tagRomanceDon't Ever Give Up Ch. 07

Don't Ever Give Up Ch. 07

bySpotInTheSand©

"Do we have to do this now, genius?" Tim asked, bitching as he made his way down the dark staircase.

"Yeah, we do," J.T. answered from a few steps behind him.

Tim reached the foot of the stairs and felt around in the dark for a light switch. He found one, and the basement of J.T.'s parents' house flickered to life. Sure, the Lancasters owned a mansion - three, actually, but this was their home base, the one they spent the most time in. But if all you saw was the basement, you'd never guess their son was the heir to an aviation fortune.

"Wow," Julia said, following Tim off the steps. "Apparently the rich aren't exempt from unfinished basements, either."

"I'm not even sure my mom knows we have a basement," J.T. said, joining them in the mostly plywood room.

"And if she does, she's certainly never, ever been down here," Sheila added, the last to come down the stairs.

"Seriously, man," Tim said, picking up his earlier theme. "We can't do this another day?"

"My dad is bringing someone in to have the basement finished early next week," J.T. said.

"Why?" Julia asked. "The hotel upstairs isn't enough room for them?"

Tim and Sheila snickered. J.T. ignored it.

"So, I promised my dad I'd have everything out of here by the end of the weekend," J.T. continued. "It's Saturday afternoon now. If not today, that just leaves tomorrow. You think any of us will feel like doing this tomorrow?"

"No," Tim agreed. "For the same reason I don't want to do it now. Now, I have a big 'ol party to get ready for. Tomorrow, I'll have a big 'ol party to recover from, and at noon, I have a plane to catch. You can't tell me you didn't know this was coming for a while, man."

"No, I told my parents back in October I would have this stuff out of here by the weekend after Christmas," J.T. said.

"And Christmas was yesterday," Tim replied. "I get that. What I don't get is how Christmas fucking snuck up on you, jackass."

"I got busy," J.T. said. "The point is, you're my friends, and you're here to help me, and I appreciate it."

"They are your friends," Sheila said, pointing to Tim and Julia. "I'm your fiancée. I'm not here to help. I'm only going to help so I can find some of your goofy shit to display prominently at my house."

"Our house," J.T. corrected.

"Whatever," Sheila answered.

"The stack isn't that big," J.T. said, pointing at two stacks with about six boxes each. "The sooner we dive in, the sooner we can get done, and the sooner we can all get ready for this thing."

"Fuck," Tim said, and pulled the first box off the stack. He reached into his pocket for the box cutters he'd brought with him. "I know I owe you for something. I just have no idea what that could be."

It was December 26th, and in just a few hours, the entire North Carolina State football team, coaching staff, family of the players and coaches and whoever else would be attending a large party on the court at RBC Center. The party was to celebrate the accomplishments of the football team, which would be playing Ohio State in five days in the Orange Bowl in Miami. The team had dropped its final regular season game, but won its division by a tiebreaker and beat Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship game. Two losses were too many to play for the National Championship, but after missing the bowl season altogether the past three seasons, the Wolfpack was more than happy with an 11-2 record and an Orange Bowl berth. As the team shrink, Tim was invited to the party. Coach Taylor had personally invited J.T., who flew in either the left or right seat for most of the team's trips.

That was tonight, Tim thought. For now, he had to help his scatterbrained best friend get all his crap out of his parents' house and into Sheila's townhouse. Sheila didn't know it, but in about five months they'd be doing all this again, moving all of their stuff out of the townhouse and into the new house J.T. was building as a wedding present.

Regardless of how easy J.T. thought this process would be, the quartet had only plowed through half the boxes after the first hour. There were old clothes, trophies, boxes of baseball cards, model airplanes, yearbooks, certificates from the Marine Corps days, and a bunch of other stuff the average bachelor packs into boxes and stashes in the basement.

About an hour in, Julia turned around from working through a box of pictures, spanning from before J.T. was born to just a couple years ago. She wiped the sweat off her brow - it was 45 degrees outside, but they were in this old, musty basement sweating like pigs - and sighed.

"I need water," she said. "Anyone else thirsty?"

Three voices simultaneously agreed. "It's just one floor up, but it's a ways down the hall," J.T. said.

"I'll find it," she replied. "Need to use the restroom, too. I'll be back."

It was quiet again for a few seconds as the remaining three worked on their boxes. Sheila, who was helping Julia with the pictures, pulled one out and held it up to the dim light.

"Hey, Tim," she asked. "Who's this?"

"Ask your fiancée," Tim replied.

"I would, but you're both in it, and the girl is clinging to you."

Tim and J.T. both walked over to Sheila. Tim took one look at the picture and turned away. J.T. looked a little longer, a slightly wistful expression playing on his face.

"I can give you three guesses, but just looking at Tim's face should knock out two."

"Wow," Sheila replied. "Is this her?"

"Yep," Tim answered, looking back at the picture. "That's her."

The picture was taken their second summer together at Myrtle Beach, just a few months before she'd decided the grass was greener somewhere else. Tim was still working on his ratings back then, so he'd had to fly right seat as J.T. took Tim, Leira and another girl - whoever J.T. was pretending to date at the time - to the Carolina coast for a few days of much-needed R&R. J.T.'s friend wasn't in the photo - presumably because she was taking it - but the other three were. J.T. was on the far right, wearing a muscle T-shirt and doing his best Most Muscular mock pose. Leira was in the middle in a bright yellow two-piece bikini, with her hands wrapped around Tim's arm. He was standing on the far left as Leira rested her head on his left shoulder.

The picture hadn't faded at all, but even a worn photograph couldn't have hidden Leira's beauty. Her natural blonde hair - streaked to dirty blonde back then - was blowing behind her in the wind. Her breasts filled out that skimpy yellow bikini top the way few women could and even in the basement three and a half years later, Tim thought she still exuded raw sexuality.

"Wow," Sheila said. "She's beautiful." Both J.T. and Tim shot twin glares at her, and she quickly stammered. "I'm sorry. Doesn't mean she wasn't a bitch."

She studied the picture for a moment, looking closer.

"She looks very familiar to me, though," Sheila said.

"Yep," Tim answered. "Blue-eyed blondes. Don't see them everywhere you go in this town during the summer."

Sheila sensed it was a sore subject, so she stopped talking about it. Still, she couldn't resist swiping look after look at the photo, trying to place the familiarity.

A few moments later, Julia started coming down the stairs. Sheila didn't see the point in letting Julia see the photo - she'd ask the same questions, and it would undoubtedly be a different conversation this time. So, Sheila dropped the photo back into the box and closed it up. Just as her best friend reappeared with four bottles of water in tow, she turned to J.T.

"So, guessing this goes in the house pile, and not the Salvation Army pile?" She knew the answer, and started walking to the pile of boxes they would load up and drive over to the townhouse.

"Do you know anybody who would want to buy a picture of his scrawny eight-year-old ass dressed up like Superman?" Tim asked.

"Besides me?" Sheila grinned.

"Yes," Tim nodded. "I'm talking about sane people."

Sheila responded by pulling one of the bottles from Julia's arms and launching it at Tim. It hit him square in the ass.

"You know, I'm glad I go to the gym on a daily basis, or that might have hurt." He picked the bottle up off the ground, opened it, and chugged about half. "Thanks, Sheila."

She rolled her eyes and went back to work. They all did. About an hour and a half later, they were finished. Five of the boxes were in Tim's Mariner, headed for the Salvation Army dropoff area around the corner from the football stadium. The other seven were in the back of J.T.'s car, headed for the storage room at the townhouse.

"See, dickhead?" J.T. said, pointing at his watch. "The party is at seven. It's 4:30 right now. You have two and a half hours to drop this stuff off and then go make yourself all pretty before the party tonight. And you were worried."

"I wasn't worried about me," Tim said. "And I wasn't worried about Julia or Sheila, either - they don't need prep time to be pretty. You, on the other hand... you could have started getting ready at 4:30 yesterday and you'd still look like a sack of shit."

"Not true," Sheila said, snaking an arm around J.T.'s waist from behind. "He has me to take care of that for him. I actually have fashion sense."

"Yeah, well, wonders never cease," Tim answered. He took Julia's hand and started walking toward his car. "We're heading out. See you guys in a few hours."

****************

"So, are you going to ask him tonight?" Sheila's voice blasted out of Julia's speakerphone and bounced around the still-damp walls of Tim's master bathroom. They hadn't been out of the shower very long, and the water was so hot the walls were still sweating. She'd had to make several passes over the mirror with a towel just to see. Of course, what they'd been doing in the shower hadn't helped with the temperature much, either.

Tim, who was ready to go five minutes after they got out of the shower, was across the hall watching some meaningless bowl game while he waited for Julia to get ready.

"Take your time," he'd told her. "I already think you're beautiful, but even I'm not one to rush perfection."

The recent memory made her smile.

"Hello?" Sheila's voice rang out again.

"Sorry," Julia said. "I'm struggling with this stupid earring, and - there. Got it."

"Are you?"

"If everything goes well, and I have enough to drink to keep my courage up, then yes," Julia said. "That's my plan."

"That's so exciting!" Sheila exclaimed. Even from two towns away, Julia could hear her friend's excitement.

"Let's wait till he agrees to it before we get all giddy."

"You think he won't?"

"He's Tim, Sheila," Julia said, and set to work on the other earring. "He's very private. Not sure how he'd like living with someone this soon after getting into the relationship."

"Soon?" Sheila asked. "You guys have only been calling it that for a couple months, but this has been going on for two years. How much longer does he want to wait?"

"I don't know," Julia replied. "He might not want to wait at all. And then again, there's a chance he'll flip out when I ask him, too. He's also fairly unpredictable."

"Another reason you like him."

"Love him."

"Excuse me?"

"You heard me."

"You told him that yet?"

"Yes."

"He said it back?"

"No."

Sheila didn't reply immediately, thinking Julia had more to say. After a few seconds, it was clear she didn't.

"And?"

"And what? I know he does. He'll say it when he's ready to. Not going to push him."

"Wow," Sheila replied, sounding exasperated.

"What?"

"I just don't know how you do it," Sheila answered. "He's not making this easy on you."

"No," Julia agreed. "But it's not easy on him, either. I swear, Sheila, if I ever meet the bitch who did... whatever she did... to him, I'm gonna punch her in the mouth."

Sheila thought back to the picture she'd seen earlier in the day, but didn't say anything about it. Just: "I think I would pay good money to see that."

"I'm sure Tim would, too," Julia said, laughing as she gently applied makeup to her cheeks. "Anyway, if things go really well tonight, then yeah. I'll probably ask him if I can move in."

"That's great. Maybe next weekend we'll be moving all your crap, instead of J.T.'s."

"I hope so," Julia answered. "Oh, I almost forgot. I talked to my real dad about an hour ago. He usually calls me every day during the holidays. Anyway, I told him I was going to this party tonight, and apparently, my half-sister is, oo."

"Who?"

"Ashley, the one who works over at the hospital," Julia said. "Remember? You met her a few years ago, when I dragged you to a family reunion with me."

"Yeah, I think I vaguely remember that," Sheila said. "How long has it been since you spoke to her?

"I'd guess maybe a year," she answered. "We weren't close then, and we're not now, either. I mean, we've tried to be, but there's mutual resentment there. She resents me because he tries to give me some of the attention he's always given to her, and I resent her a little bit, I think, because she's always had him in her life and I didn't until I was thirteen."

"Yeah, I guess I could see that," Sheila replied. "Anyway, why is she going? Isn't this an N.C. State-only thing?"

"I guess she's dating one of the players," Julia answered. "That's what my dad said, anyway. She doesn't talk much about it, according to him, but she was pretty excited about the party."

"Ah," Sheila answered. "But if you see her, things will be ok with you two, right?"

"Oh, yeah," Julia replied. "We're cordial with each other, and we can hold a decent conversation. We're just not really friendly."

Just then, Tim walked back into the room. Julia had already told him her sister would be at the party, and he'd actually seemed genuinely happy about the possibility of meeting someone in her family.

"Personally, I think we should just wipe all that makeup off," Tim said, unaware that Sheila was on the phone.

"If it was up to you, we'd take all these clothes off, too," Julia replied.

"Damn right," Tim answered. "And with your body, I could take you into the party that way and not a damn person would complain."

She just giggled.

"Course, I'd have to beat a whole bunch of football player ass when they tried to attack you, so I guess we should leave the clothes on."

"You two are gross." That was Sheila. Tim spotted the phone on the counter.

"Seriously?" Tim asked, gripping the phone. "Do you two talk 24/7? I bet you when we're having sex, the phone is laying under the pillow so she can hear everything."

"No, thanks," Sheila said. "Besides, all we have to do is have you over to the house, and you'd keep us up all night anyway."

Julia blushed. Tim ignored that.

"Seriously, Sheila," Tim continued. "If you want to be that involved in our sex life, just talk to your fiancée about it. I'm sure we could work something out."

That earned Tim a slug in the shoulder. If Sheila hadn't been 25 minutes away, both arms would have got one.

"I'm sure," Sheila answered.

"Anyway, babe, you ready to go?" Tim asked. "It's almost seven."

"Yeah," she answered. "Sheila, we'll see you at the party."

Sheila hung up the phone, smiling widely and genuinely happy for Julia. She'd been on a whole lot of first dates before she met Tim, and even a couple of them after that, when they were still in the early stages. Her friend could have had just about anybody she wanted, but she was very selective and had an uncanny ability to hold out for what she knew she deserved.

Still, something was tugging at the back of Sheila's mind. She couldn't place it, but she couldn't get rid of it, either. Her mind went back to Julia talking about what she would do if she ever met Leira, and it made Sheila laugh out loud. She'd only seen Julia fight one time, and she had to be the most awkward looking brawler Sheila had ever seen, not that she had a whole bunch of experience in that area. She had to admit, though - Julia had won that particular fight.

Suddenly, something clicked in her head, and she stopped dead in her tracks from the master bedroom to the hallway.

"Oh, shit," she said out loud. She wasn't 100% sure, but she knew how she could be.

She left the bedroom and headed downstairs, bustling past J.T., who was watching football and waiting for her.

"You ready, babe?" he asked.

"Just a second."

"Where are you going?" he asked, getting up off the couch when he saw how quickly she was moving.

"I'll be right back, hon, I promise."

She headed to the end of the hallway, not sure if J.T. was following her or not and really not caring. If she was right, he'd be the first person to know it, anyway. She opened a door to an unused bedroom - the one they were using to store all the boxes they'd moved out of J.T.'s parents' mansion a few hours ago. She had to move two boxes to find it, but after a few seconds, there it was.

"What on earth are you doing?" J.T. asked. Sheila turned to see him standing in the doorway, watching her with one of his signatures looks, that half-perplexed, half-amused thing he did sometimes. It was the same look he gave her the first time she'd asked him to come to dinner with she and her family on that first trip to the Bahamas almost three years ago.

"Just a second," Sheila said, quickly opening the box and rifling through the pictures she'd been checking out earlier in the day. It took a few seconds, but she found the one she wanted - the one of her fiancée flexing his muscles, while Tim and Leira stood next to him.

She looked at it carefully. This would have been about two years later, she thought, and...

All the sudden, she dropped the photo as her hands flew up to her mouth.

*********

They'd pulled the basketball court up at the RBC Center and moved all the courtside tables and seating away to make room for the party. This was just team, staff and family and friends, but even still, that was around 300 people, and they didn't want a half-billion scuff marks jacking up the basketball court, especially since the N.C. State basketball teams were playing at home in just a couple days.

That left a giant concrete pad, on top of which the RBC staff had set up dozens of tables and hundreds of chairs. There were four catering tables with plenty of food and drinks to go around - nothing alcoholic, of course, seeing as more than half the guests of honor weren't old enough to drink it, though Tim knew a couple players would sneak it in anyway.

He and Julia strolled in around a quarter to eight. There was some kind of ceremony scheduled for 8:30, Tim knew - showing a highlight video, giving out a few awards, etc. Until then, it was just eating and mingling. All the coaches were already here, but only about half the players had shown up yet. It was a required event, so he knew everyone would be here, but apparently fashionably late was still as in as ever.

Tim and Julia set their coats on a nearby table and as they turned around, they bumped right into Ted Prince, the team physician.

"Tim, mah boy!" Ted locked Tim in a huge bear hug, something the barrel-chested 60-something year-old doctor did to everyone he hadn't seen in more than, oh, ten minutes or so. "And this? This must be your sister."

Tim remembered Ted worrying about his lack of a wife or girlfriend earlier in the year. That was just the kind of guy he was - he'd been married for more than 40 years, had umpteen grandkids and a couple of great grandkids by now. He thought everyone should be married by the age of 30.

"Not so much, sir, no," Tim answered back, grinning.

"Whaaaaaat?" Ted answered, incredulously. By now he was sure Ted had heard he had a girlfriend - news didn't take long to get around the team, and telling Carlos was just as effective as taking out an ad on the scoreboard at Carter-Finley Stadium. Still, he was playing it up. "The Last American Bachelor, Tim Fetters, has a girlfriend?"

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