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A girls guide to moving.., p.15
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       A Girl's Guide to Moving On, p.15

           Debbie Macomber
 
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  I bit into my bottom lip, not knowing what to say or if I should speak. His words watered my soul.

  “First time I see you in classroom, I think this beautiful woman,” he continued. “More times I see you, I learn better English. I learn more of you and every time I learn more of you my heart fills up until you are always with me. You are with me in my sleep; at my work you with me.” He paused and placed his hand over his chest. “In my heart you with me.”

  He threaded his fingers through my hair, twisting my head up until I had no choice but to look at him. “When I see you on Saturday I think it easy to forget you. I put you out of my head. I think it easy, but now I know it not possible.”

  “It’s been a long time since I felt loved or loveable,” I whispered, wanting him to understand.

  “This man you marry…”

  “The pimple on a log,” I added, smiling.

  “Yes, this pimple-on-log man, he foolish more than me. He let you go; he no love you. I never stop, I can’t. I know I will never be same man without my Leanne.”

  There was no holding back the tears now.

  He held me close and I let him, despite the pain his embrace caused me. The ache was a small price to pay to be in Nikolai’s arms.

  When I arrived at school I found a long-stemmed red rose on my desk. The card attached had Rocco’s name. This was a pleasant surprise. I didn’t think Rocco was a flowers and chocolate kind of guy. Five minutes before class started I reached for my phone and sent him a text.

  Me: Thanx for the rose.

  Rocco: What rose?

  Me: The long-stemmed red rose here on my desk.

  Rocco: What are you talking about?

  Me: You didn’t give me a rose?

  Maybe I had a secret admirer, but that didn’t make sense. Why would a secret admirer sign Rocco’s name to the card? I was beginning to get the picture, and it seemed Rocco was, too.

  Rocco: Wait. K asked for $ this morn. Didn’t say Y.

  Me: Interesting.

  My phone buzzed before I could type back a reply. “Hello?”

  “It’s me,” Rocco returned. “I figured it was better to talk this out than do it by text.”

  “So you didn’t send the rose?”

  “Yes and no.” He sounded amused. “Like I said, Kaylene asked me for a few bucks this morning, which isn’t anything out of the ordinary. She’s always needing money for one thing or another at school.”

  “I think the choir is doing a fundraiser,” I said, remembering something I’d read in the teacher bulletin earlier in the week.

  “Roses, right?”

  “I think so. It was a nice gesture on her part, so thank you, even if you didn’t intend for me to get the rose.” I wasn’t disappointed, and I certainly didn’t want Rocco to think I was.

  “The thing is…” He hesitated as if unsure how to continue.

  “The thing is what?” I pressed.

  “Kaylene’s been giving me advice.”

  “Advice on what?”

  “You know, on dating and such.”

  “You need advice?”

  He hesitated. “According to her, I do.”

  If he hadn’t been so serious, I would have laughed. “You realize you’re getting advice from a fifteen-year-old?”

  “You’re right, it’s ludicrous,” he muttered.

  “That’s very sweet, Rocco.” It said a lot about the way he felt about me, which made me want to kiss him again. I’d enjoyed the movie with him, although it’d been about a psycho killer. It’d terrified me to the point I slid so far down on the seat that I was in danger of slipping onto the floor. Rocco placed his arm around me and I hid my face in his jacket. For the rest of the movie he had his arm around me. I wasn’t complaining.

  “It’s sweet?”

  “Yeah, it is.”

  “I don’t know, Nichole. First ice cream, now flowers. If my guy friends hear about this, there will be no end to the razzing.”

  “I have yet to meet any of your friends, male or otherwise,” I reminded him.

  “You sure you’re up to that?” he asked, and hedged. “I don’t exactly hang with men from the country club.”

  “Not a problem, Rocco. I’m into making new friends and having new experiences.” I wasn’t exactly hanging with my country-club friends. Most of my so-called friends had taken Jake’s side. I understood. It would be difficult to be friends with us both, and he’d stayed in the community while I’d moved away. It’d hurt to be cut off from people I’d once considered close. It was a couples world and I was single now. The truth was those so-called friends really hadn’t been.

  “You’re serious. You’d actually be willing to meet the guys I hang with?”

  “Sure. Why not?” I found it a silly question.

  “Okay, Saturday night, then.”

  “You’re keeping your promise to Owen, aren’t you?” Rocco had agreed to give Owen a ride in his tow truck on Saturday afternoon. Owen had talked of little else and even shared it with his preschool class. Owen’s toy tow truck was his absolute favorite toy. My three-year-old was constantly on his hands and knees pushing that truck across the floor, making all kinds of noise in the process.

  “I don’t break my promises,” Rocco reminded me.

  I appreciated that he was a man of his word. “I’ll need to find a babysitter for Saturday night; Leanne is still under the weather or I’d ask her.”

  “Kaylene can watch Owen.”

  “You’d better check with her before you commit her,” I reminded him. Kaylene had a mind of her own and wouldn’t appreciate her father volunteering her services.

  “Will do,” he said.

  Students began filing into the classroom, and while I would have liked to continue our chat I couldn’t. “I’ve got to go.”

  “Yeah, me, too. See you tomorrow.”

  “I’ll call you once Owen is up from his nap.”

  “Bye. Enjoy that rose.”

  I was smiling when I disconnected.

  —

  Saturday afternoon I met Rocco in his company parking lot. He’d mentioned earlier that he was the sole owner of Potter Towing, but I hadn’t a clue how large the business was. He had a fleet of about ten tow trucks in various sizes, and those were just the ones in the lot. More had to be out on jobs. Before he took us outside, Rocco gave Owen and me a tour of the garages and the office. I met a couple of his crew and I had to admit they were a tough-looking crowd. It wasn’t until later that Rocco told me a few of the men he’d hired were on work release. They needed a second chance and he’d given it to them.

  “Is this where Shawntelle sits?” I asked when I saw the glassed-in office.

  “Yes.” He frowned when I mentioned her name.

  “Is there a problem with Shawntelle?” I hoped not, seeing how badly she needed the job.

  “Not really. The woman seems to have an opinion on just about everything. She had a run-in with one of my drivers because he didn’t hand over his time card. I heard her giving the poor guy hell the other day. It worked, though. Jerome gave it to her first thing this morning.”

  “In other words, she’s doing a good job for you.” I had known Shawntelle would and was grateful to hear it.

  “Yes, and she’s keeping the books balanced, too, which is a lot better than my previous bookkeeper.”

  Owen tugged at my leg, growing impatient. “I think Owen is ready for his ride,” I said.

  Rocco looked down at my son. “Well, first off, he needs a uniform.”

  “A uniform?” Rocco hadn’t mentioned that earlier. If he had I would have seen to it before now.

  “No worries, the shop provides those.” He walked over to a locker and removed a sack. Inside was a striped coverall that zipped up the front in Owen’s size.

  I watched as my son’s eyes rounded with delight. “Fo me?”

  “Let’s make sure it fits first,” Rocco said. He got down on his knees next to Owen and unzipped the suit so my three-y
ear-old could step into it, one foot at a time. The fit was perfect. Owen thrust his small chest out with pride and rubbed his hands down his front. He wore the biggest smile I could ever remember seeing.

  “Wook, Mommy, wook,” he said, twirling around.

  “I see. You’re a real tow-truck driver now. It’s official.”

  “Official,” Owen repeated.

  “You ready to drive your rig?” Rocco asked.

  Owen nodded eagerly.

  “Follow me.” He held out his hand and Owen placed his much smaller one in Rocco’s huge one.

  I traipsed along behind, excited for my son. Rocco lifted him up and set Owen inside the biggest tow truck on the lot. He’d explained earlier that this larger tow truck was used for hauling eighteen-wheelers. Rocco climbed in after him and then set Owen on his lap.

  “Ready?” he asked Owen.

  “Weady,” Owen repeated.

  “Turn the key to start the engine.”

  Owen leaned forward, stretching as far as his short arms would allow, and turned the ignition key. The truck roared to life and Owen squealed with delight. I stepped back and watched as Rocco drove with my son in his lap around the parking lot. Owen’s small hands gripped the steering wheel along with Rocco’s much larger ones. My son’s eyes were bright and intense. I lost count of the number of circles they made before Rocco pulled the rig into the designated spot. Once the engine was turned off, Owen clapped with delight, happier than a pig in mud.

  —

  Later Saturday evening, Rocco was going to drop Kaylene off to watch Owen while the two of us went out. He hadn’t mentioned where we were going, but he had said we’d be meeting a few of his friends. This seemed like a big deal to him, although I wasn’t completely sure why. I had to believe this was more about him than me.

  I dressed in my skinny jeans and a V-neck pink sweater with a white cowl and my cowboy boots. I’d spent two hundred and fifty dollars for those boots when Jake and I were married. I couldn’t imagine spending that amount of money on any single clothing item now. One time, just before I learned Jake had been cheating on me, I bought a designer purse for seven hundred dollars. When I left Jake, I hadn’t taken into account the consequences of my financial situation. I knew the divorce had hit Jake hard, too. In a petty way, that made me glad. Maybe he’d have less money to spend on other women.

  I checked my reflection in the bedroom mirror and was satisfied. I could use a haircut, but that would need to wait until my next paycheck.

  The doorbell chimed and Owen raced into the living room ahead of me. His face broke into a huge smile when he saw Kaylene and Rocco.

  “How’s it going, little man?” Rocco asked, bending down and extending his palm.

  Owen’s arm did a complete three-hundred-and-sixty-degree swing before he slapped his hand against Rocco’s open palm.

  “Thanks, Kaylene,” I said. “Owen’s had his dinner and there’s ice cream for later, but only if he’s good.”

  “I wike ice cream,” Owen said.

  “Me, too,” Kaylene added.

  “Tell her to wead me stories,” Owen reminded me.

  I looked to Kaylene. “Oh yes, there’s a big stack of books. He likes to be read to at bedtime.”

  “Will do,” the teenager promised.

  I grabbed my coat and purse and we left within a few minutes of their arrival. Rocco seemed nervous. “You okay?” I asked, once outside the apartment.

  “Sure.”

  “You’re fidgeting.”

  “Am not,” he argued.

  “Listen, Rocco, if you’d rather I not meet your friends, it’s fine.”

  He hesitated in front of the elevator. “I’ve never introduced them to a woman before. They might say something to embarrass you.”

  “Hey, I’m a big girl. I can handle myself, so quit worrying.”

  He studied me and then slowly nodded. “If you’re sure, then okay. Let’s do this, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

  He made it sound like we were about to cross into uncharted territory, and perhaps for him we were. I remember him telling me that he’d never married Kaylene’s mother and that he didn’t do relationships. I wasn’t sure if we were even in a relationship. We did things together and he’d been a good friend, but this was the first time we were going out just the two of us. Technically, this was our first date. I hadn’t realized it until that moment. It felt like I’d known him forever, but all the time we’d spent together other people had been involved.

  Once outside my apartment building, we walked to where Rocco had parked. He opened the door to his truck and helped me inside.

  When he joined me I asked, “Is this a date?”

  He placed his hands on the steering wheel and stared straight ahead. “I don’t know. Is it?”

  “It feels like one.”

  He leaned his head back and closed his eyes.

  “What?” I asked, not understanding his strange behavior.

  “I don’t date.”

  I laughed, which was probably not the wisest response. “Okay. What would you like to call this, then?”

  “Do we need to call it anything?”

  Good question. “I suppose not. You’re taking me to meet your friends and we’ll leave it at that.”

  “Fair enough.”

  He was still nervous, though. I could see it in the way he gripped the steering wheel and how he bounced his knee when stopped at red lights. I was curious about his I don’t date statement. “If you don’t date, then what do you call it when you take out a woman?”

  He ignored the question.

  “Rocco?”

  “I don’t take women out.”

  Now I was confused. “But—”

  “Leave it, Nichole,” he barked, and then quickly apologized. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to snap at you.”

  He really was nervous about this, which surprised me. I wasn’t sure what to make of it, but decided I should be honored that he’d bent his self-imposed rule to “date” me.

  We drove to a tavern that had a lot of motorcycles parked out front. Rocco helped me out of the truck and then, with his hand at the small of my back, he led me inside. As soon as we entered it seemed everyone in the entire room went silent and looked at us. Rocco stood with the tips of his fingers tucked into his back pockets.

  “Hey. Everyone, this is Nichole.”

  Several of the guys lifted their beer mugs in greeting.

  “Hi,” I said, and, unsure what to do, I gave a small wave.

  Rocco found us a table and ordered us each a beer, which was promptly delivered by a waitress in shorts and a halter top that exposed more skin than a bikini. I watched Rocco, but his eyes didn’t follow the scantily clad woman, which pleased me.

  I sat in a chair at the high-top and Rocco stood next to me in a protective stance. A couple guys drifted by and Rocco made small talk with them, including me in the conversation whenever possible. There didn’t appear to be many women around, which garnered me a lot of attention.

  “Where’d you two meet?” a guy named Sam asked.

  I knew his name because it was labeled on his leather jacket. “He pulled me out of a ditch,” I answered.

  Sam chuckled. “I gotta get me one of those tow trucks so I can meet a pretty lady like you.”

  Rocco circled his arm around my waist as if claiming his territory. “Back off, Sam,” Rocco said, but his eyes held a teasing light.

  Sam raised both hands in surrender and winked at me. I liked him immediately. He was about Rocco’s age, or maybe a bit older. “Rocco’s a good guy. Not many of those around, so if I was you, I’d hold on to this one.”

  Rocco muttered something I couldn’t hear.

  “I think you’re onto something,” I told Sam.

  Rocco looked to me, his eyes narrowed. “You mean that?”

  My answer was to simply smile, which appeared to satisfy him.

  He noticed that I hadn’t drunk much of my beer. “I’d order you wi
ne, but they don’t serve it here.”

  “No wine?”

  “Sorry, the guys who come here are a beer-drinking crowd.”

  “Don’t worry about it.” Beer wasn’t my favorite drink, but I’d manage.

  After we finished our beers, Rocco and I shot a game of pool. I was offered plenty of advice from his friends, who seemed more than willing to aid me. I could see Rocco didn’t appreciate the attention I attracted, but he kept his cool. It was almost as if he wasn’t sure how to act around me when he was with his friends.

  After a second beer I relaxed and laughed, enjoying myself. I’ll admit his friends were rough on the outside, but nothing like one would expect. First impressions could be misleading. It seemed a lot of them rode motorcycles and hung out together.

  I played a second game of pool, but this time it was with Sam and a couple others while Rocco stood back and watched. When we won I slipped my arms around Rocco and looked up at him, wearing a triumphant smile.

  “Having fun?” he asked, grinning down on me.

  “I am.” I actually was enjoying myself. It’d been far too long since I’d been on a date, even if Rocco didn’t want to call it that.

  A huge man with bulging muscles, a beard, and a leather jacket joined us, along with a woman, also wearing a leather jacket, stating she was his property. Was she nuts? She had her arm around his middle. She smiled at Rocco and it seemed there might have been something between them at one time.

  I stepped closer to him and tucked my finger in his belt loop and glared at the other woman.

  The man looked at me and then at Rocco. “This your woman?”

  Rocco looked to me as if unsure how to answer.

  I smiled up at him.

  “Yeah,” he said, not breaking eye contact with me. “Nichole is my woman.”

  I met Kacey at Lloyd’s Center. Jake and her son, Adam, who was two years older, used to ice-skate in the center rink. Jake was around ten at the time. The ice rink held a lot of fond memories for me. Kacey needed a mother-of-the-bride dress, as her daughter was getting married in the summer, and she’d decided to start the search early.

 
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