|In her new apartment|
There was no way to circumvent the doctor's orders, so she spent a dull weekend recovering from her concussion. Beckett sent flowers, an arrangement so large that Kevin originally believed the delivery was for the church, and not his sister. The huge bouquet of pink tulips, white roses, and sprays of lacy baby's breath was breathtaking, and Maureen was more than tickled to be on the receiving end of such male thoughtfulness.
Although he did not come back to visit her in person, the Sheriff stayed in constant communication via text messages and phone calls, the highlight being an invitation to take in a movie together the following Tuesday. It would be their first "official" date, and to that end, Maureen had high hopes of a fairy tale ending, a memory to replace the disastrous "can" incident.
On Monday, she returned to work in high spirits. The Schillers showered her arrival with concern and sympathy, offering a few more days of recovery if needed, which she graciously refused. Maureen loved her job, and was looking forward to puttering in her apartment after hours. She had so much to do, and the two days in bed put her behind schedule. It wasn't that she didn't enjoy her brother's company, or her stay in the rectory. He had been a wonderful and caring host. But Kevin was like a mother hen, constantly checking on her well being, fussing over everything she did, and it had become decidedly annoying.
Then, there was her budding relationship with Ted Beckett. The rectory offered not a bit of privacy, and even if there had been any, it felt too weird to consider romance within it's confines. Plus, she doubted her brother would approve of any such goings on between his baby sister and the Sheriff. His reaction to Beckett's interest in her was confusing. It was obvious that he considered the man a friend. They shared many of the same interests, and appeared comfortable with each other. It even seemed that Kevin respected Beckett's opinions on several matters. Yet, when Maureen was added to the mix, her brother acted stiff and proper, a side of him she had never seen before. It made her sad to have this wall between them, but logically speaking, it would be best for everyone, if she kept her personal business, romantic, or otherwise, to herself.
The day passed without incidence, and as she locked up for the night, she ran through a mental list of all the things she needed to finish upstairs. The walls needed a second coat of paint, and there were serious issues with the temporary walls she had erected around the bathroom. She flipped on the lights, ready to tackle the huge job, and stood in shock, mouth hanging open, and eyes blinking.
This was not the same apartment she left last Thursday night. The walls and ceiling were neatly covered in a coat of fresh paint, and the white tile she had selected just last week, had been carefully
applied and grouted. Best of all, the tiny bathroom boasted two sturdy walls, set on an angle, that left her with plenty of space for a bedroom area in the left corner of the room.
The hows and whys of the situation left her stumped. She doubted that Kevin was her secret "remodel' fairy. Home improvement had never been his forte, and she was pretty sure he didn't know a wrench from a screwdriver. It was also unlikely that he had hired someone to finish the work, since between them, they didn't have a pot to piss in, or a window to throw it out of. She wondered if the Schillers had decided to fix the place up, and then increase her rent. She certainly hoped this wasn't the case, as her budget was figured to the penny. Not knowing made her crazy, and even though it was most likely their dinner hour, she decided to give them a call, hoping for some answers.
Mr. Schiller was pleasant, but anxious to get back to his supper. He related that a team of carpenters and painters had come in early Saturday morning with a printed work order. The workmen had spent the entire day upstairs, and had left sometime around 4PM. The job had been paid for in advance, and Schiller had assumed either Maureen or Fr. Kevin had scheduled it. He didn't appear concerned about the lack of solid information, and teased Maureen about having a "secret admirer".
Maybe it was wishful thinking on her part, but she had an idea of who her benefactor might be. And the fact that he seemed as anxious as she to have the apartment finished, made her stomach do pleasant flip-flops.
It had been a lovely evening. There was do denying that. So why, here at the end of their first date, did she feel so totally let down? Like a china doll, pretty and painted, but left abandoned on the shelf.
She had agonized over what to wear. Something attractive and fetching, without appearing as if she were trying too hard. After several "try-ons", she settled on a pair of black leggings, short booties, and a long, silk, sweater tunic in a soft shade of green that people said matched her eyes. She gathered her hair up in loose curls, and went light on the make-up, letting her her natural fair coloring show through. A last look in the mirror convinced her she was "on her A game" for this date.
And it wasn't as if Sheriff Beckett didn't appreciate her efforts. He repeatedly sent a string of compliments her way, and the way he looked at her throughout the evening, made her toes curl in her boots. He was a perfect gentleman, charming, polite and thoughtful. He left the movie selection to her, opened doors when necessary, and helped her on and off with her coat and scarf. He held her hand the entire evening, and seemingly made her the center of his undivided attention.
So when, after a quick nightcap at the local pub, he dropped her back at the rectory, and abruptly ended the evening with a lame kiss on the cheek, she was mortified, her heart dropping in a sickening lurch. Somehow, she had screwed up. It was that, or else he had taken a chance, and found her lacking. Either way, she felt awful. Even a promise from him to call her again, did little to help soothe her bruised confidence.
She was glad that Kevin had already gone to bed. He would undoubtedly ask a million questions, figure out things went badly, and offer his shoulder to cry on, something she absolutely didn't need at this moment. She was an adult. A grown woman, and not some simpering virgin. If her last contentious relationship had taught her anything, it had made her smarter, and tougher, about the affairs of the heart. She wasn't going to roll over and play dead. Not this time. She'd pull herself from the wreckage, and take one more shot at Ted Beckett.
Maureen spent the morning hovering between anxiety and determination. She finally took her break at 10 AM, and snuck off to the apartment upstairs, where she'd be alone. She had called him on his cell before, but this time, the phone felt awkward and foreign in her hands. What if he thought she was being too pushy? An unwanted clingy vine? She straightened her back, and dialed. If that was the case, then he'd refuse her invitation. Make some polite excuse. Then she'd know once and for all exactly where she stood.
Before she could change her mind, he answered on the first ring. "Beckett."
"Maureen? Hey, what's up? I was just thinking about you."
The statement gave her courage, even if etiquette required him to say such things. "I just wanted to thank you again for last night. I had a great time." Up until you pulled a dump and run, Ted. Just left me standing on that porch like a fish out of water.
"Me too. Let's make plans to do it again."
"Well, actually...I...ah..was calling for that very reason. I would like to return the favor, and invite you to dinner."
"At the rectory?"
"Um...no. I was thinking of hosting at my new apartment. The one over the deli." Well, that was pretty stupid, Maureen. He obviously knows where your new apartment is. I'm going to screw this up. I just know it."
"Really? You're ready for company?"
"Oh, yes. The place looks great. I'm absolutely thrilled with the way it turned out. Like I told you last night, I still don't know for sure who helped me get things in shape, but I'm terribly grateful." Stop stammering, you idiot! Get to the point before he hangs up on you!
"I'm sure you'll figure that out eventually. So...you mentioned dinner?"
Well that's a good sign, Maureen. Just go ahead and ask him! "I was hoping you could come to dinner on Thursday night." There was silence on the other end, and she started to sweat.
"This Thursday? The 14th?"
Here it comes, you silly twit. The polite let down. Whatever made you think someone like Beckett wouldn't already have plans for a holiday like Valentine's Day? "I...I ah..guess you probably already have plans. That's okay, Ted. We can make it some other time." Damn, Maureen. Don't let him hear the disappointment in your voice. Have some frickn' pride.
"No, as a matter of fact, I'm embarrassingly free that evening. With everything that's gone on in the past few months, I thought I'd make this Valentine's Day...well... low key. But how could I resist such a charming invitation from a beautiful woman. I'd be delighted, Maureen. What time?
"How does 7:30 sound? Too early for you?" She tried hard not to sound earnest, but it was hard to keep the smile out of the words.
"7:30 is perfect. Thanks for the invite, sweetheart. Lookn' forward to it."
"Me too. See you on Thursday, Ted." She hit the end button, afraid if she kept on talking, she'd only babble. Alone in the space, she did a little dance of joy, already planning the evening's menu. It took only minutes to realize that she had stretched the truth about the apartment being ready for company. The dining area still had no table or chairs, a serious impediment to any type of romantic dinner. In addition, although the bathroom now had walls, it was still without a proper door, and the bed stood empty without sheets, blankets or pillows. Thinking about that last item made her blush.
With only 36 hours to finish making her apartment Beckett ready, she desperately hoped the Dollyville thrift store made home deliveries.
|Ready for a special Valentine's dinner|
It was nearly 4 PM on Thursday when Maureen hung the last picture on the wall. She had been working nonstop since her call to Beckett the day before, and her apartment was finally guest presentable. She felt bad that she needed to ask the Schillers for more time off, and the loss of a day's pay was certainly not going to help her precarious financial situation. But it couldn't be helped. There was no way she would have had enough time to finish all that needed to be done, and still work a full shift.
She had spent the previous evening at the local thrift store, exploring the aisles in search of furniture that would suit the tiny space. A vintage brass bed had come with the apartment, and using some good ole' elbow grease, it had cleaned up nicely. One leg seemed shorter than the rest, and the bed wobbled a bit, but an old dictionary under the offending leg solved the problem completely. A new mattress was a necessity, as the old one dipped low in the center. In addition, the thought of sleeping on a something that had a mysterious history freaked her out, so even though it had cost a chunk of her precious savings, she splurged on decent mattress and box springs
To her mind, the thrift store was a awash with treasures. She found a solid dining room table, with two matching chairs, a small dresser with deep drawers, and a vintage step stool that would look great with her red appliances. She was thrilled to discover vintage linens, in several shades of pink, to dress her bed. After a quick cleaning in the rectory washing machine, the finished bed looked quite lovely against the freshly painted walls. Best of all, the store's owner, upon learning that she was Fr. O'Kenney's sister, waived the delivery fee, and promised to bring her purchases to the deli first thing Thursday morning.
The hardest part of the project was convincing her brother that she couldn't wait until the weekend to move in. She delayed asking him until after Ash Wednesday Mass, thinking he would be too preoccupied to argue. It didn't help. Kevin insisted that if she waited until Saturday to move all her things from the rectory, he would be able to round-up a group of volunteers, and thus, have less trips back and forth. Though his suggestion made perfect sense, there was no way she was going to admit to her brother any of her plans for Thursday night. Without doubt, he would sit her down, and in his best priestly, preaching voice, homilize on the reasons it was a bad idea, and suggest she pray for guidance.
She loved Kevin to pieces. Thought he was one of the kindest, most spiritual persons she had ever known, and it was the honest truth that she would rather die than hurt his feelings. But when it came to her personal relationships, she had no interest in unwanted advice from her big brother the Pastor, and the less he knew about her feelings toward the Sheriff, the better. With a combination of whining and begging, she finally convinced him to help her move the most essential of her belongings into the flat, and if he had any idea of her motives, he kept them to himself.
When Beckett rang her bell at exactly 7:30, Maureen was ready. The roast was in the oven, the plump oysters artistically arranged on a bed of rock salt, and the flour less chocolate cake frosted and displayed on the elegant, new cake stand. Well, new to her, anyway. It was amazing what people gave away to the charity shop, thinking it had no use.
With a quick check in the hallway mirror, she went down the stairs to let him in, the dog excitedly trailing behind her. Dressed in faded jeans and a wool sweater under his trade mark leather jacket, he looked strangely boyish, and more relaxed than she had seen him in months. He bent down, kissed her on the cheek, and stuck out a brown paper bag for her to take. Then, leaning over, he gave the dog a scratch on his head, offering Basil a pet treat from his pocket .
|Beckett comes to dinner in the new apartment|
"Can you grab the champagne, love? I need to get something off the porch." He turned away to wrestle with a very tall package wrapped in red paper, and tied off with a large, looped bow.
Her curiosity piqued, she locked the door behind him, and followed him up the stairs, watching as he propped the package against the wall, shrugged off his jacket, and hung it on the hook near the stairwell.
"Your place looks terrific. Hard to believe it's the same flat."
She looked at him, and smiled. "So it was you! You sent those people to fix my apartment."
Grinning, he pointed a finger at her. "I admit to no such thing, but I am grateful to your special benefactor for making this evening happen."
"Thanks, Ted. It was a very thoughtful thing to do. But you know I feel. I don't want you buying me expensive things. It makes me feel...well...kind of trashy."
Ignoring her comment, and changing the subject, he moved to the center of the room. "Why don't you just give me the grand tour."
"A very short tour, at that." She took him by the arm, and led him toward the kitchen area. "This is my kitchen, small, but mighty. I find it very efficient."
"Obviously, because something smells great. What's for dinner?"
"Prime rib. I hope you like it?"
"Sounds delicious." He moved across the room, and ran a hand over the new walls in the corner. "They did a nice job with the drywall. But this has to be the smallest bathroom I have ever seen. A person can barely turn around in it."
"You sound like Kevin. He says it makes him claustrophobic. But, it suits me just fine. Has everything I need."
"Speaking of Kevin...does your brother know I'm here tonight?"
Maureen looked sheepish, and shook her head. "It's not like I need my brother's permission to have company in my own apartment." It was her turn to change the subject. "Should we open the champagne?"
"If you'd like."
She reached into the cabinet and pulled out two crystal goblets, wine glasses instead of champagne flutes, but it couldn't be helped. Beckett peeled off the foil and wire around the top, and worked the cork off with a loud pop. He filled both glasses, and handed one to Maureen.
"Does this call for a toast?"
He smiled, and thought a moment. Then he raised his glass, and she followed suit. "To tiny red heads... with eyes so green, a man could lose his soul in them. Cheers."
She suddenly felt too warm, like she was standing inside the blazing oven, rather than next to it. She tapped his glass with her own, and took a sip, fighting to avoid making a sour face. She wasn't a drinker. An occasional beer, or a glass of chablis was her speed. The last time she had drunk champagne, it had made her fuzzy, and given her a headache. But it seemed rude not to have any after he had gone to the trouble of bringing it, so she worked at only taking small sips.
Beckett wandered over to the far left corner of the room, where her bed was located under one of the arched windows. "Is this the same bed that came with the apartment?" He ran a hand over the large brass knob, a movement that made something silky run down her spine.
"Yes. I really like the way it turned out. I used an entire can of brass polish."
"It's charming. Very pink, but it suits you." Before she could respond to that comment, he walked back to where he had left the large package, and dragged it over near her bed, waving her toward it. "Gift time. Happy Housewarming. Happy Valentine's Day."
"Geez, Ted. You didn't have to bring a gift. This dinner was supposed to be a kind of a 'thank you' for helping me and Kevin out with that Marzano guy. And for my wonderful Christmas gift. I love Betsy. She has a place of honor on my bed."
"Lucky doll." He watched her blush, and laughed. "Go ahead. Open it."
Maureen untied the bow first, saving it as she always did with wrappings. Then starting from the top, she ripped off the red tissue in long strips, while Ted held the item steady with both hands. It appeared to be some type of stained glass room screen, and when she had it completely uncovered, he spread it apart in front of her bed.
She knew she should say something, but no words would form on her tongue. It was the most beautiful piece of furniture she had ever seen. The wood frame was highly polished cherry, set with three long panels of stained glass featuring wildflowers of every color. It was absolutely exquisite.
"I realize flowers are traditional for Valentine's Day, but I wanted something a little more permanent. Do you like it? I figured it would give your bedroom area some privacy."
All she could do was stare. Her brain and mouth seemed to have lost all function. "Oh, Ted...I...I don't know what to say. It's amazing. Like a field of flowers, all in fairy glass."
He appeared pleased at her reaction, and then played with the screen until it he was satisfied that he had the right angle. "This is how I pictured it. The sun rise from the kitchen window should shine right through the glass in the early morning, and the diffused light from the evening sun set will come from the window above the bed."
The fact that he had given her gift that much thought... had actually contemplated her mornings and evenings...made the pulse race in her throat. "It's just so beautiful. I...can't...I don't know...how can I ever thank you enough for a gift like this."
"No thanks necessary. But I do have a favor to ask." He looked into her eyes, and ran his hands over her bare arms, causing Maureen to shiver. "I would love it...hoped you might consider... letting me witness the morning sun spraying those colors across all that gorgeous, pale skin."
She knew if she tried to even say a single word, it would come out in a high pitched squeak. Her throat was tight, and her hands shaking. Acting from the heart, she stood on her tip toes, and threw her arms around his neck.
Because she was so much shorter than he, bending over was awkward. Instead, he scooped her up in his arms, fitting her against his chest. But before he moved a single step, he watched her face, and quietly asked her, "Is this really what you want, Maureen O'Kenney?"
Finally finding the ability to speak, she kissed him, and then answered, "Yes, Mr. Beckett. It's most definitely what I want."
He laid her across the very pink linens, on the bed she spent hours polishing. Pulling both his sweater and shoulder holster over his head, he hooked them both on the end of the headboard. Then, he lay next to her, and whispered, "Le beau petit… vous avez placé mon coeur gratuit." Not speaking a bit of French, she didn't have a clue to what he said, but noting the way he looked at her, figured it must be something good. Very good. And so she kissed him again.
In the kitchen, the champagne went flat, the oysters lay untouched, and the prime rib dried out in the oven. The candles burned to wick and wax, the dog chewed the end of the throw rug, and threw up in front of the sink. Outside, the rain changed to snow, and the ipad on the dining room table played the same album over and over again. But behind the fairy glass, lost in each other's arms, neither of them cared about any of that.
|Beckett's gift to Maureen...and his request|
Happy Valentine's Day!
Copyright 2013 Victoria Rocus
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