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Authors: Sara Hooper

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BOOK: Moving Forward
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“The Bacon Bleu Deluxe,” he quickly answered. “Where you bought me the beer. The burger joint. Remember?”

“Oh, yes, didn’t catch the local jargon there. That’s good for me. Three fifteen is perfect.”

“It’s a date then,” he offered.

“A date?” she questioned, teasing again. Her little chuckle made him smile.

“Well, you know what I mean. That’s an expression.”

“Shucks!” she teased again. “Had me all excited there for a minute. See you tomorrow.” Gina hung up the phone before he had a chance to reply.

Shane turned on his side and pulled the empty pillow close to his chest, a habit he had developed since Amanda left. He settled in comfortably for a good night of rest; the smile on his face confirmed the warmness of his heart. He would see Gina tomorrow.

The next morning couldn’t pass quickly enough to suit him. Patient after patient came through the treatment rooms; Shane took care of them in robotic fashion, his mind wandering to seeing Gina. He couldn’t help but wonder what would transpire between them, especially since she had been the one to suggest their getting together. Did she feel something between them? Did she sense the tingle he sensed between them? Or, did she just want to spread her social circle into Manhattan?
Don’t start second-guessing yourself again
, his conscious prompted.
You need to get a life!

Promptly at noon, Shane left the office. At home, he quickly showered and dressed in preppy shorts, polo and sandals. He was anxious to see Gina, but he couldn’t tell if it was because he wanted the companionship or if it was just her. She was different, not just in ethnicity, but her personality on the whole. The casual, teasing persona attracted him. Gina was completely unpretentious, so different than the women who often flirted with him when he did venture out with friends, even as rarely as that occurred. His body and handsome face easily turned heads, but he wasn’t interested in those women who approached him. Too easy, too shallow, too needy. But, Gina was different, energetic in a slow-moving kind of way, natural to a fault, enthusiastic and witty. It was as if she didn’t care what he did, who he was or what might be in it for her. Shane felt as if she liked him for
him
, not the looks, not the obvious wealth, nothing but the person she saw in
him
. That was the same feeling he had experienced with Amanda. Often, he had felt that she would have gone on with her life the same if he hadn’t been a part of it. Women like this made men want them. And, Shane imagined a lot of men wanted Gina.

He parked across the street from the Deluxe at precisely two-thirty. An hour early. He had convinced himself that she may get there early. Still he waited in his car until three. As he sat at the outside table for two, slowly drinking his beer, he saw Gina approaching from a distance, but it was a wonder he even recognized her. Her blue shirt with the Center’s logo on the chest and sleeve, the dark gray shorts and mid-calf boots made her look so different than he had seen her. The ball cap with her long hair pulled through the vent in the back made her look like a kid. But, the smile was unmistakable. Even as she walked along with two other people, she was animated - her hands demonstrating what she must have been saying to them. Shane enjoyed this undetected moment; it gave him further insight into her. The threesome stopped about one hundred feet from him. Gina became serious, obviously giving the other two instructions. She patted one on the arm and turned back to his direction, leaving them to cross the street with the containers she had been talking about. She was almost within touching distance of Shane before she saw him. She stopped, the broad smile instantly appearing for him. As she approached the table, she said, “Can’t have a Moon with you today, not in uniform.”

“Well, hello to you, too,” he replied, rising from the table as she took her seat.

“Sorry,” she answered, “Hello. I was just reminding myself not to be tempted. I could really use a cold beer, but can’t in this garb. It’s been a long day.”

“Can you have a glass of milk?” Shane asked, teasing. “Or something strong, like a Coke? Any rules against carbonation?”

Gina laughed out loud. “Sure, a Coke would be great. Don’t want to upset any of the taxpayers who love to watch a state-issued uniform. You know, really, there are some people who just like to call a state agency to complain when they see a uniformed person having a cup of coffee. Like we don’t deserve a break!” Shane ordered her coke and a cheese tray for them to snack on.

“I can understand what you mean,” he agreed, leaning back in his chair. “Sorry you’ve had such a hard day. Where were you working?” His eyes feasted on her dressed as she was, natural, uninhibited, and totally comfortable as she was, even in this swanky outdoor dining area where people around her were wearing $1000 shoes as if they were Docksiders. She absolutely didn’t care.

“Down at the harbor,” she said, taking a long drink of soda through the straw. “We’ve been trying to trace some elements through the water supplies, just to see how they travel, what is contiguous to our harbor, things like that.” Shane smiled openly at her. “What?” she queried. “Why are you smiling? Do I sound dumb?”

“Oh, no, not at all,” he quickly answered, leaning up, elbows on the table. “I’m deeply interested. It’s just that you are so explanatory, so animated about it, so caught up in your work. I think it’s fantastic! I can tell you are happy doing what you do.”

Gina thought for a minute. “Yes, I am happy,” she finally said. “I’ve waited a long time to find this measure of happiness. I enjoy my work.”

“Hey, Gina, don’t take me the wrong way. I didn’t mean anything negative. I really do like to see people happy like this, especially when they are realizing a dream, or feel they are accomplishing something. I’m happy for you. Really.” His hand covered hers on the table; automatically, her thumb curled up on his. They looked at each other for a long minute before she continued.

“So, did you have any trouble getting off early?” she asked innocently, swirling her straw around in the glass. At that moment, Shane realized she didn’t have any earthly idea about what he did or who he might be.

He decided to keep her unknowing, just to see what would happen. “No, not at all. We close early on Wednesday. We are spoiled to that, you know, this is the beach! We need a mid-week break for the beach.” He smiled at her. She accepted the explanation without any comment.

They sat quietly for a few minutes before Shane asked what he really needed to know. “It may seem a bit personal, nosy even, but, are you seeing anyone? Are you, you know, involved?”

Gina looked off into the crowd, thought for a minute and answered, “No.” Nothing else, just the one word. Shane remained quiet for a couple of minutes, assuming more would come, but it didn’t.

“Sorry if I imposed,” he said quietly. “I didn’t mean to.”

“You didn’t,” she said, turning to face him squarely. “I’ve never really had but one relationship and that didn’t go well with my father. With school and a new job, I haven’t put much energy into another one. Just hang out with friends, the team, you know. Safety in crowds, I guess. It eliminates the temptation. So, no, I’m not involved.” That smile again, but it was more one of acceptance than joy.

“That’s hard,” Shane mused. “Everyone needs the room to explore relationships. The freedom, guess I should say.” He signaled the waiter and ordered their burgers.

“How about you?” she pointedly asked. “Are you “involved?” she formed the quotation marks with her fingers, smiling as she did it.

“Not anymore.” Shane pulled his hand away from hers and twirled his beer bottled around on the table, the expression on his face changing suddenly.

“Now I’ve imposed,” she said.

“No you haven’t!” he quickly said. “You haven’t, Gina. I was married. She died.” There it was, laid out before her in a few short words. He looked directly at her; even through both their sunshades, he could tell she had regretted asking. “Don’t feel bad. It would have come up sooner than later. Now, you know. Shane was surprised how easily the words had flowed from his mouth, said as a fact. It was a fact. Silence again.

Gina’s shoulders immediately slumped; she realized how hard that must be for him to say. “I’m sorry. That is a hard pill to swallow,” she said, almost whispering.

“Yes, a hard one.”

Their plates came; they both settled in to dressing the burgers without any conversation. The atmosphere was a little tense, but not bleak. After a few minutes of loud silence, Gina ventured forth to break it. “Tell me about her.”

Shane stopped eating, looked away from the table and cleared his throat.
Where to start?
he questioned himself.
How does one put a person’s whole life into a short conversation? How does one describe a person who filled their world, provided their happiness and left them hanging? How can I tell this woman about that woman? They are so different and so alike.
As he formed his thoughts carefully, Gina sat silently without imposing. She realized this was difficult for him, but she also wanted to know. For a lot of reasons, she wanted to know, and he had to tell her.

“Her name is Amanda,” Shane began quietly, refusing to speak in a past tense. “I met her in college; she was my tutor. I couldn’t get myself focused on my school work. Too much partying and goofing off. She got me straightened out, so to speak. She probably saved me, actually. Overall, Amanda made me who I am today, in many ways. She was always my rock.”

“I understand what you mean. We all need such a person in our lives.”

“Yes, yes we do,” he continued. “I was captivated by her, by her easy-going attitude, her belief that nothing was too big to tackle, not even my difficult classes. She was encouraging, prodding and demanding, but she was gentle, too. Over the course of a few short months, I fell in love with her. Long before she fell in love with me, I think. She was just so different.”

“Different from what or from whom?”

“She wasn’t like most girls in college. She didn’t give a hoot about what you thought of her. She didn’t try to impress anyone, but, ironically, she left her mark on everyone she met. Tons of friends, loyal friends, but almost no social life as it relates to college. Serious, but carefree in her own way. Supportive but firm. It’s hard to describe Amanda. For real, she’s a lot like you, at least to the degree that I know you.”

“That’s a compliment, Shane. I appreciate hearing that.”

“Anyway, over time we came to realize that we belonged together, so we married. For all that I’ve had in my life so far, she was the real prize. The only thing I’ve ever managed to have that really contributed to who I’ve become and the happiness I found. It was Amanda, all of it.”

“What an honorable tribute,” Gina said. “How wonderful for you to be able to say that, to have experienced that, that love of another person. We should all be so lucky.”

“Yes, to be so lucky,” he answered, picking up his burger and taking a bite. “She had a heart disease and didn’t survive it. I miss her, but I’ve missed her for a long, long time. I need to move on. She would want me to.”

Gina cleared her throat. “I had such a relationship, too,” she began, anxious to reach a common ground with him. “But, it never had a chance. I know that we loved each other, but my father ended it. Gave me a choice, actually. Said I could either drop the guy or give up my father’s financial help with college. Given the course load I had, there wasn’t even a choice. I couldn’t work to pay my own way; I couldn’t reduce my course load to give me time for work, and I couldn’t find any other way to get through, so I dropped him. Broke my heart. It’s taken over two years to put him out of my mind. If it hadn’t been for this job, this opportunity and my Master’s work, I probably couldn’t have done it. I know what it’s like to miss someone.”

“Why was your father opposed to your relationship? His reaction seems extremely harsh!” Shane asked. He needed to know what to expect in case his wish came true.

Gina took a pen from her shirt pocket, pulled an extra napkin from the stand and scribbled something in Hindi quickly onto its surface, sliding it over to Shane. He looked at it and raised his eyebrows in question. “
Remember your roots; honor your culture
,” Gina translated. “It’s my father’s mantra; it is on a plaque in the living room of our home, his home that is. We, our family, are expected to live that life. As long as we are under his control, it is the rule of his house. Relationships with non-Indian people come under that rule. It is frowned upon, period. That is how he destroyed it for me. That is how he will always try to destroy them unless it is with an Indian man.” She saw the tenseness form in Shane as he sat up straight in his chair, but Gina had to put the matter on the table, just as he had done about Amanda, just in case her wish came true, too. The air had to be clear between them. “I wanted you to know and understand,” she said simply. “That is important to me.”

BOOK: Moving Forward
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