“My God, Bug, what are you doing?” Sophie shouted, pushing him away.
“If you have to ask, I can’t be doing it right,” Rance said. “It’s called a kiss.”
“No, I know that…I mean…what are you thinking?” she said, shaking her head. “What happened to the rule, your rule about no romance with band members? You swore you’d never…”
“Sophie, look around. There is no band, not anymore!” Rance said. “I made up that stupid rule to keep the guys away from you, for what good it did with Danny. He was all over you, rule or no rule! Babe, it’s just you and me now and no band,” he said.
“But…but we’re friends,” she said, feebly.
“Yeah, and now we can be more…cuz, Sophie, I really want us to be more,” he said, seriously. “You said that we’re awesome together. You know we are.”
“But…but that was as friends,” she said, her mind reeling. “How long have you…you…felt this way?”
“Truth? Since the time I approached you at the grief support meeting when I asked you if you were thinking the same thing I was and you said…”
“That we’re fifty years too early for this senior citizen hook-up party,” she said.
“Yep. It was the perfect answer. Boom, I was in love,” Rance said, smiling at the memory.
“That’s your problem, you think you’re in love when it’s not that at all!” she said.
“No…it’s usually lust that gets me in trouble, I’ll admit it. It’s not lust with you or I woulda done this already,” he said.
“My God, I can’t believe…all this time and…why didn’t you ever say anything?” she said.
“I did, plenty of times. Okay, it was subtle, not exactly straight forward. I dropped enough hints that I was sure you would get it someday, but I’ve grown to realize you only hear what you wanna hear,” he said.
“Or maybe I’m just dense,” she muttered, hiding her face in her hands. “First Antoine and now you.”
“Are you seriously comparing me to that psychopath?” he said angrily. “Your stalker that nearly made you a date-rape statistic?”
“No, not at all! But I didn’t have a clue he wanted to be anything more than friends either!” she said, jumping off the sofa and pacing in front of the cold, stone fireplace in her bare feet. She rubbed at her goose-pimply arms, suddenly wishing for a blaze. She could feel herself shivering, although she suspected it had little to do with the room temperature. “Oh, Bug, what are you doing to me?”
“I’m making you see the truth,” he said. “And it’s about time I did. I love you, Sophie. I have from the moment I first set eyes on you. There’s no use denying it anymore, but I hardly expected this reaction. I sure didn’t think this would be the end of the fricken world for you!”
“It’s not that, Bug. We’re friends and if you mix up romance with friendship, friendship always loses,” she said.
“It doesn’t have to. My dad said that Kelly was his best friend growing up and that when they got old enough it turned to something more. It can work,” Rance said.
“Really? It worked for them, huh? Like when he got her pregnant as a teenager and left her to seek his fortune across the country, never looking back until thirty years later and boom, it’s all la-dee-da fine?”
“That's not fair! He didn’t know she was pregnant. He tried to keep in contact but she moved away and he couldn’t find her. What matters is they’re back together and friends again. Proof that true love never dies,” he said. “But that’s not what you’re all upset about, is it? It’s your undying love for stroganoff boy.”
“I already told you that’s done,” she said softly.
“Yeah, you said you’re giving up on stroganoff boy, so prove it. Prove it by giving me a chance.”
“Ronnie has nothing to do with this,” she said, lifting her head.
“I think he has everything to do with it,” he said in a mere whisper, just as another knock came at the door. He pointed to the door and added, “There’s your gorilla again.”
Sophie glared at him. “Why are you calling him that?”
“Why do you think?”
“Come in, Ronnie,” Sophie said, trying to sound normal.
“No, it’s me this time,” Simon said sticking his head into the room. “Mr. Van Ghoston says it’s time to go. Something about a jet waiting for you.”
“Tell him I’ll be right there,” Rance said as he stared at Sophie. When he heard the door click shut again, he approached her slowly and placed his hands on her arms. “You have some big decisions to make, Babe. I just want you to think about it…all of it, carefully, the job, the internship…and me. Do what’s good for you, what you want to do. No matter what you decide, we’re still good. If you only want to be friends…then we’ll be friends. I don’t want to lose you, ever.”
“If you feel that way and really mean it then why…”
“One thing I learned from my dad these last few days…nothing ventured, nothing gained,” he said staring into her endless-ocean-blue eyes. “I had to try with you, cuz…you would be the best Christmas present I ever had if…if you do ever give up on stroganoff boy.”
He pulled her into his arms and held her tightly. He whispered in her ear, “Merry Christmas, Sophie. Call me if you wanna talk. I’m still your best friend, always. I’ll see ya soon…I hope.” He kissed her cheek and swiftly left.
Sophie didn’t know how long she stood in that same spot, frozen in place. Apparently long enough for her bare feet to grown numb with cold. She went back to the sofa, sat down and slipped her shoes back on, but instead of leaving the room, she stayed staring into space, trying to make sense of her jumbled thoughts and confused emotions.
“What the hell am I gonna do?” she mumbled to herself, and she covered her face with her hands.
“Hey, have you seen Sophie?” Ronnie said. “Her brother’s looking for her. He wants to know if she’s going home with them.”
“Last I saw her she was in the study with her boyfriend,” Simon replied.
“He left almost an hour ago. She can’t be in there still,” Ronnie said.
“Then I have no idea where she could be,” Simon said, carelessly walking away.
Ronnie frowned and after a quick scanning of the living room, he went down the hall to the study. A thin strip of light shining from under the door indicated someone might be in there, or Sophie simply forgot to turn out the light when she left…if she had left at all. He knocked lightly then opened the door. He looked in and found Sophie sitting on the sofa, staring into the dark fireplace.
“Sophie?” he said. When she made no indication she heard, he stepped closer. “Sophie?”
“Huh? Oh…hi, Ronnie,” she said. “Party over….everybody going home?”
“Some. Your brother is and he wanted to know if you were going home with
him or your mom,” he said, stuffing his fists into his pockets.
“Whatever. I don’t care,” she said, listlessly.
“You okay?” he asked, stepping closer to the couch. Not sure he should sit,
he stayed standing, looking down at her pale face. “Sophie, what’s wrong? Did Rance give you some bad news or something?”
She shook her head, then nodded. “Yeah…or something,” she said.
“Um…Wanna talk about it?” he said, though he prayed to God she’d say no.
“Good idea,” she said, finally looking up at him. “Who do you talk to when
you have major decisions to make and you don’t know what to do?”
“Usually my dad,” he replied automatically.
She tried to smile, but it looked more like a grimace. “Don’t got one of those anymore,” she said.
“You still have your mom and Violet’s great,” Ronnie said. “I go to my dad
cuz…if I go to my mom I usually get yelled at and she tells me what to do. My dad just gives advice, so I can decide for myself.”
“You never ask a friend?” she said.
“Most of my friends are idiots who don’t have their own shit together, so
why would I ask them for advice?” he said.
“Because a friend, a best friend, knows you better than you know yourself,” she said, more to herself than to him.
“Okay…So, ask Cassie. She’s really smart. She probably would give good
advice. I always thought she did,” Ronnie said. “Listen, should I tell your brother you’ll go home with your mom? He’s getting ready to leave.”
“Uh-huh,” she said absently.
He frowned as he watched her. That dazed look and uncharacteristic,
subdued manner worried him. What the hell had she and Richie Rich been talking about? Should Ronnie ask?
Just then she abruptly stood up. “I think I’ll go home.”
“Okay,” he said, following her out of the study.
“There you are!” Kenny said, in the foyer helping Janice with her coat. “You coming home with us?”
“Yeah,” Sophie said, grabbing her own coat and shrugging into it.
“Weren’t you Ms. Popular tonight, Sophie!” Janice said as they went outside.
“Whaddaya mean?” Sophie asked.
“Two boyfriends all to yourself… in one night, too,” she said, giggling.
“Two boyfriends?” Kenny said.
“Mr. Van Gholton’s son and Victor’s son were both enraptured by your little sis. Didn’t you notice?” Janice said.
“Nope. If that’s true though, especially about that Van Gholston boy, you
should be careful, Soph, or you’ll get a bad reputation just by being seen with him,” Kenny said, opening the truck door and helping first Janice up and in and then his sister. “It’s just trouble getting mixed up with celebrities that are always hounded by the press.”
Sophie sighed. “They’re not my boyfriends.”
“But they both wish you were,” Janice said with a giggle.
Sophie suffered through Janice and her inane prattle just long enough to
get home. Eager to distance herself from more gossip, she jumped out of the truck, nearly twisting her ankle on the landing, and ran for the door. They had left it unlocked, so she went right in. At first she thought of just running up to her room and avoid everybody for the rest of the night, but something told her to stay downstairs.
“Kenny is a good place to start,” Richard whispered to her. “Ask him what he would do in your situation.”
“I’ll be up in a minute, Jan,” Kenny said, stuffing her coat into the packed
hall closet. “I wanna check on the chair I'm fixing for Mom.”
He went into the garage/workshop and Sophie followed him in.
“Hey, what are you doing in here?” Kenny asked, looking over the bond
between the wood pieces.
“Can I ask you something?” Sophie said.
“Just did so I think you can do it again,” he replied getting a bottle of glue
off the shelf.
“If you had the chance to go to college and it was entirely paid for…”
“You didn’t let me finish, Kenny,” she said.
“Doesn’t matter. You couldn’t pay me to go to college,” he said.
“Pfft…I hated school, Soph. All those teachers forcing you to sit still when all you wanna do is run outside, and then ya gotta listen to stupid shit you don’t have to know in real life. Never in my entire life has the date the French Revolution started or Anne Bolyn's decapitation or the D-Day invasion come up in everyday conversation. Really, I only liked playing sports, hanging with friends and of course, Janice.”
“I didn’t know that. You did so well,” Sophie said.
“No, not really,” he said. “I did okay, but not as good as you, but I hated it enough to know I would never want college for me.”
“So…then maybe I shouldn’t go either,” she said.
“You’re very different from me,” he said, grabbing a rag, removing excess glue and tightening the clamp holding the pieces together. “I had a skill that I loved and perfected and made into a career and eventually a profitable business.”
“So, if somebody offered you a job…”
“Again, you didn’t let me finish…” she said, exasperated.
He laughed. “I like work, Sophie, so I would always pick a job over anything, especially more school.”
“How about an internship? What do you think about those?”
“Depends what for, but if you’re talking about an apprentice type thing
where you learn from a master, then yeah, that would be great. Dad used to say that apprenticeships were a great way for kids to learn useful skills that they could make into a career. Especially for kids that should never be in a university. We’re not all A+ students, you know,” he said, finally putting aside the glue and rag and looking up at his sister. “It’s pretty much what Dad did for me. He gave me the basics of woodworking and I took it further because I ended up liking it so much, and I got good at it. Plumbers, welders, mechanics, farmers, bakers, carpenters, all should offer internships because that’s what everybody needs; bathrooms that work, cars that run, houses, bridges and roads built for them and somebody to grow and cook all the food we eat. The world sure doesn’t need more useless paper pushers and snobbish academics who oddly enough are always putting down the rest of us. Wonder what college professors would do if they had to fix their own toilets, huh?”
“Makes sense,” Sophie said, thoughtfully.
“Why all the questions? Did somebody offer you a job?” he asked.
She nodded. “And an internship.”
“Doing what?” he asked.
She blinked stupidly at him and shrugged. “No idea.”
He laughed, pushed her out of the garage, back into the kitchen, turned out the light and said, “Well, then, go for it.”
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