Author: Lisa H
Rating: PG 13
Disclaimer:This is a work of fiction based on the characters established and defined by the actor Russell Crowe. It is strictly for entertainment purposes. Please do not copy, publish or alter this work in any way without the written permission of the author.
It’s your world
And I was just someone in it
I never wanted to be your problem
And it’s your life
And I just wanted to see you live it
Be the one to help you solve ’em
I wanted–I wanted it to be
I wanted–I wanted it to be–yeah, yeah
Never claimed to be no savior
Never claimed to be no saint
I’m just another tool who tried to love you
Saw the ones before me
Then I saw the one who took my place
Took a lot of time just to get on by you..
I wanted–I wanted it to be
I wanted–I wanted it to be–yeah, yeah
It’s you world
And I was just someone in it
I never wanted to be your problem..
(lyrics by Sister Hazel)
After tossing and turning for half the day, Lisa finally got up. Sleep just wasn’t happening today. She had worked the night before but had only been able to sleep for a couple of hours. Her guilty conscience had not allowed her any rest. She was ashamed at what she had been doing lately and today it had finally overwhelmed her.
“Maybe a little road trip will do me good.” Lisa took a quick shower, changed into a comfortable pair of jeans and a light sweater and packed an overnight bag. After making sure that everything was locked up, she jumped in her car and headed out of town.
She didn’t really have any destination in mind. Just some drive time to do a little soul searching. So she just pulled out onto the highway and headed south. Her new silver Honda CR-V ate up the miles and the hours. She wasn’t really paying any attention to where she was going or to the gauges on her dash. Her thoughts were consumed with re-enacting the scenes from the previous weeks.
She was appalled at the way she had tried to break up her friend’s relationship. Little digs at them, laughing when others had made fun of them, trying to set one of them against the other, she was guilty of all these things and more. She blinked back tears. “Jeez, with friends like me who needs enemies.”
What it all come down to was she was jealous. Now she didn’t want Cliff in a romantic way, he was like a little brother to her. But for so long, it had been the three of them, Cliff, May and Lisa. Three people with something in common, they had all come from rotten marriages that left them wary of loving again. They could hang out together, lamenting the fact that there was no one out there, comfortable in the fact that they weren’t the only ones feeling this way. And then one day, Cliff had looked at May and realized what was before his eyes all the time. Suddenly the three friends became a couple and a single. Lisa felt left out. Even though she knew is wasn’t true, some days it seemed to Lisa that the whole world was in pairs and she was the only one running around alone. So now she was just running period. Trying to get away. Maybe a little distance would put some perspective on things.
A jolt brought her out of her self imposed pity party. She had better pay attention to the road before she wrecked her new car. A dozen or so miles back, she had turned off the interstate and headed down an unpaved country road.. She wasn’t sure what made her turn, it had just seemed like the way to go. She focused on the road. Although it was gravel, it was fairly well maintained with only the occasional rut and pothole. She looked down at the dashboard.
“Crap! When did that happen?” Lisa stared at disbelief at the gas gauge. It was sitting dangerously close to empty and the low gas light was shining at her maliciously. She slowed down and looked around. Nothing, not a barn or a building or anything in sight. Nothing except miles of flat land and some insidious looking black clouds looming on the horizon. “Could this day get any worse?”
With a sputter, Lisa’s car proved it could. Outta gas! She coasted the car to the side of the road. She banged her head lightly on the steering wheel, over and over again. “Well, this just sucks!”
She sat there for a moment, fighting back tears that had been threatening for hours. Nope, she refused to cry. Crying made her nose run and her eyes get red. Hadn’t she learned long ago that tears accomplished absolutely nothing. But it just wasn’t fair. Her mom’s voice echoed in her head, ‘Life’s not fair, Lisa. You learned that a very long time ago.’
“Well, sitting here won’t accomplish anything either.” She reached behind her and grabbed her jacket. “Guess I’ll just have to hoof it down the road until I find someplace to get gas.”
She was walking down the road when she heard the ominous crack of thunder. She looked up. The sky had darkened considerably and she could tell that a rainstorm was on its way. On the horizon, she saw a small group of buildings. Quickening her pace, she hastened towards them as the first fat drops of rain began to fall.
Soon the few drops of rain turned into a lot more. Not some nice warm spring rain but a heavy cold downpour. In minutes, Lisa was soaked. She slowed down, breathing heavily. Hurrying was a moot point now. She couldn’t get any wetter than she already was. Her soggy jeans were sticking to her legs and she knew that her sweater would never be the same. Water and mud squished out of her loafers. //Another pair of shoes wreaked. Why is it every time I go on a road trip, I manage to ruin a pair of shoes?//
The dirt road she had been on must have been a service road because she could now see it lead to the rear entrances of the buildings ahead of her. There were several and there was something familiar about them. But she couldn’t remember ever coming this way before so she couldn’t understand the feeling. She threaded her way through a group of trees. Suddenly she paused. The bare branches of the poplar that she stood next to didn’t provide much shelter from the pouring rain. Her heart sank. //Oh no. Not here. Anywhere but here. Not now.//
Lisa was close enough to her destination to see where she was. She recognized that building. This was the last place she wanted to be, the Crowe’s Tavern. Normally she liked coming here. She was a great lurker. Never saying anything to anyone other than the waiter, she’d pull up a chair in the corner and watch the interplay between the residents of the Nest and the women who stayed here regularly. Excited to see where the connections were going to be and observe with interest when two soul mates found each other. Okay, Lisa had to admit to herself that there was one love affair that made her heart ache. She had watched with morbid fascination when he found his soul mate, the person that had finally wiped the sadness from his eyes. Although, she liked all of the Russell Crowe incarnations, he was the one she had fallen in love with. She was trying to be happy for him. He was happy. She could see it in his smile. Hadn’t someone once said, “The hardest thing to do is watch the one you love, love someone else.” She was already having problems with jealousy, she didn’t need to come here for another helping.
This was the final straw. She was tired, wet, cold and sad. She slumped down against a tree. tucking her legs tight against her for warmth and cried out her frustration. Hot tears mixed with the cold rain and streamed down her cheeks. She put her head on her knees and sobbed.
The storm drowned out the sound of the man approaching. He looked down at the woman sitting on the ground. At first he thought she was shaking from the cold then he realized she was crying. Well, he couldn’t just let her sit in the rain and cry. He knelt down next to her. A gentle touch on her shoulder was followed by his low voice asking, “Excuse me for asking but what’s wrong?”
Lisa’s sobs ended in a started gasp. //Now this is going to be the finale of a truly rotten day. I’m going to look up and it’s going to be him, I just know it.// She tentatively raised her eyes.
Her breath left her in a sigh of relief as she stared into the concerned green eyes of East Driscoll. She was too relieved to be embarrassed at finally coming face to face with one of ‘the Boyz’. He was dressed in jeans and a plaid shirt covered with a duster to protect him from the rain. Water dripped off the brim of his hat as he pushed it up slightly to look at her.
“Are you okay?” East wondered if the women at his feet was injured, she hadn’t spoken and was just staring up at him. He extended a hand out to her. “Come on, let’s get you inside out of this blasted rain.”
Lisa finally found her voice. “No, No” She shook her head. She’d rather stay outside in the rain. ‘He’ was probably inside the Tavern. Besides there was no way she was going inside looking like a drown rat. “I’m fine. Really.”
East wasn’t going to be deferred. He grasped Lisa’s hand firmly and pulled her to her feet. She tried to pull her hand away and he tightened his grip. “Come here. You are not fine, you’re soaked. You’re coming inside now.” He started to drag her along.
Lisa dug in her feet. Her wet loafers didn’t provided much traction against the strong cowboy pulling her towards the backdoor of the Tavern. She slid along in the mud.
East was rapidly losing his patience. “Listen, lady. I don’t have time for this. Now come along nicely or I’ll pick you up and carry you in!” He pulled hard against her. Lisa pulled back. Suddenly both of them slipped in the wet earth and ended up sitting in the mud.
East glared at her. Lisa glared back. “Dammit, woman, what is your problem?!?”
Lisa welcomed the rush of anger that had displaced her sadness. “My problem? You’re the one with the problem. What, you can’t hear? I said I didn’t want to go inside.”
“Fine!” East yelled. “You want to sit in the mud and the rain, then!” He got up and tried to brush some of the mud from his duster.
“Fine!” Lisa slapped her hands down into the muck. “Thank you very much for your permission.”
At the same time they both realized how funny this looked. East towering over her, mud dripping off his coat and Lisa splattering mud about. Sparkling blue green eyes met laughing green ones. East giggled and extended a hand.
“Please, let me at least help you up. You don’t have to come inside up but at least get out of the mud.” He wasn’t sure what this sheila’s problem was but he couldn’t just leave her here. However, he had to get back to the stables. “Come on.”
Lisa grasped his hand. “Okay. My car ran out of gas a little ways down the road. If you’d just loan me a little gas and lift back, I’ll be out of here right quick.”
“Darlin’, I don’t know of anyone here who would let you get in his car looking like that. Why don’t you come inside, wash up and wait for the storm to pass?” He still didn’t understand her reluctance to go into the Tavern.
“Oh no. Not inside.” Lisa shook her head vigorously back and forth. “Nope, not inside.”
East was getting frustrated again. He really didn’t have time for this. He caught a movement out of the corner of his eye. Perfect! Bud was walking along the side of the building using the awing as shelter from the rain. “Hey, Bud!!”
Lisa’s head spun around. //Great, here’s another one. At this rate, ‘He’ will show up too and my humiliation will be complete.//
“Bud,” East’s voice was pleading, “This is..uh, don’t believe I ever got your name.”
“Bud, this is Lisa. Her car ran out of petrol down the road. She needs a clean up and a ride back. I’ve got to go back to the stable. Could you take her inside?” He was counting on Bud to be able to convince Lisa to go inside. If not, it was Bud’s turn to deal with her. He leaned over and whispered in Bud’s ear. “Found her crying underneath Max’s poplar. I’m not sure what’s going on? Take care of her, okay mate?” He nodded when Bud did. East waved good-bye and turned back towards the stable.
“Hi, Lisa. I’m Bud White.” He gestured to the door. “Right through here. There’s a shower in the mud room. I’ll grab ya a robe, we can get your clothes washed up. You don’t have to worry. Nobody’s in there right now. Well, nobody except Andy and maybe Jeff Wigand.”
Lisa finally admitted defeat. She was too tired to argue anymore and if it was just Bud, Jeffrey and Andy then she’d be alright. She walked towards the door.
Bud watched the woman who walked in front of him. Her shoulder’s were slumped, weariness seeped from every pore. He recognized that look, it was a tiredness that went beyond the physical clear to the soul. Nobody came to the Crowe’s Nest by accident. There was a reason she was here. Something they could do for her. Time would tell what is was.
He gestured to a small bathroom right inside the door. “If you just leave your clothes here on the sink. I’ll bring down a bathrobe for you. Don’t worry. I’ll lock the outside door as soon as I bring it back so you can have some privacy.” He headed out the door, back to the Hotel.
In a few minutes, he was back. Bud laid a fluffy white bathrobe with the name Crowe’s Nest embroidered across the pocket on the counter next to the bathroom. He could hear the sound of the shower running. He locked the backdoor then walked through the door leading into the main room of the Tavern, locking that door behind him.
“Hey, Bud.” Andy’s cheery voice greeted him. “East just called up here. Wanted to know if you got someone named Lisa to come inside. Whose he talking about?”
“Someone he found out in the rain. Seems she ran out of gas and walked the rest of the way here. She wouldn’tcome inside with East.”
“I’m not sure but I think there is someone here she doesn’t want to meet. ‘Cuz the minute I said we were the only ones in here, she changed her mind and came inside.” Bud pulled up a chair next to Jeffrey Wigand.
Andy and Jeffrey looked around. “Well, where is she?” Jeffrey asked.
“She was covered with mud so I sent her to the shower. Seems her and East had a bit of a mud wrestling match.” He smiled remembering they both looked.
“Well, this is quite a mystery. Wonder whose got her so nervous?” Jeffrey wondered out loud.
Andy figured he had the answer. “It’s gotta be either Sid or Hando. They are usually the one’s that scare people off.”
“For some reason, I don’t think it’s either of them.” Bud took a swallow of his coffee. “Just cop’s instincts.”
“Okay,” Andy was intrigued. He loved a puzzle. “Let’s see, we know its not East, or you Jeff, or you Bud or me. And you don’t think it’s Hando or Sid. So whose that leave?”
“Just about everyone else in the whole damn place.” Bud turned when he heard the door open. He looked over the woman that was walking through the door. She looked smaller somehow wrapped in that bathrobe, the sleeves rolled up slightly. She had the collar pulled up tight against her throat. She cautiously glanced around the room. He could see the relief in her eyes as she took in the empty tables and chairs. //Yep, there is definitely someone here she doesn’t want to see.//
Her gaze snapped to the front door as it started opened. Bud watched her eyes widen and her back stiffen. He turned to see who was coming in.
Lisa relaxed as she watched John Biebe walk in, shaking the rain from his hair. He pushed it back out of his eyes with a sweep of his hands. Any other time, that would have made her knees weak. It was a testimony to her state of mind that it didn’t even phase her. Right now, she was too tired and unhappy to enjoy it.
“Shit. Where did this storm come from? I was down at the arena. Didn’t even notice it until I got ready to leave.” John noticed Lisa standing by the back door. “Well, whose this?” He walked towards her.
She smiled tentatively. Holding out a slender hand, she replied, “Hi, my name’s Lisa. My car ran out of gas a few miles down the service road. I know what you mean about the storm. I was walking down the road when it hit.”
John grasped her hand in a firm handshake. “That explains the outfit.” He smiled down at her. “Can we get you something to drink? Andy here makes a mean Alpine.”
“Alpine sounds good. Even with the shower, I still feel chilly. Maybe that will help warm me up.”
He gestured towards the bar. “Would you like to sit down?”
She looked around, spotting her favorite booth. “Mind if I sit over there. I think I’d be more comfortable out of the way.”
“Sure. You head over there. I’ll bring your drink”
John watched her walk over to a corner booth, one that faced both the front and side doors. From there he was sure that she could see all that was going on but no one would notice her unless they looked.. He strolled over to the bar where the rest of the guys were seated.
“Andy, I need an Alpine for the lady and a coffee for me.” John glanced back at Lisa. “So what’s up with her?”
Andy piped up, “Bud thinks she’s scared of somebody here.”
Bud gave Andy a disgusted look. “I didn’t say she was afraid of someone. She didn’t want to come inside until she heard who was in here. I just think there is someone at the Nest that she doesn’t want to run into.”
John slipped into Sheriff mode, “So who have we eliminated so far?”
“Me, Jeffrey, Andy, East and now you. Somehow, I don’t think it’s Sid or Hando.
“Have you tried asking her?”
Andy slid the drink across to John. “You think she’d just come out and tell ya?”
John shrugged his broad shoulders. “Well, I’m not going to ask her outright. I’ll be subtle. Watch and learn, boy.”
Lisa looked up when John slid the mug over to her. //Amazing how much better looking he is in person. Funny how John affect me the same way as ‘Him’?// “Thanks.”
“Mind if I join ya?” John gestured to his coffee cup.
“Sure, I guess so.” Lisa pulled her legs back as John slid into the other side of the booth.
“So what brings you to the Crowe’s Nest?” John thought his start was good, causal enough to sound like he wasn’t being nosy.
Lisa took a sip of her drink. She coughed a little. “Wow, Andy doesn’t skimp on the Schnapps, does he? Like I’ve told just about everyone I’ve meet so far, a car out of gas brought me to the Crowe’s Nest. I wasn’t headed here on purpose. I wasn’t paying attention to the gauges and didn’t notice when the gas got low. When my car ran out of gas, I just started walking. Now, when my clothes get dry and someone can give me a lift back to car, I’ll be out of here.”
“No offense, Lisa. But nobody finds this place by accident. If you find it, you were meant to be here.” He shrugged his shoulders. “I’m not sure how but that’s just the way it works.”
“But I’ve been here before, just to the Tavern. Only a couple times but I have been here.” She took another long swallow of her drink.
“But every time you came, you meant to. What I’m trying to say is that you can’t get here if you’re not supposed to.” He couldn’t think of any other way to explain it.
Lisa could feel herself getting frustrated. //What is it with these guys?// “And what I’m trying to say is, that I don’t want to be here so I can’t understand why I’m here.” She drained the last of her drink. If she was going to keep up this argument, she was going to need another one. She caught Andy’s eyes from across the room. She showed him her empty cup. He nodded and started to fix another one.
“Okay, now we get down to the bottom line. Why don’t you want to be here?” John leaned forward. His hair fell into his eyes and he pushed it back with a practiced sweep.
//Oh no. Not the hair thing again.// Lisa focused on his eyes. He really did look like he cared. Maybe it was a combination of the alcohol and her lack of sleep as well as the fact that she hadn’t eaten all day but she found herself telling John everything. She told him about her problems about Cliff and May. Then she told him about falling for one of the guys at the Nest and how she didn’t really want to see him because she was already having enough guilty feeling regarding jealousy. How she wasn’t ready to see him and his soul mate looking lovingly at each other. Lisa only stopped talking for a minute when Andy brought her drink to the table. She told John everything, everything except the name of the guy. By the time she was done, she eyes were moist and she was blinking back tears.
“And that’s why I don’t want to be here. I just want to get gas for my car and get out of here. I just can’t deal with it, not today.”
John laid his hand over hers. “Sounds like you need to stop kicking yourself about your friends. Seems to me what you’re feeling is perfectly normal. It was just the actions that followed that were misplaced. You realize what you were doing was wrong, right?”
“Yes” She sniffed.
“And you’re going to stop doing it, right?” John handed her a handkerchief out of his back pocket.
“Yes” Lisa wiped her eyes and nose. Great, she was crying again. She’d done more crying since she set foot on Crowe’s Nest property than she’d done in a long time. Another good reason to get out of here.
“So when you get back home, explain to your friends and apologize. I’m sure they’ll understand and forgive you.”
Lisa nodded. He was right. Cliff and May would understand. They were good friends. She’d just have to get use to the changing dynamic of their friendship. It would work out. Especially if she didn’t try to destroy it.
“And about the other thing…” John stopped when Bud yelled his name.
“Hey, John. Peaches is on the phone for you. She says she needs to talk to you right now.” Bud gestured with the phone.
“Go on. I’ll be alright. I think I’d just like a little time alone to think anyway.” Lisa waved him off and settled back in the booth. She propped her back against the wall and stretched out her legs. She stifled a yawn. The events of the day were beginning to catch up with her. She closed her eyes.
John hung up the phone and turned back towards the booth. He looked down at the sleeping woman. She didn’t look too uncomfortable so he carefully grabbed his coffee cup and headed back to the bar.
“So?” Jeffrey asked. “You talked to her for a long time. What did you find out?” Bud and Andy leaned close.
“Well, she had some problems with friends at home, that’s why she took off. Didn’t realize that she was headed here. And Bud’s right, there is someone here she doesn’t want to see.”
“Who?” They all asked at once.
“She wouldn’t say. But it’s not because she’s afraid of him, it’s actually the opposite. She’s in love with him. But apparently, he’s already found his soul mate and she doesn’t want to interfere.”
“Great! Some detective you are.” Andy’s voice dripped with sarcasm. “Well at least that will help us eliminate a few more.”
“Okay,” Jeffrey grabbed a napkin and pulled a pen out of his pocket. “Let’s make a list of those we can cross off.” He started to write down names, Jeffrey, Bud, John, East, “We can add Jack, Arthur, Kim, Johnny and Dominic. What about Steve? Is he got a soul mate yet?”
“I’m not sure. I know he’s been seeing someone but I’m not sure how serious it is.”
“Don’t forget Jeff Mitchell. We can add him to the list. He’s a poofter.” Andy looked up as the side door opened and Colin, Alex and Zack walked in.
“Hey Guys!” Zach hollered. “You should see the car that’s parked out on the service road. Looks brand new. And Max would flip if he could see the license plate.”
“Shh!” Jeffrey, Bud, Andy and John all said at once. John pointed over to Lisa.
“Oh,” Zack was contrite. He lowered his voice. “Well, anyway. The plates say, ‘Argento’. Don’t ya just love it.”
“Whose the sleeping beauty?” Alex asked.
“Lisa and that’s probably her car your talking about.” John motioned them over so that he wouldn’t have to yell.
“And she’s in love with someone at the Nest and she don’t want to see him.” Andy jumped in.
John glared at him. “Twit. Maybe she doesn’t want everyone in the whole place to know her problems.”
“Too late.” Colin said. “So who is it?”
“She wouldn’t say.” John glanced back at her. “But it really bothers her. She panics every time someone new shows up.”
“It’s gotta be Max” Zack decided. “After all, look at her license plates.”
“Speaking of her car.” Bud looked at Zach and Colin. “You guys want to grab some gas and go get it. Wait a minute, Alex, you go with them. I think you’re the only one that hasn’t wreaked a car.”
The remaining guys were hovered over the list when Peaches and Liz walked in. The women exchanged confused glances as they took in the sight of the men bunched together looking at something written on a napkin and arguing among themselves.
“I don’t agree with Zack,” Jeffrey was saying. “It’s too obvious. Everyone falls for Maximus at least for a little while. She’d have seen it happen to others. Know that its a temporary infatuation for most people.”
“But, he’s got a point. After all her car’s got his horse’s name on it.” Bud pointed out.
They all jumped when Peaches said from behind them. “What are you guys discussing so intently?”
“Lisa’s in love with someone at the Nest. We’re just trying to figure out who it is.” Andy volunteered.
Bud rolled his eyes, “What did I say earlier?”
Andy grimaced, “Oops, sorry. But Peaches and Liz own this place so they should know.”
“Okay,” Peaches put her hands on her hips. Sometimes these men could drive her crazy. “Someone what to tell me what’s going on? You, Jeffrey, give me the scoop.”
“East found this lady out by Max’s poplar, she was sitting in the rain crying. When he tried to get her to come inside, she refused. Eventually Bud was able to convince her to come in after she found out who was in here.” He gestured to John to continue the story.
“I talked to her for awhile and manage to get the story out of her. Turns out she ‘ran away from home’ for a littlewhile. She’s having some problems with some friends of hers.”
Peaches looked confused. “But that doesn’t explain why she didn’t want to come inside.”
“I was getting to that. Turns out her other problem is that she is in love with someone at the Nest. But he’s already in love with someone else and she’s having a little trouble with the jealousy thing.” He tilted his head. ” Something I can understand.”
“Well, who is it?” Both women asked at the same time.
Bud was the one to answer. “That’s the puzzle. She won’t say. So we’ve made a list here,” He showed them the napkin, ” of the people it can’t be. These are the guys that either don’t have a soul mate yet, or guys that she’s already met.”
Both women leaned over to look at the list. Neither Cort’s nor Terry’s name was on it. They exchanged a worried glance.
“So,” Peaches said, trying to be casual, “She doesn’t want to met this ‘mystery man’, huh?”
“Nope,” John stated, “She was very emphatic about that. She just wants her car back and get out of here. I told her there was a reason she was her. After all, nobody gets here..”
“By accident.” Liz finished his sentence. “Maybe Peaches and I can talk to her. She might tell us who he is.” She looked around the Tavern. “Where is she?”
John pointed to the darkened corner booth. “Over there. She’s asleep.”
Peaches glared at him. “You let her fall asleep in a booth. Jeez, could you have possibly made her more uncomfortable? It case you’ve forgotten, we do have a hotel next door. You know, a place with beds, showers, etc.”
John held up his hands in surrender. “Hey, easy. I was talking to you on the phone when she fell asleep. She looked comfortable enough so I just let her be.”
“Come on,” Peaches grabbed Liz, “Let’s go talk to her.”
Lisa woke up when someone gently shook her arm. She opened her eyes and looked into the concerned gazes of the two women standing over her. She carefully sat up, stretching her sore neck. She tipped her head back and forth to loosen the muscles that had tensed up. A blush stained her cheeks, she wrapped the robe tighter around her. “Uh, Hi?” Her voice made the greeting a question.
Peaches smiled at her. “Hi, I’m Peaches, I own the Hotel and this is Liz, she owns the Tavern.”
“Hi, I’m Lisa.” She swept a hand down the bathrobe, “Sorry about the outfit. My clothes got a little muddy. SoBud loaned me this. He’s washing my clothes, I think.” A worried look crossed her face. “At least I think he is, I’m not really sure. He didn’t say. But I’m assuming he is, after all, why would he take my clothes…” Lisa realized that she was babbling so she shut up. //Great, they probably think I’m an idiot.//
Liz turned towards the bar. “Hey, Bud!” She shouted, “What’d you do with Lisa’s clothes?”
“Washed them,” He shouted back, “They’re in the dryer right now.”
Lisa groaned. She sadly shook her head. “well, that sweater’s toast now.”
“No problem, I’ll loan you one of my shirts.” Peaches offered.
“If I could just somehow get to my car, I’ve got extra clothes in my suitcase.”
Peaches brightened. “You’ve got a suitcase, great! You’re staying for a couple of days.”
Lisa shook her head vigorously. “No, sorry, I’m afraid you don’t understand. I wasn’t planning on staying here. I’ve got to get going.”
“Nonsense,” Peaches dismissed Lisa’s protests with a wave. “You’ve got a bag, we’ve got a room. Nobody comes to the Crowe’s Nest…”
“By accident,” Lisa finished. “I’ve already heard that before. And I’ve already told people that I don’t want to stay. Thank you anyway.”
“Lisa,” Peaches voice was understanding. “Look outside, its pouring down rain. The road here isn’t the best when the weather is like this.” Peaches crossed her fingers behind her back to cancel the small lie.
“Yes,” Liz agreed. “Stay with us. The forecast says the weather is beautiful tomorrow. You can leave bright and early in the morning.”
Lisa finally admitted defeat. She seemed to be doing that alot lately. “But what about my car?”
“No worries,” Andy said as he walked up, “Colin, Alex and Zack went to get it. They should be back any moment.”
Lisa eyed him suspiciously. “How’d they get my car keys?”
“Simple, Bud got them from your coat.”
Everyone turned as the front door opened. and Colin, Zack and Alex walked. “Beauty of a car. Drives like a dream.” Colin was saying to Alex as they walked in. Zack was right behind then.
Lisa whirled around, facing Bud. “You let him drive my car.”
“Hey,” Bud stepped back. “I told them to take Alex. He was supposed to drive.”
“I don’t think that we’ve been formally introduce.” Alex extended a hand to Lisa, “I’m Alex Ross.”
Lisa shook his hand. Then turned when she felt a tap on her shoulder. Colin was standing behind her.
“I’m Colin O’Brien,” he gave her a sheepish grin, “And I promise that I’m a very good driver.”
“I’m Zack Grant,” he held up a Mickey Mouse duffle bag, “and I’ve got your bag.”
“Hi,” her gazed swept all of them, “I’m Lisa and that’s my car you were driving.”
Everyone watched Lisa’s reaction to the men very closely. She seemed slightly embarrassed but that was all. Jeffrey, who was still sitting at the bar, added Zack, Colin and Alex’s names to the list.
Lisa looked at the people around her. Suddenly she realized that she was standing in a bar, surrounded by gorgeous men, pretty women and she was in a bathrobe. This was like one of those nightmares where you show up to work naked. Only this was real. //God, this has been one hell of a day// She sighed. She ran a hand through long dark hair. She smiled slightly and looked pleadingly at Peaches.
“Come on,” Peaches grabbed her hand, leading her towards the side door. “Let’s get you a room and you can change for dinner.”
Lisa followed her up to the second floor, to a small room tucked in the corner. Nothing fancy, just a simple room with a double bed in the middle of the room, a small table by the window and a TV in a simple entertainment center surrounded by empty bookshelves. Lisa was relieved. Nothing excessively personal about it. She remembered reading others descriptions of coming to the Hotel and finding their room was designed with them in mind. Everything exactly how they would have decorated it. She knew if she found a room perfect for her, that she was destined to stay at the Nest and right now that’s not what she wanted. But anyone who knew her could have pointed out to her that this was the perfect room. She’d never been one to surround herself with too much. She always kept it simple.
Peaches smiled as Lisa looked around. She had always wondered who this room would belong to. She had thought it strange as she decorated it. It was one of the few rooms that looked like a regular Hotel room. But for some reason, it was the room that she knew was right for Lisa. Oh well, that’s just the way thing worked around here.
“Lisa,” she asked, “Can I do anything for you right now?”
“No, I’m fine. Thank you.” Lisa smiled at her, “Thank you also for this room. I appreciate it. I really do. I know I’ve been kinda stubborn about this whole thing.”
“It’s alright. This place can be a bit overwhelming. I’ll leave you be for now. Come down when you are changed and we’ll get you some dinner.”
“Thanks.” Lisa watched as Peaches left, shutting the door behind her.
The Tavern was filling up when Lisa walked through the door. Andy waved to her from the bar. She waved back. East walked over to her.
“G’day,” His smile was warm. “You look better.”
“Thanks,” she smiled back. “You do too. Look, I’m really sorry about earlier.”
“No worries,” he dismissed her apology. “Come on, join me and Kath.”
“No really, I don’t want to interrupt.” She stopped talking as he grabbed her hand and led her to a booth near the dance floor. //Why does he always trying to drag me someplace?// She smiled as a slender, blond woman slid out of the booth and greeted her.
“Hi, I’m Kath. East was just telling me about how he tried to drag you through the mud and now I see he’s dragging you around again. East, honey, you’ve got to stop that.” She gave him an affectionate kiss. “Please join us.”
Lisa hated this part. The awkwardness of trying to make small talk with strangers. Kath seemed nice enough and spending the evening looking at East across the table wouldn’t be bad but she didn’t feel up to socializing. Finally she decided that the truth would be the best thing. “Thanks, I appreciate the offer but I really don’t think I’d be good company tonight. So if you don’t mind, I think I’ll pass.”
“Sure, we understand.” Kath couldn’t help but feel sorry for the lady. East had told her how he had found her and Peaches had filled in the rest. She was as curious as everyone else who this mystery man might be but she knew now wasn’t the time to push. She watched as Lisa walked off to a small table with only two chairs that was on the edge of the dance floor. Kath turned to East, giving him a quick hug. Deep down, she had to admit that she was glad that he wasn’t the object of Lisa’s infatuation.
Lisa sat at the table, perusing the menu. She looked up when someone cleared his throat. She looked up into the smiling eyes of Terry Thorne.
“Hi, I’m Terry.” He grabbed the chair next to her. “Liz told me to keep you company until she finished.”
A small group watched the meeting with interest. Peaches, Liz, Bud and Jeffrey were sitting at the bar and Andy was serving them drinks and joining in on the conversation.
“Well, that was brave. Just sending him over like that.” Peaches told Liz.
“Figured I’d get him eliminated right away so I didn’t have to worry about it.” Liz was glad it worked. She motioned to Jeffrey. “Add him to that list, buddy.”
“Hey,” Bud whispered, “Don’t look now but here comes Max.”
Five heads turned towards the table where Lisa and Terry sat talking. They all waited with anticipation for Lisa to notice Maximus. They didn’t have to wait long.
Lisa did a double take when she noticed who had come through the door. She was amazed how good the roman general looked in jeans. This was the man who started it all for her. She was both grateful and angry at him. Grateful, for without him, she wouldn’t have discovered Russell Crowe and all his wonderful movies. But it was in one of those other movies that she discovered the source of her heartache, so part of her wished that she had never laid eyes on the handsome gladiator. She shook her head as Terry motioned Maximus over to their table. “Terry, I really wish you wouldn’t do…” Her voice trailed off as Maximus strode over to their table.
“Max, I’d like you to meet our new arrival.” Terry gestured towards Lisa. “Max, this is Lisa. Lisa, this is Maximus.”
“Greetings,” Maximus’ voice was low and cultured. “It’s a pleasure to meet you. Is that your car parked out there with ‘Argento’ on it?”
Lisa could feel her cheeks turn red. “Yes. Oh god, this is so embarrassing. It’s silver so Argento seemed like a logical name for it and I never thought that you’d see it so at the time it seemed like a good idea. Oh man, I’m babbling. I’ll shut up now.”
“Don’t worry, honey. He had that affect on most of us.” A beautiful woman slipped her arm around Maximus’ waist. “You get over it eventually. Welcome to the Nest.” She extended her hand.
Lisa shook it, grateful for the distraction. “Thank you.”
The woman tugged gently on Maximus’ sleeve. “Come on, our table’s ready.”
Maximus dipped his head. “It was nice to meet you, Lisa.” He turned to Terry. “You going to watch the rugby game tonight?”
“Wouldn’t miss it, mate. See ya there.”
Back at the bar, Jeffrey Wigand added another name to the list. “Well, that’s another one.”
“So whose that leave, Jeff?” Andy peered across the bar at the napkin.
“Well, if we don’t count Sid or Hando, there’s only a few.” He started to list them, “Mannie, Lachlan and” he glanced over at Peaches, “Cort.”
Lisa and Terry were talking about Australia. She was planning to visit there in August and Terry was filling her in on the best places to go. And places not to go. She had overcome her shyness and was now talking animatedly to him.
“But Terry, my mom wants to go to the Hardrock Cafe in Sydney and you’re telling me to avoid Darlinghurst.”
“Only after dark. So if you go for lunch you should be okay.” He smiled at her enthusiasm for his homeland. He was amazed at her knowledge of the places she planned to visit. “Why are you asking me? Sounds like you know plenty about Oz. You must be one hell of a researcher.”
Lisa flushed at his compliment, “I’m just an over-planner. I’ve always wanted to go to Australia so I’ve been reading books about it for years. Then when we decided to go this year, I was outta control. I think I’ve read just about every travel book and checked out most of the web sites on the internet. It actually drives my mom crazy. I’m always making itineraries for our trips. I know some people probably think it strange for a thirty something woman to take trips with her mom but she’s a wonderful travel buddy.”
“I think it’s great. Not everyone has that kind of relationship with their parents.”
They both looked up when a young handsome man walked to their table. His blond hair and gray eyes were a contrast to all the dark haired, green eyed men at the Nest. He smiled brightly.
“Hi, I’m Rick. I’ll be your waiter tonight.” He motioned to the menus. “Are you ready to order?”
“Nothing for me, mate. I’m waiting for Liz.” Terry looked at Lisa. He noticed that she was worrying her bottom lip with her teeth. //That’s strange. She seemed fine a second ago.//
“Um, I’ll just have a bowl of soup. Thank you.” Lisa handed the menu back to him. She watched Rick walk away. He stopped to greet a young man who had just walked in. His smile was bright as he caressed Jeff Mitchell’s cheek. Jeff gave him a quick peck on the lips and smiled as Rick went back to the kitchen. She tore her gaze away and looked back at Terry.
Terry had watched the play of emotions across Lisa’s face. Now he understood. Liz had told him the story behind Lisa’s appearance at the Nest. Like everyone else, he had speculated on who she could possibly be in love with. But none of them would have guessed it was Jeff Mitchell.
“Uh, Terry,” Lisa’s voice was tight, “I’ve got to go. If you wouldn’t mind canceling my order.” She stood up.
Terry grabbed her hand. “Wait, Lisa.”
She pulled at his restraining hand. “No, really, I’ve got to leave.” She turned her tear-filled eyes towards him. “Please, I got to get out of here.”
One more jerk and her hand was free. Terry watched for a moment as she ran past everyone. She swerved past the group at the bar who were watching her flight with stunned silence. One last look back and she raced out the back door of the Tavern. He stood up, intent on following her. His path was blocked by Liz.
“What the hell just happened, Terry?” Liz’s voice was concerned. One minute she was watching Terry and Lisa chatting. Lisa was smiling, gesturing with her hands. It was the most relaxed Liz had seen her. Then Liz had turned away for a second, distracted by Andy’s question about the next shipment of wine. Next thing she knew, Lisa was tearing by her heading out the back door.
“I know who the mystery man is.” Terry’s eyes darted to the back door. “But I don’t have time to talk, luv. I’ve got to catch up with her.” After giving Liz a quick peck on the cheek, he ran out the door. He looked around, no sign of her. He stood still. He waited quietly in the dark, listening. Years of training and fields work paid off, he could hear the sound of ragged breathing. He turned and headed around the side of the building.
Lisa sat under the poplar, trying vainly to blink back tears.. //Well isn’t this just a little feeling of deja vu?// She thought sarcastically as she watched Terry approach. //Even got the Aussie coming to try to drag me inside.// She dropped her gaze back to the ground.
Terry walked slowly towards her. He sat down next to Lisa. A finger under her chin forced her to look at him. He watched as a single tear meandered down her cheek. He reached out and brushed it away. She closed her eyes and another tear slipped from beneath her long lashes. He pulled her into his embrace.
Lisa could feel her control break. She buried her face in Terry’s shirt and sobbed, heartbroken. He stroked her hair, not saying a word. He just held her tight and let her cry. Finally, her sobs turned to hiccups and then stopped altogether. She looked up at Terry with red rimmed eyes.
“I’m sorry.” Her voice was horse. She cleared her throat and tried again. “I suppose you’re wondering what this is all about.”
“Actually I have a pretty good idea.” He smiled sadly down at her, “You know it would never work, don’t ya?”
“I never expected it too. I always knew it was hopeless. But it didn’t change the way I feel.” Lisa sighed heavily. “It’s amazing how much it hurts to see them together. God, he’s crazy about Rick and you can see that Rick feels the same way.”
“I’m not going to sugar coat it, Lisa. You’re right. He is madly in love with Rick and Rick feels the same way. From what I understand, Jeff was here for a long time without someone. Sounds like it was an unexpected surprise for him to find Rick. You’re not going to change him, ya know. He won’t go straight.”
She pulled back slightly from his arms. “I never expected him to. He wouldn’t be Jeff if he did.”
“Lisa, you’re missing a chance to get to know a great group of guys and women here. And Jeff is probably one of the nicest blokes at the Nest. He’d feel awful if he knew that his presence was keeping you from coming here. Maybe you should just talk to him, get to know him on a friendly basis.”
Terry let her go as she struggled out of his embrace. He watched as she got up and started to pace. He stood, leaning back against the tree, silent, just listening to her talk out her frustration.
“Terry, I appreciate what your trying to do here but it’s not going to work. I can’t just sit here and watch them together. I can’t even talk to Jeff. God, Terry, this hurts.” She wrapped her arms tight around herself to ward off a chill that was coming from the inside. “It’s not fair. Of all of Russell Crowe’s characters, why’d I have to fall for the one guy I could never have.”
“Well, here’s my theory. Deep down inside, there is this part of us that thinks that we don’t deserve to be loved. So we fall in love with someone that we can’t have and who is never going to love us back. That way we’re safe.”
“You’re quite the philosopher, Mr. Terry Thorne.” Lisa couldn’t contain the sarcasm in her voice.
Terry shrugged. “I’m just an expert at loving the wrong person. But eventually you need to realize that if you don’t let go of the fantasy, you’re going to end up old and alone. You need to love someone for real, someone who loves you. I found Liz. Sweetheart, you need to find someone too.”
Terry interrupted, “I didn’t say that it had to be right now. Maybe your soul mate is here, maybe he’s someone that hasn’t shown up yet. I don’t think that Russell is done making movies yet so who knows, your soul mate may just be a movie role away. Or maybe he’ll never be here. Maybe you’ll find him somewhere else. But my point is, you’ve got to give up the fantasy and open yourself up to someone who can love you like you deserve to be loved.”
Lisa’s laugh held little humor, “You have no idea how strange it is to be discussing fantasy here,” she gestured to the buildings around her.
Terry smiled, “This is the Crowe’s Nest ,baby. We specialize in the bizarre.”
Both of them turned when they heard a voice call out. “Terry? Hey, mate, where are you?”
What color left in Lisa’s face drained out of it. She recognized the voice of Jeff Mitchell. She turned her panicked gaze to Terry. Vigorously shaking her head no, she covered his mouth with her hand, trying to keep him quiet.
Terry grabbed her wrist and pulled her hand away from him. Keeping a firm hold on her, he called out, “Over here, mate!” He looked down at Lisa. If looks could kill, he’d be lying prone at her feet. //Well, in a little while, she’ll either be eternally grateful or hate me for the rest of my life// Instinct told him that a confrontation was the best thing for Lisa. Years of working in K & R had taught him to go with his gut. He tightened his grip when she struggled, trying to get away. He’d probably have to apologize for the bruises later but he wasn’t going to allow her to run. He could tell when Jeff came around the corner. Lisa stopped struggling and went completely still. She was so still in fact, that Terry looked down to make sure was even breathing. He flinched at the look of betrayal in her eyes. She mouthed the words, “How could you?”
“There you are!” Jeff’s cheerful voice preceded him. “Liz is looking for ya. Said if you weren’t busy, you should come back in now. Those are her words, mate.” He looked at Terry, holding firmly onto the wrist of a woman, he didn’t recognize. Her face was pale and it looked like she had been crying. “But, uh, it looks like ya are a little occupied so I’ll, um, just tell Liz that you’re busy.” He started to back up.
“Wait,” Terry dragged Lisa forward. “If you wouldn’t mind keeping Lisa company, I’ll go see what Liz wants. Jeff, this is Lisa. She’s kinda new to the place and is a bit overwhelmed. I accompanied her out her for a breather. She’s going to Oz this spring so maybe you two could talk about that.” As he walked by Jeff, he whispered, “Keep a close eye on her, mate. She’s likely to make a break for it.”
Jeff gave Terry a confused look as he walked off. //Wonder what that was all about?// He turned back to the lady standing in front of him He extended a hand. “Hi, I’m Jeff Mitchell.” He lowered his hand when she didn’t shake it. She just stood there with her arms wrapped tight around her. “Ah, well. I guess you knew that. Ya know, it’s kinda odd. Meeting people that know so much about you. Took some time to get used to…” His voice trailed off when he realized that she wasn’t really listening to him. She was just staring at him, her big green eyes swimming with tears.
This was worse than Lisa had imagined. All she could do was stand there and stare at him. It was one thing to see him from across the room and a whole other thing to have him standing right in front of her. She could see the auburn highlights that the light from the window cast in his long hair. She was even close enough to catch a whiff of Obsession carried on the evening breeze. It was like looking in the window of a toy store as a kid, knowing there is something inside she couldn’t have. Knowing someone else was going to own it. She couldn’t stay. Lisa turned to leave.
Jeff reached out a hand to stop her. He was surprised when she jerked like his touch burned her. So this was the way it was. He understood, knew there were people out there that thought that homosexuality was like a disease. They were scared to have a poofter touch them, afraid they might catch it. It had been awhile since he’d had to deal with it. Around the Nest the only people that had any trouble with him were Sid and Hando but they had settled their difference by mostly just avoiding each other. Well, he wasn’t going to put up with it from this lady, even if she was a friend of Terry’s.
“Listen, lady. You’re not going to catch anything from me. If you’ve got issues with gays then that’s your problem, not mine. But let me tell you one thing, I’m no different from the rest of the blokes in this place. Okay, so I don’t root the sheilas but…”
“Wait,” Lisa interrupted. She couldn’t let him go on assuming that she thought him less of a person because of his sexual orientation. “It’s not what you think.”
Jeff stared back at her. “Well, then what the hell is your problem?”
Lisa grimaced, gnawing on her bottom lip. How could she explain without telling him what was really going on? Aw, hell, maybe she’d tell him the truth and high-tail it outta here. Nobody said that she had to ever come back to the Nest.
“Well?” Jeff’s voice was impatient.
“Shit! Well, here goes nothing.” Lisa took a deep breath. “I don’t want you to touch me because I want you to touch me too much.” If she hadn’t been so unhappy, she’d have laughed at the puzzled look on Jeff’s face.
“You know how almost everyone who comes to the Nest had a connection, someone they’ve fallen in love with?” Boy, this was embarrassing. She didn’t think she would have to spell it out for him. “Well, you’re mine. The one I fell for.” There she’d said it out loud, to him. Funny, it wasn’t as hard as she thought it would be.
Now it was Jeff’s turn to be embarrassed. “Uh, you do know I..well, um, bat for the other team, so to speak.”
“Yes, that’s what makes it so damn pitiful.” Lisa swiped at her face as a few tears slipped free. “Dammit, this sucks.”
Jeff tentatively laid a hand on Lisa’s arm. He lead her over to a porch swing. Sitting down next to her, he used a foot to start it swinging. “I’m really, really sorry. I don’t know what to say. I’m flattered. I wish I could be different. But I can’t. I’m just me, a gay plumber from Sydney.”
“I know. I really wouldn’t want you to be different.” Her voice was weary. “Look, Jeff, this is my problem not yours.”
“‘Struth, it’s both our problems. I think we might have a connection here, just not a sexual one. I’d really like to be friends with you.” He put an arm around her shoulders. “While I admit, you do have good taste in blokes,” He grinned down at her. “there’s got to be someone here for ya. People don’t just show up at the Crowe’s Nest by..”
“Accident. God, if I had a quarter for every time I’ve heard that today.” Lisa was exhausted, emotionally and physically. She leaned her head back against Jeff’s arm, staring up at the sky. The clouds had cleared and she could see the stars.
Jeff smiled down tenderly at her. He started the swing going again. “All I’m saying is, stick around for go. I might have been the one to bring ya here but who knows. You might run into someone else, fall for him and bob’s your uncle.”
Lisa yawned. Jeff pulled her over and she rested her head on his shoulder. “You know, you aussie’s sure have some strange expressions.” Her eyes drifted shut.
Jeff sat there for awhile, pushing the swing with his foot. It reminded him of home. Sitting in the backyard of his father’s house. He smiled as he remembered the first meeting between Greg and his dad. He looked down at the woman sleeping on his shoulder. //Wow, amazing she came because me. Most people come because of Maximus or Bud or Terry or one of the more manly men. I don’t think anyone came here just for me. Wait ’til I tell Rick.//
“Okay, so how much do you know about rugger?” Jeff was perched on the arm of the couch Lisa was sitting in. They were in the entertainment room, waiting for the rugby game to start on T.V. John was the only other one in there. He was watching SportCenter, trying to catch the hockey highlights before the room was overtaken with crazed rugby fans.
“Almost nothing. I just started watching it last year. I was looking for a sport to watch when hockey wasn’t in season.” She smiled at John when he gave her a thumbs up. ” And none of the other American sports appealed to me. I guess I just like a little extra blood with my sport.” She turned when Jeff tapped her on the shoulder.
“Lisa, look.” He pointed to the white flag waving at the door.
“Come in, Terry.” Lisa tried unsuccessfully to keep the laughter out of her voice.
Terry walked around the corner, holding the white handkerchief in his hand. He grinned at her. “I wasn’t sure whether you’d still be mad at me or not.” He was very happy to see Lisa sitting there, her eyes sparkling with merriment. He noticed that Jeff’s hand was laid on her shoulder. There really was a connection between those two, an instantaneous deep friendship. Terry believed that the term soul mates didn’t just apply to lovers. Here were soul mates that were friends.
Lisa jumped up. She spontaneously wrapped her arms around Terry in a hug. “I admit that I was really, really angry for two ticks,”–Terry smiled at her unconscious use of aussie slang–“but I forgive you.”
“Good. I was hoping I did the right thing.”
Lisa brushed her lips across his cheek. “Thanks for the push.” She whispered and stepped back.
Jeff stood next to Lisa. He lifted her arm, pushing back her sleeve to reveal an angry dark bruise encircling her wrist. “But, you do own her an apology for this, mate.” Jeff all but growled the last word. He was finding that he was very protective of his new friend.
Terry winced, “Shit! I am so sorry. I was afraid that was going to happen but I just didn’t want you to get away.”
Lisa pulled her arm away from Jeff, giving him a pointed look. Turning back to Terry, she said, “No worries. I tried telling Jeff that I bruise easily but he’s just not buying it. Besides, it’s my fault. If I hadn’t tried to run, you wouldn’t have had to hold on so tight.”
“How about we both take part of the blame?” Terry asked.
“Fair enough,” Lisa looked at Jeff and he nodded his agreement.
“And,” Terry added, “We don’t let Bud see that. You know how he feels about women with bruises.”
“Deal” They all said at once.
“So,” Terry was curious. “Have you decided to stay for a bit?”
“Yep. I don’t have to be back to work for three more days. Oh the wonders of twelve hour shifts. So I’m gonna stay on for a little while,” Lisa smiled affectionately at Jeff. “get to know my new buddy better.”
Terry went off to talk to John and Lisa sat back down on the couch. She and Jeff resumed their discussion about rugby. Jeff assured her that it would become less confusing with repeat viewing. He had a few tapes of some of the games, including last year’s game between the Wallabies and the All-Blacks. That was the first rugby game Lisa had ever watched and she was anxious to re-watch it with someone explaining what was going on. They had made plans for her to come by Jeff’s room tomorrow for a rugby lesson.
A few of the other men and women started slowly trickling in. Jeff was always right there introducing her to the people she hadn’t met before. No more lurking for Lisa, she was firmly entrenched in the Nest family as Jeff’s new best friend.
Alot had happened out there on the porch swing. After she had woke up, they talked for a long time. They discovered that they had a lot in common. They both had an unusually close relationship with a parent. Both had experience dealing with a family member having a major stroke and the care taking that went along with it. They both loved Australia, it’s history and its people. They both liked sports although that did result in a tiny disagreement on which was a tougher sport, footy or ice hockey.
Lisa smiled warmly at Jeff. It was as if confessing her love out loud to him had changed everything. She was still crazy about him but her infatuation had faded to a intense feeling of friendship. Jeff was always going to be special to her, her favorite guy at the Nest but now her vision wasn’t narrowed to just him. She was open to other possibilities. And maybe, just maybe there was someone here that she had missed because she had been so focused on Jeff. She started when someone laid a hand on her shoulder. A sizzle of awareness ran between them. She looked up, startled. Wondering who it was that had this effect on her?
“Excuse me? Is this seat taken?”