Authors: Bethany Lopez
"Cal," Victoria said dryly. "Still imposing on Scott, I see."
"Victoria," I responded with a glare. "Scott's not here. Is there something that I can help you with? A new broom perhaps?"
She curled her lip and replied, "You always think you're so cool, don't you. Although ... it's not too cool to be sleeping on your old friend’s couch, rather than in bed with your wife."
I saw red and was about to let her have it, when Scott walked in the still open door.
"Victoria!" he said softly, his tone dangerous. I knew from the look on his face that he'd heard our exchange. "That's uncalled for. I wish the two of you would make an effort to get along ... For my sake."
I lowered my eyes, then looked back up and met Scott's gaze. He was right. He was my best friend, and I owed it to him to make more of an effort. As much as I loathed Victoria, she was a major part of his life, and if I didn't get on board, there was the possibility that I would lose him in mine.
I couldn't bear the thought of losing anyone else right now. Especially someone as important to me as Scott. He was like my brother.
"You're right, man. I apologize to you, and to Victoria. Let me get out of your hair for a while, so you guys can have some privacy."
"You don't have to leave, Cal," Scott replied.
"No worries," I said with a smile to both of them. Victoria didn't smile back or reply. Whatever, one of us had to be the bigger person. "I need to go see my folks anyway."
I walked out, leaving them to their evening of planning, and wondering how Scott was ever going to be happy with a woman like Victoria. I didn't understand why he put up with her. He knew what kind of person she was, it's not like she hid it.
I thought about Scott and Victoria's relationship on the drive to my parents, and came to the conclusion that I would never get it. I just needed to be there for my friends and try not to push my opinions on him. He was always there for me, no matter how horrible my mistakes, and I would do the same for him.
When I pulled up to my childhood home my stomach clenched as I thought of my parents, and the disappointment I knew would be apparent on their faces when they found out about me and Shelly.
I walked through the gate and up the stone path. I smiled at the pots of flowers covering the porch. My mother loved flowers, and she thrived on filling her home with them.
I took a deep breath and put my hand on the doorknob, then let it out as I opened the door and crossed the threshold.
I inhaled spicy cinnamon and tart apples, my mother's favorite scent. She was always known to have some potpourri, candles, and oils scattered throughout the house. This was the smell of my childhood.
"Hey, Cal, what's going on?" My brother was descending the stairs. I looked up and felt a surge of pride. Craig was a senior in high school and about to turn eighteen. He was smart, handsome, and a hell of a baseball player. He was my polar opposite, and I loved him for it.
"Not much, Craig, how's school?"
Craig walked over and put his arms around me briefly, before pulling away with a grin. We could have been twins. We were the exact same height, shared the same dark hair and facial features, but while I had dark brown eyes, his were an unnatural sea green. I'd never seen anything like it.
"Great, only a few months left, and the season is about to start," Craig answered. "I'll send you the schedule."
"Sounds good." I looked around the cozy living room and asked, "Mom around?"
"Yeah," Craig said, thrusting his head toward the back of the house. "I think she's in the kitchen making bread. Dad's out at the golf course."
I clapped my hand on his shoulder and said, "I'll come find you in a bit."
"Sorry, brother," he said, his grin cocky. "I've got a date."
"Shit." I grinned back. "Who allowed that?"
He just snorted at me, grabbed his jacket from the closet, and walked out with a wave.
I shook my head, then walked down the hallway toward the kitchen.
"Is that my long-lost son I hear?" My mother's amused voice reached me before I turned in to see her smiling face. She was standing at the island in the middle of the kitchen, her hands full of flour and dough as she kneaded.
"Hi, Mom," I walked over and kissed her on the top of her head. "Sorry I haven't been by recently.”
She looked up at me with eyes that matched my own and said, "I figured your absence had something to do with the For Sale sign in front of your house."
I should have known better than to think I would be able to hide anything from my mother.
Chapter 18 - Shelly
I looked over and studied Cal's face as he drove. He looked deep in thought, with a small frown on his face. I wondered if I should ask him what was wrong, or stay out of it. I'd left him, after all, so I didn't think I had a right to pry. I hated to see Cal upset though; he was always such a positive person. If he was troubled, there was a good reason for it.
When he'd come by for our date, I'd met him outside, rather than having him come in the condo. I don't know if I was protecting him from the pain of seeing me on my own, or if I was protecting my newfound freedom. To ease the sting, I'd agreed to ride with him this time, rather than drive myself.
Now that we were in the car and on our way to date number three, I found myself struggling. Should I remain quiet, or ask him what was wrong.
Knowing Cal, he wouldn't feel better until he got whatever was bothering him off his chest, so I asked, "Is everything okay?"
Cal turned briefly to look at me, almost as if he'd forgotten I was there, then turned his eyes back to the road before him.
He was quiet for a minute, which made me rethink my decision to pry, then he sighed deeply.
Uh-oh, a big sigh usually meant it was something personal, not work related.
If it was something personal, it probably had to do with our situation.
Maybe I didn't want to know ...
"I went by my parents’ the other day," Cal began. "I had kind of been avoiding them since everything happened between us."
"Cal," I said, my voice filled with surprise. He told his parents everything. "You didn't tell them we were ... separated?"
"I couldn't, Shel," he responded. "Not only because I hope it's only temporary and I didn't want to worry them, but because I didn't want to disappoint them."
My heart thumped loudly in my chest.
"Cal, your parents adore you, you could never disappoint them."
He turned to me, his eyes filled with sorrow.
"They didn't raise their sons to cheat."
I felt my anger at this entire situation ease a bit in my gut. I loved Cal's folks, and they loved me, but more than anything, they loved their boys. I knew that it would be hard for him to admit to them that he wasn’t perfect, and it would be hard for them to hear, but I had to believe that they loved him unconditionally.
We pulled off and into a parking lot. Cal turned off the car, but we both just sat there.
"Babe," I said, the endearment I'd always used for him rusty on my tongue. I reached out and touched his cheek. "They'll forgive you."
Cal's eyes bore into mine.
I dropped my hand and answered honestly, "I don't know."
Cal nodded, and after a moment's pause, forced a smile to his lips.
"Okay, enough of this depressing talk, it's time to get on with our date. Let's agree to leave the sadness in the car, and let the fun begin. Okay?"
"Okay," I said, returning his smile.
Cal walked around and opened my door, taking my hand to help me out of the car. I felt a familiar tug in my belly at the contact. Seeing him vulnerable was breaking down my defenses.
I followed him inside, too preoccupied with the sensations in my body to pay attention to where we were walking. The sound of Latin music made me look up, and I felt my jaw drop.
I was staring at a dance floor with a mixture of men and women, twirling and shaking their hips as they danced to the music.
"What is this?" I pulled Cal close to me and asked in his ear.
He turned to me with a big grin.
"We're going to learn Salsa dancing."
I couldn't have been more surprised if he had said that we were going to learn how to fly on a trapeze.
I let out a snort, then giggled, before pressing my hand to my mouth to try and hold it in. When Cal stopped, I tried to look up at him innocently.
"Are you laughing at my dancing abilities?" he asked sardonically.
I guffawed at that.
Cal was a notoriously bad dancer. Women ran in flocks of panic whenever he took to the dance floor.
"I can do this," he said, his face set with determination.
I reigned in my laughter.
"Sorry, of course you can."
I followed him to the dance floor, where he walked up to a woman dressed in a revealing gown and heels. He shook her hand and smiled. He must have set this up a head of time, because the woman called a man over to us, and they both turned to us with matching thousand-watt smiles.
"Are you game?" Cal turned to me and asked.
"Absolutely," I said confidently.
After a few minutes being spun around the floor by my instructor, Raul, I was less confident.
This was really hard.
I looked over at Cal and his instructor, Maria, and laughed when I saw him woodenly spinning her around.
He looked as stiff as a tin man.
"At least he's trying," Raul said. "A lot of women have to come to lessons alone, because their men are afraid to look like fools."
I nodded, and looked thoughtfully at Cal. He stepped on Maria's foot and winced, but she patted his arm and kept moving.
I smiled to myself, then tried to focus on what Raul was saying.
After thirty more minutes of "training" Maria and Raul left Cal and me on the dance floor, to try and dance together.
"I'll try not to hurt you," Cal said softly. His face was red, and the sweat was causing his hair to curl up at his neck.
"I'll try not to hurt you too," I replied. "It's really hard."
Cal smiled at my words, and the pleasure on his face caused my stomach to flutter. I suddenly became aware of his hands on my hip and shoulder, skin to skin. It suddenly felt twenty degrees hotter, and when our bodies began to move together, I thought I might spontaneously combust.
I wouldn't say that we danced the Salsa well, but what we lacked in skill, we made up for in pure heat.
By the time our song ended, I saw Maria fanning herself on the sidelines. It could have just been from dancing, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was from the way Cal had watched me as we danced.
I dropped my arms and averted my eyes, afraid of the emotion that was running between the two of us. I turned on my heel and walked over to the bar to grab a glass of water.
"You okay?" Cal asked, coming up behind me.
"Yeah," I responded. "I feel like I lost a few gallons in sweat though. You want one?" I asked, indicating the bottle of water in front of me.
I watched Maria on Raul on the dance floor as we drank. They looked absolutely amazing together.
"Wow," Cal said.
"I know, right. They're spectacular."
We watched them dance for a while longer, then Cal asked if I was ready to go.
I nodded and said, "Thanks for this, Cal. I had a lot of fun."
When we were on the road back to my place, I turned to him and said, "You did really well. I'm proud of you for getting out there."
Cal chuckled at that.
"It didn't start out so well, but Maria has a gift. I felt pretty good by the time we danced together. I'm glad we did it."
We sat and listened to the radio for the rest of the way. There was no awkward silence, or need to fill space with idle chatter. It felt comfortable, and I knew we were both reflecting on our date.
When he pulled up to my condo, I went to get out, but he said, "I got it," and jumped out of the car.
One of the sweetest qualities in Cal was that he was an utter gentleman. I guess I'd always taken it for granted.
I let him help me out of the car and walk me to the door. When I turned to thank him again, I was surprised to see him walking purposefully toward me.
One second, I was standing on the step, the next I was up against the door in Cal's arms.
His hands were on my face, and his body was pressed fully against mine, I barely had time to gasp in surprise, when his mouth was on mine.
The kiss was frantic and full of need, and without a thought, I matched his need with my own. His mouth slanted over mine and our tongues met, causing a moan to escape my lips. He brought one hand around my lower back and pulled me closer to him. I lifted my leg up and assisted him as he cupped my bottom and brought me fully against him. I fisted his shirt in my hand, needing to grab on, eager to pull him closer. I nipped his bottom lip lightly, and felt a rush of cool air as he pulled his mouth away from mine.
He lowered my leg and took a step back, leaving me standing there scattered and full of need.
"I'm sorry, Shel." He leaned in and kissed my forehead lightly. "I got carried away."
Cal turned and jogged down the steps back to his car, as if he needed to get away as fast as he could.
I watched him leave with a mixture of relief and regret before slowly turning and letting myself in.
It looked like a cold shower and a lot of soul searching was in order.
Chapter 19 - Cal
Leaving Shelly the other night had been one of the hardest things I'd ever done. The image of her flushed cheeks, and the look on her face when I'd thrust her up against the door, had made the last few nights unbearable.
I hadn't seen her since, but she didn’t seemed pissed when I left, so I hoped that she was still feeling positive about us and was as eager for Saturday's date as I was.
I was waiting at a local bar and grill for TJ and Scott. We'd made plans to grab some dinner and catch half a game before Scott had to meet up with Victoria to go over wedding stuff, and TJ had to meet up with his flavor of the week to hook up.