Barnes & Noble
“Nana’s Rules to Live By”
Gentlemen should always open the door for a lady.
I was busy and I didn’t have time for a vacation, let alone a weekend away. When a frantic phone call from an old neighbor brought me to my grandmother’s summer home, I wasn’t prepared for an extended stay. And I especially wasn’t prepared for the man holding the door open to the radio repair shop who made a lasting first impression.
In attempts at a relationship, a gentleman should
always make the first move.
always make the first move.
Calling Jess Carter’s clenched jaw and denim-colored eyes part of his standoffish manner was an understatement. His brooding exterior bordered on being downright rude. From the moment I bumped into him, quite literally, our lives began to intertwine in a way that made me question what I wanted.
Children should be seen and not heard.
Jess had secrets and I was determined to get to the bottom of them. Even he didn’t know the solutions to all his problems, I wanted to help. In doing so, I might have drawn too close to the truth, forcing Jess to risk something he wasn’t sure he could chance again. I had decisions to make for myself and it’s hard to know whose advice to take when so many questions remain unanswered.
I lay on my bed in Nana’s house with my dress and shoes still on. I was curled up with my hands under the pillow and my knees pulled up under my chest. I had taken off Nana’s sweater due to the heat of the luncheon next door, and I stared out the window at a lone morning dove cooing on the phone line.
I never heard the back door click open or someone walk up the stairs. I had just closed my eyes when I felt someone sit down on the edge of the bed behind me. As I turned in surprise, I saw Jess sitting opposite me. He wasn’t looking at me and I resumed my original position.
“How are you doing?” he asked me.
“What do you want?” I responded, harsher than I intended.
“I want to know how you’re doing.” I knew without looking at him that he was clenching his jaw in that way he had and was probably pinching the bridge of his nose.
“I’m fine. Thank you,” I said formally.
“Katie misses you.”
“I miss her too.”
There was silence after this comment and I waited a moment before I spoke.
“I don’t need your sympathy, Jess. I told you it wasn’t your fault.”
“I’m not here out of guilt.”
“Then why are you here?”
He didn’t answer.
“I can’t do this right now, Jess. You’ve made yourself clear. Please go away.”
I heard the side of the bed rise as Jess stood up. I waited again and heard him cross the short space to the bedroom door. Silently, tears slipped down my face and I briskly wiped them away. The room was silent before I felt the bed creak behind me again. Arms suddenly came up around me and I felt Jess’ body pressed into my back.
“I’m not leaving,” he whispered into my ear.
More tears rolled down my face as his hand moved along my arm and I cradled my hand in his. I closed my eyes again and wiped my face with my other hand. With his free hand, Jess began stroking my hair. He had removed it from the twist I had it in, and he was combing it out with his fingers. When he was done with that, he let go of my hand and began to rub my back. Gentle fingers massaged my neck and shoulders down the center of my back, moving lower to its base. It took a while, but I finally relaxed. I knew under better circumstances I would have been on fire under his intimate touch, but now I was so tired and drained that I gave into the comfort, not the temptation, of his touch. I felt him tracing something on my back. Letters possibly, spelling something maybe. It felt like an I…but I was drifting off to sleep.
Hours passed and it was pitch black when I woke. Jess was still on the bed with me, but there had been a shift. I no longer had on my shoes, which was the first thing I consciously noticed. I also noticed that I was no longer cradled into Jess, but more like sprawled on top of him. I raised my head slightly to take in our new position, and leaned on him to see how we had twisted in the night. Jess was flat on his back with my hand up inside of his t-shirt, touching hot, rippled abdominal skin. His oxford shirt was unbuttoned, lying open. I had one leg hiked over Jess’ leg, so my dress was raised up to below my hip, exposing my thigh, which Jess had his hand on. I looked down at his sleeping face and realized I was practically on top of him. Hurriedly, I disentangled myself and leapt to one side of the bed. In embarrassment, I pulled down the skirt of my dress and realized one of the spaghetti straps had broken.
Jess propped up on his elbows and looked around the room, sleepily.
“What time is it?”
“I have no idea. Late.” I was kneeling awkwardly on one side of the bed. I could hear the sounds of the night outside the window. Crickets chirped softly and creatures squeaked through the yard. It took me a moment to process that, no, I had not been drinking, and no, nothing happened between Jess and I. He lay back down and smoothed his uncontained hair before he spoke.
“I think I was draped all over you.”
“Um… I noticed.” Without seeing his face, I knew he was smiling a lopsided smile and when I covered my own face with my hands in embarrassment, in my mind’s eye I could see his hidden dimple. Jess rolled off the opposite side of the bed and reached down for his shoes.
“Don’t sweat it,” he said with his half-crooked smile. The heat of his voice was seductive and it sent a shiver down me. I shook a little.
“Are you cold?”
“I should go. You know, before the neighbors talk.” He smiled again.
“Oh, I bet it’s too late for that.” I giggled. “But you have Katie to think about.”
He didn’t answer and my comment added a tension that wasn’t in the air a moment ago.
“Leave before I do something I’ll regret,” I whispered, trying to make light of the situation.
“Oh, that might tempt me more to stay,” he said, low and dangerous.
“Just go.” I laughed.
“Alright, alright. You don’t have to be so pushy.”
I lay down on my back and laughed. “I always am.”
Jess stood looking down at me. “Good night, Emily.” I rolled onto my side to see him walk out the door for real this time.