Raising the Stakes – A short story

As I perused the fresh meat section of my local supermarket, my phone trilled in my pocket, dragging my attention from an excellent cut of ribeye beef. Instead of building an entire meal around the tasty morsel in my head, I tore my eyes away to check the message.

Jon-boy: Hey Kaz. Don’t forget I’m out tonight, so won’t be home for dinner. Don’t wait up! Xx

I rolled my eyes at the message. My son lived to get on my nerves. I was rarely mom any more. At the moment I was Karen, or Kaz, which would have been mildly acceptable had that been my name, but no, I had been christened Kaz because of the designer name on my glasses. I would never understand my kid’s humour (or I pretended not to, he was actually kind of funny).

Tapping out a reply, I grinned at my phone.

Jonathan David Henderson you are pushing your luck, mister. I want proof of life photos before midnight. Stay safe. Love Kaz xxx

Okay, so I went there. What can I say, I love my boy, even if he is seventeen and makes a sport out of pushing me past the point of sanity.

I was just putting the phone away when it chirped in my hand. Glancing at the screen, I saw the notification from my daughter.

Jen: Just letting you know I’m staying at Stu’s again tonight. I’ll be back tomorrow because I’m running out of clean clothes!! Love ya x

This message shouldn’t have surprised me. My eldest was rarely home anymore. Both my babies had all but flown the nest, and I was trying to ignore the emptiness left behind. It wasn’t their fault I put my personal life on hold. Truth be told I barely survived losing their father, and for years all my focus had been on raising the two of them (as well as my other babies, those being my first-year students). I ignored the loneliness because the part of me that craved intimacy had been dormant for so long I wasn’t sure she would ever thaw out.

You know, there is this amazing invention called a washing machine. You open a door, throw your clothes in and they come out clean on the other side. Magic! We’ll take the adventure together. See you tomorrow. Love, the cleaning lady xxx

Yes, my son wasn’t the only snarky member of the household. His father, god rest his soul, had given him his exotic looks. I’d given him the gift of sarcasm.

My eyes returned to the steak, my mind already pairing it with a superior glass of wine. It appeared that I would be again cooking for one, so I should at least indulge a little.

I could practically hear the sizzle of meaty goodness as I reached for it, which was of course when my damn phone interrupted again, this time with a call.

Since the tune was blaring out ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’ I didn’t have to guess at the caller. It was my best friend’s anthem.

“You certainly pick your times, I have my eye on a delicious hunk of meat.” Yes, that was how I answered.

The snort down the phone line was so Andrea I grinned. “If it was anyone but you, I’d cringe at that derogatory comment. But alas, I suspect your libido has not decided to join the land of the living, so what we’re really talking about is your version of a happy meal.”

“You’re no fun anymore.”

“Hey, stop stealing my lines!” Andrea’s musical laughter warmed me, which, considering where I was standing, between a cold barricade of fridges, this was no easy task. “Now, step away from the prime beef and get your butt over to my place. We’re going out tonight.”

“I told you. No can do. I have to prepare for the end of term musical, so I’ll have to take a rain check.” It wasn’t exactly a lie. I did have costumes to sew. But the main reason I used my work as a shield was the prospect of squashing my behind into an overpacked club and feeling like a frumpy old housewife trying to recapture her youth.

“Come on Dee. You need to dust the cobwebs from your-”

“Don’t even finish that sentence, Miss Halliday. We’ve been over this. Save your lecture for girl’s night tomorrow.”

Andrea sighed. “Fine, I give up. And, just saying, I might as well get started on securing your cat collection so expect a furry gift.”

“Hilarious. Stop annoying me and give me a break. I’ll see you tomorrow.” I hung up, mainly to get one over on her. It was my fifth call from her today, and each had ended with a dead tone.

Shaking my head, I again zoned in on my prize and made a grab for it. Unfortunately, instead of wrapping my fingers around packaging, they settled on someone’s wrist.

Dragging my hand back, albeit reluctantly, I mumbled a ‘Sorry,’ and glanced at the meagre offerings left on the shelf.

“Not a problem.”

The voice was a deep rumble, and momentarily distracted me from my disappointment.

“It’s a novel experience to fight for my dinner.”

That was kind of funny, so I looked up and to the side, my curiosity getting the better of me.

My gaze was snagged by a deep, intense blue, and I swallowed against a sudden dry throat. “It’s a piece worth fighting for.”

His sudden burst of laughter had me stepping back so I could enjoy the show. Of course, the moment I took in the beauty of twinkling eyes and even white teeth, it hit me how attractive he was, and my rational brain shut down.

I’d been painting with my students earlier, so my hair was a nest around my face and I hadn’t looked, but I probably had rainbow splotches that were not a fashion statement, but a testament to the fun I’d had.

My clothes were wrinkled, and all I could hear was my grandmother’s voice in my head. She had lectured me many times about not leaving the house without looking my best. I’d always joked about the chances of bumping into royalty, but not once did I consider looking like a scarecrow in front of an attractive stranger. At this rate I would get hit by a car on my way home so the paramedics would discover I was wearing my ugliest underwear. Why did I never listen to my grandmother?

“It’s Mrs Henderson, right?”

I blinked, then scanned his face more closely. A second later recognition hit. “Mr Carter?” He was a much older version of one of my favourite students.

“Michael.”

I smiled, forgetting my earlier discomfort. Right then I was remembering how the entire staff team had been in a flap about Daniel’s uncle and his generosity during the school fete. I’d missed the event, but the kids hadn’t stopped talking about the animals Michael had brought from his vet’s practice. Maybe it was worth getting a cat after all.

“You were the talk of the school last month.”

He dipped his head to the side. “I was hoping to see you there.” When I said nothing, because what could I say to that? He continued. “And I have a confession to make.”

“Oh?”

“I didn’t really need the beef.” His grin was slightly crooked, just like his nephew’s. “I just used the opportunity to strike up a conversation.”

“Does that mean I get the ribeye?”

He laughed again, and god but it was a beautiful sight. Then his face softened, and he gave me a look I didn’t understand before reaching over to tuck a strand of hair behind my ear. “I tell you what. I’ve been waiting so long for you to notice me, I’m prepared to buy the steak and cook it for you.”

Dear god. What did I say to that? What did it even mean?

“Or you could take it home while you think about throwing me a bone.” His grin came again. “And accept an invitation to dinner.”

A thousand excuses flitted through my mind as I stood frozen in his intense stare. But not one of them came out of my mouth. No, apparently, I’d taken leave of my senses because what I said was, “I’m free tomorrow night.” I mean, screw girl’s night, right? Andrea would probably be over the moon.

The next thing I knew, Michael was thrusting the tray into my hand and I no longer cared about steak or wine or the empty house I was trying to avoid. Suddenly I wanted to do more to earn one of his crooked smiles, and find out if my libido really had left the building.


Thanks for stopping by

Mel

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