Beyond the Ocean's Depths (Not an Average Shifter Romance)

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Chapter 41: The NOT-Date (Part 1)

TORIN

For not being a date, I was sure nervous by the time I got home from running errands. I had to shower since I’d spent most of the day doing yard work, putting on the dark blue button-down shirt Rainie had decided I was going to wear. As I rolled the sleeves up, I realized that I had never been this nervous before a date, ever. Was this what it was like for non-shifter humans? The movies didn’t do my nerves justice by any means. Oh yeah, that’s right, this wasn’t supposed to be a date!

Not that I had a ton of dating experience. I went out double-dutch with friends in high school, then briefly dated a girl for a couple months my first year in college, then met Sandy. Of course, dating your shifter soul mate is a whole other experience.

The girls in high school hadn’t been shifters, and those dates were more about hanging out rather than actual dating. The girl from freshman year in college was a shifter, but we both knew we weren’t soul mates, and so it was more about fun, rather than trying to make something more of it. We knew we had no future.

Sandy, on the other hand, being a shifter and my soul mate, knew the connection as soon as I did, and while there was wild attraction and desire, there had also been a settled knowing that we were simply it for each other. We didn’t have all the nerves and anxiety that most pure-humans feel at the beginning of a new relationship, because we didn’t need to be anything more than ourselves; we already knew we were ‘just right’ for each other. Not that things were just smooth sailing all the time. We had our differences and disagreements, but we easily made up and for the most part were peas in a pod in almost every way.

But this... This was a whole other animal. I knew October was my soul mate, but October didn’t. And despite my continued X-rated dreams about her (thanks Onyx), I had no intention of making those a reality at this point. I simply wanted to win her trust person-to-person, and she could stay in the dark regarding soul mates, period. It was a good thing that I wasn’t trying to pursue more than her trust, I thought to myself, as it was going to be hard enough to get that far. It would probably take a lifetime to make up for my incompetencies if I had actually wanted to properly woo her.

For a split second I considered the what-ifs. What if I did pursue her romantically; would she turn and run once she found out that my family and I were shifters? If it ever went so far as marriage, would she accept Onyx and Gina as family, too?

At these thoughts I almost laughed out loud. Hell, she already had a friendly relationship going on with my dolphin and his wife, and my mother and daughter! She’d definitely accept them as family long before ever accepting me!

I took a deep breath and gave myself one last look-over in the mirror. I felt like I looked good. If I could quit sweating, maybe I’d stay smelling good. God, I was nervous! I looked at my watch. October and Anne should be arriving in about fifteen minutes and I could already smell Mom’s lasagna baking in the oven. A part of me was a tiny bit disappointed to be missing out on her meal - it was one of my favorites and we rarely had it. But, if things go well tonight, I suppose we could always have the mother-daughter pair over to share dinner as a whole group in the future; lasagna being on the menu.

Making my way downstairs, Rainie met me at the foot of the stairs, a giant smile beaming up at me. “You look fabulous, Dad!”

“Someone with good fashion sense picked out my outfit,” I replied with a wink, and she smiled proudly.

“Anne messaged me that they’re on their way! Are you ready?”

I kept moving towards the kitchen to see if Mom needed me to do anything before they arrived, and simply nodded to Rainie, “Yep.”

Mom shooed me out of the kitchen, not wanting me to get anything on my clean shirt - so she said - and I followed Rainie to the living room to wait for our guests. She had already set up the TV trays so the three of them could eat dinner while watching a movie. It was going to be a super casual dinner.

As I sat down on the couch, the sudden image of all of us spending quality family time together came to my mind. I quickly pushed it aside. Where did that come from!? I couldn’t start imagining a future with this woman and her daughter now!

The doorbell rang and my mouth ran dry, all the moisture having gone to my sweaty palms. Shit, I just thought I was nervous before!

“They’re here!” Rainie jumped up, pulling me to my feet. I followed her to the door, but before she opened it, she glanced back at me. “Good luck, Dad!”

I smiled nervously as she opened the door, wondering if whatever was happening in my stomach was what it felt like to be seasick.

“Hello!” Rainie blurted out to the two ladies on the doorstep; Anne in front of her mother, apparently having been the one to ring the doorbell.

Mom came up behind me, squeezing my bicep in support as she also greeted our guests, ushering them inside. Before they got too far into the entrance, Anne piped up, looking at me directly, “Thank you for having me over for dinner with Rainie.” Then, looking over at Mom, she continued, holding out a box of cookies, “I brought these for dessert. Thanks for having me, too!”

Mom took the cookies appreciatively, giving Anne a squeeze around her shoulders. “Aw, thanks, sweetie! You didn’t have to, but they look awfully good! We’re just glad that you can spend the evening with us!”

“That’s right!” Rainie chimed in. “Come on, we have a little time before dinner to see my room!”

Anne looked at her mom, who nodded, and the two girls took off up the stairs as quick as they could.

“Tobie! Come on in, dear,” Mom said before I had time to turn back around from getting out of the girls’ path on their way out of the room.

As my eyes came to rest on October, she nervously cleared her throat, giving Mom an equally nervous smile. “Yes, thanks for having Anne over for dinner.”

“Pfft, this is just the first of many such nights, I’m sure,” Mom replied and I could see October’s eyes widen slightly before Mom continued. “These girls will be wanting more quality time together once school starts up and they won’t be able to spend the entire day together!”

At this, October laughed, relaxing some. “Actually, I overheard them talking about setting up a meeting with the school counselor to see about getting their schedules to match!”

The two joked for a minute more, while I simply watched, happy to not be included in the conversation, as I was still trying to quiet my internal nerves. October looked amazing, and I was having a difficult time focusing. The human side of me was scared as hell, while the more primal, shifter part of me wanted to take Rainie’s lead and show my guest to my room!

Grounding me again, Mom patted my arm as she declared, “Well, honey, you guys should probably head out.”

“Y-yes,” I stammered, patting my pants pockets, looking for my keys and wallet. They were already there and I was as ready as I was going to be, so I leaned down to give Mom a kiss. “Uh, I guess we’ll be back later,” I said, then looked at October. “Ready?”

She nodded and gave Mom a little wave as she exited the house first, then waited for me to follow. “Uh, we can take my car,” I said quickly as I could tell she was a bit hesitant about the plan, taking the lead towards the driveway.

“I didn’t know you had a Soul!” She blurted after a moment of complete silence, and I was suddenly taken aback before realizing that she was talking about my silver KIA Soul, not my mortal soul. My guilty conscience already made me feel like I’d shown October that I just might be soulless. A nanosecond later, I realized that she was talking about my car, and should have relaxed. But on second thought, I’d been throwing the term ‘soul mate’ around in my head way too much lately. Now, the mere mention of the word, ‘soul,’ from her mouth made me panic inside. Would saying that word aloud open her eyes to my secret?! Would she realize we were soul mates?!

I stuffed my crazy thoughts away quickly. “Oh, yeah. I guess I usually drive my work truck most places,” I recovered.

She nodded, not noticing my confusion. “I almost got a Soul, but opted for the Sportage instead, since it was a little bigger.”

As we approached the car I panicked, yet again. “Do I open the car door for her?!”

I was taking her out to dinner, but this technically wasn’t a date, and we weren’t even friends yet. Wouldn’t that be a little much? The gentleman in me and Onyx’s obnoxious thoughts in my head both said that I should anyways. While the rest of me wasn’t so sure - I didn’t want to come off like I thought this was a date. So, I compromised, unlocking the doors with the remote, and opening the passenger door to pretend to make sure nothing was in the passenger seat [I never leave anything in the passenger seat]. Then, stepping out of the way, I motioned for her to get in.

“Thanks,” she replied simply, climbing in as I helped her shut the door. I let out a long breath as I quickly made my way to the driver’s side. This was more complicated as a non-date than I thought it would be. Buckling up, I started the engine and silently backed out of the driveway, starting down the road.

“So,” I began. “Rainie was telling me about the new penguin that came in.”

October brightened instantly and laughed lightly. “Yeah, he’s a bit of a grumpy old man. The Orlando Zoo couldn’t keep him because he broke his hip and the other penguins were picking on him. So, it was either keep him in isolation so he could eat, or send him to us. I guess you could say we’re sort of a hospice for him. But I think he’s got a few good years left in him!”

I nodded. “Rainie said you let the kids name him?”

She smiled again. “Uh-huh. He didn’t have a name from the zoo, so I thought it’d be fun for the kids to name the rehab’s first new animal. Did she tell you what they chose?”

“Uh, Carl?” I replied, hoping I’d remembered that right.

“Yep! She didn’t tell you why?”

She glanced at me, and I shook my head, “No. Why?”

“They named him after the little old guy in the movie Up." When I didn’t look like I knew what she was talking about, she continued, “You know, the one with the old guy and the house that floats away with the balloons?”

It took me a second to recall the one, then I laughed, feeling a little looser now that we were talking about a nice safe subject - our kids. “That’s cool.”

We continued the small talk for the next few minutes, reaching Coral Reef Burgers & Shakes quicker than I expected. The relatively new diner in tiny downtown Navarro Beach had simply replaced an older version of the same thing, with the new management giving it a new name and new face. Supposedly, a few new recipes, too.

Putting the car in park, October didn’t wait for me to open her door, unbuckling and getting out at the same time as me. So far so good, I thought to myself. Maybe if we kept the conversation on these same type topics, it would all work out. Kids, work... You know, nice, safe subjects.

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