Excerpt for Skate With Me by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


Skate With Me


Copyright 2018 Tina Friesen

Published by Tina Friesen at Smashwords




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Acknowledgements

Cover image courtesy of Thomas Laukat at pexels.com






Skate With Me

Why does love have to happen to me now?” TJ spoke out loud as she glued another bauble on a colorful wreath.

Ouch,” she exclaimed, pulling a gooey, clear substance from her middle finger. “I should know better by now, than to glue myself.”

Her lips puckered as she whistled the tune, “Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” T.J. took a step back and critically viewed her finished project.

Her wreath was unlike any Christmas wreath she had seen displayed anywhere and it brought a smile to her face.

I like it,” she announced with satisfaction.

The addition of the miniature reindeer and sleigh set was the perfect finishing touch. She especially liked the way the sleigh hung rather precariously at an angle. She imagined a wild ride through the sky, over rooftops with chimneys protruding from them, and laughed. Even as a child the thought of a sleigh ride with Santa intrigued her more than packages of gifts.

Suddenly she was serious again. Eleven days till Christmas. Her countdown began on the twenty-fourth day. Pumping gas nightly and working at Canadian Tire stocking shelves three days a week, besides babysitting two nephews on her days off, left only Sundays and Monday night free. She looked at her calendar. Technically she only had one day off before Christmas.

Monday night was her night out with the girls. Since she started pumping gas in September, her social life had taken a nose-dive. Monday nights were exclusively reserved for curling. There was no time for a date on Monday, and, anyway, who would ask a girl out on Monday? That left Sunday. The only night she was free.

It crossed her mind to quit her gas pumping job, and just as quickly she dismissed the idea. This was her college money and every penny went into savings. She did not plan to be spending her whole life stocking shelves and working at a gas bar. She was headed for the police academy. Every deposit was security for her future and each trip to the bank the highlight of her week.

Twelve forty-five a.m. I might have been in bed an hour ago. TJ prided herself in being chipper on the job, a disposition she attributed to a minimum of eight hours of sleep. She made sure her co-workers were always in smiles, before long, when she was around. She simply would not endure morbid company and she inevitably found humor in most situations. If not, she tended to create it, and occasionally at someone’s expense.

Today, however, the joke was on her. Today she could no longer convince herself that the attention of a certain customer was casual or coincidental. Derek Tynsdale was the name she noted on the credit card of the slightly stocky, deeply dimpled guy, when he filled his truck with gas. It was the truck that initially caught her attention. In fact the truck was the beginning of their casual relationship. She couldn’t exactly call it a friendship.

Derek named his 4x4 truck Midnight. T.J. absolutely adored the all-terrain vehicle and didn’t mind the “cute” guy that came with it. Of course it wasn’t the guy she was interested in. It was the truck and that was the topic of most of their conversations. Then came the day when he offered her a ride home in his truck. TJ sighed and leaned against the closed door after she was safely inside her apartment. A once in a lifetime experience, she told herself. A great truck and a not so bad looking guy, for twelve minutes exactly. Seven minutes driving and five minutes talking before she felt compelled to leave so as not to give him the wrong idea.

How’s Midnight?” TJ asked at ten forty-five, earlier this evening.

Sounds fine to me,” Derek smiled warmly at her. “My place or yours?”

TJ was eternally grateful that none of her co-workers were in the small convenience store/gas bar at the moment. She knew her face was coloring. It did that when it felt warm as it was at this moment.

You must be kidding,” TJ pretended he was joking. The comment caught her totally off guard. She hoped the tone of her voice would dissolve the question.

Derek wasn’t entirely put off, “Can I give you a ride home?”

Her cheeks were crimson, she was sure.

#

Derek noted the color in her cheeks. Was it shyness or embarrassment that he read as she lowered her eyes to the till? Her eyes always held a sparkle for him and that’s what kept him coming back, now up to three times a week, to gas up. Generally a full tank lasted a week or longer with the amount of driving he did.

TJ turned down his offer of a ride. He was disappointed as he drove home. Even a little deflated, he admitted. Was it really only the truck she was interested in? Had he been wrong in thinking she liked him? What if he didn’t own a truck? Would there be any chance of him even getting a date with her? He had to admit it was because of Midnight that he managed to get her attention.

Turning into his driveway he switched off the ignition. His low-cut boots crunched as he walked across the patch of snow and ice between him and the door. Stepping inside, Derek flicked on the light, took off his boots and hung his coat. He headed for the refrigerator and looked inside. Deciding against the cinnamon rolls, he closed the door. His broad chest was not all muscle and just because he had been jilted was no reason to give in to temptation.

In the bathroom he took a full look at the upper half of his body in the mirror. Not bad. He flexed his muscles and assumed a couple of body builder stances. The dark shade of hair on his chest had always been a secret source of pride but in no way did it make up for his disappointment in the four to six inches he lacked in stature. He was taller than TJ, though, by at least two, if not two and a half inches.

I wonder what she likes to do? She looks like the athletic type. I could ask her to go skating. I hope she’s not into skiing.

His bathroom routine was consumed with how to come up with a better strategy than the one he tried tonight. As he thought about it he suddenly realized, to his dismay, what kind of impression TJ must have been left with. He wasn’t trying to pick her up, not by any means. It was a joke. She must have realized that. He could only hope that she would consider his remark in the context of their relationship. There wasn’t as much context as he imagined, when he reviewed their bits of conversation over the past months.

Derek liked TJ from the first time he introduced her to Midnight. She had spunk. That’s what he called it. There was a ring of sincerity to her words and a freshness to her appearance. Derek didn’t mind make-up on girls if it wasn’t layered on to the point of disguise, but TJ never wore any. Her wavy, light brown hair was contained in a ponytail. It must fall a little bellow her shoulders when she let it down.

Why am I so distracted by a gas jockey? This could be really silly. There are probably a dozen guys she sees each day with whom she is friendly in the same way.

It was cold between the bedsheets as Derek pulled the comforter up to his chin. He had lived alone in this house for six years. His family was accustomed to his bachelor lifestyle by now and rarely even teased him about women anymore. Derek admitted his shyness of the opposite sex. But it was different with TJ.

He had known his share of ribbing because of not having had a girlfriend at his age.

All around him he saw the devastation of broken relationships. Next door lived a single woman who struggled to provide for two toddlers without a father. Across the street lived a woman whose husband left her for a cocktail waitress. She was taking a job re-entry course, working part-time and trying to find the energy to care for three school-age children.

Derek closed his eyes, wondering if he would ever have children of his own. He fell asleep with a picture in his mind of a little girl with light brown, wavy hair.

#

TJ didn’t see Derek for a week.

It was four days to Christmas. All her shopping was done. The tree was decorated, the gifts were wrapped and every other detail looked after, down to new Christmas placemats, glasses and mugs. Egg nog and apple cider were in the refrigerator and the freezer boasted shortbread cookies with a green or red cherry on each, thimble cookies and cream cheese fudge. All were prepared last Sunday afternoon. Sunday was cleaning and cooking day, after church, of course.

Tomorrow, Friday, she would distribute a small package of dainties to her favorite co-workers and then she would work her last shift before having four glorious days off. Janice, from the gas bar, was going on a ski trip on the 27th and asked TJ to trade shifts. That’s how she managed to get this Saturday off. Her first Saturday off in four months.

Secretly TJ did not mind working Saturdays because all of her friends were busy with boyfriends on Saturday nights. Still, the distractions she normally came up with did not completely suppress the twinge of disappointed she felt at times. This, of course, she would never admit to anyone. TJ dated a couple of guys, but there was nothing memorable about them. They just served to say she had dated.

On Friday afternoon, as she headed to work, she couldn’t quite suppress the old Saturday-night-blues feeling that stole up on her. She was almost sorry there was nothing left to do on Saturday. A partial reason for the feeling was the fact that she might have to enjoy her new mugs and glasses alone. The friends to whom she extended invitations were busy on Saturday. Of course this was not a total surprise.

It was near closing time when she saw his truck pull up to the pumps. Her heart did a little flip and she told herself that was ridiculous. A few minutes later Derek came in. TJ focused on the customer she was helping but not before she and Derek exchanged smiles. Derek’s teeth were white and even, and his mouth curved naturally, even when he wasn’t specifically smiling. He looked so handsome tonight. Something was different about him. She stole another glance and decided it was his new haircut. She also noted he wore a new jacket—leather. TJ loved leather. She could smell the newness of it as he approached her.

Hi TJ.”

Hi Derek,” his smile melted her. She tried not to let it show.

Are you planning to work right through the holidays?”

He was making small talk. Like always. His eyes were luminous.

As a matter of fact I’m going to have four lovely full days off,” TJ beamed at him.

Is that so? How do you get so lucky?”

I switched shifts for tomorrow night and I don’t need to babysit because my sister is taking Christmas week off. Then of course, Sunday is Christmas Eve, and Christmas is on Monday, and Tuesday is Boxing Day.”

Wow! So what are you going to do with all your free time?”

TJ ignored the teasing note in his voice.

I’m going to go skating and watch TV and sleep late and eat lots of turkey.”

Derek laughed, “Sound like a great time to me.”

And what about you?” She finished ringing up his payment.

I’m thinking of doing a little skating myself,” he glanced beyond her as he spoke and then back at her.

TJ felt it coming. At that moment she just knew he was planning to ask her to go skating with him. It was in his eyes. She looked outside, hoping no more cars would pull up. Oh, no, a customer was walking in the door. Derek moved aside and stood looking at a stand stacked full of bags of potato chips. Derek never browsed in the store. He never bought anything besides gasoline.

Her heart was pounding as she dealt out change and then wished the bearded man before her a Merry Christmas.

Find anything?” she asked as Derek approached the counter with empty hands.

Nothing.”

This is awkward for him, TJ thought, in the interlude of silence. Again she admired the way Derek smiled without actually smiling. It was his eyes that were smiling. What beautiful brown eyes he had. She liked his short haircut too.

You got a new jacket for Christmas?”

Yeah,” Derek shrugged, looking a little self-conscious.

I like it.”

Thank-you.”

Goes with the truck,” that sounded kind of dumb.

Look, I didn’t mean it like it sounded last time.”

TJ knew what Derek was referring to. He was actually apologizing. It amazed her.

Don’t worry about it. I thought you were kidding,” it was partially true.

TJ, I wouldn’t treat you with anything but respect, I want you to understand that.”

TJ didn’t know how to respond, “Don’t worry about it. I didn’t think you were some kind of weirdo.” Out of the corner of her eye she caught sight of the clock on the wall. Yes, it was closing time, no more customers.

I have to turn out the lights now to discourage anymore would-be customers. It’s closing time,” she didn’t want him to leave just yet and hoped he wouldn’t as she walked to the back of the store. It was already a miracle that he had remained this long. For some reason this reminded her of once when a squirrel ate right out of her hand. She switched off the lights and turned around. He was still there.

Can I offer you a ride home?”

Why did he have to look at her like that? And why did he ask it so seriously? He might as well be telling her that he loved her. TJ was trying desperately to calm the rush of wonderful feelings that overcame her.

Sure.”

Great,” and his face broke into a relieved smile. “Is there anything else you have to do around here?”

Just lock the door.”

After we’re out of here.”

TJ grinned.

The scent of new leather was strong in the truck. This ride was different from the last one, TJ registered almost subconsciously. Last time she was proud, hoping at least one of her friends would see her. They’d be sure to talk. Now the word best describing her feeling was awe. She wasn’t just going for a ride in his truck. He was taking her home, because he wanted to. How foolish the girls would think I am to make such a fuss over a ride.

Derek didn’t need directions to her place this evening. When he shifted the truck into park in front of her apartment TJ placed her hand on the door handle and paused. Should she invite him in? That would be daring. She wished him a happy holiday and hesitated again.

She knew she’d be kicking herself if she didn’t ask him.

Would you like to come in for some eggnog or apple cider? I haven’t got anything stronger. I don’t know if you drink or not.”

I’d love to,” his response was eager.

TJ was very aware of the presence of a man, not just any man, but Derek Tynsdale walking beside her across the snow-packed parking lot and down the scraped sidewalk. She could feel him behind her as she un-locked the door and thought of quickly letting down her hastily twisted ponytail.

I really like your place,” Derek remarked, gazing around with a pleased expression when they got inside. “Nice wreath.”

The wreath hung on the inside of the door.

I made it myself.”

Really?”

She nodded. Derek’s eyes continued to take in the room. TJ never realized before how many stuffed animals and baby pictures of her nephews littered the room. Her assortment of pillows and rugs and photos and stuffies made her place feel cozy and warm, but today she wished for a more elegant look.

TJ placed her new mugs filled with apple cider in the microwave.

I just bought these mugs,” she said, pulling them out.

Very festive.”

She smiled. Derek looked relaxed sitting in her living room, on her soft, wide sofa. She still couldn’t believe he was here, in her apartment. To think she nearly didn’t ask him in.

They drank cider, and later eggnog. When TJ’s baking was defrosted, they sampled her sweets.

It was one-thirty before he got up to leave, shocked at the time that elapsed.

TJ handed him his jacket and watched as he put it on and then bent over and tied his shoes. They looked new.

Derek straightened up and stood just a couple of inches taller than she.

I was wondering if you’d like to go skating tomorrow?”

It took you long enough to to get around to asking.”

What do you mean?”

I knew that’s what you wanted to ask me when I was still at work.”

How did you know?”

I could tell.”

Well, I took my time because I didn’t want ‘no’ for an answer,” he was smiling confidently at her.

TJ grinned back at him.

The truth is I’m busy all day tomorrow with Christmas preparations.”

Derek’s eye’s narrowed and she could see a shadow of disappointment. But then his expression changed to amusement and his lips widened into a grin. The next thing she knew he grabbed her by the shoulders, and his face came daringly close to hers. “TJ, you naughty child. You told me you have nothing planned.”

TJ began to laugh as he shook her playfully. “Whatever preparations you’re up to, you can count me in. I’ll be here first thing in the morning to be sure you’re true to your word.”

He released her and reached for the door handle while TJ’s laughter subsided.

Thanks for the ride.”

Nine o’clock, tomorrow?”

TJ groaned.

Nine it is,” Derek answered. He opened the door and then turned around and before TJ knew what happened he planted a soft kiss on her cheek.

Goodnight,” he called as he made a quick escape.

TJ stared at the reindeer on the closed door. She didn’t care for that mushy stuff, she always said. But this, this was different.

Derek was real, more real than Santa Claus and the reindeer. Tomorrow she’d be riding Midnight with him again. I’ll take that over a sleigh ride any day.



About the Author

Tina Friesen is the published author of a number of short stories and articles. She won first prize in a Christmas Story writing contest for her short story, A Different Kind of Christmas. This is her second publication on Smashwords.


When she is not writing she can be found indulging her love of photography, gardening, interior design, art, painting and playing guitar. She particularly treasures time spent with her family and coffee or tea with friends.


Tina resides in the Pacific Northwest where the coast and the mountains are a source of inspiration to her.



Connect with Tina Friesen


If you enjoyed this story please write me at friesentina@gmail.com and let me know. I’d love to hear your comments.



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