Two Hearts Stand Alone Pt. 05byphotodad©
Easier to follow this involved story if you have already read the first four parts.
Please remember to vote sincerely at the end.
It had been agreed in the parking lot that the large family gatherings would meet at a Mediterranean restaurant for an early dinner near the beach. Well, rather it was mandated by Chris's overreaching aunt, but the food was delicious there so both families agreed. Christine was driving Chris there, and since their families had gotten used to them being together now, there wasn't even an attempt at deterring them.
"Can I have one of my pills?" Chris asked.
Christine had decided since the trip to carry them with her, since he seemed too stubborn to bother with them. She pointed to her small purse wedged in the console between them, and he opened it to find his bottle on top, feeling a bit self-conscious in doing so. To him, a girl's purse always seemed to be her private domain.
"Hurts that bad? I told you you should have used your crutches."
"No," he sighed. "I think I'll need it to deal with my aunt around your family," he joked.
Christine just glanced warily at him as he popped the white disk into his mouth and swallowed.
"Actually, you're right. It hurts like a son of a bitch."
It didn't escape Christine that he put the bottle back and replaced her purse without so much as a glance to see what else was in there. Even after all they had been through the last month, it still amazed and thrilled her that the level of trust and respect between them was so high.
"So, are you thinking of taking that offer?"
"What offer? Cathy's Project Graduation, or one of the others?"
She sighed. "No, the bigger offer...you're thinking you're gonna take that job, aren't you?"
Chris closed his eyes. "Oh man, why are you bringing that up now?"
"Well, we just freaking graduated. SON OF A BITCH!" She stomped on the brakes to avoid being sideswiped on the bridge. "What IS it with the drivers around here?!"
Chris picked up his bad foot after his seeming attempt at the Flintstone brake maneuver. "OW! Damn, that really didn't help things."
She sucked in a breath through her teeth. Some due to the jar the belt gave her chest, but most was out of empathy for him. "I'm sorry," she said as she resumed speed to match traffic.
"Not your fault...good eye! I'd have missed that."
"Hmph...somehow I doubt it." Her breath was returning to normal now. "So, don't let that distract you. I'm right, aren't I?"
"Yes, you're right that we 'freakin graduated'."
"Grr! Fine, as I was saying...we just graduated, so in normal times wouldn't friends...or couples...normally have a conversation about their futures right about now?"
"I suppose. I thought you wanted to talk about it later."
"Well, I did. But, tonight you told Tina something that made me wonder where you're leaning." He didn't respond right away, so she added, "And the bishop called this morning."
Chris shot a look at her. "The bishop's office called YOU this morning?"
She shook her head. "No, I said the BISHOP called this morning. He wants to meet us in his office on Monday morning."
"Why do I feel like I'm being called to the principal's office?"
"Ha! That's what I told him. He said that we need to make a decision soon regarding where we go from here, and that he would be happy to mediate for us."
"He's a little biased to be mediating, don't you think? Sounds like he wants to press for an answer."
"Maybe, but he's right in a way, too. We've been using our busy schedules as an excuse not to talk about it. If we head to college, we have to state that intention soon to get registered for classes. I just wanted to see where you stand at this point."
Chris scratched his head in frustration. "I'm torn, C. I really don't know. I like the idea of the job, but I don't want to be without you."
"Okay. That's all I asked for."
She found a spot, parked, and they made their way into the eclectic restaurant with a definite Greek flair. They made a point of donning their caps before walking in.
Being the first to arrive out of their group, they informed the young hostess that there would be 23 of them dining tonight. While they waited for the hostess to arrange tables in the back dining room, a tall stout man in a stained apron approached them from the kitchen, all smiles.
"Hey Chris!" his pleasant voice bellowed. "How's my nephew?"
Chris returned the smile, leaned a crutch against his side and reached out to shake the bearlike paw that had been outstretched toward him. "Hi, Mr. S.! I'm well. How's things for you?"
"Oh, slower right now, but we making it. You have football injury?" the man asked while pointing to the walking cast.
"Eh, I'm in track. My team won State."
"Very good! This came after, I hope!"
"Chris helped them win. He ran a personal best for his relay."
The large man's smile lit up the room on hearing Christine's voice. "Ah! I'm sure! My nephew can do anything, can't he!" He looked at Chris. "And who is this beautiful fairy you're with?"
"Mr. S., this is my girlfriend, Christine."
"Much pleasure to meet you! You stay with her, Chris. She'll give beautiful grand nieces and nephews!" He pointed to their caps. "Big day, eh?"
"Sure is. We just graduated!" Christine bubbled.
Even Chris was surprised that he was enveloped in the huge arm so quickly. "Graduated! Congratulations, Nephew! Ah, you a man, now! Yes, big day! I'll get something special ready just for you, okay? Enjoy!" Just like that, he disappeared into the kitchen.
Their families started trickling in, and Chris informed them that the tables were being put together.
Christine looked up at him questioningly. "I didn't know Mr. S. was an uncle of yours."
He chuckled. "He's not. My uncle and aunt go to the same church as he. So, he always calls me nephew. He owns this restaurant."
"I knew that. Just, I didn't know he knew you so well."
"Well, I don't see him that often, and when I do, it's either here on special occasions or at their church's Greek Festival."
Christine nodded. "Grand nieces and nephews," she laughed to herself.
The orders for dinner were placed and everybody was chatting happily when their waitress came back with two bottles of wine.
"Compliments of the owner," she said, a little confused. "Um, he said that you two were limited to one glass each. I can't pour it for you, though. But what you do with those empty glasses is up to you."
She poured the wine in all the other glasses and left to fix the salads. Chris's uncle did the honors for the couple, ignoring the glaring eyes of his sister. He raised his glass and they all toasted the success of the graduates. But, Chris and Christine didn't take a sip until after Chris made a quiet toast to the memory of their classmates. When they set their glasses down, Christine whispered a concerned warning to him...a reminder that he had just taken a rather potent pain killer. He nodded and gave her a peck, assuring her that he wouldn't take more than a couple more sips.
Dinner went surprisingly well, as Chris's aunt reined herself mostly in. The food, as always at that restaurant, was prepared with perfection, a fact made obvious by the silence of the group while they were eating. The waitress cleared the dinner plates when they finished, and suddenly shiny bags were being brought out from under the table. They had seen their loved ones bring them in, but had forgotten they were there. Soon, Chris and Christine nearly disappeared behind their pile of cards and gifts, large and small. Christine, of course, gushed at each one and made a show of going to the giver to give them a hug and kiss. Chris felt like an ass just sitting there, a fact he made known verbally. But, it was dismissed and everyone said they knew it couldn't be helped.
Christine's thanks to her brother was slightly different than the others, as she cupped her hand over her mouth at his ear. He nodded, and she repeated her huge hug. He fidgeted under the table, and then she pranced back to her seat. Last were the large gifts from their parents. Chris was handed his first, and ignoring the envelope he ripped the gold paper off the box. He wasn't quite fast enough to hide the disappointment on his face.
"Thanks! It's a nice CD rack," he said while putting on the best smile he could manage.
"You're welcome, sweetie!" his mom enthused. "Don't forget your card."
Halfheartedly, he slid his finger under the flap and opened the envelope. On top of his disappointment was the embarrassment of pulling out a card obviously designed for kindergarten graduation. Really? My folks have lost it, he thought. Steeling himself for yet another humiliation, he opened the card, barely noticing the picture falling out onto his lap. He read the enthusiastic congratulations from his parents, still not getting why they were still grinning wildly.
"Thanks," he repeated.
His mom got a little frustrated. "Aren't you even going to look at the picture?"
Chris picked up the rectangle from his lap and turned it over. "What the...?"
The setting was definitely his downstairs room at home, and he recognized the table, but it couldn't be. On the table was a Bose shelf system he had been lusting over for some time. However, only Christine knew what he wanted since it was mostly a far-out wish, as it was too expensive to actually have. His mom laughed at his being mute, saying that Uncle Bill set it up right after he and Christine left for the graduation.
He looked over at Christine who sat with her head down, smiling out of the corner of her mouth. Then, he got up and limped around the table to hug his mom. "Thanks, it's too much!"
"You're welcome. Don't be mad at Christine. We had to almost beat it out of her to find out what you wanted."
"Well, thanks again. You really had me going with the cheesy card and all!"
While he was up, he made a trip around the table, giving everyone a thank you and a hug.
Nancy brought a large flat gift to her sister, proclaiming that it was from their parents. Christine did the opposite of her boyfriend and opened her card first. It was elegant and plain, stating simply on the front, "Congratulations." On the inside, written in her mother's handwriting of course, were heartfelt thoughts on her graduation. Christine smiled back a tear and tore into the package. She gasped when she saw the black messenger bag laptop case. Attached to the front was a note that the items that go inside were waiting in her room at home. She squealed in delight and ran over to her parents, hugging and kissing them repeatedly.
Chris knew how big a gift this was for her. Her computer was a hand-me-down that barely had enough oomph to run it's operating system, word processor, and e-mail. Besides that, it was a heavy hot beast of a desktop model that would have been difficult to squeeze into any dorm. He knew how much it meant to her, but only one thing occupied his mind right now. Up to this, the gifts were void of any names or mascots of schools, presumably because even they didn't know what they were going to do yet. But, staring up at him on the front of the black bag were the bright blue and orange "AU" of Auburn University. He tried telling himself that Christine always talked about going to AU, and how much it appealed to her, even in freshman year. She followed the progress of their football team every year, so it would make sense to give her this bag, wouldn't it? But, nagging the back of his head was the other possibility that she had made her mind up without him, and would be leaving for the school in a couple of short months.
He snapped out of it when Christine returned to her chair next to him just as the booming voice of the owner came from behind. "How was everything? Good, yes?"
Everyone happily responded in the affirmative.
Two waitresses were carrying trays behind him. "Good, good!" He wrapped an arm each around Chris and Christine. "Congratulations, Nephew, and Niece!"
No one corrected him.
He reached behind him and set a small dessert plate in front of them. "Baklava A 'la Mode, on the house!"
The waitresses served their trays to the rest of the group, each telling the owner thank you. He responded to them, "My pleasure, my pleasure! Enjoy!" and he retreated to the kitchen.
Christine took a bite of the rich, flaky pastry and exclaimed, "holy crap!"
"Good?" asked Chris.
She finished chewing and swallowed. "Only the best thing I've ever eaten!"
"You've never had it before?"
"Well, I've had baklava, but nothing like this. I don't remember it being on the menu here."
"It's not," Chris's aunt interrupted proudly. "It goes so fast, he serves it only on special request."
Chris mentally rolled his eyes. Like SHE had anything to do with it.
The dessert was savored in silence by all at the table. Then, one by one, the sound of a fork clattering to the plate indicated satiated bellies. The cocktail party atmosphere returned when everyone was finished and the waitress cleared the plates. When she returned to ask how to divide the check, a full-scale verbal argument erupted, and the competition began among and between the families to see who appeared to be the most generous.
One thing became clear very quickly, neither Chris nor Christine would be footing their tab. When this much was resolved, Christine went over and told their moms about the invitations to Project Graduations, asking if they could be excused to change and go. The moms looked at each other and agreed, both saying that tomorrow afternoon would be reserved for "family time."
She gave their moms a kiss each and returned to Chris. Taking his hand she said quietly, "Let's go. They'll bring our gifts home for us."
They excused themselves and thanked the group for dinner.
She had picked him up at his house after getting changed, both looking much more comfortable in t-shirts and jeans. Once she started the car, she turned to him and asked, "Ready for your graduation gift?"
He pounded a fist into his hand. "I haven't had time to get you one," he said with a pointed look at his plastic boot.
Her eyes sparkled. "Neither have I, but we're making time now." She put the car in gear and headed out of his neighborhood.
A few minutes later, she pulled into a space at a hotel downtown. Chris was slightly confused, but his heart raced. He tried calming it by justifying to himself that Christine was simply getting a room to crash in so they wouldn't disturb company by returning late after the parties.
She was told at the desk that the room would be $150, and she promptly pulled out a small wad of twenties from her purse. They were given keys and directions to their room. Chris questioned her in the elevator about the money, and offered to split it with her. She replied that the room was Tom's gift given to her at dinner. At first, Chris didn't understand, but then remembered her whispered question to her brother. The two must have practiced their discreet hand-offs over the years.
Once in their room, Chris promptly sat on the bed, his head still in a slight fog from the medication. Christine looked around the plush room, then stopped in front of him.
"That wine made me warm," she said while she pulled off her t-shirt. "And horny," she added with a purr.
Chris's breath caught at the sight of her lacy black bra. He nearly hyperventilated when she kicked off her tennis shoes and wriggled out of her jeans, revealing matching skimpy panties.
"The room is his gift to us, but THIS," she made a sweeping gesture over her body with her hand. "This is my gift to you."
Chris gulped audibly. "What the hell did I do to deserve you?"
She smiled. "Being yourself won me." She glided cat-like toward him. "What you do now will determine if you get to keep me. Wanna open your present?" she cooed.
"I love you," he whispered hoarsely before planting a gentle kiss on her bellybutton.
Her hands cradled his head against her. "Mmm, that's a nice start. I love you too, sweetheart." * * *
Chris was awakened from his sex-induced coma by the buzzing of his phone on the nightstand.
"Hey, Chris! Whatcha doing?"
He propped himself up slowly on his elbows, the movement waking the sleeping beauty beside him. "Oh, just taking a nap. What's up, Cathy?"
"We just got out of our ceremony."
"Thanks. Anyway, we were wondering if we'll see you tonight?"
"Um, what time is it?"
"Almost nine. You must be out of it. I thought you two would be celebrating somewhere."
"We did...our families went out, and the restaurant let C and I have some wine."
"I see. Well, if you come, is she okay to drive? I could pick y'all up..."
"No. No, that's not necessary. Uh, you said ten, right?"
"Yeah. I hope y'all will come."
"Sure, we're getting ready now. Might not stay long, though."
"Okay. I'll meet you at the ticket window at 10ish. Our coordinator figured you wouldn't stay, so he said you two would be exempt from the lock-in, being that you're not from our school and all."
"Cool! We'll see you in a bit."
Christine was sitting up and looking at him. "Cathy?"
"Yeah. You still wanted to go, right?"
She put her arms around him and squeezed her naked breasts against his side. "If we must. But I think I'd rather stay with you here all night."
"I wouldn't object to that," he replied with a smile and peck.
"That would leave Cathy waiting..."
"So? She can live with disappointment." He leaned down to nibble on her collarbone. "Screw it. Let's stay here and mate like bunnies. How many did you bring?"
Christine smiled at him. "10, but we used two." Stretching she added, "Yes...definitely...the...best gift so far." She rolled out of bed and padded around the end, all hints of being self-conscious while naked around him were far gone now.
"Where you going?"
"Taking a shower."
"Heh. Don't pout. We'll come back in a couple of hours. Just think of this as rest for later. Besides, you know our moms are going to ask how it went." With that, she closed the door.
Cathy was waiting for them as promised. As soon as she saw them round the gate, she came bursting up to them, flinging her lithe arms around Chris first, then Christine. She led them up to the window, babbling incessantly about her night so far. Although it wasn't necessary, she introduced them to her school's graduation coordinator out of formality and he greeted them warmly. He told the staff member behind the glass that they were not on the list, but he wanted to let them in, pulling out his wallet. When the girl looked up to see who he was talking about, a dawn of recognition swept over her face. She pushed away the coordinator's credit card and asked the two to put their hands in the window. They did and she handstamped them, giving her congratulations and saying that they were good to go. Everybody thanked her and the three went in, being wished to have a great time.
The whole event reminded Chris of his first prom with Cathy last year. Curiosity got the better of her fellow seniors and they came up to them for the first twenty minutes or so. But, after that, the novelty wore off, and suddenly the reality was that the only person he and Christine knew was Cathy. Still, they made the best of things, taking a train ride around the edge of the park before Cathy challenged Christine to a go-kart race.
Chris watched from the fence, laughing at both girls' expressions as they passed. It was clear that neither wanted to lose to the other, their jaws set in pure determination. On the yellow light lap, Christine surprisingly rammed Cathy, sending her spinning into the opposite rail. In Chris's mind, Cathy was the ruthless one, especially after her show in Christine's hospital room last year. But, he figured all princesses needed to exert their dominance at some point, and Christine sure did turn the tables now.