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Re: Each Careful Step*


TWENTY

CHELLE:


While I waited for Dani to hand the phone over to David, I sat there and tapped my nails on the table, all the while formulating my plan. The idea had come from nowhere, as I had been talking to my best friend and I was a little surprised I hadn’t thought of it earlier. Had I done so, then half of her problems would have been avoided.

Still, that was a thought for another day. Right now I needed help with my plan because I knew if I just came out and told Dani, she would fight me every step of the way. As far as I could tell, David was the only one I could ask. Finally, he was on the other end of the phone.

“Hello, David speaking.” Even from those three words I could hear he was wary, probably half expecting me to yell at him again. I had to smile at that. At least wary was better than the rude I had encountered earlier today.

With no time or patience for pleasantries, I got straight to it. “Hey, it’s Chelle. I have an idea to help Dani and I need your help. I just don’t want her to know what we’re up to, until it’s all done and she can’t refuse us. Are you in?”

“Sure” was all he said and even though I couldn’t see it, I expected he had a half bemused look on his face at this point.

Quickly explaining my idea, I was thankful that David kept his responses to the ever vague ‘ok’ or ‘sure’. Dani had to be sitting there wracking her brain trying to decipher from his side of the conversation what was happening. She would know soon enough and that had to be ok.

Less than ten minutes later, I had finished and asked to be handed back to her. Once he had said goodbye I heard the phone switch hands, along with Dani asking what the call was about. David didn’t answer; at least from what I could hear; but I did hear her say goodnight to him before she went back to her room. I knew the minute the door was closed the questions would come thick and fast and sure enough, once the door clicked into place, she wanted to know what the hell was going on.

“Nothing” I replied vaguely, enjoying keeping her in suspense. “I just wanted to apologize to him for my outbursts earlier today. You know me; I wasn’t polite when I called you and got him.” Leaving it at that, I then less than subtly changed the subject.

~*~*~

DANI:

The following morning I again awoke to the sound of knocking, only this time, it was coming from the other side of the bedroom door, not the wall that the apartment shared with Roger the renovator. I glanced at the alarm clock and wasn’t sure I was seeing right – it was barely 5am. I had to rub my eyes, quite sure I was seeing things and I actually was. It was now 0501! What the hell? I stumbled out of bed and went to the door.

Standing on the other side of the door, hand outstretched towards me with an envelope in it was David. I ignored that for a moment, instead asking “What’s happened? Are you ok? Why are you fully dressed and smiling like that at this ungodly hour?”

Once more trying to hand off the envelope he just continued to smile. I didn’t want the envelope though; the last time I had opened one similar, I had spent the better part of the day crying my eyes out. I wasn’t ready to go through that again.

As if he could sense my apprehension, he said “its ok, Dani; it’s from Chelle.”

How could it be, when it was a plain envelope, no stamp or address that I could see? What the hell was going on? Curiosity finally got the better of me and I took possession of it. It took another few moments for my eyes to fully come into focus and once they had, I opened the envelope. Inside was a note saying that an air ticket, to Melbourne, Australia was waiting at the airport for me. I looked from it, to David and back again.

“I don’t understand...” I began, really not getting it and it had nothing to do with the fact that I was still half asleep.

“Chelle knew if she asked you to go you wouldn’t do so voluntarily so she booked it under your name and it’s at the airport waiting to be picked up. If you pack your things now and get ready, we can head off. I can drop you off on the way to the theatre.

Unbelieving this wasn’t a dream, I stood where I was, not moving. David actually tapped his watch. “Seriously Dani; the plane leaves about 8am and you need to be there at least an hour beforehand to check in. I’ll go and put coffee on while you get dressed. Do you need me to pack anything for you?”

As it sunk in, I realized it was probably a good idea for me to get away but once that thought was in my head, the panic also set in. Forgetting for a moment that I didn’t have the right clothes to take with me, thoughts of ‘where’s my passport?’ ‘what about my appointments?’ and ‘what do I tell Mel?’ surfaced.

Thinking about her actually made me stop for a minute – who cares about her or what she thought? Certainly not me; she was the least of my concerns right now, my most pressing need was finding my passport. Thankfully when I had gone back to the house last time, I made sure to bring the box with all my important documents and files in it so my passport was at least handy. David smiled and left me to get organized while he started that coffee.

In the world record (for me at least) time of an hour, I was packed, showered and ready to head out. I had no clue how long I was going to be gone for or what was going to happen when I got there but I had packed enough clothes and personal effects for at least two weeks; anything else I would either have to borrow from Chelle or buy new. All but sculling the coffee and burning my tongue in the process, my only worry now was the bookings I had and the shifts at the hospital.

“It’s ok, Dani; give me the contact numbers and I’ll call them for you and explain you had an emergency. I’m sure they will understand. You really do need to do this for yourself; what better chance or time than now?”

I did feel kind of bad for leaving people in the lurch like this, especially as I was struggling to keep busy this time of year, but I understood that I really did need to take this break, if for no other reason than to recharge the batteries and come back with a better attitude and outlook on life. Seeing Chelle was a bonus and it wasn’t as though I was going to be gone for years, so why not?

~*~*~

Once I was all but checked in, David had to leave me to it. He was barely going to be able to make it back across town and to the theatre if he stayed any longer. I only had a forty-minute wait so it wasn’t so bad.

“You go; I’d hate for you to be late on my account. I’ll just go and sit in the lounge area and try not to cry as I watch people come and go, saying hello or goodbye to loved ones.”

He gave me a look I was becoming familiar with and I sensed he was about to say something so I got in first. “I was kidding! Geesh; I’m not that much of an emotional cripple, despite what the last few days have shown you. Look, you better go or Baz really will be mad at me.”

He smiled. I stood on tip-toes and gave him a quick kiss. It wasn’t a kiss like he was the love of my life and I was never going to see him again but it did linger a little longer than was polite for new friends. I then hugged him and thanked him for everything. Picking up my carry-on bag, I gave him a final wave and left him standing there as I headed up the concourse to the waiting area, just missing seeing the odd expression on his face.

~*~*~


---
"Driver picks the music. Shotgun shuts his cakehole."

5/9/19, 8:31 Link to this post Email HeavenLea27   PM HeavenLea27
 
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Re: Each Careful Step*


TWENTY-ONE

DAVID:


As much as I wanted to hang around to keep Dani company; and make sure she actually got on the plane; I really did have to go. I was already in Baz’ bad books after the interruptions yesterday so the last thing I needed was to show up late now. But then she had kissed me and I couldn’t move.

It wasn’t so much the shock of her being so affectionate, or forward; I had come to know this was the type of person she was; it was more because of the way it made my lips tingle. Surely not, I thought. ‘Don’t be so stupid, Miller!’ I chastised myself. She was only thanking me for being supportive and clearly it was a reflex thing; I knew how ‘girly’ she could be. If anything, the tingle was probably the reaction to the berry flavoured lip gloss she had been wearing.

It wasn’t until a stranger brushed past me in a hurry to make it to the departure gate before it closed, that I realized I had been standing there a good five minutes. “Crap!” I swore out loud, garnering a few looks.

I was going to have to speed to get to rehearsals on time and I prayed I didn’t get a ticket; I still hadn’t paid the last one I received. Rushing out of the terminal however, all I could think about was Dani; or rather the kiss; and I couldn’t get it out of my mind. What did it even mean? Did it have to mean anything? Why was I so focused on it when I knew nothing could ever come of it anyway? It’s not like it was even a real kiss anyway, right?

Unfortunately I was still pondering all these questions later that same afternoon, prompting Baz to yell an obscenity at me as he also asked where the hell my head was at. Yet another question for me to worry about.

~*~*~

DANI:

My flight was uneventful, and long. I had actually forgotten what it was like to spend some 17 odd hours cooped up in a flying tin can, sitting most of the time in the same spot. My knees creaked in protest as I went to stand once we finally landed, and I knew I was going to pay for it later.

To be fair though, the flight hadn’t been all bad. Part of the trip had been spent chatting to the lovely couple who had seats beside me, I also watched some obscure foreign film with subtitles or I read my book as I listened to my iPod. I even managed to grab a couple of hours sleep so that was something.

Without anything to declare, getting out of customs was fairly easy, although I was stopped briefly. The fact that I had to wait some 30 minutes for my case to show up on the luggage carousel first however wasn’t so easy. I had overheard someone mention the baggage handlers were on strike but I think they were just trying to make light of the fact that we had to wait so long.

Not that it mattered really. I was here now and with luggage in my possession, I hunted for my phone to call Chelle and let her know I was here. I had barely hit the first number when I could hear my name being yelled from clear across the terminal.

~*~*~

“Dani!”

I turned, barely managing to drop my bag before she reached me and pulled me into a bear hug that left me feeling as though I had cracked ribs. Yep, still the same Chelle!

“Oh my god; I can’t believe you are actually here!”

We both had tears in our eyes as we finally pulled apart. “Well, it was kinda hard to say no when there was a ticket with my name on it. I still can’t believe you did it!”

Picking up my case for me and looping her arm through mine, she led me out towards the car park. “Hey, I couldn’t exactly leave you up there another minute. You have had a rough few days kiddo. It was kind of hard to be supportive over the phone. Had I been able to get time off work, I would have just come to you. Either way, I’m just glad I get to speak to you face to face now. You’re not going to be able to lie or omit anything now because I’m going to know.”

She had a point. I had never been able to keep anything from her because she could read me like a book. Even in my emails, she always managed to pick up something from between the lines and call me on it. The thing was, I was finally at a point now where I wanted; needed; to talk and I was glad I could do that with her in person.

“Ok, no lies but how about a cuppa first? That stuff they serve on the plane is like drinking cardboard; the recycled kind.” Chelle just laughed and promised to put the kettle on first thing when we got to hers.

~*~*~

“...and so, getting the letter, on top of everything else, it just set me off. I was a mess. I knew hearing about Olivia would hurt, I just didn’t realize how much.”

I wiped my eyes as Chelle patted my arm. I had told her everything and although I had shed a tear or two, I was thankful I hadn’t been reduced to the emotional cripple I had been a couple of days back. Oddly enough, I now felt as though a weight had been lifted. I was still sad about Olivia and that would take time but I could at least now move past Mel and all her crap.

“It’s only natural, Dan” my friend explained. “For want of a better analogy, you’re like a sponge, you know. You just keep soaking up all these emotions and feelings but you don’t let them out. Eventually you get to the point of saturation but because you’ve kept it all in, you get bogged down. It’s ok to ‘wring’ yourself out to let it out you know; rant, rave scream and curse. You may well look like an idiot but you’re not going to end up with ulcers or going on some homicidal rampage.”

I smiled and she asked what was so funny. “If that’s the case, you would have been so proud of me Saturday night. There I was, standing in the parking lot of some roadside diner, stomping up and down and calling Mel everything under the sun. If the look on David’s face was anything to go by, I managed to shock even him with all the stuff that came out of my mouth. All those years as an Army brat and hanging with soldiers did wonders for my vocabulary.”

Chelle chuckled. “I can just imagine and now I wish I had been there. But you see what I mean, right? Didn’t it make you feel better?”

I told her I had actually felt sick, burst into tears and cried like a baby in David’s arms but looking back on it now, I guess I did actually feel a little better too. The shock of the night and what had happened just didn’t allow me to realize it at the time.

Suddenly, my friend’s face changed. “So; you and David; what’s up with you two?”

I returned her look and added a raised eyebrow. “What do you mean? There is nothing up with us. We’re mates; that’s it.”

“If that’s true, why do you get a funny look on your face every time you mention his name?”

I laughed at the notion. “I do not. Seriously; there’s nothing there. We may have been housemates for the last five or so weeks but I still don’t know him all that well. We also have nothing in common. If anything, you’re more suited to him than me.”

“I doubt that” she replied, getting up to turn the light on as the room was getting darker.

“It’s true; it’s also why I sent the photo, to get your opinion. You would be great together. You both love to talk, for one thing.” I managed to avoid the swipe she aimed at me for that comment. “You also both love Star Trek although or the life of me I can’t fathom why. Hell, you even like that doosh doosh stuff he listens to.”

She laughed and despite her protests, in the end she let me go on for the next ten minutes about how perfect she and David were for each other. It would take a lot of finessing but I would find a way to get them together and she would see I was right. That was all for a bit later though; right now I was tired and even though it was barely after 5pm, I had to go and rest my eyes for a bit.

I went to have a quick shower and told Chelle I would see her in a couple of hours. Her response was to laugh and tell me she would see me in the morning. One of us turned out to be right.

~*~*~

CHELLE:

Waiting until later that evening, to allow for the difference in time zones, I called David. “Hey; I just wanted to let you now that Dani arrived and she’s ok. Well, at least she will be.”

“That’s great to hear. I don’t mind admitting that she had me worried at one point. Had I not seen it for myself, I would never have thought that much anguish and anger could come from someone so small. It was like someone had forcibly ripped her heart out and then stomped on it. I honestly had no idea what I was supposed to do or how to help her.”

“Just being there helped her; she told me that herself. I’m grateful to you as well, despite how I spoke to you that first time. I love this girl like a sister and not being there for her when she needed me, well…I’m just grateful that someone who cared enough to be worried was there for her.”

“Anytime. I only wish I could have done more. So long as she finds what she needs down there, to make her happy, then I’m happy.”

I smiled, hearing in his voice that he meant what he was saying and not just telling me what he thought I would want to hear. Some of the losers Dani had dated in the past had offered the same sentiments, only to turn out to be lying bastards. I might not know him but David didn’t seem the type. If Dani was trying to fix us up, he can’t be all that bad, right?

In the end we spoke for close to forty minutes and not only about Dani. It was easy to understand now why she spoke of him as she did. He seemed like a nice guy. Our initial contact had been off but I wanted to believe that was behind us now. I mean, if I can laugh at some of his jokes then that was a good sign. I almost lost it at one point, when he told me exactly what colorful words my friend had used when talking about her !@#$ of a cousin. I couldn’t have been prouder of her!

After finally hanging up, I went to a make a cuppa. Despite her assurance she only needed a nap, my best friend was definitely down for the count and I was grateful that not only was she going to get the much-needed rest she deserved, but also for the fact that she was even here. Although it meant that I wouldn’t be able to buy a new car now, sending that ticket had been the smartest thing I had ever done. If only I had the same smarts to pick out a decent man, I may well sleep better too.

~*~*~



Last edited by HeavenLea27, 5/9/19, 8:45


---
"Driver picks the music. Shotgun shuts his cakehole."

5/9/19, 8:40 Link to this post Email HeavenLea27   PM HeavenLea27
 
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Re: Each Careful Step*


TWENTY-TWO

DANI:


As hard as it is to believe, four weeks flew by and I found myself still in Melbourne. What had started out as an intervention turned into a mini-break and that had now morphed into an indefinite stay. I was seriously thinking about making it a permanent one.

Over the course of the last month, Chelle and I had re-visited all the old haunts, caught up with friends from school, played tennis every third day, went to watch my favourite football team and even stopped into the casino. I wasn’t a gambler at all but I came out $5000 richer and that helped keep me here longer than anticipated. If I was a suspicious kind of person, I would think that Chelle had being doing all of this with me in order to get to me stay.

Naturally she also had to go into work and there were even times when we did our things, so it wasn’t like we were joined at the hip. It was nice to know however that she was there and not a phone call away from the other side of the world. We had joked about my staying, the first week I was here but we never discussed it properly.

I was going to have to go home eventually, even if it was only so I could pack up my things and then come back and that was why we made the most of our time together. As it turned out, it was a Wednesday evening almost four weeks into the trip when the decision was more or less made for me.

~*~*~

Chelle had been working longer hours this week and so I wanted to surprise her with a decent home-cooked meal, instead of going out or grabbing some take-away. I was just putting the finishing touches to the meal when she came in, cursing up a storm.

Before I had a chance to react, the front door slammed, she threw her bag down near the table and stomped to the fridge, reaching in and grabbing a bottle of wine. It had clearly been one of those types of days as she wasn’t fussed with wine unless it was with a meal. As she furiously searched in the drawer for a bottle opener, she continued to rant.

“I have a good mind to tell that goddam sonofabitch to his face what he can do with his job! I’ve slaved for weeks over that account and he gives the promotion to that sycophant Jim, who by the way, wouldn’t know what his desk looked like even if it fell on his !@#$ head because he’s never there!”

I reached for the bottle and the opener and told her to sit down. In this condition she was liable to puncture her hand and that wasn’t going to help matters. “Ok sweetie, sit down and tell me what’s happened, from the beginning.” I poured her a glass and then myself one too, feeling like I was going to need it.

“You’ve been here so you know how I’ve been working on the McMahon account, which has brought the firm millions. When Cooney said there was a promotion to be his 2IC in the offering, well, I figured I had a real shot at it. I’ve always done my job and then some but to prove I was worthy, I stayed back later, I’ve done extra work, I’ve schmoozed the clients.

“That arsehole Jim barely shows up to work and when he does, he does little to no work, often talking about the clients in an unprofessional way and I found out an hour ago that he was getting the job. Can you explain to me how that is !@#$ fair? Fair dinkum, I have a good mind to chuck it all in and come back to the US with you when you go. It’s either that or end up going postal. I swear to whoever is up there!”

I smiled as I replied “I’ve heard you, chick. Nice choice of words. But is that a good idea?”

Emptying her glass in one hit, she held it out for a refill. “What; going postal? It’s an idea sure but probably not a good one. I’d be unlucky enough to get forty years at least. They’re not worth it.”

I nodded in agreement but clarified what I meant. “No, they’re not but that’s not what I meant. I was referring to you coming back to the US. I wouldn’t mind coming back here full time but would happily go back if you came too. I’d love that, actually.”

Cocking her head as though she was giving it some genuine thought, she looked back at me. “You know, that’s not as crazy as it sounds. I really am starting to hate this job and so apart from Dad, there’s really not all that much to keep me here. I’ve always wanted to go, so what better time than now?”

I served dinner as she continued to float the idea of the move to the States. At least it had stopped her ranting and calmed her down enough for the flush of her cheeks to start subsiding. When she first walked in, I thought she was well on her way to having a stroke but now she was almost back to her usual jovial self. By the time dinner was done, she had a plan.

Telling her to go and shower while I cleared up, I wondered if she truly would throw it all in and make the big move. It was easy enough to say she could leave her dad behind but when it came down to it, could she really? I knew if it had of been me I would have had a few restless nights sleep as I tussled with the idea. Perhaps after a good night’s sleep she will have changed her mind again.

~*~*~

Walking into the kitchen the following morning, I was surprised to find Chelle still home, sitting at the table in her pj’s, casually reading the paper like she had all the time in the world.

“Chelle, it’s after 0800. Shouldn’t you be at work by now?”

Giving me the smile of a person who no longer had the weight of the world on their shoulders, she shook her head. “No. I’m going to do it, Dan; I’m just going to take my time, go in sometime today and tell Cooney exactly what I think of him and his job.”

I was clearly giving her a look because she then said “Don’t look at me like that. I know what I’m doing. I was up half the night, really thinking it through. I have a bit of money saved, so it’s just a matter of packing my gear, moving up there and setting up house. I can get a job as a checkout chick until I find what I want to do. All I know is that I can’t stay here and continue to be treated like this. What do you think; could you handle having me as a neighbour?”

I went and hugged her; this was terrific news. “Absolutely; and bugger being neighbours, you can move in with me!”

“Won’t David mind me just lobbing up there with all my stuff?”

I forgot about that, and the fact that I didn’t really live there either. “!@#$; I never gave that a thought. You know what; we’ll find our own place. I should probably head back first, find somewhere for us both. I’m sure David would let you bunk down too but I don’t want to push the friendship that far; I felt bad enough he had to take me in.”

Making myself a cup of tea, we continued to run through a few scenarios. This really looked like it was going to happen and I almost felt giddy with excitement. In the end though, I decided I would stay a little longer and help her pack most of her things before I headed home and tried to find us a place. All that was left for today was for her to go in and resign from her job, then go and tell her Dad she was leaving the country. I knew the latter was going to be the hardest to do.

~*~*~

Later that morning when Chelle had finally dressed and headed in to have her chat with the boss, I called David to let him know I was coming back and that soon Chelle would be there too. We had kept in contact since I had been gone, either via phone or email and I was glad the contact hadn’t been broken. His show had finally opened and so he was at the theatre more often than not but from all that I heard or read, he truly loved it; it came through his voice like neon lighting.

“Hey, Gidge! Casey and I were just talking about you. Your ears must be burning. How’s it all going? Staying out of trouble I hope?”

I smiled; not only at the Gidget reference or the comment about staying out of trouble, but also because he had mentioned Casey. In one of our conversations not long after I arrived in Melbourne, he had mentioned that he had a ticket to opening night, only he wasn’t sure who to ask now that I wasn’t there.

I had been flattered he wanted me to go and I was sorry to miss it but I had casually mentioned Casey as a replacement and he had actually taken the advice and called her. A couple of days later he emailed with photos of the night and to tell me what a fantastic show it had been and how he had truly enjoyed spending the time with her after. I was rapt for them both.

“Trouble is my middle name; I thought you knew that already” I joked and he laughed. “I’m actually ringing to say that I’m going to be back in a few days. Chelle has also decided to come back too, although I’m coming ahead so I can find us a place to live.”

“Hey, that is great news! You know you can both stay with me till you find a place. It will be cramped but it will save you having to stay in a hotel or rush into renting out the first roach infested place you find.”

I both laughed and shuddered. The thought of sharing with roaches again was not an appealing prospect and something I didn’t want to repeat. “Thanks, David; I appreciate that. I don’t want to put you out but if I do have to stay, it will probably just be for a day or so.”

I could hear giggling and guessed that Casey was still there with him. “If you’re sure but the offer is there for as long as you need. I’m not here most of the time, either at work or with Case. When you get back and I actually get a night off, we are all going to have to go out to dinner. Hang on a sec...” He half covered the handpiece of the phone and muffled voices could be heard. He was back a few seconds later. “Casey says hi and wants you to give her a call the minute you get back. Apparently she needs to talk to you about something.”

I had a feeling I knew what that something was and I smiled. I asked him to pass on that I would and then after a few more words, he had to go. Once the call was disconnected, I called the airline and booked my seat home. At least this time around I would be flying a lot happier that I had when I left. Hopefully this would be the start of new and wonderful things for both my best friend and me; we deserved happiness and good fortune too, didn’t we?

~*~*~


---
"Driver picks the music. Shotgun shuts his cakehole."

9/9/19, 11:19 Link to this post Email HeavenLea27   PM HeavenLea27
 
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Re: Each Careful Step*


TWENTY-THREE

DANI:


The day I flew home was hectic but fun. Thankfully Chelle wasn’t a packrat and so we had a good deal of her things sorted and packed before I had to leave. A lot of it was to be stored at her dad’s, at least until she knew what she was going to do or end up living. We both agreed there was no point in having it shipped to the US, only to then pay months and months of storage fees if we couldn’t find anywhere decent to live.

Her dad was surprisingly calm about her decision, if not a little sad. He wasn’t liking the idea of her being so far away, as opposed to the usual hour or so she had been, but he was happy to know I was going to be there to make sure she was ok. I didn’t dispel of him this notion, knowing that it was more like the other way around.

My flight wasn’t due until 5.53pm so we spent the morning making sure I had all my things packed before we headed into town. I might well have arrived with one case and a carry-one but I was leaving with twice that. While Chelle was making sure her paperwork was all sorted, her accounts/utilities closed and the rest, I stopped to get a few souvenirs to take back. By the time we were both done, it was lunch time and so we walked down to Lygon Street.

~*~*~

I had always loved Lygon Street and missed it when I left last time. Chelle and I frequented it often, mostly for the clubs and restaurants, something it was well renown for. The locals like to refer to it as Little Italy and I could well believe it. The smells and sounds of this street were something you had to see/smell to believe and well worth the trip if you weren’t a local.

The aromas of the coffees in all its various forms assaulted your sense with each store front you passed. No sooner had you stepped past one café when you ran into a restaurant serving their own wonderful creations. There were of course the odd stores here or there but predominantly the street was where you came for your fill of wonderful food, great atmosphere and a chat with like minded people. I really had missed it.

While it might have been nice to take the time to pick a place to eat, we were pressed for time so headed into Tiamo2. Along with its neighbour Tiamo1, pasta was the speciality of the house and I opted for the schiaffatelli bella Napoli and Chelle went with the veal Romana; we ordered a salad to share as well as some wine.

The meal was divine, the service friendly and Chelle and I chatted away without a care in the world, the crowded space around us abuzz with fellow diners. We were both excited about this next chapter but I still sensed that my friend had a hint of apprehension around her. It was to be expected of course and I would have been worried had she not been. After all, this wasn’t just a move across town or even interstate. I simply did my best to reassure her it was the right thing to do and we were going to have fun, and that I was there to help make the transition as painless as possible.

By the time we left the restaurant, both of us were stuffed to bursting. The Jamaican pancakes ordered by the people at the table beside us looked heavenly but the both us realized we’d never fit it in. Besides, I was about to spend the next 17 hours on a plane; the last thing I needed was something that decadent heading straight for the hips with no place to go. A quick stop to the house was made and then we headed out for Tullamarine.

~*~*~

“Right, that’s me” I said in response to the boarding call just announced. Standing, I hugged my best mate. “See you in a couple of days.”

She held on tight and sniffed back a couple of tears. “Will do; I still can’t quite believe I’m about to do this.”

“You had better start believing this. I don’t want to have to come back and get you because you forgot to get on the plane!”

Despite her smile I could still see the sadness. Like she had done for me, I knew she needed and wanted this trip to happen but leaving her dad behind was going to be hell. It wasn’t as though she would never see him again but she couldn’t just pop around for a cuppa whenever she felt like it either. After 28 years of always having him close by, it had to hurt like hell.

Giving her another quick hug, I then headed towards the queue of people waiting to show their tickets to the attendant. I turned back only the once and then made my way down the corridor that would lead me to the plane. It was hard to hold back the tears of my own.

~*~*~

The trip home was a little rougher than the trip to Australia and it had very little to do with the turbulence we experienced an hour before we were due to land. My nightmare started when I realized I had been sat next to the son of Satan and his indifferent mother.

With the exception of about 90 minutes when he slept; fitfully; the trip had him up and down, talking loudly, crying for attention or poking me and asking stupid and personal questions. When I asked him to stop, his mother simply gave me a sweet smile and said “Julian, don’t disturb the nice lady.”

If anything, this only seemed to encourage the hellion and I did my best to ignore him. I loved kids but this nightmare in shorts was making me start to re-think the idea of a house full of rug rats. I can usually put up with a bit but this demon spawn had bony fingers and it was actually starting to hurt.

In the end, I snapped and told the woman she either got her kid to stop or he was going to find himself strapped to the wing of the plane. Thankfully a steward came along and took the little brat up to the front of the plane to annoy the captain.

~*~*~

Although I had more or less gained a day, I was beat by the time we landed. It was about 10am when I finally let myself into David’s place. He was at work, of course, so I had used the key he had given me before I left. I was just passing the dining table on my way to the guest room when I saw the note.

Dropping my things at my feet, I picked up the piece of paper and smiled, happy to note I could read the scratch that was David’s handwriting. I smiled even wider to note how it was addressed.

“Welcome home Gidge!

I’ve stocked the fridge; with real food, you will note; and even bought some of that tea you seem to prefer. You will also note it is still sealed as I can’t stand the stuff – ha ha.

I hope your flight was ok. We will have to catch up tomorrow as tonight’s a late one for me and you will no doubt be sleeping by the time I manage to get in. It’s great to have you back. D.”


What a sweetheart, I thought to myself as I kept the note and picked up a few of my things to take into the room I had been using before I left. After a second trip, I rifled through both cases to find something comfy and clean before heading off to take a shower.

The warm water did wonders but I was still worn out so I made myself a cup of tea before going to the lounge room to put on the stereo. I sat on the couch while I sipped my drink, looking out the window at the mid-morning sky. It was there I fell asleep and would still be when David came home later that evening.

~*~*~


---
"Driver picks the music. Shotgun shuts his cakehole."

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Re: Each Careful Step*


TWENTY-FOUR

DANI:


The morning sun streaming through the window and almost onto my face woke me the following morning. Only it was coming through the window in the guest bedroom, not the loungeroom, which is where I remembered falling asleep yesterday morning.

How did I end up in here? I wondered, not ever being one who slept walked. Maybe in a jet-lagged, sleep-deprived stupor, I managed to stand up and walk the ten feet to get to the bed. Either way it didn’t matter. I sat up and stretched, stifling a yawn that almost unhinged my jaw, while I wondered what I was going to do today.

Once I showered and dressed, I headed to the kitchen to get something to eat. There was no sign of David but of course he would be at the theatre by now. Barely eating half a bowl of cereal, I realized time was moving on and I needed to be as well, so I grabbed my bag and keys before heading out. My first port of call was to the local realtor.

~*~*~

I didn’t doubt that David would have let Chelle and I bunk down at his place indefinitely but it wouldn’t be right, even if, as he said, he wouldn’t be home all that much. He was also dating Casey now and they needed to have some privacy and the apartment wasn’t that big. I had already learned the walls weren’t that thick and there are just some things you don’t need to be hearing from your room-mates.

There was also the little matter of paying for storage and it was something I couldn’t afford to do too much longer so I had to find some place else to put my things. Assuming Mel hadn’t sold or destroyed what I had left at the house, I had to get those items as well. Perhaps I should stop in there at some point to see if there was anything left to move.

It had seemed like a simple thing back when I was in Melbourne and Chelle and I talked about getting a place of our own but by lunchtime, I had been to four different realtors, and they had all laughed at me the same. I didn’t think it was all that unreasonable to ask for a place that was cheap, clean and with two bedrooms, close to the city but it would seem it had been the funniest thing they had heard all year.

The third realtor I spoke to did at least tell me my chances of a rental; even the dingy, roach infested kind; were at a premium so chances are I had to either look into some of the outer suburbs, or maybe think of buying. With my finances being what they were and my job situation in limbo, the latter option wasn’t an option at all. As I walked out of her office, I got to thinking – what if I couldn’t find anything at all before Chelle got here?

After striking out on the last realtor, I headed home but not before grabbing a local paper first. I figured I might be a bit luckier if I looked locally for someone who was looking for a house-sitter. It wasn’t ideal but it was something until a better arrangement could be made. There had to be something out there, surely.

Just as I reached my car, I thought perhaps I should ask some of the staff at the hospital if they had any leads. I wanted to go back there anyway and let them know I was available to work again if they needed me but first, I had to go and find out if I even still had anything left to move and that meant going to the house.

~*~*~

There was no sign of Mel’s car in the drive when I pulled up but that didn’t mean she wasn’t home. It took five minutes of talking myself into getting out of the car but I finally made it into the house. I was a little surprised to find that the key still fit.

As I walked in, I could almost feel, as well as hear, how quiet it was so guessed that my cousin really wasn’t in. Good; I wasn’t in the mood to start with her. Looking around, I noted that everything was as I had last seen it, if somewhat messier. Mel never had been one for cleaning so it wasn’t a complete shock to see the house like this. At least some of my belongings were still here and where I had last placed them, and that was a good sign.

Going into my old room, I noticed this too had been left as it was the day I stormed out. There were clothes flung everywhere, drawers opened or half-open, books on the floor. I had been in such a mood the day I had come back to grab my things, keeping the room neat and tidy had been the least of my concerns.

Stooping to pick up my favourite sweater, I put it on the bed, along with other items I picked up along the way. Looking around, I tried to calculate just how many boxes I was going to need and was thankful to realize it wasn’t too many. I had been here such a relatively short time and hadn’t had the chance to accumulate too much extra. At first glance, I was going to be able to get away with doing one trip.

~*~*~

In less than an hour I had most things folded and sorted, ready to be boxed when I came back. There were a couple of items I wanted to take now so I grabbed a gym bag; that had been used once; and packed them in to that. On the way out, I stopped and looked around for pen and paper, so I could leave a note for Mel.

Firstly, I wanted to let her know I was back but also that it had been me who had been through my room, not some stranger. I doubted she would have cared but I didn’t want her to think someone unknown had been inside the house when she wasn’t home. Finally locating that piece of paper, I wrote:

“Mel
Just wanted to let you know that I’m back. I’ve just sorted my things in my room, and will be back to get them once I’ve found a place to stay. I hope that this won’t take more than a day or two.
Dani.”


Picking up my bag and a couple of other items, I headed out, locking the door behind me.

~*~*~

By the end of the day, I was exhausted, despite not having done anything too exciting or over strenuous. Jetlag was clearly still playing havoc with my body clock and I had done a bit of walking all over town looking for somewhere to live. I even managed to call into the hospital, to not only let them know I was back but to apologize for leaving out of the blue.

Thankfully they were fine with it, telling me I could come in again as soon as I was ready. A few of the kids who were long term patients were happy to see me and I them. I had missed them al when I was gone and promised to come in a lot more often. I had loved my time in Melbourne but I realized now that staying there for good probably wasn’t a real option; not when I had so much back here.

Being too tired to cook, I lazily decided to call out for pizza. I was halfway through dialling the number when the door-bell rang. For a nanosecond I had to wonder if my desire for carbs manifested in a pie being delivered without the need to order but that was stupid. I put the phone down and went to the door, surprised to find it was Casey.

~*~*~

“Dani; you’re back!” she hugged me, almost as though we had been friends for years and I had been gone for more than six months.

Hugging her back, I replied “Yep; got in yesterday.”

Stepping back, I saw she colored a little, probably realizing she had been a little too enthusiastic in her welcome. “Oh, sorry; I just wanted to welcome you home; and to thank you.”

Ushering her in, I gave her a questioning look. What could she possibly have me to thank for? Before I could ask, she offered up an explanation. “I don’t know what you did or said but David and I are dating. It all started out with an offer of a ticket and now…”

I just grinned. The look on her face was one of pure love and I was excited for her. “Hey, it wasn’t me. David just finally got around to asking you out. This is excellent news. I’m really happy for the both of you.” Once the door was closed, I added “Hey, I was just going to order a pizza. Join me and we can catch up.”

She accepted the invitation and so while she went to the lounge to get comfy, I phoned in our order. It was strange; but in a good way; how we had met at barbecue and spent one whole afternoon together while I was doing her hair and yet now, we were about to sit and chat like old friends. I was feeling very lucky to actually be able to consider her a friend, given everything.

I really was so happy for her, and David; after all the crap he went through with Mel, he deserved someone who was actually going to love him and treat him right. From all I had seen and heard of from Casey; as well as David himself; I knew she was the one for him. I was happy to have been here from the start to see this journey through with them both.

~*~*~


---
"Driver picks the music. Shotgun shuts his cakehole."

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Re: Each Careful Step*


TWENTY-FIVE

DANI:


Sunday afternoon rolled around quickly and despite every effort, I still hadn’t been able to find a place to live. It didn’t look like my luck was going to be changing any time soon either. Chelle was due in at about 2am tomorrow morning and at this point, it was clear we were going to have to impose on David, despite my desire we didn’t.

In all the time I had been back, we had managed to spend maybe ten minutes together yesterday, the rest of the time we were like ships in the night. He absolutely loved his new role and he couldn’t stop gushing about Casey. Not once did he mention Mel and I didn’t ask. There had been no acknowledgment of my note, not that I had really expected her to do so.

I was just getting ready to go down to buy the Sunday paper, to keep searching for a place when my cell rang. As though she realized I had been thinking about her, I noted the number was Mel’s. My first impulse was to ignore it but despite everything, I couldn’t. For her to even call me it had to be important, so I answered on the fourth ring.

~*~*~

“Dani; it’s me. Don’t hang up, I need to talk to you.”

“What can you possibly have to say to me that you haven’t already, Mel?” I asked, not hiding either my scepticism or sarcasm.

“Nothing; at least not what you think. I actually have an offer for you. Can you come over, so we can talk about it?”

I didn’t answer straight away, wondering what her angle was. “You have nothing I need. We’ve pretty much covered everything else; I’m not up to continue it. If it’s about my things, I’ll have them out of there soon. I’m looking for a place now, actually.”

With no tone of any kind, she answered “That’s why I’m calling. Look; will you come or not? I think it’s probably best if I don’t come to you.”

Against my better judgement, I sighed and told her I would be over some time today. I so wanted to stay the course, stop being at her beck and call and finally become the strong person I knew I could be and yet… What the hell was wrong with me? It was clearly going to be harder to keep her out of my life than I thought and so with another sigh, I grabbed my bag and keys before heading out. I prayed we didn’t end up in some kind of fight.

~*~*~

When I got to the house, I knocked, rather than just letting myself in. Mel actually gave me a small smile after she opened the door but then headed back towards the kitchen. I noticed on the table there was a suitcase and she went back to it, closing it up. Beside the table was a larger case that had already been locked and tagged. I looked from her to the cases and back again.

Almost as though she could read my mind, she said “They’re mine, not yours. I haven’t touched your things.” She then continued to look around for more things to add to the smaller carry-on she had now lifted from the other side of the table.

Without looking at me, she talked as she went about her business. “I know you hate my guts right now and you have every right to; that’s just going to have to be a conversation for another day.” Finally stopping long enough to look at me, she went on “Look; I don’t have a lot of time so I’ll get to the point; how would you like to stay in the house?”

I looked at her like she was crazy. Did she seriously think I was that stupid? “You’re kidding, right? Why would I subject myself to your brand of humiliation again?”

With a world-weary sigh, she sat down. “I’m serious, Dani. I’m not even going to be here. I’m going back to London in the next could of days. I’ve actually been there for the last three weeks working, and they asked me to stay on. I will be gone for at least the next two years. I saw the note you left and figured I would ask. I don’t have the time to put it on the market, or find someone I trust to rent it and even less time to pack up all my things and put them in storage. I can understand if you say no but as far as I can see, this is a win, win situation.”

It was too good to be true, coming out of the blue like this just when I was desperate. There was a catch of some sort, some kind of angle she was playing but I had no idea what. “After all that has happened, how can I trust you?”

Slowly getting to her feet, as though she had the weight of the world on her shoulders, she looked me square in the eye. For the first time in what felt like forever, I actually saw something that passed for regret in her eyes. “I deserved that; and so much more; but I promise I have no agenda. If I had the time, I could probably even sit down and explain things but I don’t.

“I also get the feeling that you wouldn’t listen anyway; not that I blame you. I really do hope you will accept though. Just think of it as me trying my best to make up for some of the things I’ve done. I understand it will take more than this offer but I have to make a start somewhere, so will you take it or not?”

Deep down I expected that this would come back to bite me on the ass but at this point, I really had no option to be picky or to hold onto the grudge; not when accepting her offer actually helped me, rather than hindered. I also liked the house, which was close to the hospital, all the amenities and yet still far enough from the hustle and bustle of LA to feel like a smaller country town. I would have to be certifiable to knock it back.

Resuming her packing, Mel said “Great. Except for the furniture, I’m going to pack up most of my stuff and put it in the garage. It’s out of the way and if I need to send for it, you won’t need to pack it up for me. Or, if I decide to sell, I won’t have strangers going through my things. Thank you, Dani; I appreciate this.”

Strangely enough, I believed her. We were no closer to resolving our differences, there had been no explanation for her doing what she had done but at least we weren’t screaming obscenities at each other, or trying to scratch each other’s eyes out. Who knows; perhaps one day we could be friends again, although I wasn’t going to hold my breath.

~*~*~

Knowing that Chelle and I had a place to stay now was a huge relief. I was actually starting to panic. We could have stayed at David’s, cramped in together and getting in each other’s way, or stayed in a motel somewhere but it could have taken months to find somewhere. Quite frankly, neither of us had the money to spare for something like that. I was happy to know that we not only had a roof over our heads now, but it was clean and roomy for us to have our own space.

I decided it would be best if I left Mel to do her packing and to leave again before I headed over with my own things. Part of the reason for this was because I didn’t want her to meet Chelle and that was actually more for Mel’s sake, than my best friends. I knew my Aussie friend well and given how she felt about my cousin, despite never meeting her, I knew full well that the first meeting wouldn’t be pleasant; for anyone. No, it was definitely best not to go there.

With no need to rush around looking at open houses, I spent the rest of the day relaxing. When it came time for dinner, I was just in the process of plating up the omelette I had cooked when David came in. I could see he was bone weary but the ever-bright smile of his was still on his face when he spotted me.

“Hey! You’re home early. I hope everything is alright.”

Dumping his keys noisily on the table, he slumped into a chair and sighed deeply. “Nothing; I’m not needed for tonight’s show so I decided to come home and go to bed. Normally I would stay and watch the show, help the others backstage but all the late nights and lack of sleep are finally catching up to me.”

I handed him my omelette and told him to eat up. I figured he wouldn’t be awake long enough to wait for me to make another and I wasn’t in a hurry to eat. I grabbed my own seat opposite him and asked “So, how’s Casey?”

The smile on his face would have lit up Central Park. When I first met him, I thought I had seen his happy face when he was with Mel but this was something altogether different. Whatever the difference was, it clearly agreed with him.

“She’s great. She had to fill in tonight for one of the leads and is excited because it seems the producers of the Phantom show that is touring are in town, and she’s hoping they’ll be at the show and see her work, offering to take her on tour with them.”

Was that a slight hint of sadness I detected? “Oh; how do you feel about that? It would be great for her if she does get the part, but how long will she be gone, do you think?”

“Depends on the run of the show, I imagine. It could be a few months at a time until they rotate her out or it could be until the show closes. She mentioned that a few of the chorus girls have been taken as understudies in the past and usually rotate through for a year and then move on themselves if something else comes along. I’m truly happy she’s finally going to have her chance for her dream but I’m also kind of hoping it’s a rotation thing. That would mean she could come home every few months.”

I looked at him, wondering if he really loved her that much already. They had been friends for years, to be sure, but they had been dating only a few weeks. But I suppose that’s the thing with love; it happens when it’s meant to and not to a regimented time line.

Putting down his fork, he added “I know, it’s a bit hypocritical of me to feel this way. I’m already living my dream and barely get to see her because our timetables clash so I shouldn’t be hoping that she only gets to experience half her dream and all because I’ll miss her.” With a sigh that seemed to come from his toes, he said “I can’t help it, Dani; I think she’s the one.”

Wow; what could I possibly say to that?

~*~*~


---
"Driver picks the music. Shotgun shuts his cakehole."

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Re: Each Careful Step*


TWENTY-SIX

DANI:


The look on David’s face suggested he meant what he had just said and yet I still asked “The one; really? Wow, that’s great!”
 
I really did mean it too, happy that he was finally happy and with someone who could bring out this light in him. I was all for love and happy for those who managed to find it. I might not have found it myself, or even been close to thinking I had but that didn’t mean I was going to begrudge anyone else there happily ever after.

David gave me a sheepish look. “I know; it’s kind of fast but you know what it’s like when you have moments in your life and you’re just sure of it. This is one of those, for me. Besides; it’s not like she was a complete stranger three weeks ago. I have known her for years. I guess it’s true what they say about not seeing what’s right under your nose.”

“Well, then go for it is all I can say. I’m really glad you found someone who can make you feel this way.”

He smiled as he finished the omelette and I went to put on some coffee, even if it was the last thing he needed.

~*~*~

As I busied myself, he continued to tell me about the show and some of the things going on behind the scenes, including the gossip. Pushing away the now empty plate, he asked what time Chelle was getting in.

“2am, if the plane is on time. I can’t wait. I realize I only saw her a few days ago but even then. I also can’t wait for you to meet her. You have so much in common it’s kinda scary. The same taste in terrible music, movies and you both like to speak your mind...”

I didn’t get a chance to finish the list of things they had in common as he gave me a raised eyebrow and asked, “You wouldn’t be thinking of setting us up, would you?”

I returned the look. “No.” I then gave a shy smile. “Ok, so I did think about it but that was back when you were still with Mel. I could see how unhappy she was making you and I didn’t think it was fair but now that I know you’re with Casey and you’re happy, I wouldn’t dream of setting you up with anyone else.”

He gave a little laugh. “I was only kidding but it did sound like you were trying to sell her good points to me. It’s good to know I wasn’t imagining it.” I smiled back, somewhat embarrassedly. That was when he added “I’m surprised you didn’t ask me out.”

I pretended to focus on stirring my tea, even if I didn’t add sugar, just so I didn’t have to look at him. To not make too big a deal out of it, I answered “Hmm; I guess I never really thought to ask. No offence but I couldn’t see us dating. We’re just too different.”

“I don’t know so much” he mused. “Still, it’s all a mute point, now that I’m seeing Casey.”

I agreed and was surprised when I had a sudden feeling like I had just missed out on something. I honestly hadn’t thought of David as anything other than a friend but after that comment... I mentally shook my head, chastising myself at the same time about being so stupid. Truly, it was time I went out and got my own man!

After barely drinking half of his coffee, he said goodnight and went to grab a shower before bed. It was barely 8pm but you only had to look at him to see how truly beat he was. I had promised to do my best not to make too much noise once I returned with Chelle from the airport, only to have him joke that once he was asleep, he was out for the count. I wish I had that skill.

~*~*~

I had been so excited about Chelle getting in that I never stopped to think about having a nap. I knew that once she was here and we got home, regardless of the time we would sit up for hours and catch up. We had been together less than four days ago but that made little difference.

Now, as I sat in the airport waiting for her flight to be announced, I found my eyes drooping. At least they had been until some kid of about six ran past and stomped on my foot as he did so.

“Dammit!” I yelled, sitting up with a start.

A harried girl of about 16 ran past, after the little !@#$ who had taken off before I had a chance to take in what happened. “Sorry for my brother” she half yelled, not having the luxury of time to stop, the poor thing.

My toes were throbbing but I guessed not as much as the little bugger’s ass was going to be once his sister got a hold of him.
Now that I was fully awake, I watched the people around me interact. Some were saying hello, some goodbye and a good many of them had tear-stained faces. There were also quite a few men and women in uniform leaving together, I surmised they were the next contingent of armed forced being sent overseas to ‘fight the war on terror’. I wasn’t religious by any stretch of imagination but I said a silent prayer that they all came home safely.

~*~*~

Ten minutes after my foot had been used as a springboard, it was still throbbing like a sonofabitch but it didn’t matter as Chelle’s flight was announced. Grabbing my bag I headed towards customs but from my own experience I knew it could take a while so I took my time getting there. I also wanted to be there to greet her, first thing. I didn’t mind admitting I was a little worried for her.

I had no doubt she would fit in from the get go; she was that type of person; but it wasn’t going to be all smooth sailing as she tried to adjust to a new way of life. There was also the fact that she would miss her dad like crazy so I just wanted to make her feel like she hadn’t just made a monumental mistake in uprooting her life, all because she had trouble at work.

By the time she finally got through customs and all their prying into bags, she looked as tired as I felt but that didn’t stop me from hugging the life out of her, tears flowing as though it had been months and not days since last we saw each other. We were also both laughing and talking at the same time; it was so good to have my ‘sister’ here finally.

~*~*~

It was well after 3am by the time we were in the car and heading back to David’s. I explained to Chelle that it was only for a night, maybe two, until Mel had all her stuff packed and stored in the shed and she had left for London.

“I would like to meet her before she goes. I have a few things I want to say to her; things she needs to hear.”

I briefly looked over and smiled at my friend. “And that is exactly why we’re NOT going there. Believe me, she deserves to meet you but I’m just over it all. No good would come of it and I don’t want your first few days here to be tarnished after a run in with Mel. There is likely going to be ample chances down the track, so keep it for then. Besides; the last thing we need to do is start an argument with her and have her tell us we can’t use the house. We don’t have a better option as backup.”

She actually ‘hmphed’ me. “You’re no fun at all. I’ve been prepping my speech almost the whole flight and now you’re telling me I can’t use it? I’ll have you know some of my best work was in there.” We both laughed. “Well, if I can’t give Mel her comeuppance, am I at least going to be able to meet David? I need to see if you’re right about him.”

“You’ll probably see him the same time I do. I saw him last night for about twenty minutes and that’s the first time in a while. We keep missing each other, what with how busy he is. He practically lives at the theatre now, which is about the only reason I accepted his offer to stay and not go to a hotel. I didn’t want us to crowd him. Maybe I should organize a party, have some people over to introduce you and hope he can make it too.”

Chelle agreed it was a fine idea but also suggested it was better left for a bit later on. We still needed to get into the house, set it up and make it all ‘homey’, not to mention get our working lives sorted. Maybe she was right. At least for now our priority was getting home, having a cuppa and a chat and then some much needed sleep.

~*~*~

Wednesday afternoon after I finished with a client, I hopped into my car and headed home, only to smile when I realized it was my home I was going to today, not David’s. Mel had left yesterday and so Chelle and I were finally free to move out and into our own space.

I couldn’t wait to sleep in my own bed. The spare one at David’s was ok but it wasn’t mine and probably why I hadn’t had a decent night’s sleep since being back. Well, that and the banging from next door being a daily occurrence. It was also going to be nice to have my own things around me again, but the thing I wanted most was to be able to listen to some real music.

One day when I was bored I had gone through David’s collection and aside from one or two cds that only had one or two songs on them I knew and liked, the rest remained untouched. I even made a mental note to get him a few ABBA records for his birthday, imagining the look on his face and getting great pleasure from it. Still, that was for later.

When I finally walked through the front door, the first thing I noted was the sound of David Bowie blaring through the stereo. Thankfully it didn’t appear that Chelle had found her own collection yet or I might have been assaulted with Metallica or Limp Bizkit instead. I dropped my gear and went in search of my clearly deaf friend, only to fine her in her new room, packing away some clothes.

“Hey, chick; how was work?”

I sat on her bed as I removed my shoes. “Good; my last appointment for a couple of days so I’ll be able to help get the rest of our things sorted.”

“Business that slow, huh?”

“Yeah. With winter coming, there tends to be fewer weddings so my clientele list becomes almost non-existent. I’m really thinking I need to go and get a job in a salon, even just to tide me over until wedding and formal season picks up again. The hospital gig is voluntary so unless we win lotto soon, we’re going to need the cash.”

“I kind of figured” Chelle began, sitting beside me. “That’s why I went and found myself a job this morning. Well, it happened by accident really. I went down to the supermarket to get some food and thought ‘hey, why not put your name down for a job while you’re here?’ So I did and they hired me on the spot. It’s only three days a week but it’s a start.”

“Hey, congrats; that’s great news. See; I told you that you would fit in here no worries.” I hugged her and then get up to leave her to her unpacking, taking my shoes back to my own room. Life was definitely better.

~*~*~


---
"Driver picks the music. Shotgun shuts his cakehole."

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Re: Each Careful Step*


TWENTY-SEVEN

DANI:


With my life seemingly on track, time seemed to fly by and before it a month had slipped by with nary a hiccup. Chelle had settled in and it was now as though she had always been here. The move had definitely made her a lot happier and that in turn made me happier too.
 
I was in the middle of doing dishes one night when out of the blue I got a call from Casey, asking if I could pop around the following day. I hadn’t seen her in what felt like forever as she had indeed been picked up to travel with Phantom, albeit in the rotational system and was away a lot. Today was the first time she had been home in over three weeks. With no set plans, I told her I would be around in the morning.

As it turned out, she was staying with David for the week or so she was home, having sublet her own apartment, and so I had no trouble finding her. I had barely knocked on the door when it opened.

“Hey, Dan; come on in. How are you?”

I gave her a hug and told her I was fine, asking how she was in return. By the time the door was closed, I had also asked how long she was back for, how the show was going and if she was bored yet. She simply laughed and told me to take a seat so she could put on some coffee and we could catch up properly.

~*~*~

Within forty minutes, we had pretty much caught each other up on our news. I tried to fill her in on what little news I had of David but I had seen him about as much as she had in the last few weeks so there wasn’t all that much to tell. In return, she told me about the show, the performances, and the cities she had visited; some of which she had sent me a postcard from; and the absolute fun she was having.

Like David, her face practically lit up as she spoke and it made me a little jealous. I loved what I did but not to the point where I could talk about it with that much enthusiasm. At the end of the day, I was just a hairdresser and while I met some weird and wonderful characters and heard some good gossip here and there, it wasn’t enough to make me want to brag at the end of the day to anyone who would listen.

With one thing or another, I had yet to throw a welcome party for Chelle and so when I mentioned it to Casey she told me she would love to come, if she was still in town. Offering me a fresh coffee, she stood up to go and make it, stopping long enough to casually ask me what I was doing tomorrow night.

“Nothing I can think of at the moment. I think Chelle has plans with the people she’s working with so I was going to play it by ear; why?”

Coming back with the fresh coffee, she sat down before replying. “How do you feel about going out on a date?”

I looked at her. “Umm, I like you Casey but we’re just friends. And I’m not sure that David would be impressed if I started dating his girlfriend.”

She laughed. “Not with me, you doofus! It’s actually with a friend of mine; ours. He went to Oberlin with us.”

A shiver ran up my spine and I unconsciously screwed up my nose. “No thanks.”

“Why? Jack’s a great guy; I’m sure you will get on great.”

“I don’t think so. The last time I was set up with a friend from Oberlin, it didn’t go so well. I’m not willing to go through that again, if it’s all the same to you.”

Casey frowned. “Dani, Jack is nothing like Tony, I promise. David told me all about what happened. I still can’t believe he changed so much; he used to be one of the good guys. I can understand why you’re hesitant and worried but I promise Jack is nothing like Tony; at all.”

 While I didn’t doubt her sincerity, I was still sceptical. It was unfair to judge Jack and assume he was like Tony, all without having met him first, but I didn’t want to get caught out again. Once was well and truly enough. On the flip side, I couldn’t really sit home every night and become an old maid either. It was one date, so what was the harm? If I didn’t like him, I would leave it at that. By the time I left Casey, I had agreed to go and she promised I wouldn’t regret it. I hoped she was right.

~*~*~

“Chelle; can you come in and zip me up please? I can’t quite reach.”

Coming into my room, my friend helped me do up the back of the dress I had just put on. It had been a while since I wore it and now, I remembered why – I couldn’t do the zip up without assistance.

“For someone who was reluctant to go out on this date, you sure are dressed up” she said, a cheeky grin on her face.

With the zip up, I headed to the wardrobe to find some heels. “This is not dressed up. I’ve had this dress for ages but don’t get a chance to wear it all that much. It would be nice to get some kind of use out of it.”

Flopping onto my bed, she reclined on her side. “Right, Dan; you go ahead and tell yourself that. You can deny it all you want but I know you’re looking forward to this date and so you should. How do you expect to find ‘Mr Right’ if you’re stuck at home every night; not meeting anyone new?”

She had a point but I still felt embarrassed at the fact that she had to point it out. Since the whole Tony debacle, I hadn’t been out, except to dance class and dancing with Scotty didn’t count; he was married to a lovely man and wasn’t looking for a bit on the side.

“Yeah, I know and I suppose I am a little bit curious to see what this Jack is like. If he’s supposedly the opposite to Tony then he already has one thing going for him.” She laughed. “So, what you going to be doing then? No date for you? I thought you had plans with the people from work?”

Poking her tongue out at me she answered “No, nothing special but if you must know, I am going out on the weekend with one of the guys from the market. He asked me this morning and I said yes. He might not be the brightest spark in the plug but he’s hot and it’s been a while for me.”

“You’re terrible, Muriel!” I quipped, quoting the popular line from the movie Muriel’s Wedding.

She could only laugh and nod her head in agreement.

~*~*~

As we sat at our table in the restaurant, Jack and I continued to talk. From the moment he had picked me up, we had fallen into an easy banter and our conversation never felt contrived, helping to ease my nerves, even if I didn’t completely let down my guard. The fact that he was drop dead gorgeous didn’t hurt matters either.

“So, are you still doing theatre?” I asked, taking a sip of the wine just left by one of the waiters. “Been in anything I may have heard of?”

Giving me a smile that caused my stomach to flip a little; or maybe it was just that I was hungry; he replied “No, not since I signed up. I’m guessing Casey didn’t tell? I’m actually in the Army.”

“Oh; no, she didn’t mention that.”

It was hard to keep the surprise from my voice and yet, the first thing I thought when I opened the door to him at home was that he had a military presence about him. I had grown up around soldiers most of my life so I got to know the look; everything from the haircut to the way they stood, even at ease.

“The only thing she really mentioned was that you had met at Oberlin. I just assumed you were still working in the same field.”

“No, not for a couple of years now.”

“So why the Army? It’s a lot different to musical theatre; do you miss it at all?”

“Every now and then and mostly when I’m out on a mission, it’s pouring with rain and I’m stuck in a foxhole with a buddy who snores.” I laughed at this as he continued “I suppose I was like a lot of other people; after 9/11 I had a strong desire to protect our country, our way of life. I lost family that day and it hurt; I felt so helpless. Going back to theatre to sing and dance and act like life was normal felt very wrong; for me at least.”

“I can only imagine” was all I had to offer, not having had any personal ties with the tragedy at all.

“Don’t get me wrong, I did go back but it was for one day. It hit me as I was getting ready that I was wasting my life on something that wasn’t important; not in the grand scheme of things; and I wanted to do better, something that would benefit others. Within three months I was off to boot camp.”

I really had no idea what I was meant to say so after another sip of wine, I asked “And you don’t regret your decision at all; with the benefit of time and space?”

He shook his head. “Not for a minute. My mother still thinks I will outgrow the phase and that I only signed up as a reaction to that day. It might have been true when I first got the idea but I thought it through long and hard before I actually signed anything. I love theatre but I was a mediocre performer at best so it wasn’t as though I was giving up my life’s ambition and something I was brilliant at to play a different role.

“I also knew that once I was in, I couldn’t just change my mind and leave when it got too hard but that was part of the appeal. I find the longer I’m in, the more I truly love it. It took a terrible tragedy for me to realize it but I honestly believe I found my true calling.”

I actually had chills. I’ve often heard my father talk about some of the memories he had as a soldier and it wasn’t something you could fake; you either got it or you didn’t. The look on Jack’s face told me he got it and then some. Before I had a chance to say anything, our waiter came over with the entrees.

~*~*~

The whole evening seemed to whiz past with the blink of an eye. One minute we were laughing over dessert about something David had done in school, the next we were standing on the front step of my house.

“Well, thank you for a great night. I really enjoyed myself.”

Jack smiled. “I did too; we will have to do it again.”

I told him that would be nice and I meant it. I had none of those feelings I had had with Tony and that was a good thing. Then of course came the awkward moment when you try to decide to kiss goodnight or not. Before I could think too much about it either way, Jack moved forward and gave me a kiss; on the cheek.

“Is it ok if I call you?”

I simply nodded and then said goodbye, watching as he headed back to his car. I didn’t go into the house until the car was out of sight.

~*~*~


---
"Driver picks the music. Shotgun shuts his cakehole."

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Re: Each Careful Step*


TWENTY-EIGHT

DANI:


Unsurprisingly, Casey dropped in the following day to find out how the date went.

“So; what do you think of Jack then?”

Looking at her I smiled. “I like him.”

“Why do I get the feeling you say that like you’re surprised about that?”

“Because the last time I got set up to go out with a friend of a friend, the guy turned out to be pond scum. No offence, Case; I know you like Tony but the guy is a pig. Jack seemed to be the complete opposite.”

That got me a nod of agreement. “Hey; I also thought there was something off about Tony but he treated me ok and seemed ok when with the group. I suppose I didn’t pay all that much attention to him, to be honest. David told me what happened and since then a few of the others have let things slip, so it wasn’t just you. You are right though, about Jack being completely different.” After a sip of her coffee, she asked “Do you think you will see him again?”

I sat there with a secretive smile. I found that I did want to; very much so. The more we had spoken last night, the more I found I liked him. Maybe it was the military thing, or perhaps it was his relaxed manner that made me feel the same. He was also charming and talked with me as a friend, not some letch who just wanted to get into my pants.

“I wouldn’t say no” I finally admitted. “It’s was nice to actually go out with someone who didn’t have a hidden agenda. Besides; I’ve always been a sucker for a guy in uniform.”

That earned me a laugh. “You got that right; I might need to see if I can go and hire one for David and have him dress up for me. I think he’d make a fine officer.”

I laughed too, raised eyebrow and all but I had to agree with her; he would look mighty fine.

~*~*~

I was just getting in from a short shift at the hospital the following Friday afternoon when my cell rang. I unceremoniously dumped my things onto the dining table before diving into my bag to find it. I managed to pick it up before it had a chance to disconnect and go to voicemail.

“Hello?” I said, a little out of breath.

“Hey, you are there! I was just thinking I had to leave you a message. It’s Jack; how’s it going?”

I could feel a warmth come to my cheeks, even if I couldn’t tell you why. It had been almost a week since I had seen him last and I was beginning to think he hadn’t enjoyed our date as much as I had.

“I’m good, thanks; and you?”

The smile in his voice was obvious as he replied “Great. Sorry I didn’t call before now but I was called out on manoeuvres and I’ve been in the desert for the past three days and no cell reception. You probably think I’m a jerk for not ringing before now.”

I smiled back, although he couldn’t see it. “No, not at all. I just thought that perhaps you…” What the hell was I doing, I wondered; I had to be insane to tell him what I was thinking.

“You thought perhaps I what? That I didn’t want to see you again?”

I was silent a moment, not sure if I should answer that and have him think I was stupid or desperate. I almost had to fan my cheeks they were so hot. “Um, yes” I finally admitted. What was the point of not telling him? “I don’t know; I had a good time and guessed you did too. Then again, I’ve been wrong about that sort of thing before so…” Memories of Tony came back and I shuddered.

He laughed and yet I could tell it was with me, not at me. “You goof; I did have a good time. A great one, in fact. That’s why I’m calling, now that I have the chance. I wanted to see if you were free tonight; or tomorrow if you’re busy now.”

“Tonight sounds good. Where would you like to go?”

“Lady’s choice, seeing as I picked the first time. How about I pick you up at about 1900hrs. Oh, sorry; 7pm. I have to remember not everyone speaks military time.”

I laughed. “Well, 1900 it is. And I’m an army brat from way back, remember, so don’t worry. I could probably teach you a thing or two” I added before realizing it was probably a step too far.

Jack simply laughed back and told me he didn’t doubt it. We spoke a few more minutes before disconnecting the call. I went to take a shower, all the while trying to think of something fun we could do or a nice place for a meal. I didn’t mind admitting I was a little excited about seeing him again.

~*~*~

Chelle was just getting in from work when Jack showed up. I left them to chat amongst themselves while I went to get my bag. It never occurred to me that this might be a bad idea, as she was likely to give him the third degree. By the time I joined them again, it looked as though I had been worried for nothing, as Jack was still there. We said goodnight to her and then headed out.

“So, where are we off to then?” he asked.

I told him to head towards the Boardwalk. It was casual, you could get a decent meal and there were arcade games. It was probably not most people’s idea of a date but I thought it was perfect. I didn’t need to eat in five-star restaurants or be taken to the theatre to be shown a good time. Yes, those things were nice but so was doing the simple things.

Doing something casual was also a fun and less conspicuous way to find out what kind of man Jack was. His reaction would tell me if he was up for fun or if he was straight-laced. Life was too short to hang around people who couldn’t have a bit of fun every now and then.

“Really?” he questioned, looking at me to see if I was being serious. I of course nodded. “I loved the Boardwalk as a kid. I was there more often than not; to my parents’ chagrin; and when I was in high school, I worked at the ‘Fish Shack’ during the summer to get some extra money. Mom actually threatened to bring my bed down here once, because I was here so often.”

I had to laugh at that. “It’s that good, huh? I haven’t been to this one but I have passed it a bit. The one back home was pretty good though.” Then, “So, you’re not disappointed we’re not going to a restaurant, out dancing or something else?”

“Not at all. This is a great choice. We can also do those things here too, it just won’t cost us an arm and a leg.” Again I laughed.

~*~*~

By the time we got to our destination, we had decided to eat first and of course after his glowing report, we ended up at the Fish Shack. I actually had to have chicken as I couldn’t eat seafood without some weird kind of reaction but Jack opted for the crab/calamari combination.

As had been the case at our first date, we again fell into an easy banter, where conversation was interesting but nothing too invasive. He recalled my saying I was an Army brat, so that brought up the stories of where we had both lived, what I thought of the lifestyle etc. I in turn asked about Oberlin, still fascinated that he had given up that life to serve. By the time the meal was over, we both knew a lot more about each other.

Leaving the Shack, we headed down towards the arcade. Friday night being what it was, the place was swarming with families and teenagers alike but we did manage to find an old ‘Space Invaders’ machine that wasn’t being used. After putting in a couple of quarters, Jack and I took turns.

“For someone who has to carry a gun for a living, you don’t shoot so well” I said, laughing.

“You got me; I’m actually a pacifist, so it’s not that surprising.”

Taking over the controls for my turn, I added “Well, I will just have to remember that if aliens come to take over the planet, maybe I shouldn’t be in a hurry to give you a call.”

 “Probably a wise decision” he smiled. “But would you call me to go out on another date?”

I actually lost a life, having stopped shooting back at the aliens in the game because I was taken aback. He wanted to see me again? I looked over to see if he was kidding or not but despite his smile, he didn’t appear to be joking. I found myself saying yes.

“Sure, I would like that. Besides; if you get called out to the bush or the desert again, it might be a while before you call me.”
He laughed as he nodded and then took over for his turn at the machine.

~*~*~


---
"Driver picks the music. Shotgun shuts his cakehole."

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Re: Each Careful Step*


TWENTY-NINE

DANI:


Towards the end of the night we left the arcade behind, grabbed an ice-cream each and headed down to walk along the shore. At one point Jack grabbed my hand like it was the most natural thing in the world and I shivered a little. Partly because the night air was a lot cooler now but also because of the connection. We didn’t say too much as we walked, comfortable enough at this point to just enjoy the company.

Without realizing, we had walked a good half-mile up the beach so we turned around and headed back before the lights from the Boardwalk became completely invisible. It was also really chilling up now and even Jack was starting to shake a little. About halfway back, he stopped so he could take his jacket off and put it around my shoulders.

No sooner had the jacket embraced my shoulders when so did his arms, so that he could step even closer and kiss me. Our lips met slowly at first, as though he were testing the waters but then came a little more heat. The chill I had experience earlier when he had taken my hand was back only now it was ten-fold.

I enjoyed the kiss, truly I did but I didn’t want to rush it too much. I knew Jack was nothing like Tony but that didn’t mean I was just going to give it up because of the way he made me feel. Tempting as it was, I wanted to be sure first. I only hoped he would understand. When I stepped back, he simply smiled and took my hand once more before headed back to the car.

~*~*~

I didn’t want the night to end but we finally made it back to the house and Jack once more walked me to the door. I offered him coffee, or a beverage of his choice, but he declined the offer, saying he had to be up early tomorrow morning. I was a little disappointed but that disappointment dissipated when he kissed me again before he left.

As I had done the first time, I stood and waited until he was out of sight. With a happy sigh, I headed in. I had barely managed to close and lock the door, heading to the kitchen when Chelle stepped around the corning, scaring ten years growth out of me.

“Dammit Chell; you just scared the crap out of me!” I had to fight the urge to whack her with my bag.

All she gave me in return was a huge grin, following me into the kitchen. Once there, she said “Sorry; so, how was it? Will you be seeing him again? Did you make out and does he have a brother?”

I threw my bag onto the table and went to put the kettle on, chuckling as I did so. I had been expecting these questions, as she hadn’t been able to ask after my first date, being asleep by the time I got home. Not answering straight away, I drew out the suspense for her by getting the fixings together to make the tea. I could feel the annoyance emanating from her from across the room, which made me smile.

“Nosy bugger, aren’t ya? I know we share everything but maybe I don’t want to share this with you.”

Sitting at the breakfast bar, she threw me a look. “Oh, no you don’t missy! You didn’t tell me anything after the first time so now you’re going to spill. Out with everything, and I do mean everything!”

I rolled my eyes. “Ok, so first we went to this seedy motel down off the interstate and after checking in, we went at it like bunnies. We would probably still be at it, if it weren’t for the thumping on the wall from the next room. Seems we were a bit noisy for their liking. After leaving there, we stopped at Burger King for a quick bite then on the way home, we pulled in at the overpass near Mitchell Freeway and went at it again. After that, he dropped me off, politely kissing my cheek before I got out of the car.”

Despite her scowl, my best friend did at least laugh. She knew my humour and appreciated it, as I did hers. “Ok, ok; I asked for that. Seriously though, how was it? I’m guessing from the fact that you said yes to a second date to start with, he’s an ok guy. Unlike that loser Tony.”

With tea brewed and poured, I told her about my evening, omitting the part about the kiss on the beach. It wasn’t because I didn’t enjoy it – quite the opposite actually – but because we didn’t need to share everything!

~*~*~

“I don’t know, Chell; it’s early days and we’ve only had the two dates but I like him. Even if we didn’t end up dating long term, I would like to think that we could be friends. He’s just…I don’t know…”

“Oh oh” was all she said.

“Oh oh what?”

“You’ve got that look.”

“What look?” I had no idea what she was talking about.

“The very same look you got when you thought Derek Longmuir was ‘THE ONE’.”

There was a name I hadn’t heard since high school and on hearing it, it brought back memories of the crush I had had on my lab partner. I sighed which only made my friend laugh. “I do not” I replied, in response to her accusation. “And so what if I do?”

“Um, remember how that turned out? Look chick, all I’m saying is be careful. Sure, he might be fun and cute and all but you don’t want to rush into anything.”

With that comment, my earlier fond memory dissipated, only to be replaced by one of pain as I recalled what my first serious boyfriend had done to me. It had been more than six years since then and yet I could recall with acute precision every detail, like it had been a day.

It was because of what Derek had done that I was so cautious now, not willing to just blindly give away my heart; and anything else; to the first person who asked. In this day and age it was old fashioned to be this way but I didn’t care, preferring to take the time to get to know someone. A lot of the guys I had dated since Derek didn’t seem too fond of waiting and so it never lasted but I wouldn’t be rushed. It meant being alone more often than not but it beat having my heart torn out again.

Putting down my half-full cup, I finally answered my friend. “I’m not rushing, trust me. It hurt but I learned my lesson with Derek. Having said that, I still think Jack is different.”

Chelle just gave me a small smile. It was with her help picking up the pieces after Derek that I finally got over it, so I could understand why she was protective. I only hoped I wasn’t going to need her like that again.

~*~*~

JACK:

The day ahead was going to be a long one but I still wanted to take the time for my morning run. I was just on my way out when the phone rang.

“Hello?” I asked, wondering who was ringing at this hour and hoping it wasn’t for bad news.

“Hey, Jack; it’s David. I didn’t wake you did I buddy?”

“Dave? No, just on my way out for a jog. What are you doing up at this hour? I thought you would be sleeping in every chance you got.”

“No rest for the wicked, as they say. I didn’t actually realize it was this early so sorry for calling now but I probably won’t get a chance later. You know me, by the time I get home I’ll have forgotten what I wanted to speak to you about.” We both laughed. “Anyway, Dani’s having a get together on Sunday, so her friend Chelle can meet some new people. You interested in coming around?”

I had to smile at how transparent he was being. He hadn’t rung me about Sunday at all, but rather, he wanted to know how my date had gone last night. I could actually picture him sitting there at his end, a look of innocence on his face, asking and yet not asking. He hadn’t changed at all since school.

“Dani did actually mention it last night, but thanks for thinking of me.” After a beat I asked “Is there anything else you wanted to ask me Dave, while you have me?”

It was silent at the other end a moment but he finally replied “No…I believe that was it.”

This time I did laugh. “Come on mate; it’s me. I know you better than you know yourself. You really called to find out how my date with Dani went last night; right?”

Again there was no quick response but David had to know I would see through his feeble attempt at getting information. I was just going to ask if he was still there when he cleared his throat. “Ok; you got me.” This time I didn’t say anything, hanging him out a little, to the point where he asked “Well; how did it go?”

I wondered if I should tell him the truth or maybe string him along a little, for being nosy. I went for the latter, simply because I could. “Put it this way; the next time you want to set me up with one of your friends, think again.”

“Really; what happened? I thought for sure the two of you would have a lot in common.”

“Well, you thought wrong. Seriously; is it any wonder the woman is still single? All night long she talked about herself and when it wasn’t all about her, she went on about you. I think she has a secret crush on you mate.”

Nothing but dead air came back to me and I could only imagine what his brain was doing now, going over how I couldn’t have been more wrong because Dani wasn’t anything like that. Several moments later there was still nothing so I laughed.

 “Gotcha!”

“What the hell?”

“That will teach you to ring me at this ungodly hour just so you can get the gossip. Had you going for a minute there, didn’t I?”

“Yeah, good one buddy. Not at all funny though.”

“It is from where I’m standing.” Cradling the receiver between shoulder and ear, I knelt down to tie a lace. “If you really must now, the night was great. We had a fun time and I’m hoping she will agree to come out with me again. Do you think I should ask her for tonight or is that too much, too soon?”

All signs of fun were now gone from his tone as he answered “It couldn’t hurt to ask. Just promise me that you only want to ask her out because you want to spend time with her, and not for some other, less noble reason.”

I knew exactly what he meant by that and had heard about Tony so I didn’t take offence. It didn’t need to be said but I tried to reassure him. “You know me better than that David. I promise I have no ulterior motive. I do like Dani and want to get to know her better. If anything comes of it, great but if not, sobeit. I’m not about to force myself on someone just so I can get a leg over.”

“I know but I had to be sure. She’s been hurt once by someone I set her up with. Listen, I’ll let you go because I need to get my own day started. If I don’t speak to you beforehand, I’ll probably see you Sunday.”

“Sure thing mate. See you.” Shaking my head as I put down the receiver, I headed out for the run I should have already started by now.

~*~*~


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"Driver picks the music. Shotgun shuts his cakehole."

21/9/19, 15:27 Link to this post Email HeavenLea27   PM HeavenLea27
 


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