Setting the Pace
Bea nudged Caleb as they left the ticket booth, nodding toward the line at the concessions stand. Caleb followed her gaze. Jesse was there on a date of his own—a lanky, dark-haired girl with her hand in the back pocket of his jeans. She was whispering in his ear, distracting him so successfully that the guy behind them had to tap Jesse’s shoulder to make him move along.
Caleb decided not to acknowledge his brother, just in case they were going to the same movie and Jesse and his date ended up hanging around for the rest of the evening. Jesse might just do that, to be annoying.
“Who’s the girl, then?” Bea said. “I thought he was dating that dark-skinned girl… Neysa, was it?”
“Neysa was ages ago. This one starts with N, too… Nina, Nicky… I forget. Hasn’t brought her home yet.”
Bea wrapped herself around Caleb’s arm and lowered her voice. “Can I come home with you tonight? I have a birthday present for you to unwrap. I’m wearing it. Something… silky and lacy.”
Bea pouted. “Caleb, that’s not the reaction I wanted.”
Distracted by seeing Jesse and stowing his credit card and compulsively checking his phone to see if Joy had texted, Caleb had completely missed Bea’s suggestive tone. He kissed her by way of an apology. Times like this, when she was able to get away for the night, were very important to her.
“Sorry, hun. I can’t wait for my birthday present.”
She gave him a taste of his present in the darkness of the theater, raising the seat arm so she could drape herself on him to make out, her hands sliding under his shirt then moving down to do as much damage as she could without actually getting him off. They were in the back row and the relative privacy made him respond more than he’d normally allow himself. He was turning twenty-five years old tomorrow. He’d grown up and learned to behave many years ago, and reverting to juvenile behavior wasn’t his style. He let Bea do it because he was about to tell her she had to be out of the house early tomorrow morning. She’d no doubt planned a different way to spend his birthday.
They ate at a favorite Greek place of theirs. It had been easy to become a part of Bea’s life—so much so that after only a few months they had favorite eating places. If his life hadn’t been upturned over the past week, he’d have welcomed the increasing pace of their relationship. Instead, he had a new set of problems to deal with.
She was talking about Saturday. “Mom asked if you wanted a cake. I’ve told her you don’t eat sweets but she insisted. She’s making a banana cake. She thinks it’s healthier, even though it has half a pound of brown sugar in it. We need to be there by noon. Can we get going? I’d like an hour or so alone with you before Jesse gets home.”
Another suggestive look. Caleb snapped out of his thoughts. “Jesse’s going to see a band. He’ll be home late.”
“So, do you want to go home now?” She smiled and put her hand over his on the table.
“What time did you say tomorrow?”
“At my parents’ by noon. For your birthday lunch.”
“Oh, hun, I can’t do that. I have to leave for Yakima at 9:30.”
“We’re meeting with Wynter and her foster mother.”
Bea withdrew her hand. “How could you not tell me this earlier? I told you about the birthday lunch last week.”
“I didn’t know your plans were final. I’m sorry. I don’t have any leeway with Wynter. I’m at the mercy of her caseworker.”
“So, you’d have canceled the lunch even if you’d remembered it.”
“I guess so.” He bit his tongue on what he wanted to say, which was that he needed her support in this. “I assumed we’d do something tomorrow evening.”
“My parents aren’t available in the evening. They can’t babysit. That’s why I’m here tonight and that’s why we’re doing lunch tomorrow.”
“How about Sunday?”
“I can’t believe I can’t spend your birthday with you.”
“I’ve had a tough week, Bea. A really weird week. You’re gonna have to roll with this one. I’ll be back at five. I can come over then.”
She gave a tight smile to show she wasn’t rolling with it yet.
He brought her home. He unwrapped her clothing to discover the sexy lingerie underneath, and unwrapped that, and spent a long time trying to make it up to her.
Afterward, he lay awake in the dark hoping they were going to be okay. He heard the front door latch as Jesse came home, and then the sound of the TV. He listened for the girl’s voice but it seemed Jesse was alone. Caleb and Jesse had a live-and-let-live understanding about overnight guests, and because of it Caleb had a pretty good idea of who Jesse was seeing and what stage the relationship was at. When Caleb was eighteen he’d been in high school, dating high school girls, and would never have risked bringing them home to meet Harry. Like most teenagers he’d had to get creative to find places to have sex. His little brother had turned eighteen the month he graduated high school. He was already in college, dating girls one and two years older than himself and making the most of living in a tolerant household.
But not tonight, apparently.
Caleb went out to see him. It was almost three in the morning.
“Did you see your mail there?” Caleb asked him.
“Yeah, my background check came through. Yours didn’t?”
“No. I guess they’re a little quicker for you juveniles.”
Jesse scowled. “I’m not a juvenile.”
“Close enough.” Caleb raised an eyebrow to show he was joking. He’d been trying his best lately not to treat Jesse like a kid.
“Anyway, I’ve been deemed an upstanding member of society. Good to know.”
“We’re leaving at 9:30. Get to bed.”
“Is Joy coming?”
Caleb fetched his phone from his jacket pocket. He’d forgotten to switch it back on after the movie. Joy had sent a message earlier in the evening.
“She says she has a job interview.”
“That’s good, isn’t it?”
“On a Saturday?” Caleb hated doubting her, but it did seem odd and very last-minute.
“Why is she so reluctant to get involved with us and with Wynter? Did they brainwash her?”
“I don’t know, Jess. We need to give her some time.”
“Time for what? To forget about us again?”
“I hope not. How was your evening?”
“Let’s talk about yours. You seemed to be enjoying yourself.” Jesse gave him a knowing grin. “Yeah, we were in the same theater, right across the aisle.”
“I did enjoy the movie,” Caleb said uncomfortably, “but Bea’s upset I’m not spending tomorrow with her.” He nodded toward his bedroom where Bea was sleeping.
“At least you managed to bring her home. Natalie won’t sleep with me.”
“Who’s…? Oh, Natalie.” He mentally filed away the correct name. “How many times have you been out with her?”
“Two, but we hang out all the time with friends and she decided she was my girlfriend before Christmas. I went along with it, expecting a ‘Christmas present’. This is the first time I haven’t slept with a girl first and then decided to date her and put the work in.”
“Take it easy. Always best to let the girl set the pace.”
“Yeah, you always say that. I never liked someone so much whose pace is so much slower than mine.”
“If she’s worth it, you’ll have to exercise some patience. Get to bed. I’m not gonna let you drive if you’re tired in the morning.”