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When Love Happens: Chapter Two
My heart was pounding and my head was spinning the whole drive back to the hotel. Everything was out of focus. I could barely keep my hands on the steering wheel. What a head rush. My encounter with that boy—I mean, Dylan—had ended mere moments ago, yet the memory of it all seemed fuzzy. He had really done nothing other than catch me when I fell, probably an instinctive gesture anybody would have carried out, but something about this whole conundrum was making me feel something. How could this be? I knew nothing about this guy and had only spoken to him for five minutes, so how was it possible that I could be mixed up in this crazy twister of emotions? I decided to call up Chelsea when I got back to the hotel. Maybe she could help me sort out everything.
When I got back up to my room, I quickly checked the contents of my shopping bags from that day, nervously inspecting the condition of the clothes and whatnot. Astoundingly, nothing had gotten all that dirty or marked. At least I hadn’t wasted my money. I shoved everything off into the corner along with my shoes, and then reached into my purse for my phone. I dialed Chelsea’s number quickly and let myself drop onto the bed. As I listened to the phone ring softly as it connected me to her phone, I prayed, Please pick up, Chelsea. Please, oh, please, oh, please! I know it sounds totally desperate, but I had never experienced this kind of emotion before. In a way, it kind of scared me. And Chelsea, being my sister at heart, was my number one person to run to when I needed someone to confide in. I like to think of her as my soul therapist if you will. And I was in serious need of some soul therapy right now.
I became discouraged after the phone rang three times, assuming she wasn’t going to answer, but halfway through the fourth ring I heard a click and noise in the back round. Through the commotion, I heard a loud, “Hello?” on the other end.
“Chelsea?” I said.
“Yeah? Who is this? I’m sorry, it’s just really—Michael, would you shut up!—it’s really loud in here.”
I giggled at her exclamation. “This is Kimberly.”
“Oh, hey Kimmy,” she said sweetly. “Um, could you give me a minute?”
“Yeah, no problem.”
I heard a dull thud and knew she had set the phone down. I heard some faint screaming, followed by running footsteps, and finally a door slamming shut.
“Okay, I’m back,” she said. “Whew, that was awful.”
“What was awful?”
“Oh, just my little brothers being…well, my little brothers.”
“But enough about that. I managed to escape that chaos and retreat to my bedroom. I swear it’s the only quiet room in the house. So, what’s going on with you, girl?”
“I need to talk to you about what happened today.”
“Well, what happened today?”
“See, I was shopping in this really big mall, and I was on my way to get some food when some random guy and I accidentally bumped into each other and I dropped all my stuff.”
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m totally fine…well, my thigh might have a little bruise tomorrow but I didn’t really get hurt or anything. But here’s what happened: I slipped on the smoothie that I’d spilled, and I thought I was gonna fall, but then that guy caught me before I could.”
“Oooh…I see where this is going,” Chelsea squealed.
I somehow missed her completely obvious tone at first, and just kept talking. “I was yelling at him for making me drop everything, and then we started talking, and he made this really bad joke about his job.” I paused, trying to gather my point. “And the whole time, I was just feeling…weird.”
“You know what I think?” she asked.
“I think you like him, Kimberly,” she said.
This time I caught her exaggerated tone, and my eyes widened. I sat bolt upright in bed. “What?” I said, almost laughing. “You think I like him? Oh, God, no! Never. That’s insane.”
“I don’t know, Kimmy, it sounds to me like you’ve entered the early phase of infatuation.”
I shook my head. “No, Chelse, I swear it was not like that.” I didn’t realize at the time that I was in denial.
“Okay, well, if you say so. But you never know. Maybe you will develop feelings for this guy one day.”
“I doubt it, Chelsea.”
“So, anyway, tell me about that really bad joke he made about his job.”
“Oh, yeah, this is gold, Chelsea. I tried to walk away from him pretty quick because I wasn’t really comfortable in his presence, but then he says, ‘I work at a nail salon so I can touch sexy women all day because I’m a pervert like that.’”
I heard Chelsea laugh out loud. “Oh, my gosh! Did he seriously say that?”
“Of course not. I was over exaggerating. But I just laughed when he told me that. That lie came out of nowhere.”
“How do you know it was a lie? Men do work at those places, you know.”
“Yeah, but he was stumbling on his words. He even told me, ‘Come in sometime and I’ll give you a pedicure for cheap.’ It was unbelievable.”
“Well, Kimberly, now that you say that, it’s starting to sound like he likes you.” Her tone had turned more serious, like she was sensing an issue.
I wanted to deny that claim just like I had denied my own feelings, but when I stopped to think about it, it actually seemed to make sense. “I don’t know, maybe he does. That would explain the whole pedicure bit. He could have been trying to reel me into some kind of trap.”
“Yeah, for all you know, he probably would have just taken you home, locked the doors and windows, and then…well, you know.” Chelsea knew she didn’t have to finish that sentence; I understood her perfectly.
“Right, and I’m not going there again.” I shuddered as I felt that haunting memory return to my mind. “That’s why I walked away: I didn’t think I could trust him.”
“That’s right, Kimberly. Man, some people are just sick.”
“Yeah,” I said softly.
I suppose I should take the time now to explain what event Chelsea and I were referring to. The summer of my freshman year, I was hanging out with Shane, a new student who had started going to my school during the second semester. I didn’t really know him, but some of my friends had talked to him before and from what they told me, he seemed like an okay guy. So I was hanging out at his house one afternoon, and we were just talking for awhile. It was generally casual. But then he turned to me and suggested we do something extremely vulgar, right there in his house. I was caught off guard and wondered if I had heard him right.
“What?” I said.
“Yeah, that’s right. Let’s do it.”
I immediately refused. I was sexually clean, and wished to stay that way. And besides, I had a boyfriend. I told Shane this, but he insisted that it would be okay. “Don’t worry about him. He won’t mind. It’ll be all right, baby.”
He won’t mind? I beg to differ, I thought.
Shane took another step toward me, and told me how beautiful I looked in my tank top and skinny jeans. He started tracing the line of my jaw with the back of his finger, and leaned down and bit my neck. Hard. I thought that if I kept resisting, he would eventually give up this act, but he was serious. He wasn’t asking me to do this; he was telling me to do this. By the time he started to reach for the button on my pants I was screaming, “HELP!” as hard as I possibly could. I’m talking bloodcurdling here, and I did it until I was exhausted. Luckily, this genius had left one window wide open, so my voice carried out into the street. It didn’t take long for all the neighbors to come running and banging on the door. Eventually, he had to get up and answer the door, because people were starting to shout that they would call the police. We were on the first floor, so the moment he left, I jumped out the window and ran all the way home. Now, in case you were wondering, my innocence was not lost that day. He had not quite connected with me yet, but it was way too close. I knew that day would haunt me for the rest of my life.
“Hey, Kimberly, are you still there?”
At the sound of Chelsea’s voice I was torn out of the flashback. “Yeah, I’m here.”
“Are you okay?” she asked concernedly.
“Yeah, I’m fine. I’ll be all right.”
“Just think of it this way: you’ll probably never see this sleaze again, so you don’t have to worry about being followed or anything.”
That lightened the load on my heart a little. “You’re probably right. Thanks, Chelsea.”
“You’re welcome, Kimberly.”
“Well, I think I’m gonna go now, okay?” Suddenly I didn’t feel like talking anymore.
“Okay, that’s fine. Take it easy, girl.”
“Bye.” I clicked my phone shut and lay back down on the bed. I started to feel cold so I crawled under the covers. I lay there for a minute or two, and then I just broke down and started to cry. My life sucked. That’s all there was to it. Somewhere in the middle of my sob session I felt my stomach growl, and realized that I had never eaten lunch. I looked at the clock. It was 4:30. That was close enough to dinner time, considering I hadn’t eaten since seven in the morning. I wiped my tears and slipped back into my shoes, but didn’t even think to freshen up in the bathroom. My makeup was surely a mess right now and I probably looked like a bum, but right now that was the least of my problems. I grabbed five bucks from my purse and headed out the door. I decided to go to McDonald’s.
I drove just down the street to where the famous fast food joint was and pulled into the parking lot. I walked in with a heavy heart but a chipper smile on my face. I ordered a basic double cheeseburger and large fry—your average comfort foods. I was able to distract myself by eating. I headed straight back to the hotel afterward and watched TV for the rest of the night. Exhausted from my hectic day, I went to bed at 9:00, where I somehow managed to dream peacefully.
* * * *
I was in a bit of slump for a while, but I shook it off after about two days. I had basically locked myself up in the hotel for 48 hours, going out as little as possible, and by then I was feeling pretty restless. I decided to go back to the mall and just walk around for awhile, try to burn off some steam. My feet began to ache from the stress of my heeled sandals, and I figured I would pamper myself a little and go get a pedicure (credit went to Dylan for putting that idea in my head). I figured there was a nail place somewhere in the mall. There had to be. The first one I found was called, to my surprise, “Perfection Nails.” So, Dylan hadn’t just made this place up? He was a clever one; I had to give him that. But I still wasn’t convinced that he was an employee there, so I continued walking toward the small boutique, sure that I wouldn’t recognize a soul.
I was greeted with friendly smiles from the workers when I walked in. The air was warm and mildly perfumed with something citrus-y. There was some soft classical music playing in the back round and the walls were brightened up with cheerful color. And the front counter was made of marble. Oh, yeah, this place was classy all right. I approached the counter so I could seek assistance.
“Excuse me?” I said to a man I saw standing nearby. He turned when I spoke and smiled at me. “I’d like to get a pedicure today, but I was wondering if I need to schedule an appointment or something first.”
“Oh, no schedules,” he said pleasantly. “Just sign your name on the list and we’ll call you when there’s an empty slot. Okay?”
“Yes, thank you,” I said. I picked up the black pen that was resting on the counter and wrote my first name on the sign-in list. In the next column over I wrote “Pedi” and then dropped the pen on the clipboard. The same man picked up the clipboard and eyeballed the list.
“Thank you, Miss. We will be ready for you in about…45 minutes?”
“All right, cool, I think I’ll go walk around for a little while longer, then,” I answered. “I’ll be back later.”
“All right, hon. See you later.” He gave me another smile and made his way across the room to a small table with a desk lamp, where he was giving another woman a French manicure. Feeling good, I crossed back over to the noisy hall.
* * * *
I returned to Perfection Nails thirty minutes later, just to make sure that someone else’s appointment hadn’t ended early and that I wasn’t holding them up. Fortunately, I was still in waiting. So I chose a green nail polish from their selection and sat down in one of the chairs for the rest of the forty-five minutes.
I started to hear footsteps coming closer, so I glanced over to the counter from the corner of my eye to see if it was an employee coming to call me in. What I saw made my heart stop: that tall muscular body, that tousled honey-blonde hair, and those confident green eyes; there was no doubt about it. This was the boy called Dylan whom I’d met a few days before.
“Oh, crap!” I whispered. I instantly shielded the side of my face with my hand and turned in my chair so my back would be facing him. I crossed my legs and tried to appear as neutral as possible. My mind was starting to rush again, this time out of panic. I had not expected to seriously find him here. I couldn’t believe that this was his job. Well, at least that eliminated the possibility of him being a stalker. That had to count for something, right?
Still, I did not want him to spot me. I lowered my hand from my face and stood up, my stomach flip-flopping like a washing machine. I tried to inconspicuously venture back out into the hall when I heard him read my name aloud off of the sign-in list. But he’d already seen me.
“Well, well, well, what do we have here?” I heard him say. His voice petrified me. “Long time no see, Smoothie Girl.”
Smoothie Girl? Yep, he was definitely talking to me. I turned to face him, but not before cursing under my breath. I stiffly approached the counter. His eyes were glowing. “So, what brings you here?”
I just stared at him, my legs trembling.
He smiled flirtatiously. “You just couldn’t stay away from me, could you?”
I laughed in his face. “You wish,” I said.
“Oh, come on, it’s okay if you wanted to see me. You just came to chat; that’s not a crime.”
When he said that, I nervously shifted my eyes to the clipboard for a brief moment, knowing that the sign-in sheet said otherwise. And that was perhaps the most asinine thing I ever did. His eyes followed mine wherever they went so our gaze never faltered. He smiled mischievously when he saw my tense eyes glare at the clipboard. My secret was out.
“Oh, so you are Kimberly,” he said. “Oh, look, you’re even getting a pedicure, too. Well, you’re in luck. I’ve got an open chair right now over there. So, why don’t you go make yourself comfortable and I’ll be right with you?”
I realize that I should have just split right then and there, but something was keeping my feet bolted to the floor. Through my self-anger, I asked, “Why are you here?”
He seemed puzzled. “I told you before: I work here.”
“I…I thought you were joking,” I said softly.
“Uh-huh, sure you did,” he answered, that amused tone returning to his voice. “Now, come on. Let ol’ Dylan take care of you…Kimberly.” He chuckled lightly. “Kimberly…,” he repeated, relishing the way it felt to say my name. “God, that’s beautiful. I knew you’d tell me your name one time or another.”
He was enjoying this way too much. I refused to give him the satisfaction. “Whatever,” I said emotionlessly, hoping that would make him lay off. “Let’s just get this over with.” I don’t know what on Earth possessed me to initiate this sure-to-be nightmare. I was going out of my mind.
He nodded at me. “Okay, then, follow me Kimberly.” The spicy tone he’d been using with me strangely didn’t emerge this time. It relaxed me a little bit to know that he was capable of speaking like a human being. But I was not looking forward to this pedicure. I didn’t want this weirdo touching me; so much for unwind time.
As we headed across the room to the only empty chair, Dylan began to obnoxiously make a scene. He kept shouting, “Coming through, coming through! Make way for the Dill-meister and the fair Smoothie Girl.” All of the employees took a brief break from their work to watch Dylan guide me through the studio, exchanging subtle comments among themselves about the little incident from a few days before.
I quickly grabbed Dylan by the arm and whispered, “You told them?! Dude, that’s private.”
He held up a hand. “Hey, relax, Kimberly. It’s no big deal.”
“And don’t call me Kimberly!”
“Would you rather I call you Smoothie Girl?”
I paused for a moment and then stared at the ground. “No,” I said shyly.
“Then what should I call you?”
“Nothing! Don’t call me anything.”
He shrugged. “Very well, then, but I think that’ll make communication a trifle difficult.”
“That’s all the better.”
“If that’s what you want.” Once we reached the pedicure station, Dylan told me, “Shoes off.”
“I know the drill,” I retorted.
“Fine,” he said. “Just take a seat and sit tight for a minute. I’ll be right back.”
“Take your time,” I said when he headed to the back room. Then I looked up at the chair. It was a little too high up to just hop into. I had to step on the edge of the tub and mount myself up that way. The chair was big and padded, just what I needed after two stressful days of living hermetically. I scooted back and crossed my legs under me while I waited for Dylan to come back. I could have stayed like that forever, but my bliss was short-lived. Dylan was back in two minutes, sliding a wheeled cart topped with various bottles and tubes beside him. He took a seat on his little stool and began to fill up the tub with water. I leaned forward and watched as the water level rose, but was taken aback when I noticed something really cool. The little lights along the inner sides of the porcelain tub were cycling through a multitude of colors, giving the water a pretty tint.
“Wow,” I said to myself, “nice touch.”
Dylan let the water run for ten more seconds, and then shut it off. The bubbling ripples calmed. “All right, now see if that’s hot enough,” he instructed.
I uncrossed one leg and dipped my toes into the water. It was so hot it startled me and I cringed under the intense heat.
“So is it hot enough?”
“Sure, if you have frostbite,” I exclaimed. “Cool it down…like, a lot.”
“Okay, no problem. Some people like it hotter than others.” He turned the water back on and let some cold water mix with the hot, causing it to steam. When he turned it off again, he nodded at me, and I dipped my toes back into the water.
“Oh, a million times better,” I breathed.
“Perfect. Now just place your feet in there and let ’em soak for awhile.”
“Of course,” I complied, gently lowering my feet into the water. Closing my eyes, I said, “Yeah, I so needed this.”
Dylan picked one of the bottles. “Do you mind if I put some of this stuff in?” he asked. “It’s basically like bath beads but for foot care, and it’s gonna make the water smell all nice and stuff.”
Without opening my eyes I waved my hand in approval. “Yeah, yeah, fire away. Do your stuff.” I couldn’t believe I was actually going along with this. But in a strange way, I didn’t really care anymore. As long as my eyes were closed, I could maybe just focus on the pedicure itself, and not who was giving me one.
“So are you familiar with these industrial chairs?” he asked.
“Sort of,” I said serenely. “But I’m not sure I remember.”
“All right, it’s very simple. First, there should be a really big remote somewhere beside you.”
At that moment, I was forced to open my eyes so I could retrieve the remote, but I took care as to not look at him. I found the remote to my right, slightly hard to see at first because half of it was compressed between the folds of the chair. I gave it a mighty tug and then it was in my hand.
“All right, now there’s a button somewhere at the bottom of a yellow circle. Press that, and then press the big green button at the top. The chair will do the rest.”
“All right, cool.” I pressed the two buttons he’d instructed me to, and leaned back in the chair once again, re-closing my eyes, and drifting off to my happy place as the chair began to massage me.
“Okay, I think you’ve soaked long enough. Take out one foot.” I did so and rested it on a towel he had laid out. He dried it with another towel. “Now the other one.” He dried it off too. Then he began to work on the cuticles. “So, tell me about yourself, ma’am.”
My eyes popped open from the sheer randomness of that question. His face was pointed directly at me, which told me he’d been staring at me the whole time, just waiting for my eyes to open. “Ma’am?” I said.
“That is okay if I call you ma’am, isn’t it, since you don’t seem to favor any kind of formal name?”
Dang. He found a loophole. “Yeah, ma’am is fine, I guess,” I said dryly. “So, you want me to tell you about myself?”
“Yeah, I do. What are your hobbies, interests, fears? Where did you grow up? That kind of stuff.”
I scoffed. “Okay, dude, what is with you? It’s been ten minutes, and you haven’t thrown any pick-up lines or winked at me once.”
He shrugged. “Well, I’m technically on duty now, and I’m just trying to be hospitable.”
“Who knew you could be hospitable?”
“Hey, I was just messing with you back there,” he defended. “You need to lighten up, girl.”
I crossed my arms. “I can lighten up plenty,” I argued. “It’s just a little hard to do with you coming on to me all the time.”
“Well, like I said, I was just kidding around. But seriously, tell me about yourself.”
I flapped my lips in contemplation, and reluctantly said, “Fine. I live in Southbend, Indiana; I just graduated from Marshall Adams High and live with my mom. I love animals and romantic comedies, plus action flicks, and shopping is my life.”
Dylan snickered. “Yeah, like I couldn’t figure that out. You were carrying the whole mall out with you the other day.”
I blushed, once again reminiscing on that humiliating moment in my life. “Right,” I said sheepishly.
“Hey, it’s okay,” he assured. “I didn’t mean anything by it.” By now he had exfoliated my skin, and started to massage my feet.
I died a little and went to heaven. This boy had magic fingers. But I tried to conceal my ecstasy behind a bored expression; I didn’t want him to know that I liked it. I rested my elbow on the armrest and twisted a strand of hair around my finger, suddenly starting to wonder how much experience Dylan had in this business. How could I not? I was walking on air from this massage. He was hitting all the right pressure points and I felt like I might melt. But I couldn’t disclose my pleasure. So I tried to bring the subject up sneakily. “All right, so now I’ve told you a little bit about myself. Now, tell me something about yourself,” I said, smiling innocently.
“Why the sudden interest?” he asked suspiciously.
“Come on, it’s only fair,” I said.
“Okay, what do you want to know?”
“Hmm.” I pretended to think about it. “How long have you been doing this? You know, the whole mani-pedi thing?”
Despite my efforts, Dylan still caught on to my game. “It feels good, doesn’t it?”
“No!” I snapped. “I was just curious.”
“Hey,” he said tenderly, “there’s no shame in admitting it, Kimberly.” I still resisted. “It’s okay. You’ll warm up to me eventually.”
I sneered. “Yeah, like that’ll ever happen.”
“I think it will.”
“How do you know?”
“I’ve just got a feeling.” I didn’t quite understand where he was going with this, but something in his eyes told me that there was something he knew that I didn’t.
The rest of the pedicure went relatively smoothly. We actually managed to hold a civilized conversation, joking and even laughing, and for the first time I was sensing a mutual connection between us. It was exhilarating.
When he finished painting the last toenail, he supplied me with a pair of foam flip-flops, and directed me to a marble table with a green light shining from underneath. “Just put your feet under there to dry. You should be good to go in ten to fifteen minutes.”
Once my nails were good and dry, I removed the flip-flops and slipped back into my sandals. I went up to the counter, ready to pay. I handed Dylan a wad of cash, and upon counting the bills, he split the deck in two and returned one half of the money to me. Detecting my confusion, he whispered, “I told you I’d give you a discount; just don’t let my boss know.”
There was nothing inside of me this time that wanted to protest. I only nodded. Next, I leaned over the counter and said, “Please, Dylan, tell me. Tell me how you know I’m warming up to you.” I don’t know what brought that question about but it didn’t matter. In a moment Dylan was leaning in towards me.
“I called you Kimberly back there,” he said softly.
My mouth dropped wide open. I hadn’t even noticed that.
“Kimberly…,” Dylan continued, “when will I see you again?”
I was in too much shock to reply. Without another word, I turned around and walked out of Perfection Nails, wondering what this could possibly mean.