Divorce And Dating And Other Disasters At Age 40: Part 20
- Divorce And Dating And Other Disasters At Age 40
- Divorce And Dating And Other Disasters At Age 40: Part Two
- Divorce And Dating And Other Disasters At Age 40: Part Three
- Divorce And Dating And Other Disasters At Age 40: Part 4
- Divorce And Dating And Other Disasters At Age 40: Part 5
- Divorce And Dating And Other Disasters At Age 40: Part 6
- Divorce And Dating And Other Disasters At Age 40: Part 7
- Divorce And Dating And Other Disasters At Age 40: Part 8
- Divorce And Dating And Other Disasters At Age 40: Part 9
- Divorce And Dating And Other Disasters At Age 40: Part 10
- Divorce And Dating And Other Disasters At Age 40: Part 12
- Divorce and Dating and Other Disasters at Age 40: Part 11
- Divorce and Dating and Other Disasters at Age 40: Part 13
- Divorce and Dating and Other Disasters at Age 40: Part 14
- Divorce And Dating And Other Disasters At Age 40: Part 17
- Divorce and Dating and Other Disasters at Age 40: Part 15
- Divorce and Dating and Other Disasters at Age 40: Part 16
- Divorce And Dating And Other Disasters At Age 40: Part 18
- Divorce And Dating And Other Disasters At Age 40: Part 19
- Divorce And Dating And Other Disasters At Age 40: Part 20
- Divorce And Dating And Other Disasters At Age 40: Part 21
- Divorce and Dating and Other Disasters at Age 40: Part 22
- Divorce and Dating and Other Disaster at Age 40: Part 23
- Divorce and Dating and Other Disasters at Age 40: Part 24
- Divorce and Dating and Other Disasters at Age 40: Part 25
- Divorce and Dating and Other Disasters at Age 40: Epilogue
Recently divorced Anna Waite is learning to appreciate life after first love. With the support of her best friend Kira and a solid sense of humor, Anna tackles the world of dating. This is her coming-of-middle-age story.
THE (ALMOST) DATE WHERE I SEE A STORE
Mortification is a living thing. It breathes inside me, coiling my guts in a knot, and coloring my cheeks. A thief that steals my confidence and leaves me a broken woman crumpled in a row of holly bushes.
A crowd of familiar faces hovers in my periphery, their voices overlapping into a swirl of noise. Isaac retreats to his car for a first aid kit. Kira shuffles my boys, who ran to see the commotion, back inside. I close my eyes. If I can’t see you, you can’t see me. The childish adage repeats in my brain and I don’t realize I say it aloud until Dylan responds.
“Pretending not to see you is one thing, but it’ll be hard to erase the image of you diving into the hedges.” Strong hands lift me, his hold tender as he eases me to my feet.
“I didn’t dive, I… slipped,” the lie spills from my mouth and I double down. “Or maybe stumbled.”
“If you insist.” His lips quirk into an adorable half-grin. “A gentleman wouldn’t point out the physical impossibility of landing on top of the hedges versus falling against them.”
“Are you questioning my ability to defy physics?”
“I wouldn’t dare.” His gray eyes sparkle, and he looks me over, his fingers ghosting near my abrasions. “Are you okay?”
“I might die of embarrassment.”
“Nah.” He pats my cheek, the gesture soft. Gentle. “You survived the infamous hospital gown exposure of last week. This is nothing.”
“Ha ha,” I deadpan.
Isaac rushes over, toting medical supplies. “Sit down. Let me check your injuries.”
“Please, let me do this.” He guides me to the patio chairs on the opposite side of the holly. “How’s your chest? The bruised sternum giving you any trouble?”
“Nope. My sternum is behaving.” I hear Dylan chuckle and look up. He stands a few feet back, hands tucked in his pockets.
Isaac stays focused, dabbing the scrapes with alcohol swabs. Next comes disinfectant spray, followed by Band-Aids. Making quick work of tending to the damage, he scoops up the garbage and closes the kit.
“You’re going to live,” he says with a small smile. “But what happened? We were getting close and then—” he mutters a long uhhh—“you fell?”
“Yes.” My lie persists. “I mis-stepped off the porch.”
“Oh. Let me check your ankles.” And then he’s back to touching me, his fingers gliding over my skin, rolling my feet in a slow turn.
“Isaac, no.” I brush off his hands and stand up. “Thank you, but my feet are fine.”
He hesitates, still crouched in front of me. “Are you sure?”
“Positive. Let me walk you to your car.” I take his elbow, helping him stand. “I’m sorry about all this. I’m kind of a disaster.”
“No. You’re lovely,” he says, a sweeter compliment than I deserve.
Waving at Dylan, I wordlessly tell him to hang back as Isaac and I move to the driveway. “I should have told you I was in a hurry. That’s why I was acting nervous. I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay.” We reach his car, and he turns to me, leaning against the door. “I like you, Anna. But let me be blunt. Dylan keeps popping up, and it makes me wonder what’s going on between you two.”
Fighting the urge to glance at the handsome man under discussion, I keep my eyes locked on Isaac’s. “Dylan and I aren’t dating or anything. He’s a friend. And a business advisor.”
“Yes.” This time I do look over my shoulder, catching Dylan’s gaze.
He’s closer than when I left him on the porch. Did he overhear us? A breeze flutters his blond hair, and he runs a hand through it. The sleeve of his black t-shirt hugs his arm in a way that makes me extra fond of stretchy cotton. My heart picks up rhythm, and my chest expands like it creates a space for something more. But no! No extra space for Dylan. Shut down the vacancy sign next to my heart and move on. Possibly with a nice, interested guy like Isaac.
Taking a breath, I shift back to the sensible man standing in front of me, lowering my voice. “Dylan’s the landlord of the business I’m starting.” Possible landlord, but semantics.
“Oh. You have a professional relationship,” he states, lighting up.
A twinge of guilt flickers at his sincere smile. “Exactly.”
“Well, I won’t keep you.” He opens his arms, lowering from his 6’4” height to draw me into a hug. A light touch of his lips brushes my cheek, the same cheek where I still feel Dylan’s caress. “Thanks for coming to lunch with me.”
“It was great.” While I should enjoy this moment with Isaac, snuggling in and feeling tiny, all I think about is the other man. The one who drew the just friends line in the sand and stays firmly planted there.
“I’ll call you.” His eyes stray over my shoulder to Dylan before he says goodbye and climbs in his car.
The engine rumbles and the tires crunch on loose gravel as kind, sweet, sensible Isaac drives away. Dylan steps to my side. We both watch the car until it disappears around the corner. The sun showers my body in heat, sweat dappling my skin in a glistening slick. A bright glare blazes, my eyes squinting against the light. Despite that, I don’t move.
“So, you’re dating the paramedic?” Dylan’s lips stay flat, his eyebrow raised, and he stares straight ahead. The tone in his voice borders on severe.
I try to read his expression — curiosity? annoyance? — but find the blank look impossible to interpret. “A little, I guess.”
The front door opens, and my boys burst free, running like prison escapees. They stop short of crashing into me, frozen by the sight of Dylan.
“Who are you?” Devin asks.
“Sorry.” Kira comes out, her hair frazzled. “I tried to keep them inside as things got sorted.”
By sorted I assume she means the awkward disaster of me sprawled in the shrubbery and the two attractive guys helping.
“It’s all good, Kira.” The earlier, indecipherable disposition vanishes, and Dylan’s all smiles for the new arrivals.
“Do you need me to watch the boys while you check out the store?” She smooths her hair into the elastic, collecting the loose strands.
I open my mouth to respond, but Dylan beats me to it. “No way. These guys are here to help.”
Devin glows under the announcement, and even Josh puffs up a little, proud to be needed.
We load into the Jeep Cherokee, and my boys play the role of kids who have never been inside a vehicle. They wrestle with the seatbelts, wrestle each other, and swivel the air vents, all to the soundtrack of me saying, please, for the love of Kelly Clarkson, behave! Dylan takes it in stride, laughing and making jokes. And through it all, he doesn’t meet my gaze once. Just sidelong glances and sneak peeks, the mystery mood returning in force.
Something is weird, our companionable vibe out of tune. I want to adjust the frequency and get us back in sync, but I don’t know what’s wrong. He razzes the boys with a big smile on his face, so I don’t think Devin and Josh have caused the shift.
“Do you want to listen to anything?” Dylan asks the boys, watching them in the rearview mirror.
“Imagine Dragons.” Devin bounces in his seat.
“Excellent choice.” Dylan presses a few buttons and heavy bass fills the car. The music pumps, the boys join him in singing, and I feel like the fourth wheel on their well-oiled tricycle.
My phone buzzes, and I welcome the distraction. It’s a text from Kira.
Kira: You said Isaac was attractive, but he’s on another level. I’m getting sweaty just thinking about it. Please tell me the fire station did a fundraising calendar!
This is followed by three heart-eye emojis.
Me: I’ll get you a copy to satisfy your sweaty pregnancy hormones. But right now, I need your help. Dylan’s acting weird.
I glimpse at him under my lowered lashes. His hands curl on the steering wheel and he stares straight ahead. The loud music suffocates any conversation, and though his lips smile, his gray eyes have turned the color of cold granite.
The mystery mood deepens.
Me: Not looking at me. Passive-aggressive singing. Thoughts?
Kira: It’s obvious. He likes you and he’s jealous of Isaac.
Me: HE’S the one who drew the “just friends” line. I type, my thumbs furious.
Stuffing my phone away, I choose to ignore Kira and her dreamy opinions. They do me no good here. I need facts. Truth. A key to unlock the mystery and return to the normal Anna and Dylan vibe. Joking friends who steal longing glances (me) and smile endearingly at awkward situations (him).
It only takes a few minutes to reach our destination. The row of shops with their tan stone facades offers everything from eating and entertainment to shopping and work. Tree-lined sidewalks create a welcoming atmosphere, and the full parking lot is a good sign. A twinge of excitement bubbles up as I imagine Worth the Wait glowing in neon letters above the storefront.
Dylan pulls out a ring of keys, unlocking the store two doors down from the gym.
“Voila,” he says, his hand outstretched like a game show host.
The boys rush inside, now playing the role of kids who have never been in an open space. They run circles, tag each other, and strategize a game of Nerf War.
With Josh and Devin distracted, I take my chance. Operation: Confront Dylan. “Is something wrong?”
His gaze stays on the boys, refusing to meet mine. “How can you date someone a little?”
“With the paramedic. I asked if you were dating him.”
And I said a little.
“It’s the opposite of dating someone a lot. You know.” I lift my hand, holding my index finger and thumb an inch apart. “A little.”
His unchanging face might as well be carved in stone. “Do you like him?”
“Isaac is…” All the adjectives linger on my tongue. Cute. Courteous. Like dating a puppy. But I can’t bring myself to tell him any of that. As I stand in the empty store, Band-aids decorating my arms and legs, discouragement wells inside me. A pessimistic poison slowly killing my dreams of finding love. I’ll end up alone. An old and wrinkled woman, accidentally changing in the men’s room and jumping off porches with no one to catch me.
“Is…?” He stretches out the word, waiting for my answer.
Kira’s text hovers, a haunting suggestion that Dylan is jealous. But I refuse to allow the prospect to simmer in my brain, making me do something truly stupid, like hope it might be true.
“He’s nice.” Staring at Dylan’s profile, I wonder how to fix the weirdness. I might end up a pruney senior citizen, but Dylan better still be my friend. “Tell me something about yourself. Something I don’t know.” Desperation drives me, a similar desperation to when I asked Isaac the same thing.
“Something you don’t know.” He finally turns to me, his shadowed gaze serious. The line of his jaw clenches and his gray eyes pass over my face like an endearment. It’s a strange dichotomy of hard and soft and I don’t know what to think. Leaning in, his half-grin materializing, he tips my chin up to meet his gaze.
“If I kissed you, you wouldn’t have jumped in the bushes.”
Dropping that bomb, he walks over to the boys, leaving me breathless.