Taking a Chance on Love

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Chapter 9

The first thing Jessica did when she got home from her date with Henry, was slip out of her dress and into a pair of pyjama shorts and a T-shirt. Then she called Laura as she’d promised she’d would.

“How was it?” her friend asked immediately, then didn’t give her a chance to reply, throwing a second question on the tail of her first. “You have a good time?”

She smiled into the phone. She’d had a better time than she’d even hoped for.

Sitting on the edge of her bed, she propped her pillows up against the headboard.

“I had... a great time.”

Shifting, she swung her legs up on the bed, reclined back into the pillows she’d arranged, getting comfortable. A dreamy, happy feeling swept through her, warm and velvety, as she relived her dinner with Henry through the retelling of it to her friend.

That feeling thickened and pooled low in her belly, as she recalled the moment, it had been near the end of the night, when she’d glanced up from her pasta and found Henry’s gaze on her.

The heat in his eyes. Phew. A thrill had gone through her at his look, a sharp burst of electricity. The air between them had fairly sparkled with energy. Suddenly, she’d felt as if she’d had too much wine, but she’d only had the one glass.

Just thinking about that moment now, sent another thrill zipping through her, had her good parts lighting up, just as strongly as they had when she’d been sitting across the table from Henry.

Over the years she’d known him, he’d had never looked at her like that. Or... at least, he’d never let her see him looking at her like that.

Having now seen the hunger in his gaze, it was a mystery to her how she’d never picked up on his feelings for her before. How had she not seen it? Even with him keeping her on her guard with him, accustoming her to his immature behaviour, his constant gibes and cracks, shouldn’t she have sensed something?

Well...

... no, she supposed not.

Anyone else would probably have done the same as she had... become well practiced at either tuning out the jerk or having a comeback ready.

Jessica frowned. She had to admit, she was a little disappointed - unimpressed really - that Henry had handled things the way he had - pushing her away, antagonizing her all these years, instead of telling her how he felt.

If he’d been a little braver... where would they be now? It was kinda sad, the time wasted.

She garbaged that thought almost immediately- there was no point lamenting the past, they couldn’t go back and change it, could they?

Nope.

She finished telling Laura about her evening, getting to the juiciest part, the goodnight kiss.

Her lips tingled with the remembered pressure of Henry’s mouth on hers, light at first, then more assertive.

Unconsciously, she raised her hand, traced a finger lightly over her bottom lip.

So many emotions had gone off inside her as she’d kissed Henry for the first time, an exhilarating explosion of fireworks.

Any nerves she’d had, leading up to their kiss, had been extinguished by the pleasure and desire that had flooded her.

She wanted more of that pleasure... soon.

Wednesday seemed too far away.

She’d probably see Henry before then, at the bakery, but... Josh would be there... and she and Henry would have to act as if nothing had changed between them.

Eventually, if things went well between them - and after tonight, she’d wager things were going to go very well - they’d have to tell Josh, but... they’d get there when they’d get there.

Shifting down in her bed, she covered herself with the sheet. She and Laura talked for another few minutes, then said goodnight.

Not feeling sleepy, Jess reached over to her bedside table, plugged her phone in to charge, and grabbed the book she’d started a couple of nights ago. As energized as she was after her evening, she got through quite a few chapters before her eyes finally started to feel heavy.

Marking her page, she set her novel back on her bedside table, got up to turn out the light, and got back in bed.

Moments later, she drifted off to sleep to thoughts of Henry.

***

Henry woke up early Sunday morning, the world outside his window as sunny and bright as he felt inside.

Sitting up, he swung his legs over the side of the bed, yawned, stretching his arms wide as he got on his feet.

He didn’t need coffee to get him going this morning, the memory of his date with Jessica the night before already had him buzzing, but he went out to the kitchen and made himself a cup anyways. To fill his belly, he also fried up some eggs and toast.

In the living room, he flipped on the TV, switched it to one of the sports channels and wolfed down his breakfast while getting caught up on the latest scores and stats.

When there was nothing left on his plate but crumbs and smears of yolk and ketchup, and after he’d seen the highlight reel of the best plays from the day before, he took his dishes to the kitchen, rinsed them and left them in the sink, then padded down the hallway to his bathroom.

Flipping on the ventilation, he started the shower running and pulled the curtain across. Stripping off his boxers, he relieved himself before stepping into the tub and under the warm water.

With his back to the spray, he dropped his chin to his chest, let the water sluice over him, let his thoughts drift.

What a difference a day could make? Yesterday morning, he’d been dealing with the trifecta of disappointment - sadness, loneliness, frustration - and this morning, he felt like a different man.

The fears and doubts and concerns that had kept him tied in knots for so long, were absent. To not be weighed down by those familiar ghosts, was incredibly freeing.

Henry was floating on cloud nine after the emotional rearranging that had gone inside him over the last twenty four hours.

He lathered up, rinsed off, and got out of the shower, wrapped the towel he’d dried off with around his waist.

Steam clouded the mirror over his sink and he swiped some away, his hand squeaking against the glass.

It didn’t take him long to shave and brush his teeth, then he ditched the towel around his waist, hanging it from the shower rod and, bare-ass naked, went to his room where he dressed in a fresh pair of boxers, jeans and a T.

He went about his day, doing what he normally did on a Sunday, which wasn’t much. He threw in a load of laundry, tidied up his bathroom a little, and his bedroom, watched TV, and that was about it.

He wasn’t one of those people that had to keep busy even on their days off. He knew how to chill, and enjoyed doing so.

Midafternoon, he was lounging on the sofa, watching a women’s beach volleyball game, when his cell rang.

His heart skipped with the hope it was Jessica. Grabbing the remote off the coffee table, he turned down the volume on the TV, then checked to see who was calling.

It was his mom.

Over the years, since the difficult time their family had gone through, with the emotional upheaval of his parent’s divorce, his relationship with his mom had improved somewhat. He didn’t get together with her as often as Jess and Josh did with their folks, but the two of them talked on the phone, checked in with each other regularly.

His relationship with his dad, on the other hand, was almost non existent. In his dad’s mind, he’d done no wrong. His mom was the problem, was to blame for everything. Over the years, his dad had become all about him, which made having a meaningful relationship with him hard.

“Hey, mom.” he answered.

“Hey, honey. You busy?”

“Nope.” he replied. “What’s up?”

“You know how I’ve been back and forth about redoing my kitchen?” she asked.

Yes, he knew very well. She’d been talking about redoing her kitchen for ages.

“I’m gonna do it.” she announced.

His brows lifted with surprise.

“Yeah?” he asked.

“Yes.” she replied, sounding quite decided, and went into her plans. “If it’s possible, I want to knock out the top half of the wall between the kitchen and the living room, give myself some more counter space. And I want to change the cupboards...” she continued. “... and the floor...”

Henry listened as his mom rhymed off several other things she wanted to do.

“Okay.” he said, when she came to the end of her list. “But, it’s going to be a few weeks before Josh and I can start on it. Is that okay? We have jobs booked up for the rest of August, through September and into early October.”

“Oh, that’s fine.” his mother replied. “Whenever you can schedule me in.”

“Alright,” he nodded, though his mother couldn’t see him. “I’ll let you know.”

“Mmmkay.” his mom replied. “So, how are things?” she asked.

“Oh, fine.” he replied, as he usually did when his mom asked him that question. “Baseball tournament is coming up this weekend.”

“What times do you play?” his mom asked.

His mom didn’t come to many games - she wasn’t a big sports person - but she showed up for a couple of games and always came to the tournament.

“Friday, we play at 7:30. If we win that one, we play at 8, Saturday morning. If we win that, we play sometime Saturday afternoon.”

The time of that last game was to be determined.

“Friday, 7:30.” his mom repeated. “At Greendale?”

“Yep.” he replied.

He stayed on the phone with his mom for a few more minutes before she made that sound she always made - kind of a humming sigh - right before she ended a call.

And as predicted, a few moments after she sighed, she said goodbye.

“I’m gonna let you go.” she told him. “Love you, honey. See you Friday.”

“Love you too, mom.”

He touched his thumb to his screen, to the image of the phone centered in a red circle, ending the call, and tossed his phone to the seat cushion beside him.

Wondering what time it was, he grabbed his phone up again, pressed the home button. His screen lit up. It was just after four. Almost dinner time.

As he set his phone down again, his brain executed a quick connect-the-dots - it was almost dinner time, on Sunday... in another hour, Josh and Jessica would be going over to their parent’s.

He frowned, thinking of his best friend, guilt rushing him, sending the high mood he’d been in, on a downward trajectory.

Those fears and worries that had been MIA, showed up for duty, his break from them, while glorious, regrettably brief.

He was going to see Josh tomorrow and he was going to lie, pretend nothing had changed between him and his sister. He was lying by omission, but still. Lying to his best friend did not sit well with him. Josh deserved better than that from him.

Henry told himself it would be fine, eventually he’d fess up to Josh... just not yet. If things between him and Jess didn’t get passed a few dates, his friend didn’t need to know they’d dated.

Getting to his feet, he went into the kitchen, made himself some shake n’ bake pork chops and veggies for dinner.

Though his mood had dipped, it had been so high, that coming down a few notches still left him orbiting around happy.

The evening passed quietly, the sun relinquishing its position, making way for its counterpart, the sky slowly transitioning from baby blue to indigo.

Henry hit the sack around ten, and was woken up by his alarm going off at seven. He hit snooze a couple of times before rolling out of bed, and shuffling into his bathroom. A quick shower, and shave, and it was back to his room to put on his work clothes - jeans, and a work T.

Heading out of his apartment, he grabbed his keys and laced his feet into his sturdy work boots before locking things up and riding the elevator down to his truck. On the drive over to Josh’s, a hesitance, a reluctance, to see his best friend grew.

How horrible was that? He wanted to avoid his best friend?

He pulled up to the curb outside Josh’s apartment building. Seeing his friend exit the building and start toward him, he left his truck in drive.

“Hey, man.” Josh said, climbing into the seat beside him and shutting the door.

“Hey.” he echoed, pulling away from the curb as his friend clicked his buckle home.

Hoping to avoid any questions about how his weekend had been, or what he’d done the last two days, he went right into telling Josh about his mom wanting to redo her kitchen.

“I didn’t think she’d ever do it.” was his friend’s comment.

Rolling to a stop at a red light, Henry glanced over at him.

“Me either. I told her it would probably be early October before we could get to it.”

At Josh’s nod of agreement, he returned his gaze to the road. The light turned green and he shifted his foot from the brake to the gas.

“There was a message left on the business line last night.” Josh told him. “A guy wants his bathroom redone. I’ll call him back, get details. Tell him we can come by and take a look, but that we won’t be able to start on it until later in October.”

He nodded, flicked on his blinker, signaling the right turn he was about to take. The two of them fell quiet, the radio filling the space of the cab. Normally Henry was comfortable with silence, but this morning, he felt awkward.

After searching for something to say, and coming up empty, he resorted to turning up the volume on the radio. He drove the familiar route to Taste of Home, the drive from Josh’s place to the bakery taking the usual ten to fifteen minutes, give or take a red light.

Pulling into a parking spot, he was tempted to stay in the truck and have Josh get him a coffee and bite to eat, but the stronger desire to see Jess had him unbuckling his seatbelt and going inside with his friend.

At the jangle of the bell above the door, Jess turned toward the entrance. Her hair was pulled back in a ponytail. She was in a light pink T and blue jeans, a Taste of Home apron covering her front.

Seeing her had the corners of Henry’s lips lifting. Removing his sunglasses, he rested them on the top of his head. His gaze connected with Jessica’s and the discomfort he’d been feeling took a hike, at least temporarily.

He stayed behind Josh, out of his friend’s sight, loosened the reins on his smile. Jessica didn’t have that freedom, under her brother’s gaze. She directed an everyday smile at both him and Josh, her gaze dancing back and forth between them before settling on her brother.

Josh looked over at the baked goods, as if considering getting something other than his usual apple danish, and Jess took those few seconds to look his way again. The cute, flirty look she gave him lit him up inside.

To have Jessica looking at him the way she was looking at him just then, did a lot to make the guilt he felt because of Josh worth it.

“Eh,” Josh said after a moment, and Jessica’s smile dimmed, gaze quickly shifting over to her brother. “I’ll just get my usual.”

Jessica pushed away from the counter, grabbed the nearest set of tongs and bagged up a danish, set it on the counter along with an empty paper cup.

“Thanks.” Josh said and claimed the cup, turning and crossing over to the coffee station.

Henry stepped closer to the counter and Jessica.

He shot a look over his shoulder at Josh on the other side of the room, before turning back and leaning across the counter slightly.

“I can’t wait ’til Wednesday.” he murmured, pitching his voice low so only Jessica heard him.

His words had her eyes sparkling, had her smile growing so big it pushed her cheeks up into those sparkling eyes.

“Me either.” she echoed.

Her gaze shifted over his shoulder and she dropped her smile, which let him know Josh was coming back over.

Henry put the kabosh on his own smile.

“Can I get a chocolate chunk muffin?” he asked Jess.

Jessica bagged him a muffin, and got him a coffee cup. She chatted with Josh while he got his liquid caffeine.

“That’ll be 7.75.” she told them both when he returned to the counter.

She accepted the bills he and Josh handed over, made change for them.

“Thanks, Jess.” Josh said, turning toward the door. “Have a good one.”

“You too.” she smiled.

Henry didn’t say anything, because he usually didn’t.

He did share one more secret look with Jess before following his friend out.

***

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