Monday, April 13, 2015

Between the Pages: Chapter 5

I reread the email for what has to be the fiftieth time today. When I'm finished I feel butterflies fluttering around in my stomach, and I tell myself to chill the hell out. After all, he's only asked me to lunch during the middle of the week. A midweek, workday lunch that I'm sure will be laced only with formality and professionalism. To be honest, I'm bet the only reason he's even asked me to lunch is to make his research run smoother. And if that’s the case, then I'm not the girl to be buying lunch for. Vault staffers are the ones who he needs to contact in that respect, and honestly, booze works much better on them than food.

Even though I keep telling myself that, I can't keep a small part of me from hoping that this lunch date will lead to something bigger.

Through a series of short emails we agree to meet by the elevators on the third floor at 12:30. Of course, after the decision is made, the day crawls by at a snail’s pace. By mid-morning I'm ready to claw my eyes out in anticipation. I don't even have any work to do to distract me, because (for probably the first time in my career) I've actually accomplished everything on my to-do list for today. Thanks, obsessive nerves in need of a distraction.

Around 11:30 an email notification pops up on my desktop. All I can see of the notification is an "M" before it goes away, and my heart sinks. Max is emailing to cancel. Which is okay. I guess. But this unfortunate series of events does leave me no choice: I'll have to sabotage his research efforts now (kidding).

A minute later I almost squeal in delight and nervous release. It's not from Max after all.

From: Megan O'Malley <omalley@jensenlaw.com>
To: Inez Carter <inez@uniarch.edu>
Subject: RE: What does this mean?

IT IS A DATE. IDIOT.

(Disclaimer: The above stateme
nt is in no way harassment and is a statement full of friendly love.)

I roll my eyes. Then I chance at the clock and suddenly it's 12:00. I literally have no idea where the last thirty minutes went. I quickly type out a response.

From: Inez Carter <inez@uniarch.edu>
To: Megan O'Malley <omalley@jensenlaw.com>
Subject: RE: RE: What does this mean?

Okay. I think that's enough with the name calling. "Friendly love" my ass. I just get nervous and excited and lose my shit, okay?  Also, just because you're a partner now, you have to put disclaimers in your emails?

From: Megan O'Malley <omalley@jensnenlaw.com>
To: Inez Carter <inez@uniarch.edu>
Subject: RE: RE: RE: What does this mean?

I'm just covering my tracks. Apparently my email tone to a guy that stood me up last week was “a bit harsh.”

*eye roll*

Btw: you DID email him back, right? RIGHT?

From: Inez Carter <inez@uniarch.edu>
To: Megan O'Malley <omalley@jensenlaw.com>
Subject: RE: RE: RE: RE: What does this mean?

Such a lawyer.

RE: Btw: RIGHT

In my mind’s eye I can see Meg fist pumping the air and yelling a victory cry that's something like "Nezzie finally flirts!" as she reads my response.

At 12:20 I can't wait any longer. I grab my things and head his way. On the way, I quickly duck into the bathroom and assess my appearance: almost straight hair (thanks, Savannah humidity), no makeup mishaps, and I don't appear to have any coffee stains on my blouse (it's a good day so far!). The bathrooms are only five or so steps from the elevators, so as soon as I step out of the door, that's it. I take a deep breath.

There he is. Sitting on a bench beside the elevators, his arms still hooked through the cuffs of the crutches as if he only just sat down. My stomach does a flippy thing as I take in his appearance today. A seeksucker blazer and navy pants, juxtaposed by the small loose bun that his chestnut hair is pulled into and the smart tortoise shell glasses that sit slightly askew on his face. Impossibly classy and Southern with a little edge thrown in for good measure.

I wave as I walk towards him and he smiles. God above. What a great smile.

"There she is," he says as he pushes grabs the handles of the crutches and pushes himself smoothly to his feet. His voice is deliciously low and accented. I wonder where he's from. "You ready?"

Am I ever. "Ready and rearing!"

He chuckles even though it was one of the dumbest responses I could have given. Steadying himself on one crutch, he leans over and pushes the call button for the elevator with his other hand. "Now, I'm going to defer to you on lunch spots, here."

I twist my mouth around while I think. As I do, a memory of Mark rattling off his opinions on all of the restaurants near my office pops into my head, unbidden. Ugh. Well, at least there are perks of having an over opinionated chef for an ex-fiancé: I do know all of the best lunch spots.

The elevator dings. "Cotton & Rye is pretty good," I tell him as we step inside. I push the image of Mark from my mind and watch him instead. The way he moves is interesting; I can’t help but stare. Crutches, body. Crutches, body. The movements seem smooth and well-practiced. "It's within walking distance too. So let's do that. Parking is a bitch in this city."

He laughs again. It’s a little less enthusiastically than before. Only after I've said it does it occur to me that walking might be a problem.

Must. Backtrack.

Too bad I’ve never been really good at that. Instead of slyly making sure he’ll be okay to walk that far, I just ask, "Can you, uh...will that be okay?"

I'm blunt, not smooth.

Max looks at me and an amused grin plays on his lips. "As long as there’s some good food and air conditioning at the end of that trek, I’m okay with it.”

The elevator doors ding, announcing our arrival on the ground floor. I hold the doors and gesture for him to go ahead. He flashes me a grateful smile.

I've never walked beside someone using forearm crutches, so I hang back a bit and let Max set the pace. He sweeps his crutches forward in a controlled manner and plants them firmly in front of him and then swings his legs through, biceps visibly straining and shoulders bulging slightly beneath his blazer. It's a fluid motion that he makes look easy, although I’m sure it is anything but.

We walk in semi-silence. Occasionally I break it, and point out my favorite neighborhood spots, all the while feeling like a corny tour guide. It's a nice, slightly overcast day but the heat is still sweltering. I feel a few droplets of sweat run down my back and curse my walking idea. Glancing over at Max, I can see little beads of sweat forming at his hairline too. Cotton & Rye is only two blocks away, but the Savannah heat and humidity is unforgiving. Good going, Inez.

The restaurant is blissfully cool and empty when we arrive a few minutes later. Its cuisine is Southern themed and inspired, and Max fits right in with his seersucker. He grins at me as the hostess leads us to a booth immediately to our right. "Picked the right day for this jacket, huh?"

I laugh. "Except for the fact that it's a hundred degrees outside."

"I really don't know how you Savannahians do it," he says seriously. Max then positions himself square to the booth and flicks his hips forward a bit. For the first time, it occurs to me there might be something hidden underneath those navy pants. Leg braces, maybe? Probably. He slowly lowers himself to the seat and then moves each leg to underneath the table with his hands. When he's finished, he looks up at me, a rueful expression on his face. "Am I really that captivating?"

Heat immediately rushes to my face. I decide honest really is the best policy here. Especially since this might be a first date. "Yeah," I answer with an innocent smile. "You kind of are."

Max's eyebrows shoot up in surprise. Whether it's at my blunt honesty or that I do find him captivating, I'm unsure. He doesn't give me any hints either as he flips the menu open and begins to look at it. He only chuckles softly and mutters, "Well that's refreshing."

"What?"

"Your candidness." He's continues looking at menu. When he looks up a moment he locks his gaze on mine and smiles. There is sincerity in his expression. “I like it.”

There's something about the way he says it that gives me that giddy stomach-dropping feeling.

Right then our waitress appears. We order--chicken salad for me, pimento cheese sandwich for him--and wait. Silence falls between us and, although I usually have no problem with it, I find myself wanting to fill the void, in case this chance doesn't come up again. Abruptly, I begin pelting him with questions about his research.

As he starts to explain his research interests to me his eyes light up. It's cute how excited he gets while he describes his research to me, and it's obvious he really loves what he does.

As much as I’m loving learning more about him, I’m also struggling. Because his specialty is Atlantic porpoises...and their mating habits. I try not to laugh, really I do, but I just can’t help it. A (horribly unattractive) little guffaw slips out.

He frowns as I giggle. “It's actually a very serious academic matter.”

"I'm sorry!” I apologize immediately, because if my immaturity is what screws this date up, I'm going to shoot myself.

Max looks at me skeptically.

“I'm sure it is," I continue to attempt to reassure him as our food arrives. "It's just that...well...at thirty-three I'm STILL immature enough that the mention of mating habits is enough to get a rise out of me."

This time it's Max that's laughing.


***

Lunch flies by and before I know it, it's time to leave. The waitress drops our check at the table and Max and I both lunge for it. He narrowly beats me to it though, slapping his hand down on top it. My hand lands on top of his with a loud smacking noise. Ouch.

I narrow my eyes. "Give me that."

"Not a chance."

"Why not?"

"Because,” he hasn't moved his hand out from under mine yet. "I didn’t think was a working lunch."

“It isn’t?”

Max looks at me with a pained expression. “Do you want it to be?”

“No!” I practically bark the word at him. Jeez. This man really throws me off my game. “I mean, um, I just assumed you were, uh, taking me out to lunch to butter me up. You know, so your research would go more smoothly. Especially after last Friday’s reading room spectacle.”

Max is quiet for a moment as he lets my little revelation sink in. Then he laughs, the sound of it filling the restaurant. “Inez, I finished my archival research weeks ago.”

“What?” Now I’m confused. “But weren’t you just at the archives…doing research just now…?”

“Yeah...well, I might’ve been fabricating some reasons to come back,” he admits bashfully. He’s rubbing the back of his neck, sort of nervous like and the tips of his ears are turning a bit red. It’s adorable really. “Reasons that have more to do with the pretty archivist there and much less to do with my research.”

The words come out in a manner that I am betting is uncharacteristically shy. I feel the corners of my mouth curling up into a smile and when I look across the booth at Max, I’m giddy to see that his face mirrors mine.

At that moment, our waitress, who has been conspicuously absent until now, appears. She’s oblivious to our little moment and asks us for the check in a huffy voice. It's only when she does, and Max looks pointedly at our hands, that I realize mine is still covering his.

"Whoops." I smile sheepishly and remove it. Wow. Could I get anymore awkward? Across the booth, Max just cocks an eyebrow in amusement and grins.

He hands the girl some cash and then maneuvers to his feet. Once he's standing he does a backwards kind of flick with his hips and then dons his crutches, which previously had been leaning against the side of the booth. I let him lead the way out of the restaurant and set the pace again as we walk back to the archives.

I'm wondering just how forward I should be -- maybe a little thank you kiss on the cheek? Or, perhaps a hug? Ahhh, but what if he isn’t as stable on those things as he looks and I knock him off balance? -- as we arrive at the entrance to the atrium. Conveniently, someone else is coming out as we're going in and they hold the door for both of us. Max motions for me to go first, so I turn and watch him as he follows me. I notice he doesn't seem to be moving quite as fast as before and his legs seem to drag a bit as he swings through.

We stand there for a moment after coming inside, facing each other and basking in the air conditioning. As someone else passes us, I scoot closer to him to make room for them at the door. Now we're an inch apart, practically touching. It's the perfect setup for a kiss. But before either of us can work up our nerve, a shrill laugh rings across the atrium.

I grimace. I recognize that laugh. I've got a meeting with that laugh--I quickly check my phone for the time--in another twenty minutes. Ugh. Why? On all of the days Leslie Goodall could've chosen to be early, why did it have to be today?

Max takes one look at my face and chuckles. "You know her, huh?"

I roll my eyes. "Far better than I would like. She's an obsessive over-sharer, and one of our biggest donors." At that precise moment, Leslie spots me. She abandons her station at the security desk and totters towards us. Max is going to want to leave now, lest he gets sucked into her vortex too. "I'd get out while you still can."

"Good thing she's old," he whispers back with a wink and turns to leave. "Or else I'd be screwed."

I chuckle at his slightly self-deprecating humor and watch as he slowly crutches away towards the elevators (and freedom--sweet, quiet freedom) without a hug, a kiss, or even a pat on the back. A wave of despair washes over me. Damn it. I hope he realizes my lack of public affection has everything to do with Leslie Goodall and nothing to do with him.

Twenty minutes later I'm showing Leslie around our newly renovated exhibit space (that she generously footed the bill for), and I feel my phone buzz in my pocket. As she wanders off to explore, I quickly sneak a glance at it. It's rude, but I don't care. I'm standing on pins and needles here. My heart pounds as I realize it's an email from Max; then it soars.

From: Max C Ellis <mcellis@uofga.edu>
To: Inez Carter <inez@uniarch.edu>
Subject: Tsk tsk

Old ladies have the most impeccable timing don't they? Hated we had to part ways without an appropriate goodbye. Can't believe I made that kind of rookie mistake… You must let me take you to a non-working lunch again tomorrow and rectify that mistake.

Max

12 comments:

  1. *squeeeee!*
    Can't wait for the next "non-working" lunch!

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  2. Thank you for the second chapter! Love your writing style. Just enough details to know the characters, but not so much it gets bogged down. I am excited to read about the second date!

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  3. Great double chapter. Thanks so much!

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  4. Soo good! Really love Max and his self-esteem! Thank you so much for the double update today. that was super nice. Looking forward to their next meeting!

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    Replies
    1. I reread this chapter like 3-4 times by now because I like it so much:#)

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  5. Love it! Gosh, he is hot :) Although he must be really old, writing emails... ;P (just kidding)

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  6. very YUMMY! Great story so far.

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  7. So good. Loved all the background stuff in the 1st chapter but "Swoon" on the second. He's pretty yummy so far. Like her goofiness and his confident manner. Super devy as usual. Thanks so much for that.

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  8. So good. Loved all the background stuff in the 1st chapter but "Swoon" on the second. He's pretty yummy so far. Like her goofiness and his confident manner. Super devy as usual. Thanks so much for that.

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  9. Thank you so much for the nice treat of a second chapter!! It saved my day that night! I already fell in love with both characters. Although she sometimes behaves a little too dumb for my taste. Anyway, it is very promising and at the moment my favorite fic from the active ones! Love, Far

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  10. Thank you for the double update! I love Max.

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