Rae ran into the firehouse to get out of the rain. She hated the rain!
“Hello? Is anyone here?”
“Can I help you?”
Rae looked up towards the voice and saw a man peering down at her from the second floor railing. “Yeah, I got caught in the rain. Is it okay if I hang out here until it stops or at least gets lighter out?”
“Sure. Come on up.” The man pointed out the stairs and disappeared behind the railing.
Rae climbed up and found herself in what must be the common area. Walking to the kitchen where her savior stood, Rae said, “Thank you so much for letting me stay. I hate the rain.”
“Really? I like it, makes my job easier.”
Rae frowned and he spread his arms wide, reminding her where she was. Laughing, Rae said, “Duh. Fire. Rain. Got it!”
“I was just making myself some lunch, want a sandwich?” He turned around and headed to the fridge.
“Yeah. That’d be great.”
“I’m Connor.” Connor smiled at her over his shoulder and Rae’s heart did a little flip. He had a gorgeous smile.
“Aren’t you a little young to be a firefighter?” As soon as the words left her mouth, she wished she could take them back. Of all the stupid things to say!
Connor just laughed. “I’m only a volunteer right now, while I go to school. But once I graduate I plan on working here.”
Connor placed two sandwiches on the table and Rae sat down at the seat he pulled out for her. “Where do you go to school?”
Cute and a gentleman, nice.
He sat across from her and took a bite of his sandwich before answering. “APU. One more year and then I’m done.”
“Really? I just started there. What are you studying?” Rae took a bite of her sandwich and looked up to find Connor staring at her. “What? Do I have jam on my face?”
Connor smiled again. “Sorry, didn’t mean to stare. No one ever asks me about school, except my parents and teachers. Cute girls tend to overlook stuff like that.”
That smile, seriously!
Rae put her sandwich down and suddenly became very aware of the fact that she was alone with this guy with no one to hear her scream.
He thinks you’re cute.
“Well, I don’t know who you hang out with on a regular basis, but I’m sure there are some smart cute girls. If you were into that kind of thing – I mean, of course you are.”
When Connor just raised his eyebrows, Rae felt her cheeks grow warm. “What I meant to say is – oh hell. Listen, thanks for the sandwich. Looks like the rain stopped, I’m just going to head on home.” Rae stood up and hurried across the room and down the stairs before Connor could say anything else.
As she headed out the front door she thought she heard laughter. Her cheeks flushing even more, Rae ran for the bus stop. How mortifying! She sent a silent prayer to the goddess that she would never cross his path again.
Sitting at a park bench, Rae enjoyed the sunshine. It was the first day this week that the sun managed to poke out from behind the clouds and she was going to relish it as much as possible. Of all the things she had to be grateful for, getting back her sense of touch was the biggest. It was a little hard to believe that only five years ago she couldn’t feel a thing – no sensation of any kind! Being able to feel the bench underneath her, the ground at her feet, and the sunshine on her face were little miracles that she would never take for granted. Rae tilted her head up and closed her eyes.
“Is this seat taken?”
Rae’s eyes flew up and turning around, she found herself staring up into Connor’s eyes. They were orange. No, not orange, but a mix of gold and brown and honey.
“Umm, no. No, it’s not. Please, have a seat, I was just leaving.” Rae started to stand but Connor stopped her.
“Don’t leave on my account. Stay, enjoy the sun, I promise not to bother you. I can even sit somewhere else if you’d like.” Even though he was saying the words, he didn’t make a move to leave.
“No, sit down. I don’t have anywhere to be, I can stay.”
Nice, just let the guy see how much of a loser you are.
“Shut up,” She grumbled.
“I’m sorry. What?” Connor looked at her in confusion.
“What? Nothing, not you. Sorry, talking to myself.” Rae’s face felt as if it was on fire. There she went again, making a fool of herself in front of this guy. Rae started playing with her hair. She knew she was fidgeting, but couldn’t seem to stop herself; anything to keep from having to look at him.
Sneaking a peek across the bench, Rae realized Connor hadn’t made a move to sit down yet. “What? What did I do now?” Rae looked up at him as he stood there staring at her. Again.
Connor laughed and sat down, shaking his head. “Nothing, I just wanted to make sure you were okay with me sitting here.” He put down a baseball bat, a softball, a soccer ball, football, and a basketball.
“Wow that’s a lot of sports equipment. Are you planning to use all of those today?” Rae looked on in amazement.
Smiling, Connor said, “Yeah, well, I gotta stay fit, you know. And I volunteer with the boys and girls club.”
Rae laughed, “Wow, you’re like the perfect guy – educated firefighter with a heart of gold. What don’t you do?”
He gave her a hurt look. “Why do I feel like you’re less than impressed?”
“Well, it’s not that I’m not impressed – I am.” Rae reassured him. “It’s just, that’s a lot of stuff to carry around. Aren’t they heavy?”
“Pretty, smart and observant – I like that.” Connor winked at her. “I’m dropping these things off. And they were in my car five minutes ago. I haven’t been walking around with them. You think I’m the perfect guy, huh?”
Clearing her throat, Rae decided to ignore his last comment. “I need to get going. I have, stuff, to do. It was nice seeing you again.” She started to get up.
“Damn. You might have to change your plans; it’s going to start raining in a bit.”
Connor looked up at the clear, blue sky. “What? It’s a beautiful spring day.” When he looked back down, Rae was pulling her bag strap over her shoulder.
“Trust me. It’s going to rain. See you later.”
“What?” Rae asked, confused.
“You said see you later. Can I hold you to that?” Connor asked with a straight face. Rae had no idea if he was joking or not.
“It’s just an expression, like goodbye.” Fingering the strap of her bag, Rae just stood there. She didn’t know what to do or say and was hoping Connor would say something else. Instead he just sat there and stared at her. “Ok, sure, I guess. I’m leaving now.”
“Bye pretty girl.” Connor winked at her and Rae took that as her cue to leave.
“What the hell was that?”
Rae stared at herself in the mirror. As soon as she could, she’d ducked into a washroom. After checking all the stalls to make sure she was alone, Rae walked over to the sink and stared at her reflection.
What? Rebecca asked.
Rae sometimes wished Rebecca was still alive, so she could strangle her. Ever since her mother had saved her, Rae had the ability to see and talk to ghosts. It rarely happened, as most ghosts were too focused on their unfinished business and didn’t usually have time to chat. Rebecca, however, was a special case. She had been with Rae for twelve years, ever since Rae was brought back. Having a ghost as a friend had its perks, but it also had its downside, for example – Rebecca didn’t mind her own business!
Rae spoke in the direction she thought Rebecca’s voice was coming from. “Don’t even try to play innocent with me. What the hell was that?”
I like him.
“You like him? You like –“ Rae made a choking noise as she tried to find the right words. As if it wasn’t weird enough to have a ghost follow her around all the time, but to get commentary on the guys she dated was too much. Whoa, wait. Two encounters did not mean dating. Looking back at her reflection Rae sighed. “Get it together Torres. He’s just a guy.”
A cute guy.
“Who happens to be cute.”
Who thinks you’re cute.
“Who thinks I’m – gah! Shut up! You are not being helpful. At all.” Rae turned the faucet on and splashed some water on her face. Looking up, she said, “You are more meddlesome than my mother!”
Yes, well, someone needs to look out for you.
Shaking her head, Rae walked out of the restroom and headed to class.
“Hey mom, it’s Rae. Sorry I missed your call earlier; I was looking into that house we spoke about last week. It’s not going to work, not enough of a backyard for Dune. I’ll make sure to try you and dad later today. I love you. Bye.”
Rae was looking for a suitable place to live, which shouldn’t be that hard in horse country, but she was having a lot of trouble. Either the place was too far out of town or her parents flat out refused to let her stay there. Like the nice apartment building that was by the warehouse. Rae felt perfectly safe in that section of town, but her father almost had a fit.
She remembered when she was young, her mother promised to take her to Appaloosa to see the castle her family rebuilt on the outskirts of town. When she started school, she thought about staying there, but it wasn’t built to hold a stable and was too far from the University.
Rae hung up the phone and walked into the equestrian center. She turned left and headed to the last stall. “Hey Dune.”
Rae got a whiny in reply and smiled. Her parents’ gift to her last year was the best thing she’d ever received. Reaching into the box stall, she fed Dune an apple and rubbed between his ears. “You ready to stretch your legs, boy?”
Another whiny and Rae knew they were good to go. Opening the stall, she led Dune out and grabbing her saddle, walked him out to the grounds.
After mounting, she patted Dune and took him through his paces. It felt good riding and Dune enjoyed the exercise as well. After a few practice jumps and a water break, Rae let the horse have his head and Dune took them for a nice ride down into town.
Rae wished she could spend more time with Dune. Her father said his parents’ home was going back on the market and he would just get that for her, but that wouldn’t pan out for another six months. In the meantime, Rae rented out a stall for Dune at the equestrian center and she stayed in the dormitory at APU.
She looked up from her musings and noticed that Dune had stopped to graze on someone’s lawn. Pulling on the reins, Rae scolded him, “Dune. We do not eat other people’s flowers. Now where are we?”
Looking around, Rae had to admit that she was lost. “Oh great. Where did you bring us, huh?” She patted Dune to show him she wasn’t really upset.
Rae stopped short and felt dread curl up in her gut. Oh no. “What did you do?” Rae hissed into the air. Rebecca stayed quiet. She never showed herself when she did something Rae wouldn’t like. Typical!
Sighing and seeing no other way around it, Rae dismounted and gave Dune one last pat on the nose before walking up the driveway to see if anyone was home.
Before she could knock on the door, a gate to her right opened and Connor walked out. “You are so dead! Again!” Rae muttered to Rebecca, who she knew was hovering somewhere nearby.
Connor looked up and slowed down before a slow smile spread across his face. “Why hello pretty girl.”
“Why do you keep calling me that?”
You never told him your name.
Connor laughed. “You never told me your name.”
The embarrassment was never-ending when it came to this guy. Why, oh why, was she such an idiot? “Rae. My name is Rae Torres.”
“Well, Rae Torres, you broke your promise.” Connor stopped in front of Rae.
Frowning, Rae asked, “What promise?”
“You promised I’d get to see you later that day we bumped into each other at the quad. I didn’t.”
Rae raised her eyebrows. “Are you kidding me? That was three months ago! You still remember that? Why do you still remember that?”
“When a pretty – “ At her frown, Connor corrected himself. “When someone I find attractive tells me something, I tend to remember. Especially if it means I get to see them again. And even though you’re three months late, I’m glad you’ve decided to search me out and correct this little misunderstanding.” He smiled. “Would you like something to drink?”
And there’s that smile again.
Rae felt so confused. Dune whinnied and reminded her why she was standing out here with this man who wasn’t wearing a shirt talking about…she didn’t even know what they were talking about!
Connor opened his front door, and walked through, leaving it open for Rae to follow.
Not knowing what else to do, Rae walked inside.
“So Rae, what would you like to drink?” Connor walked towards the back of the house and Rae followed him.
“Juice if you have it, please. Actually, if you just tell me which way downtown is, I can get out of your way.” Rae looked at Connor’s broad – shirtless – shoulders and again realized she’d put herself in a situation that was less than favorable.
Connor brought out juice for both of them. “Since you’re lost, I take it you’re not originally from Appaloosa?”
Rae drank some juice and sat at the kitchen table. Even though there was plenty of space in the kitchen, Connor seemed to take up too much of it. It was disconcerting. “I’m from out west, actually, Starlight Shores. How about you? Are you from here?”
“My family’s from Sunset Valley. Starlight is a very flashy town, you don’t seem the type.”
“The type? I guess not. I was born here actually, but my parents moved when I was very young. Don’t even remember it.” Rae drank some more juice, but noticed that Connor hadn’t touched his at all. Rae immediately placed hers on the counter. “Something wrong with your juice?”
Connor tracked her movement with his eyes and smiled again. Taking a long sip of his drink, he placed his now crushed carton next to hers. “Nope, something wrong with yours?”
“No. I’m good.” Rae added quietly, “Thank you.”
Really, Rae? He’s not out to poison you! Silly girl.
“You know, I’m not going to hurt you. You can relax. I look more threatening than I actually am.” Connor grabbed both cartons and walked over to his trash bin.
“Sorry, I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I’m not normally this skittish. You fluster me, that’s all.” Her cheeks flushed with that admission. Looking away, she glanced around the kitchen. “Wow, this is a great kitchen. Is that an original Edwardian Flame Finish stove?”
Rae walked over to the large appliance, tracing the intricate carvings on the backboard. Glancing up, she caught Connor staring at her with a bemused look on his face. Rae shrugged. “Sorry, I’m a history buff. Things like this fascinate me.”
“Dad’s gonna love you.”
Rae opened her mouth to say something then thought better of it and just kept silent. Nothing she could say would be enough to express how disturbing that comment was.
“So, unless you have more amazing pieces of antiques just lying around, I’d really love the directions and I’ll be on my way.”
“As a matter of fact, I think I have one or two things, if you’d like to see them.” Connor laughed as Rae groaned. “Fine, fine. Next time, then.”
By the time Rae managed to get back outside, it was dark.
“I could drive you home if you’d like?” Connor asked as he walked Rae down the front steps.
“No, that’s alright. Dune and I will be okay.”
“Your horse’s name is Dune? Like the book?”
Rae was surprised he got the reference. “Yeah, like the book. It’s one of my favorites.”
“A history buff that likes science fiction – imagine that. And why do you look so surprised? I do read, you know.”
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to imply –“
“Don’t worry about it pretty girl.” Connor winked at her as she prepared to mount Dune.
Rae pretended to check the saddle harnesses to hide her smile.
Once she was up on the horse, she turned around to wave at Connor and found him looking up at her.
“See you later?” he asked.
“See you maybe,” Rae replied.