Authors: Kristen Ashley
I was going to give myself this one night of pretend.
“You can walk in those shoes?” Hank asked.
“I can play basketbal in these shoes,” I told him, and I wasn’t lying. I’d been wearing high heels since my Mom bought me those little, pink, plastic kiddie go-aheads when I was five.
“Your feet hurt, let me know.”
He was a good guy, through and through.
He was a good guy, through and through.
We walked down 16th Street Mal and the streets were packed with people even though it was Monday night. Bars were hopping, restaurants were jammed, lights were shining, it was gorgeous and alive. He walked me through Writer Square and down to Wazee Supper Club where he bought me a drink and we talked some more.
We were heading back up 16th Street Mal and I knew the date was about to come to a close. It was getting late and Hank had to go and do good deeds tomorrow. As for me, I had to sort out my life.
Then, I saw the horse drawn carriages.
I loved horses.
Okay, it was safe to say I loved anything with fur.
“Just a sec,” I said to Hank and pul ed away from his arm around my shoulders and walked to the driver.
“Can I pet your horse?” I asked him with a smile.
“Sure,” the driver replied.
I walked up to the horse and ran my hand down his satin nose. “Hey, big fel a,” I whispered to him. He lifted his head with a jerk then settled and nuzzled my neck. I couldn’t help but let out a low giggle, mainly because it tickled.
“Likes you,” the driver said.
“I smel like food,” I told him.
“Likes food too.”
I kept stroking and Hank al owed it for a little while and then pul ed me away. The horse turned his head to watch me go (so I gave him a little wave) and I started up the sidewalk but Hank guided me toward the carriage.
“What are you…?” I started to ask.
“Get in, we’re gonna ride,” Hank said.
I stared at him, then I stared at the driver.
“No,” I whispered.
I couldn’t take it. An evening with delicious food at a romantic restaurant, wine, good conversation, a walk through the streets of Denver wearing Hank’s jacket, now a carriage ride. It was too much. I couldn’t withstand it. I’d never been in a horse drawn carriage. I’d begun to believe I’d never have anything romantic happen to me, except in a scary Bonnie and Clyde type way where I’d end up riddled with bul ets if Bil y’s stink settled on me.
Bil y had never taken me on a horse drawn carriage ride.
Bil y had promised a mil ion romantic promises but he’d never even bought me flowers. Hel ,
of my boyfriends ever bought me flowers.
“What’s the matter?” Hank asked when my body locked and refused to move.
I felt it happening. I hated it when it happened without warning. My nose was stinging and I was trying to fight it but I just knew I was going to cry.
Hank turned me to him and looked down at me.
My nostrils were quivering.
There was nothing worse than the nostril quiver.
I dropped my head.
His hand came to my neck. He cocked his head and bent low to look at me. “Jesus, Roxie, what’s the matter?”
“Let’s just go,” I whispered.
“She okay?” the driver asked.
“Sunshine…” Hank said softly, his hand at my neck sliding around my shoulders and his other hand going around my waist, pul ing me to him.
“Let’s just go,” I repeated but it was kind of muffled against his chest because my head was stil tilted down and my face was pressed against him.
“You want my hankie?” the driver asked.
One of Hank’s hands went away then came back to my chin and he tilted my head up. This was unfortunate considering the fact that I was now out-and-out crying.
I slid my eyes to the side so I couldn’t see Hank because everyone knew, in an embarrassing situation, if you couldn’t
the person you were trying to hide from, they weren’t actual y there.
He wiped my face with a blue bandana and didn’t say a word.
“Don’t mind me,” I said on a sniffle, stil looking to the side. “I cry a lot.”
Hank didn’t say anything.
“I cry at commercials,” I told him.
Hank stil didn’t say anything.
“I cry when I watch
Terms of Endearment
which I’ve seen, like, a dozen times,” I went on.
Hank stayed quiet.
I took a shuddering breath. “Every time Shirley MacLaine comes out and has that fit at the nurse’s station about getting Debra Winger her medication,” my throat closed at the memory and I swal owed hard, “It gets me.”
“Are you tel in’ me you’re cryin’ because you’re thinkin’
about a movie?” Hank asked.
I shook my head.
“Then why are you crying?”
Final y, I looked at Hank.
Then, don’t ask me why, but I whispered, “Because you’re being so nice to me.”
For a second, before he could hide it, his head jerked a fraction and his face changed. I didn’t get a chance to read it before it went away and his eyes went perfectly blank.
What I could read scared me, in a lot of different ways.
“Has someone not been nice to you?” he asked and I could tel his voice was careful y control ed.
“Let’s just go.”
He watched me for a while, one arm stil wrapped around my back. Then, he let me go. I thought he was going to give in, but I was wrong. He leaned over, slid an arm behind my knees and grabbed my shoulders then he lifted me up.
“What are you doing?” I kind of screamed, throwing my arms around him to hold on.
“We’re takin’ a carriage ride,” he said, carrying me while climbing into the carriage.
This was no mean feat as I wasn’t exactly dainty. Uncle Tex toting me around was one thing; Uncle Tex was Paul Bunyon come alive. This was plain crazy.
He settled me in the seat without apparent effort and sat beside me.
The driver rushed to his perch and we took off.
“There’s just no shaking you, is there?” I asked Hank, my tears gone, I was beginning to feel… I didn’t know what I felt.
Hank pul ed me into his side. “Nope,” he answered.
I crossed my arms and tried to pretend I wasn’t feeling whatever it was I felt. Whatever it was felt nice and I couldn’t give in to it; I had too much to lose if I did.
Then I looked up at him. “Is my makeup ruined?” He looked down and smiled. “Yep.”
* * * * *
After awhile, I settled into Hank’s side and relaxed. I couldn’t help it, he was solid and warm. Denver was beautiful as I watched it passing by on the clop and the carriage rocked soothingly. Even the most tense, stressed-out neurotic would have relaxed.
After another while, Hank’s hand came to my chin, he tilted my head up and he kissed me.
It didn’t take awhile for me to kiss him back, I just did, right away.
He was a great kisser and, on close inspection, I realized he had a bottom lip that even rivaled Springsteen’s.
That shot straight through my heart and my soul.
“Boy, am I in trouble,” I whispered, looking at his mouth.
His hand went to the side of my head. “Yep.” Shit.
* * * * *
I sat in Hank’s 4Runner watching the streets rol by as he drove me to the hotel.
The date was over.
I was trying not to cry again.
It was the best date I’d ever had. It could even be the best date in the history of the world (or at least it had to make the top ten).
I wanted another one just like it. I wanted a dozen of them. I wanted a lifetime of them.
I was only going to get this one.
I should count myself lucky, some women never had a single date like this.
I didn’t feel lucky.
The car stopped and I noticed it was parked in the street.
I glanced around.
We were not at the hotel. We were in a neighborhood.
From what I could tel , a nice neighborhood.
I looked at Hank. “Where are we?”
” I shrieked.
He ignored me and got out.
I stayed rooted to my seat.
This is not happening, this is not happening
. I chanted in my head.
My door opened.
I looked at Hank again. “Take me back to my hotel.” He reached in, undid my seatbelt and grabbed my hand, pul ing me out of the SUV. “I gotta walk my dog.” We were several steps up his walk when I halted, yanking on his hand. “You have a dog?”
He stopped too and looked back at me. “Yeah,” he said I loved dogs.
“What kind of dog?”
“A chocolate lab.”
I loved labs.
“I’l wait in the 4Runner,” I said.
He tugged my hand, pul ing me behind him.
“Whisky, I have to get back to the hotel,” I was trying to yank my hand out of his. I was trying but not succeeding.
He ignored me and kept walking to the house. One story, brick, nicely tended yard but you could tel no woman lived there. There were no pots for flowers and there weren’t any festive autumn decorations in sight. I would definitely have put out festive autumn decorations if I lived there.
I was trying not to think about other things I would do if I lived there when Hank stopped at the door and dropped my hand.
He unlocked then opened the door.
A chocolate lab bounded toward us.
“Oh my God!” I yel ed and crouched low. “What a cute dog!”
And he was cute, adorable.
The lab jumped on Hank and he commanded, “Down.” Then the lab stopped jumping and head-butted Hank in the thighs, got an ear scratch and then came at me. He knocked me on my ass on the front stoop and started licking my face.
“I hope you don’t use him as a guard dog,” I said, trying to scratch his ears as he jumped al over me.
“I think you can kiss whatever makeup you had left good-bye,” Hank noted.
I couldn’t help it, I laughed.
Hank went into the house while I got up and played with the dog and he came back with a lead.
“What’s his name?” I asked.
I clapped at Shamus and he came to me and sat on my feet while Hank put the lead on him. The minute the lead snapped into place, Shamus knew the dril and was aching for it. He headed for the sidewalk, snuffling the ground.
Hank grabbed my hand and we fol owed the dog.
After half a block, it hit me and I said, “This is not fair.”
“What?” Hank asked.
“Don’t play innocent with me, Hank Nightingale. You know what. The dog.”
Hank dropped my hand and slid his arm along my shoulders.
Then he stopped, Shamus stopped (though Shamus didn’t want to stop and his “come on you guys” glance over the shoulder said it al ) and I stopped.
Hank bent, kissed my temple and then his lips went to my ear.
“You try to be difficult and hard but I can tel you’re soft and easy,” he whispered.
I jerked my head back and scowled at him.
“I’m not soft!” I snapped.
“You cry at commercials,” he pointed out.
This, unfortunately, was true. Worse, I’d volunteered this information to him, just like the idiot I was.
“Wel , then, I’m not easy,” I went on stubbornly.
* * * * *
Then Hank let us into his house.
I stood at the closed front door, trying to be obvious about wanting to leave (although I didn’t want to leave, I needed to leave) while Hank turned on some lamps.
The front door led to one big front room consisting of a living room to the right, dining area to the left, then a bar and set of cabinets that began a u-shaped kitchen.
It had been redone and looked nice. Gleaming hardwood floors, the kitchen completely refitted with oak cabinets and KitchenAid appliances, deep-seated, cushiony furniture covered in mocha twil and an old-beat up dining room table that looked cool.
It was (somewhat sparsely, but stil ) decorated in what could only be considered “Colorado”. A couple of old Colorado license plates with skiers stamped into them over the doorway to a hal , some Native American artifacts on the tables that looked careful y chosen, two framed prints of New Belgium Brewery beers (“Fat Tire” and “Skinny Dip”) over his twil couch.
That was kind of it for decoration. It wasn’t like he had an abundance of scented candles and toss pil ows, but it was enough to give the place a personality and homey feel. Like he lived there. Like he liked it there. Like he was proud of it and the work he’d done on it.
I thought of it with some nice, sturdy, black iron candle holders with mulberry scented candles and some curtains covering the blinds.
Stop decorating Hank’s house.
I told myself and crossed my arms to emphasize my thoughts to myself.
“You want a drink?” Hank asked from the kitchen after he’d taken off Shamus’s lead. Through the floor and overhead cabinets, I could only see his waist and abs.
As with al things Hank, it was a good view.
Shamus sauntered over and sat on my feet again. I uncrossed my arms and scratched his ears.
“I want to go back to the hotel,” I answered.
“You’re spendin’ the night here,” Hank informed me, moving to the end of the counter that delineated the kitchen from the dining area and leaning a hip against it, then he crossed his arms.
My mouth dropped open and I stared.
Then I closed it.
“I’m not spending the night here,” I said.
His eyes looked lazy again.