Here you go, Chapter 2 of this sweet Christmas romance. Enjoy! RC
Mike pulled out a pad and wrote, “Beth Tompkins” at the top of the page. Then he thumbed the pages of the phone book and searched under Tompkins and Thompkins and Tomkins. If she was listed, he’d find her. Searching out anyone with Elizabeth or E among the Thomkins, he started making calls. That did him no good. The Thompkins were next and he found three. He called them, got an Edward, an Everett and a woman who hung up when he asked for Beth.
It could be she was listed under Beth instead of Elizabeth. An address caught his eye. Meadowlark Lane, Kristi’s address, at least the house where he dropped her off, listed with the name B. Tompkins. He smiled and looked at his watch. Ten-thirty, too late, he’d call in the morning.
He got ready for bed, then returned to the kitchen to dump the dregs of his last coffee in the sink. The picture of his dead wife on the fridge caught his eye. Beautiful Vera, it had been taken before the drugs destroyed her. Before she claimed she had stopped the coke, before the lies became so constant. He choked back the knot in his throat and swallowed hard. Before he caught her snorting, before the day he found her sprawled across the kitchen floor. He stood and drew a glass of water, swallowed some and choked. Gagging, coughing, he staggered back to the table and collapsed. Would the damn pain never go away?
There was something about Beth that connected for him. She was so beautiful, so amazing when he first saw her, but that wasn’t all of it. Something in her eyes, something in that look she threw at him before she turned away? He stared at the picture of Vera again, remembering the lies. Beth wasn’t like that. She’d never lie to him, would never be like Vera. A thought tried to penetrate his brain, a doubt that said he didn’t know her, couldn’t be sure about her, but it was a doubt he wouldn’t tolerate.
He groaned. If he was going to get anywhere with Beth, it would be a miracle. And he’d have to tell her; hopefully it would come to that, and one day it wouldn’t matter.
Kristi bothered him. She had obviously expected more than questions about Beth, but it was an accident that they ended up together and Beth went home. Well, it looked like that was history now. Assuming B. Tompkins on Meadowlark Lane was Beth from Denby’s.
She crawled into her bed just after eleven, her whole body feeling like she was nineteen months pregnant. It had been a long day and she had scrubbed the kitchen floor after Kristi left, but that didn’t make her weary. It was Kristi and that guy, eating at her all the evening long. How good was Kristi’s judgment? Given the string of guys she’d left behind and the ones who’d left her; probably yucky. So, what was with this Mike? If he was really interested in her, should she tell him about Ben? He was so handsome and Kristi seemed to think he was nice. She sighed. He probably wanted a dozen kids, all his own. Well then, she wouldn’t tell him about Ben. Not right away at least, not until she knew what she wanted to do about Mike Hartnett.
The first one up, as always, her mother was making breakfast before her daughter went to work. A fire department dispatcher, Beth’s hours were irregular, and she had forgotten to tell Liz she had the day off. She’d had the job two years and was glad to have it, even though sometimes the calls were grim. Checkout clerk in a lumberyard was the job she’d had before, at half the pay. When she left Hank that money wasn’t enough to live on. She had walked away when the so-and-so got his secret girl friend pregnant and the poor silly thing came to tell her Hank was hers no longer. Good riddance as far as Beth was concerned back then, but she wasn’t quite so sure lately.
“You look nice this morning,” said her mother, “You could lose the jeans though.”
“I know. A skirt would be better. You say that every day.”
Liz Dodge sighed. “And you ignore me every day.”
“I’m off today Mom. I forgot to tell you, sorry.”
“We needed breakfast anyway. It’s how you feel about yourself dear.”
“I’m fine. Please don’t worry about me.” She sat down at the table and started on the toast her mother had made. Orange juice was already waiting for her. “I can’t believe Ben stayed the night with Billy. Isn’t that great?”
“He is growing up dear.”
“I know, but I’m still proud of him.” Beth poured herself a cup of coffee and checked the clock. It was almost eight-thirty with no sign of Ben. She was debating whether to call Billy’s mom when the phone rang. “Yes?”
“Is Beth there?” A man’s voice.
“Who are you?”
“Just a friend. Mike.”
“I don’t know you.”
“Beth? Is that you?”
Mike? The one from Denby’s? The one Kristi said had asked about her? She didn’t respond.
“Beth? We met yesterday. At the toy store?”
“You are you then?”
“You’re Kristi’s friend?”
“You dated her last night.”
“Sort of, not really, yes. I guess you’d call it that.”
“What do you want?” What did she want, more the point? Why was her brain in such a muddle?
“I’d like to talk to you.”
“Look, when I asked you guys out I was really asking you. I had to ask her too.”
“You aren’t sisters, are you?”
“When she said she’d go I was stuck. I couldn’t turn her down then.”
“I guess not.” She could hear him sigh and relax. Come on you dope, think.
“Did you get everything done?”
“You said you had things to do.”
“Oh, right, yes.”
“That’s good. Look, could we try again? Maybe go to dinner tonight?”
She hesitated, just a second, and made a decision. “I can’t. I have things to do.” Dumb. Better come up with a new reason.
“I have to work. All week.”
“What about breakfast one day?”
“I ate already.”
“I didn’t mean today.”
Stubborn man. She sighed. Stubborn hunk. “You’re dating Kristi. Why should I go out with you?”
“I thought I explained that.”
You did, but I need an excuse for being dumb. “I can’t. I have things to do.”Oh god, think, that’s not it.
“I see. Okay, I’m sorry you feel that way.”
The phone went dead. She stared at it a moment, then put it down. He gave up so easily? You were wrong about him, Kristi. She sighed. I’m sorry my friend, I’m just scared right now. He had a nice way about him though. Darn, I am so bad.
She glanced at her mother, but Liz was fiddling with something on the stove. She picked up the phone again and called Sally Humler. It was time Ben came home.
Someone called in sick and Beth had gone in to work. Liz was reading and Ben was playing in his room when the phone rang just after five.
“Hi, this is Mike. Is Beth there?”
“Who am I talking to?”
“Her mother. You don’t listen very well.”
“You mean because she told me off?”
“You’re trying to date a woman who wants nothing to do with you. Why?”
“Kristi said she’s been through a breakup recently. I’m hoping she just needs to get over that.”
“Why are you after my daughter?”
He laughed, “I thought I just answered that.”
That surprised him; the delay before he answered told her that. Did he think she’d ask him for the time of day? Hoping Beth would like him someday wasn’t a reason to pursue her.
“I just felt this pull when I saw her. She looked so mad or upset, but there was something else there too. It makes no sense. I know that, but I saw it.”
“Are you Irish? A gypsy?”
“That sounds like an Irish thing.”
“Uh, I guess so.”
“You believe in love at first sight then?”
He laughed. “I never thought about it. I guess it could be something like that.”
She chuckled to herself. He was like a little boy or a teenager on his first date. She remembered Hank, the guy Beth married, the first time he came to the house. A cocky little jerk he was. She had warned Beth, but those were teenage years and listening to mother was not a well-developed trait.
“What do you want from her?”
“From her? I just…- I’d like to get to know her before I answer that.”
“What do you want from any woman?”
“Oh, got it. A partner. I…”
“Partner? That sounds so romantic,” Liz snapped.
“You didn’t let me finish. Hey, this isn’t easy what we’re doing here. You’re auditioning me and you want the story of my life.”
“That’s for later, maybe. Right now I want to know what you’re about.”
He went silent again as if he was trying to invent an answer. “It’s easier to tell you what I don’t want.”
“Go ahead then.”
“I’m not looking for an affair. Not looking for a clingy woman who won’t let me breathe. I want a partner. Someone to love. Someone honest.” He took a deep breath.
“That sounds like a recipe for a wife.”
“Yes. It is…”
“What about children?”
His words came slowly again, as if he were trying to choose the correct answer. “What about them? I love kids.”
“What about someone else’s?”
“Adopting you mean? That would be okay.”
Liz stopped. She hadn’t thought of that. What a wonderful way to raise the subject without letting out Beth’s secret. Not that Ben should remain a secret, but Beth should be the one to tell the man, if they got that far.
“Suppose she told you she wanted to adopt a child?”
His voice took on a happy tone. “That would be okay.”
“You’d be a father to a child who wasn’t your blood.”
She stopped again, considering. This was too easy. Beth hadn’t found a single guy to take on Ben. What was with this one? “We’ll talk again. I have to think before we do.”
“I was going to call again.” His voice faded, disappointment showing. “I was hoping…..”
“She told you off. You may not get another chance. By the way, how did you get our phone number?”
“Kristi had me drop her off there. I thought it was her house until I found a Tompkins in the phone book at your address.”
“You went through the phone book looking for us?”
He laughed softly. “It didn’t take long.”
“All right then, I’ll stay out of it.”
“I could come by and talk to her,” he said, almost pleading.
“That would not be wise.”
She waited, but he didn’t speak for a moment. Then he laughed softly. “I guess I need to get creative.”
“What does that mean?” Liz asked, her voice suddenly tense, her stomach tightening.
“Nothing bad, don’t worry. But, I really don’t know what to do next.”
“Well, it was nice talking to you anyway.”
She expected him to say something more, but he simply offered a goodbye and hung up. She listened to the silence until dial tone buzzed again.
She walked to the door and stood, just staring at the street, seeing not a thing. What was she doing? Probably the dumbest thing in the world, butting into Beth’s life. But, there was another but. There was something about this man. A kind of openness, a gentleness she thought she was hearing in his voice. Of course, she could be wrong. He might even be a stalker. That thought made her shiver. Actually, if he were, that made it more important to learn about him. But, he was Beth’s age and, at least on the surface, the thought of taking on someone else’s child didn’t seem to bother him. So, what was wrong with this picture? She chewed her lip, brushed a tendril of hair behind her ear, and tried to think. What should she do? No brilliance came along to help.
Fifteen minutes later Beth came home and the phone rang. She picked it up.
“Has he called you yet?” Kristi asked, her voice all bubbly.
“He called this morning. I blew him off.”
“No, really? Call him back. Make him take you to Padre’s. It’s really ritzy.”
“That’s ridiculous. No thank you.”
“Listen, wear your black sheath.”
“Kristi! I told him to get lost.”
“Your pearl necklace too.”
“Can I wait until he calls before I dress?”
Kristi giggled. “Don’t be sarcastic. Call him. Tell me what happens?”
Beth sighed. “Nothing’s going to happen.”
Beth hung up and turned to her mother. “Kristi is out of her mind. She expects me to go out with Mike.”
“So I gather. Why won’t you?”
“He’s just…so…I don’t know.”
“He called a little while ago, looking to talk to you again.”
“You’re not serious.”
“Yup. He did.”
“I don’t even know him.”
“He wants you to,” Liz said softly.
“How do you know?”
“Like I said, he called again. And besides, I talked with him,” Liz said, smiling a secret smile. “He wants to meet you.”
“Oh no, no thank you. He’s weird and you want to turn him loose on me?”
“I don’t think he’s weird and I didn’t say that.”
“Did you tell him about Ben?”
“That’s your job.”
“Gee, thanks Mom.”
She put Ben to bed early and sat down in front of the television, thinking to catch her breath before helping Liz clean up the mess in the kitchen. The mess Liz was still making by baking pans of fancy Christmas cookies, which she loved to do for Ben.
Mike Hartnett was on her mind, as he had been throughout the day. Mike and his sexy eyes and that damn dimple on his chin, and the decision he was forcing her to make. Refusing him wouldn’t settle her problems. How was she going to deal with any man without getting herself dumped again?
Marriage seemed to be an impossibility; which meant she’d have to settle for a fling, a short affair, maybe a longer one if she was lucky. Nothing serious though, nothing that meant some guy she really liked had to learn about her son. Maybe, just maybe there would be some romantic times if she found a good guy, with sex, or only sex, every so often, that would be it for her.
All right, if that was all there was she’d take what she could get. She sucked in a breath and decided to go for it; which brought her back to Mike. Why not meet and go out with him? Just keep Ben a secret as long as she could. Another one-date romance, like her first one after the divorce, that she did not need. She sat back and sighed.
“Beth?” Liz asked softly, “Are you all right, dear?”
“I think so, Mom. I’ve decided to go out with Mike if he calls again.”
“Will you tell him about Ben?”
“No. I just want some fun right now. If I like him we’ll see what happens.”
“Do you think that’s wise?”
“It’s just going to be casual, Mom. Just for a little while, that’s all.”
Liz stared at her in silence for a second before she spoke. “I suppose that might be best. Just a friend with benefits occasionally.”
Beth stared at her mother. “That would be very nice if I could manage it, but I don’t think I’ll be seeing anyone long enough to be a friend.”
“Well, just sex then. Although I don’t think you should pick men up in bars or anything like that.”
“What? We’ll have to find an easy way for you to meet nice men. You’ll need a good supply if you can’t have long term relationships.”
“Mother! Give me a break; that’s awful.”
“Well, you can get serious if you want. Just make sure you tell them about Ben right away. On the first date.”
“The first and only. I’ve tried that, remember?”
“I know, and they never called again. But if you want to keep it casual tell them about Ben and tell them you’re only interested in some fun.”
“You are so harsh. That sounds like…”
“Never mind. You’re an adult. You’d just be taking care of your needs.”
“My needs? God, Mom.”
“You said yourself the men all leave when they hear about Ben. I just want you to be happy, at least as happy as you can be.”
“Well, thank you for that.” Beth paused and then smiled at her mother. “Who would have thought I’d be talking like this with my mother one day.”
“Never mind, I had someone for a while. We had a different name for it when I was your age.”
“What? You did? What happened to him?”
“He got married. Never mind. I need a cup of coffee.”
“You’re going to leave me hanging?”
“I’ll tell you more later. Someday.” Liz stood and bustled into the kitchen.
To be continued