Friday, October 21, 2016

Autumn's Secrets - Chapter 10

Kim watched the steady showering of the autumn rain through the clothe store’s glass doors. The streets were more or less empty. It’d been a pretty uneventful day - the late October rain keeping the usual shoppers off the streets. Even trick-o-treaters appeared scarce this Friday evening. A whole week had passed since she’d seen Jayden, although she’d managed to run into some of the other Finnegans. Mrs. Finnegan and Terrie had stopped by the store twice to say hello. She wasn’t sure whether it was to say hello to her or Gina, but either way, they’d made her feel like she mattered, with Terrie treating her like a little sister and Mrs. Finnegan fussing over the fact that Kim hadn’t had lunch yet. Eric had also stopped by the store in uniform. Although he spent some time catching up and laughing with Gina, he’d told Kim he’d wanted to check up on her and make sure she was doing alright. Then he’d teased her about her basketball skills. Overall, the Finns were a lovely bunch of people and she found she was taking a quick liking to them. However, that didn’t explain her current obsession with Jayden. Well, it wasn’t an obsession. Not really. Just the fact that she could hardly stop thinking about him. She’d avoided bringing him up with Eric or Terrie but it didn’t stop the curiosity from burning questions at the back of her mind.

“You need me to do anything else?” Gina emerged from the staff quarters, her bag strapped over her shoulders.

“Oh, no Gina. That’s alright. You should’ve left an hour ago.”

Gina smiled and shrugged. “It’s alright. Lucille volunteered to pick Tyler up from school. We’re going over to the Finns’ to carve pumpkins and watch a movie. I thought it’s be good for Tyler.”

Kim forced a smile, fighting the emptiness she felt inside. “That sounds great.”

Her voice must’ve choked because Gina slowly appeared uneasy for the briefest of seconds. 

“What about you? Do you have any plans for the weekend?”

Kim turned back to the rain sliding off the glass doors and felt her heart sink. When was the last time she’d had plans over the weekend? Even Mum had abandoned her for the next couple of days and made plans with a friend to go off to some spa at some resort somewhere.

“If you don’t have plans, I’m sure the Finns would be delighted to have you. And Tyler. He’s been asking about you all week.”

Kim turned to Gina and felt her heart warm. “Really? He’s the sweetest kid I’ve ever met.”

Gina chuckled. “Yes. That he is. As well as a handful.” A warm grin planted itself on her face.

Kim approached her. “I can’t begin to imagine how it must be, you know, given his condition.”

Gina shrugged, her smile faded in the slightest, but her eyes still shone with joy. “It’s different. I’ll give you that. Some days are harder than others. But I can’t imagine what I’d do without Tyler. I only wish Charles was around to see how wonderful his son is.”

Kim smiled. “You’re doing a great job, Gina.”

Gina nodded. “Thanks Kim, I appreciate that.”

“Hey, Gina…I um…I never got to apologize.” Kim looked down to the floor and swallowed her pride. “What I said about firing you if you didn’t come in earlier, that was out of line. And I’m really sorry.”

Gina smiled and placed a hand on Kim’s shoulder. “You were doing your job.”

“Yeah, but I should’ve known about Tyler…”

“You didn’t take the time to know.” Gina’s words were soft, anything but accusing.
Kim nodded. “You’re right. I should make more of an effort with my people skills.”

Gina chuckled. Her eyes settled on Kim in a serious yet compassionate gaze. “Kim, I’ve lost someone I cared deeply for. No sorrow is the same but I’ve been there. And I know how it is. You shut people out. You ignore the rest of the world because somehow you think no one understands or that they never will. And that might be true. But people are there who want to help. And there are people who need your help. I’m not over Charles’ death, I probably never will be. But I’m slowly learning to breathe again. Only because I chose to bring down the walls and see beyond myself.”

Kim’s throat dried. Her stomach churned. She quickly looked down, feeling her eyes prickle.
Thankfully, she didn’t need to respond to Gina’s words because right then the bell to the store rang and Lucille walked in, Tyler’s little hand in her own. The moment they were safely into the store, Tyler wriggled his hand out of hers and called, “Mum?”

Gina walked up to him and bent down to envelop him in a hug, “Hey! How’s my little prince in his costume?”

“Perfect! Uncle Eric says I look like a real prince.” Tyler exclaimed, his cute features brightening up.

“You did an amazing job on his costume, Gin.” Lucille beamed.

Kim couldn’t help but study Tyler in his costume. It looked like a proper outfit from medieval Europe, or rather, something from a fairytale. She was certain it would fit perfectly into a Disney set. With the gold shiny thigh-length fitting top with puffy upper arms to which some velvet lace was incorporated. And Tyler’s black trousers which he tucked into knee-length boots. The whole costume was accessorized with the cutest little crown Kim had ever seen.

“Did you make that?” Kim stared astonished at Gina.

“Yes, she did. She sows. And does an amazing job too. Can you believe she made her own wedding dress from scratch?” Lucille said, eyes brightening at the memory.

Before Kim could enquire any further, the bell rang again and Eric stepped in, hair drenched by the rain. He grinned at Gina and greeted Kim with a warm handshake.

“Are we set to go?” He asked, slipping his arm around Lucille’s shoulders.

“Is Ms. Hart coming too?” Tyler chirped, his eyes appeared to stare in Kim’s direction as if trying to pinpoint her exact location.

Eric smiled at her. “Are you up for some pumpkin carving, pumpkin soup and a movie? Also, Ana and I are playing a prank on Terrie. Scaring that girl is one of the most hilarious things ever.”

“Not if I tell her.” Lucille made a face at Eric.

“You wouldn’t dare.” Eric pretended to scowl.

Lucille didn’t blink.

“Luce, you’ll ruin the fun.”

Gina and Lucille exchanged looks and chuckled. “Trust me, we want to see Terrie freak out as much as you do.” Gina said.

Eric turned to Kim. “Coming, Hart?” He asked.

Kim hesitated. Socializing was the last thing she felt like doing right now. “Erm…I think I’ll pass.”
She was surprised at the looks of disappointment that took place on their faces.

Gina and Lucille said their goodbyes. Tyler wrapped his arms around her legs and she bent down to give him a proper hug. He then made her promise to come next time.

She looked up, expecting them all to have stepped out but she noticed Eric standing there, thumbs hooked in his pockets.

“You sure you don’t wanna come?”

She smiled and nodded. “I need to finish up in here.”

He stared, the corners of his lips finally lifting in a warm smile. “Ok. But you have to promise to come running with me tomorrow morning and every morning after that when I’m off work. Jayden sucks. Terrie and Lucille only go to the gym. Ana does Zumba. Gina doesn’t really have time to go running and Mum’s ankle isn’t letting her do much. What d’you say?”

Kim bounced on her heels, hesitant. “I don’t talk much.”

Eric sniggered as if she'd said something funny. “No one said anything about talking." His smile grew. "I’ll see you on the other side of the forest at 6 tomorrow morning?”

She grinned her approval, dipping her chin in a nod.

Eric beamed. He was almost out the door when she quickly called, “Hey, Eric…”

He turned around, eyebrow raised.

“How is Jayden doing?” She blurted out.

Eric fully turned to completely face her. “He’s still a big dork.” He smiled comically and looked down at his feet. “I saw him lunch time today during bible study with some friends. He actually led the bible study. It was pretty interesting. You should come sometime.”

“Oh, I don’t – I mean, I’m not sure I believe in all that…Not anymore.”

She expected Eric to push the subject or ask her questions. Maybe it was the way his brown eyes fixed her. But instead, he only nodded.

“Don’t tell the little brother I said this, but in spite of him being crazy weird, you know, him being mysterious and in his own world, I couldn't have asked for a better brother. I guess I'm blessed that way." A small smile finally broke through his serious expression. "See you tomorrow morning, Hart".

Kim watched him step out into the rain and inside his car where Tyler and the girls waited.
Meaning to keep her mind off the fact that she would be spending her Friday night utterly alone, she decided to continue work on the new shipment of clothes that came in that morning. She pulled boxes from the staff quarters into the store and set out to organize, price and arrange them. But the image of Jayden stuck in her mind violently harassed her as she worked. She'd barely gotten started on one box and her mind was already filled with him. And no matter how much she tried, she couldn’t erase the thought of him from her head. She couldn't forget the longing in his eyes or the contrast of the softness of his touch and the masculine hardness of his hand on her bare skin. The whole thing was crazy seeing as she was hardly ever the attracted one. Just the attractive girl guys gawked at. Sure, she played the flirting game. She was an expert at that, if there was ever such a thing. But she was only playing a role. She wasn't that girl, not really. It was just a part she'd been expected to play since an early age. She’d learnt to use her beauty to her advantage. Be appealing. Make a guy drop his jaw. Okay, so there were lots of guys she found attractive. Like Eric. But that was normal. Trouble was, with Jayden, it didn’t just end there. Truth was, while she might find someone attractive, she’d hardly ever truly desired anyone. And that was what she felt with Jayden. Plain desire. And it was driving her crazy. It was the type that kept her staring at the ceiling at night, feeling emptier than usual. It didn’t help that she couldn’t figure him out. Everything was upside down with Jayden Finnegan. When she’d played the flirting game the other day, he’d appeared appalled, called her names and asked her never to, in his own words, “do that again” because he wasn’t her “pawn”. Oh, the nerve of him! First he’d said he wouldn’t date her – regardless of the fact that he later apologized – then he’d walked out on her last weekend when he had the perfect opportunity to hold her and know what it was like to brush his lips against hers. Was she not good enough for him? Or was she just losing her mind?

What was wrong with her? If Chad were around, she’d have no reason to think about Jayden. Chad had a way of keeping her focused and grounded. Nothing like this emotional mess she was becoming.

The sharp chiming of the store’s bell resounded throughout the store as the door pulled open.
Kim labeled the scarf in her hand, her back to the door. “Sorry, we’re closed.”

“Exactly what I was thinking. But if that’s true, what are you still doing here?”

At the sound of his voice, Kim’s heart flipped. Her breath stilled. She slowly turned around. And there he stood in the shadows. Tall, hair and jacket wet, head tilted to the side appraising her. His jeans were slightly rolled up above his timberlands, hands firmly planted in the pockets of his pants. He couldn’t have looked better had she dreamt him up herself.

Kim made herself breathe as Jayden stepped into the sole light she’d left on in the store.
“What are you doing here?” It was the only thing her brain could concoct.

He raised a brow and a sly smile lifted up the corners of his lips. “I’d like to change my look. What would you recommend?”

Kim frowned. “I don’t have time for games.” She turned back to the pile of new clothes that needed labeling and organizing.

He walked up to her, close enough for his mild cologne to fill her nostrils. Her heart tripped over itself all over again. She held her breath. But the damage was already done. She swallowed.
“I can see that. Otherwise you wouldn’t still be here at 9pm.” He cast a glance at his wristwatch. He stared at her. “No plans this Friday night, huh?”

Kim didn’t know what hurt more, the truth of his words or the pity in his voice.“I have plans. Organizing all of this.”

Jayden didn’t speak and it unnerved her.  He walked over to another box of items and brought out the different accessories.

“What are you still doing in town? Thought you’d be at the cottage with the rest of the fam.” She finally broke the silence.

“I had a lot of work at the studio.” He sighed and turned to her. “Was walking past and saw y-you still in h-h-here. Thought I’d help o-out.”

Kim watched him carefully. He looked tired. He clearly needed a good night’s rest. “Busy week?”
He nodded. “A couple s-s-hoots, two major ones for a magazine and a corporate cocktail p-party till late yesterday. And I’m falling behind on sending out orders of my p-p-prints.”

She turned to him. He appeared unbothered by the fact that he was slightly stuttering.

“How can I help?” He cast a look around him. Kim showed him where the items went and how to tag and store them unto the computer - although he obviously knew how from the times he'd helped out at the store. But he listened patiently anyway.

He proceeded with doing his part quietly. So they worked in silence, Kim willing her mind to forget that he was there with her and they were alone in the same space – just the two of them.

“So I get your whole excuse with t-t-today’s delivery. But that doesn’t explain why you’ve been here so l-late throughout the week.”

Kim’s head shot up. “How do you know that?”

Jayden didn’t look her way as he classed two dresses on the racks. “I’ve been leaving the studio pretty late all week. Walk past to see the lights in here still on.”

“Why did you never come in?” She found herself ask.

Jayden met her eyes for the briefest of moments, then just like that he went back to work without answering her question, as if afraid she might read him.

“No social life?” Jayden’s eyes finally rested on her again.

She finished labeling the dress in her hand and decided to walk over to put it on the racks, anything that would give her an excuse to turn her back to him.

“No time for a social life.” The words sounded pathetic even to her own ears.

“Kim…” The softness of his voice made her insides twist. He was behind her. She turned around. His features were soft, filled with compassion. He motioned for them to sit on the floor, resting against a wall. She hesitated, but then joined him.

He rubbed his eye with the heel of his hand and sighed. He didn’t speak for a second and the only sound that could be heard was the constant pouring of the rain outside.

“Kim, one sister died. Not both.” He finally forced out the words. “Before Rae’s accident, you wouldn’t find yourself working so late every day of the w-week.” He stared closely at her.

Kim felt a familiar tightness in her chest. She fixed her gaze on the floor. “This has nothing to do with that.” Her voice, low.

“Doesn’t it?” Jayden turned away from her. “Rae would probably be horrified at the idea of you here all by yourself every night.”

His words made her chuckle. “She would definitely drag me out of here.”

Jayden chuckled too and locked glances with her. “What happened to your friends, Kim?”

“Most are in the city.” She shrugged.

Jayden raised a disbelieving brow. “That’s 45 m-minutes away. It’s not the other side of the w-w-world.”

Kim shifted. Since graduation in May, she’d turned down every invitation to anything, until her friends had stopped asking. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d called Sarah, who’d been begging her to come visit her apartment in the city and maybe spend the night.

“I suppose I could pay Sarah a visit.” When she saw the look on Jayden’s face, she explained, “My best friend since high school. We also did our MBA together.”

He smiled approvingly. “Call Sarah now.”

“What? No. I haven’t spoken to her in weeks.”

Jayden frowned. “Alright. Text Sarah. Say hi. Ask her how life is. You know, what n-n-normal human beings d-do.”

Kim chuckled at the tone of his voice. “Ok. I’ll text. I can handle a text message.” She shot him a mock scowl before reaching for her phone in her pocket. A message from Mum. A missed call from Chad. When did she miss his call? She had to stop accidentally switching her phone on silent. She quickly texted Sarah and then shoved her phone back in her pocket.

“I just proved I’m a – quote – normal human being. To your standards at least.” She gave Jayden a look.

He laughed, “Attagirl,” and grinned at her. He quickly turned away again.

Kim rested back against the wall, eyes shut, listening to the rhythmic sound of the rain beating against the stores windows. Like a silent black and white movie, images flooded her mind and before she could help herself she chuckled out loud.

“You know, Lynn loved rainy days. I don’t know anyone who loved it as much as she did. She never carried an umbrella – the crazy girl. She would go outside in the rain and just be silly. She’d stand there getting wet, trying to convince me to join her.”

“Did you ever join her?”

Kim chuckled. “No. Couldn’t risk my hair ending up a mess. But Raelynn never cared about that.” She turned to meet Jayden’s eyes. “I wish I had. I would give anything to join her now. She knew how to have fun. Me? I was clueless. She…” Her voice broke. She swallowed and turned away. “She was perfectly carefree. I guess you could say she lived.”

Jayden smiled and held her gaze for a long time. He finally got up on his feet and reached down his hand to pull her up. “Back to work.”

They worked silently only sharing in light banter occasionally. By the time they were done, they were both exhausted and Jayden’s stuttering had evidently gotten worse.

“Thank you. I could never have gotten through all that tonight without help.” She broke up the remaining empty boxes.

“I’ll t-t-take th-th…”

“Sure” she interjected.        
He took the boxes and disappeared into the staff quarters with them. When he returned, she couldn’t help asking. “Any plans this weekend?”

Jayden shrugged. “Not esp-especially. T-tomorrow, I h-have another sh-sh-”

“Another shoot. Right.” She nodded.

He rested his back against the till desk. “But I p-promised Tyler I w-would h-help him b-b-b-build –” his face jerked violently as he struggled with the word. 

Kim wasn’t sure where to look. Was he in pain? Whatever the case, it was painful to watch. She couldn’t believe she’d ever made fun of his stuttering. Clearly, he was finding the mere act of speaking difficult. A rush of compassion suddenly broke through the dams of her heart. 

Jayden took a deep breath and tried again, “…build a t-toy plane he’s h-had for a wh-while. He loves planes. L-loves b-building them in spite of not being able to s-s-se-”

“In spite of not being able to see them. Wow. He’s a great kid.”

A forced smile appeared on Jayden’s face. He cast his gaze to his feet, a sadness in his eyes. “So I’ll go o-over to hang w-with T-Tyler after th-th-the –”

Kim nodded in understanding. “After the shoot.”

“Don’t.” Jayden looked up and met her eyes, irritation in his own. “D-don’t do that. Don’t c – comp – comp –” He stopped and sighed deeply. “…Complete my sentences.” 

The sharpness of his low tone took her by surprise.

“I…I was only trying to help.”

Jayden sighed. “You’re not helping. You’re m-making me f-feel incrediiiibly in – incapable.”
Kim stared hard at him. “I was trying to help.” And what does she get back in return? Him snapping at her.

Jayden rubbed his eye. “I’m really t-tired. That’s…that’s why I’m stutt-stuttering.”

As if she hadn’t figured that one out. She nodded. The exhaustion, irritation and sadness on his face slowly pulled at the strings of heart. He wasn’t irritated at her – not really. He was irritated at himself more than anything.

Her own anger quickly dissolved and she found herself offering him a small smile. “It’s ok, I get it. When I’m really exhausted, I forget my trail of thought and end up not finishing my…” She paused and yawned dramatically, stretching her arms for theatrical effect. She then made a face and turned to him, “what was I saying again?”

A grin gradually grew on Jayden’s face.

She matched his grin until he chuckled. The lines on his forehead disappeared and the muscles in his jaw relaxed as he laughed. Her heart galloped at the sight.

“You need to relax. And I know just the thing.” She took his arm and dragged him to one of the cushioned chairs in which clients could sit to try on a shoe. She sat him in it and asked him to close his eyes.

“What are y-you up t-to?” He stared distrustfully at the image of her reflected in the long mirror facing the chair.  

Kim chuckled. “Just close your eyes, big guy.”

She waited to see that he obeyed through the mirror, then she tenderly placed her hands on his shoulders, welcomed by the softness of his wool long sleeve. She gently kneaded and massaged his shoulders and the muscles around his neck like she knew how. The more she proceeded, the more she felt his muscles loosen at her touch.

“Hey, Jay?”

“Yeah?” His eyes remained closed.

“I’m really sorry I made fun of your stuttering when we were kids. I can’t imagine what that was like for you.”

He opened his eyes and stared at her though the mirror. “You didn’t know any better. A lot of people don’t.” He shrugged, as if brushing off her apology. “Wow. You’re really good at this.” He shut his eyes again.

Kim chuckled. “Yeah, Chad says the same.”

Jayden opened his eyes. “Who’s Chad?”

Kim’s hand stopped for a second and she cleared her throat, avoiding the mirror for fear of meeting his eyes. “Feeling better?”

"Definitely." He relaxed once again under her touch.  She started to gently hum a soft tune she’d heard on the radio and let her hands do their magic.

“You have a beautiful voice.” Jayden turned around to look at her. “You sing?”

She shrugged, “Well, no. Only when I play the…” She broke off and quickly retrieved her hands from his shoulders.

Jayden stood, staring at her curiously, “Thank you. I feel like I should return the favor. Wh-who knows, I might be as g-good at giving a m-massage as you are.”

The thought of his hands on her shoulders suddenly wreaked havoc on her emotions. “Er…No! No…I’m fine. Its late, I should get home.” She turned away.

“Your Mum would be worried?”

Kim chuckled as she got her handbag and umbrella from behind the till. “No, Mum’s away for the weekend. It’s just me. I’ll have a nice romantic dinner all by myself.” Why did she have to say that?

She stole a glance at Jayden to find him smiling in her direction.

“Well, I think you’ve earned it.” He was mocking her. The glint in his eyes was evidence enough.
She rolled her eyes as she shut off all the lights. He made his way to her side and took something out of her hands but she paid no attention as she verified everything was in its place and ready for the next day. It was only when she opened the door and was welcomed by the splattering of the rain that she wondered about her umbrella.

“Looking for this?” Jayden stood on the sidewalk, her closed umbrella in his hands as the rain slid down his face and wet his clothes.

“Give it.”

He smirked. “Why, certainly, Ms. Hart. But only if you come get it.”

Kim narrowed her eyes at the image of him – just standing there in the pouring rain, being drenched. “You’re crazy, Mr. Finnegan. Crazy.”

Jayden chuckled. “That appears to be an accurate observation, Ms. Hart. Can’t say I disagree.”

She turned the key on the store’s lock and turned her full attention on him, the cold wind rushing through her suit jacket. “Jayden, hand over the umbrella.” She managed to sound threatening enough.

He tilted his head to the side and matched the fire in her eyes. “It’s right here, Kim. Come get it.” A smug look appeared in his eyes. “I dare you.”

She narrowed her eyes at him, trying to devise a plan. She finally decided to remove her jacket and use that as a shield to cover her hair and makeup. The light white blouse she had under would have to do against the rushing cold.

She took the first step out into the rain and cringed when she felt the raindrops trickle off her foot and into her high heels. The next steps were easier. Soon she was by Jayden’s side attempting to grasp her umbrella, but instead Jayden grabbed at her jacket leaving her with no protection for her hair. She burned with irritation, grappling to get both her jacket and umbrella from him. What ensued was a silly wrestling game of her reaching over and around him to retrieve her belongings while the rain beat down mercilessly on them both.

She finally succeeded and couldn’t help laughing, “Ha! In your face, Jayden Finnegan! In your face!” She exclaimed.

Jayden grinned at her, a pleased look in his brown eyes.

She stopped her victory dance, an eyebrow raised. “Why do you look like the cat who ate the goldfish?”

Jayden walked up close. “You’re finally standing in the rain. Like Rae would. Welcome to the wet side of life, Kim.”

She laughed, poking him in the chest. “You are in so much trouble. My hair is frizzing up. My jacket, ruined. I bet my make-up…”

“It’s the 31st of October, Ms. Hart. You may look like Frankenstein’s bride, if you so please. Besides, I don’t mind.”

She glowered at him. “You think you’re so funny, don’t you, Mr. Finnegan?”

He smirked. “Precisely so, Ms. Hart.”

Kimiko shook her head at him, unable to deny the feeling bubbling inside of her. Joy?

“C’mon, let’s get you in my car before you grow scales.” He put an arm on her back as if to lead her but she refused to budge.

“Why would I get in your car?”

“Because you’re drenched and I don’t care if my car seat gets a little wet. You, on the other hand…”

He raised a fair point. She didn't want her Porsche’s interior getting wet. They ran towards his car, laughing all the way. Through the ride, Kimiko tried to take her mind off the fact that she was soaking wet and her clothes stuck to her like her own skin. But bugging her even more, was the constant reminder as they drew close to her home that she’d soon say goodbye and find herself utterly alone in a house full of memories that would haunt her.


Jayden parked in front of Kim’s home and they sat in silence, as if waiting for the other to speak first. He looked straight ahead through the rain-beaten windshield afraid to look at the face he’d longed to see all week.

“Man, I need a hot bath.” He finally heard Kim say.

He stole a glance in her direction and felt his heart jerk in protest. Even soaking wet, she was a sight worth looking at. He swallowed, unable to speak.

“Well, I’ll see you around?” She grinned at him, unfastening her seat belt.

“Sure thing.” He nodded once.

But she sat there and took a deep breath as if pondering something.

“Hey, I know you probably have more interesting things to do at the cottage and your family to hang out with but…” She swallowed and met his eyes. “Would you like to maybe come in for a hot cocoa or something?”

She was twisting a bracelet on her wrist and chewing on the corner of her lower tip, as her eyes avoided his.

Alarms went off in his head and common sense screamed ‘no’. Alone with a girl he could hardly stop looking at in her home? Yet he wanted to spend time with her. He wanted that grin to appear on her face. He wanted to hear excitement and enthusiasm in her voice again, just like he’d heard while she was soaking in the rain. He needed to hold on to the memory of her laugh and radiant eyes.

“Oh, you don’t have to say yes…” She appeared hurt at his hesitance.

He swallowed. “When I’m not a coffee guy, I’m a hot cocoa on a rainy day guy.” He spoke, offering her a shy smile.

Kim beamed, unaware of how much damage the mere act was inflicting on the rhythm of his heart.

He followed her into the home, as perfectly organized as the last time he’d been here. She was awkward, as if she wasn’t quite sure what to do with herself.

“Erm…I’ll show you to the spare bedroom.”

Jayden’s eyebrows shot up. “Excuse me?”

She didn’t seem to understand his confusion. “Well, I thought you might want to change out of those clothes and let them dry. You can also shower in the bedroom’s shower. Everything’s in there. You can change into something of Dad’s. He has plenty of comfy clothes he really doesn’t wear. He’s more of a suit guy. Except when he goes to the gym or something. But anyway, Mum’s always ordering him clothes he doesn’t wear so a lot of them are still sitting there with their price tag. Besides, I doubt he’ll be needing any of them soon.”

Jayden studied her. She spoke rapidly, hand twisting the bracelet she wore on her left wrist, eyes never really stopping to rest on him.


She showed him up to the room and brought a couple clothes for him to choose from. He quickly showered and settled for track pants that fit and a hoodie that was slightly too big. When he made his way downstairs he found Kim in the kitchen making the hot cocoa. She sported oversized thick flannel pajamas, wore her brushed hair loose and smelt like shampoo – a sort of sweet caramel smell.

She smiled and handed him a big mug of cocoa. She then opened a cupboard to reveal a stack of Oreos.

“Wow. You really are an Oreo thief. What did you do? Rob every supermarket in town?”
Kim rolled her eyes. “A girl needs her stash, OK?” 

She shoved two packets in her arm and led him to what appeared to be the den. The crackling fire in the fireplace kept the room warm. The big comfy couch filled with cushions along with the bookshelf and chandelier made the small room look and feel homey, compared to the rest of the home which Jayden thought felt rather cold.

“This was Rae’s favorite place in the whole house. She loved sketching in here.” Kim sat on the couch, holding her mug with one hand and hugging a cushion against her with another.

Jayden smiled and sat beside Kim. He could almost see Raelynn in here.

He turned to Kim. “Can I ask you something?”

She nodded curiously.

“Where’s your Dad? And what does he do?”

Kim stared down at her mug. “Dad’s a consultant. A highly demanded consultant. He’s one of the top in the business. He... um…he moved out recently. He’ll come back though. He and Mum just need to work a few things out.” Her voice trailed with doubt yet her eyes held conviction as she stared down at her mug.

Jayden wasn’t sure how to break the strained silence until the doorbell rang.

“I ordered some sushi. Is that OK?”

 She was already out of the room before he could answer.

Jayden found her in the kitchen where he helped her set the sushi and sauce in plates while he tried to keep up with what she was saying about her love for sushi and how these were the best in town.

“Look at me, I’m a living cliché. Part Japanese and into sushi.”

Did she just giggle? Jayden stole a glance at her, as if assuring himself it was still Kim. He couldn’t tell if she was excited or nervous or…both.

He followed her back into the den where she kept talking – jumping from one subject to the other. He could hardly keep up. He’d always thought she was a girl of very few words. Now she reminded him of his teenage sister, Ana, who could be quite the talker. It wasn’t even like Ana was unbearable. But he was used to Ana being Ana. This side of Kim on the other hand…

She was fumbling with her chopsticks staring into her plate as she spoke about how she probably needed to take a shopping trip to the city when she suddenly looked up and caught his eye. She stopped mid-sentence and swallowed.

“What? You’re looking at me funny.”

Jayden felt a slow grin take its place on his face. He set down his now empty plate on the table in front of the couch and scooted a little closer to Kim, shifting his body slightly so that he was completely facing her, with his right ankle tucked under his left leg.

He put on a pensive look and fixed an intense gaze on her. “Am I making you feel uncomfortable, Kim?” He hoped the humor wouldn’t be apparent in his eyes.

Kim froze. She stared. Shook her head. “Uncomfortable? Why would I be uncomfortable?”

Yet, everything about her posture screamed the very word. She was stiff, her eyes hardly really meeting his own.

Jayden wanted to laugh, truly laugh. He scooted a little closer to her and her eyes closed in on the little gap left on the couch between them, as if she were praying he’d respect the invisible barrier.

This would be fun.