Authors: K. Bromberg
“Wow.” Haddie breathes. “The ad turned out great.”
I know she’s looking at it from strictly a public relations perspective, and she’s right. It’s a great ad. Sex appeal, product placement, and an environment that makes you feel like you are there. Makes you want to be like him.
And his lips are on another woman’s. I cringe at the thought.
“Great spot,” Jimmy says as the audience’s applause dies down. “I bet you had fun making that one.” Colton just smirks at him, a sliver of a laugh escaping his lips that says it all. “The camera loves you, man. How come you’ve never hit up your old man for a job? I bet the ladies wouldn’t mind seeing you on a jumbo screen somewhere.”
The audience shouts out in agreement. Colton just curls the corner of one lip and shakes his head. “Never say never.” He laughs and my stomach clenches thinking of millions of women getting to see him in action in some love scene. Theaters would sell out just for that.
“So tell me, Colton, what other things do you have going on?”
“Well we have a little something else in the works right now that legal doesn’t want me to officially announce yet because it’s still being wrapped up,” the crowd “
” and Colton holds his finger up in a just wait moment. “But, since when have I ever done what I’m supposed to?” Colton’s smirk is lopsided and mischievous as the audience laughs. I suck in my breath, shocked and pleased that Colton is going to give public notability to my company. “All I’ll tell you is my company is working with a corporation who cares,” he says, putting quotation marks on both title words of my company, “and we are uniting to raise money to benefit orphaned kids by providing better living situations for them…to give them more of a stable family environment on a permanent basis.”
“A cause near and dear to your heart.”
“Absolutely.” Colton nods, leaving it at that.
“How fantastic. Can’t wait until its official so we can learn more about it. But, I know you are not supposed to tell me.” Jimmy rolls his eyes to the audience. “How are you going to be raising the money?”
Colton goes through the whole explanation, answering Jimmy’s questions, and I just watch mesmerized, trying to decipher the Colton I know against the one that is on television before me. I see the same person and the same personality, but little nuances are different. I can see him holding back some. Playing up to the audience, and he definitely does it well.
“Well we’re running out of time,” Jimmy says and the audience grumbles, “but I think the audience might run me out of the studio if I don’t ask the question that they want to know the most.”
Colton looks around the audience, my favorite boyish smile spreading across his face. “What’s that?” he prompts.
“Well, every time we see you in print or on television, you always seem to have a buxom beauty on your arm.” Jimmy holds up the several magazine pages of Colton with various glamazons. “What’s your status now? Are you dating? Is there a special lady in your life right now? Or perhaps
several special ladies
Colton throws his head back laughing, and I wait with bated breath for his answer. “C’mon, Jimmy, you know how it is—”
“No, actually I don’t.” The audience laughs. “And please don’t tell me you’re dating Matt Damon,” he deadpans.
This time I laugh at the startled look on Colton’s face over Jimmy’s long running joke over Matt Damon. “Definitely not Matt Damon.” He laughs and then shrugs. “You know me. I’m always dating,” Colton says, leaning back in his chair, hands gesturing casually to the crowd. “There are so many beautiful women out there, it’d be a waste to not enjoy them.” Colton flashes his panty-dropping smile to the audience. “I mean look at all the beautiful women in the audience out there tonight.”
“So in other words,” Jimmy says, “you’re avoiding the question.”
“I wouldn’t want to give away all my secrets,” Colton smirks, winking at the audience.
“Sorry, ladies. That’s all the time we have so I can’t delve any further.” The audience gives a collective groan. “Well, it’s been great seeing you again, Colton. I can’t wait to see you tear up the track this year.”
“Hopefully you can make it out to a race.”
“You can count on it. Best of luck to you.”
Colton stands and shakes Jimmy’s hand, saying something to him off mic that has him laughing. “Ladies and gentlemen, Colton Donavan.” Colton waves at the audience and the show cuts to a commercial.
Haddie sits up and flips off the television. “Well,” she muses, “That was entertaining.”
“That sounds great, Avery. All of the paperwork has been approved by HR, so I’d love to welcome you to the team. We’ll see you next Monday.” I hang up the phone and grab a pen, crossing that item off of my list. New girl hired, check.
Now, if I can just get the rest of my list completed. I glance at my week’s schedule in my day planner, ignoring the inevitable date that looms tomorrow, and figure I can power through my “to dos” as I have no more shifts at The House this week.
That is if I can get motivated.
I have no one to blame for my lethargic pace this morning except for myself. Well and Haddie since she instigated the fourth, or was it fifth, bottle of wine. At least my headache has abated some so I can think without the hangover pounding in the background.
I grab the pile I’ve been avoiding, budgetary crap that takes too much time and in the end just gets overruled by the bosses upstairs, but I need to get through it. I sigh in fortification when I hear a tap at my door. I swear the next few moments take place in slow motion but I know they didn’t.
When I look up, I cry out loudly and jump up in shock as I meet eyes that mirror mine. I round my desk and run full force into the arms of my brother. Tanner wraps them around me, spins around once, squeezing me so tight I can’t breathe. All of the fear over his safety, anguish over not hearing from him, and loneliness from not having him near, vanish and manifest themselves in the tears that run down my cheeks in happiness.
He sets me back down on my feet and eases his hold on me, but I cling to him tightly and bury my face in his chest needing this connection with him. When I can’t stop crying, he just holds on and kisses the top of my head. “If I knew I was going to get this kind of welcome, I’d come home more often,” he says before grabbing my shoulders and pulling me back, his eyes searching mine. “What is it, Bubs?”
I smile at hearing the name he’s called me our whole lives. I think I’m in shock. “Let me look at you,” I manage, stepping back and running my hands over his arms. He looks a little older and a lot tired. Fine lines fan at the corners of his weary eyes, and the creases edging his mouth have deepened some in the six months since I have seen him last. His copper hair is a little longer than usual, curling up at the collar. But he is alive and whole and in front of me. The wrinkles make him more attractive somehow, adding a little ruggedness to his dynamic features. “Still ugly I see?”
“And you’re even more beautiful,” he recites, an exchange we’ve said at least a thousand times over the years. He holds out my arms to look at me and shakes his head as if he can’t believe I am standing in front of him. “
God is it good to see you!”
I grab a hold of him again and laughter bubbles up. “Do Mom and Dad know you’re in the states?” I pull on his hand, bringing him into my office, not wanting to let go of him just yet.
“I flew in to San Diego and stayed with them last night. I’m leaving for Afghanistan this afternoon on a sudden assignment—”
“What?” I just get him back and now he’s going to leave me again. “What do you mean you’re leaving again?”
“Can you leave? Go to lunch with me and we can talk?”
Tanner’s only request for his meal is that it be somewhere he can see and smell the ocean. I drive up the coast, deciding to take him to the beachside restaurant Colton took me to on what I consider our first date. It’s perfect for him.
On the drive Tanner explains to me that he had taken a last minute week off to come home and visit us from his post in Egypt covering the unrest there. Once home, a fellow colleague had fallen ill and so now his trip was cut short so that he could head back to the Middle East to cover for him.
“So you flew all the way out here for two days just to see us?” I take a sip of my Diet Coke and stare at him. We’re seated on the same patio where Colton and I ate just a couple of tables to the right. Rachel wasn’t working but the hostess that is, heeded our request and set us out of the way from the steady flow of the lunch crowd.
Tanner just looks at me and smiles broadly, and I realize how much I’ve missed him and the calming effect he can have on me. He tilts his bottle of beer up to his lips and leans back, looking out at the waves beyond. “God, it’s good to be home.” He smiles. “Even if it’s just for a day.”
“I can’t even imagine,” I tell him, afraid to take my eyes off of him for just a second since my time with him is so fleeting.
Over food, we talk about the things going on in our lives. He tells me all about his living conditions and the things going on in Egypt that aren’t making their way into the mainstream media. I learn he is casually dating another journalist but that it’s nothing serious despite the softening of his features when he speaks of her.
I love listening to him. His passion and love for his job is so apparent that even though it takes him thousands of miles from me, I can’t imagine him doing anything else.
I tell him about work and Haddie and everything in between. Except for Colton. Tanner can be a bit overprotective, and I figure why even mention something that I’m not sure even is a something. I think I’m doing a damn good job of it until he tilts his head and stares at me.
His eyes narrow as he studies me. “Who is he, Bubs?”
I look at him perplexed, like I don’t understand, but I know his investigative instincts have kicked in, and he won’t back down until he gets the answer he wants. Hence why he’s so good at his job. “Who’s who?”
“Who’s the guy that’s got you tied up in knots?” He takes a draw on his beer. A smirk on his lips, his eyes never leave mine. Cocky son of a bitch. I just sit there and stare at him wondering how he knows. “Spill it!”
“Why would you even think that?”
“Because I know you
.” When I just fold my arms over my chest, he laughs at me. “Let’s see, you are purposefully avoiding the topic rather than talking about it. You’re twisting that ring around your damn finger like a worry stone. You keep biting the inside lip of yours like you do when you’re trying to figure something out, and you keep looking at that table over there like you expect someone to be sitting there. Either that or you’re remembering something that you and he did there.” He arches an eyebrow at me. “Besides, you have a fire in your eyes that’s been missing since…before,” he muses, reaching out, grabbing my hand and squeezing it. “It’s good to see.” I smile at him, so happy that he’s here. “So?”
“There is someone,” I say slowly, “but it’s confusing and I’m not sure what it is yet.” I twist my ring around my finger and don’t realize I’m doing it until Tanner raises an eyebrow at me. I stop immediately and give him the gist of things without giving him Colton’s name. “He’s a great guy, but I just think he’s not looking for anything more than dating without commitment.” I shrug, looking out at the scenery before looking back at him, a hint of tears in my eyes.
“Shit, Ry, any guy that makes you cry isn’t worth it.”
I bite my bottom lip and look down at the napkin I’m shredding mindlessly. “Maybe if he makes me cry it’s because he
worth it,” I say softly. I hear him sigh and I look back up at him. “It’s a first step at least,” I whisper with a trembling voice.
The compassion in his eyes almost undoes me, breaking the hold I have on the tears burning in the back of my throat. “Oh, Bubs, come here,” he says, turning my chair and pulling it toward him. His pulls me into his arms where I just hold onto him, the one person I can always count on.