The Phone Call is under contract for publication with Solstice Publishing — but here’s a short excerpt.
Luke opened the door. “Alex! Come on in.”
Alex handed him a bottle of wine and grinned, “Hey Luke. Peter has you serving as doorman?”
“I wasn’t supposed to be, but,” he gestured down the hallway, “Hear the music? They’re dancing in the living room.”
“Peter and his sister.” Alex looked blank, so Luke continued, “Pete invited his baby sister to fill out the dinner table after you called and said that Diana couldn’t make it. A few minutes ago, she went in to put on some music, and a polka came on. They both burst out laughing and the next thing I knew, they’d started polka-ing around the room.”
Alex tried to picture the drummer of his band dancing the polka with a little girl. He pictured his tall friend bending down to lead a child half his size. Why on earth would Peter invite a kid to a dinner party?
Luke continued, clearly amused, “You have to come see this.”
Alex shook off the awkward image as he followed Luke down the hall. All he could see when he walked into the living room was Peter’s back until the couple turned. Alex swallowed hard. This was no baby sister. This was a gorgeous woman wearing a simple dark green sweater with a scoop cowl neckline, and flowing black pants. Momentarily at a loss for words, Alex swallowed again.
Noticing the stranger in the room, the woman stopped dancing, her face darkening with a heated blush. She ducked quickly out of her brother’s arms to shut off the music. Looking around in surprise, Peter laughed out loud and casually draped an arm over his sister’s shoulders. “Alex! Glad you made it. Do you want to polka? I’m sure Kat would be grateful for a less clumsy partner.” Kissing the top of her head, Peter continued, “Alex, this is my baby sister Kat. Kat, this is Alex. I can’t believe the two of you haven’t met yet!”
Kat put out her hand, trying not to stare at the stunningly attractive man standing in front of her. “Nice to meet you. Sorry for the polka…”
Alex held out his hand and felt the warmth of her small one sliding into his. “I’m Alex.”
She grinned. “I gathered that.”
Her tone was teasing. “Peter just said so.”
Alex pulled himself together and grinned back at her, “Nice to meet you too, Kat. Not to worry about the polka — I learned how as a kid.”
Just then the doorbell rang again. Luke adjusted the stereo while the rest of the group moved toward the brightly lit kitchen-and-dining area. Moving ahead of Alex, Kat tried not to think about how much she’d liked feeling her hand in his.
Seated at the table, Alex was pleased to find himself across from Kat. As the new arrivals settled in and the conversation got rolling, he realized that Kat knew the other two members of the band fairly well, and even knew one of their dates. He passed a plate of antipasto across the table to her, “So how is it that you know Will and Dana, and even Maggie, but not me?”
She smiled, trying to fight the little surge of energy that came when she saw that he’d been paying such close attention. He was so classically handsome; his dark brown eyes met hers directly, his chestnut hair waved almost to his shoulders. She abruptly realized that she hadn’t responded to him. “Will and Pete have been friends for years. I met Dana last year when I was home for a week at Christmas, and he came over for dinner at our house. And Maggie’s mom is friends with ours.”
“So how did we not meet?”
Her eyes creased as she calculated the timing. “I lived in Spain all last school year, and I only came home for a week at Christmas. Then I was back in the city for just a couple of days last May before going to Mexico for the summer, and then back to college. We must have just kept missing each other.”
Not caring that he was ignoring the others at the table, Alex leaned closer, “So from that explanation, I’d say that you are in college, and studying something to do with Spanish.”
She grinned, “Yes and yes. I’m just about to begin my last semester of college, and I’m triple majoring in Spanish, Hispanic Cultures, and Literature.”
Just then, Peter gave a piercing whistle from the other end of the table, “Kat, Alex! Hello, join the rest of us.”
Over the next few hours the eight of them ate, laughed, and all but Kat drank numerous glasses of wine, and just enjoyed each other’s company. Alex repeatedly found himself trying to draw Kat into more private conversations, wanting to get to know her better.
At the end of the evening, Alex walked to the front door with the rest of the group that was leaving. He stopped in front of Kat, “It was great to meet you finally.”
He noticed her cheeks turned pink, and hope that it meant she’d enjoyed talking to him as much as he’d enjoyed talking to her. Her voice was husky, “Likewise.”
As they walked down the street, Will said, “Shit, Alex, sorry that Diana bailed on you. As much as I love Kat, it must have been awkward to have to do all that happy-to-meet-you stuff, and then make conversation all night.”
Alex responded instinctively, “No, I had a great time!” How could he explain how much he’d enjoyed himself without sounding like a babbling idiot?
The next morning, Peter handed his sister a cup of coffee. “You enjoy last night?”
“Yeah. It was fun.” Kat smiled into her coffee cup, feeling foolish as she thought about all the hours she’d spent thinking about Alex since they’d met, reliving every moment of the evening.
“Want to do it again?”
His question confused her. “What, like tonight?” she said a little too eagerly.
“No, but remember how I told you that I wasn’t going to be home tonight because I was going to the opera? Well, we have an extra ticket because Alex’s girlfriend bailed on him again. You want to go?”
The word girlfriend deflated some of the excitement she felt thinking about seeing Alex again. But, even if he had a girlfriend, she didn’t seem to be around much, so what harm would going to the opera do? Her eyes sparkling, she grinned, “I’d love to go.”
When Alex pushed the doorbell that evening, he was surprised that he actually felt a little nervous. Luke opened the door once again, and the two of them walked into the kitchen, laughing about déjà vu. Just a few minutes later, Kat entered the room, and Alex turned around. Even though she willed herself to not react, he was so handsome Kat could hardly breathe. Suddenly, she felt self-conscious in her new dress and wished she hadn’t agreed to go to the concert. He had a girlfriend, for God’s sake!
Alex swallowed hard. As he’d been standing and talking to Peter and Luke, he’d been telling himself that last night’s reaction to her came out of a combination of good food and good friends, and a lot of really good red wine. He kept trying to remember that she was Peter’s baby sister; but no matter how hard he tried to convince himself otherwise, what he saw was a gorgeous and interesting woman wearing a simple but sexy black dress, her strawberry blond hair pulled up into a modest twist. He tried not to stare, but he followed the elegantly plunging neckline of her dress as it dove just deep enough to show an observant man that she wasn’t wearing a bra. The shimmering fabric skimmed curves that would keep most men awake at night. High black heels accentuated her ankles. At a loss for words, Alex tried to think of something intelligent to say.
Kat felt unexpectedly shy, “Hi Alex.” Her cheeks heated.
Peter looked up from the sink where he was washing his hands. “Hey, isn’t that the dress that Jessica gave you for Christmas?”
She nodded uncomfortably aware that she’d become the center of attention. She suddenly regressed to her awkward teens, feeling horribly self-conscious and so very ill at ease. “Yeah. Thanks. It feels a little strange ‘cause it isn’t my normal look.”
Luke grinned. “Well, it should be. You look fabulous.”
Kat walked around the center island to hug him happily. “Luke, I’m so glad to see you tonight. I didn’t think I would see you again before I left! But thanks for the compliment,” she said with a wink.
“It wasn’t a compliment; I was just stating the obvious. Besides, I had to come over; you know how much I love the opera.”
Kat wrinkled her nose. “And Peter.”
He kissed her cheek. “And you.”
At the concert hall, Alex hardly had to maneuver at all to wind up sitting next to Kat. He watched in amusement as she gave the performance her entire concentration. With sparkling eyes, she turned toward him at the intermission. “Thank you so much for the ticket, Alex. I had forgotten how much I love the opera.”
“It shows.” Alex looked at the glow of color on her cheekbones. “How long since you’ve been?”
Her eyes narrowed; Kat thought back. “Probably four years. My dad and I used to go pretty regularly, but with my schedule now, it’s hard.” Then she sighed happily, “But the last time, it was Pavarotti.”
By the end of the intermission, Alex was thoroughly impressed by Kat’s knowledge of opera. It felt good to be learning the little things about her.
After the last bow, Alex held Kat’s coat for her and smiled as he realized she was blushing just a bit when she thanked him.
Peter ruffled Kat’s hair. “Okay, brat, how about some dinner now?”
At the restaurant, Kat hesitated for a moment, trying to figure out where to sit. Rationally, she knew she shouldn’t be trying to pursue Alex. He was too old for her; never mind that he was supposed to be with a date. On the other hand, he was so attractive and charming.
Before she could make up her mind, Peter and Luke sat together on one side of the table, leaving an empty chair next to Alex. After a slight nervous hesitation, Kat sat down.
The waiter quickly appeared, ready to take drink orders. The men ordered beers, while Kat asked for a seltzer. Alex looked at her quizzically, “You don’t want anything stronger?”
She blushed. “Want has nothing to do with it. I can’t.”
Alex didn’t understand. “What do you mean?”
“I won’t be twenty-one until next fall.”
Alex tried to hide his surprise, not wanting to embarrass her more. Holy shit! Last night when he’d heard Peter’s little sister would be joining them, he’d thought she was a baby. Then, meeting her and spending time with her, he’d convinced himself that she must be close to his age. He’d been thinking how attractive she was, and how much he’d like to spend more time with her, and yet now he realized that she was truly just a kid. He had to stop thinking of her in a romantic way; he’d never been a cradle robber.
Just then, the waiter reappeared with their drinks, and they all ordered dinner. Over the meal, the four of them laughed and joked, and Alex began to forget about the six-year difference in their ages as he enjoyed himself more than he had in months.
Coffee had just been delivered to the table when two well-dressed men walked by the table holding hands. One of them did a double-take. “Peter! Luke!”
Within moments, introductions had been made, and the two men had pulled up chairs. After finishing their coffees, the newcomers broached the idea of going dancing. Peter and Luke were both obviously tempted but hesitated as they looked at Kat.
She rolled her eyes, “Guys, just go. I’m tired anyway, so I’m happy to head back to the apartment and get a few hours of sleep.”
Peter patted her hand. “No, we’ll go home too.”
She shook her head. “No, you won’t. Go have fun. I’ll be fine!”
As the two started to argue whether Peter and Luke would go out or take Kat home, or take Kat home and then got out, Alex held up his hand in a gesture of peace. “I’ll walk Kat home. You guys just go have a good time.”
Kat bristled at his tone, though conscious of a small thrill at the idea of being alone with him. “I don’t need anyone to walk me home. You can go, too.”
He smiled, trying not to show the excitement he felt at the idea of spending some time alone with her, even if it would be fairly brief. Age difference be damned, he wanted a chance to get to know her better without an audience. “Kat, I’ll walk you home, and then head home myself.”
When they left the restaurants some time later, Kat still hadn’t settled whether she should feel annoyed or pleased. When she didn’t say anything for almost a block, Alex spoke. “Did I do something wrong?”
Her response was sharper than she intended. “No, it’s fine.”
He grinned, “Then why are you giving me the silent treatment?”
Kat drew in a breath and then said, “I didn’t need anyone to walk me home.”
He put his hand on her arm. “I never said you did.”
She shook off his hand, acutely aware of how much she liked having him touch her, but reminding herself of the word girlfriend. In her entire dating life, she’d never shown any interest in anyone who was already dating someone, and she wasn’t going to start now. Trying to push away her desires, she decided to focus on her earlier anger. “Yes, you did. You made it sound like I needed a babysitter to get home.”
“No, I didn’t. You just heard it that way. I offered to walk you home so Peter and Luke could go out without worrying about you. No matter how independent you are, Pete worries like a good big brother should. So I figured I’d let him off the hook so they could go dancing.” He grinned, trying to break the tension, “Besides, it was the perfect excuse for me, too.”
“I was included in the dancing invitation, remember? No offense to anyone, but going dancing at a gay bar wasn’t really what I was in the mood for this evening.”
Kat looked at Alex and suddenly started to laugh. “You’re right. The way you look and going solo? You’d be mobbed in minutes.”
Alex smiled at the unexpected compliment. “So, can you forgive me, and let me walk home with you?”
Cheerful again, Kat slipped her hand through the crook of his elbow. “Deal. It would probably sound stupid for me to say that I really wanted to walk through the city alone at this hour anyway.”
Gratified by her change of mood, he grinned. “Especially looking the way you do.”
The two of them chatted naturally as they walked through the chilly streets. When they reached her apartment building, Kat hesitated for a moment. “Do you want to come up?”
Alex looked down at Kat, her eyes sparkling in the streetlights and knew he would accept the invitation despite the alarms echoing through his mind. “I’d love to. Just for a few minutes, though; I know you wanted to get some sleep.”
In the apartment, Kat made tea, and the two of them sat on the couch, warming their hands on the mugs. Hours passed as they talked and talked, laughing so hard that Kat’s sides hurt.
Finally, as they heard the mantle clock chime for the third time, Alex rose. “Okay, Kat, I need to go. You need sleep.” At the door, he touched her cheek, “Thank you.”
“For going to the opera tonight, and for letting me walk you home. I had a great time.” He smiled warmly. “I don’t remember the last time I laughed so much.”
Kat quickly rose on her tiptoes and kissed his cheek. “You’re welcome. Thank you for keeping me company.”
“My pleasure.” He paused with his hand on her arm, suddenly nervous, “Kat, would you like to go out with me sometime? I mean, just us?”
For a moment, Kat fought the urge to jump up and down and shout yes. Then cold reality forced its way through. Her voice trembled a bit, “Alex, I’d love to, but…”
With every ounce of her being, Kat wished she could have just said yes with a clear conscience. “Alex, as much as I don’t want to be the one to bring this up, you have an umm…”
“A girlfriend, you have a girlfriend.”
Alex felt relief rush through him. She wasn’t turning him down because she didn’t want to go out with him. “Kat, I don’t have a girlfriend.”
Her voice was suspicious, “Since when? She was supposed to be here last night, and tonight…”
Alex took her hand, “Kat, I broke up with her last night.”
Her brow furrowed suspiciously, “Why?”
He smiled, pulling her toward him a bit, “Because I thought it would be shitty for me to be going out with her while I was trying to work up the nerve to ask you out.”
A smile spread slowly across her face. “Really?”
She squeezed his hand, “So ask me again.”
“Kat, would you like to go out with me sometime?”
“Yes.” Her eyes clouded. “But I’m going back to college tomorrow, so I won’t be back in the city for months.”
Disappointment flooded him as he understood the reality of their situation. “Oh. Well, I’m going to be on the west coast for a while this spring. So, how about, we say that when we both get back this summer, we’ll go on a date? And in the meantime, how about you call me sometime?” His voice deepened, quickly adding, “But I do realize how stressful the last semester of college can be, so no pressure. I’ll leave it in your hands, okay?”
“Okay. So, I should call you?”
“Whenever you want.”
She paused, knowing how often she would be thinking about him until then, but still wanting to appear nonchalant, “This week will be insane with going back, figuring out classes, books, and all that crap. It probably won’t be until later this week.”
“Whenever.” He took a deep breath, “The ball is in your court, so to speak.”
A notepad sat on a table in the foyer, and Alex bent over, writing something quickly. “Here’s my number. Call me.”
Kat took the scrap, trying to hide her delight. “I will.”
“If I don’t answer, or I’m not there, leave a message. I’ll call you back.”
She grinned, “You promise?”
Smiling like a little kid, he started to laugh, “Cross my heart.”
As Alex walked home, he tried to deny just how much he looked forward to hearing from her again.