Playing in the RainJane Harvey-Berrick
in the Rain
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Jane A. C. Harvey-Berrick has asserted her right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
This book is a work of fiction. Names and characters are the product of the author’s imagination and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved; no part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher. Jane A. C. Harvey-Berrick has asserted her moral right to be identified as the author of this work.
First published in Great Britain in 2014
Harvey Berrick Publishing
Copyright © Jane A. C. Harvey-Berrick 2014
Formatted by Perfectly Publishable / perfectlypublishable.com
Cover design by Hang Le / byhangle.com
Cover photograph Shutterstock
This book is dedicated to Sheena Lumsden.
The reason I’m standing here with my boarding pass in my hand, waiting to fly 7,000 miles to an adventure in a new country, is because of him.
He crashed into my life, like an ocean wave out of a millpond sea. He changed everything.
I’m gripping my boarding pass for dear life, and I’m choked with nerves by what I’m about to do.
But then I see him. I think I see him. Across the crowds of people, swirling among the human river, a flash of blue eyes. That smile, that love of life, a shock of black hair. I see him and then he’s gone, lost somewhere in the sea of faces.
And I smile.
Thick, heavy drops of greasy rain, funneled by the windshield, bounced off the hood, streaming in rivulets down the misty glass.
I couldn’t see out. My brand new Prius, my energy saving car, didn’t believe in wipers that worked while the car idled.
The car may have been stationary, but I was fizzing with angry energy.
I thumped the steering wheel in sheer frustration. Not normally a road rage person, I was mad beyond belief.
What a complete and utter fiasco. I could not believe that just happened. Being an intern at Wallman & Wallman was my dream job. Had been my dream job. But that douchebag made it perfectly clear that he’d only given me the position if I gave him the position he wanted, which was me on my knees. Which turned out to be blowjobs in the Boardroom, because it was his company and he was the boss.
Yeah, there are laws against it, but who’d believe me? No one. Absolutely no one. I’d been played by the ultimate player, and I’d lost.
I told him where he could stick his job, blow or otherwise, and it was in a place where the sun didn’t shine. He fired me on the spot, because unlike him and his subtle, solo harassment, I told him where he could go in the main reception area at work.
I told him he was a delusional asshole and he fired me.
Not only was I now jobless, I had rent due on my new apartment, and no friends to turn to in a city where I’d lived for only four weeks. And now I was stuck in a traffic jam, with my gas tank perilously close to empty. Stuck in a line of cars, shiny metal boxes going precisely nowhere. In the rain. In the pouring, pounding, lashing rain.
It wasn’t supposed to happen like this. None of it was supposed to happen. This was southern California, for crying out loud. It wasn’t supposed to rain at all. I’d seen the movies—wall to wall sunshine.
But oh no. God hated me so much that my life had crapped all over me and now it was freakin’ raining.
I’d been so excited when I’d been offered this position. All my hard work throughout four, dreary years of college, working towards my goal of becoming a Certified Public Accountant. I’d hoped to start paying off my student loans as soon as I’d got my license; planned a stable future, a secure life on my own terms and my own merit. Finally, I’d be able to do something that made my dad proud. It wasn’t easy being the youngest in a family of over-achievers, and he’d always regarded me with an air of faint disappointment. That, along with low expectations.
Dad had been reluctant for me to move so far from home, so far from his influence and that of my older sisters, but I’d ignored all his well-argued concerns. And even though he thought it was a mistake, he’d paid for me to fly out here; and for the deposit on the expensive apartment with the good security, video entry and 24/7 doorman that he’d insisted on; and my shiny eco-car car that he’d paid for. It was supposed to be an exciting new world. It was supposed to be my time. My turn.
I’d never felt so miserable. And it was still raining.
That’s when I saw him.
A blur of movement caught my eye as the rain on my windshield gave the illusion that I was underwater. He was running, which I suppose is what people do when they’re caught in the rain. A huge furry dog was running next to him, matching his long, even strides, both of them drenched and dripping, their feet splashing through puddles, raindrops running off their faces.
His white t-shirt had become transparent and clung to his muscled chest, and I could see the rapid rise and fall of every breath. He raised his hand, the tendons flexing in his forearm as he pushed his dripping black hair out of his eyes. And then he’d passed me, leaving a glimpse of his tight butt in a pair of running shorts, and long muscled legs striding out. All of those things caught my attention, but what totally captured and held it so I couldn’t look away was the huge smile of pleasure on his face.
He was soaked to the skin and smiling so wide I could see his even white teeth, grinning like a loon, like he was enjoying the rain.
“What an idiot,” I muttered to myself, locking my doors just in case lunacy was contagious.
The runner slowed down, turning into the entrance of the park opposite where I was trapped in my car. He bent down to lever a tennis ball from the dog’s mouth, and his t-shirt rose up his back, showing his trim waist and lean hips. He threw the ball like he was pitching a baseball, and the mutt barked and leapt after it, his thick tail windmilling crazily. The dog bounded back, barking around the ball wedged in its mouth, leaping up and leaving muddy footprints over the man’s t-shirt. He threw his head back and laughed, wrestling the saliva-coated ball from the dog, and threw it again. He didn’t even try to shelter from the rain. He was playing with the dog—playing in pouring the rain.
And then his head snapped up and I swear he looked right at me, as if he’d felt the weight of my amazement. I sunk lower in my seat, refusing to meet his gaze, staring stonily ahead, but not before I noticed that the crazy guy was freakin’ beautiful. Not just plain old handsome—but beautiful. High cheekbones, lips that were full and pink from exercise, and stunning pale blue eyes, framed by long dark lashes. Model perfect white teeth, and a body built for … Oh God, I was overheating, because if ever I’d seen a body built for sin, that man had it. Although now I’d seen his face full on, he was younger than I’d originally thought; my age perhaps.
The traffic began to move forward, tearing my thoughts from the beautiful man who was standing in the rain, still watching me.
I let the Prius crawl a few feet up the road. Red tail lights flared in front of me then vanished again, and I was about to pull away for a second time when someone banged on the passenger window, making me squeal in fright.
It was him, and he was smiling at me, gesturing for me to put down the window.
I stared back, my mouth hanging open in shock, then I jumped again when the car behind me honked loudly.
“Patience is a virtue, asshole!” I yelled to the rear view mirror, then flushed bright red when I saw my gorgeous stalker grinning.
He gestured again for me to roll down the window. I pressed the button to open it a crack, and he slid a piece of paper toward me, winked, then continued with his run, the ugly fur ball loping beside him.
I read the smeared writing, the ink bleeding into the wet paper. I’d expected a name and a phone number, or maybe the name of a bar and a time, but all the paper said was,
That was it. Nothing else. Just two words.
The car behind me honked again and I dropped the note, inching forward with the traffic.
I couldn’t park outside my building. Of course not. Why would my luck change on such a shitty day? I had to run nearly two blocks in my favorite Laboutins—the ones that I’d intended to afford with my first pay check. Or my second. Soon, in any case.
I’d have to phone Human Resources to find out what I was entitled to. After all, I’d worked at Wallman’s for a month—I must be owed something.
I grabbed a clean towel, rubbing it over my hair as I trailed through the apartment, finally dumping it over a chair to pull the sodden newspaper out of my purse. I concentrated on trying to turn the damp pages without tearing them, hoping that there’d be something in the Employment or even the Want Ads. Right now, I’d take anything, even another waitressing job, like the dozens that had gotten me through college. Anything so that I didn’t have to go crawling to my dad for money. So I didn’t have to prove what he already suspected about me.
As I turned the pages carefully, a piece of paper fluttered to the floor. I picked it up, the stranger’s note, then screwed it into a tight ball, meaning to toss it into the garbage.
Something stopped me. I hesitated, reading the innocent words again, and I smoothed out the scrap, ironing it with my fingers and put it onto the kitchen counter to dry.
I needed a drink. It wasn’t something I did often, but I had learned the benefits of insanely strong alcohol on occasion.
I’d hidden a bottle of tequila behind a packet of dry pasta, and I coughed slightly as the liquid scoured my throat, but it had the calming effect I craved. I felt my cheeks flush, both from the drink and the memory of the last three hours—the hours when a huge sinkhole had appeared in my world, and I’d fallen right into it. It had been a long time since I’d lost my temper like that in public. I’d worked so hard to rein it in over the last four years.
I looked over at the piece of paper again, miffed that the mystery man had cut and run without leaving a way for me to get in touch with him. But then again, when was the last time somebody had done something nice for me, just for the hell of it? When was the last time I had done something nice? It had been a while
And without my permission, a smile twitched at my lips.
It had been kind of sweet. Crazy, but sweet. And there was no doubt he was hot. Maybe it was better this way; I could just remember it as an intriguing and perfect encounter on a really shitty day, rather than another random guy who’d hit on me.
I knew that men found me attractive. It wasn’t my fault that I fit the dumb blonde stereotype. Yeah, I had big boobs and long, blonde hair. But that didn’t make me a bimbo. My 4.0 grade point average proved that. I’d worked my ass off in college. I deserved to have a great job.
Depressed by the thought that I no longer did, I peeled off the tight, black pencil skirt, and rain-soaked gray silk blouse, changing into a pair of comfortable sweats and old sneakers.
I’d planned on ordering Chinese, but knowing how my bank account languished dangerously close to zero, I decided to forego easy, and headed back out to the local grocery store instead, trying to save a few bucks.
I loaded up with healthy food, and stuffed a bar of chocolate in at the last moment. I really wanted to buy myself a bottle of wine, but decided that $9.99 was more than I could afford right now.
On the way back, I passed an elderly woman who seemed familiar. As I hurried past her, head down, unwilling to speak, I realized that she lived in my apartment building. She was battling to carry a bag of groceries and an umbrella.
I looked over my shoulder, watching her, stoic in her struggle. Maybe it was the random act of kindness from my mystery man, but I turned back, and found myself offering to carry her groceries as well as my own. Why did it have to be today that somebody did something nice for me?
“May I help you with that?”
She looked afraid for a moment, and I felt a pulse of irritation that my gesture had been misconstrued.
But her expression morphed into surprised wariness.
“I live in your building,” I said.
She nodded and ventured a small smile.
“I know, dear. I’ve seen you. I tried to talk to you the day you moved in.”
I frowned. Really? I didn’t remember that.
“Do you need any help with your groceries?” I asked again, trying not to snap at her as she gazed up at me myopically.
“Thank you, dear,” she said, at last.
She handed me the paper sack. Darn it was heavy, and awkward to manage with my own purchases. And then we proceeded to move at the pace of an arthritic snail as we made our way toward the apartments.
My hair hung in wet clumps and I was soaked to the skin, again. Why was doing a good deed such hard work?
But then she smiled and thanked me, and I enjoyed the swell of pleasure that warmed my insides. See, I’m a nice person. I help old ladies, even if I am jobless, an irresponsible dreamer, just like my father always said.
The next day I decided to walk to the park, hoping to see my mystery man, but of course, he wasn’t there. I might even have thought that I’d invented him if it hadn’t been for the scrap of wrinkled piece of paper that I’d stuck into the frame of my bedroom mirror.
I sat on one of the benches, lost in thought, feeling sorry for myself.
Today the sun was shining, beating down in a glorious display of warmth that made the damp grass hiss and steam.
A woman with a toddler and a small, yappy terrier headed toward the children’s play area. I watched as she tied the mutt to the swings’ frame by its leash, the beast staring morosely at the empty stretch of grass where mystery man had thrown balls for his dog.
The toddler shrieked excitedly as his mama pushed him higher and higher. His little face was red from yelling and a small slug’s trail of snot pulsed from one nostril. But he didn’t care and his mama didn’t notice; they were too busy being happy, the swing arcing through the air.
It occurred to me that one dog walker might know another, especially if he came to this park every day. It was worth a shot, even at the risk of some mild humiliation when I had to explain what—or who—I was looking for.
I smiled at the woman as she slowed the swing, and I bent down to stroke her scruffy dog. It growled, showing sharp yellow teeth, and I stepped away quickly. The woman gave a short, embarrassed laugh.
“Sorry about that. Ludo isn’t very friendly. He’s just old and grouchy. Like my father-in-law,” she muttered under her breath.
“No problem,” I said, side-eyeing the dog as it sniffed at my ankles. “Um, I wonder if you can help me? There’s a guy who comes here—he’s about six foot or maybe a bit taller, black hair, blue eyes, and has this huge dark brown dog, like a Newfoundland or something. I’m not sure, but i
t’s massive and hairy. I don’t suppose you know him, um, them?”
She smiled knowingly.
“Uh-huh, I sure do. That’s Cody.” Then she placed her hands over her child’s ears. “He’s hot, if you know what I mean.”
“Oh definitely understanding you,” I agreed, with a conspiratorial smile.
She sighed and fanned her hands in front of her face before she started pushing her son again, rocking him more gently now. “God, if I was ten years younger—and not happily married…” Her words trailed off as her eyes took on a dreamy expression.
“So, he comes here most days?” I prompted her.
“Not every day. I think he just moved to the area.” She smiled. “But I’ve seen him here a few times. Mostly in the afternoons. Maybe if you hang around now you’ll see him.”
I grinned back at her.
“I might just do that. Thanks.”
I found another bench to sit on and stretched out my legs, hoping to catch some sun. I’d been so busy for the last month that I’d barely had a moment to take advantage of being in sunny San Diego. I was feeling pale and in extreme need of working on my tan.
While I waited, I pulled out my phone to check my messages.
Chloe wanted to know how my job was going. I deleted that one. Time enough to talk to my big sister. She was always in my face, wanting to know my business.
I also deleted a text from Emily who questioned why I hadn’t gone home for the Fourth of July parade, and would I be home for Labor Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas.
No, no and no. What the hell was she doing asking me all that when it was only mid July?
I deleted three more messages from my other sister, Julie, and one from my dad, all asking the same questions: how was the job, was I managing, when was I coming home.
I shoved my phone away, scowling at the blameless blue sky. Sighing, I decided I really needed to send out my résumé to a few places who might be hiring. No more time for sitting in parks hoping to ogle hot guys.