“Oh, no, no, no, no, no!” Haley murmured in disbelief as she watched her pink, white, and yellow tulips being yanked viciously out of the ground. She shoved back from her computer desk and stormed towards the front door. She was going to kill him this time there was no doubt about it.
After five long years of juvenile nonsense he’d finally gone too far. Her college roommate hadn’t even been able to aggravate her this much, even when she went through her six month period of not showering, or using deodorant to “save the planet.”
Five years ago she’d been proud to buy her first house at the ripe old age of twenty-four. She'd worked her butt off to buy her dream home, a one level two bedroom ranch. The experience of owning her own home was better than anything she could have ever imagined.
She spent countless hours picking out the perfect color scheme for each room, cleaning, organizing, and hitting every yard sale within a thirty mile radius, trying to turn wood and plaster into a real home. None of that work could even begin to compare to the countless hours she spent on her lawn and garden. With countless blisters, cuts, bee stings and back aches she turned her dull yard into a paradise.
Her enjoyment lasted for all of four months. That’s when he moved into the house next door. At first she was excited to have a neighbor, one that wasn’t elderly and well, cranky. All of her enjoyment ended the moment she met Jason Bradford.
Within the first ten minutes of his arrival he’d backed into her mailbox, spilled fast food wrappers from his car onto his property, which quickly made their way onto her immaculate lawn, and relieved himself on the great old oak tree in his front lawn with a sheepish smile and a shrug in her horrified direction.
The man was a barbarian.
For the next five years he turned her picturesque life into a nightmare. She wasn’t sure how one person managed to take so much control over her happiness, but he did. Over the years she dealt with paintball pellets decorating the laundry hanging on her clothesline and the side of her house, loud music, parties, twice she found naked people trying to climb the fence to skinny dip in her pool, three a.m. drunken basketball games, women throwing hissy fits on his front lawn and sometimes on hers when the jerk refused to come out and deal with them.
What made it worse was that they both worked at the same private high school, in the same department, with adjoining classrooms, and parking spots. It didn’t take long for him to turn her dream job and house into a nightmare. At work she had to deal with him constantly “borrowing” things from her room like paper, pens, books, and even her desk one time.
He seemed to think he was the most charming man on earth and had no problem with using it to get his way, leaving her with extra work and responsibilities while he got to be the laid back teacher. It didn’t take her long to figure out that she would have to suck it up at work. There was no way at her age she was going to be able to land a better job. She'd been lucky to land this one. So the only option left for her was to move.
After the first year she tried to sell her house, unsuccessfully. Every time a prospective buyer came around he scared them off by just being Jason. She gave up the idea of selling her house for the next two years and put it up again last year when he took up golf and shot out three of her windows. After he managed to scare off fifteen prospective buyers by walking out to get the mail in his boxers, a particularly memorable fit of rage when he threw his computer out the window accompanied with a loud roar, and of course there was the upkeep or rather lack thereof of his property.
His lawn was covered in crab grass and weeds. He only paid the neighborhood kid to mow it once a month. The rest of the time it was the chosen habitat of little woodland creatures. The house needed a serious paint job, or at the very least a cleanup of all paint chips that had fallen to the ground over the years. If he didn’t personally scare someone off his house did the job. She gave up the dream of moving away five months ago and settled for praying that he would move soon, very soon.
Now he was going after her babies. This was not happening. Enough was enough. Over the last five years she bit her tongue, too afraid to complain. She’d always been like that, even as a little kid.
She was always the shy quiet girl with her nose buried in a book, hoping no one would notice her. It wasn’t so much that she wasn’t a very social person, she was. It had more to do with the fact that she was a huge chicken. When the other kids picked on her or pushed her around she cowered, unable to deal with confrontation. That nasty habit followed her into adulthood.
It was made even worse with good looking men like Jason. His ebony hair, ocean blue eyes and chiseled good looks made her nervous. She just wasn’t any good at handling people. Throw good looks onto a guy that was being particularly jerkish and she turned into a blubbering idiot. Pushy people just sucked and it really sucked that she never learned how to deal with them.
When she caught her roommate stealing her papers, food, and money what did she do? She avoided her room until well after two in the morning when she knew Angel would be asleep and then hurried the hell out of there before she woke up in the morning. The same could be said when the few boyfriends she did manage to have over the years took advantage of her.
Instead of throwing them to the curb like she should have done she pulled back into herself, knowing they would get bored eventually and move on. Yes, she was a chicken. That was the only reason why Jason Bradford had gotten away with his behavior for the past five years. No more. The flowers were the last straw. Her grandmother had given her the bulbs from her own garden when she bought the house and she loved them.
She spied the rolled up hose and made a snap decision. This ended here and now. The days of being the world’s biggest pushover were over.
“What the hell!”
Jason jumped to his feet as a torrent of ice cold water hit him.
He didn’t know what he expected to see, but it certainly wasn’t his timid little neighbor and co-worker aiming her very long hose at him. Clearly she’d lost her damned mind.
“Step away from my tulips,” she ordered in a tone of authority.
He really couldn’t help grinning at her. She looked so damn cute standing there with her long bronze hair pulled back into a twisted pony tail, green eyes full of fire hidden behind large glasses making her look adorable, and of course her rather tight black tee shirt with the word “Nerd” written across her very decent size chest made her look rather hot. His eyes dropped to the cute little shorts that revealed short, but very nice curvy tanned legs, very nice indeed.
Of course he knew his quiet neighbor was stunning. It was the first thing he noticed about her the day he moved in. The second, she was a very shy, very nervous, easily frightened female. He still winced when he thought back to that day. After five hours on the road and three giant gulps he was in desperate need of a bathroom. Unfortunately the realtor hadn't left the keys where she said she would and he had to make a split second decision, piss his pants or water the tree. In the end the tree got a healthy amount of recycled cola.
She hadn't even given him a chance to explain or apologize. Her face reddened before she practically ran into her house. From then on she avoided him at all costs. If he waved or said hello to her she would mutter something or ignore him. If he or one of his asshole buddies broke something on her property she didn’t say a word. If he was a jerk he could have easily gotten away with not paying for all those broken windows or paintball streaked sheets, but he wasn't that big of a prick. He learned she would never speak up for herself so as soon as the shit hit the fan he made a call and replaced whatever he fucked up. It would just make him feel like an even bigger asshole to take advantage of the situation.
It always bothered him that she never spoke up. He couldn’t remember someone disliking him so fast and intensely before in his life. No matter what he did she couldn’t be bothered to speak to him. Hell, he would have kicked his ass years ago, or at least called the cops on him like the other neighbors did or file a complaint with the principal like so many of his other co-workers had. Hell, she never even signed any of those numerous petitions the rest of the neighborhood liked to give him every few months. He checked each and every time.
It wasn’t like he was purposely being an asshole. It just came naturally to him. Everyone understood and accepted it. Probably because even though he was an asshole, he was a likeable asshole…..most of the time.
As happy as he was that she finally came off her throne to talk to him he was also pissed to be soaked to the bone in his favorite shirt and khaki shorts in seventy degree weather. Apparently he didn’t move fast enough because she sprayed him again.
“Are you fucking insane?” he demanded.
She gestured with the hose for him to take a step back. “Get away from my flower bed…..Now.”
“Your flowerbed?” he asked in disbelief.
“Yes, my flowerbed!” Another short spray. “I planted these flowers five years ago, before you moved in!”
Jason ran frustrated fingers through his messy hair. “Then you should have checked the fucking property lines before you wasted your time!” he snapped.
Her eyes narrowed on him. “The flowerbed is my property!”
“I don’t think so, sweetheart. Go check your deed if you don’t believe me. This flowerbed is one hundred percent on my property,” he said harshly. He pointed to the two feet of space that separated their houses where the flower bed continued until it came to the large wooden picket fence that started at the corner of her house and continued to the back, separating their backyards. “You have five inches from the wall of your house out. Your property ends two inches before my flower bed! That’s why the stupid little white picket fence starts against your house instead of on the other side of the flowerbed.”
He watched as she glared at the small space that separated their houses. Whoever built their houses was a real prick. Both of their master bedrooms were built less than two feet apart. Yet, there was more than thirty feet of space between each house and the other neighboring houses. There was no privacy with the way the identical houses were designed. He had no choice but to place his large bed directly at the window and from what he could see neither had she. Taking the smaller bedroom was out of the question. His bed would never fit in it.
It felt odd sleeping less than two feet away from a woman who thought him less than dirt. During the summer they both refused to open their windows until the heat became oppressive, leaving them with no other choice. Forget about bringing a woman to his bedroom. He’d never been one for PDA’s never mind having sex in public and having sex in his room would definitely feel like a public performance.
No matter how many times he tried to remind himself that they were in separate houses and separated by more than just a stupid little flower garden he couldn’t bring himself to allow a woman in his bed. Not that he did that normally. He never invited a woman to his home. That was one of his top ten rules of dating. The only time they ever came to his house was to bitch him out when he moved on and that was done from the outside.
He never in his entire adult life shared a bed with a woman. That was too much intimacy and sent the wrong message. The few times he made the mistake of relaxing in a woman’s bed after a quick lay proved to be serious mistakes. They wanted to coddle and always asked the questions that made him cringe, “What are you thinking?”, “Do you love me?”, “Where do you see this going?”, “Are you as happy as I am?’, "Why do you keep calling me by my sister's name?", or his personal favorite “I wonder what our babies will look like.” No, sex was best kept at a woman’s house, hotel room or better yet in the backseat of a car.
Thank god his neighbor seemed to share the same attitude. He hated the idea of waking up to the sounds of another man grunting and moaning. With his luck the sounds would filter into his dream and he would end up having a gay dream. Thankfully that never happened otherwise he’d be sleeping on his couch.
It wasn’t as if his beautiful neighbor was without male attention. He’d seen several losers sniffing around her in the last five years. She was easily out of their league, at least physically. Personality wise, well even from afar he could tell they were all pricks. He wasn’t a prince, not by any measure, but he found himself eager to deck a few of them over the years with the way they treated her. They never hit her, otherwise he would have killed the bastards. He didn’t go for hitting a woman no matter what. Sometimes he felt like they were using her, or not treating her right. He didn’t know why he cared, he just did.
Haley eyed the fence and then the remaining length of the flower bed. She sighed heavily. “Fine. If I made a mistake I’m sorry. I replaced the last flower bed with the tulips.”
He nodded in relief, glad that it was settled. The damn flowers were out of here and not a moment too soon. He couldn’t take another night like last night. Besides he was running out of cornstarch.
“I’ll just move the flowers over into my five inches of space,” she announced.
His eyes widened with that announcement. “The hell you will!”
Haley’s eyes widened in total disbelief as Jason threw himself back onto the plants, tearing them up like a man possessed.
“Stop!” she shrieked. He ignored her and continued to rip the tulips from the ground, making sure those damn bulbs came with them. He tossed them far onto his property so she couldn’t get her hands on them to re-plant them.
She squeezed the nozzle, sending a full blast of cold water on him. Still he continued to tear up the flowerbed.
“Stop! Please stop!” she cried. He only slowed down when he reached the tight space between their houses.
Jason had to shift his shoulders so he could lodge himself into the tight space. Thankfully she gave up on squirting him. It might be April, but they were in New England and that meant a bright sun with a cold breeze. His body shivered violently as he reached forward to grab handfuls of tulips. Suddenly something clamped around his ankles.
“What the hell-omph!” He was pulled off balance, landing face first into the thick mud she created with her little water meltdown. Before he could push himself up she was crawling over his back to get to those damn flowers.
Haley used her small frame to her advantage. After quickly crawling over Jason she began digging up as many tulips with her hands as she could and setting them gently, yet quickly, against the side of her house.
“Hey! Stop that!” he demanded as he leaned over her to grab her hands.
“Get off of me!” she snapped, digging faster.
“I wouldn’t be on you if you weren’t on my damn property!”
She threw back an elbow to dislodge him. He cursed under his breath as he pushed himself in further until her entire body was snuggled tightly beneath his. She instantly froze beneath him. He took advantage of her stunned reaction and grabbed as many flowers as he could.
“I said get off me, not crush me!” she clarified. It was all she could do to control her breathing. She was going to hyperventilate and pass out. No doubt about it. A large muscular man was on top of her!
Her senses went into overload as she tried to focus. But all she could think about was how the feel of his strong hard stomach felt pressed against her back. Suddenly a shiver shot through her body that had nothing to do with the cold water seeping through her clothes.
Then realization sank in. A very large man was on top of her! “That better not be what I think it is,” she hissed between clenched teeth.
“It’s not.” It was. “Don’t flatter yourself, sweetheart,” he snapped, trying not to groan or grind into her. He was a little shocked himself. Not that he ever had a problem getting it up. He didn’t. Of course these days his interest in sex had waned a bit. Hell, he couldn’t remember the last time he had sex, which in itself was pathetic.
He made a half ass attempt to pull out more flowers. That seemed to distract her enough from her pert little ass being snuggled against his lap. His eyes closed as he nuzzled his face against her neck and inhaled slowly. She didn’t seem to notice so he did it again. He would swear on his life that she smelled like blackberries and cream. It was damn enticing.
She groaned her irritation. “I don’t know what your problem is. I made a mistake planting them on your property. Just let me move them over a few inches and everything will be settled.”
That snapped him out of his daze. “No!” He reached past her and began ripping flowers out. She swore under her breath as she crawled out from under him to save whatever flowers she could. He simply followed her, assuming the same position each time and frustrating the hell out of her.
“You’re being a jerk! I just want my bulbs!” she said, trying to not to cry. These were her Grandmother’s bulbs. Her Grandfather bought them for her after the war to celebrate the success of their first business.
“No, you’re not going to plant them here! They can’t stay!” he said, digging faster.
“Why?” she demanded, coming closer and closer to frustrated tears. “I don’t understand you! You do nothing with your property at all. Why do you care if there’s a flower bed here or a few inches over? They’re not hurting you!” “The hell they’re not!” he snapped, thinking of all the spots on his back and neck that still throbbed.
She scoffed. “They’re just flowers. What could they possibly do to aggravate you to this level?” She heard a buzzing pass her ear and absently waved it off.
“Bees!” he said, trying to back up, but couldn’t. His large frame was trapped between their houses.
“Yes, it’s a bee,” she said slowly as if she were talking to a child.
He groaned as he tried to twist his large frame loose. When that didn't work he tried to shove backwards. His arm snaked around her waist, trying to pull her along with him.
“Hey, get your hands-“
“It’s a fucking nest and we just disturbed it!” he yelled.
Haley’s eyes shot forward and then widened. Sure enough, two feet in front of her the end of what appeared to be a very large ground nest was now poking out of the ground thanks to the flowers they yanked up. Yellow jackets began swarming just above the nest. It wouldn’t be long before they descended on them.
Haley clenched her teeth as she slammed back as hard as she could against him. He groaned low in her ear, but didn’t stop trying to move back. She moved forward and slammed back again, and again. Each time was met by a groan and a gain of a few inches.
“One more time!” he grated out.
She moved forward and this time when she slammed back into him she pushed up with her shoulders, dislodging him. Jason used the momentum to pull them both back several feet. He kept his arm snaked around her waist as he dragged her away from the nest.
“They’re swarming!” Haley cried.
“Shit!” Jason looked frantically around for a safe place.
“My house!” she said, gesturing wildly towards her front door.
“Good idea,” he said as he ran towards the house, dragging her along. The buzzing sound became louder and louder as the swarm began circling them. Once they reached the front door he opened it, relieved that she'd left it unlocked, and they ran inside, slamming the door shut behind them.
“Bees!” Haley cried, gesturing to the bees that had followed them inside.
He quickly released her and grabbed two magazines from a small pile on a coffee table and threw one to her. Without a word they rolled the magazines up and began to attack the dozen or so bees that managed to follow them inside. Neither spoke until the last bee was squashed.
“Five nights….in….a….row…..stung…,” Jason bit out while he tried to catch his breath.
“You knew there were yellow jackets and you still tore up the flowers?” she asked in disbelief. Her grandmother had taught her well. A ground nest was not something to mess with. It could be as small as a stack or quarters or several feet long.
Jason gestured in the direction of his house. “I was trying to kill them.”
She shook her head in disbelief. He knew there was a nest and he didn’t tell her?
“Why didn’t you tell me there was a nest? You know I work in that flowerbed,” she said, working hard on keeping her tone even. They could have been killed!
“No, you didn’t!”
He threw his hands up. “I’ve been trying to tell you for last few weeks, but each time I approached you, you ran off!”
She opened her mouth to argue, but shut it as quickly and winced. Yeah, that really did sound like something she would do where he was concerned. “Oh,” she finally said.
“Yeah, oh,” he snapped. He peeked out the window and groaned. “They’re still swarming.” Haley sighed. “They’re going to be a problem for a few hours. We need to call an exterminator.”
Man he was freezing. He was soaked to the bone and it didn’t look like he was going to be able to go to his house anytime soon to change. Normally he’d strip down to his boxers, but his neighbor was already skittish around him. He didn’t want to give the poor thing a stroke. He looked down at her very clean and obviously well cared for wood floor and cringed.
“Shit, maybe I should step out the back and dry off,” he said as he raised his eyes to look into her adjoining kitchen. His brows flew up as he watched the windows darken.
“I don’t think that will be happening for a while,” Haley said softly as she rubbed her forehead. “Why don’t you go take a shower and I’ll see if I can find you something to wear. While you’re taking your shower I’ll call for an exterminator.”
“If you’re sure,” he said, hoping she wouldn’t change her mind. He was freezing his balls off. Hell, at this point he’d squeeze his ass into a dress to get warm.
She nodded absently as she watched the bees swarm around her backyard. “Yeah, let me show you where the bathroom is.”
Ten minutes later the shivering finally stopped and he was really enjoying his shower. Never in his life had hot water felt so good. This was the best shower ever. It didn’t hurt that his little shy neighbor shared his appreciation for the simple things in life like a normal bar of soap and none of that overly perfumed expensive shit that never lathered properly and always left a rash on his skin. It also didn’t hurt that the bathroom looked like a bathroom and wasn’t covered from head to toe in lace and makeup. This was a bathroom a man could comfortably use without worrying about his masculinity.
He was just pulling on the tee shirt she'd left him when he heard her scream, “No! Don’t do it!”
Jason was out of the bathroom in less than a second, running towards her ready to kill whatever bastard was trying to hurt her. He came to skidding stop in front of her.
She smiled sweetly as she said, “God, I love you.”
His brows nearly shot through his hairline as his heart pounded. Shit, this was worse than he thought. She hadn’t been avoiding him all these years because she was shy. No, she was head over heels in love with him. Shit. This was awkward, especially since he was stuck here until an exterminator could come out here. Now he hoped it was soon.
He opened his mouth to say something only to find himself gestured impatiently out of the way with a dough covered wooden spoon. He stepped back frowning, afraid of getting dough all over him, and wondering what was wrong with the woman professing her love for him one moment and shooing him out of the way the next.
“Never come between me and the man I love,” she said, snapping him out of his thoughts.
Jason followed her gaze and chuckled. “Derek Jeter?”
She frowned as if questioning her love for the man was stupid. “Of course.”
He couldn’t help but grin. Damn. How had he missed this? She had a huge television. Bigger than his even and that was really saying something since his television was the one thing he'd really splurged on.
“That’s a really big TV for such a tiny woman,” he said teasingly.
“Well, how else am I supposed to watch my games and feel like I’m there?” she countered back. “Plus, this way I get to see my future husband better.”
“Does he know?” he asked, looking back at her.
She scrunched her face up adorably. “Not yet, but I can wait,” she said with a smile that made her face go from utterly adorable and sweet to heartbreakingly beautiful in less than ten seconds.
He shifted his feet awkwardly for a moment while she watched the game with rapt attention.
“Are you a Red Sox fan?” she suddenly asked.
“Hell no!” he said, insulted by the question. He may live knee deep in Red Sox territory, but that didn’t mean he was a betraying bastard. Yankees were his first love and would be his last.
She sighed with obvious relief. “Thank god.” She sent the game one last look of longing before returning to her kitchen counter where he noted with a chuckle that she had a small flat screen with the game playing. This woman really loved her Yankees, or at least one in particular.
What the hell was it with women and Derek Jeter?
He took a moment to look around her house. The damn bees were still covering all of her windows, but his attention was elsewhere. Her walls were covered in Yankees memorabilia. He wasn't too surprised when he spotted a signed photo of Derek Jeter above the television.
“Looks like we’re stuck inside until after dark,” she said, pulling his attention back to the kitchen. “The exterminator said he has to wait for the nest to calm down. That will happen when the sun goes down. He’ll come and spray them and remove the nest if he can.”
He ran his fingers through his damp hair and sighed. “I guess you’re stuck with me for a little while.”
She shrugged. “It’s fine. There’s a good game on so it should help pass the time.”
“True,” he agreed.
“I’m making homemade pizza. I hope you don’t mind. I was planning on ordering pizza today for the game, but with the bees and all…..,” she trailed off, shrugging.
“No, that sounds great. I’m sorry that I’m intruding," he said, feeling like an ass. This woman spent the last five years avoiding him and now he was being forced on her by Mother Nature.
“Not a problem,” she said and he got the feeling that she was lying. She never liked to be around him before. Whenever he stood too close to her at work or went to sit next to her she found an excuse to move. Now she was forced to have him in her house. That couldn’t make her all that happy. His eyes drifted off to the television when she sighed dreamily. Then again her attention was elsewhere at the moment.
"What?" he asked a little confused.
“Beer,” she said, gesturing towards the fridge without taking her eyes off the television.
“Oh,” he said with a chuckle as he retrieved two bottles. He handed her one and she took it with a mumbled thanks and then a few choice words for one of the players.
Jason leaned back and watched the show. Not really the game, but Haley as she cooked and ranted. Soon it became obvious if the vegetables were going to get cut and not mangled every time she didn’t agree with a call he’d have to do it.
For the next six hours they cooked, watched the game, laughed, swore and screamed at the television, ate and got into an hour long fight with the exterminator over the insane amount he wanted to charge them before the argument shifted to the game. By the end of the night Haley seemed to have come completely out of her shell around him and he counted himself fortunate to have another buddy. One who actually knew the stats without messing up or having to look them up. Not like several of his friends he wouldn’t mention. It didn’t hurt that she was incredibly hot. That was just a bonus.
A nice bonus, but a bonus nonetheless for his newest buddy.
"Is this 32 Long Point Road," the short husky man who smelled like he bathed in a gallon of cheap cologne and garlic asked as he climbed out of the beat up Taurus parked across Haley's driveway.
Now, normally Jason would either just ignore the asshole or give him a quick nod and continue minding his own business as he pulled the keg of beer out of his backseat, but not today. Today he was going to do his normally shy neighbor and co-worker a favor. After yesterday he was pretty sure this wouldn't piss her off and send her back into hiding.
Okay, maybe he wasn't a hundred percent sure, but he just couldn't help himself especially when the jerk actually shoved a condom in his pocket and gave Jason a conspiratorial wink.
At that moment he didn't care if this sent her running for the hills and she slapped a restraining order on him, he was getting rid of the asshole.
"You're not here for Haley, are you?" he asked, pulling out the keg and setting it on the ground.
The man frowned. "Yeah, why?"
Jason made a show of cringing as he looked quickly back at Haley's house as if he was making sure she wasn't watching them.
"I really don't think that's such a good idea," Jason mumbled.
He gave the man an "Are you kidding?" look and had to stop from laughing as the man shifted nervously.
"Surely you know....," he said, purposely letting his words drift off.
"No, my friend set me up with her," he said, shooting a nervous glance towards Haley's house. Did the curtain just move?
Jason rubbed the back of his neck, sighing wearily. "It's really not my place, but I'm not sure this is such a good idea."
"What?" the man practically whined.
After a pause he shook his head. "I'm sorry, but I really don't like talking about it. All I can tell you is that you really need to be careful." He gave the man a pointed look as he stressed, "Really careful."
The man's eyes widened as his mouth dropped open. He took several steps back, shooting nervous glances towards Haley's house. When he reached his car he said, "I, uh, just suddenly remembered I have somewhere I'm supposed to be." With that he practically jumped into his car and sped away.
Jason chuckled as he made his way to Haley's front door. He knocked on the door and wasn't too surprised a moment later when there was no answer. He pushed aside his disappointment and knocked again.
It seemed last night had been a fluke and his shy neighbor was here to stay. He really liked spending time with Haley last night, more than he thought possible. Feeling like an idiot he headed back to his house and keg.
A loud wet hacking cough had him pausing halfway down her small walkway. The front door slowly opened as Haley said, "I'm sorry I took so long," another hacking cough, "to answer," another cough, "the," cough, "door. But, the doctor said I was still," several loud and disturbing coughs later, "contagious, so I--Oh, it's only you," Haley said with a relieved sigh.
His lips twitched as he took in her outfit. On her head was one of the ugliest puke green knitted hats he'd ever seen. Her oversized ratty bathrobe was worse, but the large wadded up ball of tissues in her hand was a nice touch. There was no doubt in his mind that she was faking it. Considering that he'd hung out with her last night and she'd been the picture of health. Right now she looked well enough, just frumpy in those oversized ratty clothes.
"Love the hat," he said, smiling as he walked over to her.
Laughing, she pulled the offending hat off and chucked it at him. He caught it before it hit him in the face. "What's this all about?" he gestured towards her getup with the hat.
"Nothing," she said quickly.
"Looks like date repellant to me."
With an innocent doe-like expression she said, "I have no idea what you're talking about. I'm sick," cough, "really sick." And just to backup her story she sniffled.
It was sad, adorable, but sad.
He couldn't stop himself from rolling his eyes and chuckling. "It's just sad that you can't just admit that you were ditching the love of your life. But, as much as I'd love to listen to your sad little denial I'm afraid I have to go since you're sick and all."
"I am," she stressed. "Really sick. I might very well be dying as we speak," she said as she pushed her cute little glasses back up her nose.
With a shrug he took a step back towards his house. "That's a damn shame because I was hoping you'd come to my party today, but since you're sick......."
She pressed the back of her hand against her forehead. "Hmmm, what do you know? I'm all better. What time is the party?" she asked with the cutest little shy smile he'd ever seen.
"Eight o'clock, you little faker," he said, chuckling when she let out an excited little squeal as she ran back into her house.
Maybe this wasn't such a good idea, Haley thought as she stood on Jason's doorstep with a plate of brownies. With an inward groan she berated herself for being an idiot. What kind of geek brought brownies to a kegger? Okay, she was assuming that this was a kegger since she'd witnessed some rather scary behavior over the years during his little gatherings and never witnessed that type of behavior at any party or get-together she'd ever been at.
Some of the things she'd heard and seen had scared her, but some of it had intrigued her. Not that she'd ever admit it, but on more than one occasion she'd wondered what it would be like to go to one of Jason's parties, which is why she'd jumped at the chance today. Jason's parties had to be the equivalent of the parties the popular kids in high school used to throw and somehow forgot to invite Haley, but now she was about to rectify all that.
Maybe not, she thought, worrying her bottom lip as she looked down at the overflowing plate of brownies. She was going to look so stupid bringing brownies to a kegger. Figuring that probably no one heard her knocking over the loud music, she decided a quick stop at a package store was in order. She was just about to make her escape when the door opened.
"What do you want?" the woman glaring at her demanded. Haley frowned as she quickly took in the woman's sleek black hair, perfect features touched up by flawless make-up and the killer short dress and decided that she was severely underdressed for this party in her jeans and baby pink Yankees long sleeve tee-shirt.
Haley opened her mouth to make an excuse so she could leave, knowing she was in way over her head here when the woman snorted.
"You're the next door neighbor," the woman said, sounding amused. "What do you want?" Her eyes narrowed on the plate in Haley's hands.
"Amy, who is it?" Jason's voice came from somewhere behind the woman apparently named Amy.
Amy rolled her eyes. "It's just your neighbor dropping off brownies." She reached forward to take the plate from Haley. "I'll just take them so she can g-"
"Brownies?" Jason said, suddenly filling the door, causing Amy to stumble back and out of the way.
"Hey!" Amy snapped, but Jason didn't seem to hear her. His eyes were glued to the plate.
"Are those," he noticeably swallowed, "brownies covered in peanut butter frosting?"
Did he just whimper?
"They're chocolate chunk fudge brownies with peanut butter frosting," she clarified automatically as her eyes caught the murderous glare Amy was sending her way. She was just about to hand the plate over to Jason and leave when everything in her stilled.
After last night she was through with getting pushed around and intimidated. She was sick of missing out on things because she was too scared to do anything about it. She was a grown woman, damn it, and if she wanted to party it up at her first kegger then she was damn well going to do it and she was going to have fun doing it. Even if it killed her, and judging by the mascara glare being sent her way that was a good possibility.
"Let me just take those off your hands so you can grab yourself a beer," Jason said, taking the plate from her, gazing down at it lovingly as he stepped back inside the house, leaving Haley to follow him.
"Hey, those look good! Can I have one?" a man she'd seen hundreds of times around Jason's house asked, reaching out to take one.
"Back the fuck off! She brought them for me, you bastard!" Jason snapped.
Haley automatically took an anxious step back, fearing getting caught in the middle of the fight that was most definitely about to happen. But instead of yelling at Jason or getting mad like she'd seen a lot of guys do in bars over less the man just rolled his eyes and turned his attention to her.
"Hi, my name is Brad," he said, holding out his hand.
After only a slight hesitation, she hoped he hadn't noticed, she took a step forward and shook his hand. "Haley."
"Haley, it's nice to meet you," he said with a charming smile. "I apologize for my friend's rudeness, he just learned how to walk upright last year," he said dryly, earning a soft chuckle from her and most everyone around them.
Jason threw him a dirty look before making his way towards the kitchen, making sure to glare at anyone that came within touching distance of the brownies.
Brad gestured towards the kitchen. "There's pizza, chips and plenty of drinks in there as long as Jason doesn't get to it first and a volleyball game going on in the backyard and of course video games in the living room until the game comes on. Make yourself at home," he said with a warm smile.
"Thank you," she murmured, taking it all in. This was it? she wondered as she took in the laidback party. Something must have shown on her face, because a few seconds later Brad leaned in. "Were you expecting Animal House?" he asked, chuckling.
"No!" she said quickly, too quickly. She had in fact been expecting something along those lines. She definitely hadn't pictured any of this. This she could definitely handle.
He chuckled. "Come on outback with me so I can introduce you to my wife," Brad said, smiling. "I promise you'll have a good time."
For the first time since she walked over here she thought she might just fit in with Jason's friends.
"Who's the hottie kicking Mitch's ass?"
Without looking up from loading his plate with pizza he said, "Amy." At least he hoped it was Amy. Her clingy behavior was getting a little annoying and he hadn't missed the bitch act she put on for Haley or the dirty looks she'd been sending his shy little neighbor all night. He knew when he saw her heading towards his house earlier that he should have sent her away.
"No, the cute little thing with the glasses."
Frowning, Jason looked up and followed Pete's eyes towards the couch where Haley was sitting next to Mitch, playing a game on the Xbox.
"She's my neighbor," he said, not liking the expression on Pete's face one bit.
"Is she here with anyone?" Pete asked, never taking his eyes off Haley.
"Good," Pete said, looking back over his shoulder, grinning. "I won't even bother asking to use your room since we can just mozzy on over to her place."
Jason sighed heavily. It seemed he was going to have to save Haley from two douchebags in one day.
Pete turned to look at him. "What was that about?"
"What?" Jason asked innocently.
"That little sigh you just did," Pete said, gesturing lazily towards him.
"Nothing," he said with a shrug, returning his attention to piling food on his plate, "I just didn't think you were into that, that's all."
"Into what?" Pete demanded, sounding a little unsure. Considering the man's reputation there probably wasn't much that he wasn't into, which was why Jason decided he would not do for his shy little neighbor. It took him five years to get Haley to climb out of her shell. He wasn't about to let this jackass send her back there for good.
"Just forget I said anything," Jason said, grabbing a cold soda from a cooler on the floor.
"I don't want to get involved in this," Jason said, cutting him off. He moved to step past the man only to pause. "Just....just make sure she takes her medication and you should be safe, I mean fine." Jason quickly walked away before he burst into laughter at his friend's horrified expression.
Damn that felt good. He should have done this years ago when he spotted the first asshole sniffing around Haley. Did this make him her wingman? he pondered that thought over as he walked over to the couch and shoved Mitch off so he could sit down next to his new little project. That was fine with him, he decided, because by the time he was done with her she'd be living a much more entertaining and asshole free life.
Haley took a deep breath and said, “I’m gay.”
“You’re gay?” the obnoxious guy who’d been sniffing around her and bugging the heck out of her in line for the past ten minutes repeated. “Are you sure?”
She bit back a laugh. The guy looked truly upset. She hated pulling out the gay card, mostly because she wasn’t, but sometimes she had no choice. If he’d been nice when he was hitting on her she would have politely declined, but no, he had to be a complete pig the entire time.
He actually used the old line, “That dress looks great on you, but it will even better crumpled on my bedroom floor in the morning.” Yeah. It was truly sad, especially since they were in a coffee shop and it was barely half past seven in the morning. Between dirty comments, overcrowding her and staring at her breasts she was starting to get a little irritated. Plus his B.O. was really turning her stomach. If she didn’t need a caffeine fix so badly she’d leave, but she did and couldn’t or she was pretty sure she'd die.
Jason and some of the guys had been over last night to watch the game and since it went into extra innings and she was a dedicated fan she stayed up until two in the morning and of course she had to watch the post game wrap up. With barely four hours of sleep here she was practically getting mauled by the poster boy for deodorant.
After three weeks it was still funny how she went from being completely intimidated by the man to thinking of him as an oversized teddy bear. She felt silly for her behavior. Jason could still be a pain in the ass, but a really nice pain in the ass. He still “borrowed” things from her classroom, but now he left her funny notes that had her laughing until she was crying, scaring the heck out of her students.
She couldn’t help but wonder how many good friendships she’d missed over the years because of her shyness. Part of it of course was because after years of building up defenses she’d been judging people a little harshly like Jason. He was still a bit wild and a ridiculous flirt, but he was a big sweetie as well. He treated her like his buddy. It was actually rather nice to be treated like one of the guys. That being said though sometimes first impressions were dead on, like with her current problem.
“Yes, I’m sure.”
He looked thoughtful for a moment. “Well, do you think the two of you would want to-“
“No,” she said firmly.
“But what if I-“
“Come on, you won’t let me finish. I have this camera-“
“It would be fun-“
“But what if-“
“She said no,” Jason said as he cut in line and threw his arm around her shoulders in that lazy way of his.
“Hey! I thought you said you were gay!” the man said accusingly.
Without missing a beat Jason said, “She is. I’m just her bitch.”
The man sent a narrowed glare at Jason’s arm and then to her. He sent another glare at Jason and she could tell the man was deciding whether he wanted to push it any further. Based on the man’s small size and Jason’s large muscular build he wisely chose to drop it.
“So, what are you buying me this morning?” she asked Jason.
He scoffed. “Me? Why am I buying?”
“Because I helped you win fifty dollars off Brian last night.”
He rolled his eyes. “I would have won it without your help.”
“Uh huh,” she said absently, stepping up to the counter to place her order. She added a chocolate chip muffin, knowing Jason was going to steal hers. He seemed to have a thing for stealing her food.
“I would have. I didn’t need your help you know,” he said more firmly.
She grabbed her order while he was waiting for his and headed for the door. “See ya.”
“I won that bet on my own!” he called after her, making her smile. Sometimes he was like a big child. It was rather cute.
Jason bit back a smile as he watched Haley tell Headmaster Jenkins that she couldn’t chaperone the dance tonight. A month ago his little shy friend would have simply stared at her coffee and nodded no matter what her plans were. Now, she was telling the man no, firmly yet gently.
He took some pride in it. It was because of him after all. It took some work, but she was coming along rather nicely. Who knew there was a little tigress beneath all that cuteness? He sure hadn't, but it was nice to see her stick up for herself for once. The staff might bitch at his methods and his easy going relationship with the kids, but at least he never ganged up on a woman like Haley and took advantage of her making her chaperone this or organize that.
“But, Haley, we really need you to chaperone. John has tickets to a play tonight.”
“I’m sorry, Tom, but I have plans already tonight. I really wish I could help you out, but I can’t break my plans at the last minute. You understand,” she said politely yet firmly.
Her self-esteem was clearly on the rise and it made the whole package even better and he wasn’t the only one to notice either. Other teachers were showing her more respect and the men were definitely noticing her. Oh, he took a hundred percent of the credit for his little protégé. Yup, he was the master. It was probably about time he used his greatness for good.
He spotted the table where she left her coffee and muffins as well as three men, losers in his opinion, who were eying the seat next to hers. Without any hesitation he sauntered past them and sat down at her table, earning killing glares from the other men. Too bad. In his opinion if a man didn’t have the balls to make a move he didn’t deserve the woman he desired. Not that he desired Haley. He didn’t. She was his buddy and turning out to be one of his best friends. No, what he desired was that piping hot chocolate chip muffin with extra butter he saw her buy earlier.
He sighed happily as he fished the muffin out of the bag. “When will she ever learn?” he mumbled as prepared his ill-gotten muffin.
“Please, help yourself,” Haley said dryly as she sat down and added a sugar to her coffee.
“Thank you, I think I will,” he said happily as he slathered more butter onto his muffin.
“What are these amazing plans you have for tonight?” he asked between bites.
“Date,” she said.
“I guess that means our love affair is over,” he said with a pout.
“I guess so.”
“You’ll survive….with therapy of course,” she said with a wink and a grin.
“Is this another loser?”
She looked away and mumbled something.
“I’m sorry I don’t speak mumble,” he said while eying the piping hot apple muffin with streusel topping that she just took out of the bag. Hell, how had he missed that delicious little morsel?
His hand seemed to have a life of its own as it crept towards that tasty little treat. With a gasp, Haley’s hands came down to protect her muffin.
“Control yourself!” she hissed as she broke off a small chunk and ate it. His eyes went back to the muffin. He knew he was pouting when Haley rolled her eyes and continued to eat. Damn it, where was the love? He was a hungry man. With a sigh he opened his bag and pulled out one of his three coffee rolls and began eating all while keeping his eyes on that muffin.
“You’re pathetic,” Haley muttered with an eye roll. She pushed the last half of her muffin over to him. With a huge grin he popped the large half into his mouth and savored it. It really was as good as it looked.
“So, what is it that you don’t want me to know, my little grasshopper?” he asked, stirring his coffee. The last date she had was a loser in his opinion at least and really wasn’t that all that mattered? The loser was not worthy of all his work. They’d work on that until she dated guys that he approved of. Someone cool with a cabin in New Hampshire for fishing trips or a house down in Florida would make him very happy. He really could go for some deep sea fishing in the winter.
“Stop calling me that!” Haley hissed softly. “For the hundredth time I am not the Daniel-son to your Mr. Miyagi.”
He simply shrugged. “If that’s what you want to believe…”
“It is and I do.”
“If I could get everyone’s attention before you head off to homeroom?” Jenkins said, holding up his clipboard to get everyone’s attention in the teacher’s break room. “We need one more volunteer for tonight’s dance,” he said, throwing a hopeful glance Haley’s way.
“Wax on…..wax off….” Jason whispered, earning a rather indelicate snort form Haley.
“Did you say something, Miss. Blaine?” Jenkins asked Haley, drawing everyone’s attention to her.
Jason leaned back in his seat and watched Haley as the blush crept up her cute little face. She nervously pushed her glasses up her nose. Ah, seems his protégé still hated drawing attention to herself. Well, she’d have to get used to that if they were going to be friends since he had a rather nasty habit of drawing attention to himself pretty much everywhere he went.
“Yes, Miss. Blaine, did you have something to say?” Jason asked in an amused tone.
She shot him a narrowed glare before turning to look at Jenkins. The glare was gone only to be replaced by a rather sweet and innocent smile. He was so focused on her smile that he almost missed what she said.
“No, Mr. Jenkins, that wasn’t me. Mr. Bradford was volunteering to chaperone tonight,” she said cheerfully.
“What?” he said, too late.
Jenkins grinned at him. “Well, that’s excellent! Very good. Make sure you’re here by seven o’clock and it goes until eleven. Thank you, Mr. Bradford.” Jenkins said. It didn’t escape Jason’s notice that the man didn’t bother double checking with him and that he practically ran out of the room before Jason could refuse.
His attention immediately turned to the little traitor. “You betraying bitch,” he gasped.
Her smile went from innocent to wicked in less than a second. “Have fun at the dance.” She stood up and placed her hands together in front of her as if she were praying and bowed.
She betrayed him. Damn that hurt. He couldn’t help but grin. She really was coming along rather nicely.
“Oh my god, I love him!” the girl, Cindy or something, wailed loudly, making Jason shift nervously. He’d never dealt well with emotions, especially female emotions. He looked around nervously and damn near sighed with relief when he spotted a small group of girls descend on the girl.
“He’s such a jerk!” one of them said.
“Don’t say that! I love him!” Cindy cried.
“Oh, I know you do. He’s not good enough for you,” a slightly chubby girl said as she put her arm around the girl.
Good. Everything was fine. He could go back to chaperoning a bunch of hormone driven teenagers to god awful music. Yup, he was truly going to kill Haley. He stepped away.
“Mr. Bradford, why would he do this to me?” the girl demanded.
He froze mid-step and looked around nervously, hoping another Mr. Bradford was standing close by and willing to handle this. No such luck.
He cleared his throat. “Do what exactly?”
She scoffed at him with a look of utter disbelief that told him she thought he should be very aware of everything in her life. Considering he’d never paid much attention to any woman’s life she was in for a hell of a rude awakening. Thankfully one of her friends took pity on him.
“Marc Griswold. They ate at the same table two times in the last two weeks, he talked to her during study hall, and asked to borrow her notes. Now he’s here with her,” she said with such distaste that he couldn’t help but follow her glare.
He spotted Marc dancing with a very pretty brunette. Her name he remembered, Janie. She was a smart girl and funny as hell. If memory served him correctly Marc had been in love with the girl for the last two years. The poor guy who was normally so sure of himself and easy going turned to a stuttering fool when the girl was around. He’d been wondering when the kid was going to work up the courage to finally ask her out.
“Hmmm, good for him,” he mumbled, earning a collective gasp of outrage.
“How could you, Mr. Bradford?” the girl wailed even louder, making him cringe.
Oh, he really was going to kill Haley for this shit.
“I had a really nice time,” Jonathan said, probably for the tenth time.
Haley forced herself to smile and of course lie. “I did, too,” she said, hoping he wouldn’t ask her to elaborate on what she found nice, because she would really be hard pressed to find something nice about this evening, except of course that it was nice that it was ending.
This was absolutely the very last time she went on a date with any man Mary, one of her oldest and dearest friends, suggested. One would think after Mary set her up with the taxidermist who crossed dressed she would have learned her lesson, apparently not because somehow she agreed to go out with this loser.
It didn’t start off badly. In fact, he was on time and she thought he was rather cute in a nerdish way. He was tall, a bit thin, but still, he looked nice. His clothes were clean and he smelled good. The first clue that something just wasn’t right occurred when they made it to the restaurant.
That’s when his mother called for the first time. Yes, first time as in there was more than one call from his mother. In fact, during their four hour date, it lasted that long because he took so long to eat, she called a total of twenty-three times. Yes, she was very sure it was his mother since he sat at the table when he took the calls and the speaker on his phone was rather loud.
The reasons for the calls ranged from, she missed him, wanted to know if he’d rather come home and eat what she cooked, reminded him to clean his room tomorrow, and her personal favorite, she wanted to know if he was still with “her”. Judging by her tone and the amount of calls, his mommy was not a happy camper about her little boy dating. Granted her little boy was thirty-five years old and according to him has never lived on his own. Why would he when he lived with his best friend? Meaning, mommy dearest. Of course he did spend a good time complaining about how unfair his mother could be. Who knew a thirty-five year old man could still be grounded for not picking up his dirty socks? She certainly hadn’t.
She could not wait to get inside her house and change into a pair of jeans and a tee shirt and have a good laugh about this with Jason. That is of course only if Jason had forgiven her for her little jest earlier. Hence the large piece of chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting in the doggy container she was currently holding. Jason was a big baby, but a big baby that could be bought with food.
“Well, here we are,” she said brightly as they pulled into her driveway. “It’s been fun. Thank you again,” she said quickly as she practically ran from the car.
“This is a really nice house,” he said close, too close. Haley looked back and bit back the curse that threatened to leave her lips. The man was following her to the door. She wanted to cry, really, she did. When would this nightmare end?
She walked up to her door and plastered another fake smile on her face. “Well, thanks again.”
“You’re welcome.” He gave her a shy smile before he leaned in to kiss her. Thankfully she saw that one coming and turned her head in time to receive a rather wet kiss on her cheek. Ew….
She barely stopped herself from wiping her face. She’d scrub that off in a matter of minutes in a scolding hot shower.
“Oops. Sorry,” he mumbled as he leaned in to give her another kiss.
Faster than even she thought was possible, she had the front door unlocked and opened. She stumbled back saving herself from more slobber.
“Well, it’s been nice but-“
“Can I come in for a cup of coffee?” he asked eagerly and then of course had to add, “I can stay out as late as I want tonight.” Oh, she knew he was lying. Someone was going to be in so much trouble when he got home. She mentally tsked him.
She opened her mouth to politely refuse when the yelling began.
Haley jumped. What the hell? It sounded like Jason was right in her house.
“Help me, please! Somebody please help me! Why won’t somebody help me?”
“What’s that?” Jonathan asked nervously.
Haley didn’t stop to answer. She was already running towards the direction of the screaming. Her room? She threw the door open and nearly tripped as she came to a halt five feet into the room which put her right in front of her bed.
“What the hell….” Jonathan stopped behind her.
“Oh, thank god you’re here, Haley!” Jason said, sounding happy for someone who was tied to her bed, wearing only a pair of boxers. “I know you said it turns you on knowing I’m tied to your bed waiting for you, but I really need to use the bathroom and stretch my legs before we begin….,” his voice trailed off when he caught sight of Jonathan.
Jason sighed dramatically. “I thought we agreed that you would tell me ahead of time before you added someone to our bed.” With a roll of his eyes he said, “It’s fine this time. Lucky for you I think we have plenty of lube.” He looked thoughtfully at Jonathan who was still staring at Jason dumbly. “I hope you’re not a screamer. The last guy screamed his head off every time I-“
“You’re sick!” Jonathan cried, cutting Jason off. “Stay away from me and don’t try to call me either. I’m telling my mother about you!”
Haley didn’t spare Jonathan a glance as she glared at the man with the huge shit eating grin tied to her bed. She was vaguely aware of her front door slamming shut and the sound of tires peeling out of her driveway.
“Is that for me?” Jason asked, looking pointedly at the styrofoam container in her hands.
“Mmmhmm,” she said as she walked around the bed and placed the container on his chest and opened it. She didn’t miss his eyes widening in pleasure.
“Peanut butter frosting, yup,” she finished for him.
He licked his lips as he stared at the huge dessert. “You are the best, ever. Untie me so I can dig in,” he said absently as he continued to stare at the cake, probably trying to decide which end he was going to attack first.
“You can’t get free?”
“You did this yourself?”
“Yup. Now cake, woman.”
“Uh huh…..” She stepped away from the bed and headed for the bathroom.
“Wait, where are you going?”
“I’m just getting something to untie you with.”
“Sure thing,” she said, glad he couldn’t see her shit eating grin.
“I said shut up!” Jason snapped as he stole the ball from Brad, his oldest friend, and tossed the basketball into the hoop.
Brad wiped the tears off his cheeks as he struggled to stop laughing. He failed miserably and fell to his knees when he was no longer able to stand.
“I can’t….I can’t….believe….she….shaved….your legs!” Brad said between gasps and laughter. The bastard. Thankfully he was wearing a shirt to cover up his now hairless chest and arm pits. Oh, she was going to pay for this.
“She ate my cake, too!” Jason said, which in his mind was the more serious betrayal. She wouldn’t even let him lick the spoon clean and he had asked, several times. Damn tease. That cake had smelled so good. His stomach rumbled just from thinking about it.
“Man, for someone so obsessed with food you’re lucky you’re not fat,” Brad said as he continued to struggle with his laughter. Thankfully he was now able to stand so Jason could kick his ass in this game.
“It’s not luck. I have a high metabolism and I work out,” he said, taking another shot.
“How long did she keep you tied up for?”
Jason shot a glare at the man. “I don’t know why you find this so funny. You’re supposed to be my best friend. This should outrage you that someone would take advantage of me like that. Where’s your loyalty?”
Brad abruptly stopped laughing and arched a brow. “You hired two strippers at my bachelor party to give me a Brazilian bikini wax when I was passed out.”
Jason chuckled. Oh, that had been a very good night indeed. In fact, he was pretty sure that he had the pictures around somewhere in his house. During the entire ceremony Brad fidgeted at the altar while he tried to discretely scratch himself. From what he heard his wife loved it so much she’d been after him to have it done again. To say Brad was reluctant to allow hot wax near his goods a