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Authors: Sara Hooper

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BOOK: Moving Forward
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“I see,” Shane said, trying not to seem disturbed, only acknowledging. He didn’t want to do anything or say anything that would put distance between them. But, he also realized that he was up against that mantra if he and Gina were to be a couple. That would require strength and perseverance. Was it worth it? Did he have it in him to fight for a woman again?

They finished the food in silence. When Gina was through, she softly said, “I really need to hit the road. I’ve got to get those samples identified and set up. Don’t want to spend my night in hip waders just so I can lounge around swanky Manhattan Beach!” she chuckled, trying to lighten the mood.

“I need to be getting along, too,” Shane said. “I could sit here and people watch all day, but it gains nothing to do it. Where are you parked?”

“Down the block, between here and the harbor, about two blocks or so. I’m good, don’t worry. I can make it to my car,” she laughed. “Big girl now!” she comically said, putting her fists to her chest.

“I’m walking you to your car!” Shane said emphatically. “Don’t even try to prevent me.”

Shane left a wad of cash on the table to cover the bill and tip. “This was my treat,” Gina protested, pulling her card from the shirt pocket. “I’m going to pay!”

“Get out of here,” he smiled, grabbing her hand and pointing it back toward her pocket quickly. He made her hit herself in the chest.

“There you go again,” she laughed. “You got something against that boobie?” His face reddened instantly, but Gina patted his shoulder. “It’s okay,” she said, turning to walk out the sidewalk gate, grinning back at him. He caught up with her quickly. As they walked the two blocks to her car, Shane talked about the various shops along the way, how he liked one versus the other, how that one was less expensive or had better volleyball equipment. Gina realized through that short distance how far apart their lives really were - over and above her father’s cultural requirements. Nonetheless, she relished in his company.

When they reached her car, the mood changed to awkward. She unlocked her door, opened it and turned to Shane. For a second the air hung between them, but Gina rose on her tiptoes and kissed his cheek; he grabbed her arms, pulled her to him in a generous bear hug and kissed her forehead. It was a sweet moment that spoke volumes to each of them. She got into the beat up Nissan, rolled her window down and smiled that luxurious smile. “Be good,” she said.

Shane slipped his business card into her hand, waved and walked away. He was afraid, embarrassed actually, to watch her read the card for fear she wouldn’t want to develop their relationship any further. Between her father’s cultural obsession and the societal differences between him and Gina already silently identified, Shane knew it would be an uphill battle to have her. For the first time in his life, he felt ashamed of being rich, of having what she could not even imagine.

Just as he was climbing into bed, Gina called. “Just wanted to thank you for this afternoon, Dr. Ryden,” she teased. “It meant a lot to me. Good night and sweet dreams.”

“It meant a lot to me, too, Gina,” Shane said. “Sweet dreams to you, too.” Nothing else needed to be said. Shane grabbed the pillow as he always did, but this night, it felt more firm than it had in a long time.

***

For the following week, although they chatted almost every evening, Shane made an occasional trip down to the beach in search of Gina, telling himself that it was useless, but he wanted to see her.
She works, I work, when would there be time?
he asked himself.  A few days later, he went to the marina to see if Don was out on his boat. As he walked down the plank dock, he saw her, bent over a tray of something with other people gathered around. There was no way to miss that hair. He came up behind Gina, listening to her explaining the biology of the strange fish she had in the tray. When her explanation was over and the crowd began to wander away, Shane stepped in front of her as she remained kneeled at the tray. “So, where did you find that fish?” he asked. Gina’s head jerked up quickly as she recognized the familiar voice. That ever present smile lit up her face as she stood up to greet him. He hugged her tightly. “I didn’t know you would be here today!”

“Neither did I,” she answered. “Or, I would have called ahead.  A fisherman caught this weird fish in his net this morning and called the Center. Dr. Hill sent me down here to see what it was and to bring it back to keep if it was a rarity.”

“Is it a rarity?” Shane asked, genuinely interested.

“Yep, it is. This is a fish usually only found near Hawaii,” Gina said, drifting easily into an explanation of how far it must have traveled to this very marina. Shane listened intently until she completed the lesson she felt he should learn.

“That is amazing!” he ventured. “Are you taking it back to the Center?”

“Yes, we don’t have a specimen like this. The kids will be interested in it and how far it traveled from its natural environment.” She carefully moved the fish from the deep tray into the large carrier she had brought with her. “There,” she said. “It’s all packaged and ready to ride.”

“Are you taking it back with you or sending it with someone else?” he asked, hoping she wasn’t.

“No, there’s a co-worker around here somewhere. He’s transporting it.”

“Good!” The words were out of his mouth before Shane realized what he had said. A Freudian slip. Gina looked up at him questioningly. “I mean, that’s nice that you have someone with you,” he quickly answered her gaze, trying to cover up his anxiousness to be around her. “Are you leaving, too, or would you like to hang around for a bite to eat and a beer? I know a quaint little place. I’ll even drive you there and bring you back to your car. How accommodating is that?”

“Well, I think that would be wonderful,” she answered, secretly glad that he had crossed the bridge of wish between them. “That would be very nice, Dr. Shane Ryden. I’m not in uniform, so I can take you up on the beer this time.”

Shane carried the container with the fish in it across the dock to the waiting Center van. The guy joined them and loaded it, securing into the docking port at the back of the vehicle. Once he had left, Shane and Gina walked across the lot to his car. “I’ve never ridden in a Porsche,” she innocently volunteered climbing into the passenger seat. Shane secretly hoped the car didn’t seem too ostentatious to her; he didn’t want to do anything to turn her off.

***

A few minutes later, Shane parked in front of the Tin Roof Bistro, a small, well-known restaurant he frequented, but one Amanda had never liked. He even realized that his selection was another attempt at starting over, as well as recognition that Gina may be more comfortable with a menu that offered some Indian cuisine. As they looked through the lunch offerings, she didn’t miss the attempt either. “I do eat American food,” she offered. Shane looked up from behind his menu.

“I didn’t mean anything by bringing you here,” he quietly said. “I like the place for the variety it offers.”

She didn’t say anything for a couple of seconds, then, “Shane, I enjoy your company very much, but if you think there will be a problem with our interracial-ness, just say so. I don’t offend easily; I’m used to it.”

“Is that a word?” he joked at her. He realized instantly that she must be sensitive about that point.

“What word?”

“Interracial-ness, is that a word?”

Gina smiled. “It’s my word,” she said. “I just made it up to fit the moment.” They both laughed. “I have no idea if it’s a word.”

“It’s no problem for me,” he finally observed. “No problem at all.”

Their conversation flowed easily, just as he had expected. He told her about his practice, the dog, his volunteer work at the free clinic, everything he could think of. He packed his life into what he thought Gina would want to know or have to know about him. She did the same, spending quite a bit of time in trying to relay how culturally stubborn her father was, how she had tried to defy him that one time over her only relationship, and how forcing her to give up the relationship had deterred her from forming other ones.  Shane earmarked that part of the conversation, just in case he needed the reference at some point in the future. Gina spoke of her newfound freedom of choices she had never been allowed to make and how she would handle her father firmly if he tried to meddle too much in her life. Shane told her he understood how difficult that must be; he was trying hard to separate his previous life with Amanda from how he wanted to move forward. They both agreed the challenges they faced were similar.

Shane signed the credit card receipt for the meal. They casually walked to his car and he drove her back down to the marina where her car was parked. At her car, Gina gave him a kiss on the cheek, the same as she had done the last time. It was sweet; Shane took her chin in his hand and kissed her fully on the mouth. She returned his kiss gently but with some reserve. They both realized the orchestra had started playing and the dance had begun.

As Gina cranked her car, she rolled down the window, smiled and offered, “If you’re ever in Newport, I’m usually around.” Without waiting for his response, she backed out of the parking spot, waving as she pulled away. Shane watched her until she turned the corner. It was only the second time in his life that his soul had ever centered on a woman.

***

As usual, Shane closed his practice at noon on Wednesday. When he pulled out of his parking spot at the office, the car seemed to head in its own direction, down the streets around the office and out to the Pacific Coast Highway, heading in a northerly direction, straight to Newport. It had been two weeks since he saw her, a long two weeks of daily phone calls, but he wanted to see her.  When he was about two miles from Newport, he dialed her number.

“Hello,” she answered in a somewhat singsong voice.

“Hi,” Shane replied.

He could hear her smiling, “How are you?”

“I’m great. Actually, I’m really great. Can I buy you a beer?”

“Sure. Will that be arriving by UPS or the unreliable postal service?” she chided.

“How about by car?”

“Are you here? In Newport? Now?”

“Yep, almost that is. I’m about a mile from the Center. Are you still at work?”

“Yes, but I’ll be finished in about fifteen minutes. Can you meet me at the Bluewater Grill? Do you know where that is?” she offered.

“I do, on Lido Park, right?”

“Yes, that’s it. I’ll be there in about twenty minutes at the most.”

“See you then,” Shane said, his heart as anxious as his eyes to see her.

She was waiting by her car when he pulled into the lot ten minutes later. As he came around the back of her Nissan, she stepped toward him. Their quick embrace confirmed their thoughts and their happiness at this impromptu meeting. It was a little clumsy, but the meaning of the hug was there. Gina jabbered nonstop as they walked into the quiet bar and ordered their beers. He marked it as a sign of nervousness; she felt it as the thrill of seeing him again and of his caring enough to come to Newport. They sat at the table, nursing beer and sharing a sandwich until it was past dark. “Well, I need to head back South, I guess,” he said, looking into her huge brown eyes. She stared back at him, wondering if that was a hint or if she were testing her own reluctance to let him leave.

“I don’t live but two blocks from here,” she said softly. “If you want to crash at my place, I mean. You can drive back early in the morning. Sober. I mean, you will be totally sober then. It’s a hilly, curvy and dangerous road at night, especially after drinking.” Shane watched her try to qualify her offer, but each of them knew it wasn’t about safe driving; it was about a mutual want and need. “Follow me,” she ordered as she got into her car. “I won’t drive too fast for that Porsche.” Shane smiled at her jibe, cranked his car and pulled into the street behind her.

If the contrast in the two cars and his reluctance at giving her his fancy business card were contradictions of their lives, her upstairs, outside-entry apartment was even more so. The steps were rickety from being subjected to years of salt-air and moisture; the inside was so small that Shane could almost reach the sofa by stretching his arms from the back door. But, it was neat as a pin and homey, simply furnished with the basics one would need to live, nothing more. Gina offered no apologies, either. Rather, she spread her arm to let him pass in a gesture of welcome. He pinched her cheek as he passed so close to her body that he could feel the warm breath of her smile. She opened another beer for each of them and joined him on the sofa. They talked for a couple of minutes, then, without a hint at the movement, Shane took her chin between his fingers, turned her to face him and kissed her warmly. Gina melted into his arms instantly, returning the kiss feverishly. It was the instant both had waited for.

BOOK: Moving Forward
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