Cricket: Contemporary Romance Novella

BOOK: Cricket: Contemporary Romance Novella
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Cricket

A Short Story

Tess Oliver

Cricket

Copyright© 2015 by Tess Oliver

This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locale or organizations is entirely coincidental.

All Rights are Reserved.
No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

Dedication

To my daughter, Nikki, who is my editor, my marketer, my cover designer and, above all else, my best friend.

Chapter 1

I was pretty far along the curvy, precarious mountain road when I realized I’d been up to Hannah’s family cabin numerous times, but I’d never actually driven to it. Four foot banks of snow bordered each side of the hairpin turns, and my poor, little five-speed
one tire in the car graveyard
Toyota was fighting every increase in altitude with its last gasp of exhaust.

The winter sun had fallen behind a mountain peak, leaving only a black road and the snow, which looked icy blue in the shadows of dusk. I smacked the button on the dash to coax a few more degrees of heat from the vent, but the car seemed determined to stay at a chilly sixty-two degrees. The white puffs of breath coming from my mouth were warmer than the air coming from the heater.

What the heck made me think I should head up there? That’s right. Brent. My extremely irritating, highly arrogant, two-timing ex. After kicking him out, the creep moved into the same apartment building three doors down with Bonnie or Bunny or whatever the hell her name is. I needed an escape, and my best friend, Hannah, told me the cabin was free for the weekend. She suggested I head up for a few days to get my mind off things. Getting my mind off things was all I needed to hear. Next thing I knew, I was stuffing my long underwear, mittens and the hat my Grammy knitted me last winter in a duffle bag.

It had been several years since I’d been up to the cabin. Four to be exact. Hannah and I came up here on winter break of our senior year. We’d spent a good amount of time on the slopes, working hard to catch the attention of the snowboard instructor, along with every other female on the mountain. Our futile pursuit of Hans, who looked like he’d just walked off the Alps, was more for Hannah than for me. I was a brilliant, worldly eighteen year-old who’d met her soul mate at a Green Day concert where the air had been so thick with weed, even if you weren’t smoking it, a case of hiccups could get you stoned off your ass. I’d been sure Brent was the one, and he seemed to think I was his one and only, but he also thought any other blonde in a hundred mile radius was his one and only. He had a lot of soul mates out there waiting for him. And they were all welcome to him. I was glad to be rid of the douchebag.

Hannah and I’d had some really good times up at the cabin, and I was always thrilled to be included in her family’s trips. I had no siblings and both my parents worked long hours, which meant a lot of latch key time for me. But Hannah was a good friend and always invited me along. Plus, she had no sister, only three brothers, two of whom were already grown and out of the house by the time Hannah and I became friends in junior high. The third brother, Tate, was two years older than both of us. He was my first real crush. In fact, crush would have been an understatement. I worshipped the guy. When Tate Harris walked down the hallway of Greenwood High, a glowing light would follow him. Although, I’m pretty sure I was the only one to see the glow. And he was never a mean brother either. He would put up with Hannah and me asking him silly questions in the lunch quad. He was extremely popular and the big man on campus, and Hannah and I were two dorky girls with retainers and badly applied makeup. But he never ignored us when he was with his friends, and that always made me love him even more. Although he did always call me Cricket because of a funny noise I made with my retainer whenever Hannah and I were at her kitchen table doing homework.

I’d joined cross country just to be near the guy, only it turned out I was pretty darn fast, and it became my thing through high school. Tate had gotten, of all things, a rugby scholarship and moved away to college. Greenwood High was like a deserted wasteland once he left. As I told my mom one morning with a sad sigh, without Tate Harris to light up the hallways, there was just no reason to pull myself out of bed and trudge to school. I hadn’t seen Hannah’s brother for two years.

Chapter 2

I was feeling pretty damn good about myself by the time I reached the cabin. I’d recognized the half-hidden sign for the turnoff. And I’d successfully parallel parked between a jeep and a truck and even got impressively close to the side of the road. I’d packed just enough for two quiet, solitary nights in the cabin. I’d brought along bread and cheese for grilled cheese sandwiches, a dozen eggs and milk. And, of course, hot cocoa and marshmallows. There was no reason for me to suffer, after all.

Snow was piled in jagged mounds on the steps. I trudged through the crunchy ice and made it to the front door. A motion sensor light flicked on as I put the key in the lock. Hannah had emailed me directions for getting the place warmed up fast, and there was plenty of wood under the tarp on the porch. I turned on a light and stepped inside. All the memories came back to me. Hannah’s mom had decorated the cozy log home with tartan plaid, the curtains, the couches and even the throws draped over the chairs. It gave me the feeling of standing in a rustic cabin in the Scottish Highlands. Now, if only a massively built, kilted highlander would ride through the snowy forest on his black horse.

I plopped my stuff down, pulled out the printed directions for heat and walked over to the thermostat. Hannah had insisted it would work faster if I smacked it with my palm a few times. It was first on the list. Seconds later, the vents overhead churned and coughed and a dusty warmth permeated the room. I’d never built a fire, but I had every intention of starting one. Knowing what a clueless urbanite I was, Hannah had sent me directions for that, too.

I walked to the fireplace and slid the heavy metal screen along the rough stone hearth. A nice pile of wood already sat on the metal grate. As I reached for the matches, I was sure I’d heard a noise behind me. I glanced back around but only the peaceful, plaid couches stared back at me. “Don’t start hearing bears yet, Jamie, or you won’t make it here one night,” I told myself.

There was a silver key in a hole in the wall, which I turned. The hiss of gas echoed in the brick fireplace. I lit one of the long matches and leaned down to the wood. The fire burst to life with a loud puff. As I straightened, I heard the porch creak as if someone was walking on it. My heart raced and I glanced around for a weapon. It was probably just an animal, I assured myself, but my hands shook as I grabbed the long metal, pokey thing from the rack of fireplace tools. The doorknob turned, and I quickly tried to figure out whether or not bears had opposable thumbs. 

I slid over to the wall with the door to get a jump on whoever, or whatever, was coming inside. I felt nearly sick with fright and cursed Brent for making me come up here alone. I was going to die at the hands of a serial killer, and it was all his damn fault.

The door opened, and I lifted the poker. The tall figure had a black beanie pulled down over long brown hair. My heart was pounding in my throat. I wasn’t completely sure what to do, but I was ready to smack him if he laid a hand on me. The person turned around. Light brown eyes sparkled in shock at the sight of me with my menacing fireplace poker.

“Cricket?” Tate looked up at the weapon held high in my shaky hand. “Were you going to clobber me?”

It took my head a second to let my hand know I could lower the poker. “Yeah, I was. What are you doing here? Hannah told me no one was using the place this weekend.”

He closed the door to shut out the icy temperature. “She did?” He seemed to be considering something and then he came to an obvious conclusion. “That sneaky little sister. I sent out a family email five days ago letting everyone know I was using the cabin for the weekend.”

“So she knew? Why, that little schemer.” I had no idea why Hannah would plan for something like this. She’d always known about my crush on her brother, but I was always just a retainer clicking little girl to Tate. “I’ll get my stuff and go,” I said.

“Nah, it’s starting to snow out there.”

“Surely, the ever popular Tate Harris isn’t spending the weekend alone at the cabin. I’ll be in the way. I’ll leave before she gets here.”

“Before who gets here? Actually, I just came out of a relationship, or I just raced the hell away from a relationship would be a better way to put it. I came up here to get away from people for a few days.”

“See, that’s my cue. I’m sure the snow is still light enough—”

He grabbed hold of my arm, and as I swung around, I nearly crowned him with the poker. He took it gently from my hand. “Don’t think you’ll need this anymore, miss ninja. Just stay, Cricket. You’re not
people
.”

“Something every girl wants to hear,” I said.

“You know what I mean.” God, he still had that fucking glow around him, but now it was bigger because he was even broader in the shoulders and arms. And his beard stubble was much denser along his strong jaw. I used to stare at his jaw whenever he was chewing gum and think he should be in Hollywood snatching up all the romantic leads in movies just because of that damn jaw. “You’re like family,” he added, but I wasn’t completely sure that made me feel any better. In fact, it made me feel a little creepy because when I daydreamed about the man it had nothing to do with family.

He dropped his backpack by the fire. “There are three bedrooms and plenty of space.” He grew quiet for a second. “Unless you were expecting someone? Then I could leave.”

“Nope, just me and my cocoa and marshmallows.”

“Cocoa and marshmallows? Tell you what, I’ll be the keeper of the fire as long as you share your cocoa.”

“Deal. But really, Tate, I feel bad intruding on you. Your sister is going to get an earful from me when I get back to town.”

“Really, Cricket—” He smiled as he said my nickname and swiped the beanie off his head. “Sorry, old habits, you know. Anyhow, don’t worry. I think this will work.” He patted his stomach. “Have you eaten yet? My mom mentioned that there were some steaks in the refrigerator.”

“Sure, I guess I could eat something.”

He took off his coat. The black shirt underneath clung to his back and shoulder muscles as he hung the coat on a hook. I needed to stop gawking. I took off my coat too and, strangely enough, now it was his turn to gawk.

“Nice, Cricket, you’ve filled out some since I last saw you.”

My face heated with a blush, and I pulled at my sweater to make it less clingy on my breasts.

He sensed my embarrassment. “Sorry, about that. I guess it has been a long time since I’ve seen you. I just remember a skinny, sort of curveless girl on the cross country team.”

“Thanks. Curveless sounds so lovely and is so not a word.”

He looked down at me. “Hey, you had the best legs on the friggin’ team. Half the guys in the stands came out to watch those legs run.”

My blushed deepened, and I quickly fanned my face. “Boy, that fireplace sure does its job, huh?”

He chuckled. He was still that same incredibly confident hunk, who never let it go to his head.  “I’ll go look for those steaks.”

I grabbed my duffle bag and pulled out the bag with the groceries. I put it in on the kitchen counter. “I’m just going to go put my stuff in a bedroom. I’ll take the room with the bunk beds. It holds wonderful memories of me stepping off the top bunk in the middle of the night thinking I was in my own room at home.”

He laughed and then seemed to feel bad about it. “I do seem to remember that happening more than once. You’re lucky you didn’t hurt yourself.” He leaned into the refrigerator. “There is not much in here.” He straightened. “Shit, I’ll bet those steaks are in the freezer.” He opened it up. “Yep.” He pulled out two solidly frozen steaks. “I guess these will be tomorrow’s dinner.”

“I’ll make grilled cheese.” I carried my stuff into the bedroom. It took me more than a few minutes to settle down my nerves and the shaking in my knees. I was going to be spending an entire weekend alone with the guy who I’d been crazy about since my hormones had first started exploding. And here I was standing in the room where I used to bunk with Hannah and where we’d giggled and talked about boys and friends and every other thing teen girls talked about. I was suddenly feeling like that shy, silly, and as Tate had put it, curveless, teenager. Only now, I was a woman. The man out in the living room only knew me during my gawky years.  I’d left those awkward years behind me, but would Tate notice?

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