Just one of the guys, p.21
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       Just One of the Guys, p.21

           Kristan Higgins
 
Page 21

  Author: Kristan Higgins

  I tell her. I even work up genuine enthusiasm, because Ryan really is a great prospect. And I don’t think of Trevor again. Hardly at all.

  CHAPTER FOURTEEN

  “THIS IS MY THIRD DATE with HARRY. What do you think? Time for sex?”

  “Mom! Come on! Leave me alone. ”

  “Chastity, you’re such a prude. ”

  “Mom, you named me Chastity Virginia, okay? If I’m a prude, it’s partly your fault. ”

  “That was your father’s choice. I was too busy thanking God you weren’t another boy to notice. ”

  I smile. “Well, at any rate, don’t go to the Blue Moon tonight, okay? Because I’m going there tonight. With the doctor. Please don’t come. ”

  “Oh, that’s right!” Mom crows triumphantly. “That handsome doctor! How’s his groin?”

  “I—I don’t know. I think it’s better,” I answer, gritting my teeth. “Just make sure you and Harry don’t go there, okay? Do not come to the Blue Moon tonight. Are we clear?”

  “Yes, Chastity. I’m not an idiot. ” She sighs. “Your father is very unhappy, of course. ”

  I sigh, glancing at the story on my screen that must be edited and chopped by seventy-five percent. The freelancer who wrote it refuses to accept the five-hundred-word limit I’ve given her, and as fascinating at the church bake sale may be, it’s not getting fourteen column inches. “Dad loves you, Mom. ”

  “Well, that’s not the point. ”

  “You sure you want to be with someone other than Dad? Have you really thought this through, Mom?” I ask as gently as I can, deleting paragraphs seven through twenty-three of the bake sale story.

  There’s no sound from the other end. Bad sign. “Mom?”

  “He’s promised me four times that he’d retire, and each time, something came up that prevented him from doing it. Jimmy Troiano was out with a back injury. The new hires weren’t settled. The pension plan was being reworked. ” She sighs with gusto. “I got married when I was twenty-one years old, Chastity. I was changing diapers for more than a decade without a single day’s break. Do you know how many times I had to take you kids to the E. R. ? I counted the other day. Twenty-nine times, Chastity. I had grandchildren before my baby was even out of college. ”

  “I understand, Mom, but—”

  But nothing. She’s on a roll. “No! You don’t understand, Chastity. ” Her voice is General Patton–firm. “I loved being mother to all you kids, I adore my grandchildren, but I’m at the age where I want my life to revolve around something other than my offspring! I have interests! I have desires, Chastity!”

  “I’m glad, Mom, but—”

  “Is it so wrong to want to do things just because I want to? To travel and have fun and just do things because they sound interesting?”

  “It’s—”

  “Oh, honey, I don’t mean to yell at you. At least I can tell you things. The boys don’t want to hear it. ”

  Don’t want to hear that our mother is planning to sleep with her new boyfriend? Can’t imagine why not! “Look, Mom, I love you and you know what? All I want is to be like you. ”

  “Don’t be silly, Chastity. ”

  “I mean it, Mom,” I tell her. “You’re an incredible mother and except for the cooking, you made a wonderful home. We’re all crazy about you. Look at us! Five kids and not one lives more than fifteen miles away. ”

  “Which I think is pathetic, by the way,” she interrupts.

  I laugh. “Okay. So we never were able to cut the cord. But just make sure you really want what you think you want. That’s all. ”

  “Well. Thank you, dear. ” She pauses, mollified. “So you want us to come to the Blue Moon?”

  “No! Listen carefully, Mom. Do not come to the Blue Moon. Don’t come. No Blue Moon. ”

  “Fine, honey! You don’t have to treat me like a child, you know. ”

  Grinding my teeth, I hang up, finish the bake-sale piece, then check the story on the effects of too little snow this past winter and post everything on the Web site. My day is done.

  As mentioned to Mommy Dearest, tonight is my big date with Ryan Darling. Angela recommended the Blue Moon, which just opened across the Hudson in Jurgenskill. She reviewed it last month and found it spectacular, cozy, elegant and very pricey. Hopefully, I can put it on my expense account, since this is an interview, after all.

  I fly home and take Buttercup out. She seems to have more pep these days. Maybe she just needed to live in the mountains, I muse, watching her trot down the street in front of me. She sniffs the post of a mailbox, crouches to pee and continues on her merry way. “Come on, sweetie!” I call. “Mommy has a date. Mascara must be applied. ” Her tail slices through the air, and she lumbers toward me, ears flopping. “Who knows, Buttercup?” I say. “Maybe you’ll be getting a daddy. ”

  “SO HAVE YOU ALWAYS DONE martial arts?” I ask.

  “Yes,” Ryan answers with a smile. “I started when I was six, got my black belt at fourteen and was on the team in college. ”

  It seems like I’m on the set of a movie. The Blue Moon is everything Angela said it would be…cozy, quiet, classy, filled with shiny-haired patrons and soft-spoken staff. Candles flicker on the table, the wine is excellent, the man across from me is gorgeous and when he smiles at me, a warm curl of pleasure wraps around my stomach.

  The night is going so well. My hair came out great. I look feminine and appropriate in a low-cut but not slutty white silk blouse and blue-and-white print skirt, one of the items Elaina forced me to buy. Flats, of course, though not my beloved red high-tops. Cute little ballet flats. Ryan is taller than I am, so heels would shatter my illusion of being a delicate flower. When I walked into the restaurant, Ryan was already waiting, looking like the New York Times fashion model that I first imagined him to be. He kissed my cheek and held the chair for me. Definitely surreal. I’m pretty sure we have a future.

  Focus, Chastity. You do need to interview him before naming the children.

  “And where did you go to school?” I ask.

  “Harvard undergrad, Yale medical. ”

  “So you couldn’t get into the good schools,” I say deadpan.

  “Those are good schools,” he says, frowning. “Very good schools. ”

  “I was just…well. Yes. The best. ” Okay, so he’s earnest. A nice quality.

  “I’m sorry,” Ryan says. “You were joking. My fault. I must have left my sense of humor at the hospital. Sorry. ”

  “Oh, no, not all. ” I smile. “You’re a surgeon, correct?”

  “Trauma surgeon,” he acknowledges with a modest smile. I feel that I’m supposed to be even more impressed, but hey, he had me at Harvard.

  “Why did you decide to teach a self-defense class, Ryan?” I ask, taking a sip of the very lovely wine he ordered.

  “Well, you see, Chastity,” he says, his expression becoming very intense, “I’ve always been committed to women’s safety. ”

  “Hm,” I say.

  “Most women just don’t know how to protect themselves,” he continues.

  “How’s your groin, by the way?” I ask, glancing up from my notebook.

  He pauses, then smiles. “Fine. ”

  “Good. ” I grin and glance back down at my notebook. Just wanted to remind him who he’s dealing with.

  He goes on, telling me about his desire to give back to the community, share his knowledge, etcetera. Standard enough stuff. I’m more interested in how his eyelashes catch the light. He’s very sincere, frowning slightly as he talks, speaking in long, well-formed sentences laced with impressive vocabulary and an excellent grasp of grammatical concepts.

  “Do you have sisters?” I ask, wondering if there’s something more that drives his desire to empower women. Not that it’s a bad desire or anything, but he’s coming across as a little bit…well, condescending. Of course, he’s a surgeon, s
o this may well just go with the territory. Add Harvard/Yale into the mix, and I suppose it’s inevitable.

  “Yes, I do. My sister Wendy. ”

  “Wendy?” I ask with a grin. “Your sister’s name is Wendy Darling?”

  “Yes,” he says, cocking his head. “Why? Do you know her?”

  “Everyone knows Wendy Darling. ” He frowns, puzzled. “From Peter Pan,” I explain. “Wendy Moira Angela Darling. ” I sing a snatch of the famous song. “‘Wendy, Michael, John…Tinkerbell, come on! I’m flyyyy…ing!’” Ryan blinks. “Well. From Peter Pan. ”

  “I didn’t know that,” Ryan says, but he chuckles, entertained. “You have a nice voice, Chastity. ”

  “That’s the first time I’ve heard that,” I murmur.

  “At any rate. Do you have more questions for me?”

  “Um…I think I’ve got enough here. ”

  “So the interview’s over?” He seems a little disappointed.

  “Unless there’s anything else you’d like to tell me,” I offer.

  He sits back, studying me. Man, those eyes. “No. But I hope you don’t have to rush off. ”

  I smile demurely, suppressing a war cry of victory. “No, not at all. Shall we order dinner?”

  We order and exchange the usual information, where we grew up, family, work experience, the like. His life reads like a résumé for husband, honestly. Sports as a kid. Stable family environment. Community service through church. Stellar education. Impressive career. And hey! Let’s be honest. He’s bleeping beautiful! As I listen to his well-modulated voice, my toes curl in my flats. I can’t quite believe I’m sitting across from him.

  Ryan asks me about my nieces and nephews, and when I’m done reciting their names, I ask him the same question.

  “I’m afraid not. My sister and her husband are childless by choice,” he answers. “But I’d like to have a family. What about you? Do you want kids someday?”

  I blink in surprise. Not the usual first-date talk! I was just about to ask the Yankees-Mets question. “Well, you know, I come from a big family, and yes, I’d definitely like to have kids someday. ”

  “Good. ” He smiles broadly, showing me perfect white teeth. “I think it’s good to know that we both want the same thing before we get too serious, don’t you, Chastity? I wouldn’t want to spend three months dating, only to find out that you don’t ever want to get married or have a family. ”

  “Um, right, sure,” I stammer. Then I get a hold of myself and smile back. “Yes. Very smart. ”

  “I know this is officially an interview, Chastity,” he says, “but I have to say, I’d like us to see each other again. On a date. I think there’s potential here. ”

  Daddy and I met when I kneed him in the groin, my little Darlings…. “That’s…well, that’s a very direct approach, Ryan. ” I laugh a little, and he smiles back. He has a beautiful smile. And if he’s a little straightforward, who cares? He’s right. Let’s cut to the chase. “Thank you. That sounds very nice, Ryan. ”

  “Hi, Chastity,” says a familiar soft voice. I turn to see Angela, the maître d’ and Trevor. My stomach drops. Angela and Trevor.

  “Hey! Hi, Ange! Hi, Trevor!” I seem to be blinking rapidly. “Guys, this is Ryan Darling. Ryan, I think you met Angela at the class, and oh, yeah, you met Trevor at Emo’s last week. ”

  “Nice to see you again,” Ryan murmurs to Angela, then shakes hands with Trevor.

  “I didn’t know you were coming here, too,” I say. It sounds a little rude. “I mean, it was a great recommendation. ” Calm down, Chastity, I tell myself. Your old pal Trevor is on a date. Big deal. He’s not with Perfect Hayden; at least there’s that.
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