Not My Type: Felicity Ch. 03byfirstkiss©
After the mountains of food were demolished and the clean-up completed, Joe, Adam and Matt got to the business of building a campfire on the beach. They had a blaze going by sunset. Rhi tucked Sophie into bed and with the baby monitor nestled next to her in the sand, the bunch of us sat around the fire, laughing and telling stories.
For the most part I kept quiet, content to listen to everyone recount the events of their week. The conversation drifted to tales about the Tanners as children and when Lilly told the story of how she and Matt once filled a large cardboard box with water to make a swimming pool in her bedroom, I laughed so hard tears streamed down my cheeks.
"Matt and I were in our swimsuits," Lilly recounted through her own giggles. "And I think we both thought we were pretty clever for coming up with the idea. Everything was going fine for about three minutes, until the box became so saturated with water that it disintegrated into a pulpy mess. We were just sitting in a huge, sloppy puddle in middle of my bedroom and Mom starts yelling from downstairs... Our swimming pool had leaked clear through the ceiling and started dripping on her."
Matt was sitting beside me and in the dancing firelight I saw his grin grow. "It was your idea Lil, and yet I somehow took the blame. Dad made sure I couldn't sit for a week after that!"
"Matt was always taking the blame," Lilly confided in me.
"To be fair, it was usually his fault," added Joe in his languid voice.
"Why am I not surprised?" I said with a laugh.
"I'm sure there's a lot you don't know about Matt," Violet chimed in. "But we'd be happy to fill you in on every gory detail. Let's see... Hmm... He's annoying,"
Lilly said, "He has a big mouth."
"And a big heart," Adam pointed out.
Chuck grinned. "And he always has to have the last word."
"And he tells bad jokes," Joe said.
"He loves babies," Rhiannon put in.
Adele smiled over at me. "He's always the first person to offer help if you need it."
"He always sees the bright side in things," came from Nate.
"And he makes eyes at all the women," Violet added, keen to go around again. "Why this one time I watched him try to pick up two women at the same time! The first one shot him down, so he just turned to the other and said—"
"Don't you dare!" Matt blushed as he pointed at Violet. "I'll tell them all about Rob Harvey."
Violet, already so fair, blanched before she glared at Matt. "You wouldn't!"
"Wanna bet?" He gave her a mean frown but couldn't keep the laughter out of his voice when he spoke.
"Hey!" Joe called out in a big-brother tone which brokered no argument. "That's enough."
There was silence for a moment as Violet and Matt sat like chastised children.
"Why don't you play somethin' for us Rev?" Joe suggested, effectively changing the subject.
Matt had once mentioned in passing that Nate was a musical fellow, but I had no idea just how much until he reached for the guitar resting nearby and strummed a couple of chords. I sat mesmerized like the others when Nate began to sing. His rich baritone sent shivers down my arms.
"Cold?" Matt asked in a low whisper.
I pulled my knees up to my chest, wrapped my arms around them and nodded, not wanting to interrupt Nate's singing. The warmth of the fire touched my face and arms but provided little comfort from the chilly breeze at my back. Had I known we'd be sitting outside in the dark, I would've brought a jacket with me.
Matt reached back and without waiting for me to protest, he draped his sweater over my shoulders. His scent, a potent combo of fresh air and soap, enveloped me.
I nodded again, feeling very, very warm as I pushed my arms into the sleeves. My fingers barely peeked out from under the cuffs.
I glanced up to find Adele watching me with a shrewd smile. Nate played a few more songs, building from a slow start to more raucous tunes. He played everything from rock to folk to country, without prejudice. He'd treated us to several songs when all of a sudden everyone froze, including the Reverend. All eyes turned to me as the melody halted mid-note.
I realized in horror that I'd been singing along without meaning to.
In my panic, I looked up at Nate.
"You can sing?" he asked, his voice gruff with use.
Nate chuckled. "Sounds like it." He struck up the chord he'd paused on and began singing the song from the middle. With a dip of his head he encouraged me to join him again.
It was an old Beatles standard, a song I loved. I tried to ignore the myriad of faces around the fire and concentrated on the lyrics.
"Keep singing," Nate said softly to me as his fingers danced over the strings. "Can I make a suggestion?"
I kept my eyes on him and nodded.
He tapped his sternum in-between notes. "You sing from here. That makes it hard to breathe. Sing from deeper down, from your diaphragm."
I did as he advised and succeeded in sputtering. "Sit up straight," he told me then took his hands off the guitar. "Keep singing." Nate reached over and tapped me, just below my ribcage. "From here," he suggested. "Feel the note here and you'll sing it from here."
I did. The next three words came out at twice the usual volume. I was so surprised I stopped.
Nate laughed. Lilly, Rhiannon, and Violet applauded.
"You should practice that," Nate said gently. "You're really very good. Want to do another?"
I glanced over at Matt to my right, expecting to see him grinning at me. Instead, he wore the same blank expression I'd seen before dinner. I turned my attention back to Nate, all the while feeling confused.
"What would you like to sing?" he asked.
"Whatever you want. Play whatever you like, I'll know it."
Nate's brown eyes lit up. "A music aficionado?"
"Not really," I admitted. "I just listen to the radio a lot when I'm in the shop, which is pretty much all of the time."
"Probably drowns out Matt's yammering," Violet remarked to Lilly. The two sisters giggled. I half expected Matt to say something droll in return, but he remained uncharacteristically silent.
The Reverend laughed. "Okay then," he said as he strummed a few chords in succession. I smiled as I recognized the tune. We both took a breath and began to sing.
After more than five songs, my throat felt sore. Nate must have heard the strain in my voice because he tucked the guitar away.
"I think that's enough for one night," he suggested softly.
Everyone around the fire looked like they'd drifted off into their own private universe. Violet sat cross-legged with her chin in her hands, staring into the fire. Chuck had his back against a piece of driftwood, his head tilted upwards while he studied the stars. Adele had her long legs tangled with Nate's as she lovingly nudged his toes with hers. Joe had slid down to lay his head against Rhiannon's thigh and she had her fingers buried in his thick auburn hair. Lilly sat curled up between Adam's knees while he rested his chin against the top of her head; I watched as he planted a little kiss there.
For the first time in all the years I'd know him, Matt didn't command the centre of attention. He hadn't even cracked a joke in more than an hour.
A discontented squawk came from the baby monitor on Joe's chest and cut through the silence.
Rhiannon poked his shoulder. "I think that's my cue. Move it big guy, I'm being summoned."
Adele rose too, stretching her legs. "I should go actually; I have to be in the office early tomorrow."
Nate came to his feet beside her and slung an arm over Adele's shoulder. "That's not a bad idea. It's late."
I glanced at my watch. It was after midnight. Where had the time gone?
"I'll take you home," Matt offered in a low tone.
I nodded, suddenly exhausted because I wasn't used to late nights. I slid Matt's sweater off my shoulders but he put a hand out to stop me just as the brisk ocean breeze swept in.
"Keep it. You need it more than I do."
"Aren't you cold?" I asked in between goodbyes as we left the fire and headed towards his car.
Matt shook his head but said nothing. He didn't say anything on the ride back to the house either. Even when he pulled into my driveway and I opened the passenger door, he responded to my, "Good night" with nothing more than a nod. I had a sinking feeling about what had changed his mood since before dinner.
"Matt. . . if you had someone else you wanted to invite the Lilly's wedding—"
"Don't worry about it." His attempt at a half-smile was just as falsely reassuring as his words. "I'll see you in the morning, okay?"
It was my turn to nod.
I let myself into the darkened house and waited at the door until Matt's car drove off. Dad was snoring in his recliner. He probably never noticed that I had been gone in the first place. I took the empty glass from his hand, covered him with a blanket, and went to bed.
And even though it now smelled more like the campfire and the ocean than it did Matthew Tanner, I slept in his sweater anyway.
The next morning Matt came bounding through the shop door five minutes late as always, and with breakfast in hand to make up for his tardiness — as always. While I savoured my oatmeal, he went over our options for increasing business.
I glanced up from my breakfast to find Matt watching me with concerned blue eyes.
"Let me worry about it, okay?" he offered. "Turning the business around for you will give me something to do other than fix cars."
I cradled my cup of coffee between my palms. "Are you sure?"
The smile melted from Matt's face as the line of his mouth sobered. "I should do more around here than I do. I wanna help make things better for you. For us."
Us. My heart melted like the brown sugar topping my oatmeal. He didn't mean it the way I wanted him to, but his pledge made me feel less lonely.
"Besides," Matt added as the confident grin I knew so well blossomed again on his face. "I gotta do more around here than just look good."
I couldn't help but laugh. I didn't affirm his declaration, but I certainly wasn't going to refute it either.
"Things will change Flick, I promise."
As the week progressed I did notice a few changes between us. When I laundered Matt's sweater and tried to give it back to him, but he urged me to keep it.
"You're always cold," he teased. "Someone's got to keep you from freezing to death, even in August."
Shortly after that he caught me humming along to a rock ballad on the radio. I was changing the spark plugs on an early model SUV when Matt came ambling into the garage. He leaned against the vehicle with his arms crossed over his chest.
"Sing along if you want," he encouraged when I paused mid-hum. "I don't mind."
And so I began to sing along to the radio while he was there, just like I did when he wasn't. It was just softly at first, and then with growing confidence and volume as I practiced breathing the way Reverend Nate had suggested.
Sometimes I'd look up from my work to find Matt watching me with that blank expression on his face which I found disconcerting. I was so used to easily reading his wide range of emotions that the neutral expression was strange to me. I couldn't stand not knowing what Matt was thinking.
I worried that my voice wasn't actually very good and that Matt regretted giving me permission to sing in the first place, but he didn't ask me to stop. I didn't realize how much I liked singing until I was free to do it and release some of the pent-up energy inside of me.
Matt stuck his head into the garage the following Saturday as I was midway through putting new rear tires on a pickup truck. When was the last time he stopped by they shop on his day off?
"I brought you down some lunch," he explained as he held out a plate loaded with enough grilled cheese sandwiches for four people. There was a big bottle of ketchup tucked under his arm.
"You didn't need to do that." His thoughtfulness made me smile.
"Someone's got to make sure you actually eat. You always seem to forget to otherwise."
"It'll take me a minute to finish up," I told him before I hefted a truck tire up onto the axle. The darn tire weighed a ton and proved difficult to manoeuvre. Thank goodness I only had the truck jacked a foot off the ground. I grunted as I tried to finish the task.
Matt dropped the sandwiches and ketchup on top of the tool chest and rushed forward.
"And you shouldn't lift those things by yourself, they're too heavy."
"Matt, I've been changing tires by myself since I was eleven."
"I know. But still, you could hurt yourself."
I rolled my eyes. I expected him to laugh, but his scowl deepened.
"Really, its okay," I assured him. "I don't need a big, strong man around twenty-four-seven. I'm stronger than I look."
His hand shot out and wrapped around my upper arm as I moved past him to grab the other tire. Even through my coveralls I felt each individual finger band around my bicep.
"And I'm just upstairs, Flick. You can ask for help."
"When I need help, I will ask."
He stood close enough that I saw every speck of lighter blue in his sapphire eyes while he studied me.
"If you hurt yourself what would happen to this place?"
"You'd manage without me," I teased but Matt's fingers tightened on my arm and my last word came out more like a gasp.
"No, I wouldn't."
I tried to laugh it off but with Matt this close I couldn't remember how to breathe. Could he feel my pulse racing? Somewhere between my heart and my mouth, my reply got lost and I forgot what I was going to say.
Instead of letting me go, Matt touched my cheek. I was so surprised by the gentle gesture, I flinched the moment his skin grazed mine.
"You had a little smudge of grease..."
He dropped his fingers and let go of my arm.
I wiped at my cheek with the back of my hand and felt the grease smear along my skin.
"I always have grease on me somewhere," I reminded him as I ducked my head and tried to wipe it off again.
Matt chuckled. "You're making it worse."
He snatched the rag hanging from my pocket and gently clasped my chin in his hand. Then he tilted my head upwards to give the stubborn spot its full due.
"There!" he proclaimed. "All perfect and pretty."
I actually stopped breathing altogether.
"Come with me tomorrow." His voice sounded low and raspy.
"Tomorrow?" I parroted. My brain had definitely stopped functioning.
His dimples blossomed again.
"To Rhi and Joe's. Tomorrow is Sunday."
After witnessing the decline in Matt's mood the week before, I'd resigned myself to not getting another invite to the weekly get-togethers. Matt likely regretted asking me in the first place and I never expected him to ask me again.
"Okay," I agreed before I really thought about it.
"Great! Everyone will be glad to see you. They've all been asking if you were coming back."
So it wasn't his idea. My heart sank into the vicinity of my toes but I fought to keep the disappointment off my face.
"Now eat your sandwiches," Matt prompted. He propelled me towards the plate piled high with grilled cheese.
"That truck needs tires before two o'clock," I pointed out. "And they won't attach themselves."
Matt planted his hands on the small of my back and pushed me towards the lunch he'd made for me. "I'll finish the tire change; you eat your lunch."
I thought about arguing with him, but Matthew Tanner could be incredibly stubborn. Plus, I was just as hungry as he was adamant. Since it was Matt's day off there hadn't been any one around to nag me into eating breakfast.
I grabbed the heavy plate of sandwiches and made my way to the office.
"Did you have to make so many? You know I won't eat them all."
Matt's expression flitted between teasing and stern. "You better eat every one of those sandwiches. If you don't, I won't take you for ice cream."
"Ice cream?" I jumped up and down like a six year-old when given the same suggestion.
Matt's laughter rang off the rafters.
"It's a hot day. And when was the last time you went out for ice cream?"
"I've never been out for ice cream actually," I confessed. "I mean we have it at home from time to time, but I've never just gone out for an ice cream cone."
Matt's joyous expression faltered. "Your dad never took you out for ice cream when you were a kid?"
I shook my head.
"That's the saddest thing I've ever heard. I used to love when Dad loaded all us kids up in the truck and took us out for ice cream."
"Well my dad isn't like your dad." I hated the way it sounded but Matt couldn't possibly imagine just how different our home lives were. "I was only four when my mom died. Dad had just opened the garage and was busy all the time. I don't think he really knew what to do with me. "
It took a lot to admit that much about my father and the last thing I needed was platitudes and pity. But I braced myself for it as I waited for Matt's response.
"You can borrow my dad any time you like. He's always up for a trip to the ice cream parlour."
He gave me another gentle push towards my office. Just the feel of his hands against my spine made my body hum. He'd touched me more in the past week than he had in all the years we'd known each other.
"You do know there is no way I'll finish all of these," I warned him again as I sat at my desk and eyed the mountain of grilled cheese sandwiches. Matt plunked the ketchup down beside me.
"I know. If you get through two I'll be impressed."
"But we can still go for ice cream?"
His answered chuckle was husky and deep. "Yes Flick, we can still go for ice cream. After I get the tires on this pickup."
From my office window I saw him crouch down beside the truck to finish the job I'd started. The sound of the impact wrench Matt used to tighten the lug nuts and secure the new tires might be an annoying sound to some, but it had long become part of my daily soundtrack.
Matt made quick work of the switch, and had the pickup truck down off the jack before I even finished the first sandwich. Then, after wiping his dirty hands on a clean rag, he joined me for lunch. He sat down just in time to watch a delivery truck from my parts supplier stop in front of the garage bay doors.
Thanks to Matt's rent cheque and security deposit I'd been able to order some needed parts and supplies.
It wasn't the usual delivery guy who jumped down from the truck though. It was Ryan, the one who sometimes came on Saturdays. The young one. The cute one. He ambled towards the doorway with a clipboard tucked under his arm. He consulted the waybill then glanced up at Matt.
"I don't think you two have ever met," I said as Ryan's brown eyes sized up Matt. His usual warm smile was no where to be found. Still, Ryan stuck his hand out before I had a chance to introduce him.
"Ryan Waverly," he said in an all-business tone. "Island Auto Parts. Good to meet you..."
"Matt works here with me," I explained when Matt didn't.
"I'm her right hand man," he said with a trace of his trademark charm and humour.
"And since we're so small, he's my left hand too."
Ryan's eyes wandered from the tips of my steel-toed boots to the top of my head. His lips quirked at the corners of his mouth. "Nothin' wrong with small."
Matt cleared his throat. "Do you have a delivery for us or not?"
Ryan blinked a couple of times and consulted the clipboard again. "Uh, yeah. Yeah I do. Air filters, A/C condensers, batteries, fuel pump."
"Can we have them?" Matt asked in a dry tone, enunciating each syllable like he was speaking to a child.
Ryan's eyebrows rose but I caught his sardonic smile as he moved towards the truck. He threw open the back and began pulling out boxes.
"Do you want them in the back?" he asked me as he passed with an armful of parts. I couldn't help but notice he gave the glaring Matt wide berth when he followed me to the shelving unit in the far back corner of the garage.