Justin waited a whole week before texting Ophelia. It took him that long to build up the nerve, despite his initial forwardness. He felt like a middle-schooler working up the courage to ask the pretty girl to slow dance. But some of his hesitation was because of a conversation he’d had with Phil before he’d gone to the birthday party.
Phil and Justin happened to go to the cafeteria at the same time for lunch. They talked companionably for a while.
“You know,” Phil said. “I keep thinking that you and my girlfriend’s sister would get along famously.”
“No,” Justin said. “Just no.”
“Hear me out, will you?” Phil said.
“Phil, I nearing thirty,” Justin said. “Do you honestly think you’re the first family member or friend to set me up on a blind date?”
“Can I at least show you a picture of her before you say ‘no’ absolutely?” he said, getting out his phone.
“Whatever,” Justin said.
Phil turned the screen to Justin and he saw a cute blonde with a fantastic smile. She looked like she had been in the middle of a laugh when the picture had been taken. It definitely gave Phil some bonus points since people of Justin’s acquaintance tended to set him up with Morticia Addams wannabes that wallowed exquisitely in their own misery and angst.
“So what do you think?” he said. The grin on a his face held a hint of smugness.
“She looks like she’s fun,” Justin said.
“Safe answer,” Phil said.
“Ok so what else is she?” Justin said.
“So she works in a bakery as their pastry chef, she dotes on her niece and nephew, and she’s close to her family.”
“I’m sensing a ‘what’s not to like’ in there.” Justin said, taking a bite of lunch.
“Ok, so in fairness, I should say there is one thing,” Phil said. “She’s been in an on again, off again relationship with her married boss.”
Justin about choked on his bite. “What now?”
“She needs a change of scenery,” Phil said. “She needs someone who will treat her like a human being. Someone who isn’t interested in playing the field until it inconvenient.”
“And that’s supposed to be me?” Justin said. “I’m not interesting fixing what’s broken.”
“It’s not that,” Phil said. “I think she just needs to be with someone who’s well-adjusted and stable to find that she’s deserving of love that’s not disposable.”
“That’s an awfully tall order to place on just me,” Justin said. “If I were interested, I’m not sure that I’d be willing to put myself out there like that, only to discover she’s not interested in stability or monogamy. I mean I’m not perfect so I’m not saying she’s not capable of it. I just don’t want to be someone’s test drive.”
Phil nodded his head. “I understand where you’re coming from. And when you put it like that, I have to agree with you. She’s having a birthday party in about a week that I’m supposed to take Anna to. Why don’t you come to that and then you can see if it’s worth your time and effort? You won’t be stuck in a corner. Anna and I will be there, and you could leave if it gets boring.”
Justin nodded. “I’ll think about it.”
“I’ll text you the details and then you can decide if you want to come or not.”
Justin rewrote the text for the fifth time. His instincts were split down that middle of yes and no. It wouldn’t hurt to go out with her at least once. If it didn’t work out, no harm no foul. But should he even try to pursue her at all? It would be a monumental waste of time if he even got a hint that she was pining for the married man. Ultimately, he couldn’t help pressing the send button. There was something about her that drew him to her like a moth to flame, and at this point he wasn’t sure he wouldn’t mind getting a little singed. He pressed send.
Hi, this is Justin. We met at your birthday party.
Oh, hi! I was wondering when I was going to hear from you.
So wondered if you’d like to go get drinks sometime. Maybe Saturday?
I told Anna I’d watch the kids on Saturday. We’re going to the zoo, want to tag along?
Sure, sounds like fun. What time?
Meet us at the gate at 2pm.
Zoo. It was an interesting idea. It even presented the bonus of having her niece and nephew there, making conversation a little less awkward than if they were alone.
Justin looked in the rearview mirror to make sure he hadn’t missed something. He’d taken a little too long in the bathroom making sure he looked just so. Convinced there was very little else he could do, he got out of the car and waited by the entrance. He’d come a little early so he didn’t make Ophelia wait for him while trying to wrangle her niece and nephew.
A car drove by him and he could see it was Ophelia with a couple of kids in the back. The little girl waved at him. The three of them approached him, with the little girl leading the way. She had long auburn hair that reminded him of her mother’s. She came right up to him.
“Hi!” she said. “Are you Phee’s boyfriend?”
He smiled at her “No, I’m just Ophelia’s friend.”
“That’s what Phillip said, and now he’s going to marry my mom,” she said.
Justin looked at Ophelia in surprise.
“It happened the night of the party,” she said, smiling. “I guess you could say they made up.”
“Indeed,” Justin said.
“What was Zoe saying before that?” Ophelia said.
“I was just telling her we’re just friends,” he said.
“Yeah, he’s says not your boyfriend – yet,” Zoe said.
Ophelia started laughing and Brody rolled his eyes.
“Zoe, don’t be dumb,” Brody said.
“Oh, Brody,” Ophelia said. “She’s sort of right. Justin is a boy and he’s my friend. Right, Justin?”
“That’s exactly right,” he said. “We ready to go to the zoo?”
Zoe skipped ahead of them and they followed behind her.
“There’s not many people she doesn’t like, but every once in a while there is that one person she likes more than the rest. Phil was one of those people,” Ophelia said. “So it sounds like you didn’t know about the engagement.”
“No,” Justin said. “As good a friends as we are, I don’t get to see Phil very often.”
“They haven’t set a date that I know about, but as far am I’m concerned, its about time,” she said. “They’ve been dancing around it for almost a year when they’re so obviously perfect for each other. I just keep praying she doesn’t ask me to be her maid of honor or a bridesmaid.”
“Taffeta not your thing?”
“What do you think about Phil marrying your mom, Brody?” Justin said.
“It’s cool,” Brody said. “Phil and I go running on Saturday mornings, so it’ll be nice not to have to wait around for him to show up.”
“Awww, that’s the nicest thing I’ve ever heard you say about him,” Ophelia said.
“He’s a good guy and he makes my mom happy – mostly,” Brody said.
Ophelia looked like she was going ask him about what he said, but they had reached the entrance.
“So what are we doing?” Ophelia said as they walked through.
“I want to watch the bird show,” Brody said. “They have hawks and an eagle.”
“Ok, we can do that,” Ophelia said.
“I want to go to the monkey house,” Zoe said.
“Why am I not surprised?” Ophelia said. “Because you are a monkey!”
“Phee!” Zoe said, giggling. “Justin, where do you want to go?”
“I want to go see the tigers,” Justin said.
“Ooo, dangerous,” Ophelia said, bumping her shoulder to Justin’s.
“I want to see the tigers too!” Zoe said.
There was still quite a wait until the next bird show, so they decided to hit the big cat enclosure first. Zoe skipped ahead of them, climbing up on the rocks and jumping off.
“Zoe, baby, be careful,” Ophelia said.
“Phee, watch me,” Zoe said as she climbed up on a rock. She turned to jump off and caught the tip of her toe. Instead of landing on her feet, she pitched forward landing hard on her hands and knees. Justin ran forward, kneeling next to the wailing Zoe.
“That looked like it hurt,” he said, turning her hands over. “Only scrapes here. Does anything hurt besides the scrapes?”
Zoe shook her head.
Justin looked at her knees. One of them had been scraped up so much it was bleeding.
“Oh, no! Blood!” she said.
Justin reached into his back pocket and pulled out his wallet. “Can you hold something for me, Zoe?” He pulled out a anti-bacterial wipe and a bandaid. He handed them to the sniffling girl.
“You seriously have those in your wallet?” Ophelia said, as she knelt down next to Zoe and put her arms around her.
“Of course. I’m a PA. Someone somewhere is bound to get hurt and I’m ready to assist.”
He tore open the wipe. “I need to clean off your knee, but it might sting a little when I wipe it. I’ll try to be really fast, ok?”
She nodded. Her big doe eyes looked at Justin with such trust he couldn’t help but melt a little. He cleaned the scrapes without so much as a peep from her. He bandaged her knee and helped her up. “Does anything hurt more than stinging when you walk on it?”
“No,” she said. She took a few tentative steps holding his hand. “Thank you, Justin.”
“You’re welcome,” he said. She didn’t let go of his hand.
Ophelia came up behind him and said in his ear, “Someone’s got a crush on you.”
“You?” he said.
“Maybe,” Ophelia said. “But I was actually talking about your patient.”
“What can I say?” Justin said. “All the girls love an almost-doctor.”
“You make a good point,” she said, taking his other hand. She laced her delicate fingers in between his as they walked towards the big cats. His heart and head were spinning. The kids were watching a huge Bengal tiger pacing along the glass. Justin looked at Ophelia.
“When can we go out again?” he said.
“Just us?” she said.
“Sure, though I don’t mind Zoe and Brody being here,” he said. Ophelia gave him her megawatt smile.
“I don’t have another day off until Friday,” she said. “How does that work with your schedule?”
“I’m sure I could make it work,” he said. “Probably not until the evening, after work.”
Homesite of author Whitney Sivill. I'm a mother of three, a wife and a student. In between, I write clean romances, fantasy tales, and mid-grade & young adult fiction. I might throw in the occasional fanfiction, too.