Man of the House
Mike didn’t have a clue what was going on. Why had Martin stolen his name? Was he trying to cheat on Celia? Is that what the fight with Celia had been about. This girl was pretty, but Martin had never been the type to cheat.
He did have Martin’s full attention, now. Ever since they’d climbed out of the car and Martin said ‘go along,’ Mike had done just that. He’d assumed the role of Joe rather quickly and as he sat smiling at Randi he could tell Martin was jealous.
When the girl, Randi looked up and smiled, he leaned forward as if he just couldn’t wait to hear what she had to say next. He did it partly to irritate Martin, and partly because she was pretty, and he hadn’t had a date in weeks.
“So Joe, are you married?” She said in a flirtatious tone.
If he didn’t know better he’d bet his pizza that she was also trying to annoy Martin. “No, I’m not. I haven’t found the right woman yet. Do you have any suggestions?” This comment actually won him a kick under the table, but he ignored it.
“I don’t think so. I don’t get out often. I work too much to socialize.” The girl smiled and took a bite of her pizza.
“Well don’t hesitate to fix me up with someone, my sister does it all the time. I’m hoping some day she’ll find the right woman, or I will.” Mike glanced at Martin and wondered what he’d gotten them all into. The girl, Randi, also kept glancing to Martin. He guessed she was wondering the same thing. Did she have a clue who Martin really was?
“Do you date a lot?” Randi said keeping the conversation alive.
“Not lately, but I’ve been busy. What about you.” Mike asked pausing before taking a bite of pizza.
“I haven’t dated anyone serious in a while.” Randi began, “Matter of fact, Mike’s the first man I’ve had dinner with in months, well, it was really lunch. I don’t suppose you could call it a date, but I did pay for his meal.”
“I see.” Mike wasn’t sure what else to say, and Martin sure wasn’t helping, so this time Mike kicked Martin under the table. “You made a girl pay for her own meal, and yours?”
Martin straightened in his seat, “She all but forced me to take her out.” The tone he used showed he was half kidding, half serious.
Mike wanted to know what was going on. Who was this girl and why were they playing this con. Was Martin sleeping with Randi on the side, pretending he was the house mechanic, rather than owning up to being the man of the house? Mike looked at Martin. “I find it hard to believe a woman forced you to do anything.”
Martin’s brow furrowed, “If you mean she twisted my arm, no. But she was persistent.”
“So you did take her out?” Mike knew he was getting angry, but he couldn’t help it.
“No. We shared lunch in my truck. It wasn’t a date.”
Mike had been cheated on before and he didn’t like feeling as if he was a part of Martin’s charade. “It sounds like a date to me.”
“Well it wasn’t.” Martin added with a look that said, ‘what are you trying to do to me?’ Mike glanced to Randi not really sure what the answer was. He did know one thing, from the girls expression all she was getting out of this conversation was that Martin wanted nothing to do with her, when in reality it was more than likely just the opposite.
Randi blushed, taking a bite of her pizza. After a moment she glanced up at the two men before her. Her tone spoke volumes and the shakiness in her voice reminded Mike he should have thought about the girl before he started digging for the truth. “He’s right, it wasn’t a date,” she said, “and I was kind of pushy.”
Mike could see insult, and frustration in Randi’s eyes. She seemed to want to storm from the room, but something held her to her seat. Pride maybe, or the fact that she wanted answers.
Martin, until this moment seemed to want the whole discussion to end, but something about the way the girl became quiet, and the way she looked distressed, had changed Martin’s demeanor.
Mike also noticed it was like he suddenly become invisible. Neither Martin nor Randi looked at him, or even acknowledged he was sitting at the table. He wanted to leave, but if he did, whatever Martin was working up the nerve to say, might never be spoken where Randi could hear it.
What a mess
Martin didn’t like this at all. Instead of making things better, they were worse. The look of dejection on that pretty face was hard to endure. What was it with this girl? What kind of hold did she have over him? He just didn’t want to lose this normal connection. If, and when, she found out who he really was, what they had, would be lost.
He knew he should give her some answers, but he just couldn’t bring himself to tell her the whole truth. Martin had been attracted to Randi from the moment he saw her standing on the corner, and the moment she touched him, he felt something.
He’d fought these feelings. He’d tried not to think about her. It just wasn’t fair to Celia, Randi, or himself, to get involved when he didn’t know what he wanted. Now as she looked at him, he knew he had to tell her something. Give her an idea why he was so secretive and why he sounded as if there was no way he would date her.
Instead of looking away, or bolting from the table Randi sat there waiting. It was if she could sense he wanted to say something, and he did. Martin scooted to the edge of his chair, and rested his hands on the table before him.
He rubbed his hands together as if they were cold, thinking, forming what he wanted to say. Finally he looked up and gathered up the strength to at least be partly honest. “That didn’t come out the right way. If I wasn’t in a relationship I would ask you out.” He laughed. “I would have already asked you out.”
This had her attention and her lips almost curled into a smile. Martin wanted to reach out and take her hand. He wanted to take her in his arms and hold her close. What was he thinking? Had a few nights without Celia done this to him.
As he sat there letting his eyes roam over Randi’s features, he knew this had nothing to do with Celia, and in ways that spoke volumes. If he was in love with Celia, desire might come his way now and then, but it wouldn’t cause him to want to leave a woman that he was deeply in love with.
No, if he’d been where he should have been with Celia, Randi’s beauty would have been just that, a beauty that caught his attention. The words of his mother came crashing into his mind. If you’re not willing to wait until you’re married, to take a woman to your bed, then you just don’t respect yourself, or her, the way you should.
His mother would tell him, the only thing wrong with his relationship with Celia was they jumped the gun. They moved in together because they were attracted to each other, not because there was something between them worth cultivating.
He thought his mother, was being old fashioned when she gave him her little speech, but now as he sat looking at Randi he could see what she was trying to say. He liked Randi, and though they were not to the point of even thinking about kissing, he could see the damage that had been done by sleeping with Celia and other women.
He looked at his hands, wanting to shake the images out of his mind. Even if Randi didn’t become important to him, some day he would look into the eyes of his future wife and have to live with the fact that she would not be his first love.
Randi spoke bringing him out of his thoughts, “I didn’t mean to imply . . . I was pretty sure you weren’t available.” Randi looked at Martin then to Mike. They all became quiet, Martin straightened and as he guessed Randi rose from the table. She gave them a smile, pushed her chair under the table, and thanked them for supper.
Martin followed her out of the room with his gaze. The moment they heard her walk down the hall, and heard the click of a bedroom door close, Mike spoke. “What in the world is going on here?”
“I’m working out a mess I got myself into.” Martin began to eat his second slice of pizza.
“What kind of mess? Why doesn’t she know who you are?” Mike also reached for a slice of pizza. “She’s not going to be happy when she finds out you’re--”
“I know.” Martin interrupted and took a drink of his root beer before going on. “I didn’t plan on things getting this far. When I went to pick her up that day, in the old truck, and she thought I was just the limo driver it was fun. It made me feel normal and as you see I’ve not been able to figure out a way to tell her the truth.”
“You mean you don’t want her to know. It’s not all that hard, you just come out and say it.”
Martin let out a deep sigh, and shrugged. “You don’t know what it’s like. Every time you date someone or meet someone, you can’t help but wonder if they care about you. Do they just want to be around you because of your money, or what they can get?”
“Don’t try and make me feel sorry for you. You lied to that girl, don’t try and pretty it up. You may be enjoying this now, but when the truth comes out it won’t help you any. If you think she’ll want to have anything to do with you when she learns the truth, we’ll think again.”
Randi sat up in bed waking from a dream, feeling, really, as if she’d just ran through a field of trees. The pizza, the weird scene with Mike, or just the stress of this job, something had given her this strange dream. She’d been running from Celia, the lady of the house, but she didn’t know why.
Most of the times dreams could be scary, but this one wasn’t. She was walking along, and then she heard Celia calling. She didn’t really know what it was all about, but she’d started running and she’d fallen and that’s when she woke.
She put her feet on the floor and looked at her roommate. Ann was still sleeping. At least she’d not screamed or woke anyone. Creeping out of the bed she slipped into her house shoes. She’d not been out of her room since the weird encounter with Mike and she was hungry.
Maybe, another run to the fridge and some pudding, or pizza if there was any left. She knew that pizza at midnight wasn’t a wise move, just like thinking about kissing a man that was in a relationship already, wasn’t a wise move either. But that hadn’t stopped the thought from crossing her mind.
She once again was walking through the house in the wee hours, in her Tweety bird gown and pink slippers. Did she really want to run into Mike again? She didn’t want to admit the answer out loud. The way he’d looked at her today, while sitting at the table, had given her butterflies.
Why were all the men she wanted taken? Her mind drifted to Joe, the friend, but he just wasn’t what she wanted. Shame on Celia, she had Martin Henderson, and the handsome limo driver. She paused as she reached for the light switch; maybe Mike was the cause of her dream. Maybe Celia was going to get jealous of her over something.
She dismissed the thought and turned on the light, the kitchen was empty and she was disappointed she was alone. Moving to the fridge she stood looking inside. What did she want, pudding or pizza? They both sounded good.
The pudding would suffice, and be filling, but the pizza would be better, “What to have, dinner or desert?”
“Why not have both.”
Randi closed her eyes and bit her bottom lip. Though she’d only known him a few days, she would know that voice in an ice storm if she could barley hear him. Well, not really, but she knew it now. Instead of choosing, she closed the door and turned. Her brow shot up instantly. Wow! Was the only thing she could think.
It looked as if he’d just stepped out of the shower; he had on jeans, a white muscle shirt, no shoes and a towel around his neck. He’d shave just a bit of his scruffy looking beard, it made it appear darker around the edges, but he still looked good.
She noticed she hadn’t said anything, but was just staring, she stepped back, “Was you going to get something to eat?”
“Yeah, why don’t you get the pizza out and we’ll split it.”
“Sure.” Randi did as he said, “Cold or hot?”
“It’s a little warm, I just took a swim and then a shower . . .” He stopped talking when she turned and gave him a dirty look. “Oh, you meant the pizza. Cold.” He gave a sly smile that let her know he knew exactly what she meant.
She sat the pizza down on the table as Mike moved dangerously close as he reached into the fridge pulling out two colas. She inhaled the freshly clean man as he moved around, and then they both sat down at the table.
Mike sat on one side and she sat on the other. She handed him a paper towel and he opened the box of pizza. Several slices remained. As she moved her gaze from the pizza, to the wife beater shirt, to the beard, to those green eyes, she smiled.
“You guys didn’t eat much.”
“I kind of lost my appetite. I didn’t mean to sound—”
“Lets just leave it there.” Randi looked away and took a slice of pizza out of the box.
“Are you sure? I can apologize, again.” He flashed a handsome smile and she nodded.
“I’m sure. I do have a question, you might not want to answer.”
He took a bite of his pizza and shrugged. “I can try.”
Randi wasn’t sure she’d be able to ask, but she wanted to know. He’d hinted earlier that he wasn’t free to ask her out, so maybe he’d finally give her the answer, she didn’t want to hear. She ate her bite of pizza, took a long drink and as she sat the cola down, looked into those green eyes again. “Are you dating the lady of the house?”
Mike didn’t glance away this time; he just nodded, and then spoke. “Yes I am.”
“You’re a brave man. Here they warn me up and down to stay away from Martin because Celia is jealous and you’re . . . uh . . . dating her. Does that mean, he’s fair game?”
Mike shrugged. “Well, it should be she continued. Wouldn’t it help you, if he was busy chasing after someone else?”
“It might.” Mike paused took a drink and then went on, “If I was going to be dating her . . . in the future.”
Randi stopped and would have choked had she been about to swallow, the look on the mans face wasn’t the look of a man interested in Celia, it was the look of a man interested in her.” She pushed the drink down and wasn’t sure what to say. “Are you all having problems, other than the fact you’re dating a woman that’s cheating on her supposed lover?”
“You don’t pull any punches.” He seemed a little miffed or something. There was no use in not laying her cards on the table, so she did.
“I’m just seeing or hearing something in your tone, and from the way you just looked at me, I have to wonder if I’m next in line, after Celia.” The look didn’t change and it was hard to concentrate with that smile on his lips, so she looked away. “I just want you to know, I will not be dating someone, that is dating someone else.”
Randi found some momentum and went on with her point. “To be honest, I’m not thrilled with the idea of dating someone that most would consider a cheater.” Still no change and he said the same thing again.
“Point taken.” The smile stayed there as he raised his drink to his lips. She caught him before he took a drink.
“Are you drunk?”
Mike laughed sitting the can down, “No, what makes you ask that?”
“I’m all but insulting you and you’re just, smiling.”
“I have tough skin, and I don’t have an issue with your opinion. To be honest, and this may not make perfect sense, but I agree. A person that cheats, or is in a similar situation, might not be worthy of your trust.”
They became quiet as they went on eating, stealing glances at each other. She hoped he had more to say, but was giving him the time to work out his approach, if he indeed had one.
They both ate a slice of pizza, and she guessed he was going to just let things remain, as they were, not really, finishing his thought. He asked her if she liked her job, was she staying until Christmas, and after she closed the box, he rose and placed it back in the fridge. She got up washed her hands and when she turned he was close, standing right in front of her.
In his hands he held out a spoon and a cup of pudding. Being this close to this gorgeous man was intimidating to say the least. She couldn’t step back, the sink was behind her. He was close enough that if she leaned in a few inches, she could kiss him, and of course the idea sounded appealing.
Instead, she held out her hand. He placed the pudding, and spoon, in the palm of her hand, then wrapped his two hands around hers. She looked up, into his eyes and for a second she thought she was going to get that kiss.
“I know this looks bad, and you’re going to get really frustrated with me before this is all over, but will you do one thing?”
“What?” Randi managed with a whisper.
Mike leaned in just an inch and for second she noticed his gaze drop to her lips and then back to her eyes. She wasn’t the only one thinking about a kiss, that was obvious, but he didn’t kiss her, instead he spoke. His tone low, but serious. “It might not be easy. And it may take until after Christmas, for me to sort this out.”
“I understand, but what do you want me to do?”
He moved his hands from hers, and placed them on her shoulders, he leaned in, kissed her so lightly on the cheek and then whispered as his lips brushed her hair. “Trust me.”
As Martin stood in front of the mirror brushing his teeth he couldn’t wipe the smile from his lips. He hadn’t felt this excited about life, in a long time. He rinsed, used mouthwash, and then washed his face. Running about the house wouldn’t be easy with Randi on the lose, but he would have to work it out.
He would also have to work out how to tell her the truth in the best way possible, so that she didn’t end up hating him. The plan might not work, but he wanted to get her to know him, the real him, before she found out the truth. Finding her wouldn’t be an issue, but finding her in the house and spending some time with her, without Celia knowing would be the hard part.
Joe was no real help. When Martin explained what was going on he just laughed, and shook his head, adding a few expletives to get his point across. Martin did get Joe to agree not to spill the beans to Randi if he saw her again, and his friend was gone now and wouldn’t be back until the party so he was pretty sure that base was covered.
Today was Monday and he had a meeting with his agent later that night, so the rest of the day he was free. He did need to do some scrip reading at some point for that new part he was looking at. Now, he needed to find out what Celia’s schedule was. He pulled into a white T, and picked up his cell phone.
Since he was still in the guest room, Celia might be home and he needed to find out for sure before he went gadding about he house in search for Randi. The phone rang three times and Celia picked up. She sounded chipper again, and Martin knew he’d have to begin to distance himself from her so it wouldn’t come as such a shock.
She had to have an idea that things were not perfect, but then again she was so centered on what she wanted; it was possible she’d not noticed. “Are you home today?” He began.
“Not yet, I’m working with a friend today on her new apartment. We’re trying to get some furniture ordered.”
“Are you with Sue?” He asked.
“Yes, this is where I spent the night.”
“Are you home or still with Mike?”
“I’m home, I’m going to work on my new script. I’m having dinner with Bill tonight.” Martin paused and sure enough she broke in right where he thought she would.
“Oh, I can’t make it. So sorry, I’ll be here most of the day and just too tired, and there is all those Christmas cards to send out. I haven’t gotten to a one of them and if they don’t go out soon. They won’t go.”
Here was his first chance to start the break-up. “Celia I’ll be very honest. I don’t think we need to send them out. I want to be sure, things are going in the right direction before we start sending things out, as if we’re a founded couple.” He grimaced as the words came out, ran his fingers through his hair, and began to pace.
“What? Where is this going?”
“I just want to be sure . . . I know what people will think if we send out those cards and that Christmas picture.”
“Did you look at the cards . . . I don’t understand, a month ago you were fine with this, and you picked the pose from the proofs.”
“I know, but . . . I’m just not sure this is what I want.”
“You’re starting this now, when we’ve got this party coming up.”
“I know. I’m not saying we make any decisions until after the first of the year. Just . . . never mind. Forget I mentioned it.” He waited and listened and finally spoke.
“Okay, I’ll be home tonight.”
“See you then, bye.” Martin pushed the off button, not giving her time to say anything. They never were ones to say I love you or the like and he didn’t want to give her time to start now. He also didn’t want to take a call from her today so he turned his phone off and tossed it on the bed. The first thing he needed to do was get rid of those cards.
He slipped into jeans, socks; tennis shoes ran his fingers through his hair and then opened his door and peeped out. He didn’t want Randi to see him coming out of this part of the house so he looked both ways and didn’t see anyone. If he had to he could make up some excuse, but this time he got away clean.
There was two maids in the great room cleaning, but no sign of Randi. He went up the stairs taking them two at a time, and soon was in their bedroom. He glanced around and there on the desk was the Christmas cards. He knew if didn’t get rid of them today that Celia would get them in the mail when she came home.
He sat down and his desk and looked at the junk she had everywhere. Were all women this messy? He reached for the stack of cards. The front of the card showed a happy couple, Martin stood behind Celia, his arms wrapped around her as they stood in front of a very real looking fireplace.
He started to pick them up, when the words came into his mind; did you look at the cards? Martin’s brow furrowed and he took a card from the top, and opened it. He read down through the loving Christmas rhyme it was about jingle bells and at the bottom in her own hand writing Celia had written.
By years end Martin and I
will not only be ringing jingle bells, but wedding bells too.
One man’s trash
Emma was not happy with the progress so far. Ann had been keeping things in line while she was gone to get her contacts, but so much more needed to be done. She’d worn the contacts for a few hours, and they were finally adjusting. She sat down at the kitchen table and was ready to start looking over the menu for the first dinner.
The family, it seemed, would be arriving Wednesday, and they hadn’t even started getting the decorations up. The great room was clean, but she wanted to get the tree up first. So many things to do, would they ever get it all done before Celia’s family arrived Wednesday night.
As she started writing down the things she would need, Randi came in. She looked tired. Emma knew she was working overtime trying to make up for the second helper that didn’t make it. Thankfully, Ann was also there to help.
“You look like you could use a break.” Emma said as Randi stepped into the room. The girl blew back her bangs and nodded.
“I could, but I don’t have time. I was just coming in to get a drink. I’m about finished filling the linen closets and getting the guests room ready.”
“Good, the guests will be here Wednesday.”
“What?” Randi turned the water off, took a drink, and looked at Emma. “I thought they were supposed to be here Saturday morning, just in time to get ready for Christmas on Sunday. Are they still staying all the way through New Years?”
“More than likely.” Emma added a few more items to her list.
“But today’s Monday, and we don’t even have the tree yet. It needs to go up first so we know how much tensile we need to buy, for the stairs and the other rooms.”
“I know. Celia and Martin are supposed to pick out the tree, but he’s got this thing tonight, and I don’t know where she is. If we don’t get that tree in here soon, we won’t be ready for the family.”
“Will they let someone else pick it out?” Randi took another long drink and then washed her cup.
“I don’t know. If I know Celia she’ll want us to go down and take pictures with a camera, email them to her and then go back and get it.”
“I can do that. I can email with my phone.”
“I was just kidding.” Emma looked back up quick. “Can you really do that. The tree place is--”
“Sure I can do that. The big tree market, out by the mall right? I don’t mind, but I don’t have anything to drive.”
“Yes, that’s the right place. They have the best trees. You can drive the truck . . . oh . . . it’s all piled up with trash.”
“That’s not a problem, I can dump the trash too, then go look at the trees.”
“Could you really?” Emma took out some paper. “Jot down your number encase I need something. Take a moment and I’ll see if Celia has an issue with this.”
“Sure thing. I’ll take the trash just the same. If I go get the tree, how do I pay for it?” Randi walked a few feet and turned back around when Emma spoke.
“I’ll call down there and make armaments, you just need to pick it out, and they’ll deliver it.”
“Do I have time to change clothes? I don’t want to go shopping looking like this.” Randi pointed to her black pants and white smock and white apron.
“Sorry about that. Celia left orders this morning that the maids all start dressing alike. I hate to say it, but there will be skirts and black hosiery for you girls to wear, when the family comes.”
“I know, we’ve already been given those items.” Randi smiled and said over her shoulder. “I’ve worn worse. I’ll be ready in a few.”
Emma looked down rubbing her head, wanting to rub her eyes, and wondering if she was going to like contacts. She straightened and her brow furrowed as she spotted Martin. “Since when did you start taking out the trash?”
Martin raised up the white trash bag and smiled. “I wanted to be sure this got tossed out.”
“You’re just in time, Randi’s getting ready to haul off the trash.”
“Don’t we pay someone to do that?” Martin set the bag down.
“Yes, my dear, but they’re putting the lights on the house. Also you popped in just in time, it’s time to pick out the tree.”
“No, not me.” Martin said picking up his bag ready to go.
“I didn’t figure you’d want to help so I asked Randi if she could do it, that is if Celia doesn’t mind.”
“What?” Martin asked turning back.
“I was just getting ready to call Celia and see if she wanted us to go ahead and pick out a tree. Her family will be here Wednesday instead of--”
“No, don’t bother asking her. I’ll take care of the tree.” Martin said in a rushed tone.
“Are you sure?” Emma shrugged when he didn’t answer, and she thought it a bit strange that he was offering to help. Men normally liked having a tree around, but they never wanted to help pick one out.
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