A girls guide to moving.., p.12
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       A Girl's Guide to Moving On, p.12

           Debbie Macomber
 
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  “I can only hold this smile for so long,” he muttered after about ten minutes.

  “Okay, I’ve got more than enough pictures.” I handed the camera back to Kaylene.

  Seeing that my mission was accomplished, I reached for my purse and was ready to leave when Kaylene stopped me. “Nichole, would you help my dad?”

  My gaze shot to Rocco, who’d stuffed his hands in his pants pockets.

  “You need help?” I asked him.

  Kaylene answered: “Dad’s forgotten how to dance already.”

  Rocco frowned at his daughter. “Don’t worry about it. I’ll figure it out once we get there.”

  I set my purse down. “A refresher course can’t hurt.”

  Kaylene grabbed her iPad and turned on some music. I held my arms out to Rocco and wiggled my fingers. “Come on, handsome, let’s dance.”

  He didn’t look happy about this.

  “Dad has trouble with the slow dances,” Kaylene explained. “He thinks he looks silly.”

  Seeing that he wasn’t coming to me, I moved toward Rocco. “You’re stressing over this way too much,” I said. “The slower dances are easier than the fast ones. All you really need to do is hold me.” I decided the best way to explain this was to loop my arms around his waist. “Now hold on to me,” I told him.

  Reluctantly, he did as I asked. He held himself stiff and his touch was light, as if he’d rather do just about anything else than this.

  “Now what?” he muttered, sounding none too pleased.

  “Close your eyes.”

  “Why?” The question was a challenge.

  “Because I want you to feel the music.”

  Rocco muttered under his breath and then dropped his hands from my waist. “This is ridiculous.”

  “Dad,” Kaylene cried, pleading with him.

  “If you’d rather not hold my waist, then take my hands.”

  He groaned in protest, which did little to boost my ego. He couldn’t have made it any more obvious that he’d rather not touch me.

  “So did you meet Shawntelle?” I asked, thinking he could use a small distraction.

  He nodded.

  “What did you think?”

  He shrugged and didn’t answer the question. “Do I still need to close my eyes?”

  “It’ll help. Would you rather try this with Kaylene?”

  “No,” he whispered, and his eyes slammed shut.

  I gave him time to listen, and after a few moments he seemed to get the gist of it. I felt him relax.

  “Once you feel the music, just sway your body. You don’t need to learn any fancy steps. This is about you and your partner; it isn’t necessary to impress anyone with fancy footwork.”

  Kaylene’s phone rang. “It’s Maddy,” she announced, as if the name had major significance. Whatever they needed to discuss was important enough for her to leave the room.

  Rocco was doing great. His steps grew slow and confident. By all that was right we could have stopped then. The truth was I was enjoying dancing with him. I closed my own eyes, letting the music carry me away. It was a beautiful love song and I felt Rocco’s arms tighten around me. I could feel his breath in my hair as he pressed his chin against the side of my head.

  It’d been so long since I’d been held with such tenderness. I could hear his heart, which beat in unison with my own. Rocco locked his hands at the small of my back and gently rubbed the side of his head against mine.

  Oh my.

  I could feel myself sinking into the music, but more surprisingly, into Rocco. Just this morning I’d told Leanne what a good friend he was. But now, with his arms around me, I wasn’t thinking friendly thoughts. It was as if my body had awakened to the fact that I was a woman and Rocco was a man—a virile, vibrant man.

  My heart picked up the pace, beating strong and fast. I bit into my lip when I felt his kiss on the top of my head. Right then I should have broken away. I should claim he knew everything necessary for the dance and pretend nothing had changed. But it had. We had.

  Big-time.

  For the life of me I don’t know how to explain what happened next. Tilting my head back ever so slightly, I brushed my lips against the underside of his jaw. He smelled so good. A combination of citrus and man that left me heady and filled with longing.

  Rocco’s steps stilled and he moved back just enough so that he could look down at me, his eyes narrowed and intense. I felt my cheeks redden under his scrutiny. I should have apologized and claimed I’d lost my head and that kissing him was a silly mistake. But it would have been a lie.

  All at once his hands were in my hair and I knew he intended to kiss me. He paused as if waiting for me to break eye contact or pull away. I knew I should. I knew it was the right thing, but I couldn’t make myself do it.

  In a slow descent he lowered his mouth to mine and we kissed. When I say we kissed I mean we kissed. The world could have ended in that moment and I wouldn’t have cared. My knees nearly buckled at the warm sensation that shot through me like lightning. His kiss knocked me into the next county, involving our mouths and tongues and even our teeth. It was as if we were both starved and had stumbled upon a Texas barbecue. His hands cupped my face and we lost all pretense of dancing. Only when we heard Kaylene approach did we break apart.

  I couldn’t look at Rocco, and so I lowered my head as I frantically tried to regain my senses and still my racing heart. His hands on my shoulders held me steady and I was grateful.

  “That was Maddy,” Kaylene said again, and seemed unaware of what was going on between Rocco and me.

  “So you said,” Rocco murmured. He tucked his finger beneath my chin and raised my head so he could look at me. His eyes stared deeply into mine. He seemed confused and unsure, or it could have been my own reflection I saw.

  “Dad? Is everything all right?”

  “Perfect. Go get your coat. It’s time for us to go.” Although he spoke to his daughter, his hungry eyes refused to release me.

  I knew I should probably say something, but I couldn’t find any words. Rocco seemed to share my predicament.

  Kaylene returned with her coat. “I thought you said it was time to go.”

  “It is.”

  Rocco took hold of my hand and raised it to his lips, kissing the back side. Then he smiled and whispered, “Wowza.”

  Tuesday night following dinner, I went on a second date arranged through the online dating service. It was another meet-and-greet at Starbucks. His name was Ron and at first glance he was enthusiastic and charming. Unfortunately, he reminded me too much of Sean: too polished and suave, taking pains to impress me. It felt as if he wanted to be sure I understood how successful and accomplished he was. I listened politely for nearly sixty minutes, thanked him, and stood to leave.

  “How about dinner one night this weekend?” he asked as he reached for his coat.

  I tossed my empty coffee container in the bin and looked back, surprised he hadn’t read my body language. “Thanks, but I don’t think so.”

  He frowned, as if my refusal had taken him by surprise. “What’s wrong? I thought we hit it off. You’re one of the more interesting women I’ve met. I’d like to get to know you better.”

  “Really? And what do you know about me that makes me interesting?” I asked. “Do you know I have a son and one grandchild? Do you know I was married for thirty-five years? Tell me what you know about me, because the entire time we’ve sat here you’ve talked about yourself nonstop.”

  He took a step back, as though the unexpected truth had shaken him.

  “I don’t need a man in my life, Ron. I’m not entirely sure why I signed up for this service. I appreciate your time and wish you the very best.” From the shocked look he wore, I could tell that no one had bothered to mention how self-absorbed he was. “If you don’t mind a suggestion, the next time you meet someone don’t work so hard to impress them. Show interest in the other person. Ask questions and listen and you’ll be surprised by how entertaini
ng the other person will think you are.” This was the most I’d said the entire hour we’d been together.

  He appeared to be struck dumb. It took him several seconds before he nodded and said, “Thank you…I will.”

  “You’re welcome.”

  He followed me outside. “I…no one has ever been so blunt with me before. Is this the reason only a couple of women have wanted to see me beyond the first meeting?”

  “That would be my guess.”

  He rubbed his chin. “You sure you won’t give me a second chance?”

  His invitation gave me pause, and I seriously considered it, but I already knew we would both be wasting our time. “I’m not the woman for you. She’s out there and you’re perfect for her. Find her and don’t waste your time on me.”

  His smile was genuine. “Will do.”

  I returned to the apartment and wasn’t home five minutes before Nichole knocked. She had left her apartment door open in case Owen woke, so she could hear him. “How’d it go?” she asked.

  “Don’t ask.”

  “That bad?”

  “No, not bad. I’m telling you, Nichole, I don’t know why I signed up for this. I meet these men and they all seem wonderful on paper—well, on-screen—and then I realize something I read a long time ago: It takes a hell of a man to replace no man.” The fact is I’m happy. I enjoy my life just the way it is. I’m not looking for love and am perfectly content being single.”

  “It’s good to test the waters, don’t you think?” my daughter-in-law asked. “I mean, this has helped you realize what you already know.”

  I brightened. “Test the waters. That’s a great idiom for class tomorrow,” I said, not that I was thinking about class as much as I was thinking of Nikolai. On Monday I’d mentioned I would be meeting Ron the following evening. I wasn’t sure why I felt the need to tell him, and I immediately regretted it because I could see how distressed the news made him. Perhaps I was subconsciously seeking more of his comparison kisses. I didn’t know any longer. More and more of my thoughts were taken up with the Ukrainian man who baked me the most delicious bread.

  Bread. Because bread would say what he could not say with words. Even now, remembering that caused chills to run down my arms.

  “Come over,” Nichole said, breaking into my thoughts about Nikolai. She tilted her head toward her apartment. “Let’s chat awhile.”

  It’d been far too long since we’d done exactly that. Naturally, living so close, we saw each other on a regular basis. I watched Owen as much as my schedule would allow. Now that Nichole taught at the high school and Owen was at the daycare center, she didn’t need me as much as she had before.

  I sank onto her sofa while Nichole brewed tea. “It seems we hardly have a chance to talk anymore. I know it’s because of my job, but I miss you, miss our pep talks.”

  I missed our pep talks, too, and I had news. “I heard from Sean,” I said. “He wants to stop by on Saturday for a few minutes.” I’d seen or talked to him only a few times since the divorce, and to have him contact me twice within a few short weeks was unusual.

  “Sean wants to see you?” Nichole asked as she carried in two mugs and sat beside me.

  “He implied it had something to do with Jake, but I got the feeling it was more than that.” Instinct told me he had something else on his mind and our son was only an excuse. I’d heard it in his voice. A tinge of worry, of doubt, and something that might have been fear. Of course, it could have been my imagination.

  Nichole paused, studying me. “It must not be good news about Jake. I had a feeling something was wrong when I picked up Owen on Sunday. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I don’t think it’s woman troubles. Not this time, anyway.”

  If Jake was the concern Sean wanted to discuss, then it might have something to do with his job. I’d heard through Kacey that Jake had taken a lot of time off work since Nichole had moved out. “I’m upset with myself,” I admitted.

  Nichole raised her eyebrows in question.

  “When Sean called he suggested we meet for lunch. I hesitated and then he laughed and said he’d let me fix him something.” It was almost as if he was looking for an excuse to spend time with me, something he hadn’t done in the last thirty years of our marriage, which naturally raised my suspicions.

  “You didn’t agree, did you?”

  I raised both hands in a helpless gesture. “I did.” Even now I wasn’t sure why. It hadn’t been what he’d said, it was the timbre of his voice, the underlying nuance that suggested something wasn’t right. I shrugged off my suspicions and then tried to make a joke of it. “I know exactly how it’ll go, too. Sean will arrive and make several flattering comments. He’ll ask if I got a new hairstyle or if I lost weight and tell me how good I look.”

  Nichole laughed. “I hope you realize he wouldn’t be exaggerating. You do look great and you have lost weight.” She cocked her head to one side. “There’s been such a change in you over the last couple of months.”

  “In me?” I pressed my hand to my chest, taken aback by her words. I couldn’t imagine what she meant.

  “You’re radiant,” Nichole went on to say. “I don’t know any other way to put it. I look at you and I barely recognize you any longer.”

  “What you’re seeing is happiness,” I said, eager to explain away the compliment. I think I might have been blushing, which was ridiculous. If what she said was true, I had to believe it came from the satisfaction I found in all the changes I’d made in my life, like volunteering at the Community Center and…oh, how I hated to admit this…from Nikolai’s kisses.

  “Leanne,” Nichole said, gripping both my hands in hers. “I’ve never seen you happier, and that gives me hope.” Her eyes grew dark and serious. “Promise me you aren’t going to let Sean back in your life.”

  Something wasn’t right with Sean, that much I knew, but whatever it was, I could guarantee it had nothing to do with wanting me back in his life—not after everything I’d heard from Kacey about his carousing. My head came up. “What makes you think I would even consider that?”

  Nichole’s eyes widened. “Your soft heart.”

  I shook my head. “You have no worries.” Not wanting to talk about myself, I asked, “Anything new with you?”

  Nichole hesitated and immediately looked away.

  Something was up. “Okay, what gives?”

  Nichole tucked her feet under her and fussed a bit before getting comfortable. Even when she spoke she avoided eye contact. “I mentioned I’d be going over to Rocco’s on Saturday, didn’t I?”

  “Yeah.”

  “After the photo shoot Kaylene decided Rocco needed a refresher lesson, so we danced. Then while Kaylene was out of the room we sort of kissed.”

  I wasn’t up on the latest jargon when it came to relationships, so curiosity made me ask, “How do you sort of kiss someone?”

  “Okay, we kissed, and when I say kissed I mean we kissed like I’ve never been kissed before.” She squeezed her eyes shut, as if reliving that moment. “Leanne,” she whispered, “I felt that kiss like nothing else. It was all I could do not to melt at Rocco’s feet. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about him ever since. The only thing I can figure is that it’s been so long since I’ve felt desire that intense that there must be something wrong with me. I…I haven’t been with another man since I met Jake. Do you think what I feel for Rocco is real, or is it because I’m starved for affection and love?”

  How I wish the answer were that simple. “I…don’t know.” The truth was I’d felt much the same when Nikolai kissed me, only it’d been much longer since I’d experienced anything close to desire. Although Sean and I were married, we hadn’t slept together the last ten years of our marriage. Other than perfunctory kisses for appearance’s sake, Sean and I hadn’t kissed. Knowing what I did about my husband, I couldn’t bear to have Sean touch me.

  “It’s humbling to admit that I practically melted in his arms.” I could see that Nichole’
s response to Rocco deeply embarrassed her. She lowered her gaze. “He’s reached out to me since but either I don’t answer or I put him off because I don’t know what to say.”

  “Do you like him?” I asked. “As a person?” Clearly his kiss had twisted her into tight knots.

  “Very much. He’s not like anyone I’ve ever known and he’s a great father. Owen loves him.”

  That much I knew. My grandson was full of talk about Rocco and his trucks.

  “If that’s the case, what are you afraid of?” I asked.

  Nichole’s head shot up. “I’m not afraid,” she argued. “I’m uncertain and frazzled.”

  It took some effort not to laugh. “Hey, you’re the one who wanted to add trying new experiences to our guide. That can apply to people, too, you know. Don’t be afraid of what you feel toward Rocco. Follow your gut.”

  “My gut,” she repeated, and placed her hand over her stomach. “My gut tells me Rocco is really a great guy. Yes, he’s a little rough around the edges, but he’s wonderful.”

  “I think you have your answer.”

  Her shoulders relaxed as she sighed. “Yes, I think I do, but I’ve made a mess of this and I’m not sure how to move forward.”

  I thought of awkward situations that I’d faced in the past. Once I’d sat at the dinner table with a woman and her husband when I knew Sean was currently having an affair with her. I’d been forced to be polite and friendly when what I really wanted to do was rage at them both.

  For far too many years I’d been sailing on the river called denial. “It gets harder the longer you put it off. Talk to him, explain. You said Rocco’s a friend; treat him like one.”

  “I will,” Nichole said, and gave my hand a squeeze as if to thank me. I could tell that she felt better already. Strangely enough, I did, too.

  “We need to do this more often.”

  “I agree.” I stood ready to return to my own apartment. Nichole stood, too, and we hugged each other.

 
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