The Space Between

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Chapter 5

JACK

“Good morning, sweetheart. How did you sleep?”

“I had a bad dream, Daddy. You were gone and I couldn’t findjoo’.”

“You had a bad dream? Oh, no.”

“Dad, what happens if I wake up and I can’t findjoo’?”

“Well, sweetheart, there is a space between sleeping and being awake, the space where you can still remember dreaming. That’s where I will be if you can’t find me. That is where I’ll be… waiting for you… so if you go there… you’ll find me. I Promise.”

Wednesday Evening

I stopped by my apartment to get cleaned up and tried to move quickly. I took a two minute shower and dried off. Finding what to wear wasn’t really an issue. I had blue jeans, and some shorts. I threw on a fitted, light blue, button-up shirt and rolled the sleeves half-way up my forearm. Really the only time I wore shorts was if I was swimming or working out, so I stepped into a nice pair of jeans as I peeked out at the marina, where my speed boat was docked. There must have been a storm out to sea because the water was choppy. I grabbed my keys, wallet, and phone as I headed out the door. As I began driving, I felt nervous. Would she be as friendly as she had been that afternoon? I would play it by ear.

. /

I spotted the restaurant she mentioned, even though the area was still a little unfamiliar to me. I hadn’t really ventured out to get acquainted with the Beaufort life. There were other things I had been busy with.

It was a nice little restaurant. The building outside was stucco with light green trim, a wooden trellis, and growing wisteria vine covering it. There were twinkle lights woven through the vine, which put out a very inviting feel to the overall quaintness of the restaurant. There was a nice wooden sign that read, ’Giovanni’s Italian Restaurant’. I would bet it was the only Italian restaurant in the area. Everything else I had seen was sea food restaurants. I opened the door to the Italian eatery, and the first thing I noticed was that every seat appeared to be full, minus a few open seats at the bar. The hostess, who was a young girl, approached me with a big smile on her face.

“Hi, how many?”

“Party of one,” I responded.

She looked down at her clipboard.

“Okay, the wait is going to be about ten minutes. Or we also have bar seating still open if you’d like.”

“Bar seating sounds fine,” I replied.

She motioned toward the bar. I looked around briefly to see if I could spot Madalyn, but I didn’t see her. I walked past a few tables and seated myself. The bar tender was a young male about my size. He had light brown hair that was styled in dread locks, pulled into a pony tail. He approached my side of the dimly lit bar.

“Are you going to need a menu, sir?”

“Yes, please,” I replied. “Also a gin and tonic, please.”

“Coming right up,” he replied as he made my drink in front of me.

“I haven’t seen you in here before. Are you new to the area, or just on vacation?”

“I’ve been to the area a few times before. I moved here a while ago, but haven’t had time to become familiar with the place.”

He set my drink in front of me. “Welcome to the area, bro,” he said as he picked up what looked like a glass of water and tipped it toward me in toast. He was immediately welcoming.

“Thank you,” I said, tipping my glass back to him. “I’m Jack… Jack Ryder.”

“Nice to meet you. I’m Tristan. Do you surf, bro?” he asked.

Now that he asked that I could definitely see the surfer persona written all over him.

“I have before. I haven’t done it since I moved to the area. I’ve been working a lot.”

“Oh yeah? What kind of work do you do?” he asked.

“General construction and remodeling. I’m currently fixing up an old house. The only thing I’ve had time to do was walk on the docks at night once.” I replied.

He cocked his head up toward me in approval, “Nice, dude. Night walks anywhere by the ocean are a necessity. You should go crab hunting with me sometime. I live for that.”

He was super friendly. I would have described him as A Dude. He looked as though he lived in board shorts and a tank.

“I’d like that,” I replied. “I’ll give you my number before I leave.”

Tristan began making another cocktail, and looked at me from the corner of his eye with his head turned up.

“Excellent,” he laughed. “So where’s your big remodel job at?”

“Um, it’s close by. It was a foreclosed house with wooden siding at the end of a long lane. Fairview drive. Why they put wooden shingles on a house near the ocean, with the salty air is beyond me. I’m putting a tin roof on it and new siding,” I answered.

“I think I know what house you’re talking about. Does it have a horse fence that runs along the drive?” he asked.

“That’s the one,” I said.

“I’m glad something is being done with that. It’s a nice house, it just needed some work, bro,” he remarked.

I thought it was my chance to ask about Madalyn. “It will look like new when I’m done with it. Actually, the reason I’m here tonight is because the girl who lives in that house told me about this place. She said she was starting here as a waitress tonight.”

Tristan looked at me and smiled. “Oh. I see. What does she look like?”

“Well… she has almost black hair. Very tan, olive skin, stunning athletic body, and really beautiful eyes,” I said, staring at my, almost empty glass and reflecting on how beautiful she was. I looked up at Tristan, who was smiling at me.

“What?” I asked in regard to his mischievous smile.

He burst out laughing.

“Did I miss something?” I questioned.

He laughed for a bit more then leaned on the bar. “I could almost see heart shapes in your eyes when you described her. Dude, of course I know her. This restaurant isn’t that big. I can see you like her, bro,” he said, continuing his laughter. “I always know when a dude is smitten over some chick. Especially when she is painted so vividly. That was spiritual, bro.”

“Yeah, yeah. Laugh it up,” I came back, laughing.

I liked him. He talked like I was a long time friend.

His laughter continued as he grabbed my empty glass. “I’ll make you another one, on the house for giving the new guy a hard time. Anyways, you’re talking about Maddy Amore. I know her. We run into each other sometimes surfing, and she’s real good at it. She was going to waitress tonight, but our dishwasher never showed, so they asked her to wash dishes instead. Actually, between you and me, no one could read the table numbers she was writing on her tickets. I felt bad for her because the chef yelled at her.”

It sounded like she might not be having the best first day on the job.

“Really? Do you know if she’s alright?” I asked.

“She seemed kind of upset when they asked her to wash dishes. I’d go back and check on her, but I haven’t been able to leave my station. This place is hoppin’ tonight.”

He set my second drink in front of me and I picked it up, taking a big gulp.

“Actually, I don’t know her at all. She just invited me to come here. I actually helped her put on her tie is all.”

Tristan threw a questioning look my way.

“It’s not what you think. Anyways, I was actually hoping I could talk to her.”

“That’s cool, bro. Go right ahead. Just head through those doors past the bathrooms. You’ll walk right into where the sinks are,” he pointed as he gave me directions. I took one last big drink, and set my glass on the bar counter.

“Thanks for the drink. I’ll be back,” I said as I walked toward the back of Giovanni’s.

“Anytime, bro.”

I made my way through the doors that said Employees Only, and saw her standing at the sink, with her back to me. I noticed that her tie was on the floor, wadded up in the corner. I watched her for a moment, and saw her washing the dishes almost violently. Her body language was all wrong. She didn’t have her head up with that standing confidence she had demonstrated to me so well earlier. Really, she looked upset and possibly pissed off. That much I could tell, and I didn’t even need to see her face. I heard her breathe a heavy sigh, and it was shaky. By the color of her left cheek, it looked as though she had been crying. I wasn’t sure if I should approach her, seeing as how her new job didn’t seem to be going well.

I sympathized with how she may have been feeling. She went into a job thinking she was going to be doing one thing, and then was pretty much demoted. She probably felt like she was not good enough.

As she picked up a wine glass to clean it, it slipped from her hand, shattering on the floor in every direction. Her body turned instantly toward the broken glass, and she froze at seeing me. I spotted the tears coming down her cheeks. The poor girl had been crying.

I could tell she felt embarrassed and somewhat mortified that I was seeing her this way.

“Hey,” she said with a shaky voice, as she wiped her cheeks frantically.

“Hi, let me clean this up. Seriously, don’t move,” I quickly said, holding my hand out to her.

“It looks like you’re having a rough night. Let me help you. Hand me that broom and dust pan behind you.”

She sniffled and wiped her face again as she reached for the broom and dust pan, handing them to me. I immediately started cleaning up the broken glass.

She turned around and started washing more dishes. I finished cleaning up the glass then set the broom against the wall. At that point, it wouldn’t have been right to leave her. I’d started helping her, and it looked like she could use the help.

I still approached the side of the sink, with all the dishes, cautiously. Picking up the first plate, I dipped it into the same water she was using. A blue sponge was on the shelf hanging over the sink. I used that and began to wash the plate. Once it was clean, I moved around Madalyn and set it in what appeared to be a sanitizer. Her silence was actually reassuring. She could have told me to leave.

I moved back to the sink and washed some more, putting them in the sanitizer. Neither one of us spoke a word to each other. I thought it was better to say nothing, and I let my actions do all the talking. Just by staying next to her helping out, spoke volumes.

Or at least I hoped it did.

I did not need to ask if she was alright; I could already see that she was not alright. And if she wanted to talk, I thought she would have said something.

I just kept washing, to try and get her caught up. There were loads of dishes coming in, and she was way behind. It was funny that when the dishes were brought back, none of the employees asked about me. What wasn’t funny, however, was that they kept coming back to give her more dishes, and saw she was upset, but no one thought to help. I was very curious what the story was here with how she got moved to the back.

I accidentally dropped my blue sponge in the water, so I reached in to grab it and hit her hand a few times in the process. “Sorry,” I quickly said.

She responded without lifting her head. “It’s okay.”

Her silent tears seemed to have stopped, though her eyes still looked to be holding extra water that could start falling if something else went wrong. Despite her eyes being puffy from crying, she still looked elegant.

There were many thoughts going through my mind. I was very cautious about how to proceed, and being that she was almost a whole decade younger than I… it just left me feeling uneasy.

I was at a completely different place in my life. Actually, almost no one was where I was at in life. Where could it go? Following my thoughts through to conclusion made it all seem less likely. I realized I was physically shaking my head. She probably thought I was crazy. I was so curious about her, though, I was compelled to stay. She had looked at me strangely on more than one occasion. And why had she been crying in the window that day? It actually didn’t even matter. I felt I needed to just be near her. That spark I felt inside compelled me to try and see who she was. When I looked at her, it got me wondering. What if? What if I could be happy again? I had to find out who she was. She was so beautiful. I never thought I could have those feelings again.

We both continued washing the customer’s’ plates as they came in. Neither one of us said a word to each other until the restaurant closed. We just kept right on washing. As busy as it had been, they really needed more than one dishwasher. She would have been there all night trying to finish if I hadn’t shown up. They also may have run out of dishes for the customers, because she wouldn’t have been able to wash fast enough.

When I was all done, I stood there for a moment, hoping that maybe she would say something. She didn’t say anything as she rolled up the mats we were standing on, put them in the janitorial sink on the floor, and began walking out. I picked up her tie that was wadded up on the floor, as she walked toward me. She grabbed it out of my hand, storming past me. I followed after her and saw Tristan wiping down the bar. Madalyn walked out the front door of the restaurant, turning left.

I followed after her, out the front of Giovanni’s, and into the cool, salt-kissed night air.

“Madalyn,” I shouted after her.

She shouted behind her without turning around. “Jack, I really appreciate the help. It wasn’t a good night. Can I just talk to you tomorrow? I would really like to see you tomorrow when I’m feeling better.”

Was the night so bad that she would rather just go home? Maybe it was a girl thing? Was it a test to see if I would come pining after her? Man, I didn’t know how to do that anymore. Who cares, I had nothing to lose. I just needed to go after her and pine away.

I quickly ran up to her and grabbed her arm, spinning her around to face me.

She immediately stiffened her body, not expecting me to be so forceful, I suppose. I immediately felt bad I did that. I let go of her almost instantly. She stood there with her arms wrapped around herself.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to grab your arm like that. I don’t know what happened tonight, but please don’t assume,” I uttered in a low, non-aggressive whisper to try and calm her nerves. “I mean, don’t assume I’m like everyone else, please. You don’t know me just as much as I don’t know you,” I continued, all the while staring into her eyes and losing my train of thought. I was curious if she was going to act like an adolescent, because it would have told me her maturity level.

“What I mean is, if I didn’t care, I wouldn’t have asked the bar-tender where you were and gone back there to help you. I thought it was nice you invited me to come eat. I admit, I was taken aback by whatever happened tonight, but I hope I didn’t make it worse for you by staying.”

She breathed a heavy sigh. “I’m sorry. Thank you for helping me. You in no way made it worse. It couldn’t have possibly gotten worse anyway. It would have made me feel better if they just told me to go home. I guess I’m just a little embarrassed you saw all of that.”

What was she talking about? I felt like she was trying to say something, yet was having a hard time saying it. And her willingness to respond like a mature adult surprised me.

“Maddy, I don’t really know what happened, I just had a brief rundown that you got yelled at by the chef.”

“It’s fine,” she said, more than likely telling herself that. “I’m sorry. I’m just having a bad night and being dramatic. Nothing turned out how I wanted it to. Please, just don’t ask any questions. I’ll be fine. I just need to go home and get some sleep. Again, thank you for staying and helping me. That was really sweet. I’m really sorry if I ruined your night.”

“If that’s what you need then go ahead. However, maybe the night could turn out okay if you don’t go home,” I quickly remarked. “Honestly, this is the most excitement I’ve had in a year. Sorry that might sound wrong, though it is in no way at your expense. What I mean is I really enjoy your company, and I would really like to have dinner with you. I don’t care where we eat, let’s just pick a place.”

“Is that the truth, Jack Ryder?” she asked.

Why did she use my full name? I felt like I needed to tell her something personal about myself so that she would trust my intentions. I did not want her to leave.

“Yes, it is the truth. If you want more truth, I’ll tell you that I don’t know anyone here. I moved here, and have been going home every night staring out my window at the ocean, or at a big blank spot on my wall. I haven’t even purchased a television, and I am not sure I’m going to. I’ve walked on the beach one time in about two years. So you can imagine how overjoyed I was when I saw your note on my car.”

She slowly blinked her big, violet eyes at me.

“You’ve lived here over two years?” she asked.

That’s what she picked to question out of everything I had just told her?

“Yes, two years and about six months,” I replied.

She rubbed her forehead and widened her eyes. It was so hard to figure out what she was thinking.

“You don’t think I’m a silly girl for leaving you a note?” she then asked. It almost looked as though she was on the verge of tears asking me that question.

“I don’t know why you would ask me that question, and really I don’t think I want to know why you would think that. Nothing about you seems silly to me,” I replied.

“Okay, Jack,” she whispered, her voice sounding constrained.

I stepped closer to her, with the intention of taking her hand to possibly give her some comfort, when a voice with a thick Italian accent called out from the restaurant.

“Miss Madalyn, dear. Please, I am so sorry.

A man came out of the restaurant with his hands clasped together. It appeared like he could be the chef. He looked to be about fifty or sixty.

He walked up to Madalyn, whose expression, and body language immediately changed. She definitely wore her heart on her sleeve. I could tell what she was feeling just by looking at her face. Madalyn held herself and leaned away, appearing guarded.

Madalyn, my dear, please,” he said again, shaking his hands, which were held together in a pleading manor.

“I am so sorry I was upset with you and shouted. Please allow me… explanation. Someone had just told me our dish washer had not come in. This is very bad to keep things moving in my restaurant. The numbers you had written down, I could not read them. It was a stressful night, my dear, and I am very sorry to have gotten angry with you. It just did not make sense why your numbers on the paper were not matching what table they were at,” the chef explained, in a very thick Italian accent.

Madalyn glanced at me briefly and then looked back at the chef.

Wow, I thought, he was sweet to come out and apologize to her like this.

What was he talking about with regards to the table numbers?

“It is okay, Chef. I get upset easily. I appreciate the apology,” Madalyn kindly replied.

I was surprised at how quick she was to accept his apology.

“Well, for me, this is not okay. I should not have spoken to a lady that way. Please, do not think badly of me,” he said, pleading.

Madalyn grabbed the chef and hugged him. “It’s really okay, Chef. I don’t think badly of you.” She kissed him on the cheek, and he gave her a big kiss right back on her opposite cheek.

“Please, my dear, let me cook for you and your friend here,” the chef said as he held his hand out toward me.

“My friend, have you eaten yet?”

“No sir, I have not,” I replied.

“Actually, Chef, I invited Mr. Ryder here tonight for dinner. He ended up helping me with dishes all night.”

The chef held his head down in embarrassment. “Oh! Lord, Jesus. I am feeling terrible. You see my young friends, you see? You only hurt yourself when you have lost your temper. Now I must cook for the both of you, and I will not take no for any answers.”

This guy was your text book Italian Chef.

“Well sir, we would love to eat at your restaurant.” I held my hand out to shake his. “I’m Jack Ryder.”

“I am Giovanni Firenze. This is my restaurant. You are very gentlemen I should say. Thank you for helping out the good lady tonight. This also helps me out, greatly. Please come in, and I will cook anything you’d like,” he kindly offered.

“I will take you up on that offer,” I said as I looked at Madalyn.

She smiled at me, bashfully batting her brilliant eyes, and holding her hand out to me. I took her hand, and Giovanni led the way. We moved out of the cool night air and into the dimly lit Italian restaurant.

Inside the closed restaurant, Giovanni pulled two chairs off a small table by the window with the best view. He grabbed some utensils from the back, and a single candle, lighting it at the same time. With his hands clasped together after giving us each a menu, he stood by our table for a moment.

“Now what can I make for you both?”

“I will have your gorgonzola steak, the steak cooked medium.” I answered.

“And I second that, Chef,” Madalyn said.

The humble chef unclasped his hands. “It is done,” he said, taking our menus and walking to the kitchen.

I quickly looked at Madalyn, wide-eyed. “How mean could that guy have possibly been to you? He’s literally the picturesque stereotype of a cute, Italian chef. How could you be upset with him?” I teased.

“He’s a very sweet man, but I apparently saw his temper, which was quite frightening,” she answered, laughing.

“I’ll take your word for it,” I replied, as I gazed around the empty restaurant.

Tristan came out from the back and approached us.

“Hi, Maddy,” he greeted.

“Hey, Tristan.”

“Hey, the chef wanted me to bring this out to you guys.” Tristan set a bottle of Moscato on the table.

“Thanks,” I said.

“Are you alright, Maddy?” Tristan asked.

“Yes, I’m just fine.”

“Alright, good. It was crazy in here tonight. Sorry your night didn’t go that well.”

“It’s turned out alright,” she replied as she winked at me.

“Nice. Well, I’ll catch you two on the flip side.”

Tristan walked away from our table and out the back of the restaurant.

“I’ve never eaten in a restaurant after it closed. This is kind of exciting,” I said while sitting on my hands, feeling nervous.

Madalyn looked around at the empty restaurant, and then back to me. She turned her head to the side, lightly smiling as she glanced at me from the corner of her eye.

I was astonished. I could have traveled the world and never seen eyes like hers. They were something majestic, pulled out of a dream. My thoughts wandered as I looked at her. I could not help but voice what I had been thinking.

“You know, Madalyn, this day has been completely crazy and sort of surreal.”

“How so?” she questioned, holding her head to the side.

I pointed to myself and cleared my throat.

“I showed up to work, expecting only to do just that, work. Really though, I had other reasons to come to work today. I secretly was hoping to just get one glance at you before I had to leave. I figured when afternoon rolled around and I hadn’t seen you that you must not be home. So, I finished what I needed to and started cleaning up to call it a day. And, well, right when I started that, a young, divinely beautiful girl came dancing out of her house. Then I was really taken aback by how boldly scented you were as you stood at such close proximity. Were you intentionally trying to intimidate me? Wait, don’t answer that. The scent was like… orange blossoms. It was the same scent that was in your kitchen the other morning, when I was drinking tea with your mother. In all honesty, that scent will never be the same for me,” I said, taking a brief pause.

“It’s my shampoo…” she replied nervously with a smile. I was putting her on the spot, though I didn’t care.

“The fact that you were standing so close to me was a little frightening, however I was really able to see how fiercely attractive you were. The way your eyes glanced at me, the way they look at me now - they could turn you to stone or steel your soul. One question, though. Why were you only wearing a button up shirt?” I asked her, pretending to disapprove.

Madalyn quickly protested. “You’re sweet, and have a vivid memory, or imagination; despite all of that, I was wearing more than a button up shirt. I had just gotten done doing my yoga work out.”

I quickly jumped in, though not in protest. More, or less only to plead my case. “Oh! Even better! It was yoga wear! Have you ever asked a man what his take is on women wearing anything yoga-related?”

“Your honesty is impressive,” she said. “And your maleness amazes me.”

“I’m not sure if that is compliment?” I questioned as I playfully leered at her.

She looked to the side in thought.

“I think it is. And besides, you’re not too bad yourself. For a dirty construction worker, you clean up nice,” she complimented.

“Thank you. Has anyone ever told you that your eyes are not of this earth?” I asked jokingly, yet also with serious undertones.

She put her head down, trying to hide her smile - the smile that could put a period on the end of every conversation or argument. It was very distracting. I was just happy she couldn’t hear how stupid my thoughts sounded.

She glanced back up at me.

“Well now that we have got all of that out of the way,” she said, glancing away from me once more.

“That wasn’t even the half of it,” I complimented, feeling juvenile.

Madalyn bit her bottom lip to keep from smiling, or perhaps out of nervousness.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m not used to this. I’ve really dated only one person, and I’m not sure what I’m supposed to say. I sound like an idiot, I’m sure, and my compliments are probably overwhelming.”

“It’s okay. You are confident, I’ll give you that. What if I rejected you?” she asked.

I laughed at her teasing question. “Well, like I said, I have only ever dated one person, so being rejected is something I’ve never experienced. I’d have to say I have no fear of it. And the fact that I have your invitation in my pocket, that gives me confidence.”

She crinkled her nose.

“I guess you wouldn’t know about rejection, then. So tell me about this other person you once dated?”

I immediately regretted making the statements I had. I had to think of how to change the subject. My former life was not something I wanted to talk about. It would scare her off. It would scare anyone off. I could have told her it wasn’t something I wanted to discuss. She seemed mature enough to handle it.

Suddenly I tuned back in, and Madalyn was waving her hand at me.

“Hello? You went away for a moment,” she said.

“Yes, sorry, I didn’t mean to zone out. I was thinking,” I replied.

She dipped her head down trying to look at my face, as I had unknowingly dropped my head.

“Is it not something you care to talk about?” she very sincerely asked.

“No, it’s okay. I did mention it, so it’s not unfair that you are asking,” I said as I felt my head drop lower. “Yeah, it’s not very pleasant dinner table conversation. Sometimes people need to just start over in life. And that’s me.”

I took a deep breath and lifted my head. Madalyn was sitting straight up, looking a bit shocked. She was holding her hand over her chest, as if holding her heart.

“And that is all I can really say… at this time… I suppose,” I whispered.

“I am so sorry, Jack. I did not mean to bring it up,” she replied, her hand still pressed against her chest.

“Really, it’s okay, Madalyn,” I said, as I nervously moved my hands from my lap and put them on the table.

“I feel bad though,” she said, in a nurturing tone as she reached across the table. “I feel terrible,” she added, gently taking my hand.

Madalyn leaned over the table very quickly and kissed my hand. Her lips were soft against the tops of my fingers, yet pressed firmly.

Everything about her didn’t seem real to me. My heart immediately fluttered. She rubbed the spot on my hand that she had kissed. I could only sit, and stare at her, with wonder and lust. She stared directly back at me.

“Now, don’t you go falling in love with me,” she teased and laughed.

I laughed with her. “Sorry. I know you’ve caught me staring at you a number of times now. It’s just… yeah, never mind.”

“No, no. What were you going to say? I’m what?” she pressed.

“You’re very captivating, and I’ve never seen eyes like yours before. I’ve definitely fallen in love with them, so I can’t make any promises when it comes to the rest of you.”

“Good. I’d rather you not make promises you couldn’t keep,” she joked. “Besides, I was just trying to sound witty for you. If you do fall in love, that would be alright,” she added, shrugging her shoulders.

All I could do was smile back at her cuteness.

“Now let’s talk about something else,” she demanded.

“We could go back to talking about your eyes,” I said as I leaned forward, resting my chin on my hand.

“You’re very sweet. Unfortunately, my eyes that you seem to love are my downfall,” she said bashfully.

“How do you mean?” I asked, staring into them.

“What I mean, Jack, is that I have number dyslexia, or something. That is why I was messing up the tickets tonight,” she bluntly stated.

“I’m sorry. I am not familiar with what that is.”

She let out a sigh as if she was not ready to explain. I stopped her before she spoke. “You don’t have to explain if you don’t want to,” I reassured her.

“It is fine, I want to,” she calmly replied. “I can count and I can do math, just not well at all. I see numbers backwards, or so I’ve been told. So anything numeric is a huge learning curve for me. However, I excel at spelling and anything not involving numbers.”

I listened intently as she explained her situation.

“My mom home-schooled me when I was close to fourteen years old. The upside of that - I actually graduated when I was sixteen. My mom did all of my math for me, so I kind of cheated there. You’d actually be surprised how much you can get done without all the extra-curricular activities.”

“I completely understand you. I hated school,” I said in reply. “School,” I laughed. “That seems so long ago.”

“Just how old are you?” she questioned.

Oh no. Here it was. She was going to run away; I just knew it.

“Brace yourself,” I said. “I’m thirty-one. Almost a full decade older than you, and then some.”

She nodded her head. “And then some? You say that like it’s supposed to scare me. I had already guessed you to be about that old.”

Unbelievable.

“Does that scare YOU, or something?” she asked, with a little bit of an attitude.

“In reality…” I said, widening my eyes, “…not really. I was only scared you would think differently of me… me being here with you, and knowing our age difference. I only cared about what you would think.”

She lifted my hand from the table and kissed it again.

“Well I don’t care, you’re just, you. Besides, I base people’s maturity on how they are as a person, not their age. How many thirty-year-old men still live with their parents do you think?”

“Point taken,” I said.

Giovanni came out of the kitchen with a bowl of Gorgonzola steak for both of us, and a beautiful salad.

“Please, enjoy my young friends,” said Giovanni, with his hands held together.

“We definitely will, Chef. Thank you,” I said.

Giovanni bowed and walked back to the kitchen.

Madalyn and I ate our food without saying too much. We only commented on how hungry we were, and how good the food was. We often glanced at each other, and smiled while we ate.

“You know, getting the same meal makes offering each other a bite a lot less interesting,” Madalyn said, as she giggled.

“Try mine,” I said, offering a small piece of steak with some noodles.

She took the bite off of my fork.

“Mm, that’s amazing. I’ll have to order that next time,” she said, playing along.

We both laughed and continued to finish our food.

When we were done, we thanked Giovanni and walked outside in the cool night air. I lifted my head up, smelling the salt kissed Atlantic air. I began to walk Madalyn to her car, which was an old 1959 Lark. It was light blue and had only a little rust. She had a rack for surf boards rigged to the top. When we reached her car, she stopped, and turned toward me.

“Thank you for turning my evening around,” Madalyn said, taking both of my hands.

I was curious about how she expected me to end the evening. I was not sure I wanted to kiss her yet. Was that a requirement when you went on a date? Was this a date?

“I don’t want you to think you have to kiss me just because it’s the end of the night. It’s so cliché anyway,” she said.

“Can you read my thoughts?” I asked, astounded.

“I wish,” she replied.

I felt her reply had a hidden meaning, and only she knew what she meant by it.

We stood by her car for a moment, facing each other. She shrugged her shoulders while holding my hands, and I stared at her eyes and mouth, waiting for her to speak.

“I say, do whatever you’d like based on how you feel, and not what you feel like you have to do.”

I looked away from her as I made my reply. “I feel like I don’t know what to do, so I’ll just hold your hands, and tell you that I had a wonderful night. And I really enjoy just being next to you.”

Madalyn let go of my left hand, reaching up and touching my face. She lifted my chin with her little finger.

“Why do you look down when you talk to me?” she asked in a soft voice, just a hair louder than a whisper.

I shrugged my shoulders, and dropped my head again out of habit. She lifted my head right back up.

“Do I intimidate you?” she asked with a concerned expression.

Her question made me nervous because I didn’t exactly know. I didn’t know how to answer based on how I felt.

“Do you intimidate me?” I repeated her question as I thought about it.

I hadn’t felt this way in a very long time. I hadn’t experienced new love, or whatever this was, since I was seventeen. While I searched for an answer I began observing her eyes, her mouth, her nose, her soft tan skin, and her straight dark hair, which she had pulled up. I could feel a light pulse beating through the hand that held mine.

“Your beauty intimidates me,” I instinctively answered.

Madalyn took her hand from my face and brought it to her mouth, kissing her own fingers. She then placed the hand she’d kissed to my mouth, holding it. Her soft hand slowly slid from my mouth, back across my cheek, and then to the back of my head. Her body pressed against me, and she rested her cheek against mine. My very core melted, and my eyes closed. I felt security and warmth. Every concern or anxiety I had, seemed to fade and I could suddenly hear the waves of the Atlantic off in the distance. My eyes were closed, yet I could see the stars.

I felt like I had just returned home from being away for a long time. The people I loved welcomed me back.

I unwillingly let out a shaky sigh and could feel how tired I was. I could have possibly fallen asleep right there, knowing it would be an undisturbed sleep. I stood there holding her hand, with my eyes closed, feeling her warm, soft cheek against mine.

She turned her head so that I could feel her full, soft lips lightly press by my ear. She slowly pulled away, and I stood in place, my eyes refusing to open and my lungs not taking in any air. I could feel my heart pounding in my ears. Slowly, I opened my eyes, and we locked onto one another’s gaze.

“Your eyes are unusually kind, Jack Ryder.” she said in the sweetest tone.

She let go of me and walked to the driver’s side of her car, opening the door.

“Goodnight, Jack. I’m looking forward to tomorrow,” she added, dipping into her car.

I didn’t get a chance to say anything as she closed the door. She started the engine and put it in reverse. I watched her drive away, catching a glimpse of her reflection in the side mirror. The expression she made was familiar. It was the same as yesterday, when I saw her in the window as I drove away.

Was she crying? Did I do something to upset her?

She was a mystery. Something was going on inside her head, and I wanted to find out more.

Her tail lights disappeared as she turned off the street I was standing in the middle of. I walked to my truck and pulled my keys out of my pocket.

Never had I wanted to go to work so badly in all my life.

#

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