Somewhere out there in this storm is the future, my future. I watch the water patterns squiggling against the window as they try to decide where they are going. The pressure from the wind, speed, and more rain forcing against the droplets force them into a hectic pattern. I follow them intently while they make a path down my window.
Ethan lightly squeezes my thigh. He has been giving me the silence I need to contemplate everything that just happened. Truly, he has to be too good to be true. So far, he has shown me nothing, but compassion and understanding. “This might be a tidal wave,” I warn him, giving him the chance to opt out now before it’s too late.
Ethan’s mischievous grin makes its appearance. “I never have been able to pass up a good ride. Besides, I think having the two of us there … we’ll be able to hold each other up, or if all else fails … catch each other when we fall.” My breath catches, and my stomach flutters from his endearment.
“You’re too good to be true,” I whisper, expecting him to say something else. It doesn’t come—he just winks.
We pull into the parking lot, and I begin to hyperventilate. What the hell was I thinking, asking him to come to dinner with my family? My kids will be in there. I can already picture the scrutinizing looks. Crap … crap, crap.
Ethan gently pulls on my chin, so that I am looking at him. He searches my eyes for a moment and then leans over the console between us and kisses me softly. When his lips are melded with mine … I think of nothing else. I move in a slow rhythm matching his. He tastes so sweet, and I revel in the breaths escaping from his nose heating my lips. My heartbeat quickens, and I edge closer wanting to be wrapped up in nothing, but him. “We can do this,” he assures me.
He reaches over me further and opens the glove box pulling out something black. It takes me a minute to figure out what it is. He opens his door and pushes the black thing open—an umbrella. My door swings open, and while Ethan helps me into the wheelchair he hands me the umbrella to keep me from getting soaked. I try to hold it over both of us as he pushes me over the rain pooled parking lot. We both laugh when he shakes his wet hair playfully over me as we get in the doorway. I look up and silence my joy. All my family is staring us down.
“Hi,” I say.
Sean smirks wickedly, “and who is this?” He is the last person on the face of the planet I need to explain myself to, but it’s Ethan who speaks.
“I’m Ethan Clark. I’m Nikki’s boyfriend.” He says it so matter-of-factly. I think that he is trying to egg Sean on. I watch nervously as both of them size each other up—testosterone flying. Sean used to be fairly fit himself. He played football in high school and college, and his construction company always kept him active, but the last few years he has put on a bit of a beer belly. Unlike Ethan, who is tall, lean and muscular in all of the right places.
“Awe, I’m Sean Cooper—Nikki’s husband.”
“Not for long,” Ethan says snidely.
“Your table is ready.” A waitress says smiling. She has no clue that she showed up with perfect timing.
I see Mathew glower at me and then turns, giving me the cold shoulder. I feel lost. I don’t know what to do to help him. Lexie smiles weakly at me, and right now I’m not sure what her thoughts are on this hoopla. Heck, I don’t know how I feel with all of this hoopla. Ethan follows in line pushing me across the restaurant, “This is going to be more fun than I thought,” he says in a low voice so that only I can hear. I roll my eyes … boys.
We are taken to a private room in the back with a large table. At one end, Sean takes the head, and Sarah sits next to him. Mathew sits next to his dad on the other side, keeping his eyes away from me. My mother, my very own mother sits next to Sarah, and then Ben and then my sister Heather’s son, Alex. Lexie sits next to Mathew, and then my sister’s daughter Rachel, and then Joe and Heather. Ethan, sure of himself takes the other seat at the other end—just opposite Sean. I sit to his right, next to Heather. I try to keep my focus on Ethan and my sister. Scared to look down the line.
“So what do you do Ethan?” I hate that this evening that is supposed to be a celebration for Lexie has turned into a battle of sexes.
“I’m a Physical Therapist.”
“So like an assistant to a doctor, helping people splash around in a pool?” I know that Sean is trying really hard to get a leg up on Ethan.
Ethan exaggerates a cough, “Hardly. The only people I assist are the ones that are my patients. I assist in their recovery. I, however, have been working on my doctorate. My goal is to become a doctor for sports medicine.” It’s me coughing—for real—now. I had no idea that he was going to school to be a doctor. “My first goal is to get this beautiful woman back on her feet.” Ethan leans over and pecks my cheek.
Oddly, my sister reaches under the table and grabs my thigh. I look at her, and she smiles warmly at me. I’m grateful that she is giving me her approval. I smile back, and then she words to me … “he’s hot.” I giggle.
The mood lightens after everyone orders and gets their drinks. I can tell that Sean is still stewing at the end of the table, but for the most part everyone else has moved on talking about Lexie graduating and her next steps. I try to avoid looking at my soon-to-be ex-husband. The light touches from Ethan here and there are enough to keep me elated and filled with anticipation with thoughts of what might happen next.
“Excuse me beautiful.” Ethan scoots his chair out but doesn’t leave without giving me a kiss. He has been staking his claim all evening … just another kiss to add to that ownership.
“Oh my god, Nicole Cooper, why did you not tell me you found yourself a hot little stuff muffin?” I blush, hearing my sister call Ethan a stud muffin.
“Well … it’s umm, new.” I look up and see Sean’s pupils contracting, his mind clearly plotting something. He stands as he smirks at me. How was I so naive? How did I not see how evil he is? His eyes are locked on me until he rounds the corner. Where is he going? A few minutes pass and neither Ethan nor Sean, are back yet. I wonder where they are. I’m relieved when Ethan comes up and sets both of his hands on my shoulders. He leans down, and I feel his lips connect to the top of my head. A feeling of relief settles over me. I don’t see his goofy smirk until he sits down.
“What?” I ask, smiling myself now.
“Your ex thinks that I’ll be stepping aside.”
“What?” I find myself asking again, but this time I am not wearing a smile.
Across the table, Sean is sliding onto his seat. He winks at me, and places his hand over Sarah’s. What the hell? The man has seriously lost his mind.