tagRomancePretending Ch. 01

Pretending Ch. 01

byPennLady©

(c) 2009 All rights reserved

"Simon, would you get that?" Connie called from her bedroom. Her date was probably here and she wasn't quite ready. She turned back to the mirror. Her black hair was swept back into a braid, and she wore dangly silver earrings. She stood back to evaluate, and nodded, as pleased as it was possible for her to be. Her skirt was ankle-length, loose and flowing, and she wore a flowered print blouse with it. She wished she could wear something a little shorter, but the scar on her leg always stopped her. Maybe she should have worn dress slacks. She sighed; too late now to change.

"No problem," came the reply. Simon shook his head with a rueful smile as he went to the door. Connie Davetsky was his roommate and his best friend. If only he had the nerve to tell her he'd like to be more. But no, he chickened out every time, and instead, here he was going to let in her latest beau. Simon hoped he was nicer than the last guy. It wasn't that Connie had bad taste in men, he thought, it was just that she somehow seemed to find the ones who offered a bait-and-switch.

"Hi, I'm here for Connie," said the man at the door. He held out his hand. "Ron Cutter."

Simon shook his hand. "Simon Banks," he said. "Come on in." Simon sized Ron up as he walked into the apartment and wasn't impressed. Everything about him put Simon off, from the possible start of a beer gut to the thin brown hair that needed a trim. Simon would admit that he was not in peak physical shape -- it was too easy to avoid the gym in the cold weather -- but Ron looked soft. He has a weak chin, too, Simon thought. And beady little eyes.

Simon managed, with an effort, to control his annoyance when Ron walked in and threw himself down on the couch as though he'd been coming there for ages. Actually, he'd only been there a couple of times, though not when Simon was around. He could at least wait for an invitation, thought Simon.

"Got a beer?" Ron asked.

"Sorry, we're out," said Simon, trying not to sound curt. Now he knew the gut was probably for real and would just get bigger. He was not about to give Connie's date a drink before they'd even set off. He was liking Ron less and less. Then he caught himself. It was his own fault that Connie was going out with this -- this guy. He'd had plenty of chances to tell Connie how he felt, but he kept backing down. He should give Ron a chance, if only for Connie's sake. Maybe he'd asked for a beer just for something to say, or he'd had a rough day at work.

"Connie will just be a minute," Simon said, taking back his seat on the sofa, where he'd been watching the news. He turned it off to be polite.

"You've been friends with Connie for a while, right?" Ron asked, slouching on the sofa and putting one foot on the coffee table. "She's mentioned you a lot."

"Since high school," Simon answered with a nod, trying to ignore the foot.

"I've gotta ask you something, then," said Ron. Simon nodded. "Have you ever seen the scar on her leg?"

Simon felt himself tense up but tried not to show it. "Caught a glimpse once by accident. Connie tries very hard not to let anyone see it, she's self-conscious about it."

Ron gave him a conspiratorial grin. "I gotta say, I hope I don't see all of it. I accidentally saw her leg the other night, and my God, it looked like alligator skin or something." Simon tried to keep his teeth from grinding together in anger as Ron continued. "Don't get me wrong, Connie's decent looking. I'm not against things happening, if you get my drift. But I think I'll have to keep the lights out and watch where my hands go, if you know what I mean." Ron was laughing to himself, oblivious to Simon's reddening face.

"Get out." Neither man knew Connie was in the living room until she spoke. Her face was pale, and she crossed her arms to hide her trembling hands. Ron looked up, realized she'd heard everything he'd said, and started to sputter.

"Oh, Connie, I didn't... I mean, I ..."

"Just get out!" she said again, biting her lip to keep the tears at bay. She had never been so embarrassed. She could feel the blush rising in her face. It was bad enough to hear Ron say those things, but that he'd said them to Simon was just humiliating.

"Connie--" he tried one more time.

"She said leave," said Simon, standing up. He was about six foot two, and could look pretty intimidating when he wanted to, and right now, he wanted to. "Get out of here, and don't ever talk to her again."

"Fine," Ron said with a snarl. "I was only doing you a favor, anyway. Not too many guys want a fat chick, let alone one with a deformed leg." He turned and stalked out, slamming the door behind him.

Good riddance, Simon thought. He looked like a ferret. Not to insult ferrets.

For a few moments, Connie could only hear her own heart beating in the silence. She couldn't move, couldn't even think. She kept her arms crossed in front of her as though they were holding her body together.

"Connie," Simon said quietly, starting to go over to her. That snapped her back. She shook her head vehemently, backed quickly into her room and closed the door. Once on the other side, she locked it, leaned back against the wall, slid down to the floor, and started crying.

How could that have happened? How could she have mistaken a jerk like Ron for a nice guy? Again? It seemed like every guy she went out with lately did something like that, although none had been so hurtful as this. And it was so much worse that Simon was involved.

If Ron had said something to her while they were out, or at least alone, she would have been just as angry and still told him to go, but it wouldn't have been quite this bad. But for him to have said that in front of Simon made her want to die of embarrassment. She didn't want Simon to know what lousy choices she made with guys.

What she really wanted was Simon. It had been that way for ages, but for all the usual reasons, she hadn't made any moves. They were best friends, and she didn't want to ruin that. Plus, Simon deserved better than her. He deserved someone who didn't have a twisted scar running nearly the whole length of her leg, who didn't walk with a permanent limp, who wasn't constantly fighting to keep her self-confidence up.

She'd always thought Simon was gorgeous, very nearly her idea of a perfect-looking man. She loved his broad shoulders and the fact that he was just tall enough so that when he put his arm around her, her head rested on his shoulder. He never remembered to get his auburn hair cut on a regular basis so that sometimes, like now, it hung into his eyes and Connie constantly fought the urge to brush it back. He had dark brown eyes that looked black in the right light. When they focused on her, Connie's heart skipped a beat.

And now, she thought bitterly, wiping at the tears with the back of her hand, when he looks at me he'll think about what an idiot I am. It was only nine o'clock, but Connie couldn't take it any more and decided to go to bed. Simon's voice on the other side of the door startled her.

"Connie," he called. "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine," she said, unconvincingly.

"Come on, Connie," Simon said. He was a little worried; she'd never acted like this before when a relationship broke up. He tried the knob. "Let me in, please? You can talk to me about it, you know that."

"I'm going to bed, Simon," she said, her voice steadier but still a bit hoarse. "I'm sorry. I just... I just want to sleep."

"All right," he said, still not sure she really was okay. "Come get me if you need anything, or want to talk. Any time, you know that."

"Thanks," she said, leaning her head against the door. What would he think if she told him what she really wanted was to have him hold her all night, so that she could rest her head on his shoulder while she slept? So she could feel safe and cared for? Probably laugh and tousle her hair and head off to his own room to play video games.

x-x-x-x

Simon was frustrated at first with the next few days. Connie went to some lengths to avoid him, although since they lived together, she couldn't avoid him completely. After three days, frustration turned to a strange form of admiration. It was impressive how she managed to see him for the barest minimum of time every day. She left early, came home late, then went straight to her room.

He wondered when she ate, for she declined any invitations to eat with him, whether it was in the apartment or out at a restaurant. She was never rude -- she didn't ignore him or not speak to him -- but she acted like she was afraid of him. Connie had never done that before, and he began to think perhaps he'd said something to offend her without knowing it.

When Friday rolled around, Simon took advantage of having worked extra hours the previous couple of weeks and went home before lunch. Today, he decided, Connie was going to talk to him beyond "Hi, see you later." He would plant himself in front of the door if he had to, and make her say something. This was ridiculous. He missed her and wanted his friend back.

He sighed as he thought back to high school days, and how they had become fast friends their first year. He had just moved into the area, and they were in the same homeroom. She had sat in the row next to him, and when she saw him reading a copy of Dune one day, she started talking to him about it. It was one of her favorites, and they became so involved in their conversation they almost missed the first period bell.

She had introduced Simon to her group of friends, and they'd all gotten along well. It was great for Simon. There was always someone to talk to, go to a football game with, and things like that. The circle remained pretty intact for all four years, with only a couple of people leaving because their families moved.

Simon, Connie and the others had attended their senior prom in a large, friendly group, with no defined couples. It was all he could do not to gape at her that night, she looked so lovely. She wore a sleeveless red gown with a straight skirt, and a shawl that her mother had made, from yarn that had some kind of sparkles in it. Her eyes had twinkled as they all talked and laughed, her long black hair tossing from side to side. For the first time, but not the last, Simon had wished he was her boyfriend.

The group had decided they would go to the beach afterwards.

It wasn't fair, he thought now, as he had then. None of them had been drinking, hadn't even brought anything with them. Not that each of them hadn't had a beer or some wine at one point, but they'd seen enough schoolmates die in alcohol-related accidents after proms and graduations that they'd all pledged not to do it for their own prom. They piled into three cars, with changes of clothes and picnic baskets, and headed off to the beach.

He and Connie were in separate cars; she had gone with her friend, Rachel, who was driving her brand new Corolla. How Rachel loved that car. He should have made Connie ride with him. Rachel had panicked when an SUV full of drunk college students came tearing around a bend. She turned the wheel the wrong way and the SUV hit the little Corolla, flipping it up and over through the air. Simon's heart had caught in his throat as he pulled over when the car came back to the ground, and he thought he'd be sick as it flipped over two or three times before finally stopping.

His friend, Lance, had called 911, for all Simon could think of was getting to Connie and the other girls. Everything was a blur until they got to the hospital, and even then all he remembered was sitting in the waiting room until he was allowed to go sit by Connie's bed. Rachel, Connie and a third girl had all survived, but had sustained serious injuries. Rachel had a broken arm, and a concussion. The other girl, in the back seat, had fared better, but still had a broken collarbone and several broken ribs. Connie, on the passenger side where the SUV had hit, had taken the worst of it. The airbag had deployed, but it hadn't helped.

She, like Rachel, had a broken arm and a concussion, and she shared some broken ribs with their other passenger. But her leg had been the worst. It was broken, the bone had poked through the skin, and some skin had been sheared off by the force of the landing. Simon had sat countless nights, it seemed, by her bedside, sharing the duty with her parents and older sister. Connie had borne up well, and gone through months of rehab and physical therapy. Now, years later, she had only the scar and a slight limp to show what she'd been through.

Simon sighed as he surfed the internet, killing time until he could go pick Connie up at her office. He knew that the limp didn't bother her as much as the scar. Since the accident, he'd only seen her in jeans, slacks, or long skirts and dresses. Not that she'd been one for micro minis or anything, but he knew she wasn't comfortable in anything that displayed any of her leg. He didn't care, though. To him, the scar was just proof that she was alive. If he had the guts, he would tell her that, and how much he loved her.

Right, he thought. If I had the guts... and apparently, I don't.

x-x-x-x

Connie stretched and yawned at her desk. She couldn't put it off any longer; it was time to go home. So far she'd been successful in her attempts to avoid spending time with Simon. She knew she was being silly, juvenile even, but she couldn't help it. The episode with Ron had embarrassed her to no end, and she could barely look Simon in the eye.

The worst part, she knew, was that Simon would say nothing if she did talk to him about it. He would hold her hand, or put an arm around her shoulder, let her talk, and then find something to say that would make her feel better. So, really, she was doing this for nothing, and denying herself just about the only comfort she could get.

Well, that wasn't entirely true. She'd told her sister about it, and Emily had sympathized and even understood why she was avoiding Simon. Emily had, however, told her in no uncertain terms how ridiculous she was being, and that she should get herself together. She derived some consolation from talking to her sister, but it wasn't quite the same.

Connie sighed as she shrugged on her coat and left the office. The weather was turning colder and it bothered her leg some. Maybe I can moonlight for the weather service, she thought as she stepped outside. Lost in her thoughts, she nearly jumped a foot when a voice next to her said, "Hi, there."

She gasped and looked up to find -- Simon. He was smiling, albeit a bit sheepishly. She guessed he hadn't meant to startle her. "Hi," she said weakly.

"I'm sorry," he said, taking her arm. "I didn't mean to sneak up like that. I thought you'd see me when you stepped outside."

"What... what are you doing here?" she finally managed to say.

"Well, I missed you," he said, stopping by his car. Connie had taken the bus into the office, as her car was in the shop. "You've been avoiding me, and I wanted to talk to you, so I came to pick you up. Surely you'd rather be in my nice warm car than on the freezing bus." He held her door open and looked at her expectantly.

Connie stared for a few moments and then said, "Thanks." She sat down in the comfy seat, enjoying the warmth.

Simon came around and got behind the wheel. "So," he said, "I was thinking we could hit the steakhouse, then go to a movie or maybe watch one at home. But," he added, "you're going to talk to me and tell me why you've made yourself so scarce the last few days."

"All right," Connie sighed. He was right, and so was Emily. This had to stop. She had to collect herself and act like the adult she told herself she was.

Simon drove to a local restaurant called The Steak Place, which was exactly what it said. There was no chicken here, nor fish, unless you got it to go with steak. They went in, were seated and placed their orders. Even though it was Friday, it wasn't too crowded, as they managed to hit the slow period between the dinner and late-night rushes.

"Okay," said Simon, tipping his glass towards her, "talk."

Connie stared at her fingers for a minute, then said, "There isn't much to say. I'm sorry for how I've been acting. I was just embarrassed."

"Why?" asked Simon.

"Because of what happened with Ron," she said, slumping back in her chair, unable to look at him. "I know you must think I'm a complete idiot when it comes to guys. And I guess I am. Doesn't matter anyway, I'm getting out of the dating scene for a while. I don't care who my sister tries to fix me up with."

"I don't think that," Simon told her. "I do think you've had some bad luck, but that's not your fault. Some people --" he gestured aimlessly with his hand "-- they act one way at first, then you get to see the real them later. I know it's lame, but at least you found out about him early."

"I guess," said Connie. "It's just... you know, when he said that... about my leg..." She stopped, feeling tears well up.

"Hey," said Simon, leaning over to catch her hand. "He was a jerk. Some day, you will find someone who doesn't care about that scar. Or who loves it because it's part of you." Like me! A voice inside him cried out. He ignored it. "The scar is just a mark. It doesn't define you. Anyone who can't see past that doesn't deserve you, anyway."

"Thanks," Connie said with a small sniff, but also a small smile. "How is it you always know what to say to make me feel better?"

"Ancient Chinese secret," he said with a wink. "Now, what movie shall we watch?"

"Let's watch something at home," she said. "I'm too tired to go to a theater. At least if I fall asleep at home, I won't be wasting money."

x-x-x-x

Dinner and a movie did wonders for both Connie and Simon. Connie felt much better that she'd told him, and Simon was relieved to find he hadn't done anything to offend or scare her. The weekend was too cold to do much, although they did get out for groceries. Simon teased her and said she should cook for the next week to make up for him having to live on ramen noodles while she was avoiding him. Connie's mood was improving all the time until she spoke to her mother on Sunday.

"So, you'll be coming home for Thanksgiving, then?" said her mom.

"I guess so," she answered. "I hadn't really thought that far ahead."

"Connie, it's in three weeks!" her mother exclaimed.

"I know, Mom," she said, stifling an exasperated sigh. "It's just been very busy at work. I'm not sure I can get the day afterwards off, and I haven't had a chance to ask about it."

"Well, find out and let me know, I need to plan the food." Connie knew that was ridiculous; her mother made enough food at any holiday to feed the proverbial army.

"All right, Mom, I'll ask tomorrow."

"Good. Now, will you be bringing anyone?"

"What?"

"Well, you said you were seeing that boy, what's his name... Roger?" Now her mom would probe for details. Connie steeled herself for the conversation and resolved to say as little as possible.

"His name was Ron, and I'm not seeing him anymore."

"Why not?" her mother wanted to know.

"Because he said some nasty things to me and I told him to get out." Connie prayed her mother wouldn't pry for any details.

"Are you sure you're not overreacting?" asked her mother. "I mean, maybe you misinterpreted something."

"I didn't," Connie said shortly. She groaned, knowing she was going to have to go into some detail. "He said something rude about my leg, and having to turn the lights out." There, that should be enough.

"Well, you know, Connie, some people will have a hard time with your scar." Ah ha, thought Connie. I knew it. Her mother never seemed to miss a chance to bring up the scar and how difficult it would make her love life. As though Connie had gotten the scar voluntarily, like a tattoo. Connie waited for the other shoe to drop. "And you know your weight has been up."

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