Michael’s Thanksgiving celebration had been no walk in the park either. As it was tradition even when Jerry had been married to Amanda, they always spent this holiday with Michael’s parents. This year, the three of them had driven to their childhood home, which was just fifteen minutes from Michael’s office in Georgetown.
Ever since his disastrous kiss with Olivia, Michael hadn’t been his usual talkative self. The short drive to his parents’ house had had him sensing curious glances from both his brother and his niece. Even though he answered back whenever a question or a comment was directed his way, most of the ride he had kept his eyes on the road and his thoughts to himself.
It had been naive and stupid of him to believe a woman like Olivia was single. The connection he’d felt with her from their first meeting had made every possibility of a boyfriend fly through the window. Why else would he meet a woman who’d been able to get under his skin before he had a chance to do the same, if she was already taken?
The blow her words had caused in him had felt like a cold hand twisting his guts from the inside until the pain had become unbearable. Michael was not one to overdramatize when things with a woman didn’t work out or weren’t meant to be. If it hadn’t been for that kiss they’d shared outside her house, then maybe he would have just cursed his bad luck and timing and just moved on with his life.
But the taste of her, the feel of her body molding perfectly to his, even the synchrony of their beating hearts was unfamiliar territory for him. And he was damn sure that despite her long relationship with her so called boyfriend, Olivia had, too, been shaken up by her response to him.
The woman annoyed him, especially when she was determined to give a negative meaning to every word that came out of his mouth, like the day she’d snapped at him when he warned her about mentioning her piercing to Camie and Jerry. Only that during that time on his car when she’d forgotten she despised him, whatever that reason was, he’d been able to see that underneath that smart, confident and cold exterior she put on when it came to dealing with him, she was a woman who loved to laugh, talk and who had no idea it were those things which made her even more beautiful.
As Jerry had told him before taking Olivia back to her place last Wednesday, he’d been grinning and drooling like puppy the entire time Ms. B had been sharing with them her childhood adventures or what she liked doing when she was not in a classroom full of teenage kids.
Michael had noticed Camie’s eyes shine with excitement as her history teacher had confessed that even though she loved Jane Austen and Tolsltoi’s Anna Karenina or reading about the American Revolution, she just couldn’t put down the current books that were making teenage girls all over the world swoon over a teenager and ancient vampire character. Which was why, she’d said, the book club was so much fun, she got to cling on to the fantasy world teenagers loved with people who incredibly so, saw beyond the fantastic when it came to giving their opinions and thoughts about these books.
As any grown, sensible, thirty something year old man would’ve done, Michael had tried to take advantage of a few days off from work and away from Olivia, to convince himself this was just one of those times you just had to deal with not getting what you wanted, as she had warned him that day in his kitchen.
An impossible and useless task that had proven to be. If Camie and Jerry had noticed anything wrong with him, then his mother noticed it too, the minute she greeted both her sons and only granddaughter at the door. His father had been more oblivious to his change of attitude although he, too, commented at one point during dinner that he was quieter than usual.
His mother, Sara, zeroed in on him during the time he’d offered to help load the dishwasher after dinner. She had cornered him in the kitchen and just interrogated him until he blurted something about a thing with a woman that wasn’t going to work out. The finality of his words made him even more uncomfortable and less wiling to let go.
However as much as Michael liked her, he wasn’t going to fight an already lost battle. He still had his pride and some of his senses, to know when to back off. The problem was the little voice inside his head, the one that had made him run like a madman looking for her at the grocery store, was reluctant and disappointed at his defeatist attitude.
Sara Hurst hadn’t been fooled for a second. She knew there was more to it, having a firsthand knowledge of her son’s dynamics with women. Thankfully though, his mother also knew when to stop pressuring and instead had changed the subject and began telling him the plans they had for Christmas. The five of them would spend the holiday together. Camie would leave the next day to spend New Year’s with her mother back in Chicago.
After attempting to act normal for the rest of the long weekend, Michael felt not only fed for the entire year, but exhausted as hell. The minute he got behind the wheel to drive back home, his sulky, sorry for himself mood kicked in full gear. This time, neither his brother nor Camie tried to include him in the conversation. Apart from a few grunts of acknowledgement whenever the conversation required him to prove he was still alive, Michael had been lost in his own tormented thoughts reliving the moment with Olivia when all of him had burst up in flames.
He was hogging the living room T.V., while Camie was upstairs catching up on some last minute homework. Homework she swore, had appeared from nowhere the minute she stepped inside her room. Jerry was busy at the study they’d fixed to house another desk, apart from the one that had already been there, where Michael worked on office stuff whenever he had to review blueprints or due some number crunching for certain projects.
After flipping the channels for an hour he turned off the T.V. and picked up the sports section of today’s paper. Not even the fact that his favorite player Bred Favre was back with the Vikings and doing a hell of a job was enough to hold his attention for more than five minutes before all of his senses called back her smell, the melody of her voice…
“Damn it, Michael.” He rubbed his face with his hands and was about to go up to his room and call it an early night when Jerry said from behind him.
“When you start talking to yourself it means there is serious trouble, bro.”
He heard the sound of two beer cans being opened and then saw Jerry’s hand extend one of them toward him. Grateful for the coldness of it, they drank in silence. Then his brother put the can on the table in front of them and crossed his arms over his chest. His face was an unreadable mask. Michael was sure his attitude could not go on any longer, at least not without an explanation.
Jerry cleared his throat and tried to make his brother tell him what was bothering him, as he’d done countless times while growing up, despite their eleven year difference.
“I could go around the bush until I nail it, or you could save us the unnecessary small talk and tell me what the hell is wrong.”
Michael knew he could confide in Jerry, but the last thing he wanted was to whine about a woman he could never have. As Camie would say, that was so not his style.
“What if I said there’s no use in talking about it?”
“I’d say bullshit.”
“Is her name the same as the woman from the deodorant scene, and my girl’s history teacher?”
“You know, sometimes you get this moments of brightness that blow my mind. But yes, it is about her. Like I said though, there really is no need to get into it.”
“She’s different from any other women you’d dated. No offense to those other ladies but Olivia is smart, strong willed and knows what she wants, not to mention that she’s a welcome sight to the male eye and has a mind that puts to shame those other dates you’d had.”
“That she does.”
“You’ll just gonna have to work harder to get close to her. It’s not like you to step down from a challenge. Michael, sometimes you have to work hard at getting the girl as us mere mortals have done since the dawn of times.”
Generally, he would offer a comeback to this type of criticism from his brother but despite him getting on with his life, Michael was aware that Jerry still missed his wife and felt bad for the terrible outcome of their marriage.
Instead, he blurted out what had stolen his peace of mind since Olivia’s arms had circled around his neck.
“We kissed. The day I gave her a ride back home, we kissed.”
Jerry’s face transformed from keeping a neutral expression to downright confusion.
“You did? I know I shouldn’t say this of the woman in charge of teaching my daughter, but way to go son.”
Then, he shook his head and asked.
“So, why the hell have you been moping around like you did that time when Becky Johnson moved to California? God, you were such a disgrace back then. Of course, it lasted exactly two hours before you were back in the game.”
“Hey don’t go mocking young teenage love. And I wish this was as simple as her moving to another city. Let’s just say I arrived late to Olivia’s life.”
“I don’t understand.”
“After we almost devoured each other, God……wait, forget I said that. I sounded just like your daughter. Man, when I start worrying about whose hooking up with who in City Girl…”
“Gossip Girl.” Jerry corrected him.
“Yes, whatever, anyway, when you see me sitting down with Camie worrying about it, just knock me unconscious or something.”
That made his brother laugh. He knew if Camie asked him, Michael would endure an hour of that show just to hang out with his niece.
“Fully noted. So, you were saying….”
“Olivia is taken. She has a boyfriend, has had for the past ten years.”
Jerry emitted a whistling sound, as he realized that piece of information had to be like a punch in the stomach for Michael.
“Oh, I see.”
“So, that ship has pretty much sailed away.”
“But you have feelings for her.”
Exasperated, Michael got up and began pacing around the living room, while he rubbed his temples with his fingers.
“I don’t know. I know I can’t get her out of my mind, despite the boyfriend detail. I know she’s different and I had never had a woman get to me as she has done. Sadly, that is as far as I’ll get into figuring out why her.”
Jerry digested this for a while. This was indeed not an ideal situation. Of course, who was Jerry to give relationship advice, his last one hadn’t exactly been a success.
Michael ended the silence by adding.
“I just need a few days to get back to my old self.”
“Well, it’s not like she is married to the guy.”
Jerry heard the words that came out from his mouth, and was alarmed they’d bypassed the mental filter so he could refrain from saying them out loud. When Michael stopped pacing and whirled around to stare at him with a glint of hope shinning from his eyes, Jerry wanted to bang his head against the wall. He also recognized that look coming from his brother’s eyes, it was a look that said Michael was back.
“What did you just say?”
“I……don’t think I should repeat it. In fact, I think….”
“No, no, no.” Michael waved his finger at his brother. The cold mask he’d been wearing began to thaw away as a tiny flicker of purpose began to warm him from the inside.
“You are a genius. I wouldn’t cross over that line if it were there but if marriage is not on the table right now, then….”
Oh boy, Jerry didn’t like the train of thought his brother had hoped on just now.
“Listen, Michael. There’s a reason they’d been together for this long. I’d hate to see you get hurt. I think you should go back to the waiting for the days to pass option. Less casualties involved.”
“Or, how come they’d been together for this long and marriage hasn’t come up yet? Olivia strikes me as a woman who yearns for a family of her own. Maybe he doesn’t think she is the woman for him. Or she doesn’t think he is the one for her.”
“Michael..” Jerry used the same tone he used when Camie was being stubborn about doing her chores.
But Michael didn’t stay to hear his brother’s lecture. He walked back to the small dish where they put the car keys and took his. Glancing over his shoulder, he stopped at the kitchen’s entrance and saw Jerry getting up to get to him.
“Jer, I just need to know. I swear if there’s a ring or a date involved I’ll back off and spend the next few days getting drunk. If she isn’t, then it means I have a shot. Hey, if she loves the guy then as much as I try, she’ll push me away. It’s just……I can feel I stirred up something in her as well.”
“Ladies and gentlemen my brother the humble one.”
“It’s not that. I….can’t let this go without knowing.”
With a slam of the front door, Jerry heard the engine from his brother’s car and decided that maybe he should have a second beer for him and one for Michael for when he came back, in case his cause was lost.