Friday night at McGinty's was busy.
Gary entered the establishment and made his way across the crowded room to the bar and sat down next to Chuck, who was nursing a drink.
"Beer," he told the barkeep. "What is this? Couples night?" Gary snapped as he nodded towards the crowd.
"Well, hello to you, too. Don't look at me like that. I didn't do this. It is Friday, date night," Chuck said as he held up his hands, palms outward.
"Yeah, that's probably it," Gary grumbled as he took the beer offered to him, then took a swig.
He looked around the bar. Men and women were engaged in conversations, laughing, touching, kissing. He ran his hand over his face.
"What's eating ya, buddy?"
Gary looked at Chuck and debated for a split second telling Chuck he was lonely--he wanted to have someone upstairs waiting for him.
"Hmm," Chuck said before finishing off the last of his drink. "I think you're wishing you were one of those couples. And I say, what's stopping you from being one of them?"
Gary frowned. "What's stopping me?"
"I know. The Paper. You know what? That's an excuse. You use it like a crutch. If you want someone warm to hold on to, go for it and quit moping about it."
"I don't remember asking for...."
"Nope, you didn't. But I gave it anyway. Now, I'm outta here. My warm somebody should be home soon and I'm gonna be there to meet her."
Gary still found it hard to believe he was jealous of Chuck, but Chuck had the things Gary most wanted--a wife and the promise of a happy future. Disgusted, Gary hopped off the stool, turned quickly and felt his body collide with another.
He looked down and saw the person he had caused to fall unceremoniously on her rear end. She flipped a stray strand of soft brown hair from her face before tilting her head up to look at him with dark brown eyes.
"I'm sor....sorry. I just...here. Let me help," he stammered as he held out his hands and took hers in his grasp.
He tugged a little harder than he intended and the woman was propelled against his body.
He quickly dropped her hands and took a step backwards.
"Are you okay? I...uh...oh boy!"
The woman laughed softly. "No harm done. At least the part I fell on was amply padded." She smiled as she edged past him, and Gary found his eyes fixated on her ample padding as she walked away--noticing how well she filled out the seat of her jeans.
"Uh, Gar? Buddy?"
"Ow!" Gary flinched as Chuck punched his arm.
"I say, go for it," Chuck teased as he wiggled his eyebrows.
"I say....never mind. Good night, Chuck," Gary said as he grabbed his beer and proceeded to the kitchen. He took a swig of the beer before preparing a ham and cheese sandwich.
The kitchen crew was bustling here and there, so he took his sandwich and beer and went into the office. He stopped and looked at the door to the bar. Why should he hide out in the office? He could eat in the bar like he'd done thousands of times before.
As he contemplated this thought, Marissa entered the office.
He cleared his throat.
"Good evening, Marissa."
"I didn't know you were back."
"I've only been back a few minutes. How did today go?"
She sighed. "It's been a long day," she said as her shoulders drooped slightly.
"I'm going to be in for the rest of the night. Why don't you take off early."
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah, you deserve the night off."
"Well, if you don't mind. A bubble bath and a glass of wine sound inviting."
"Thank you, Gary. I'll talk to you in the morning."
Gary followed her into the bar and watched as she left. He then took a seat at a table where he had a clear view of the pool tables and the girl he had bumped into earlier.
Gary had spent the evening trying to keep himself busy in the bar and during that time, sneak peeks at the woman he had bumped into, literally, earlier. A couple of times she had caught him watching and smiled, then whispered to her friend, causing them both to giggle.
Gary was helping clear the bar when Ted, one of the bartenders, spoke to him. "I think that lady over there has the hots for you, Mr. Hobson. She's been watching you all night."
"Oh, well, uh...," Gary stammered as he took a swipe at the bar.
"Don't look now, but she's headed this way," Ted spoke as he moved away from the bar.
Gary turned around, and sure enough, she was standing there. "Uh...um, can I help you?" he asked.
"Yes. Could I get a glass of ice water?"
"Yeah, I'm not much of a drinker and I think I've had one too many diet cokes tonight."
He laughed as he filled a glass with water and ice. "Here you go. On the house."
She smiled warmly. "Why, thank you."
"I'll talk to you tomorrow, Mandy," the woman's friend said as she passed on the way out of McGinty's.
"Okay, Gina. Be careful going home."
She looked back at Gary and smiled, then started to turn away.
"Hi, Gary. I'm Mandy," she replied as she extended her hand and he clasped it.
"Uh, would you wanna play with me?"
"I mean, uh...pool...a game of pool...play that with ....me," he said as he rubbed the back of his neck.
"Your boss won't mind?"
"Nah, this is my place."
"Really? It's my first time here. It's a nice place."
An awkward pause.
"The game?" he asked as he motioned toward the tables.
"Oh, yeah. Sure."
"You're not one of those guys that believes in letting the girl win, are you?" Mandy asked.
"Good. I hate when guys let me win at things, just because they think that's the way to get me."
"So, my beating you is a sure way to get you?" Gary asked seriously.
"Darn! I let that secret slip out a little too easily." She laughed. "Too many diet cokes. They've gone to my head," she said as she fanned herself.
"Oh yeah!" she uttered in a voice that made Gary grow warm too.
Mandy followed him to the bar and gratefully took the glass of cold water from him and took a long drink.
"Do you wanna sit down and talk?" Gary asked, but was drowned out by a group of people entering the bar.
"I'm sorry. I didn't hear you," she said, raising her voice.
"Do you wanna talk?" he repeated.
"Kind of hard to hear."
He took her glass and set it on the bar, nodded his head and began to walk across the room. Mandy followed him into the office.
"I live, up there...upstairs. It would be quiet up there....or we could stay here," he said as he motioned to the stairs.
"Upstairs is fine," she answered softly.
He nodded. "Okay, okay."
When they got to the stairs, Gary was beginning to have second thoughts.
*This is nuts, Hobson. You don't even know this woman. Yeah, but I want to get to know her.*
He opened the door to the loft and flipped on the light, praying that he hadn't left the room in too much of a mess. Thankfully, he hadn't.
"This is great! I love it!" she gushed.
"Comfortable," she finished for him.
"Yeah, that's what it is."
"You mind if I use the, ah...?"
"No, sure. It's right over there," Gary said as he pointed to the bathroom door.
He waited till the door was shut then ran his hands over his face. He walked over to the sofa and straightened the magazines strewn over the table.
"We'll just talk, that's it. Just talk. No need to be so nervous just talking to a woman," he said as he sat down on the sofa.
"Did you say something?" Mandy asked as she walked into the room.
"Oh, uh...no, just...uh, can I get you anything?"
She laughed as she made herself comfortable on the sofa, sitting close enough he could smell her scent. Vanilla.
"I don't need anything. I'm fine. So, tell me about yourself. How long have you owned this place?"
"About 4 or 5 years now. Um, there isn't much to tell. I own the bar. I live up here. Nothing else," he said as he glanced at the stack of old newspapers by the window.
"You sound like me. All work and no play," she said as she turned sideways and pulled her left leg up and tucked it under her right one.
"Gina, my friend from downstairs, had to almost drag me out of the apartment tonight. But I'm glad she did."
She placed her elbow on the back of the seat and rested her head against her hand. "What do you do for fun? Or what things would you like to do if you didn't work so much?"
He shrugged. "Oh, I don't know. Go to a Bears game or the White Sox."
"I love the White Sox! I only made it to one home game last year. I really should go to more," she said as she moved her hand to touch his arm.
"You...you like baseball?"
"I love it. I would have played in high school if they would have allowed it. But I had to settle for softball. Did you play?"
"Yeah. Baseball, football, track, hockey."
"Really?" she said softly as she scooted a bit closer, her hand not moving from its place on his arm.
"How about some music?" he asked as he got up from the sofa.
"Yeah, music is good. Whatcha got?"
"A little bit of everything, but country."
"Darn! I really wanted to hear some...um...Garth Brooks," she said as she made a face.
He laughed. "How about some Otis Redding?"
He popped in a CD and turned the volume down before sitting back down on the sofa.
"Now, where were we?"
She sighed deeply and smiled. "High school sports."
Mandy threw back her head and laughed. "Did they expel you from school?"
"No, but Dad wasn't allowed on the premises for a few months," Gary said as he shook his head.
"The whole science lab was destroyed?"
"Well, not the whole lab..."
"I stepped backwards, right into a hole and fell on my ass right in front of God and the whole graduating class. I was so glad I wouldn't have to face that crowd again," she said.
"So, that is why it didn't bother you when I knocked you on your...your...you've had prior experience," Gary teased.
"Yeah, I guess you could say that. Or you could just say I fell for ya right off the bat," she said as she winked at him.
"He didn't?!" she gasped, then covered her mouth as she giggled.
"Oh yeah, he did. And he thought it was pretty funny too. I was totally humiliated."
"I can imagine," she laughed. "Did you get him back?"
Gary laughed out loud. "Yeah, me and the guys got him drunk one night, stripped him naked and left him in the parking lot. To this day, he doesn't realize I was behind that."
"Oh, you're so bad! Remind me to never embarrass you."
Gary laughed again and realized how good it felt to laugh so hard his sides hurt.
Mandy glanced at her watch. "Look at the time. I should be going."
Gary grabbed her arm as she began to stand. She turned to look at him.
"Don't...don't go," he whispered. *It's now or never, Hobson.*
Cautiously, he placed his fingertips alongside her face and moved her hair behind her ear. She leaned forward slightly, and he slid his hand behind her neck and pulled her closer. His lips softly brushed hers, and she closed her eyes and leaned into him.
He brought his other hand up to her arm and grasped it. Her lips were soft and pliant under his, and she turned her head, allowing him to deepen the kiss.
She shifted her weight and came up on one knee. Gary reclined back on the sofa, pulling her with him, till she was lying on top of him.
One hand stayed behind her head as the other traveled to the small of her back.
Her lips moved from his, along his jaw, down to his neck where she began to nibble on the skin there.
*Hobson, if you don't stop this right now...*
He grasped her arms and pushed her away. She looked down at him, her hair falling forward, her breathing labored and her eyes, her eyes were telling him she wanted more.
They both stood up and Gary took her hand as they walked to the door, locked it, then turned off the overhead lights, leaving only the lamp behind the sofa turned on.
He led her across the loft to his bed where he turned and placed his hands on her face and tilted it up. She was tall enough that he didn't have to bend too far to kiss her.
He moved his hands slowly down her neck till they reached the buttons on her blouse. He fumbled with them as he continued to kiss her. Finally he had them freed, and he untucked her shirt from her jeans and slid it off of her shoulders.
His hands moved tenderly across her soft flesh, and he was pleased when she shivered. He trailed kisses along her jaw, to her neck. Her head tilted back to allow him easier access as she began to work on the buttons of his shirt.
A soft moan escaped her lips, causing Gary to shed his shirt and step back to quickly haul his t-shirt over his head. Before pulling her close again, he let his gaze travel over her. She wore a white lace, barely there, bra, that stood out against tanned skin. He was momentarily mesmerized by the rise and fall of her breasts as she breathed. He placed a fingeunder her chin and let it skim down her throat to the valley between her breasts.
He felt fingers slip inside the waist of his jeans and tug on them, pulling him close to her. Warm, moist lips touched his chest, and it was his turn to moan.
Part of his brain told him this was crazy. He didn't even know this woman, but it had been such a long time and this felt so good. Plus, he liked her. He really liked her. And it wasn't like this would be a one night stand. He definitely wanted to see her again.
Patience left him as her hands drifted lower. He turned and picked her up. Placing one knee on the bed, he gently laid her down. She unbuckled her belt as she kicked off her shoes.
He unbuttoned his jeans and stepped out of them and climbed into bed next to her as she shimmied out of her jeans and tossed them to the floor.
He pulled her to him and rolled slightly, so his full weight was not yet on her. He continued to kiss her as their hands roamed eagerly over the other's body.
He unclasped her bra and slid the strap down as he nibbled her shoulder.
"Gary?" Mandy whispered.
"Gary!" she repeated.
He stopped and looked up at her.
"Do you have anything?" she asked, almost hesitantly.
He pulled his head back. "No, I'm...don't worry. I promise, I'm healthy."
She laughed softly. "That's good to know. But I wondered if you had protection, I...I'm not prepared for this."
"Oh...uh...oh boy! I think. Lemme see," he said as he rolled over quickly and pulled open the drawer in the stand next to the bed.
He fumbled around and finally found a box at the back of the drawer.
"Got it!" he exclaimed excitedly.
He felt a finger slide down his back and her hand move around to be placed flat on his stomach. Her body moved close to his, and he felt her warm breath on his ear.
"Good," she whispered.
"Oh, God!" he groaned as he rolled over and took her in his arms.
He gently stroked her hair as she lay sleeping, her head resting on his chest.
He was still having a difficult time believing he had just...several times. She had caused his body to react in ways that it never had, and she had done things to his heart that he didn't think were possible.
He smiled and placed a hand behind his head.
*Don't over think it, Hobson. Just enjoy the moment.*
He pulled her closer and shut his eyes and drifted off into a peaceful sleep.
The next morning he heard a thump, followed by a 'meow'.
He stretched and pulled the pillow close to him and inhaled.
He opened his eyes. He was the only one in bed.
He scanned the room. His clothes were still scattered across the room, but Mandy's were gone.
"Hang on a second, will ya?" he grumbled as he pulled his boxers on.
"Mandy?" he called out as he stood up.
He walked over to the bathroom and pushed the door open.
Gary ran his hand over the back of his head and looked around the room once more.
No evidence she had ever been there except for the lingering scent of vanilla on his sheets and skin, and the memory of her kiss.
***6 years later***
Gary walked along the path at Lincoln Park, heading for his favorite spot.
Lucky for him his next save, a 5 year old boy, Garrison Smith, would happen near there. He needed time to think.
Going to Jacob's birthday party, this morning, had taken a lot out of him. It was hard to believe that Chuck's son was 3 years old. Gary had hoped, he had prayed, that some way, somehow, he could have a wife and a family. But it was nothing but an elusive dream for him.
As he continued to walk, Chuck's words reverberated in his head. 'You need to find someone, Gar. Settle down. Things just aren't right in the universe with me settled down and having kids. This was supposed to happen to you. You need to find someone, Gar.'
How was he supposed to find someone when he was haunted by a woman who had left her mark on his heart years ago? A woman, to this day, that he still hoped to find.
Even now his heart skipped a beat every time the door to McGinty's swung open.
It was crazy, he knew that, to think he was in love with a woman he had shared one night of passion with. That was all it had been. He hadn't even found out her last name.
He reached the bench and sat down, re-checking the headline for the time and place of the incident, before he let his mind begin to wander again.
It wasn't as if he hadn't tried to find love in the last few years.
He really had.
On more than one occasion.
But none of them compared or measured up to his memory. Even now, just the slightest thought of her took him down the road of remembrance. The way her fingers trailed across his skin, the short gasps of breath, the softness of her lips as she returned his kisses, the way she whispered his name, "Gary."
"Garrison! Wait up. Garrison!"
Gary shook his head as he came back to reality and glanced down at the cat, who was pawing at his arm.
"I can catch it, Mom!"
Gary looked up and saw a young boy with dark hair running towards the lake, chasing an escaped kite. The boy was looking up, unaware that he was about to run out of ground.
Gary took a few long strides and snagged the string and began to wind it around the stick it was tied to.
"Thanks, mister," the boy said, grinning from ear to ear, as he reached Gary and took the kite string.
"Sure thing, buddy."
"Garrison, I told you to wait up," a woman said breathlessly as she stopped near them. "Thank you for catching his........."
Gary's heart slammed against his chest. Her hair was shorter now and darker in color, but it was her. It was...
Her hand flew to her mouth. "Gary! My...Hello."
"Your name's Gary?" the little boy asked. "Mine's Garrison, but Mom calls me Gary for short sometimes."
"She does, huh?"
Gary knelt down in front of the small boy and studied his face. His dark hair fell over his eyes. Eyes the same unique color as his own. It was as if Gary was seeing himself as a young child.
"It's nice to meet you, Garrison. So, you're...uh, 5 years old?"
"I'm almost 6," he answered as he stood up straighter, trying to appear older.
Gary did the math in his head, but the look on Mandy's face told him all he needed to know. He felt the air in his lungs leave him in a loud whoosh, as if he'd just been punched in the stomach.
"Gary, would you like to come back to our place and we can talk?" she asked.
He stood up and faced her. "I think we need to."
Gary followed Mandy and Garrison into their apartment. It was spacious and homey.
In one corner, a computer sat on a desk covered with scattered papers. A waste basket full of crumpled papers sat next to it.
"Please excuse the mess. I wasn't expecting company," she apologized.
"Oh, no. It's fine. It's nice, your place. It's...it's comfortable."
Her eyes lit up and he wondered if she remembered saying that to him, that night, long ago.
"Gary, you wanna see my room?" Garrison asked.
"Garrison, don't keep him long. I need to talk to Gary."
Gary followed the boy down the hall to his room. The walls were decorated with posters of Spiderman and the Chicago White Sox. A twin mattress was covered in a white and black, White Sox comforter and held up by a black, iron headboard and footboard. A large bookcase stood against one wall and was filled with books. Toys were scattered around the room.
"Isn't it cool? Mom let me pick out what I wanted. Do you like the White Sox?"
"Yes. Very much."
"Mom takes me to a lot of their games. I like baseball. I like to read, too. See, I've got lots of books. Mom says I read very good for my age."
"I bet you do," Gary said as he felt his heart melt.
"Well, you better go see Mom. She'll be coming after you soon, if you don't."
"She must like you. She never has guys over," Garrison stated honestly.
"Oh, well, that's, uh, good to know. Um, I'll see ya in a bit," Gary said as he ran his hand over the boy's hair.
"Okay, Gary," Garrison said as he pulled a book off of the shelf and crawled onto his bed.
Gary walked back down the hall and found Mandy in the living room, straightening the papers on the desk. All of this had been quite a shock to him. Part of him was elated that he had a son. Part of him was angry for never knowing, and part of him longed to take the woman standing before him in his arms.
"Cute kid," Gary stated evenly.
She jumped at his voice, then spun around to face him. She leaned against the desk and crossed her arms. "How have you been, Gary?"
"Oh, I guess I can't complain too much. How about you?"
"Well, I, uh, keep myself busy," she said as she shrugged her shoulders.
"Mmm," he mumbled as he placed his hands on his hips. "So, is there a husband?" Gary knew the answer, but was wondering what she would say.
Mandy expelled all the air from her lungs. "It's just me and Gary....I mean Garrison."
He nodded slowly. "Why? Why didn't you tell me?"
"Gary, don't be mad. I didn't know how to tell you. I...I was so ashamed of how I had acted. I've...I'd never done anything like that. I couldn't face you, so I left, then I wanted to see you again, but that made it all the more difficult. Then I found out I was pregnant, and I sure as hell couldn't come see you then. I just knew you'd think I'd set you up."
"I wouldn't have thought that. Couldn't have, we used...." he paused as a thought struck him.
"See? We used protection, that I asked for, and I still got pregnant. You could have said I was already pregnant when we...when we..."
"Well, I can't deny the boy now. He's the spitting image of me when I was that age. It didn't occur to you that after he was born, a paternity test could have been done? You didn't think I had a right to know I'd fathered a child?" he said angrily.
"Yes, you had a right. You had every right," she replied softly. "I was so confused, Gary. I didn't know what to do."
He sighed and some of his anger left him. "I tried to find you. I hoped you'd come back," he told her.
"Yes, I did. But with a city the size of Chicago and not knowing your last name, made it pretty darn difficult. But I tried."
"Gary, I'm so sorry."
"Were you ever gonna tell me? Or was it just dumb luck that I ran into you today?"
"I don't know. I wanted to. I picked up the phone so many times, intending to call. I drove by McGinty's a million times, intending to stop..."
"Why didn't you?"
"I couldn't bear it if you rejected me...us. I didn't know how you'd react."
He ran his hand over his face and proceeded to the sofa and sat down.
"Just so you know. I wouldn't have turned you away."
Mandy took a step towards him and hesitated. "Gary, what are you going to do?"
"Whadya mean, what am I gonna do? You want money now?"
"No, I don't want...I don't need. I meant...I just wondered...You won't try to take him from me, will you?"
A tear rolled down her cheek. "He's all I have, besides my work. He's my whole life."
"No, I'm not going to try and take him from you. But I would like to get to know him. I want to be part of his life. And I'd...I'd like to get to know you, too. I've thought about you so many times over the years."
She sniffed. "You did?"
He got up and walked over to her and inhaled. Vanilla.
"Yes, I did. I've replayed that night in my head a million times."
"I thought about you all the time, too. I felt so silly having these...I can't explain it. It's so stupid," she said.
"I know. I felt the same way."
She smiled up at him and his heart sped up.
"So, your last name is Smith?"
"Yes. I thought you didn't...."
"Oh well, uh..." he stammered as he unconsciously touched the paper tucked in his back pocket.
She nodded. "Garrison told you."
Gary laughed nervously. "That would have really, uh, helped me find you."
"You haven't been to a bookstore lately, hve you?"
His brows creased together. "No. Why?"
She walked over to the bookcase and pulled out a book and handed it to him. 'Whispers in the Shadows' by Amanda Smith. He turned it over and there was her picture, gracing the back cover.
"You write mysteries?"
"I've had a couple stories published over the last couple of years," she replied.
He shook his head and dropped the book on the table then slid his arm around her waist.
"I wish you had come to me and told me. I've lost almost 6 years of my son's life that I'll never get back. No, don't say anything," he said as Mandy started to speak. "But I can forgive you for that, *if* you'll let me be a part of his life from now on. And yours."
She looked up at him and nodded. "He's a wonderful child, Gary. I know you'll love him."
"He doesn't know about me?"
"He knows his father is handsome and funny and someone I care a great deal about, but I never told him your name or that he was named after you. Garrison. Gary's son."
Gary raised his hand and brushed a strand of hair from her face. "This is crazy, you know?"
She nodded. "I know. But I'm willing to give it a try if you are."
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