Monday, December 02, 2013

Christmas with the one who got away

I spent some time hanging out over at Coffee Time Romance today for the December Book Brew talking about my stories and giving away books. I posted an excerpt from my novella Heavensent.com in the Holiday Brides anthology that's actually one of my favorite scenes in the story.

If you've never felt the way Brenna and Evan feel in this slice of life, can I say you're missing out? lol Of course, you're free to disagree. Either way, enjoy.

Stefanie
www.stefanieworth.com

***
Christmas scene from Heavensent.com


Sorority sisters made great surrogate families – until they all wanted to play the mother. Holidays especially seemed to inspire gushing bouts of maternal instinct among Brenna’s peers and most of it revolved around her Quest for a Man.

Did it matter that she’d maintained her weight, gotten promoted at work, or had money in the bank (unlike the shop-happy contingent)? Not much.

“A little more meat on your bones and maybe you could get somebody’s attention.”

“Come out of that office once in a while and you could get somebody’s attention.”

“Hit a couple of these sales with us and you could find clothes that look like you want to get somebody’s attention.”

The well-meaning critiques sounded so similar that the women’s voices blended to monotone inside Brenna’s skull. Right now, they hit her head and her heart in time to a driving beat thudding from one “mother’s” living room stereo. They were all seated in the kitchen, gathered around the table finishing up Christmas dinner preparations.

In the absence of male affection, sister love was cool. It kept craziness at bay that would surely develop after too much tell-all reality TV. It prevented occasions for gathering from becoming I’m-all-alone-eating-ice-cream pity fests. And today its collective spirit distracted Brenna from tallying all the more moments she hadn’t heard from Evan.

The room fell quiet as a slow song entered the musical mix. The women sprinkled cinnamon, buttered rolls, passed out plates in silence broken only by occasional humming or the clattering of forks.

“Don’t you all get dry on me,” the hostess admonished her guests.

“Where’s that wine?” the stuffing-spooner asked. “Bet Brenna needs a glass.”

“Just one,” she replied, knowing a single round would calm her nerves, but two would put her to sleep.

“Who is it this time?” The sister stirring gravy asked what they all assumed.

“Nobody.” Brenna hoped her answer would catch them off guard and convince them to leave her alone.

“Quit lying.”

Brenna huffed and spilled the truth. “I lost my job Tuesday.”

Her Mother Hen hostess abandoned the ham she was carving and scurried to Brenna’s side. “Girl, how come you didn’t tell anybody?”

“Shocked. Embarrassed. Pissed the heck off.” Brenna laughed. “What am I going to do without a job to wake up for?”

One by one, the other sorority sisters came to comfort Brenna, surrounding her in a circle of sympathy and hugs, offering ideas – serious and not – for ways to spend her time.

“Sleep in.”

“Shop.”

“Try relaxing for a change.”

“What’s that?” Brenna pretended to tremble uncontrollably. “Must have work.”

“Get a life.” Her sorority sister mocked her motions, hurting Brenna with her words.

I used to say that to Evan all the time. Wonder if I offended him, too.

Not wanting to be caught brooding, she quipped with a smile, “You’re right. I can do much better than hanging out with the likes of you all.”

Laughter exploded throughout the spacious kitchen, bouncing from face to face, ricocheting off the copper pots and pans strung from a ceiling rack, until the joy settled around Brenna’s spirit with soft giggles and shaking heads. It elicited her gratitude for good friends and lured her girlfriend’s husband out of his upstairs confinement.

“Oh, goodness!” He rolled his eyes and circled the table with his eyes. “You all are drinking before dinner? We’re never gonna eat, are we? I might as well go get a burger before I starve.”

Joining in the fading laughter with a gentle snicker of his own, he stretched his neck around the table tops and counters, examining the imminent feast. “You all did good! Let me get a little piece of that ham.”

He followed his wife to the kitchen’s center island. She carved him a thin slice, stood on her tiptoes and placed the ham on his tongue as if it were a gourmet delicacy.

“Um,” he murmured, licking his lips and winking an eye.

Um. Brenna remembered having the same reaction to Evan when he kissed her. Um. She fanned a hand in front of her face as if waving away the heat. “Hey, you two. Put your fast behinds on pause for another four or five hours. We don’t want to see all that.”

“Hater,” he teased, patting his wife on the bottom and backing out of the kitchen.

“Ten minutes,” she told him. “Tell your boy, too. I know he’s coming.”

She turned her head from her husband to Brenna. “Got you a little company.”

The doorbell rang like it was cued. To Brenna’s shock, dismay, and hidden relief, Evan stepped through the back door wowing the women with his charm and cologne.

She felt both perturbed and possessive; wishing she could punish him with silence for ignoring her all week, yet wanting to claim him as her own to keep her single sorority sisters off him. He slipped off his leather jacket and handed it to “his boy,” revealing a pair of relaxed fit designer jeans – loose in the thigh, tighter in the butt – a dark plaid button front shirt open at the neck, and those doggone Timberland boots, this pair in black.

Bet he tastes better than the food, thought Brenna, biting back a grin.

“You look familiar. Do I know you?

Brenna shook her head. “I have one of those faces, the kind that makes you think you know somebody, but you don’t.”

“My mistake.” Evan stared into her eyes, speaking words no one in the room could hear but her.

“Happens,” Brenna answered with a shrug. “You’re forgiven.”

The hostess eyed them suspiciously. “What’s going on here? Did you all go to prom together? Date in college? Or did you meet in a bar and have a one night stand? It’s something like that, isn’t it?” she joked. “Well. It’s time to wipe the slate and get to the table before the food gets cold. Let’s eat. You can pretend like you don’t know each other later.”

They continued the charade through the entire meal. Seated next to each other, they made sure to bump elbows when passing dishes from one side of the table to the other and their feet rested beside each other’s beneath the table, barely touching.

The proximity kept Brenna preoccupied with adult-themed thoughts of Evan all evening. She couldn’t brush his hand without wishing it was holding her. If it wasn’t for the fact that he’d disappeared on her for three days, she’d invite him back to her house for an encore. But hormones won out the first time (and got her into this tangle). Tonight she’d use her head.

Dinner and dessert finished, the group moved from the dining table to the lower level recreation area. Laughter and loud conversation flowed with the drinks. New guests, unknown to Brenna, began to arrive. Some making the stop their second or third holiday visit, others coming just for the good times they knew were waiting. Brenna was glad for the growing crowd; it helped shield her and Evan from her many mothers in the room. She smiled at their protectiveness.

“Is that for me?” Evan leaned and whispered in her ear.

She tingled, but told the truth. “Not hardly.”

“I deserve that. Surprised you’re talking to me at all.”

“Surprise is the key. If I knew you’d be here, I probably wouldn’t have come.”

“If I’d known we were going to wind up having sex the other day, I wouldn’t have taken you home.” He smiled as if the statement was funny.

Sex? That’s all? No wonder he hasn’t called since.

“Well, I know not to let you in my house anymore, don’t I?”

“Not if you can’t control yourself.” He laughed a little louder.

People probably thought they were really connecting in that dark corner of the room. But Brenna was beginning to feel that the tryst had changed the way Evan looked at her as a person. Maybe that’s why he hadn’t called – or apologized. He didn’t think she deserved any better treatment.

This man had witnessed her overwrought, out-of-character behavior and replaced her sensible side with that perception. Brenna searched for her most controlled tone.

“I thought you could handle me waiving my ninety-day rule.” She shook her head. “You weren’t ready though.”

“Please, girl.” He furrowed his brow and studied her face. “What do you mean I wasn’t ready?”

He’s thinking performance issues. She giggled. That was hardly the problem.

“All I'm saying is that I’m still Brenna. Treat me the way you have for the past three years.”

“Really?” He raised his eyebrows. “Hm. Okay. If you say so.”

So what did I just say? Brenna worried.

Evan looked totally perplexed. “Most girls want more after you sleep with them – not the same--”

“Well, you can call --”

“Hey, no problem.” Evan shrugged, totally misinterpreting her point. “If you’re saying we’re still cool, same as before, that’s alright with me.”

Did she just give him permission to do something she didn’t want him to do? Had she managed to chase off the polite, thoughtful Evan who always listened to her work rants, took her to lunch, and escorted her home on the worst day of her professional life?

One thing felt certain: She’d probably ensured she wouldn’t be getting that “sorry I didn’t call” apology she wanted so badly. That would mean he cared, and she just convinced him he didn’t need to.

She checked her watch. “Wow, it’s almost eleven.”

“You ready to go?”

Her hopes brightened. Maybe she hadn’t totally botched a start with Evan. “Yeah. I’ve been here all day.”

Evan walked to the bar and set his glass down. “I’m going to hang out for a while longer, but go ahead and grab your coat. I’ll walk you to your car.”

“Oh, sure. Thanks,” Brenna said, feeling incredibly silly. She began weaving through the crowd toward the stairs, her sedan, and the safety of misunderstanding. After all, nothing had changed and that was cool, right?

She gathered her winter wear from the hall closet and wished her hostess and sorority sisters Merry Christmas while Evan went outside to start her car. When they returned to the party downstairs, Brenna stood in the doorway peering through the steamed glass of the storm door, watching Evan clear a dusting of snow from her windshield and headlights.

So, if he could be yours, would you want him that way?

He ran up the walk. She stepped outside as he shook flakes from his coat and stomped his feet. “All set.”

“Thanks, Evan.”

They stood staring at each other like awkward teenagers. Falling snow swirled in the glow of the porch lights. Their shine gave Evan a godlike quality against the royal blue night. Her insides twisted and tingled. She shifted from one foot to the other.

“Cold?” he asked.

Very, very hot. She just smiled.

“The car should be warm by now.” He hesitated. “Drive safe.”

“I will. You, too.” Her feet were freezing. She turned toward her car, then looked back at Evan. “Call me?”

Brenna sped up her walk.
He took too long to answer.  “Based on what we said and everything, I just don’t think it’s a good idea.”

“Well, you take care then, Evan Shephard,” she snapped, stepping into the car and slamming the door. “I don’t know what got into me anyway; making love to you, waiting for you to call, letting my mind wander to ‘us.’ What in the world got into me?”
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