Divorce and Dating and Other Disaster at Age 40: Part 23
- 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
THE (NON) DATE WHERE I PAINT MY STORE
The paint roller shushes against the wall, leaving behind streaks of color; a tranquil mix of soft gray and azure. Sherwin William’s Solitude Blue—or as I call it, alone and sad. The name feels more appropriate with each stroke. One for Isaac, the too sweet, gorgeous guy I broke up with. Because dating him was like dating a puppy. Another for Mike, the ex-hole who left me and suddenly wants to reconcile. No apologies, no remorse. No, thank you. And a third for Dylan.
Swiping the roller through the tray, I reload with Solitude. The satisfying shush echoes as I press it harder against the wall. For Dylan, my business associate, who could be more. A man, perfect in every way except the need to focus all his attention on his daughter. Which makes him even more perfect because he’s a good dad.
But it doesn’t solve my Solitude Blue feelings.
Maybe I should have picked a different color. Like, Over It Orange.
The front door to the store opens, and, without looking, I know who it is. I’m uniquely in tune to all things Dylan. How his footsteps echo on the tile. A shift in the air announcing his presence. The way he smells, a masterful combo of masculine and sweet.
My pulse stutter-steps, but I don’t turn around. Nerves about our in-person talk have me gripping the roller tighter, painting as if I’ll be graded on my ability to coat a surface evenly. Solid B+.
“What did that poor wall ever do to you?” he asks, and I hear the smile in his voice.
The wide grin featuring sparkling eyes and glinting teeth hovers behind me. But the Solitude Blue taunts—what if the “talk” downgrades our relationship from business associate to even less? Like landlord only?
With an effort, I keep my attention on rolling. Shush, shush, shush. “Hi, Dylan.”
“Hey.” The simple word injects a bolt of heat into me, and I finally turn, letting myself indulge. His tight white shirt hugs his muscles, and his worn jeans have seen better days.
“So, are we painting and talking? Or talking then painting? Or…” I trail off, my awkwardness hanging between us.
“Oh, uhhh.” He tucks his hands in his pockets, rocking on his heels and mimicking my awkwardness. I guess we’re both nervous. “Let’s paint?”
A ding sounds from my phone on the counter, and I glance to see the ex-hole’s name. He’s supposed to pick up the boys from school in a few hours. Hoping he still plans to grab them, I read through the text.
Mike: Since your pride is more important than our family being together, I’ve taken the next step.
What does that mean? An incredulous growl slips from my lips. My pride? Hardly. I’m not the one who broke the family apart. When he left to play with Mitzi, I kept the boys going. Besides, once you escape prison, you don’t go back.
“Everything okay?” Dylan asks.
“Oh… you know, ex trouble.” Dropping the roller into the pan, I swipe my hair away. A wet residue dampens my cheek, and I check my fingers which, yep, covered in Solitude Blue. “I got paint on my face, didn’t I?”
“A little.” He bites his lip as he wipes the paint, rubbing the spot from my cheekbone to my chin. His touch lingers, and my heart pounds faster. “What’s going on with your ex?”
Nothing. Everything. Men suck. Uncertain how to respond, I give him my phone, letting him see the message.
The muscles in his jaw clench. “This sounds like a threat. You need to contact the police. Or at least, your lawyer.”
“Mike says this stuff all the time.” I sigh and take my phone, sliding it into my pocket.
“Dylan,” I cut him off. “I can deal with it. Let’s get the painting done.” The last thing I need is him worrying about Mike. Nothing says I’m-the-perfect-woman-for-you like a jealous ex.
He opens his mouth to argue but pauses to take a breath. “Okay. If that’s what you want.”
“It is.” I move to grab the paintbrush, forgetting the tray at my feet. My shoe hits the edge, tipping it sideways, and Solitude Blue puddles on the tarp. To escape the running color, I jump back and crack my elbow on the corner of the wall.
“Ow!” Blood seeps from the split skin instantly. Pain radiates, and an embarrassing sheen of moisture stings my eyes.
“Are you okay?” Dylan takes my arm and examines the wound. “We better get a Band-Aid on this.”
I nod, afraid to speak. If words escape, tears might follow.
Concern creases his brow, and he takes my hand. The small touch eases the pain, beating back the tears. When Isaac held my hand, I wished for an escape. But with Dylan, I don’t want to let go. Tingles travel from our connected hands and up my arm. The tiny sparks spread, invading my chest, and piercing my heart. Our gazes meet, his gentle gray stare more comforting than chocolate.
Suddenly, a realization strikes me, hitting so fast and hard that my breath catches in my lungs.
I love Dylan Pound. Not really like. More than just friends. Full heart, head over heels in love.
The classic symptoms are all present: accelerated pulse, fluttery stomach, craving for a long snuggle in the Deltoid Den.
Without my permission, the mental locket bursts open, memories of his laughter spilling out. They flood my mind, drowning me in the undeniable truth. I am in love with Dylan. Completely.
What am I going to do?
Does he know? He must feel it, from the pulse in my veins to the tremble in my hands. This monumental shift happening on the short journey from Worth the Wait to Pounds Gym.
Music washes over us as we walk inside. The sounds of treadmills running and weight lifters grunting can’t mask the song lyrics to Hooked on a Feeling pumping through the speakers. I want to cover my ears. Because no, I’m not hooked on this feeling. Falling for an emotionally unavailable man who wants to be just friends is worse than shopping at Costco on an empty stomach; on a Saturday.
We head straight to his office, and the noise cuts off with the closing of his door. I take a seat while he bustles around. Closing my eyes, I try to make my new awareness seem less momentous. People fall in love all the time, right? It’s like finding a good series on Netflix. Or discovering a new bakery with an amazing brownie.
“Do you remember the last time you came in here?” He crouches in front of me, and his hand glides above my elbow to cup my arm. The antiseptic wipe cools my skin as his touch heats my blood.
“Yeah, I was injured then, too.” I stare at his blond hair ducked in front of me, itching to run my fingers through the strands. “That’s me, a walking catastrophe.”
“What?” Dylan barks out a laugh. “You’re not a catastrophe.”
“I’m always the damsel in distress. It’s annoying.”
“Want to know what I see?” He pulls open a Band-Aid and smooths it over my cut. “I see a woman getting up every time something knocks her down. Someone who lives big and takes on challenges with a sense of humor.”
I slouch in my seat as he continues. “I laugh more when I’m with you than any other person. You make up names for your car. And for guys, you meet in the gym.” His loud chuckle fills the room, and he wipes the moisture from under his eyes. “Deltoid Dan. Man, I pull that one out of my pocket when I need to smile. In fact, I always smile when I think of you.”
“Because I move from one disaster to the next. My life is a joke right now.” But a half smile touches my lips. He thinks about me.
Rising from his crouch, he takes my hands and pulls me to stand in front of him. “Anna, you are not a disaster. You’re a delight.”
More tingles spread, so many my heart actually hurts. “Thank you,” I whisper.
His gaze stays on mine, and his fingers tighten their hold. “There’s something I want to talk to you about.”
“What?” Here we go. The dreaded talk. Bracing myself for the worst, I straighten my shoulders.
“It’s more of a confession, really.” His eyes dart to his feet, and he clears his throat. “I don’t like you dating Isaac.”
Oh. Not what I expected. Inside, my heart does the Macarena, thrilling at the idea that Dylan might have deeper feelings for me. But that’s not what he said. “Why?”
His minty breath skims my hair as he sighs. “I think we could be great together. Better than great. I don’t want to lose you to some ripped paramedic.” He meets my eyes, his expression a little sad and hopeful. “Savvy needs me right now. Depression landed her in the hospital last year. And it’s not fair to ask, but if you could just… wait.”
Wait. Always the waiting. My long exhale deflates like a wilting balloon. “A month ago, those words would have made me the happiest girl on earth.”
Dylan’s hopeful smile melts. “And now?”
“Now I want more.” The words come out soft, but even I hear the determination in them. “I spent fifteen years with a man who never put me first, and I can’t be Anna Waite anymore.”
Cupping my cheek, he leans the slightest bit forward. His gaze glides over my face and lands on my lips. “Where does that leave us?”
Where does that leave us? It means we stand a foot apart with a gulf in between. Me, in love, and him still unavailable. I’ve waited a million years for him to realize his feelings. Billions of seconds for his kiss. Read all four Twilight books and watched all five movies in preparation. But we’re stuck in book two: the impasse.
I reject the impasse. We either need to move to book three, or I need to find a new story.
Wrapping my arms around his neck, I close the distance, pressing my mouth to his. Surprise morphs into reciprocation as his arms wind around me, pulling me in. Tiny fireworks burst through my veins, sending shockwaves to my brain. This is really happening. I am kissing Dylan Pound. And more importantly, he kisses me back.
His hand trails up my spine to weave into my hair. Every brush of his fingers sparks an answering pulse of emotion, the beat of my heart pounding a resounding I love you. My chest burns. Adrenaline spikes like I plummet from the top of a cliff, falling into the waters below. The heady feelings threaten to drown me. Flooding my senses until the only option is to stop or become addicted forever.
Pulling away from his lips, I take a step back. Then another.
“Anna, I want this.” His breath exhales in erratic bursts, but he makes no move for me. Instead, he folds his arms across his stomach like he feels sick. “Just… I can’t right now.”
“I understand.” But I wish I didn’t. It would be easier to get over him. Turning away from his pleading face, I make my way to the door, pausing with my hand on the knob. “Just so you know, I ended things with Isaac. It’s not fair to date him when I’m in love with someone else.”
And with that, I leave. Walking to my car, I hop in the front seat, my fingers gripping the wheel. Waiting for Dylan to come after me. Tears burn my eyes as I put the van in gear. No more Anna Waite.