Chapter Thirty Four
Saturday, December 29, 2012
Taking a Chance
Chapter Thirty Four
Taking a Chance
After running out of The Merryweather, Lacey realizes she left her coat inside. She could make it home without the coat, but her car keys were in the pocket.
I have two choices, she thought, stand out here and freeze to death or swallow my pride and walk back in to get my coat. She opted for the embarrassment of facing Ross McCoy again.
She didn't have to walk very far. He was standing at the door with her coat in his hand.
“Looking for this?” he said with a grin.
“Thank you!” Lacey took the coat from him and started back out the door when she heard him say, “You won't get too far without these.”
“Give me my keys, Ross. This isn't funny.”
“I'll give them back if you will have one drink with me. What have you got to lose? An hour of your time, a half hour if you're a drinker.”
“Thirty seconds if I call security.”
“You wouldn't do that to your old friend, would you?”
“I just might. Okay, against my better judgment, I'll have one drink with you.”
They walked back into the bar he put his hand on her elbow, afraid she would run if he didn't. Lacey felt her knees go weak. How can this man do this to me? I should run the other way but I can't.
They talked for a while about the weather, about California and how Lacey missed the ocean but was happy to be living in Camden Corners.
“I'll be living here too, Lacey. I've accepted a job at the hospital.”
Lacey just stared at him. “How did this come about? Of all the places you could have gone, how did you end up in Camden Corners?”
“Do you remember the Claussens? They owned the drugstore near my apartment. They know you.”
“Of course, I remember them. We exchange Christmas cards each year. How do you know them?”
“Mr. Claussen paid me a visit after you showed up at the apartment that night. He wanted me to know what a heel I was for hurting an innocent young girl.”
Lacey shuddered, “You and your friends must have had a good laugh over that one.”
“No, we didn't. In fact, when he came to the door, I was alone. Annabel and Louie were out. The girl you saw me with was Louie's girl. I had to find a way to make you hate me and Annabel and Louie went along with the charade. I wasn't happy about doing that to you but I couldn't let you give up your life with your parents and your sister. You see, I never had a family who cared about me like you did. I had nothing to give you. At that point in my life I had no future.”
“You seem to be doing quite well, I can tell by the look of your suit that it didn't come off the rack at Sears. Did you find yourself a benefactor or should I say a benefactress?”
“Actually, I did. Mr. & Mrs. Claussen to be specific. They provided me with a home and an education. I could never have done it without them. I was determined to be worthy of you. Mr. Claussen is the one who encouraged me to try for the job at Memorial Hospital. I wasn't the most qualified applicant, but I think Mr. Claussen's recommendation was the determining factor.”
“Ross, I don't know what to say.”
“Say you will stay and have dinner with me. I owe you at least one meal after all the cheeseburgers you bought me.”
“I'd forgotten about those greasy things. I hope you have improved your diet since then.”
“Mrs. Claussen made sure of that.”
“They do have very good food here and I'm really hungry. This was the first day back to school after the Christmas break and those kids wore me out.”
It seemed everyone in town knew Lacey. The restaurant wasn't very crowded, mainly because the weather was bad. All of the workers in the restaurant called her by name. She saw a couple of her students and they all spoke to her. Ross had the feeling she was a very popular teacher. A fellow teacher called to her and asked if they were still on for Friday night. “Yes, Hank,” she answered. Ross knew a girl like Lacey wouldn't be sitting home alone at night, but he still felt a pang of jealousy.
During dinner they talked about her teaching career. They both felt the same about math. Lacey loved her teaching job. She wanted to inspire young women to give math a chance. Most of them had been conditioned to think it was a subject for boys only. She loved working with the girls basketball team. They weren't the most talented players in the area, but they did their best. Lacey believed everyone should have a chance and even the girls who were not five feet ten and above were welcomed to join.
“You have always been a caring person, Lacey. I think that's what attracted me to you when we first met.”
“Ross, please don't say any more. Maybe I shouldn't have agreed to have dinner with you. There can never be anything between us. I hope you know that.”
“Lacey, I know I hurt you and I know I will have to prove myself to you, but please don't shut the door on a relationship between us. I have never forgotten you.”
“I'm sorry Ross, I can't do this. Thank you for dinner. Good luck with the job.” She put her coat on and felt for her keys. She was out of the restaurant and to her car before he could see the tears streaming down her cheeks.
Luckily the snow had stopped. She didn't have to stop to clean her car before she drove off. Ross stood in the parking lot wanting to stop her, but he knew he couldn't. He hoped she would come around.
Lacey's answering machine beeped at her as she entered her apartment. Her mother was the first caller. “Call me, whenever you get in. I want to know all about your evening. Isn't the new, cleaned up Ross gorgeous?” Next was from her sister wanting to know what happened tonight. The third was her mother again, she was worried when Lacey wasn't home at 8:30 and wanted her to call.
Lacey didn't want to talk about her evening with Ross but knew her mother would worry if she didn't call her back. She tried to keep it brief.
“We had dinner and talked, Mom. I won't be seeing him again.”
“Lacey, what happened? You sound upset.”
“I never could fool you. He wants to start up again. I just can't do it Mom. I didn't realize how much he hurt me until I saw him again. You know I have never had a serious relationship with a man since Ross. He has ruined my life. That sounds childish, but it's the way I feel.”
“Do you want me to come over there, dear? Sounds like you need a hug.”
“No, Mom, thanks. I'm tired enough to fall asleep, I have a busy day tomorrow and need to get some rest. I'll call you tomorrow.”
Lacey ended the call. She would call her sister in the morning, it was getting late and she didn't want to disturb her in case she was asleep. Thanks to the wine she'd had that evening and the fact that she was physically drained, Lacey was able to fall asleep quickly. She slept fitfully, dreaming of Ross McCoy. Her mother was right. He was gorgeous.
Ross decided it was best that he not try to contact Lacy. He concentrated on his new job at the hospital. He had much to learn and was determined to be the best he could be. He was given more responsibility than he'd had in his previous employment and he was happy to have something to focus on rather than Lacey. He put in longer hours than were required until Carl told him to ease up a bit. He didn't want his newest staff member to burn out before summer. “Take advantage of the fine skiing we have here, or if you prefer, you can borrow my snowmobile. We want you to stay in Camden Corners, Ross.”
The following Saturday, Ross rented a pair of skis and headed to the ski resort. Growing up in New Hampshire, he wasn't a stranger to skiing. He was introduced to snow boarding while living in California, but found he preferred the old fashioned skis. The air was crisp and the sun was shining brightly. Ross felt like a new man. It had been three weeks since he'd been with Lacey. He had tried to give her some space. She had a problem trusting men and he knew he was responsible for that. He had just about decided he was going to pay her a visit that afternoon when a skier whizzed past him. He recognized the hair color immediately. His heart skipped a beat as he realized it was Lacey. She made the mistake of turning to look back at him and ended up hitting a patch of ice and falling ungracefully into a snow pile.
He skied to her, concerned she may have hurt herself and was relieved it was only her pride that suffered.
“Did you follow me?” she said harshly.
“You are the one who came down that hill after I did. It looks, to me, like you are the one doing the following.”
“Ross McCoy. I was not chasing after you. Besides, you obviously don't care to see me since you haven't bothered to call me in three weeks.”
“I didn't think you wanted to see me again. The way you ran out of The Merryweather that night, I didn't feel exactly welcomed back into your life.”
“For someone who turned his life around, pursued an education and became an asset to society, you certainly gave up on us without a second thought.”
“Lacey, has anyone ever told you how exasperating you are? I practically threw myself at you and you ran away.”
“If you really cared, you would have stopped me that night.”
Ross had no more words to say to her. What happened to that docile young girl he had known? As infuriating as the new Lacey was, she was also irresistible. He cupped her face in his hands, tilted her head toward him and kissed her soundly on the lips.
Lacey couldn't move. She had loved this man for seven years and dreamed of this moment. Against her better judgment, she kissed him back. They were suspended in time until they heard some teenagers shouting and laughing as they whistled at the two of them standing in a snow pile with their arms wrapped around each other.
“Maybe we had better get off the mountain,” said Ross not wanting to let Lacey out of his embrace. “Shall we meet at The Merryweather?”
Lacey was about to agree when she remembered he had a room at The Merryweather. She didn't know if she trusted him or herself enough to be that close to his bed.
“How about the Pub on Main? They have the best Irish coffee. I think I could use one right about now.”
They skied together down the mountain. Lacey followed Ross in her car to the pub.
“It's about time,” said Cal, the bartender. “The whole town was wondering when you two would finally get together.”
“Welcome to Small Town, USA. I've heard of places where everyone knows your business, I just didn't believe it until we came to Camden Corners.”
“Good, lets get a booth and make out. We'll really give them something to talk about.”
“As tempting as it sounds, Cal is the father of one of my students and a member of the school board. I'd better be on my best behavior,” Lacey laughed.
Ross squeezed her hand under the table. “I've bought a house,” he said nonchalantly.
“You did? I guess you really are planning to stay.”
“I did think about leaving, but I do like the job and the people I work with. I saw you walking into Hemingway's one day last week. You were with another guy. I wasn't sure I could stay here and watch you from a distance, but maybe it was better than not seeing you at all. Anyway, this is a fixer upper over on Pine Road. It's a big house and needs a lot of work.”
“I love that house. It's the one with the wrap around porch. The stream goes through the back yard. I can't believe you bought it.”
“Would you like to see it? I closed on it yesterday. Alex Kelly is stopping by this evening. He is going to help me evaluate what needs to be done to get it liveable again. Carl says he's the best contractor around.”
“You are a man of many talents, I didn't realize you were a handyman too.”
“That is one more thing I have to thank Helmut Claussen for. He never called a repairman the whole time he owned the drug store. He fixed everything himself. He let me help him when I was living there and taught me everything he knew. After graduation, I lived in an old apartment house in California. There was always something going wrong. Mrs. Finley was a sweet old lady who had been taken advantage of by many repairmen. She got into the habit of asking me to make some minor repairs and before I knew it, I was spending my weekends as her handyman. I didn't mind. I didn't have much of a social life and I actually enjoyed the work.”
“I can't believe you didn't have a social life. I'm sure you had to beat the women off with a stick.”
“Not quite. I never found anyone who measured up to the one I let get away.”
Lacey looked away. “I don't believe you when you say things like that, Ross. You never acted like you even liked me that much. Thinking back, I was just a pest to you.”
“You forget how I grew up. I was taught at an early age never to show any kind of emotion. You were only eighteen and I was twenty two. Feeling what I felt for you was completely foreign to me. I didn't realize that I was falling in love until you were out of my life. I never stopped thinking of you and you were never a pest. Maybe I shouldn't be honest about the way I feel. Maybe if we took things slowly you would come to trust me.”
“That might be for the best. I have enjoyed being with you today and I would love to see your house.”
“Just one thing,” Ross said cautiously. “That guy I saw you with, is he someone special?”
“Yes, he's someone special to me, but he's more special to his wife. He teaches English at the high school. He gave me a ride to the restaurant because my car was in the shop. We were meeting his wife and about ten other people to celebrate another teacher's birthday. The only men in my life are friends.”
“What about Hank? I heard him ask if you were still on for the Friday night after we had dinner.”
“We were chaperones for a tenth grade dance. That is part of my job.”
“That's good to know.” He took her hand as they walked out of the pub and to the house on Pine Road. The snow was beginning to fall but neither one noticed the cold. As they walked up the steps of the porch, a board gave way causing them both to lose their balance. Ross caught Lacey around the waist and they fell into the snow at the base of the stairs.
“We have to stop meeting like this,” Ross laughed as he took her in his arms once again.