Carnival Lights: Chapter Twenty-Five
Christina’s eyes stared fixedly out the front of the windshield. She didn’t blink. She wasn’t sure she could remember how. How many seconds had ticked by: Four? Five? Two? Her heart was beating so hard in her chest she was actually worried that she might be having a panic attack.
Well, he didn’t exactly know…
“I’ll take your patently uncomfortable silence as a yes,” Jason said at that exact moment, speaking over her thoughts. Bless him, he was no longer looking directly at her, having sensed how much she needed even that resemblance of privacy. His gaze was focused on the road ahead of them.
She didn’t bother answering him.
“You know,” he said into the static silence, his tone conversational in the utmost, almost as though the past two minutes hadn’t happened at all: “Maybe this is why I wanted to take you out for a drive.”
Slowly, suspicion written in the lines marring her features, Christina turned towards him in question. Still, she didn’t say anything. She wasn’t sure where to begin, what to avoid, how to defend—
She saw his lips twitch a little in amusement, but he kept his eyes fixedly straight ahead. “You have a way of bolting when things get a little too, ah, real.”
Despite herself, Christina felt her lips pulling open on a scrap of a laugh. “Yeah? Well,” she made a point of looking out her passenger door window where tall grass could be seen springing up out of the ditches. “Don’t be too sure I won’t pull a tuck and roll…”
Jason chuckled at the words. She loved that sound—a rich, low, almost lazy kind of rumble. She always thought it suited him rather perfectly. Affectionate and sexy.
But even as she was thinking this, his expression changed—the amusement swapped for a quiet countenance. His timbre lowered slightly when he spoke: “Do you want to talk about it?”
She didn’t pretend to misunderstand him. In fact, she didn’t have the peace of mind to consider it before her arms were curling protectively across her body—how many times had she done that now in that short car ride?
He nodded silently. They drove a little further on. “Some time?”
Christina hesitated, her teeth worrying her bottom lip as he slowly turned the vehicle left, down another side street. “Yeah. Maybe.”
Silence infused the small space of the front cab again. Without appearing to do so, Christina watched Jason confidently wheel the vehicle down yet another street, and then, almost before she was aware of it, she realized they were back on the main road again—the one which would take them back to the school.
Choking on the reality of the situation, Christina couldn’t help but wonder if he hadn’t turned around so quickly because…well, because of her obvious emotional hang-ups.
She told him she didn’t want to talk about the affair, after all. And she didn’t. So really, what did she expect him to do? Just pretend that it wasn’t a big deal—when she’d more or less just admitted that it was what had caused her to push him away all these years?
No, he’d more likely decided that nothing could happen between them.
Christina didn’t want him to take her back, which was possibly the most confusing of all. There had been scant minutes since she’d entered his car that Christina had felt comfortable, confident—most of the ride had seen her conspicuously tongue-tied, defensive, or just damn scared. But she didn’t know when she’d next get the chance to be so close to him. Alone. Unguarded.
She wasn’t ready to give it up just yet.
“…any plans Friday night?”
Startled by the sound of Jason’s voice, Christina jerked at the question, half of which she hadn’t heard anyway. “I’m sorry?” She asked, turning toward him guiltily.
He smiled. “I said, do you have plans Friday night?” Was it just her imagination or did he sound unsure of himself?
Christina felt her eyes widened in disbelief. “What?”
“You’re going to make me work for it, huh?” Jason asked good-naturedly, but Christina watched his right hand streak through his hair—which was something he usually only did as a nervous habit. “The high school lacrosse team has a game on Friday night—”
Christina could help the gurgled chuckle that erupted from her throat. “Wait. Are you asking me out on a date?”
He frowned then. “You sound surprised?”
“I am,” she confessed. When he didn’t immediately comment, she added: “I mean, I figured one you knew a little more about my past—”
“I hardly know anything about your past,” Jason corrected her.
“And you’ve really got to stop hiding there,” he continued.
“I’m not hiding anywhere!”
“Besides,” he added drily. “It hasn’t really worked, has it?”
“Throwing your past between us,” Jason informed her. “It hasn’t exactly worked.”
“A few lapses,” she returned hotly.
“And I’m aiming for more of them,” Jason assured her with a wink.
“So?” He asked her when she remained stubbornly silent.
“So?” And that time she really was baiting him.
“Do you want to go to the lacrosse game with me?”
She frowned. “Yes.” It sounded more like an accusation than an acquiescence.
But Jason only smiled, slowing down now as the school’s building came in sight. “That’s my girl.”
She grinned. She couldn’t help it. Only Jason could take her from the depths of annoyance to the heights of sentiment in a matter of seconds.
“A high school lacrosse game,” she muttered teasingly then as he pulled into the parking lot. “You sure know how to romance a lady.”
“That’s actually the whole point,” Jason returned easily. “I’ll be Mr. Goodman there, surrounded by students and faculty members…so there’s no chance for things to get out of hand.”
“Scared of me?” Christina asked. It was the second time he’d mentioned the need to keep things chaste.
He didn’t even hesitate. “Absolutely terrified.”
The next morning, Christina had only just taken off her jacket and logged into her computer when her intercom sounded. She was so startled by it, she let out a muffled yelp.
“Christina? Christina, when you have a minute would you come into my office?”
“Mr. Gordman?” She asked tentatively, but she needn’t have bothered. She knew it was him. It was just…in all the years she’d worked for him, he’d never once beaten her into the office. “Yes, of course,” she rushed to say, pushing her chair back even as she spoke the words. “I’ll be right in.”
Something was wrong. Something had to be wrong. He’d lost a big client. They were closing down a department. He had to lay someone off. Maybe her….
Reaching for the door, she slowly turned the knob in her damp palm, poking her head into the office with a determined smile. “Morning,” she said, the rest of her body quickly following after as she tripped inside. Closing the door, she started for one of the two chairs sitting before his desk. “You’re here awfully early.” She heard the edge in her voice.
Mr. Gordman didn’t look good. Sitting in his leather chair, his finger steepled together on his desk, deep gashes of exhaustion cutting through the lines of his cheeks, Mr. Gordman looked…well, damn, he looked bad.
“I needed a quiet place to think.” He sighed. “It didn’t work.”
She raised an inquiring eyebrow, crossing her legs demurely in what she hoped was the picture of cool composure. “What’s going on?”
“We’ve got a problem here,” Mr. Gordman assured her, wagging a finger between himself and her.
“The company?” she asked, but she had a feeling…
“No, not the company,” he growled. “You and me.”
She feigned surprise, but she had a feeling she wasn’t succeeding very well. “You and me?”
“You won’t talk to her.”
Christina opened her mouth to speak—
Mr. Gordman spread his hands wide. “You certainly won’t talk to me. Not unless it’s business related.”
“Hell, this is a personal conversation,” he said impatiently. “Might as well call me Matthew.”
Christina took a deep breath. “Fine. Matthew,” she stressed. “I really don’t think this is the time or place to be discussing such matters…”
“Oh hell,” he said, cursing for the second time. “You’re right.”
She felt able to breathe again. She needed time to think, to sort out her thoughts.
“So have dinner with us instead,” Matthew invited. “How about Friday night?”
“Friday?” Christina echoed.
Matthew saw the conflict cross her features. “Please,” he added. “Mary misses you. I do, too.”
“I would love to,” Christina insisted, holding out a hand. “Really, I would. It’s just,” she shrugged helplessly. “I-I can’t.”
Disappointed silence meet her words, followed by: “I see.”
“I’m actually going out with Jason on Friday.” Christina wasn’t sure why she told him that, except this time she was determined to keep no secrets.
Matthew’s body rocked backward a little at the words. “You are?”
“I mean, I hope that won’t be an issue for you, as my boss…”
“Nonsense,” Matthew assured her. “I’m pleased to hear it, in fact.”
Christina bit the side of her lip “You are?”
“I am. Mary will be too.”
Christina nodded. Then she peeked up at him shyly. “What about Saturday? Could we do dinner then?”
He smiled slowly. “Actually, Saturday’s better for us.”