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Authors: Sara Hooper

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BOOK: Moving Forward
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After depositing the black bag at the garbage can, he moved on to the other thing he had put off for years. He opened Amanda’s closet door and began to pull out her clothes, meticulously folding and boxing them up. The time had come to do this.

***

Shane awoke Sunday morning sore from the volleyball game, a testament to how long it had been since he played. The house was unusually quiet without Max. He walked around the house gathering up the remaining pictures of his life with Amanda. He had to do this; he had to recognize a new day if it was going to be a new life. By noon, Shane had convinced himself to take a ride out to the beach for some lunch and sunbathing. The smile of the young Indian woman propelled him in the thought. Perhaps, just perhaps, she would come again that day to play volleyball. Her smile and beauty had certainly been a part of his dream during the night.

He had long loved the Bacon Bleu Deluxe burger at Simmzy’s, an outdoor café centered in Manhattan Beach. Shane and Amanda had always made this their stop after a volleyball game, and he still came there often when he craved a good burger. Today, it was his chosen place to eat while he read through the small local paper looking for the volleyball tournament standings. Memorial Day weekend was a favorite holiday for Manhattan residents as it was often considered the official start of summer and the voracious volleyball schedule.

As Shane finished the delicious burger he had savored, the waiter brought a Blue Moon beer to his table. “I didn’t order that,” Shane quickly said.

“It’s from a lady,” the waiter responded.

“What lady?”

Pointing to a table by the café door, “That one,” he replied, “in the blue top. The pretty one.”

Shane leaned around the waiter to get a clear view. It was Gina, smiling broadly at him, holding up her own bottle of Blue Moon. His heart skipped a beat as he raised his bottle to her in thanks.
She must have been playing today
, he reasoned.
What a stroke of good luck
! Gina quickly said something to the two girls she was with, got up from the table and came to join him. “Hi,” she said, that unforgettable smile easily spreading across her face. “Not playing today?”

“No, remember
we
won yesterday,” he answered, returning the smile as a reminder that his team had beaten hers.

“Oh, that!” she easily offered. “Forgot.” Without pause, she joined him at the table. Shane noted how easily she slid into his world without halting.

Shane laughed at her. “I’m sure you wanted to. Did you guys play that team from Seal Beach today?”

Gina acknowledged the question with an affirmative shake of her head as she drank a swallow of her beer. “Yep,” she finally answered. “Beat ‘em by one shot. My shot, by the way. And, I escaped injury today, too.” It was a jesting reminder of his erroneous spike to her breast.

“Are you okay? I mean, you’re not sore, are you? There, I mean, where the ball hit you.” In a slightly boyish way, Shane blushed.

“I’ll live,” she teased. “At least the bruise is out of sight. I was afraid you were going to ask to check it out.”

“Hey! Don’t tempt me,” he teased back. Shane wondered, given her ample chest, how it could be far out of sight. She was what many men would consider to be the perfect woman in build, sport and personality. He liked her.

“Are you going down to the beach to watch the last game today?” Gina asked, hoping that he was.

“Thought I might. You?”

“I need to. They have a girl on that one team that is tough at the net. We’ll play them tomorrow if they win today, which everyone believes they will. She is in the match position to me, so I want to get an idea of her style and all that. I’m self-conscious if I’m not prepared. Girls are like that.” She smiled at Shane as she said it; he wondered what she meant.

“Want to walk down together?” he asked, finishing his beer. “Oh, thanks for the Moon, by the way.”

“I owed you. Maybe not “the moon,” but I owed you one.” Rising from her chair, she observed, “It should be already underway.” Gina gathered her bag, finished her beer and walked over to the outside gate in the sidewalk fence, waiting for Shane to leave the tip and join her. To an observer, it appeared they were a couple; things were that easy and natural between them.

As they walked the few blocks to the beach, Shane asked her where she worked. It was all it took for Gina to launch into details about her favorite subject, the research she was doing with water run-off. Shane listened intently, amazed that this lovely creature was so gifted with science; she looked more like someone who would specialize in fashion. Once at the beach, they sat together in the sand beside the volleyball court, each watching the team they would face the next day. Each wondering if the connection between them was volleyball or magic.

When the match had ended, they stood and wiped the sand from their legs. “Well, guess I better find my ride,” Gina said hesitantly. “It’s a long walk back to Newport if I miss them.”

“I wouldn’t let you walk,” Shane said. “Never.”

“Ummm…a hunk and a gentleman. That’s a good combination,” she teased. “See you tomorrow, I guess.”

“Yeah, tomorrow. One of us will go home with a trophy,” he teased her back. “Hope it will fit in my car.”

“Oh, you drive a Smart Car?” she asked, broadening her smile. “You won’t need much space for the little second place trophy! I, on the other hand, might rent a van!”

“Oh? She makes jokes, too!” he quickly retorted. Shane reached out to tag her, but she skipped to the side, laughing at him. He made a move toward her, but Gina started running away. After about a hundred feet, she turned back toward him and waved. He watched her join her friends, admiring the dark hair that blew in the breeze; her olive skin captured his fancy. It was a quiet ride home, but that suited his thoughts.
I wonder…
, he said to himself, but he turned his thoughts to other things.

Shane arrived at the beach two hours before the championship game on Memorial Day, hoping that he would see her and be able to spend time with her before his match. His team was playing for the championship - hers for third place. Both of them would be winners in the tournament for certain. Shane hoped they would be winners in another way, too.

At the trophy presentation, he finally spotted her sitting in the sand with her team. Their eyes met, she smiled and waved. Shane stood up and bowed to her; she laughed out loud, taking his gesture as an acknowledgement that she had been right about her team winning. When the ceremony was over, people flocked to the teams to offer congratulations, but Shane was more interested in finding her. Finally, he spotted Gina making her way down the beach with her team, moving in the opposite direction, walking away from him. He started to run after her, but restrained himself, disappointed that he wouldn’t talk with her, wondering if he would ever see her again. The emotion welled up inside of him; it was the first sign that he felt an interest in this young woman of Indian descent with her skin tone, beautiful face, old car and a culture so different from his.

Shane slowly made his way back to his car in the parking lot, earnestly looking for Gina’s; hoping that she had lingered behind to see him, but she hadn’t. As he approached his Porsche, he saw a piece of paper secured by the windshield wiper, the soft breeze rippling its edge. He nervously unfolded it and smiled as he read: ‘Gina Singh, 949-673-4FUN. Call me, you have my number.’ Shane smiled to himself as he folded the paper and put it in his pocket.
Two trophies in one day,
he congratulated himself
. A guy couldn’t hope for anything more!

His ride home through the busy streets of sun-drenched Manhattan Beach made him feel as if he were passing into something new. He patted his shirt pocket and smiled to himself.

***

Shane called her five hours later, unable to wait any longer, anxious to acknowledge her offer for him to call. “Hello,” she said cheerfully. He wondered absentmindedly if she had Caller ID.

He paused a second, then, “Hi yourself. Thanks for your number. I was hoping to see you after the ceremony to offer my congratulations.”

“Sure you did,” she teased. “I had to get home to check on some water samples. Figured you would be bogged down with that trophy, trying to lug it back and fit it into that two-seater car of yours. I rode with some other people, so I actually had no control over staying or leaving.”

“You make jokes,” he chuckled. “Guess it wasn’t a problem to fit yours into the console of your car.”

“Nah,” she retorted. “Actually, it’s the smallest one I have. But, then again, we are used to playing the teams at Newport, not the pro-ams at Manhattan.”

“You really do make jokes now,” he laughed at her teasing. “Whatever. I am very glad you left your number. I wanted to stay in touch.”

A pause on Gina’s end. “That makes me happy,” she finally said. “I would like that.”

“Okay. Sounds good to me. I’ll touch base later in the week. Maybe we can meet somewhere for a beer or something.” He threw the idea out there, hoping she wanted the same.

“Well, Mr. Ryden, that would be great, but you do remember there’s some traveling time involved here, don’t you? Although some time my work drags me down the coastline. Never know when or where I might pop up!”

“Sure, I do. We both have cars. That shouldn’t be a problem.”

“No problem here,” she offered. “I think that would be enjoyable.”

“Great!” Shane didn’t hide the enthusiasm he felt at the prospect of seeing her. “I’ll call in a few days and see how your schedule is. Don’t want to interrupt you finding out what’s growing in Newport’s drinking water! Or, if you’ve captured my number on your phone, you can call me if you are in the area checking on our water supply.”

“Hey!” she said. “That may not be a joke; you never know what you may be drinking!” She laughed aloud; the musical sound brought back memories to Shane. It was a laugh almost identical to Amanda’s.

He was re-charged. But, he wondered if he would be able to resist comparing the two women. Telling himself Gina was vastly different from Amanda only made him wonder more.
Go easy,
he cautioned himself
. Go very, very easy. Your heart is vulnerable, and your body is weak.
Despite his own warning, Gina occupied his dream. The contrasts were there, but so were the similarities. They had been bound in their own ways, and they each had just found a new measure of freedom.

***

Shane could barely withhold the desire to talk with her on Tuesday. She had been on his mind all day. No amount of drilling or filling teeth could overcome his need to hear her voice again. He rushed home from work, prepared his dinner and did some paperwork, fully daring himself to dial her number. By the time he had showered and climbed into bed, he was proud of himself for not having given in to calling her. His cell phone rang into his thoughts.

The display on the phone said “Unknown Caller,” but he answered it anyway. “Hi,” she casually said. “Am I interrupting you or calling too late?” He smiled at the sound of her voice and her dismissal of the usual formalities.

“No, no, not at all,” he quickly answered, sitting up on the side of the bed. “It’s not too late and you’re not interrupting. How are you?”

“I’m good,” she replied easily. “How about you? Doing okay?”

“Yes, thank you for asking.”

“So,” she continued without missing a beat. “I’ll be down around Manhattan tomorrow afternoon. Can I buy you a treat?”

Shane quickly tried to recall what tomorrow was like, very surprised at her modern-day approach. He then remembered it would be Wednesday, his half day at the office. “Well, you don’t have to treat me,” he answered, “but I can meet you for a burger or something. What time?”

“I should be through around three or shortly after. Yes, any time after three would be great.”

“That works for me. How about we meet at the Deluxe, about three fifteen. Is that okay?”

“The Deluxe?” she questioned. “Where is that?”

BOOK: Moving Forward
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