short story: parked in love
Beth shielded her eyes against the sun and glared at the blue Mercedes parked in her spot. Not again. How could people not see the reserved sign? With a huff of irritation, she maneuvered her Beetle into the only open guest spot even remotely close to her office and killed the engine.
Juggling her lunch, insulated mug of coffee, and several files she’d taken home the night before, she held her door open with one knee while wiggling her way out of the narrow opening. The brick side of the building prevented her from walking normally so she inched her way toward the sidewalk using a half-squat waddle.
She’d almost made it to the finish line when a gray suit coat blocked her path. Blowing her hair out of her eyes, she looked up. Of course, it would have to be Daniel Haven witnessing her awkward shuffle. All 6’3 inches of dark-haired, broad-shouldered male.
“You look like you could use some help.” Without asking, he captured the files from her arms and held out a hand to help her onto the sidewalk.
The feel of his fingers wrapped around hers nearly rendered her speechless. How many times had she walked past this man’s office, hoping, praying he would look up and notice her? Now, today, when the humidity had already fried her hair and melted the makeup off her face, he decided to strike up a conversation.
“You okay, Beth?” He gave her fingers a little squeeze.
She fumbled for a response. “I…um…I’m fine. Just not used to parking so far away from the building. Someone took my spot.” The second the words left her lips, she winced. “They probably had a good reason, though.”
Daniel shifted his green-eyed gaze to the Mercedes. “I think that’s your boyfriend’s car.”
Beth tugged her hand free. “My…what?”
“Your boyfriend.” He gave her his full attention. “His name’s Stuart, right?”
“Stuart? As in Stuart Adler?” Beth gritted her teeth. “He is not my boyfriend.” He was, however, in a world of trouble.
“Oh.” Daniel led the way around the building toward the main entrance. “He said the two of you had been dating for a couple of years.”
Steam bubbled up inside Beth’s ears. Of all the practical jokes…she and Stuart had grown up together, and he’d always been a prankster. And his jokes had continued throughout their college years. But when he’d gotten hired as junior counsel at the same law firm she worked, he’d promised there’d be no more pranks. Apparently, he’d lied.
Realizing she was keeping Daniel waiting, Beth tucked her coffee close to her side and reached out her hands for the files. “I’ve known Stuart since we were kids. He likes to joke around.”
Daniel opened the door instead of handing her the files. “So maybe he wants more than he’s telling you.”
“We’re more like brother and sister. He said those things because he thinks he’s funny. Anyway, thanks for your help.”
“No problem.” He pressed his back against the door so she could walk past him. “So just to be clear, you’re not dating Stuart. At all?”
“Never. We’ve only been good friends. Of course, that may change after today.” One step toward the elevator, she realized Daniel wasn’t moving. “Are you coming up?”
“In a second.” He gave her a small smile that made her cheeks flush.
“Oh, okay.” She shuffled uncertainly from foot to foot. “Then I’m going to need those files.”
“Have dinner with me.” The words danced in the air, leaving Beth both breathless and faint.
“What? Did you…just ask me…”
“To have dinner with me. Well, it was really more a command. That’s probably how it sounded, but it isn’t how it was meant.”
Beth tilted her head back to see his face better, and she couldn’t be mistaking the slight tinge of red on his cheekbones. “So you’re asking me?”
He chuckled and ran a hand across the back of his neck. “Yeah. I would have asked you sooner, but…”
“Stuart.” She grinned, the world a bit brighter, and she didn’t even care about the Mercedes in her spot.
“Well? Will you?”
Her heart thumped so loud, she wondered why he couldn’t hear it. “Absolutely.” The word gushed out, and the tips of her ears went hot. “I meant that as an affirmative not as…”
“As long as it’s a yes, Beth.”
“It’s definitely a yes.”
Later that night, Daniel walked her to her front door, his hand holding hers. “You know, we should find whoever owns that Mercedes.”
Beneath the porch light, Beth looked up at him. “Why?”
“To say thank you.” He brushed his lips against hers, and Beth sighed.
“We’ll do that first thing tomorrow morning,” she whispered.
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