Chase’s enthusiasm seemed to have waned, Brooke thought. The breadsticks came out, and then the salad. They ate in silence for a few minutes. Then they both spoke at the same time.
“How is your business going?”
“Will you be looking for work?”
They looked at each other and started laughing.
“Great minds think alike,” she said. “I would like to get a job this fall. Part-time, while the kids are in school.”
“What kind of work do you do?”
“I do bookkeeping. At least, that’s what I did—” before Carl passed away, she was going to say. She stopped herself from bringing up her late husband’s name. This was a special time with Chase. It was time to look ahead, not back.
“You know, we are looking at hiring a bookkeeper.”
Her eyebrows rose in surprise. “Really?”
“We are. My sister has done the bookkeeping since my mom retired to take care of my dad. Baylee wants to go back to college and get a teaching degree. We need to hire someone to take her place.”
“I would be interested, if it was part-time.” Her interest in the job wasn’t because it was Chase’s family business. She really wanted to work part time, and bookkeeping was her field.
“I know it will be part time. I’ll mention your name to Darrick. He handles all the hiring.”
“If you would, that would be great.” She hoped she did not sound too eager. Or eager for the wrong reason.
He looked pleased, and she wondered if it was because they needed a bookkeeper or if was because he was interested in dating her.
“I’m interested in the job,” she clarified. “And not because it’s your family business.”
His eyes narrowed. She had offended him. “I didn’t think you were. And I didn’t mention it because we are on a date, either. We are looking for someone qualified. And you would have to interview with Darrick.”
She blushed. She felt like she had been properly chastised. She was glad when their entrée arrived. As she always did, she pushed half of her pasta and chicken over to one side of the plate before eating. She always ate half and took the rest home. But she wasn’t going to ask for a doggie bag on a date, so she wondered why she had bothered separating it.
“Do you count carbs?” he blurted out. Then he looked embarrassed.
She started to take offense, but his embarrassment took the edge out of his words.
“I watch what I eat, if that is what you’re asking.”
“I wondered. A lot of women do.”
She raised her eyebrows in question, and he looked sheepish.
“Not that I know a lot of women. Just my mom and sister, and of course, Lisa.”
He’d broken the first date rule in bringing up wife. He cringed as if he’d realized his mistake.
“They have big portions here. It’s more than I can eat in one sitting, unless I want to roll home.”
He grinned, as if picturing himself rolling her down the street. “I don’t want that to happen. I thought you might be health-conscious when your daughter said you only buy chips and pop when it’s a celebration.”
“Oh, that. I’m pretty strict about what my kids eat, and myself, I guess.”
“During the week we snack on fresh vegetables and fruit, and popcorn, made the old-fashioned way. I save chips and pop for special occasions.”
“You bought chips and pop for your kids tonight. Is this a special occasion?”
His question caught her off-guard. She tried to think of something to say that wouldn’t give away her feelings but came up with nothing. Chase Reed was flirting with her. What had he asked her?
“My kids are pretty spoiled, I guess.” That’s right. They’d been talking about what their kids eat. She brought her thoughts back into focus. “My mom loves to bake, and we always have homemade cookies in the cookie jar,” he said. “We limit the amount they can have, though. They don’t get much junk food during the week. On Friday nights we get pizza and chips. I had one delivered there tonight, when I ordered the one for your kids.”
She wrinkled her nose. “Sorry about that. I’ll get used to small-town life again.”
“I hope so.” His soft comment made her blush.
Back to a safe topic. “Friday night is pizza night at our house, too.”
“Tonight it was, because it’s easier for the babysitter. But I like to make my own pizza crust.”
“I don’t know if I have ever eaten a pizza made with homemade crust.”
“Maybe you would like to come over and have pizza with us some Friday,” she said.
His eyes widened in surprise at her boldness. She was embarrassed at her offer. It wasn’t like her to suggest something like that. It was bad enough she had invited him in for coffee the night of the reunion. He was going to think she was really forward, when in fact she didn’t have any experience dating. No one had asked her out in high school, and Carl asked her out the first week of college. She had gone on to marry Carl. And this date was the first that she had been on since Carl passed away.
“Not as a date.” She backpedaled. “You can bring your kids with you.”
His smile made her relax. “That might be a good idea. It would be good for our kids to get acquainted, since they will be in school together in a few weeks.”
So he hadn’t taken offense at her invitation. She felt relief. “It would be nice if they had a friend before they start classes. Especially Devon. He resents leaving his friends and moving back here. He’s at an age where it’s hard to make new ones.”
He nodded towards the food left on her plate. “You’re going to take that home, aren’t you?”
“I wasn’t sure if I should. Since we’re on a date it didn’t seem like the right thing to do.”
He grinned. “Can’t let good food go to waste.”
The waitress returned with their bill. “Can we get a box to go?” he asked.
Brooke did not miss the appreciative look in the young woman’s eyes when she got a good look at Chase. “Sure thing,” she said.
He didn’t seem to notice that he had caught the eye of the waitress. In fact, she had been trying to flirt with him all during dinner, and he had been oblivious. It was nice that he didn’t follow the waitress around with his eyes. She sighed. Carl would have. She had wondered if Carl had ever cheated on her. She figured there were times when he regretted marrying young.
Chase did not want the night to end, but they were done with dinner, and it made sense to go home. He opened the door of the SUV for her and when she was seated, he closed it and walked around. He tried to come up with a way to make the date last longer, but he couldn’t think of anything.
As he slid into the driver’s seat, he said, “It seems kind of early to end a date.”
“That’s okay.” She didn’t sound disappointed. Maybe she wasn’t feeling the same interest in him that he was in her. Although she had seemed to enjoy their conversation and had even invited him and his kids over for pizza.
“I don’t want to stay out too late. This is the first time I’ve left the kids with someone other than my parents.”
It was a relief that her consideration was for her kids, and not because she didn’t want to spend the time with him.
“I know Daelyn. She comes from a good family, and some of my friends have used her and her sister as babysitters. My mom is watching the kids tonight.” He drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. “I feel like a mama’s boy when I talk to you.”
She smiled. “Don’t feel like that. I think it’s great what you have done for your mom. My mother-in-law didn’t have any other kids. She took it really hard when our husbands passed away. The kids and I were really all the family she had. That’s why I didn’t move back here right away.”
“I helped out with my dad’s care, and stayed to help with the finances. Mom has been a great help with the kids, but it’s time for me to move out. She needs to have her life back, and I need mine. But she can’t afford to keep up the house on her own, until she turns sixty. Then she will receive the widow’s pension from my dad’s Social Security, and she will be able to live by herself again.”
“How long will that be?”
“Not until February. I will be looking for a new place then.”
“You had a home that you had custom built, didn’t you?”.
“Yeah. Lisa and I planned it together. It was a showcase, really. More house than we really needed. I sold it after she passed away. It was hard for the kids.”
“But not for you?” She bit her lip as though regretting her question. “I don’t mean to pry.”
“It’s not prying.” In fact, it showed that she was interested in his life. Maybe this wasn’t all one-sided. He answered with honesty. “After Lisa died, I didn’t want to live there. And we had medical bills to pay. My family business carries insurance on all of us, but it is a major medical plan and it has high deductibles. We tried some expensive treatments for the cancer. It didn’t help prolong her life, and I owed a lot when she passed away.”
He parked in her driveway, and shut off the SUV “I’ll walk you to the door.”
Standing at the door got awkward, then Chase asked,
“Can I call you again?”
“I’d like that.”
“All right, then. I’ll talk to Darrick tomorrow and let him know you’re interested in the bookkeeping job. Maybe I’ll see you when you come in for the interview. If not, I will give you a call this week and set something up.”
“I’ll look forward to it.”
He hesitated and shifted his feet. She stood for a moment, looking up at him. It was now or never, he thought. He leaned down and kissed her cheek. Her skin felt smooth. A couple of inches to the left and he would be touching her very kissable lips.
He straightened, and looked into her eyes. They were more blue than gray in this light, and they were sparkling. He surprised himself with how much he wanted to kiss her again. Since Lisa’s death, he hadn’t even considered dating. Now, he wanted nothing more than to spend another evening with Brooke.