Thirty minutes later Keeley was pulling into the carport of her little house. She’d only lived in the two-bedroom, one bathroom little yellow cottage for a little over a year, but already it was her haven. She’d taken it and made it her own, replacing the hideous macramé hanging everywhere with canvas paintings and a pictures. When she’d bought the cottage a year ago from a friend her grandmother went to church with, all the rooms had been white; they’d looked sterile and she’d been afraid to even walk inside, lest she dirty something up. After a month, she’d thought she was going to go insane from the starkness. So she’d made a trip to the hardware store where she’d decided she’d repaint the place using beachy pastels: living room was a taupe color, the bedrooms were blue and mauve, and the kitchen was mint green. Keeley loved colored walls, it changed the whole ambiance of the house. She’d also ripped the pea green carpet by mistake one day while cleaning and had discovered beautiful hardwood underneath—needless to say, the awful carpet was ripped up super quick after that.
And the best part—she had done all the work by herself.
She kicked her heels off in the doorway and threw her keys on the kitchen counter, heading for the coffee pot. Halfway through making a fresh pot, she decided she needed something a little stronger after the disastrous and embarrassing afternoon she’d just had and broke out the wine instead. A bottle of Contino Reserva 1990, a cedar and cinnamon-esque Rioja; it had been a divorce gift from Jan. She smiled fondly as she remembered the day her best friend had brought it and another bottle over, along with a cheese platter the day her divorce had been final and they’d walked a block to the beach, sipping on their wine (and polishing off a bottle) until the sun went down. Jan had hated Brent, so they’d had a good ex-husband bashing and a hell of a hangover the next day.
Keeley slid a pizza in the oven before grabbing her wallet and heading into the living room. She had a fleeting moment of panic when she couldn’t find Clay’s business card. Just as she was starting to full-out panic, she found it. Whitlow & Sons, Architectural Firm was written in black block lettering and slightly raised. Underneath were three names, Phillip, Mark, and Clay, and their respective numbers and emails.
What type of work did they do? she wondered. It seemed to her that two working legs were need to do anything with construction and construction sites and she was just going to assume Clay didn’t have those, what with the wheelchair and all. Not that it hindered his good looks, she thought wryly. But what did she know about architecture and construction sites and stuff—absolutely nothing. She dug in the dirt looking for broken shards of pottery from indigenous people, so it wasn’t like she was the foremost expert, although, her house had certainly been a wreck when she’d been working on it.
She threw the business card aside as the kitchen phone and oven started beeping and ringing simultaneously. She ran quickly to grab it before the answering machine picked up. “Hello?” she answered pleasantly.
“Hey, hey,” her heart might have sank a little bit when it was her father’s voice on the other line and not Clay’s. Or, maybe that was just hunger pains she was feeling or something. She quickly turned the oven off as her dad continued. “So, how was the meeting?”
“Eh. We’ve actually made the decision to put it on the market so that’s good. Brent said he’ll call me as soon as we have a potential buyer,” she said as she took another sip of wine. No need for her father to know of the rest of the escapades that had taken place.
“Yeah, that’s good. And, um, what about her? What’d she look like?”
“Dad,” Keeley said laughing. “Cutting right to the chase huh?”
“Oh hush, I simply wanted to hear if you thought she was anything to write home about,” her father said defensively.
“Daddy, she reminds me of Barbara Jean off Reba.”
John Burns broke into a hearty laugh on the other end of the line. “Well then, he’s gotten what he deserves huh?”
Keeley smiled. “Oh yes, that’s for sure.”
“So,” John said. Keeley knew what was coming next. “Were there any good looking men at the coffee shop?”
“Eh, there might have been one who caught my eye,” she said smiling and thinking of Clay. “And it sure as hell wasn’t Brent Heatherton, I’ll tell you that.”
Her father gave a hearty laugh on the other end. “Good for you. Go get him!”
“Jan said the same thing,” she said as pulled the pizza out of the oven. She knew if her dad was there he’d have given her a high-five. She heard her mother yell something in the background and she sighed, knowing what was coming next.
To his credit, John sighed audibly before he started. “Your mother wants to know if you’re going to date the guy who ‘caught your eye’”.
“Good God Dad—I’ve been divorced less than a year. Tell her to give me some time, okay?”
“Well Keeley, I’m just saying—your ovaries are a ‘ticking and your father and I would like to have grandchildren someday, you know,” she heard her mother yell in the background.
Nice, Mother, pulling the grandchildren card. And that was her cue to bow out. And possibly go jump off a cliff. “I promise,” she said sighing. “Listen Daddy, me and my ovaries have got to go. Papers to grade, pizza, and an Ashton Kutcher Lifetime movie are awaiting me.”
Her dad laughed again and Keeley guessed he was probably also rolling his eyes. “Okay sweetie, I’ll talk to you soon. And just for the record? I’m fine without grandkids for the moment.”
She smiled at that. Ever since she’d been a little girl her dad had always known the right thing to say. She laughed. “Thanks Daddy. I love you too.” She heard the line click and hung the phone up. Then she threw back the last couple sips of her wine and poured another glass.
She grabbed a couple slices of pizza and some papers and headed for the couch and turned on the movie. A few hours later the credits rolled and she’d made it through an entire section’s papers. Well, now I can have passengers in my car again, she thought wryly as she stood up and stretched. My goal—for the undergraduate papers and potted bonsai in the seat to be replaced by a man’s butt.
Keeley laughed at herself as grabbed her plate and empty wine glass and placed them in the sink. She put the rest of the pizza in Tupperware container for lunch the next day. When she grabbed the papers to put in her bag, there lay the business card she’d all but forgotten about. As she looked at Clay’s name, she pictured him sitting in that truck of his, the killer lopsided smile on his face, his toned shoulders that through his tee-shirt seemed to rival Brent’s…of course, then she pictured how she must have looked when she ran up to him and the shock that surely showed on her face when he pulled the wheelchair out and that took her from feeling slightly turned on to being mortified.
Laughing at herself and at the day, she hung the card on the fridge with a magnet, deciding that was probably the safest place for it. She was sure that Jan would want to see it and that they’d probably have a pretty intense facebook creeping session next time she came over.
And who knew, maybe it’d be good to keep Clay Whitlow’s number on hand. Maybe he’d call.
Although, she thought as headed to bed, she truly doubted it.
An entire day and a half passed before she finally caved and googled Whitlow & Sons. The website for the firm was well-designed, but didn’t have a lot of information about Clay, just mostly about his father—The Whitlow—and the type of work they did. Boring.
So, she caved even more and had just typed in “Clay Whi” into the facebook search bar when someone started banging on her office door. “I’ll get it,” her office mate Dean said and went to the door.
“Your dress came in!” her best friend squealed as she burst through the open door like a hurricane, red-hair flying everywhere.
“Hi Jan,” Keeley said smiling. Dean shook his head irritably as Jan took the stack of books and papers sitting in a chair in front of Keeley’s desk and shoved the noisily to the floor. He grabbed his lunch and left, shutting the door behind him. Keeley laughed to herself as he left, thinking he needed to lighten up a little. “So what’s this about a dress?”
“Oh, there’s really no dress babes. I just knew that if I mentioned fashion and started being overly girly, your stuffy officemate would leave and we’d be able to chitchat about Sunday’s happenings in peace,” Jan said with a grin.
“You’re incorrigible,” Keeley replied.
Her best friend just shrugged. “So, tell me everything.”
This time it was Keeley’s turn to shrug. “I told you everything on the phone Sunday. Then I went and left a note on his windshield with my number. He caught me and—”
“Wait, he caught you?”
“Yes,” Keeley said. She rolled her eyes. “You know I have impeccable timing.”
“That you do.” Jan muttered.
“Well, he said something clever and witty and flirtatious after that, so naturally I nutted up and didn’t say a thing.”
“And that’s really all there is to it. He hasn’t called and he probably won’t. Like you said, he probably thinks I’m crazy. Hell, I think I’m crazy.”
Jan laughed and patted Keeley’s arm comfortingly. “And I see you have moved on from being crazy to creepy now. Facebook investigating are we?”
Keeley flushed red at having been caught. “Maybe.”
“Well, don’t let me stop you,” Jan said happily. “Press on. I want to see what this Mr. Dreamy you picked up in a parking lot looks like!”
“Whitlow, it’s Mr. Whitlow actually,” Keeley corrected grinning as she typed the rest of his name in and hit enter. After scrolling down a little bit, she finally found Clay’s.
“Keeley Burns—he is dreamy! Screw your ‘no calling guys’ rule, you need to put his number on speed dial!” Jan exclaimed when Keeley clicked on the profile picture. It was headshot of him down by the waterfront in a dark green polo, which accented his eyes, sunglasses hanging from a lanyard around his neck, and a baseball cap turned backwards on his head, and he was flashing that thousand watt smile. Just looking at him made her mind turn to mush—it was a good thing he’d probably never call her because she knew she’d be screwed on a date. “Nice teeth, he should be on a toothpaste commercial.”
Keeley snorted. “Forget his teeth, look at his eyes! Aren’t they gorgeous?”
They sighed in unison as the door opened and Dean entered. Jam immediately started talking hurriedly about chiffons and tulle and silk taffeta until he gave her a scornful look and left again, shutting the door a little more forcibly than necessary. Then she changed her tune. “So, are you going to—”
Jan stopped as Keeley’s phone rang. “Hello?” Keeley answered.
“Hi,” She heard a deep voice on the other end of the line say. Her heart fluttered a little bit. “Keeley?”
“This is she. Who is this?”
“Just a guy on his lunch break who needs a date to go grab some coffee with,” the voice said. She could practically see him grinning and trying not to laugh.
“Oh, har har,” she said, but she was smiling. Jan pointed at the computer screen and Keeley nodded. She turned the speaker phone on and sat the phone on her desk.
“Seriously though, this is me asking you out to coffee,” Clay continued. “You free?”
“No,” Keeley answered, drawing out the word and wincing as soon as it left her mouth. “Actually, I’m at school.”
“You idiot!” Jan mouthed silently as she reached across the desk and smacked Keeley in the back of the head. “He was asking you out!”
Keeley swatted her away and rubbed the sore spot on her head as Clay asked curiously, “School? I thought you were a USC alumnus? Or were you just saying that ensure I’d go into the coffee shop with you?” She imagined him with that crooked grin on his face as he asked that.
“Graduate school,” she said laughing. “I’m in graduate school. College of Charleston archaeology department. I finish class at four and hold office hours until seven.” Jan rolled her eyes and gave a threatening look. Whoops, she thought.
“Oh, I see,” he said. “Well in that case the coffee offer is no longer good.” Keeley’s stomach dropped and Jan looked like she was going to hurl something at the wall. “Now it’s got to be dinner instead.”
“Whoa!” Jan exclaimed. Keeley threw a pen in her direction, hard.
If Clay noticed that that word had been emitted from a different voice, he didn’t say anything. He merely chuckled. “Is that a yes?”
“You better say yes, you better say yes,” Jan was vehemently mouthing again.
“Yes.” Keeley squeaked out.
“Great,” he answered. She could literally hear him smiling. “Friday night? You like seafood?”
“I live on the coast, I’d be crazy if I didn’t, wouldn’t I?” she asked.
“Well, asking random guys out in parking lots is crazy too. I could’ve been an ax-murderer,” she glanced over at Jan and saw a triumphant smile on her lips. What is with people and the ax-murderer example? “So, I wouldn’t put it past you.”
“I think we’ve run that one into the ground,” she said with mock-seriousness that she hopped he’d be able to pick up on over the phone. She quickly changed the subject. “So, I’ll meet you at the waterfront at six-thirty then?”
“Sounds good. I’ll see you then Keeley,” he said in a pleasant voice.
“Yep. See you then,” she said and quickly hung up the phone.
“Good God Keeley, make the poor man spell it out for you, why don’t you? Your skills have seriously backslid in the last year,” Jan said in a scolding tone. Then she smiled and ran around to the other side of the desk and squeezed Keeley so tight, a giant squid would be jealous. “But it’s okay, because you’ve got yourself a hot date on Friday!”
Keeley smiled and slumped in her chair. She quickly said a little prayer that this meeting with Clay would go a lot more smoothly than the initial one. “And good thing too, Mom pulled the grandchildren card on me last night. Maybe this’ll satiate my parents for a while,” she said with a light laugh, trying to make out like she wasn’t really all that excited about the date, when in reality she was.
Jan just clucked her tongue sympathetically. Then she started discussing options for what Keeley should wear on Friday night. Keeley wondered briefly if Jan would be this enthusiastic if she’d told her about the wheelchair. Something told her yes.
By nature, Keeley Burns wasn't a giddy person. She wasn’t a squealer like Jan and she didn’t cry tears of happiness at the Publix holiday commercials. But when the reality of the fact that Clay Whitlow, random pick from the parking lot, had actually called, sunk in, she couldn’t help but feel a little happy swelling in her stomach that could only be described as giddiness. She hadn’t felt this way since her divorce with Brent had been final. Of course, that could have been the bottle of wine she had drank and not true giddiness then.
Either way, giddy was the only way to describe what she felt right now. Oh, she thought as she tuned Jan out and got back to work. Friday couldn’t get here soon enough.