaming.
“I talked to her about it yesterday. I think it will be fun. I’ve wanted to hear Carol Adnaw speak for some time.”
Curtis grabbed her face with both of his hand planted a kiss square on the lips. She held on to his arms and kissed him back.
“Thank you. It means a lot to me that you would do that.” He said.
“You’re welcome. I had no idea you’d be that happy.”
“I am.” He leaned back on the couch and pulled her head back against his chest. She stretched her legs out and propped them on the coffee table and snuggled down against him.
“Hey, have you talked to my brother much?”
“I’d say we’ve talked a couple times a week plus I see him at church.”
“Has he talked about his wife at all to you?”
“Yvonne? Yes a little.”
She sat up and leaned forward on the couch and spun her rings. “My mom doesn’t like Yvonne at all. I don’t get in to it but there’s no reason for Mom not to like her. She isn’t doing anything to mess the two of them up is she?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“Then what happened with them?”
He took her hand. “They’re fighting all the time. She wants to come back to Ohio and he won’t.”
Her brother was the most pig-headed person she knew. When he thought he was right there was not changing his mind. “Then why is he in Ohio?”
Drew shook his head. “I asked him the same question. Adam said it was different because he was here to work some things out. It wasn’t the same as moving.”
“He’s the only one who thinks they need to be out there.” When they’d left Adam had been so sure he was doing what God told him to do. That was the danger in taking the God thing to far. Now he was willing to destroy his marriage rather than admit he was wrong. Of course, if that happened it would be God’s fault too.
“I’m praying for him and we’ve prayed together quite a bit.” Curtis continued. “He’s starting to come around.
“I might call Yvonne and see how she’s doing.”
“That would be a big help. I’ve only talked to her once and that was because she happened to call your parents on the voice phone when I was there. She told me the thinks your family wants them to split up-.”
“Call her and check in with. That will mean so much to her.
You are reading A Face in the Shadow by Tiffany Colter.
Tiffany is a writer, speaker and writing career coach. She is a frequent contributor to print and online publications in addition to her regular marketing blog at http://www.writingcareercoach.com/
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This story is copyright Tiffany Colter. 2007. It may not be copied, distributed, sold or included in any larger work without the expressed written permission of Tiffany Colter.
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