When You're Near MebyStormyNite©
Synopsis: After Ashley Moore and Jessie Stone meet while listening to a beautiful and captivating love song, they embark on a platonic friendship, but the magnetic pull of love cannot be denied. While Jessie vowed to never open her heart again, Ashley must face her greatest fear.
Thank you to those who helped me create this story. It's a story that will always be close to my heart.
Ashley Moore worked her magical fingers over the tension filled muscles of her friend. "Relax, will ya?"
The longhaired blonde fidgeted under Ashley's expert hands. "I can't help it. I don't know why she doesn't like me." Breanne Worthington squinted one brown eye at the object of her distraction.
Ashley looked into the bright innocent eyes of her dog. "Makayla Rose, go on now. Go." The massage therapist ordered her Black Labrador Retriever. She returned her attention to Breanne. "She knows you're afraid of her. That's the trouble."
After Makayla jumped up and left, the blonde sighed deeply. "That reminds me. Morgan wants to go to Belle's tonight. She's meeting some friends from work. Why don't you come along?"
Ashley's hands moved over her friend's shoulders as she continued the massage. "How is it that you being afraid of my dog reminds you of asking me to go to that rinky dink bar again? You know it's not my favorite place." Ashley had only been there once before about six months ago after going to a comedy club with her friends.
The thirty-two year old Breanne twisted around. "You never wanna go out. And when I do get you a date, you don't even get her number."
Ashley gently pushed her friend back down on the table. "We didn't connect. What's the point?"
"The point is you're afraid." The blonde mumbled.
The massage therapist glided her hands up the full length of her friend's back causing a satisfied groan. Ashley didn't want to get into another conversation with her friend about the blind dates Breanne would set her up on. The blonde would just push harder and she didn't want to argue with her at the moment.
Under the gentle soothing of the massage therapist's hands, Breanne was lost temporarily in the moment, her whole body was feeling very relaxed. "God, you're good."
"So I've been told." Ashley teased as she reached for the oil again. After applying some to her hands, the massage therapist started to work on her friend's tight lower back. "Business is picking up. I'm getting more and more clients that I might hafta think about getting an office instead of working outta my place."
"I still get 'em for free, right?"
"Yep. If you get your boss to give me free dental care." Ashley teased her friend.
"Don't remind me. I've gotta go back this afternoon." Breanne grunted. "Then run back home before I go over to Morgan's. I'm so tired of having two places. Running back and forth. It would be so much easier..." The blonde let that old argument between her and her girlfriend evaporate in mid-air.
Ashley considered herself a good friend, but was happy not to traverse that conversation minefield again with Breanne. After a few more deep massages across her friend's back, Ashley slapped her hands together. "Okay, that's it. You're all done."
The tall blonde brought the towel up around her to cover her front. "Think about it. Okay?" She headed to the small changing room.
"I'm gonna check on Makayla. Come on in to the kitchen when you're finished." Ashley gathered a few items and put them away neatly before she washed her hands. She could hear her dog whimpering outside, which meant Makayla wanted some attention.
Ashley walked down the long hallway of her two-bedroom apartment with Makayla wagging her tail behind. The Black Lab was a smart dog and knew she would be fed soon. When they entered the kitchen, Ashley dropped down next to her dog. "You're a good girl, aren't cha? You should be nicer to my friend though."
Makayla cocked her head to the side in a questioning challenge.
"Don't look at me like that." Ashley pet her seven-year-old dog that she got for graduation. "She means well."
Makayla barked but Ashley knew her dog didn't exactly agree with her.
Shaking her head, Ashley smiled. "Alrighty. I'll get you something to eat now." After filling Makayla's food and water bowl, the five foot five young woman with short chestnut hair started to fix something to drink for her friend.
"Not for me." Breanne saw the two glasses Ashley had on the counter. "I've gotta get back."
It was the forlorn look on her friend's face that Ashley easily recognized from their many talks and she knew exactly what Breanne wanted. "Siddown. I know ya wanna talk about it. My next appointment's not for another hour."
The invitation was welcome and Breanne figured she would tell her boss she got caught in traffic. "It's the same old thing really." The blonde glanced at the empty glass on the counter.
Seeing where Breanne was looking, Ashley retrieved the pitcher from the refrigerator and poured her friend some lemonade. She slipped it in front of her friend before she sat down and waited. It didn't take long.
The blonde ignored the drink. "I've done everything to get her to commit but she still refuses. It's been nearly five years now. She's just so... I don't know what she wants anymore."
"Have you talked to her?"
"What good does it do?" The blonde stared at the glass she had her hands wrapped around. "She says she's not ready."
"You two love each other. At least you've found love." Ashley's own thoughts turned to her life and the few romantic interests that graced her twenty-five years of living. "I've never been in love."
"She doesn't even say she loves me anymore." Breanne wiped a tear away. "I tell her I love her all the time. It's like we're an old married couple but we're not married." The blonde rolled her brown eyes. "We're not even living together."
"She never says she loves you?"
Breanne shrugged. "Some times after I say it first."
Ashley could easily see the tension building in her friend and figured she may have to give her another massage if she didn't do something to divert the direction of their conversation. "Maybe you two need to get away."
The blonde placed her hand on Ashley's forearm. "That's why you have to come tonight. To talk to me. You know Morgan. She's so outgoing. Talking to everyone and her friends will be there and I'll be by myself if you don't come. Please."
It was the last thing Ashley had on her mind. Going out on a Thursday night was not on her agenda. She was a homebody by nature and enjoyed curling up on the sofa with Makayla, and watching her favorite baseball team. However, she relented after seeing the imploring look from her friend's sad brown eyes. "Okay, yeah."
That answer cheered the blonde up immediately. "We'll pick you up around 7:30."
Ashley would have preferred to drive alone but knew she would become the unofficial sober chauffeur for her friends like always. "Nah, I'll stop by Morgan's place and we can leave from there."
Breanne got up after looking at her watch. "I should get going." When she saw Ashley stretch her neck and rub the right side, the blonde said. "Too bad you can't give yourself a massage. It does wonders."
"I wish I could." The younger woman agreed.
"Oh, by the way, you comin' Monday night?" Breanne turned before Ashley had a chance to answer. "Your brother usually practices on Mondays, doesn't he?"
Ashley followed her friend down the hall to the front door. In her natural way, Ashley opened the door for her friend. "Uh huh."
"Morgan's got a game at six." The blonde turned to her friend. "They want you back on the team, you know."
Unconsciously, Ashley rubbed her neck again. "I'd like to but I dunno... with my neck." It was last January at the main four way stop in town when Ashley's dark blue Chevy truck was hit in the driver's door, spinning her truck around a 180 degrees. She walked away from the accident with several big bruises and whiplash. And ever since then, she'd had to curtail her usual activities including playing soccer for the team she had played with for the last few years. "But I'll probably stop by Monday. I was gonna go to Andrew's practice game anyway."
"Good. See you tonight." The blonde bounced down the two steps and got into her car, but not before blowing a kiss. "See ya."
"Bye. Be careful." Ashley called out in her Texan twang. She watched her friend drive down the road as she leaned up against the porch pole. When she felt a few raindrops fall on her face, Ashley looked to the sky. The fast moving dark clouds threatened a downpour, but Ashley just smiled. She loved storms and she knew this one would just blow over, leaving behind only a light shower.
When Makayla barked several times, Ashley turned and opened the screen door. "Come on, girl. Go get a quick run."
The black Lab stormed past her. But when Makayla didn't see her owner's friend, she just as quickly rushed back to the porch and practically jumped on top of Ashley who had sat down on the top step. Knocking Ashley back, the brunette scolded her dog. "Dad gum it, Makayla." Ashley adjusted her wire-rimmed glasses. If Ashley was upset by her dog's behaviors, it dissolved quickly as the Lab licked her face several times. Ashley struggled to get up. "Come on."
They walked back inside the apartment and Makayla followed Ashley to her small office. Through the window, she saw the rain begin to lightly shower down. A sullen Ashley turned toward her desk where her computer was located. She plopped down in her swivel chair, then her green eyes came to rest on a scroll-framed essay she had written. Ashley reached for it and stared at it for a long time.
She thought about her friends, Breanne and Morgan's relationship and how it had changed over the last five years. What was once a hot and heavy romance now seemed to be taken for granted. Ashley chanced a quick look out the window again and saw that the rain had stopped. "Told ya so." She smiled at her dog that was contently lying on the floor next to her feet.
Then she paused a moment to reflect on her own romances. The handsome older guy in high school that she fell for so easily. That's where I learned to kiss so well. Of course, I haven't been able to showcase my skills in quite a while. There were a few others along the way, but the one that changed her life forever brought a smile to her face. Those were some of the hottest nights of my life and I ain't talkin' about the weather. She grinned at that thought.
Ashley looked once again at the framed essay. A deep and longing sigh escaped before she read the first paragraph silently.
My whole life, I've dreamed of a great love. Of a love that will somehow complete me. Of a love that will reunite me with the other half of my soul. Of a love that will consume me until I'm helpless to do anything but give myself to it. I have yet to find such a love, or have it find me. At times, I wonder if that kind of love truly exists. If it's not some fairy tale that we're told as young children to make us think the world is a wonderful place that's full of love and hope and fulfilled dreams. Yes, I have loved. But I have never been in love. I've never known anyone that made my heart skip a beat each time they uttered my name. Or cause me to lose my breath just by the sight of them walking into a room. Or make my knees grow weak by just one touch, whether it's a sensual one or not. Or cause the world to disappear when our eyes meet across a crowded room. Or be able to communicate with just a glance or a touch. Or felt that the safest place on Earth was in the arms of the one I love. Does that kind of love really exist?
That pondering question hung precariously in the air.
Jessie Stone leaned down and fisted her glove once. Her sharp blue eyes intent on the batter. The brief shower of rain dampened the ball field, but her team played through it. It was the bottom of the last inning and the other team had a man on third. The score was three to one in favor of her team, Belle's Cougars, with two outs.
"Pitch it in there, Sally." Krista Parker, the tall short stop yelled at their pitcher and glanced at her best friend, giving Jessie a quick wink.
Both women knew the batter favored the right side of the field and over sixty percent of the time grounded out. Jessie moved into position.
The dark haired pitcher wound up and shot the ball low, right down the alley. The ball was struck sharply, heading directly between first and second. Jessie bolted from her position toward the fast moving ball. She dove for the ball and it was within inches of her glove when Shae Karella, their first baseman, smacked into Jessie. The ball skirted loose allowing the runner on third to score and the batter a safe position at first.
Sally, who had covered first, was pissed. "Shae! What are ya doin'?" Her arm was getting sore and she needed some ice on it. The last thing she wanted to do was pitch another inning.
Shae jumped up from the collision and growled at Jessie who had scrambled for the loose ball. "Fuck! You saw I had it. What the hell, Jessie?"
Jessie stood her ground, facing the irate first baseman. "Just back off, Shae. Come on. We've got a game to finish."
"The fuck I will." Shae stepped closer. "It was in my territory."
Krista jumped in between her best friend and the irascible, but talented ball player. "Shae, it's over. Come on. Let's get this out and call it a day." She quickly searched the bench looking for their coach who was also her boyfriend.
Steve Walters, the Cougar's coach, yelled from the dugout. "Shae! Get back on first. Sally?" He nodded to the pitcher then pointed to the mound.
Krista took the ball from Jessie's glove and threw it to Sally who was now sucking in a few deep breaths before she had to pitch again. Krista pulled Jessie around and spoke softly. "She's an asshole. Just let it go."
Back at first, Shae shot a dangerous glare at the runner before growling back over her shoulder to her teammate. "Wear a ball cap so the fuckin' ball don't get past ya next time."
When Jessie heard that last statement, she turned around slowly. She took one step, but was stopped short. Krista had grabbed the top of her shorts. Pulling Jessie back, the shortstop with dark ash blonde hair, pulled back in a ponytail, whispered. "Show her up. That will get to her more than punching her."
Jessie nodded and motioned for her friend to get back in position. After a few more moments, the team was ready to play and once again Jessie crouched down into position.
The first pitch was out of Sally's hand, heading for home and was cleanly struck on the ground driving fast yet slightly right of second base. It was too fast for Sally to react and it was left to Jessie to haul it in. Like a gazelle, the second baseman bolted for the ball. She dove and stretched out as far as her five foot six frame would allow and came up with the ball.
The runner on first had a big head start off and was eating up ground between first and second. Krista scrambled to cover second base. She saw Jessie twist on the hard landing and heard a thump. The longhaired blonde second baseman rolled once but came up quickly, hurling the ball to second. It was a close call, but the ball landed in Krista's outstretched glove before the runner's foot hit the base.
Three outs and the game was over. The score was three to two. It was time to celebrate. The victorious Cougars headed for the dugout. Their coach, Steve, gave each one a high five. He was extremely proud of his team and if they continued to play the way they were, they would be a shoe-in for the play-offs. "Girls, it's on me. Drinks at Belle's. Everybody comin'?"
"Count me in." Sally yelled as she wrapped a cold rag around her arm and then slipped on a nylon jacket.
Several other players confirmed their participation in the upcoming celebration before Shae made her challenging announcement with a wicked chuckle. "First one to get drunk gets laid."
The majority of the players rolled their eyes and quietly snickered at Shae's boast, but few were brave enough to challenge her usual crass and rude comments. The first baseman was tall and strong with a sturdy build. She didn't take any gruff, but served up plenty and often. However, the members of the team put up with it because Shae was the best first baseman in Denton, Texas and the surrounding area.
Dusting off her jersey, Jessie ignored the first baseman. She surveyed her uniform before turning to Krista. "I gotta run home first and change."
Immediately, Krista made a couple of quick swipes at the dirty backside of Jessie's uniform shirt. "That's most of it. You don't have to change. Besides, it'll take too long."
Jessie shook her head. Since playing for the Cougars, Jessie had saved each and every one of her jerseys, all displaying the number twenty-one. They were part of her prized collection and she only wore the older ones on special occasions. "No, I need to wash my uniform first. I won't be long though. I promised your uncle I'd help tonight at the bar."
"Okay." Krista finally agreed. "See you later then. Not too long."
"Right there and back." Jessie smiled. She lived ten miles out of town and sometimes it was a pain to run back to the house before returning to town, but she wouldn't trade the serene tranquility for anything. Jessie packed up her belongings and made her way to her dark metallic gray sporty BMW.
With a huge smile on her face, Morgan Cutter tugged her girlfriend by the hand as she pulled her into the smoky bar. "Hey!" The out-going thirty-three year old yelled across the room to a few of her friends from the book factory where she worked. "They're here already." She said over her shoulder to Breanne and Ashley.
"Great." Breanne mumbled and offered her friend a glum look when she saw the large crowd gathered at Morgan's favorite circle booth.
"Wasn't my idea." Ashley shrugged.
As the trio made their way through the crowd of people, the owner, Jack Belle, gave a short wave to one of his favorite customers, Morgan, before turning to his part time help. "Jessie?"
The part time bartender with long blonde hair placed the drink for a customer on the bar before turning to her 'adopted' uncle. "What's up?"
Scratching his neatly trimmed week old beard, Jack studied the shelf behind the bar. He shifted a couple of bottles that were sitting directly under the huge mirror centered squarely behind the twenty-foot long bar. "I'm thinkin' we need a few more bottles of Maker's Mark. And don't worry about those cases of beer. I'll get 'em later."
"I'm on my way." Jessie wiped the bar down once more before tossing the bar towel on a shelf under the counter. Right before she slipped through the back door, her best friend called to her. "Yeah?"
"Are you gonna work all night?" Krista leaned against the edge of the bar. "You gotta come celebrate with us."
"Jack needed the help." Jessie used that excuse as a way of avoiding Shae's inevitable boisterous comments all night long.
"Sure." Krista chanced a look back over at the table where her team was gathered. She smiled when she saw her boyfriend holding court among her teammates and nodded at him. "Ya know, I think he's gay at heart. He loves being one of the girls."
"He's in the right place then." Jessie winked. "Go on. I've gotta get something for your uncle, but I'll be over in a minute."
"Uh huh. Don't be long. I told Steve we can't stay too late. We still have one more day of work this week."
As Jessie disappeared into the back room, Jack wrapped an arm around his favorite niece and hugged her. "You girls did good tonight. What's that, five wins in a row?"