Authors: Bonnie Dee
Formerly published in Prime Passions anthology as Moving On
Copyright © 2015 by Bonnie Dee
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The room seemed smaller without the books. Shouldn’t all those empty shelves appear wide open, ready to be filled with something? But without the rainbow of book spines filling the wall from ceiling to floor, the space appeared diminished.
Camilla smoothed her fingers over the brown tape covering the seam of one of the boxes. One end wouldn’t stay stuck down. If it peeled off, the items might spill out in the back of the moving truck. She needed to seal it shut and keep her things safe. What was in the box anyway? She’d forgotten to label it.
She tore off the tape, opened the flaps, and stared at the contents: Sam’s awards and plaques. What in the hell was she supposed to do with things like that? There wasn’t room for them in her new place, yet it seemed wrong to send these signs of her dead husband’s merits to the dump. She picked up the glossy plaque on the top of the pile—an award for excellence. Sam had been outstanding in so many ways: a brilliant linguist, an exceptional professor, a generous civic benefactor, a trustworthy husband and a thoughtful lover. If she’d felt a lack of something during these past few years, it must have been on her part, her foolish middle-aged craving for excitement due to a sense of time passing her by. Surely the flaw hadn’t been in such a good and kind man as Sam.
“You’re supposed to be closing the boxes, not unpacking them.”
She jumped and turned. A shaggy-haired young man wearing a gray T-shirt with a moving truck logo on the front stood in the doorway. Underneath the graphic were the words
Bert and Ernie Take You Home
She stared for a beat too long at the way the words stretched across his broad chest. “Are you Bert or Ernie?”
“I’m Ryan. Bert and Ernie stopped ‘taking you home’ about four years ago. I don’t think Bert could climb stairs anymore, let alone carry furniture down them. Your doorbell’s broken, but the door was open so I came in. Let me tape that for you.”
Walking toward her, he pulled a tape roller from a holster on his waist like a gunslinger. He waited while Camilla put the plaque inside and closed the flaps of the box. When he leaned over to seal a fresh piece of tape over the seam, Camilla inhaled the warm, masculine scent of his body. His large presence invaded her space, alive and youthful and far too magnetic. Something stirred deep within her, making her breasts tender and her pussy throb with her quickening heartbeats.
She stepped away from him and those uncomfortable, unacceptable reactions.
Ryan straightened and looked down into her eyes. His were light green. His low voice rumbled like the engine of a muscle car. “It’s hard to know what to keep, isn’t it? I’ve been doing this job a while. There are only a few reasons a person moves. New job, lost job, break up or death. Which is yours?”
Camilla would have resented his blunt multiple choice question if it weren’t for the kindness in his eyes and his sympathetic tone.
“My husband is dead.”
It was the first time she’d actually said the words aloud. She hadn’t needed to inform anyone. The news spread quickly through the university grapevine, and Sam had no family members she’d needed to call. Now each syllable dropped from her mouth like a cold, hard pebble.
My. Husband. Is. Dead.
Should she break down? Should she burst into tears? It nearly made her weep that she felt no natural impulse to cry.
“I’m sorry.” The way the young man said it seemed like more than the perfunctory response people offered a grieving widow. “What happened?”
“Cancer. He went quickly.” She drew a breath and added. “He died about ten months ago. I thought...It seemed like it was time to move someplace new.”
Ryan nodded and slipped the tape gun back into his belt. “They tell you it gets easier with time. I don’t know about that. It just evolves into something different.”
She noted the furrow between his eyebrows. “Who did you lose?”
“My brother, when I was a kid. I remember how I felt right after it happened and for a long time after that. Now it’s a quieter loss. Like an amputation you get used to.”
He tapped a finger on the tape dispenser before sliding it back into its holster. “Also, a few years ago the woman I lived with left me. Not the same as death, but having the person you love tell you she simply doesn’t want you anymore, that you’ve become irrelevant to her…” He paused. “That can be pretty wrenching, too.”
Camilla abruptly felt the pain of his loss so sharply, it hurt more than her own. She could
the poking angles of those barbed emotions.
“I’m sorry,” she murmured, knowing those words were never sufficient in the face of heart break. But what else could she say?
“So I understand how hard it is to let go of stuff,” Ryan continued. “She left some things behind, and I carried those boxes of her crap with me from one apartment to another before I finally threw them out.”
Camilla looked at the sealed box in front of her. “Do you have a marker?”
He gave her a Sharpie from his tool belt.
She uncapped it and labeled the box, Sam’s Crap—Storage Unit.
In the end, wasn’t that what awards and plaques and trophies amounted to?
“Please keep all the storage boxes near the back of the truck so you can drop them off on the way. It’s Peerson’s U-Lock-It. I’ll meet you there with the key to the unit.” She smiled slightly at Ryan as she handed him the marker.
“Yes, ma’am.” He touched her hand, the heat from his lighting up her skin. “It
get easier just like they say.”
Camilla had experienced both sympathy and pity over the past months. Ryan’s compassionate eyes peering through a fringe of sandy hair offered empathy. They also contained something she hadn’t seen in a man’s gaze in a long while—interest in her as a woman. His gaze flicked to her chest for a microsecond before refocusing on her face.
His frank assessment made her twitchy. Parts of her that had lain dormant for much longer than Sam had been dead stirred to life. Excited and embarrassed and a little frightened, she drew her hand away from his and folded her arms over her breasts.
“I assume you’ll start with the furniture and then the boxes?”
“Yeah. My partner should be right behind me. Show me what you want done.”
As she led him from room to room, talking a little too fast and high as she pointed out items that would need special care, Camilla felt as if she were recovering after walking on shifting sand. The unexpected stab of lust had shaken her, but she could regain control. She’d controlled her emotions for quite a long time. She was a master at it.
“I took the shelves out of the curio cupboard, but will the glass front be all right? You’ll wrap it carefully?”
“Yes, ma’am. We have quilted pads for that.” The moving guy presented her with a clipboard of paperwork to sign, and when she passed him the pen, their gazes locked for a moment. Another stab of something flashed between them. Attraction, interest, pure lust?
She blinked and looked away. It must be her imagination. Why would a sexy young guy like this be interested in a practically middle-aged woman?
Another muscular man in a Bert and Ernie shirt clomped into the room, breaking the moment of tension.
“This is Pat." Ryan jerked his thumb at the man who looked like a former linebacker gone to seed.
Camilla nodded a greeting. “I’ll get out of your way and let you get to work.”
She retreated into the kitchen, where she poured one last cup of coffee before cleaning and packing the machine. As she stood in the kitchen doorway sipping from her cup, she watched the moving men carry seventeen years of her life out the front door.
By the time they’d removed the heavy pieces of furniture and were ready to start on the boxes, sweat stained both men’s shirts under the arms and up the back, turning the light gray dark.
“Why don’t you take a break? I don’t have much left in the fridge, but there’s some bottled water." She took the last pair of bottles of Spring Lake from the naked shelf and wondered if she should unplug the refrigerator before she left.
Pat thanked her for the water then pulled a pack of cigarettes from his jeans pocket. “I’ll be outside.”
Water in hand, Ryan sat on a stool in the breakfast nook. He took a long drink, Adam’s apple bobbing and sweat shining on his throat.
Camilla could almost taste the salt on her tongue. She looked down at the coffeemaker she was wrapping to distract her from staring.
He swallowed, sighed and capped the bottle. “I see your new address isn’t too far away. Where do you work?”
“I teach classic literature at the University of North Carolina. My husband was a professor there as well. Actually, he was
professor when I was a grad student. I never really left college. Went straight from attending to teaching there.”
“You ever think about going somewhere else?” He leaned forward, arms resting on his thighs, the bottle of water dangling between his legs. The placement of the bottle drew Camilla’s attention to his crotch and the bulge in his jeans. Her cheeks burned and she dragged her gaze back to his face.
“I like teaching well enough.” She set down the coffeemaker and thought about other dreams she’d once had. “It
be nice to travel, to see the birthplaces of some of my favorite authors or the lands they write about. I always thought teaching would allow time for traveling, but somehow Sam and I never got around to it.”
“Maybe you should now. Maybe this is the time in your life to try something new.” He smiled and grooves cut either side of his mouth. She had an overwhelming urge to put her fingertip into those deep dimples. Instead she turned to the counter and wiped up a non-existent spill.
“I’m moving to a new apartment,” she said. “That’s a start.”
“It is.” Ryan emptied the water bottle in a few more swallows, rose and walked toward her. Tall and broad-shouldered, he seemed to fill the room and steal all the air out of it. “Have you thought about dating?”
Her stomach flipped like a fish on a hook and her body vibrated at the suggestion.
“It’s too soon for that,” she answered stiffly.
“You love and miss your husband. I understand. But you must get lonely. Maybe you’d like to go out for coffee some time.”
She’d missed Sam since long before he died. The man she’d fallen in love with had become a different person over the course of their marriage. By the end he’d been more like a good friend, their relationship mostly platonic. But accepting a coffee date with a strange young man out of the blue was not something she was prepared to do.
“Go out for coffee with you? You don’t even know me,” she blurted, then wanted to cram the words back into her mouth. He might not have meant a date with him. He was probably making a general observation. What an idiot she’d look like for imagining he was interested in her.
“Maybe right now you need to spend time with somebody who
know you, somebody you have no history with.”