Time, Heat, and a Smoking Ember
Gina should have said, “No thank you.” Then she would be home with her slippers and tea. It would have been much simpler. She checked her eyes in the rear view mirror. She’d done a shabby job on the shadow—not very subtle at all. But it would have to do.
Not that it mattered. She and Nathan broke up long ago. A college fling, really—nothing more—and even then they weren’t a great match. He smoked. He drank. He skipped class. In retrospect, she wondered what she ever saw in him.
Still, she was curious what brought him back to town. He was always city bound. When he left for law school and she returned home to help Mom with the bakery, she assumed that was it … which was fine with her. No complications. He was fun, but immature. Not what she ever envisioned as a serious relationship.
She stopped the car and texted, “Here.”
Nathan responded immediately. “Be there soon. Stopped to pick up something.”
She rolled her eyes. She had always waited for Nathan. He was constantly forgetting his cigarettes somewhere, or his lighter … it was the number one reason he ran late.
“Bad habit,” she responded.
She stepped to the sidewalk and enjoyed the evening air. It was a great town and everything was going just fine. She would tell him that. It was none of his business whether she’d had a date in ages, and really none of hers whether he had either. It was odd how their phone conversation this afternoon felt like no time had passed since graduation. The only real change she sensed was a calmer tone. He didn’t sound today like he was talking through a cocky smirk.
“You look … amazing.”
Gina spun. Oh my.
Where she expected a cute, smart-mouthed college student with disheveled hair, she saw a well-dressed, confident man—Nathan as she would have ordered him, had she thought it possible.
She drew a breath. “Thank you,” she managed.
Nathan held his hands out, palm up. She slid hers onto his and tried a casual smile.
He opened his mouth to speak, but stumbled on the words. “I … I, uh …”
They both laughed.
He shook his head. “Wow. I didn’t realize how … nice it would be to see you again.”
She tilted her head. It was flattering that he seemed as flustered as she. But she needed solid ground—not a foolishly racing heart. “Stop it. Why are you really here?”
Nathan shrugged. “I’m thinking of moving back.”
Gina, unlike most, could always gauge Nathan’s sincerity. Here she saw the real deal, although any other answer would have been more expected. The Nathan she knew had only ever wanted to be near the center of the action.
“Move away from the city?” she asked, squeezing his hands.
He twisted his mouth—that cute, ‘aw shucks’ expression that always crept in when Nathan admitted he was actually wrong. “It’s not what I thought it would be,” he said. He let go of her hand and reached inside his jacket.
She shook her head. “Downtown is no smoking,” she warned, pointing to a sign. “New ordinance last year.”
With a crooked smile, Nathan pulled a single yellow tulip from his jacket and handed it to her. “I quit smoking five years ago.”
Gina lost her breath. He remembered. Her favorite flower … her favorite color on her favorite flower.
“Um … that’s good.” She swallowed. “I mean”–she felt her voice thicken–“for you … for your health …”
Her eyes bounced between the bright yellow tulip and his deep brown eyes.
“Well you always told me …” He placed his hands on her arms near the shoulders, tenderly caressing.
“Who knew you listened?” she said, inching closer and putting a hand on his chest.
She inhaled deeply. Mmm. Clean, warm, strong … no cologne … all Nathan.
He stroked her neck, her jaw line … his thumb passed gently across her lips, carrying the scent of the freshly-picked tulip.
Was she losing her mind? She had seen neither hide nor hair of Nathan for … almost six years.
She should step back.
He leaned in, brushing his lips over her forehead. Gina closed her eyes. Slowly, his lips descended, grazing her eyelash … her cheek. Their breath mingled. The sensation stirred memories and longings. This was too much—and not enough. For the moment, she resolved not to try sorting out her thoughts and feelings—just let them be.
She met his lips with hers—tasted them with a probing touch, delicious, then pressed tighter … how could one man’s flavor exude such confidence and passion?
Their lips parted, reluctantly. They both took a deep breath—almost a gasp.
“It’s good to see you too,” he said, with a light, warm laugh.
She nodded. Nathan was back.
Things would not be simple anymore.