17. 1

It’s the first week of November and we are having unseasonably cold weather for this time of the year. I’m waiting for Flynn to finish getting dressed because we’re taking Capone out to the park. I’ve got on a heavy wool coat I just bought last week on sale, along with a pretty, red knit scarf to wrap around my neck. It was a splurge for me, but I wanted to buy something for myself with my recent earnings and a coat seemed practical. Especially since winter was approaching and I didn’t have anything except that beat-up, old leather jacket.

“I’m ready,” Flynn says and I turn around to see him walking toward me.

It never ceases to amaze me the way my pulse thumps like a Texas jackrabbit’s leg when I see him. He looks like he just stepped out of a fashion spread for Ralph Lauren with his dark brown cords, cream, cable-knit sweater, and a caramel-colored, wool coat that he slips on and turns the collar up to ward against the cold. His hair looks like he just got out of bed, but, strangely, it works for him. As he approaches, I catch a whiff of cologne. It’s subtle but I smell sandalwood and citrus, and it suits Flynn to perfection.

“Don’t you have a scarf or something?” I ask.

He gives me a look of horror and scoffs. “Real men don’t wear scarfs.”

“Fine,” I tell him. “But don’t complain when your neck gets cold.”

“Real men never complain,” he counters as he winks at me.

I snicker as I reach over to attach the leash to the New York Jets collar that Flynn had bought for Capone last month.

Figures.

We head over to a small park that is about seven blocks away and we aren’t thirty feet from the apartment when I realize I forgot my gloves.

I hand the leash over to Flynn. “Here… you walk Capone. My hands are freezing.”

He takes the leash from me and I jam my hands in my coat pockets.

“Do you want my gloves?” he asks.

“Nah. Real women don’t wear gloves.”

Flynn bumps his shoulder to mine with a laugh. “There is no doubt—you are a real woman, Miss Page.”

I bump him back and shoot him a playful smile. “Why, thank you, kind sir.”

I find myself loving this new level of companionship that Flynn and I have settled into since our serious talk last month. We both opened ourselves up and let it all hang out.

And while there was plenty of stuff that was probably left unsaid, the important things that needed to be said were voiced. Flynn now understands the root of my fears, and he now understands why I just can’t pursue anything more than a friendship with him. He hasn’t pushed or pressured me in the slightest since our talk, but has managed to be nothing more than a true friend to me.

The friendship has been amazing and we actually hang out together all the time. Since telling Flynn about my parents, a secret I haven’t shared with anyone, I find myself able to tell him just about anything. I can do so without fear of judgment and the most important thing that is happening is that we are building trust with each other.

For example, just the other day, I started my period and asked Flynn to run to the store to grab me some tampons. I had to bite down on my tongue not to giggle over the look on his face. But then he manned up and said he’d be happy to. When he returned from the corner market, he handed them to me and said, “Next time I get myself in a situation, and need condoms… you’re going down to the store to get them for me.”

I laughed and said, “Sure thing”, but there’s no way in hell I’m ever buying him condoms. I must be the world’s most terrible person because while I won’t let Flynn get into my pants, I don’t want him to get in any other woman’s pants either.

I’m twisted, for sure.

“Want some coffee or something?” Flynn asks as we walk toward a street vendor.

“Hot chocolate would be good. My treat.”

“Cool. Make it two.”

See, that is proof right there that the friendship thing is working. Before our talk, Flynn would have insisted on paying, which would have felt more like a date to me and moving squarely out of the friendship scenario. But by Flynn letting me buy him something and that right there proves this friendship is working just fine.

We get our drinks and head toward the park. I choose to wait before drinking mine after I watch Flynn burn the shit out of his tongue when he takes a sip.

“So my mom called today and wanted me to officially invite you to the Caldwell Thanksgiving Day Extravaganza.”

“Oooohhh,” I exclaim. “It sounds magnificent. What all is involved in a Caldwell Extravaganza?”

“Well, let’s see. There’s food… then football… then naps. I think that’s about it.”

I laugh, particularly at the mental image of Flynn, Nix, and their dads passed out in the living room with the football game blaring.

“I don’t want to impose.”

“Rowan,” Flynn says in warning. “Friends don’t let friends eat a microwave turkey dinner on Thanksgiving. Besides… Tim will be there. You know my parents open the door to everyone.”

It’s true. I’ve been over to their house twice with Flynn, and Nick and Nora Caldwell are two of the most gracious and welcoming people I have ever met. They’re the type of people that expect you to come into their house and plop your feet up on the coffee table, or they expect you to feel comfortable enough to get whatever you want from the fridge if you’re hungry or thirsty. They have no walls built around them, and their hearts are filled with generosity.

I can only imagine what Thanksgiving would be like with the Caldwells. There will be plenty of good food, lots of laughter, and probably some naps when it’s all said and done.

“And Capone can come, too,” Flynn throws in to entice me further, but I’d already decided to accept.

“Okay. We’re in. Can you ask your mom what I can bring?”

“I’ll ask but I know she’ll say ‘don’t bring a thing but yourself’.”

I laugh over Flynn’s impersonation of his mom’s Irish accent. “In that case, don’t bother asking and I’ll just bring something. Maybe a pie.”

“You can cook?” Flynn asks with astonishment.

“Of course I can cook,” I tell him with indignation.

“Then how come all we ever have is pizza or bologna sandwiches when it’s your turn to cook?”

“Just because I can cook, doesn’t mean I want to. This is the twenty-first century pal… get with the times. Women have shed the chains of slavery and we no longer serve you menfolk.”

Flynn throws his head back and starts howling with laughter, then he pitches forward, holding the hand with Capone’s leash to his stomach while he laughs, with the other holding onto his hot cocoa. It’s infectious and I start laughing along with him.

He looks at me and our eyes meet.

Then it happens… there is almost a crackle in the air, like electricity is flowing between us. Flynn’s laughter immediately dies away and the smile slides from my face. The same happens to me and nothing is left in our expressions except a focused intensity on each other. It’s almost as if I can feel heat swirling all around us, and the backdrop of the world fades to black.

Until nothing is left but just Flynn and me.

I call it “The Happening” and it represents those few times when the resolve to just be friends seems to melt away into oblivion. It occurs at the weirdest of times and I have no control over it. When I’m in that moment with Flynn, I want nothing more than for him to grab me and kiss me like I was the oxygen his lungs crave. I want to strip him bare and use just my fingertips to trace every inch of skin on his body. I want to get lost… deeply lost, in Flynn.

“The Happening” hits Flynn just as hard as it hits me. I see the desire light him up from within. I feel the sexual tension pouring off him with visceral awareness, and I swear I can feel his heart moaning for me.

When “The Happening” occurs, I am powerless to fight it. In fact, if Flynn ever made a move to touch me during the event, I would completely submit to him body and soul. But thankfully, Flynn is a stronger person than I am, and he is clearly the more responsible of the two of us. He’ll usually snap out of it first, and bring me crashing back to reality.

Like he does right at this moment.

Reaching out with his hand, he tweaks my nose. “You’re adorable when you start spouting your feminist viewpoints.”

I blink my eyes hard, still a little under his spell, and offer him a smile. He gives me one back that is sad and understanding all at once. To lighten the mood, he takes my hand, tucks it into the crook of his arm, and starts walking again. My feet have no choice but to move and keep up with him. He starts chattering about his Fantasy Football League… something innocuous that will make my mind… my heart… my body, forget about “The Happening”.

He is always looking out for me.

My heart swells up, huge and pulsing, with Technicolor love for him.

Yes… I love Flynn. He is my dearest friend in all the world.

And I will have to be satisfied with that.

1

“Whatcha doing?” Flynn asks as he plops down on the couch beside me. I have his laptop open and he leans in to look at the screen. It never even occurs to me to hide what I’m doing so I turn it a little so he can see it better.

“I’m doing a torture session.”

He just looks at me with one eyebrow raised.

Turning the laptop back toward me so I can type, I enter in new search terms, and when the results are displayed, I turn the screen toward him. I watch as he skims his eyes down the screen, and I notice how long and thick his lashes are from this angle. Why I never noticed it before is beyond me.

“Who’s John Cleeden?”

I click on the article about the charity donation and when the picture appears, I point at it. “Meet my mom and dad.”

Flynn’s head snaps toward me and his eyes are soft as he holds my gaze. I give him a quick smile and point back toward the screen.

He reads the entire article and then looks back to me. “John and Susan Cleeden? Where does Page come from?”

“Rowan Page isn’t my real name. It’s Anne Marie Cleeden.”

“You’re kidding?”

“Nope.”

He surveys me closely and even runs his eyes down my body. I can’t help the tingle of awareness that his gaze brings upon me, even though his look isn’t sexual at all. “You don’t look like an Anne Marie,” he muses.

“And I’m not. My name is Rowan Page now.”

“When did you change it?”

“The minute I stepped on the bus that brought me to New York.”

“But when did you change it legally?”

“I haven’t… never needed to.”

“Seriously?”

“Yup.”

“How do you get anything done? You don’t have a social security number. How do you pay taxes? Or rent an apartment? Have a bank account? How do you even get a driver’s license for that matter?”

I’m so enjoying this. The look on Flynn’s face is a mixture of comedic horror and respect. “Well… I’ve never paid taxes as I’m always paid in cash, including by your dear cousin, Nix. I’ve never had to sign an apartment lease because the lease has never been in my name and I’ve never needed a bank account because I’ve always paid my roommates just my share of expenses. Oh, and I don’t have a driver’s license.”

“You don’t have a driver’s license?” he asks in disbelief.

“I don’t have a driver’s license… at least not in Rowan Page’s name,” I confirm.

“But… you drive my car.” He cracks me up because he actually sounds a little affronted.

“Lighten up, serious sally. I haven’t been caught, have I? Besides… I technically have a valid Texas license. I just think I may have been required to get a New York license after I moved here.”

I shrug my shoulders. Oh, well.

“Criminal!” he accuses me with a pointing finger. “I’m living with a criminal.”

I start laughing and assure him with concession, “I know… I really do need to get it done legally at some point. I even got my birth certificate last year just for that reason. I just never got around to doing it.”

Flynn is shaking his head in disbelief and wonder. “You are unbelievable, do you know that?”

I close the laptop and lay it on the coffee table. Curling my feet up underneath of me, I turn to face him. “Is that a good unbelievable or a bad unbelievable?”

“It’s a good unbelievable. A crazy, wonderful unbelievable. You’re not exactly the most law-abiding citizen, but you are amazingly inconceivable and I love that about you.”

The blood in my veins sings out with happiness over Flynn’s compliment. My heart does a mad dance that he used the “L” word. Peace settles in my heart that I don’t have to fight for his attention. That he finds true interest in me, and he likes what he sees.

I know I’m not perfect, and I know I’ve done things that aren’t admirable in the past, but I try to do good. I try to live my life without intentionally hurting others. It would be natural to expect some people to look at me with some measure of disgust because I haven’t paid taxes, or because I drive without a license.

But not Flynn. He doesn’t admire that behavior but he does admire and like the way I have survived. I’m finally getting validation from someone that I am more than what my father ever believed I would amount to.

Flynn is staring at me with genuine affection twinkling in his eyes. I want to reach my hand out and ruffle his hair with my fingers, trail them down his temple and feel the scruff of his beard along my nerve endings.

I’m in danger of falling prey to “The Happening”, and if I do, I am in danger of falling hard for Flynn. I want it… badly. But I’m as equally afraid of it. It pulls me left and right, turns me upside down, and ties my stomach in knots. My heart tells me to let go and enjoy the free-fall. But then my brain pulses images of my dad’s face as I walked out the door five years ago. I can hear the click of the lock as clear as a bell and my chest seems to cave inward upon itself.

I need space and I start to stand up. Flynn’s hand jets out and grabs a hold of my fingertips. “Hey, there was something I wanted to talk to you about.”

His face is so serious that my stomach flips. Oh, God… is he kicking me out? Did I do something wrong?

I lower my butt slowly to the couch, afraid of the words that will come out of his mouth once I get settled in. It reminds me of the time that I was trying to teach Capone how to sit. He was so stubborn and didn’t want to do it at first. He would lower his butt to the floor at the speed of molasses, staring at me intently. It’s like he was waiting to see if I would change my mind before ass met linoleum.

I feel that way now. Maybe Flynn will release my hand and change his mind before my butt hits the cushion.

But no such luck. I sink down and Flynn gives my hand a quick squeeze before he lets go. He angles his body more toward me and flips his arm over the back of the couch.

“So…” he says slow and drawn out, which tells me that he’s nervous. “You know Nix and Em are getting married over Christmas in St. John, right?”

“Duh… it’s all she talks about when I’m around her. Which reminds me… I better start looking for a gift for them.”

“Well… you know it’s just for family, but since I’m the only single person attending, Nix and Em said I could invite someone. I was kind of hoping you’d come with me to the wedding.”

I know I heard Flynn wrong because I just stare at him, my mouth hanging open. This is wrong on so many levels, but mainly because the minute he invited me, a freakin’ fantasy image of him and me kissing on a sandy beach flashed through my mind.

Before I can answer, Flynn says, “And I’m only talking about as friends. I actually thought about asking Tim if he wanted to go… you know, get away for a quick vacation, but then I remembered he’d never leave Sam on Christmas. So I thought about you… because next to Tim… you’re my closest friend.”

Flynn’s words hit the mark and cause me pain at the same time. I’m happy to know he was only asking as a friend, but I can’t help that it hurts my feelings just a tad that he considered Tim first.

And being the woman that has repetitively held up a barrier to Flynn’s feelings for me, I am one seriously twisted chick to even be offended by that.

Still, it’s not possible for me to go. “It sounds great, Flynn. Truly. But I don’t have that type of money to spend and before you even open your mouth to offer to pay for my expenses, I just want you to know I’ll punch you in the face if you do.”

Flynn’s mouth was halfway open to argue with me about the expenses but my threat to punch him has it snapping shut.

I stand up from the couch, giving in to the urge I had a few minutes ago… to ruffle Flynn’s hair. I reach down and do just that, his eyes burning into me with frustration and affection. “Now, I’m going to go get some sleep. See you in the morning.”

I turn away before the brief touch of my hand against Flynn’s head induces “The Happening” to occur and content myself to allow my dreams to give me what I really want.

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