A Short Story: Being More

Being More

I’ve worked at this company for three years.  Three years I’ve been watching him come in on Fridays to submit his timesheets and pick up materials for the following week.  Jackson Payne.  Talk, dark, handsome, and genuinely likable.

He doesn’t know I exist.
I’m not his type.
I want him so bad.

We have pizza again today for the guys drifting in and out of the office with their clipboards and pick-lists.  He doesn’t eat anything but stops in the kitchen to refill his water bottle.  I feel frumpy and dull.  I probably have something in my teeth. 

As the office manager, I see and hear just about everything that goes on at Evan Contracting.  I wish I didn’t know he suffered when his wife left him for another man.  I wish I didn’t know which local girls have slept with him since.  I wish I didn’t wish to be one of them. 

But I do.

I keep my eyes on my screen, begging myself to appear uninterested – praying I don’t blush if he says hello like I always do.  My Irish is written all over me.  Red hair, hazel eyes, and more curves than men seem to find attractive no matter what I put my body through.  I remain a shy person in a big boisterous family where I’ve always been the sheltered “baby”. 

I’ve had two boyfriends who weren’t really.  They were friends of my older brothers who took me to my junior and senior proms as a favor.  I almost had sex once but lost my nerve when Tommy O’Malley insisted on turning out the lights since I was a “little pudgy”.   

When I lived at home, I was never alone but always lonely.  My two beautiful sisters try to fix me up with their leftover boyfriends, my still-gorgeous mother tries to fix me up with her friends’ sons, and my four good-looking brothers call me “Doughy Chloe” in front of their girlfriends.  Everyone in my family is taller and thinner than me.  I take after my father’s mother, Bella McAllister.  I wish she’d been a bit taller and less curvy.

Only my father gives me any peace.  He was the one who helped me find my little studio apartment above a used book store.  It is the only place I can be myself without feeling like I should apologize for it.

Jackson is the one man I’ve ever obsessed over and he looks right through me week after week.  Never rudely, he says hello and I sometimes manage to whisper a reply while my face flames.  I’m sure I look ridiculous.  The women he dates don’t look like me.  They are tall and beautiful, like my sisters and my mother.  I’ve never spoken his name outside of this office for that reason.

I smooth my pale green skirt over my too-large thighs and tug the hem of my caramel sweater over the soft swell of my tummy.  I cross my ankles under my chair so less attention is drawn to my muscular calves and try, once again, to push my raging curls away from my face. 

After these frenetic movements, I sigh because I know none of it will matter.  I hate that it makes me want to cry the way I used to when I was little.  I’m splotchy and puffy when I cry, passing plain right to ugly.  I’m swallowing hard but I can’t get rid of the lump in my throat.  The lump that symbolizes all the nights I spend by myself, wishing I was more than I am. 

I’m overheated.  On the verge of tears.  Hating myself more every moment. 

“Are you alright?”

No.  Please.  Not now.  Not when I’m about to make a complete fool of myself.  I lift my head and meet the dark blue eyes I see in my dreams almost every night.  Over-long deep brown hair hangs around a chiseled face.  A normally sensual mouth and bright white teeth are pulled tight in a frown. 

My heart is pounding.  Trying to beat right out of my chest.  “I…I…yes, I’m fine,” I finally manage.

He crosses his arms on the ledge that surrounds my desk and leans toward me over the top.  “You don’t look fine.  You look panicked and…sad.”  His stare is intense and he doesn’t look away.  “Did someone say or do something to make you upset?”

I give a small shake of my head.  “Just a bad day.  I apologize.  I’m fine.”  His eyes are locked on my face and I can feel my skin heating.  I stand up quickly and move to the bathroom down the hall, mortified.  Locking myself in, I give in to the tears I begged myself not to shed.  It is fifteen minutes before the redness fades and my eyes don’t look like I’m having an allergic reaction. 

As I open the door, Anita is standing against the far wall.  “You always have the best shoes, Chloe.  Such a lovely retro style that totally works for you.”

It is the last thing I thought anyone would say to me and for a moment I think I may cry again.  “Th-thank you.  I didn’t know it was a style.”

She laughed, a stunningly pretty Hispanic woman with unfreckled skin and silky straight hair.  “Oh yeah.  You remind me of those pin-up girls in the forties.  The ones military boys used to put up in their barracks.  You’re una joven hermosa mujer, Chloe.  A beautiful young woman.  But you probably don’t know that.”  Anita smiled again and passed me on the way into the ladies room, adding, “That just makes you lovelier.”

I walked back to my desk and sat.  Jackson was nowhere to be seen and I was both relieved and disappointed.  Two calls and a business letter later, I glanced up and met his dark blue eyes.  “You’re not fine.”  He looked down at his steel-toe work boots and back at me.  “If you ever need anything, Chloe, all you have to do is ask.”

I nodded and it seemed an eternity before he turned and grabbed his gear then walked out to his truck.  I released the breath I didn’t realize I was holding and managed to get back to work.  Quitting time couldn’t come fast enough. 

I slid into the driver’s side of my old Civic and let her idle for a few minutes before backing out of my space and heading home.  Two miles from the office, I heard an unwelcome rattle then watched in rising horror as smoke began pouring from under my hood.  “No.  Are you kidding?”  I pulled over and popped the hood, grabbing a rag from the trunk and watching as my radiator gave it up for good.  “Damn it.”  I was reaching into my purse to grab my cell phone when a massive 4x4 came to a stop behind me. 

Jackson Payne.  Oh sweet lord…

I watched as his big feet hit the gravel on the shoulder and moved toward me.  “How can I help?”

“I…I was going to call my father or one of my brothers.  They c-can come get the car.  If it was a tire I could change it.  If it wasn’t something they could fix, I’d have it towed.  Th-thank you for checking.”

He blinked.  “Let them know where it is and lock it up.  I’ll take you home.”

“That isn’t necessary.  Really.  I wouldn’t ask…”

“You didn’t ask and I doubt what I did was offer as much as command.”  One side of his mouth quirked up.  “But I’ll be nicer about it.”  He cleared his throat and said, “Why don’t you let your family know where it is, get your stuff, and I’ll drive you home so you’re not waiting all alone on the side of the road in an almost abandoned industrial area on a Friday evening close to dark?”

I couldn’t help it, I laughed. 

His answering grin caused the tension in my stomach to dissolve for the first time in all the years I’d known him.  “Let me take you home, Chloe.”

I nodded and called my father who wanted to ask a million questions but didn’t.  I grabbed my stuff out of the passenger seat and locked the car, leaving the key tucked inside the bumper.  With a light hand on my low back, Jackson guided me to the cab of his truck and lifted me to the seat as if I was delicate when I knew I wasn’t.  The flames of mortification crawled up my face.  Instead of closing the door, he stepped close to me.  We were almost eye level now. 

“What?  Tell me what just happened, Chloe.”  I couldn’t tell him.  I couldn’t even meet his gaze so I shook my head.  His hand came up, cupping my face and turning it to him.  “Do you even realize how beautiful you are?  Doesn’t anyone tell you?”  Then he kissed me.  That full, too-sensual mouth delicately worked across mine and the tiny piece of my heart that hadn’t belonged to Jackson leapt for him.  His long fingers stroked into my hair.  The warmth of his breath whispered across my cheek, “So very beautiful.  I’ve tried to stay away, Chloe.  I know I’m too rough for you, as gentle as you are.  Too harsh for your delicate beauty.”  He pulled back and locked his gaze with mine.  “I can’t do it anymore.” 

Calloused fingertips stroked my face, my throat, my shoulders until I was lost in every sensation and time slipped by in a warm haze.  Then he went back to kissing me and nothing could have stopped me from giving him every part of myself.

“Doughy Chloe!  Pop called and said you needed to be rescued.  Wait until I tell him you were sucking face with some guy.”

Except that.  

Jackson moved around his truck and pulled my youngest older brother through the passenger window he was hanging out of.  After he dropped him on the ground, he crouched beside him and said quietly, “I ever hear you or any of your brothers calling Chloe that again and I will beat you within an inch of your life.  Are we clear?”

“It doesn’t mean anything…just a joke.”

“It’s not a goddamn joke.  It’s painful to her.  It makes her feel less than she is which is…everything.”  He stood and walked back toward me, calling over his shoulder, “Take care of her car and I’ll make sure she calls you later.”  He gave me a fast kiss on the mouth and closed the door.  Within seconds we were pulling away from my car and my brothers.

Silence stretched between us and I thought it would be more awkward.  He pulled in front of a pretty two-story house and came around to lift me from the truck.  “This is my house.  I’m going to feed you and we’re going to talk.  You’re safe with me, Chloe.  I would never hurt you.”  I managed a slow nod and he tugged me inside.

He cooked and I helped.  We ate and kept the conversation light.  I washed dishes and he dried.  “Those heels are something else.  Aren’t your feet tired?”

“No.  I like to feel taller.”

“You know, Chloe, you’re the perfect size and shape.  Delicate but strong, feminine with softness where a woman should be soft.”  He smiled.  “It’s so easy to make you blush.”

I finished wiping the sink and counter then turned and stepped from my shoes.  Without the five inches in height from the platform style, the top of my head leveled out at Jackson’s collarbone.  Never had I felt so self-conscious as standing in my stockings and claiming my five-three height.  That I had the hips and breasts of a much taller woman, only emphasized how oddly shaped I was.

His big hands settled on my shoulders, massaging gently.  “When I was married, my wife hated that I was a blue collar man.  No matter how much money I made, what kind of life I could give her, all she cared about was the fact that I wore jeans and boots to work every day.  She started lying about my job to her snotty friends, like I owned the company or something.  If we went anywhere, she wanted me dressed in expensive clothes she picked out.  Nothing was good enough.  The last straw was when she wanted me to put us in debt and open my own company so I wouldn’t technically be one of the workers.  I refused and came home three days later to find her in bed with the realtor that sold us this house.” 

I couldn’t stop the gasp, “No…”

His smirk was self-mocking.  “He wasn’t wearing a suit at the time either.”  His thumbs smoothed up the sides of my neck sending a shudder through me I hoped he didn’t feel.  “My point is that I like my life.  I like who I am.  I like who you are, too, Chloe.  My divorce was final eighteen months ago.  Seventeen months ago, I started watching you walk.  Sixteen months ago I started trying to catch you bending over so I could glimpse cleavage.  Fourteen months ago, I started dreaming about you.  Everyone thinks I sleep around but I don’t.  I’ve been with a couple of people since the divorce but I’ve only wanted one person.  I want you.  There’s something about you that calms, makes me feel content, while also making me harder than I’ve ever been in my life.  Give me six months to show you how things could be with us.”

Nothing in my life had ever prepared me for having Jackson Payne show an interest in me as a woman.  “I don’t understand.  You want me?”

His answer was to scoop me up and settle me on the counter in front of him, moving close and tugging me into his arms.  “Oh yeah, Chloe.  Not for a one night stand.  Nothing casual.  I want us to see where this thing goes.  I want to show you what I see when I look at you.  I want you to see the man I really am.”  His palms came up and cupped my face, fingers stroking into my hair.  “Say yes, sweetheart.”

Twenty-two years of self-doubt and fear tried to smother me.  Maybe he wouldn’t like me once he got to know me better.  Maybe he’d find someone prettier and leave.  I fought those thoughts down and knew I had to know.  I could never move on unless I did. 

I slid my hands up his chest and around his neck to his hair, pulling his mouth to mine.  “Yes, Jackson.  A thousand times yes.”      

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