Unexpected Packages, page 5
“Hi, may I speak to Connie?” he asked.
“Sure, may I tell her who’s calling?”
Kenny heard the curiosity in her voice. He wondered if Connie had told her roommates about him. Well, if she hadn't before, he was sure she’d tell them now. His ears were already burning with the thought.
“Hang on for a minute,” she said before she went yelling through the house calling Connie’s name.
A few moments later, her soft voice came across the phone lines.
The unmistakable excitement in her voice made his stomach ache. Dammit, he felt like a heel.
“Hi, I have some bad news,” he began.
“You're not coming.”
It was a statement and not a question. She almost sounded like she‘d expected him to cancel.
“No, but I have a good reason. Well, maybe not a good reason. When you think about it, it’s kind of lame and you would think I’d have learned my lesson but obviously not,” he rambled.
“It’s okay. Well, thanks for calling me,” she said.
“Wait, you don’t want to know why I can’t make it,” he asked.
Was she really going to hang up on him? This had definitely not been a part of the plan for this evening. He wondered if she would give him another chance.
“No, not really. I should have known better anyway,” she said and hung up.
“Dammit!” Kenny cursed, barely resisting the urge to throw the phone across the room in his frustration.
He pushed himself off the arm of the couch and paced back and forth, the phone gripped tightly in his hand. There had to be something he could do.
Almost two hours later, Connie found herself still lying across her bed staring up at the ceiling and berating herself for being such a fool. To think she had actually believed him when he told her he couldn’t stop thinking about her. Well, obviously he was over it now.
Rolling over onto her stomach, she reached for her pillow and punched it into a ball. Tears burned the backs of her eyes, but she refused to allow them to fall. She hardly knew him, so what was there to cry about? Besides, she should have known better. How many times had her sister, Brenda, told her good looking guys wanted to date good looking women? Guys like Kenny dated women who looked like Brenda and her roommates. Women who cared about what they wore and always looked pulled together even when they didn’t think so. When they did mix and mingle with women like her there was usually a reason. Connie’s lip trembled with unreleased emotions as she recalled all the many times she’d found out those reasons too late. High school had been where she had learned just how hurtful guys could really be. After each experience, she had promised herself never again would she play the fool or allow anyone else to play her for a fool. But when you’re young, there seems to be an endless supply of hope and faith in the opposite sex. So time and time again, she had allowed herself to believe the next one would be different. He would be the one to finally notice how great of a person she was in spite of her size. He would be the one to really see her for who she was regardless of what she wore.
“Yeah, they noticed alright,” Connie said to her empty room.
They’d noticed her sister was on the front covers of the fashion magazines. They’d noticed she was desperate for any kind of male attention and was ripe for the picking. And, boy, had they picked the fruit! It seemed during her junior year when Brenda’s career was at its height, there had never been a free Friday or Saturday night. She had loved the attention, and when her friends had attempted to tell her the guys interests were only there because they hoped to get a chance to see or meet Brenda, she hadn’t wanted to believe them. But all too soon, it became obvious they weren’t really into her.
Connie pushed those memories to the back of her mind where they normally resided. Since graduating high school and entering college, she had believed she was finally breaking the vicious cycle of bad luck she’d had with guys over the years. It had helped when Brenda had retired from modeling and her face no longer graced the front covers of magazines. Sure, it meant her dating life had slowed down to almost nonexistent, but it was a worthwhile trade off in her opinion. Then, he had come into the convenience store and smiled at her. She punched her pillow again and buried her face deeper into the softness. The looks Kenny had given her on Friday night had appeared to be genuine interest. But when he’d left, she’d repeatedly told herself to get over it. He was gone. Off to his woman that had been waiting for him to get gas. Then, he’d gone and done the unexpected. He’d called her to ask for a date. And then, he’d done the predictable. He’d called and canceled the date.
“I will not cry over this,” she told herself as moisture pooled in the corners of her eyes.
Knock ... knock....
“Yeah,” she called, her face still partially buried in the pillow.
Hadn’t she made it perfectly clear she didn’t want to be bothered? That was one of the downfalls to living with your best friends. They felt it gave them the right to intrude when you really just wanted to be left alone.
“Hey,” her roommate, Tammy, said opening the door to peep inside.
It had been Tammy’s parents who had given them the house when they’d moved to Florida for their retirement. “You got company,” she said before closing the door.
Who could it be? She wasn’t looking for anyone to visit her, especially not since Kenny had canceled their date. Oh, no! The urge to vomit hit her as she realized who it had to be. She had called Brenda earlier to brag about her date. That was when she’d had a date. And now she didn’t. Panic began to set in. She knew she shouldn’t have given in to the urge to gloat. But she couldn't help it. Yes, it had been childish of her, but just once she had wanted to see the envy in Brenda’s eyes as she proudly introduced Kenny as her date.
“What am I going to do,” Connie questioned, running her fingers through her loose hair.
She fell back across her bed, arms spread out. She lay there a few moments more contemplating making her escape out the bedroom window. How far was the drop from the second floor to the ground below? Even a broken bone or two seemed like nothing in comparison to what she’d have to endure from Brenda. An image of her older sister came to mind. Her perfectly arched eyebrows would be raised in question and disbelief. Then a knowing smirk would appear before in her patented patronizing tone of voice she explained why these things always seemed to happen to her. A deep sigh moved through Connie as the inevitability of the situation before her loomed large. There was no way around it.
“Time to face the music,” she muttered to herself.
Reluctantly she pushed herself up from the bed and walked into her bathroom. Glancing in her mirror, she grimaced. She looked like she felt. Her hair was all over her head and her eyes were shining with the tears she refused to cry over a man she’d never gotten the opportunity to know. She splashed cold water on her face and dried it with a towel before reaching for her brush to put some order to her long hair. It was her only vanity and the one thing she had over Brenda.
She’d gotten her grain of hair from her father’s side of the family, who were part Indian, where Brenda had gotten their mother’s more coarse hair. Her sister had fought with her hair from the day she’d been born. Her years of modeling had further damaged it. Now she chose to keep it short and freshly done every week. Connie had been born almost bald, and it had been assumed the “good hair” had passed her as well. But when she was five, her hair began to grow and had kept growing. She never had to perm it as so many of her friends had in high school, and it was always straight unless she put mousse in it to get curls.
“You can do this. Just don’t say anything. Let Brenda say her peace and then walk away. You can lick your wounds later,” she told her reflection.
Leaving the sanctuary of her room, Connie walked slowly down the steps. There was no need to rush knowingly into the pits o
Standing just outside the doorway of the living room, she felt as ready as she was ever going to be. She wondered if men preparing to face firing squads felt as much dread and apprehension over what was to come as she did now. Nope, not possible, she decided with a small smile on her face. Once their sentence was passed, that was it - death. No worries about a sister who would make sure you relived this night over and over again. Oh, well, it was best to get it over with. So she braced herself for the worse and moved just inside of the living room. She saw Brenda sitting on the couch beside one of her three roommates, Jamie. Tammy sat on the hearth. Connie groaned waiting for the inevitable. The moment when her presence was discovered, and she would have to explain why she wasn’t on her date. She stood in agony a few seconds more before she realized no one was paying her any attention. They appeared to all be focusing on something or someone in the corner. From her spot in the doorway, she couldn't see what they were looking at. Whatever it was, it sure had their undivided attention. She wondered if she should take this opportunity to escape. But curiosity was eating her up, so she stepped further into the room and paused.
Her jaw dropped. No wonder they weren’t paying any attention to her. Kenny sat in one of the overstuffed, cream-colored chairs, huge grin in place, hazel eyes sparkling with humor. Her gaze ran over him from head to toe. Her memory of him hadn't done him justice. He looked even better than she remembered. But what was he doing here. She glanced down at what she was wearing and wished for a hole to open up and swallow her. Was there enough time to get back upstairs and change before anyone noticed she was standing there? She had just turned, about to make her escape when ….
Taking a deep breath, she slowly turned to face Kenny. That smile couldn't be for her could it? But if not her, then who? Connie turned to glance over her shoulder as inconspicuously as possible. Nope, no one was behind her. He was looking at her.
“I was beginning to wonder if you were too mad to even come downstairs,” he said, rising smoothly and heading in her direction.
His easy swagger spoke of confidence and a bit of cockiness. He had the walk of a man who knew he would be watched by both men and women.
“I’m sorry I’m so late,” he said, gathering her in his arms.
No words came to mind as she stood still as stone enjoying the feel of his strong arms holding her close. Her lids drifted shut as his scent wrapped itself around her. Oh, god, he smelled heavenly. When warm lips brushed against her cheek her world stopped. Breathe, she told her overcharged senses. Just remember to keep breathing. When he finally released her, he moved to stand beside her, one arm hung loosely around her waist. Connie chanced a glance at her friends and saw their pleased expressions, but the unasked questions shining in their eyes told her she would have some explaining to do when they had her alone.
“Kenny was telling Brenda he would probably have to do something really spectacular to make up for being late tonight,” Jamie said, throwing a sideways glance in Brenda’s direction.
Connie glanced at her sister, who sat on the couch glaring at Jamie. Her legs were crossed. One swung over the other back and forth. A clear sign of Brenda’s agitation. She wanted to question it but found she was having difficulty focusing. Kenny was holding her hand now. His thumb rubbed slow circles on the back of her hand. A shiver moved through her body. Feeling the heat of his gaze, she looked up to find him staring intently at her. He was solely focused on her as if she were the only woman in the room.
“Ladies, if you would excuse us for a moment or two. I need to start atoning for being late.”
He pulled her through the doorway of the living room across the foyer and into the family room where Connie and her friends normally received company. For a few moments, he just held her fingers captive in his. She gazed down at their joined hands, and her anxiety grew along with the silence. Why was he here? After he had called to cancel their date, she hadn’t expected to ever see him again. Thoughts of his reconciling with his ex-girlfriend had haunted her all evening, and she had scolded herself for allowing him to get to her like that.
“What are you doing here?” she asked not able to take the silence any longer.
A slow grin slanted across his handsome face.
“We had a date, remember?”
“Yes, but you called to cancel. I just thought ….”
Connie hunched her shoulders not wanting to put into words what she had been thinking. She lowered her gaze so he wouldn't see it reflected in her eyes, but strong fingers lifted her chin until she was forced to gaze into his once again.
“I can only imagine what you thought. But you were wrong,” he said, a soft smile on his face. “Look, Connie, I know I’m over two hours late, but I was kind of hoping you would still do me the honor of going out with me.”
A war broke out inside of her. Her brain was having a hard time wrapping itself around the reality of his actually being here. While the part of her that still believed in fairy tales begged for her to just accept his offer at face value. He had showed up after all.
“I don’t know. It’s kind of late, and I have class tomorrow morning.”
It had been easier over the phone to accept his offer of a date, but now that he was standing in front of her, all of her doubts from earlier came rushing back. The fact he had admitted to being curious over why he couldn't stop thinking of her should have been enough of an indicator to leave him alone. He was only going to be around long enough to figure it out, and then he’d be gone. The feeling of misery she’d felt earlier had caught her off guard as much as it had irritated her. Tears had been hard to contain, and she’d only known of his existence for three days. What if she really got to know him only to have him leave? Connie glanced up at Kenny from beneath lowered lashes. Standing before her was a man who could easily break her heart. And that was enough of a reason for her to be wary of any kind of contact with him. No matter how brief.
“What if I promise to have you home by a decent time?”
Conflict over what she wanted to do versus what she should do caused a knot to build in her stomach. She felt her resolve crumbling at the hopeful look he was giving her.
“Look, Kenny, maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all.”
She tried to remain strong in her decision to send him on his way.
“I know things didn’t start out as planned. I normally don’t start having a problem with being on time until at least the third or fourth date,” he said, chuckling softly.
The rich tone of his laughter rolled over her bringing an answering smile to her face. But still she kept her gaze lowered until his fingers lifted her chin higher to meet the sparkling hazel eyes of the man before her. Connie blinked at the brilliance of the look in his eyes.
“Connie, I can assure you my tardiness was not due to any indecision or second thoughts regarding our date tonight.”
Kenny’s strong fingers refused to allow her to bow her head from his all too knowing gaze. His eyes bore into her very soul, and she knew he could see the disappointment and hurt she’d experienced from earlier as if he’d been there.
“I’m sorry if my call earlier made you think that in any way,” he said softly still holding her gaze. “I’d really like to spend some time with you.”
A combination of regret and longing stared back at her. It drew her in and reached out to a part of her that should have been under pad lock and key. But she found herself nodding her consent.
“Great,” he said, squeezing her hands while relief shone clearly in his eyes. “Let me just say goodbye to your friends and we can leave.”
“Umm, I need to change my clothes first. So take your time. I’ll be right back.”
When her attempts to move away were halted, she looked down to see her hand was still encased in his larger one. Kenny’s smile grew as his gaze moved slowly over her body, taking in what she had on. Embarrassment took a back seat to the heat rushing through her veins. He pulled her back towards him until they were mere inches apart. Her breath caught in the back of her throat when he leaned towards her.
“I take it this is not what you were planning to wear for our date,” he asked softly.
“No,” she whispered back.
She held her breath as his hot breath fanned her cheek. His hand caressed her back and his eyes were focused on her lips. Her tongue slipped from between her dry lips to moisten them. His eyes shined brightly with barely concealed desire. If she weren’t seeing it for herself, she would never have believed it. His eyes closed, and she felt him take a deep breath before his lids lifted slowly. He released her from his embrace and put a little distance between them, but kept her fingers captive in his grip.
“Don’t worry about changing. I think you look fine as you are. You may want to put on some shoes though. Since I’m late, I had to scratch Plan B,” he said, winking at her.
Connie’s insides melted as his fingers tightened around hers. She felt her own smile lift the corners of her mouth as she followed him on shaky legs back towards the living room. Thoughts of what had almost happened whirred around in her head. He’d been about to kiss her; she just knew it and what’s more she had wanted him to. Her excitement from earlier returned. All thoughts of this being only temporary were pushed to the back of her mind. She would deal with that tomorrow. For tonight, she was taking what was being offered.