A girls guide to moving.., p.10
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       A Girl's Guide to Moving On, p.10

           Debbie Macomber
 
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  “I’ll call back another time?”

  “O-k-ay.” My emotions were too much for him to handle. I can’t say I faulted him. “Did you…n-e-e-d some-t-h-i-n-g?” I asked, doing my best to sound normal and failing miserably.

  “I’ll text it, okay?”

  “O-kay.”

  We disconnected and I set the phone aside, waiting for his text. After ten minutes I gave up. It seemed having to deal with me sobbing into the phone was enough to send him running for the hills, not surprisingly.

  I’d been around enough men to know they were uncomfortable with women’s tears. Although I didn’t know Rocco well, I suspected he’d do just about anything to avoid a crying female. Since he hadn’t sent me a text, I had to believe whatever he’d wanted couldn’t have been important. More likely, it was something he could ask me later.

  After fifteen minutes my doorbell chimed. It could only be Leanne. I hadn’t mentioned I’d gotten the final papers and I wasn’t sure I was up to one of our pep talks or a review of our guide to moving on. The lights were off and she’d probably assumed I was down for the night, even if it was only a little after nine.

  “Open up, Nichole,” Rocco called from the other side of the door. “The ice cream is melting.”

  Ice cream? I frowned and turned the dead bolt and opened the door.

  He stood on the other side of the threshold holding a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia ice cream.

  “It’s dark in here,” he commented, looking past me.

  “The light hurts my eyes.”

  “Are you going to let me in?” He held up the container, as if I hadn’t already seen it.

  I stepped aside and he came inside the apartment.

  “Sit down and I’ll bring you a spoon,” he said.

  I returned to my spot on the sofa. “Bring two. Otherwise, I’ll eat the whole thing myself,” I said and sniffled.

  I heard a crash in the kitchen followed by a swear word. “Can I turn a light on?” he asked.

  “I guess.”

  “I’ll turn it off once I find the spoons,” he promised.

  “Leave it on.” I didn’t much care.

  Rocco kept the light on and joined me in the living room. He handed me a spoon and then sat down next to me. He stared at me and shook his head. “You look awful.”

  “Thanks.”

  “Why all the tears?”

  I dipped the spoon in the carton and took out a large mouthful of ice cream, which by this point had gone soft. “The final papers for my divorce arrived.”

  “I thought it was already final.”

  “It is now.”

  Rocco took his first bite. “Do you still love him?”

  I hiccupped a sob and nodded. “Stupid, isn’t it? I divorced him and I still love the jerk.”

  “I’d think less of you if you didn’t love him,” Rocco said, helping himself to more of the Ben & Jerry’s. “He fathered your son and at some point he deeply loved you.”

  “Just not enough to keep his pants zipped.”

  “He regrets that now. Hopefully it’s a lesson well learned.”

  I swallowed against the cold ice cream and closed my eyes. “Then why am I the one hurting like this? Why am I the one crying my eyes out?” It was an unfair question because I knew Jake was hurting, too.

  “Because you loved him.”

  I grabbed a tissue as fresh tears rolled down my face. “You do this often?”

  “Do what?”

  “Bring women with broken hearts ice cream?”

  He chuckled. “No. Whatever you do, don’t tell anyone. My friends hear about this they’ll think I’ve grown a vagina.”

  At first his words shocked me and then I sucked in a deep breath as the amusement rolled up inside me, coming from deep within my stomach. His words had caught me by surprise. I couldn’t breathe, and when I could, I doubled over with laughter.

  “Nichole?” Rocco said, sounding concerned. “You okay?”

  I laughed so hard I nearly choked.

  “Are you laughing or crying?”

  “Laughing,” I said when I could.

  “You think that’s funny? I’m serious. Kaylene’s forced me to watch enough chick flicks through the years. I know that’s what women do when they’re brokenhearted. I figured you could use a little Ben and Jerry’s therapy.”

  “I promise not to let your secret out.”

  He frowned and set his spoon aside. “I knew this was a terrible idea.” He was off the sofa and pacing.

  I stretched out my arm. “Come on, Rocco, who am I going to tell? I don’t know any of your friends. Cross my heart.” I made a huge X over my chest.

  He visibly relaxed.

  “You called earlier. You need something?”

  He looked uncertain and pinched his mouth as if debating whether or not he should ask.

  I patted the empty space besides me. “I promise not to laugh.”

  “I’m more afraid of your bite.”

  I didn’t know how I could go from the depths of despair to laughing hysterically in just a matter of minutes, but Rocco had managed to achieve the impossible. “When did I bite you?” I demanded.

  “You talked me into that ridiculous dancing lesson.”

  I wasn’t going to let him off easy. “Which you enjoyed. Admit it!”

  He sighed. “Okay, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it’d be.”

  “A girl could swoon with the compliments you give.” I placed my hand over my heart and fell sideways on the sofa and then released a loud sigh.

  He cracked a smile. “I got a deal for you.”

  “A deal?”

  “You know. I-tow-you-out-of-the-ditch-and-you-shop-with-Kaylene kind of deal.”

  I wasn’t sure I liked the sound of this. “Okay, I’m curious enough to find out what it is.”

  He started walking again, pacing in front of the coffee table. “Kaylene got this bug up her butt about getting pictures for this father-daughter shindig before the dance. She wants you to take them.”

  That didn’t sound like such a big deal.

  “She says you’re the only one she trusts to do it right.”

  “And what do I get in exchange?”

  “What do you want?” He backed up a couple steps, as if he expected me to demand the outrageous.

  I pressed my index finger against my chin as if deep in thought. “You did promise to give Owen a ride in your tow truck. He mentioned it this afternoon. I told him I’d ask you about it.”

  “Deal.” He leaned forward and thrust out his hand.

  I held mine back. “I’m not done yet.”

  “I should have known,” he grumbled, narrowing his eyes.

  “Let’s be fair. You’d basically already told Owen you’d give him that ride, so you’re not really doing anything beyond what you’ve already promised. Right?” It was important he understand.

  “Right,” he agreed, although begrudgingly. “What else do you want?”

  “I don’t know. One future favor at my discretion.”

  “And mine,” he added.

  “Fair enough.” I held out my hand for us to shake.

  This time it was Rocco who pulled his hand back. “That’s two favors I’m giving you with me only getting one.”

  “Yes. So?”

  “So I should get two.”

  I arched my brows.

  He cocked his head to one side. “Fair is fair.”

  “All right, what do you want?”

  He shook his head. “Don’t know yet. One future favor at my discretion.”

  “And mine,” I said and smiled.

  “Deal?”

  “Deal.”

  Rocco held out his hand and we shook.

  He joined me on the sofa. “The dance is Saturday night.”

  “What time?”

  “Seven, so you should come to the house around six-thirty.”

  The man was a dreamer. “I’ll be there no later than six.”

 
“What? I’m not asking you to film Gone With the Wind. It’s just a couple of photos. Nothing big.”

  “Now I know why Kaylene wants me to take the photos.”

  “All right, whatever.”

  “See you then.” I got off the sofa, took the lid for the Ben & Jerry’s, snapped it back on, and stuck it in the freezer.

  When I finished I saw that Rocco was standing by the door. He had his hand on the knob. “This woman friend of yours. Shawn something.”

  “Shawntelle.”

  “She still interested in meeting me?”

  “Oh yes. She asked about you again. You want me to text you her contact information?”

  He hesitated and then nodded. “Yeah. It might be a good idea.”

  “You got it, but be warned, she’s a whole lot of woman.”

  His smile was off-centered. “I consider myself duly warned.” With that he left the apartment.

  I turned the door lock and pressed my forehead against the wood panel as an uneasy feeling settled over me. It surprised me Rocco wanted to meet Shawntelle, but then why not? She’d certainly let me know she was interested. Normally I enjoyed matching up friends, but not this time, and I wasn’t entirely sure why.

  Sean contacted me Tuesday afternoon, suggesting we get together. He implied it was a matter of some importance.

  “If this is about the divorce settlement—”

  “It isn’t,” he said, cutting me off.

  “Then what’s it about?”

  “You okay?” Sean asked, ignoring my question. “You don’t sound like yourself.”

  “I’m great,” I rushed to say, although I could feel the heat warming my cheeks. It was beyond understanding why I should feel any guilt over what had happened between Nikolai and me. My life was my own now and I could date or kiss anyone I wanted. As ridiculous as it sounded, I felt like I had a large red A painted across my forehead.

  I didn’t have much of a social life after Sean and I separated. It didn’t feel right to date when I was still legally married, although that had never stopped Sean. Since the divorce, I hadn’t felt the need. I wanted time for my heart to heal and for my head to wrap itself around these major life changes.

  His call came out of the blue. It was almost as if he sensed that I was finally and truly moving on. Perhaps he’d gotten word that I’d contacted an online dating service.

  Earlier in the week I’d found a website I liked and signed up. I answered countless questions and looked forward to taking the leap back into the dating world. A connection came so quickly, it took me by storm. Earl Pepper would be my first date, and we were set to meet that Friday night. Okay, it wasn’t an actual date. I couldn’t think of it that way. It was a meeting to see if we were interested in dating.

  “So what’s this about?” I pressed.

  He hesitated. “It’s Jake.”

  “Again?” I asked. “Is this something you can’t tell me over the phone?”

  “I’d rather not. Will you see me or not?” His words had an edge to them, which was rare for him. “Let’s have lunch.”

  I paused. Not at his suggestion we meet for lunch, which was unusual in itself. His voice betrayed him, and while I couldn’t detect what it was right then, I knew him well enough that it would come to me later, once I’d had a chance to think about it.

  “Sean, is something wrong?”

  “No,” he flared. “Why would you think that?” he asked, his composure back.

  “I don’t know that it’s a good idea for us to go out.”

  “Would you be more comfortable eating in? I could come to your apartment. I’ll let you fix me something,” he said as if joking, although I knew he wasn’t.

  Still, I hesitated. Something was wrong, something Sean wasn’t keen to share with me over the phone. I hadn’t lived thirty-five years with this man to not pick up on the subtleties of the conversation, the unspoken message.

  “Can I see you or not?” he demanded.

  “Okay,” I agreed, and we set a time for Saturday.

  —

  On Wednesday I was nervous about seeing Nikolai again. I hadn’t stopped thinking about the kisses we’d shared. They lingered in my mind, wrapping me in unfamiliar warmth I couldn’t forget, no matter how hard I tried. I wanted to shove the memory of his embrace aside, but found my head and my heart returning to that night again and again, reliving each moment. I savored each word we’d exchanged; the taste and feel of him remained with me. While I tried to forget, I struggled with equal determination to remember.

  When I arrived at the Community Center, despite my resolve not to, I automatically looked for Nikolai. Sure enough, he was waiting, and my gaze shot straight to him. The instant he saw my car pull into the lot a huge smile lit up his face. Even before I’d parked, he started walking toward me. As he had from the beginning, he brought me a loaf of his wonderful home-baked bread. I’d dreaded this evening and looked forward to it in equal measures.

  As soon as I turned off the engine, Nikolai opened the car door for me. His expression was filled with such adoration that it made me want to throw open my arms and whirl around like Julie Andrews in the opening scene of The Sound of Music.

  He smiled and couldn’t seem to stop staring at me.

  I blushed at his attention and looked away, embarrassed and thrilled. He confused me until I stuttered, “Hello, Nikolai.”

  “Hello.” He flattened his hand over his heart. “I think day. I think night. I think about kissing you again and again. I dream about kisses. Memory is like wasp in my basket.”

  I had to think that one over. “Bee in your bonnet?”

  “Yes, that. I think and think and you never leave my head.”

  I admit it had been the same for me, but telling him that would only encourage him, so I said nothing.

  “You like, too?” he pressed. “You think of kiss?”

  “Nikolai”—I grabbed my purse and books, avoiding eye contact—“we should get ready for class.”

  He handed me the loaf of bread. “For you.”

  “Thank you.” I knew better than to refuse. To Nikolai, bread was everything. He’d admitted that he let the bread say what he couldn’t with words. Him telling me that had been burned into my memory. Never had I heard anything more romantic or loving.

  We walked toward the center when Nikolai reminded me, “You come have Ukrainian beer with me tonight?”

  Even before I left the house I knew he’d remind me that I said I would. I intended to beg off, but at the warm look in his eyes I couldn’t bear to disappoint him. I nodded. His smile was bigger than ever.

  Class seemed to fly by, and before I knew it our time was up. My students left the room, chatting and talking to one another on the way out the door. As always, Nikolai was the last to go. “We meet same place?” he said.

  I hesitated. “Nikolai, I don’t know that—”

  “We no need go to Milligan’s. We go close. Walk from here, okay?”

  Refusing him was almost impossible. I couldn’t look into his deep, dark eyes so full of life and happiness and refuse him.

  “Okay,” I said.

  He took my hand, curling his fingers around mine as we walked three blocks to an upscale tavern. It wasn’t as busy or loud as Milligan’s.

  We were directed to a booth and Nikolai helped me take off my coat. As soon as we were seated he handed me a drink menu. Nikolai frowned with disappointment as he scanned the sheet. “They no have Ukrainian beer, so we must drink American beer. Not as good but okay.”

  I hid my smile. “I’d prefer a glass of wine, if you don’t mind.”

  “No, no, I no mind. You have whatever you want. You hungry?”

  I shook my head. “I ate before class.”

  The waiter came for our order and left, promptly returning with our drinks.

  Nikolai waited until the other man had left before he spoke. “You worry?” he asked, his face full of concern. “I see it in you. You not smile as deep.” He stretched h
is arm across the table and gripped hold of my hand. “Tell me. You can say everything to me.”

  I didn’t realize I was so transparent. Although I’d had a couple days to mull over what to tell him, I found myself lost in him, lost in the love and warmth radiating from him.

  “Is it about kisses?” he asked.

  “I liked kissing you, Nikolai.” It was important that I not offend him. The truth was that I’d enjoyed his kisses more than I dared admit. “You have to remember I was married for thirty-five years…I was faithful to my husband.”

  He studied me, not speaking, waiting with what looked like worried anticipation.

  “I haven’t…” I briefly closed my eyes, unsure how to explain what I felt. “I like you so much…”

  His face exploded into a smile; the corners of his eyes crinkled with thin lines fanning out. I paused, thinking he might want to respond, but he didn’t.

  “You were the first man I’ve kissed since my divorce,” I whispered, lowering my head. I sipped the wine, hoping it would lend me courage to say what needed to be said.

  “That is great honor.” His eyes sparkled with happiness. “And you like me. I like you, too. I not kiss lots of women since my wife die. My heart too sad until I meet you and then I say, Now is time. This is good woman. When I come to America I think it time. I think this is second chance for me. When I arrive, I have nothing but my two hands.”

  To make his point, he held up his hands.

  “All I know is bread. Bread is life and I feel it my honor, my privilege, to bake my bread. Friends help me, friends from Ukraine help me, find me place to live. It’s nice apartment, you come visit sometime, okay?”

  I made a noncommittal gesture, but he didn’t seem to notice, as he was busy talking.

  “Friends introduce me to Mr. Koreski and I bake bread for him and he ask me to come work at deli. I happy. I think Magdalena help me from heaven. She tell me it time for me to start new life in America and let go of old life in Ukraine.”

  This was the first time he’d mentioned he was a widower. I’d suspected he’d been married, but he’d never said. “It’s good that you have friends.”

  “I make more friends. From class. Good friends.”

  He continued to study me intently.

  “Female friends, too,” I said, feeling shy and a little embarrassed.

 
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