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Hot, Sexy, Sweet, and Funny
These are just a few of the words readers have used to describe The Dating Alternative. Be warned: Max is a super hot, sweet, kind, strong guy who finds himself falling and is willing to put himself on the line and do anything to get the girl. He's kind of easy to fall for, so...brace yourself.
Copyright © 2019 Jennifer Woodhull
All Rights Reserved
There are not enough words. I don’t mean that in a dramatic way as if there are not enough words to express something with which I’m momentarily frustrated. I mean there are often times when the optimum word for something simply does not exist in the English language.
Fernweh, for example, is a great word. It’s a German word that describes a feeling of homesickness for a place you’ve never visited before. The Swedish word, lagom, describes taking not too much nor too little, but just the right amount of something. To wear or use something for the very first time is expressed in Spanish by the word estrenar.
I love words more than anything. I love hearing someone intelligent say the absolutely perfect, most fitting thing at exactly the right moment. I live for anagrams, crossword puzzles, and riddles. I adore awful puns—even dad-level terrible ones. I enjoy thinking about language and how people use it. Perhaps most of all though, I love the power words have. They can wound or soothe, express hopefulness, desire, or regret. I only know one person who loves language as much as I do. He also happens to be the person in Texas I’m the most excited to see.
The Portuguese have a word for the sensation of nostalgia and longing for someone who is far away. Saudade. That’s what I’ve been experiencing since I moved to New York.
I have saudade for Dexter Flynn, but that’s about to come to an end because at long last, I’m going home.
.-- --- -. -.. . .-.
The Tipsy Alchemist is the upscale hipster place Dexter chose to start our reunion evening. The space has an industrial chic vibe, but the warm caramel-colored walls and coffee-colored leather banquettes give the place a warmth that’s welcoming.
When I enter, I walk up and down the length of the packed bar. I visually scour the space, checking every barstool and table. I’m am disappointed when I don’t see him. Just as I’m about to turn and head back toward the front, a man leans in close behind me and says, “Excuse me, miss, but might I buy your first libation of the evening?”
I turn, ready to tell the guy to get lost so I can call the person I want most in the world to see. When my eyes meet his, though, they are the sweetest pair of deep, soulful brown eyes peeking through tortoiseshell frames. A dark brow is quirked up above his glasses, and a grin I know well peeks through a sexy layer of stubble on his jaw. My heart darts around my chest. I throw my arms around him so hard, I nearly send us both tumbling to the floor.
“Dex!” I squeal, squeezing his neck. His arms wrap around me, and they’re far stronger than I remember.
“It’s about time you came back,” he whispers into the side of my neck as he squeezes me tightly. “I’ve missed you, Clair.”
I feel an instant wash of relief, being here in his arms. The feel of his cheek against mine and the smell of his aftershave trigger an eruption of happy memories. My brain floods with late night talks and board game marathons. My circuits overload with shared stories and inside jokes—with gushing over books and documentaries at the independent theatre, and good-natured arguments over our favorite authors. He has been such a huge part of my life for so long, and now, seeing him, I feel like I’m finally, really home.
“Come on,” he says, grabbing my hand. “I reserved us a booth.”
He leads me through the trendy, dark-paneled space to the back where tiny, high-walled booths, are situated. This area of the bar is quieter than the rest, and the high walls of our booth offer some much-appreciated privacy.
The booth to our immediate right houses what I can only assume is a bachelorette party judging by the volume and frequency of the word “Woo,” coming from their direction.
When the server arrives, I order a cocktail, and Dex orders a beer.
“Miss, can I ask, the group of ladies in the booth next to us…is one of them a bachelorette, by chance?” He smirks in my direction as he finishes the question.
“Actually, yeah. Are they being too rowdy?” Her response is apologetic.
“Not at all. I was just curious.” I grin and he winks in response.
“It’s a cool story, actually,” the server says, pausing to set the edge of her tray on the corner of our table to tell us more detail.
“She just got out of the military. She met her fiancé while they were stationed together. He was injured, and she’s a nurse.” She puts her hand to her chest. “They fell in love while he recovered in her hospital.”
Dex and I look at each other, and each make the universal face that any red-blooded human with feelings makes when seeing a baby, or a puppy, or hearing a sweet love story.
“Aww,” we say in unison, giggling like kids.
“Would you please take them a bottle of Dom Perignon and put it on my tab? Anonymous, though, please…with thanks for her service, and her fiancé’s,” Dex adds.
“Wow, that’s really nice of you! Absolutely, I’ll take care of it right away,” the server replies.
When she walks out of Dexter’s line of sight, she catches my eye and mouths the words,
“Lucky you,” with a wink. It makes me smile unreasonably wide.
Lucky me that such a kind, thoughtful, generous man is in my life and cares so much for me. Lucky me that he’s my friend. Unlucky me that he’s not more than that.
“That was very generous of you,” I tell him.
“When my company first took off, a mentor told me, “I always say, if you’ve got it, spread it around. Nobody likes a successful, stingy asshole.” I’ve always tried to remember that.” He shrugs, and I propose a toast to successful good guys.
“You look amazing, Sinclair.” Dex is grinning at me, his brown eyes sparkling.
I reach across the table and take his big hands in mine, giving them a squeeze. “You look amazing too. By the way,” I say, stifling a giggle. “I didn’t know I’d need tickets.”
“Tickets? For…what, exactly?” He cocks an eyebrow up in question, looking serious.
“The gun show.” I say it with a wink as I poke a pronounced bicep with my index finger.
His cheeks flush with crimson as he looks down and away. The expression belongs to the shy, gangly guy I met in school, not the hunky, successful entrepreneur sitting across from me.
“So, have you been hitting the gym, or did you invent some magical device that passively enhances muscle tissue?” I tease. “Because if you have, please sign me up as a test subject. Pilates is torture, but I like to eat far too much to ever give it up without some sort of alternative.”
He chuckles. “I like to think of the fitness thing as my transformation to Dexter two-dot-oh.”
He makes a playful face that feigns arrogance that I know is anything but the real Dex.
“I have to say, I don’t hate that my efforts are producing noticeable results. I told you about my business partner Cole, right?” He asks sheepishly.
“Your friend Cole, yes.” I roll my eyes.
I think he still has a little trouble sometimes wrapping the high school part of his brain around being friends with a professional athlete.
“Yeah. Anyway, since he pitches for the Frontiersmen he knows all the best personal trainers. He convinced me to start working out with one he recommended. I go to the gym almost every day now. Turns out I’m not as unathletic as I thought I was.” He grins wide, pride evident on his face.
“You certainly seem like you’re feeling pretty good,” I reply. I stand up enough to reach across and squeeze the muscle on his arm. “Yep, feeling pretty darn good to me.”
He smiles, then he shakes his head and chuckles. “I really do feel good…and even better now.” Something flashes briefly in his chocolate-brown eyes, then he smirks. “I’m just so happy you’re back, Clair.”
Clair. No one but him calls me that. The way he says it is familiar and makes me feel special that he has a nickname just for me. It’s the same way I call him Dex. The nicknames bond us. They conjure up all the happy times we’ve spent together. Those terms of endearment are just for us, like they’re special words all our own.
By the time we finish our drinks my stomach is growling, so we head down the street to a Mexican place that has always been one of my favorites.
As we walk the four or five blocks to the restaurant, a group of girls walking the opposite direction toward us are all checking Dex out as they pass. I turn to look over my shoulder and see them all looking back, whispering and giggling. When I look over at him, he seems oblivious.
And this is why he has trouble finding the right girl. He has no clue when a woman is into him, and no one knows that better than me.
I bump his shoulder with mine.
“They were checking you out,” I say with a smirk.
“That group of girls that walked by. They were cute, too.”
He rolls his eyes.
“So, not seeing anyone?”
“Not at the moment.” He lets out a sigh. “Maybe I’m too picky.”
“Maybe you are,” I agree.
And that’s the other reason he can’t find the right girl. He has never fully explained the criteria to me, but he seems never to have found anyone that checks all the boxes on the list of Dex requirements for the perfect girlfriend.
Someone as genuine and kind, as smart and as funny as Dex deserves someone wonderful, though—someone who can see him for everything he is. I have tried to resign myself to the fact that I’m not that girl in his eyes. I only hope that one day he finds her, and she deserves him.
That brings me to another word that should exist, but doesn’t. There should be a word for enjoying something you have, but still wishing it was much, much more.
My pulse quickens as soon as I see her pacing back and forth up front, scanning the bar. There’s a veil of worry across her brow as she looks up and down the length of the space, scanning each face for recognition.
She’s looking for you, you lucky bastard.
I can’t contain my grin. The most intelligent, kind, funny, brilliant woman I know is looking for me. Me—the programming nerd who graduated from high school at fourteen.
It’s been two years since Sinclair moved to New York. It doesn’t matter. Even though I haven’t seen her in person since last Christmas, I’d know her anywhere. She has the same confident bounce in her step. Her long, golden hair shimmers, even in the dim light of the bar. I sneak up on her and lean in from behind, offering to buy her a drink. When she turns to look at me, her blue eyes go as wide as her smile, and my body courses with adrenaline. When she tackles me with a hug, my chest puffs up to superhero proportions. She accepts me wholly. She loves me, too, even if it’s not the same way I love her. Even if it never could be.
After catching up at the bar, we head to her favorite taco place for dinner. When we arrive, the place is packed, which is typical for a good taco joint on a weekend night in Dallas. When Clair’s not looking, I slip the host a fifty-dollar bill to find us a quiet spot and I breathe an internal sigh of relief when I see he’s secured us a booth in the back corner.
I’m going to savor this night for as long as possible. Over the coming days, there will be catching up with sorority sisters and getting settled into her new place and her new job. Then, there will be the routine of work, and friends and probably, before long, dates. Dates with men who are, unfortunately, not me. The times I get Sinclair all to myself will be fewer and farther between as the days and weeks wear on. It’s inevitable. Tonight, though, she’s all mine, and I plan to enjoy every minute of it.
I ask her about her new job when we are seated at a secluded table beneath a colorful mural of a Mexican street scene. I grab a chip and drag it through the communal salsa bowl, silently willing the tomato-y sauce to stay put as I lift it to my mouth.
“I’m excited about it,” she replies. “Well, I mean as excited as I can be, I guess. You know pharmaceutical sales was never really my passion.”
I smile as she fingers the gold beads of the bracelet I gave her for her college graduation years ago.
“What would you pick, Clair? If you didn’t have to work for money? If you could do anything you wanted?”
I am trying hard to focus on what she’s saying. She looks so stunning though, it’s hard to keep my mind from wandering to a scenario conjured by my imagination.
‘If I could pick anything I wanted? Well…,’ the imaginary version of Sinclair says in my head, ‘I’d choose you, Dex. You’re all I’ve ever wanted.’ In my fantasy, she looks at me with her lips parted, her eyes begging me to kiss her. I stand, pull her to her feet, and bend her backward as I press my lips to hers, eliciting a soft moan. The restaurant full of people see us and stand, cheering and applauding. That’s how it happens in my imagination, anyway.
“So, yeah,” she says and I realize I’ve missed something crucial.
Shit! Context...listen for context, dumbass. You went to Dexland and completely zoned out.
“Definitely, working with kids in at-risk areas of Dallas…. Something on the importance of language as a form of personal branding. Working with kids who haven’t been exposed to that—who haven’t had an opportunity to be mentored…that would be a place where I think I could make a real difference.” She shrugs.
Thank god she kept going.
“That sounds amazing. I’m sure if that’s your goal, knowing you, you’ll get to do it someday.” I say it because I believe it.
“I don’t have to ask you that same question, though, do I? You’re already living your dream, Dex, and I’m so happy for you. I bought a paper copy of Time, by the way.” She smiles brightly at me.
“The special edition. The one with the article that featured Alder Extrinsic as a future giant of
biotech. You need to sign it for me so I can put it with the rest of my I knew you when collection.”
“Oh.” I chuckle. “That. I nearly forgot.”
She shakes her head. “It really doesn’t faze you, does it?”
“The notoriety of being a tech visionary.” She leans her cheek on her palm and smiles at me so adoringly, I am nearly hypnotized—rendered speechless by the heady sensation caused by the way she’s looking at me.
I laugh. “Well…a lot of that is Cole’s doing. He has me working with a publicist. I don’t think I told you about that.” She seems interested, so I continue. “Apparently athletes go through rigorous media training when they’re in college or about to go into a draft, to prepare them for being suddenly thrust into the public eye. The publicist got me hooked up with some speaking and media lessons.”
“Wow, really? That’s great. So, you feel better prepared to deal with those high-pressure situations?” She remembers how tough it used to be for me to speak in front of people. She was in the first class I ever taught solo, after all.
“Well, I don’t have the overwhelming desire to run away when people ask me questions and I haven’t let a swear slip out live on the radio…I haven’t had to quell the urge to vomit on a talk show host in months. The publicist says she’s never seen such a transformation.” I grin and a big, full laugh rolls over her.
I typically live in a world of facts and data. I prefer that to living in the ambiguity of human emotion. People and their motives often perplex me. Except for Clair, that is. She is one person whose motives I’ve never had to doubt. I don’t have to try to read her. There is no hidden agenda. She wants me to be successful and for her, success is measured in my degree of happiness. She accepts me…makes me feel safe to be myself. It’s one of the myriad things I love about being with her. I don’t have to think about being socially appropriate. I don’t have to try hard to come up with witty repartee. I just have to be myself, and that’s enough for her.
As we chat over dinner, I try to catch myself to keep my gaze from venturing beyond attentive friend and into creepy staring territory. I have to wonder, though, how she got even more insanely fucking beautiful since the last time we saw each other. As she tells me about her new place, she looks up from her margarita, and I swear there’s a twinkle in her eye that looks like it’s straight from the low-budget special effects department of a nineteen-seventies TV show.
Clair is gorgeous by any standards with her long blonde hair, big blue eyes, turned up little nose, and the fullest lips that curl up into a breathtaking smile. And her laugh? Her laugh is big and warm and infectious. I’d crawl across the dessert, bare-assed in the heat of summer just to hear that sound—to see that smile that lights up the whole damn world more brightly than the sun.
I’m about six feet tall, and Clair is maybe five inches shorter than me. She’s slim with the type of curves that would easily land her work as a model or spokesperson if she were interested in that sort of thing. What people don’t immediately see, though, is what makes her infinitely more beautiful. She’s interesting and energetic. She’s kind and compassionate. She comes up with some wicked puns, and hates to see anyone hurt. She’s truly the best person I know.
She’s also the reason I haven’t found the right girl. See, in Dexland, she is the right girl.
I’ve been in love with her basically the whole time I’ve known her. People would jump to the obvious conclusions about that. Nerd falls for unattainable cheerleader. They’d be wrong, though.
If anything, when I first met Sinclair, I was a judgmental asshole.
When she came up to ask me a couple of questions after a class I was teaching, I thought, Great. Another hot girl who thinks she can flirt with me and get me to influence her grade. Looking like that, she’s probably not the brightest crayon in the box either.
We started talking, and since we both had our next class on the other side of campus, we walked the same direction as we talked. After that first day, and the next, and the next after that, I could see how wrong I’d been. I had done exactly the same thing people had done to me my whole life.
Nerd. Geek. Scrawny. Awkward. Boring. Weirdo. Difficult.
Changing the assumptions to hot cheerleader, airhead, and flirting to get ahead was no better. I felt like a complete jerk for judging her so harshly without getting to know her.
Clair was real, and although we were becoming the best of friends, it didn’t take long to realize my feelings ran much deeper than just friendship.
There was a time I planned to tell her how I felt, but that was a long time ago. I know one day she’ll settle down, get married, and I’ll lose the tiny acorn of hope that my heart can’t seem to quite let go of that something could happen between us.
Maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing.
“So,” she continues between bites of her chicken soft taco, “When do I get to meet his new friend who has helped you so much?”
“Oh, I guess I hadn’t thought about that,” I lie. I’ve thought a lot about it, and was hoping to buy some time before I introduce her to my friend the pro ball player and girl-magnet.
“I tell you what,” she says cautiously. “The girls and I are going to Breuhaus on Saturday afternoon. I was going to invite you anyway. Bring him along if you want.” She must notice my expression fall. She knows me better than anyone, after all.
“Don’t make that face.” She flicks her gaze toward me from under her brows. “I know, you haven’t always loved my girlfriends but you haven’t hung out with them in years. We did all grow up, after all.”
She tosses a wadded up napkin at me and I can’t help but smile. She wouldn’t throw me to the wolves, and I know it, so there can’t be any harm in hanging out with her cheerleader friends from college for an afternoon.
“Okay. I’ll see if Cole’s in town.” I match her smile as I toss the napkin-ball back her way.
She’s not mine to protect, and she might not even like the guy. Still, I’ve seen the parade of women Cole has dated and I don’t relish the thought of him adding hers to the trail of broken hearts in his wake.
I’ll just talk to him. Let him know that she’s not one-night-stand material. Besides…Clair’s right. I guess Cole and I really are friends now. If he seems to like her, I’ll clear it all up before he asks her out.