Wednesday, December 21, 2016

An excerpt from Then & Now...

When Candace and Mason went on their first date, it was way more nerve-wracking than Candace anticipated...

The Jeep wound its way up a thin, windy road into a treed area. “Are you sure?” Mason asked. “I really try not to make my dates mad. Puts a real awkward spin on things.”
I laughed despite myself. “I just…”
When I stopped talking, he looked at me. “You just what?”
We pulled into a parking spot at the dusty trailhead.  I fiddled with the hem on my shirt, avoiding his blue eyes. “I’m nervous.”
                  “Nervous?” he chuckled. “Nervous about what?”
“You brought up kissing. I… I haven’t kissed anyone in over two years.”
Mason turned off the engine and turned to face me. “Candace, I asked you on a date because I like you. And part of my liking you means I might want to kiss you at some point.”
My stomach hurtled. What was wrong with me? How could I want someone as bad as I wanted him, but also wanted to run and hide, at the same time?
“Mason, I—”
“Wait.” He reached out and took my hand. The hurtling in my middle increased. “Yeah. I want to kiss you. I’ve wanted to kiss you since the first time I saw you.” I gave him a sharp look, and he winced. “Okay, not the first. But the second time I saw you, when I was moving in? Yup. Wanted to kiss you.”
I felt stuck. “I’m not there yet,” I said quietly, watching a squirrel dart aimlessly in the dirt in front of the Jeep. “I mean I want to be. But I’m not.”
“It’s cool.” His thumb stroked circles on the front of my hand. “I can wait.”
“Why, though?” I asked, picturing the Krissy. “It’s not like you have any problems getting other girls to kiss.”
He rolled his eyes. “Please.”
“I’m serious. What about your pool buddy?”
“Krissy and I are just friends.”
I gave him a deadpan stare. “I might be old, but I’m not stupid, Mason.”
“Hey, no bringing up age. You promised.” He released my hand and fished for a water bottle in the cooler behind us. “I’m being serious. Krissy and I are friends who occasionally date. Nothing serious. Nothing complicated.”
Narrowing my eyes, I tried to see his eyes behind his shades. “So why didn’t you bring her hiking today?”
His smile didn’t even falter. “Because I don’t want to go hiking with Krissy. I want to go hiking with you.”
We stared at each other for a beat. There was something hanging in the air, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Awkwardness. Attraction. Shyness. Post-traumatic stress. Whatever. It didn’t matter. I just wanted to get out and move. Flirt a little more. Maybe even let Mason touch my hand again.
“Baby steps,” I said without thinking.
Mason tilted his head. “What’s that?”
I took a breath to calm my nerves. “I’ll hike with you. But I’m going to have to take baby steps for everything else. If that’s not okay with you, then we should just head back to our respective, air-conditioned homes.”

“Fair enough.” Mason reached up and tucked a stray strand of my hair behind my ear. “You forget, Candace. I didn’t just meet you the day I moved in next door. I met you two years before that. I know what you’ve been through. Baby steps don’t bug me.”