Plain Jane


"Fine," she replied. "Do you wanna play with me?"

"Yes, I do!" Jessica said. She nodded for Pierson to come join her as they sat down by a small table with a board game on it.

"Let's play Candy Land, okay?" she asked.

"Sounds good to me. Can my friend play?"

The little girl looked up at Pierson and said, "Sure!" She started setting up the board and said very matter of factly to Jessica, "He's very handsome."

"Yes, he is," Jessica agreed. "And you are very beautiful."

"Thank you," the little girl said sincerely, still unaware how badly fire had ravaged her face.

Pierson could barely force himself to look at her and yet he was unable not to look. Emotions came crashing in on him as he realized how fleeting beauty was; how it could end in an instant. He felt so...superficial. It was the first time in his life he could ever remember feeling that way. He felt small and insignificant and...sad.

"Okay, who goes first?" the little girl said.

"The prettiest little girl, of course!" Jessica said smiling at her and getting one in return.

For the next hour they played and talked and laughed and Jessica made sure to hug her often and smile at her trying her best to make her feel like life was still the same knowing it never would be again.

"Do you have to go already?" she asked when Jessica told her they had to leave.

"Yes. I'm sorry, sweetie. I'll be back as soon as can though, okay?"

"Okay," she sad sadly. "I love you, Jessica," the little girl said as they hugged one another goodbye.

"I love you too, sweetheart." She kissed her scarred cheek and said, "My sweet, beautiful girl. See you soon, okay?"

"That was hard, wasn't it?" Jessica finally asked as they were back on the freeway. Pierson hadn't spoken a word since they left.

"How do you do that?" he asked her.

"How can I not do that?" she countered. "Some of those children lost their mom or brother or sister in the fire in addition to suffering their own burns. I feel like I'm all they have sometimes. It breaks my heart, but if I don't do it, who will?"

"I admire you, Jessica. You're pretty amazing."

Jessica smiled and said, "Nah. Lindsay is amazing. I'm just a plain Jane."

Pierson smiled at her comment and told her, "Before today, I might have agreed with you. Don't get me wrong. You're a very nice looking young woman."

"Just not someone a guy like you would ever ask out," she said filling in the unspoken blank. "It's okay. I get it. I understand my place in the pecking order of things and I'm very happy with where I'm at. I'm not sure I could handle being as beautiful as Lindsay."

Pierson looked over at her and said exactly what he was feeling at that moment. "You're every bit as beautiful as she is, Jessica. In fact..." He paused for a moment as he felt a lump in his throat. He swallowed hard and finished his sentence. "In fact, I'd say you're even more beautiful than her."

"We both know that's not true, Dean, but thank you for being so kind. You see, there really is a great guy underneath that gorgeous exterior." He saw her smiling at him and couldn't help but smile, too.

"Speaking of exteriors, you look very nice today. I didn't want to ask you before but that we kind of know each other, I was wondering why you're so dressed up if you're not going to work."

"Maybe I'm more superficial than I care to admit," she said. "I knew you'd be there this morning and well, you never even noticed me at the office." She looked over at him and said, "Not that you should have. I'm not the kind of girl guys like you notice. I just meant that..."

"I noticed you," he told her truthfully. "I just wasn't aware how beautiful you are or how deep your beauty runs the first time we met."

They were getting close to her home when Pierson said, "I'm glad you asked me to go with you this morning. That was very hard to see, but it may have been just what I needed."

"It is hard," she agreed. "Thank you for going with me. It meant a lot to me."

"Jessica? I was wondering. Would you like to maybe do something together sometime? Something not quite so important or meaningful? With me?"

"You don't have to do this, Dean. I don't need a pity date or anything."

"No, not at all. It's nothing like that," he told her as he pulled into her driveway. "I just...I really enjoyed being with you and I'd like to spend some more time with you." He looked over at her and said, "I'm the one who should be surprised if you say 'yes.' After all, you're the one with the real beauty here. So would you have dinner with me or you could even choose what we do. Just not the burn unit again. For now anyway."

She watched his face to see whether or not he was being sincere and she could tell by his eyes he was. "Okay. That sounds nice."

He handed her his cell phone and said, "Would you do the honors?"

She laughed and punched in her contact information and handed it back.

"I'll call you," he said. He saw her reaction and said, "No, seriously. That wasn't a line. I will call you."

He went around and opened her door and helped her stand. "Thank you again for going with me, Dean," she told him sincerely.

"I'm the one who owes you the thank you, Jessica. You may have done more to open my eyes in the last couple of hours than anyone else has done in all of my 40 years on earth."

Jessica wasn't sure where it came from but she put one arm on his shoulder then kissed him on the cheek. "The pleasure was all yours," she told him with a smile.

He burst into laughter and she did the same. "Pretty with a sense of humor. You're dangerous, Jessica. I'm gonna have to keep an eye on you."

She stepped back and said, "I wouldn't mind that," she said. "And I should warn you. I'm not always the shy, quiet type people think I am." Without another word, she turned and headed inside.

Pierson sat there in her driveway for a while and thought about the life-changing events of that morning as well as how Jessica had singlehandedly turned his world upside down. And because of all that, he was now aware she was something much more than a 7 or 7.5. She was no longer a number of any kind but a human being. A very intelligent, very...beautiful woman he now found himself wanting to get to know.

That evening he sat down and thought about what to say to her when he invited her to dinner. After a few moments he typed into his phone: "I'm not a dramatic person let alone melodramatic so when I say today was life changing for me, please know that's how I feel. I was very moved on several different levels and I thank you—sincerely—for opening my eyes. Not just to Lindsay but to my own kind of blindness. Being self-centered is perhaps the worst vision impairment of all. I don't know that my eyes are fully open yet, but I do know they are no longer stuck shut and that's because of you, Jessica. As to dinner, I was thinking about a nice restaurant downtown this Friday. If that sounds okay, I could pick you up at around 7pm. Thank you, Jessica. For everything. Dean."

Jessica's heart was pounding as she read his text yet at the same time, tears welled up in her eyes. She wanted to text him back immediately and say, "YES!" to his request but after having thought about him constantly since he invited her for coffee, she couldn't help but believe dinner at a fancy restaurant might not be the best idea. Not yet, at least.

She forced herself to wait for an hour then texted him back: "Hi, Dean. That was very kind of you to say. Sometimes people get brought together by the strangest of circumstances. Whatever did it for us, I'm grateful it happened. As to dinner, I'd love to do that as long as I can choose the location. :-) I have a special place in mind and we won't even need to dress up for it. Oh, and can we make it a little earlier? Perhaps six instead of seven? Hope to see you then. Jessica."

Pierson had to admit he was now intrigued. Deeply. He replied: "I'm not used to not being in control and it feels a little scary. But my instincts tell me to trust you so six o'clock it is. I hope jeans will be okay. Dean."

"Jeans are fine. So is six. See you then! J."

Jessica was watching for the Bentley just before 6 o'clock and when it pulled in, she went to the front door to meet him. "Hi, Dean!" she said welcoming him in.

After making small talk, Jessica said, "I think maybe I should drive tonight. It's not that I'm afraid someone will steal your car, I'm just a little concerned."

"Oh, my. Where are you taking me?" he asked her.

"It's another surprise," she told him.

It took about 45 minutes to get there as traffic was pretty much awful everywhere anymore. Dean smiled when he saw her pull up to the Union Gospel Mission but wasn't surprised.

"Are you a religious person, Jessica?" he asked her.

"No. Not at all. But I do believe in humanity," she said back with a smile. Pierson couldn't believe he hadn't been able to see how beautiful she was that first day at the dentist's. Like him, she was also wearing jeans and like him, she was wearing a very dressy sweater. She looked nice, but it was something else. Something much deeper that captivated his interest.

"You may have your first convert," he said smiling back.

Two hours later, Pierson had served nearly 300 people of all ages and races. To him, the poor had always been a nameless, faceless group of people who just didn't try hard enough. Today, he realized that each poor person had a face and a name and that they were just as important as him. Yes, a few of them were lazy. But many had just been dealt a very bad hand and if someone didn't help, who would? He smiled as he realized he wasn't already starting to think like Jessica and that didn't seem like such a bad thing anymore.

On the way back to her place he said, "I'm humbled." Jessica smiled but didn't speak. "You're two for two with me, Jessica," he said after a few moments of silence.

"Two for two?" she asked.

"It's a baseball thing. Two times at bat and two hits. Home runs in this case," he said correcting himself. "You've opened my eyes to a whole new world."

"I'm glad. And you've restored my faith in beautiful people," she said smiling at him.

He sat there and stared at her as she drove and finally said, "You're one of them, you know."

"One of them what?" she asked not understanding what he meant.

"One of the beautiful people," he told her sincerely.

"Me? Ha! I'm just an average looking girl," she said modestly. She wasn't average looking at all. She was well into the above-average category, just not someone he'd have ever thought of as 'hot' before. But Pierson finally understood that hot was overrated. Hot was meaningless. Warmth was what mattered and Jessica was warm in every way he could imagine.

"No. No, you're not," he told her truthfully. "You're so much more than 'hot'. You're...beautiful." He saw her blushing and reached out to touch her shoulder. "Don't be embarrassed, Jessica. Please?" He moved his hand back to his lap and told her, "I don't think I've ever met anyone quite like you before. In fact, I'm sure of it."

"Is that a good thing or a bad thing?" she asked hoping to hear him say the former.

"Oh, it's a very good thing," he assured her. "I find myself unable to stop thinking about you and that just never happens with me." She glanced over at him as she drove and he said, "Ever."

"Is that also a good thing?" she asked.

"It's...unsettling," he told her. "But then, so was going to the burn unit and feeding the homeless. Unsettling but in the best way possible."

They continued plugging along in the heavy traffic when Pierson asked her, "Jessica? Would you like to go on a real date with me sometime?"

She smiled and said, "You didn't consider that real?"

"Ouch. And...touché," he said admitting she'd gotten the better of him. "Yes, it was very real and it was incredibly rewarding. And...being able to do it with you was what I liked most of all."

"I liked having you there with me too, Dean," she said sweetly. "And to answer your question, I would love to do something...else...with you. Anything you like."

"Anything?" he asked teasing her back.

"Um...pretty much," she said coyly. "People think I'm shy but I've had my share of boyfriends and as I kind of said the other day, there are times and places when I'm not shy at all." She flashed a smile at him before saying, "But before I go out with you on a real date, can you tell me something?"

"Of course," he said.

"Please be completely honest, okay?" she said looking over at him. "Why me? Why do you want to go out with me when I'm clearly not even in your league? I saw how the other girls reacted to you and that must happen everywhere you go. I get flirted with, but then, most girls do, too. But let's face it. You're 'model gorgeous' and I'm 'comfortable pretty' if that makes any sense."

"It makes perfect sense," he told her. "This is so shallow and I hate admitting it's true, but it is. To be perfectly honest—as you requested, I never would have asked you out had I not gotten to know you. I could only see the exterior in women and all I cared about was...hooking up. One time and done. But I wasn't kidding when I said you've opened my eyes."

He held out his hand for hers and waited for her to take it. When she did he told her, "You've also opened my heart and while I'm being completely honest—you've pretty much moved in and taken over." She glanced over at him as she changed lanes and he said, "Jessica, I've never felt like this about anyone in my life and I'm a little bit afraid. But I'm even more afraid of not getting to know you and possibly missing out on the best thing that might ever happen to me." He waited for a moment then added, "Was that honest enough?"

"More than enough," she said as she left the freeway. "Can I tell you something, too?"

"Anything," he told her.

"I'm also scared. I'm scared because I think about you all the time, too. And I'm scared because you're so good's scary." She laughed nervously then said, "Dean? I'm afraid of getting hurt because I've never really opened my heart up to anyone before to I guy who makes me feel like I have no business being with him, but like you said, I'm more afraid of being afraid so if you really mean all these things..."

"I do, Jessica. I mean them with all my heart." They were on a busy city street and the light was red. When her car came to a stop, Pierson, who was still holding her hand, pulled her toward him and when her eyes met his, kissed her softly on the lips.

As he kissed her, he felt her hand trembling in his. As the kiss ended he squeezed it letting her know he was completely sincere. "Please don't hurt me," she said as the kiss ended.

"I won't hurt you, Jessica. Ever. I promise I won't."

They held hands as they rode along in silence the rest of the way. Both of them were standing next to the Bentley when Pierson said, "I'm a surprisingly decent cook. Would you feel comfortable letting me make dinner for you at my place tomorrow?"

"Tomorrow?" she said sounding surprised.

"Is that too soon?" he asked her when he realized he wasn't used to hearing anything but 'yes' from women.

"No, it's not too soon. That sounds really nice. Can I bring anything?"

Pierson shook his head and told her, "No. You don't need to bring anything, Jessica."

"Okay," she replied softly looking down.

Pierson reached over and gently lifted up her chin and leaned down to kiss her. Jessica put her hand on his shoulder and accepted his kiss. A brief but very nice follow-on kiss. As she turned to go inside, she saw her mother peeking through the curtains. Pierson also saw her try and move out of the way as though she hadn't been spying and both of them laughed.

"You know my mother is already planning our wedding now, right?" she said turning back toward him.

"They say a mother's intuition is usually correct," he said looking into her eyes.

Jessica blushed slightly again and said, "So thank you for doing something that means so much to me, again."

"The pleasure was all yours," he replied stealing her phrase.

"Yes it was," she said smiling back at him. She took one quick step toward him, stood on her toes and kissed him quickly again then spun and headed inside.

Pierson saw her mother nearly pull her into the house as soon as the door opened and he couldn't help but laugh. "A mother's intuition," he thought to himself as he backed out of the driveway.

In one sense, Pierson was pulling back into the driveway in the blink of any eye. In another, he'd barely slept the night before trying to make sense of what was going on with him. He'd heard of people who made religious claims of overnight conversions before and how they'd miraculously given up a life of drugs or alcohol for the better path. But he'd never heard of someone who was essentially a playboy turning into someone wanting to be domesticated in such a short period of time.

Maybe this was just a passing phase and once he'd had his way with her, it would melt away as quickly as it had appeared. But what kept him awake was the thought that it wasn't. What if this was real? What if no longer wanted to go 'sunt' hunting? He laughed when he thought back to the first time he'd heard someone talk about going sunt hunting. The person saying it was asked what he meant and that guy had answered, "You know, C-U-N-T, or...sunt!" Pierson had been very young and having never heard it before laughed for days over it and re-told it every chance he got.

On the way to her house, Pierson was listening to an oldies station and he started thinking about signs and conversions when he heard the song Everybody Plays the Fool. The words said, "Falling in love is such an easy thing to do...and there's no guarantee that the one you gonna love you—oo-u. Heaven and earth are gonna see, you're out of touch with reality..."

That was exactly how he felt. Out of touch with reality.

When she let him in and he saw her, he was even further out of touch with reality as her appearance didn't match his expectations at all. "Wow!" he said as she stood in front of him. "You look different."

"Is that a 'good' different or a 'bad' different?" she asked as she'd done before.

" I'd say...good. Very good."

Jessica's hair was beautifully styled and she was wearing more makeup than he'd ever seen and yet it was really working for her. Pierson normally saw makeup as a way to hide flaws but in her case, it was accentuating her own natural beauty. Her eyes were stunning as was the rest of her pretty face. He had no idea what she might wear, but he'd anticipated a very nice dress. Instead, he was treated to something he secretly loved but had never mentioned.

Jessica was wearing a white, long-sleeved, cropped sweater and a very short, very cute black skirt. He could see perhaps a half inch of bare skin showing off a very tight waist and he couldn't help but notice a very cute butt he hadn't seen before. She was still a 'little light' up top, but the way the sweater hugged her figure made him realize that for the first time since he'd met her, she was growing on him or rather...causing him to grow. And the four-inch black sandals she was wearing did wonders for her thin-but-shapely legs.

"You're full of surprises," he told her admiringly as he gave her the once over.

"So it's not too..."

"No. Whatever word you were going to use, it's not too...anything...except for maybe...cute." He smiled at her and said, "And I like cute."

"I thought about trying to look sophisticated, but this seemed like a lot more fun. So if it's working, then I'm glad I went with it."

"Me, too," he told her as he put his hands on her upper arms and kissed her hello.

"You have lipstick on your lips," she teased.

"I've never seen you wear it before," he said as she wiped it off.

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