“Okay Cassie, spill,” commanded Veronica after she handed her a cup of coffee. “You spent the night with Cris, you should be all glowy, so why in the fudge berries aren’t you? What did you or didn’t you do now?”
Cassie looked at Veronica. How did she know it was me? “Uh, I might’ve freaked out a little. It’s just that he’s so perfect and he knows exactly how he feels and what he wants. He’s got his shit together.”
“What that man wants Cassie, is you.”
“He wants what he thinks I am. What if I can’t live up to his expectations?”
“That’s a boat load of doggie doo and you know it.”
“He said he’s falling in love with me,” confessed Cassie and the dam burst.
Veronica threw up her hands. “You better tell me those are tears of extreme ecstasy or I’m renouncing our friendship.”
Cassie laughed through her tears and managed to rein them back in. “Terror, tears of terror. I’m afraid he’s idealized me in his head and I’ll never be what he expects.”
“Cassandra Connor, what have you been smoking? Unless …. wait … did that dunderhead tell you that during sex?”
“Veronica!” scolded Cassie.
“Well … if he did, he may not mean it, but if he didn’t, then you’re golden.”
“Golden? I’m golden?”
“So not during sex then. Listen Ms. I’m Not Good Enough, you already said it yourself. You think he’s purrrfect. I don’t want to bust your bubble, but that man is NOT perfect. You think he is because you’re in love with him. So get over your pity party and go back over there and apologize for running out on him before it’s too late.”
“Oh God, I’ve ruined everything! Now I’ve just proved him right, that I’m not ready to deal with my feelings and have a real relationship.”
“That’s a load of cracker jacks, I saw him kiss you before you left. So, what on earth did he say that makes you think that?”
“He said I was young and that’s why I wasn’t ready to say it back. But I was afraid – because once I say it, there’s no going back.”
“Holy fishsticks Cassie! You didn’t want to say what – that you’re falling in love with him? No, because you aren’t falling in love with him girlfriend, you’re already there, so why would you even want to ‘go back’? Hon, you’re not making any freaking sense.”
“How do you know how I feel?”
“It doesn’t take a genius to see the electricity between you two. So – why would you ever want to ‘go back’?
“I feel like I would always be second guessing myself. I’m not as perfect as he thinks. I’m actually a bit of a mess – maybe a lot of a mess.”
“I told you already, he’s not perfect either. You two are just – different.”
Cassie opened her mouth to speak and nothing came out. Finally she said, “But he is perfect.”
Veronica rolled her eyes. “For you Cassie, he’s perfect for you. He’s not perfect for me, I could never see myself with someone like him. He intimidates the fudge outta me for one thing, and if I had to watch someone I love flirt with girls for a living, I would die a million deaths, but you both get it. And you love that bar, his pride and joy, so you see, you’re perfect for him too.”
“You think so? Really?” asked Cassie her voice small, suddenly feeling foolish. “You don’t think I’ll disappoint him?”
“Gosh darn it Cassie!” growled Veronica while she was sending a text.
“Wait! That’s my phone! Veronica, what did you just do?”
“I’m fixing things for you. Mr. Sexy should be here in 20 minutes, you might want to freshen up, change outta yesterday’s clothes.”
“Give that back to me!” shouted Cassie, now in full panic mode.
Her phone dinged indicating a text. “Too late,” said Veronica with a satisfied smirk, “he’s already on the way. He’s taking you out for breakfast. Hurry – chop chop!”
“Fishsticks!” said Cassie frowning making Veronica laugh.
“Exactly! Come on, I’ll grab some clean clothes while you run a brush through your hair and wash your face. You have exactly 18 minutes left.”
While she was getting dressed, Cassie thought about all that Veronica said, coupled with what Cris told her last night, and she knew Veronica was right. I’m in love with him. He’s all I can think about. I was even decorating his house in my head. She looked at the picture of her and Alex and it hit her. We complement each other Alex, she whispered, just like you and I did, well, not exactly, but – The doorbell rang interrupting her thoughts, causing a ball of lead to settle in her stomach. “Veronica, I’m almost ready,” she called out, even though she was ready. She needed a minute to calm herself before facing Cris.
“Okay,” Veronica called back from the living room, “I’ll let him in, and then I’m leaving, so don’t keep him waiting. Talk to you later for the deets.”
Cassie heard muffled voices, then the front door closed and knew it was just Cris and her alone now. She took a deep breath and blew it out slowly. You can do this, she said to herself, time to grow the fuck up Cassie. Then she took the few short steps into the living room.
She stopped without saying anything. Cris was doing the same thing she had done when she walked into his house. While his seemed big and empty, hers felt tiny and cluttered. She wondered what he would think about that.
Finally, he turned and smiled awkwardly when he saw her. “Hi,” he said.
“Hi,” she parroted back, then they both started talking and abruptly stopped at the same time. “Please, let me go first,” she said.
“You didn’t send that text did you?” he asked, instead of allowing her to speak.
“No,” she said, “and since I evidently suck at lying, I won’t even try to pretend I did.”
Cris huffed out a breath and shook his head. “When Veronica was excited to see me, I knew, plus you left in too much turmoil to already be asking to see me. But Cassie, she’s right, we have to talk.”
“You’re not angry with me?”
He stepped closer and cocked his head. “I haven’t decided yet, but one thing I do know Cass, don’t ever make up excuses to avoid talking to me. I know things happened fast, but I won’t apologize for it. I’m committed, and may I remind you, those were your terms, so naturally I assumed we were both on the same page. And after last night … well. Yeah.”
Cassie felt goose bumps run down her arms. “God, I’m such a fool.” She hung her head in shame before continuing. “I couldn’t get out of my head, and you kept asking me if I was sure, so I began to second guess myself.” She jerked her head up. “I’m not blaming you, I just couldn’t think straight anymore and ran, but Veronica helped put some things into perspective.”
He took another step closer, but he was frowning. “Then, do I owe her a debt of gratitude, or should I hunt her down and strangle her?” he asked.
The corner’s of Cassie’s mouth turned up ever so slightly. “Please, sit down, I have some things I need to say, then you can decide.”
“Okay…” he said still frowning.
She sat down in far corner of the couch, then Cris purposely sat right next to her, not giving her any space. Of course he did, she thought.
The tension in the air was so thick, she needed to quickly say her piece before she chickened out. “Cris,” she said and swallowed hard, “some of the things both you and Veronica said made me think about my relationship with Alex.” He started to say something and she held up her hand. “Please, this is important, just let me finish before you say anything.” He sighed and nodded for her to continue.
“Alex loved me unconditionally, even with all my imperfections. She laughed at the silly things I would cajole her into doing, things she would never have done, if not for me. I loved and admired her too, she was so smart and talented, but I wasn’t like that, couldn’t be like that, although she made me want to be better. God, we were thick as thieves, because we each brought something to the other. We were like two halves of a whole. Geez, that sounds so corny, but it’s true. Anyway, last night, and again this morning, when I started second guessing myself, it was because I put you up on that pedestal with Alex. You tried to get me to see it last night, when I asked why me, then this morning, Veronica helped me see that you and I work together in a similar way.”
“It’s not corny, and I get what you’re trying to say, but God woman, please stop overthinking it, this doesn’t have to be this hard. Cass, I’m not even sure when it happened, but one day I just realized, I really liked being with you. Hell, I was attracted to you when you first came to work, but as time went on, it was more than just a physical attraction, you became important to me. You’re what I was looking for and I didn’t even know it, because Cass I wasn’t looking. That’s the other reason I took you to diner. Confession, it was a date. But not one meant to seduce you, but one meant to let you in and gain your trust.”
He reached up and touched her face. “And sweetheart, thank God you trusted me enough to let me in too.” His touch sent wanting shivers down her body.
“I wasn’t looking either, funny how that works,” she said with a smile, relieved he seemed to understand. “I knew I was falling for you too, but I was just too afraid to admit it, because then I would’ve had to give my heart to you and that was the part that scared the fish – hell out of me.”
Cris threw his head back and laughed. “Cassandra, did you almost say ‘fishsticks’ again?” he teased.
Cassie rolled her eyes. “Veronica’s favorite expletive, I’m afraid its grown on me.”
“It’s adorable,” he said, then got serious. “Cass, I think you’re right, we just fit together. I’m willing to hold and protect your heart, if you’ll hold and protect mine in return.”
Cassie could feel her insides melting into a puddle of goo right there on the couch. “Ohhh … that’s the sweetest thing anyone has ever said to me,” she said staring at his lips, “I really need to kiss you now.”
Cris didn’t hesitate to oblige and kissed her soundly. When the finally they broke apart to breathe, he reached up and touched her face as if she were something precious to him. “No more running il mio coniglietto, if you need to say something, say it, just like you always do. If I’m being an ass, say so, just never, ever run. I can’t fix it if I don’t know. When you got quiet on the way over to the house, Cass, I got scared, I thought you changed your mind, that’s why I asked if you were sure.”
“I am sure,” she said in earnest, “we are on the same page and I never want you to doubt me again, because Cris, I do love you.”
When he inhaled sharply and closed his eyes, her stomach clenched. But when he opened them again, those beautiful whiskey colored eyes were filled with tenderness and love. “You have no idea how happy that makes me,” he said, “because Cass, I love you too.”
Then he sipped her lips softly sending warmth throughout her body, making her heart sing. How could such a sweet simple kiss mean so much more than the passionate kiss from just moments ago? But she knew the answer to her own question even as she thought it, it’s because it said I love you, not I want you.
He looked at her and cocked an eyebrow. “And now, my little bunny, I need to feed us. That great breakfast you made this morning? Yeah, it went straight into the trash. I might’ve been more than just a little pissed off.”
“Oh Cris, I’m sorry -“
“No apologies,” he said cutting her off, “I’m over it – unless it happens again. No running Cassandra, and use your words. Those are my terms. Now, there’s this great little café between here and Newcrest. We can have breakfast while we talk about us. No more second guessing each other. If there’s anything I learned from my failed relationship, it’s that verbal communication is just as important as physical communication.” He smirked at her and added, “I’m pretty sure we have the physical part down, now we just need to work on the verbal, although I certainly don’t mind practicing the physical.”