Pretending Ch. 02byPennLady©
(c) 2009 All Rights Reserved
Connie woke up slowly, gently urged along by the sunlight peeking through the blinds. She took a moment to orient herself. I don't have piles of books on top of my computer, she thought. Then she remembered where she was and tentatively turned her head. Simon lay behind her, his hand on her waist, sleeping like a log.
Her first instinct was to jump out of the bed, but she quieted herself. That would wake Simon up, and she wasn't sure she was ready for that yet. Instead, she carefully moved his arm and slid out of the bed. He turned over but only to burrow back into the pillow and blanket. She smiled as she left the room, making sure the door didn't slam shut.
Now what? She wondered. Nothing like this had ever happened between them before. There'd been no awkward moments that she could recall, no hugs that went on too long, no almost-kisses, nothing like that. She'd managed to keep her feelings under wraps. But after last night, she wasn't sure she'd be able to much longer. Not when they were planning this charade for the holiday, and not when she'd be sharing a bed with him again.
As she got ready for her shower, she could feel her insecurities rising up again. I do not want to deal with this, she thought despairingly. I can't. My boss wants three projects due when I don't have time for one. Mom has been all over me about Simon. Now this... Stepping under the hot water, she decided she just would have to sort it out in her head and talk later. She just needed to get through Thanksgiving, which mercifully was only five days away, and three of those would be occupied with work.
It was difficult, though, to ignore what had happened. She'd dreamed about it, hoped for it, and then... she'd almost had it.
Simon woke up and out of habit reached out to smack the snooze button on his clock. Gradually, it dawned on him that it had been quiet before he hit it, and was still quiet. Ah, he thought, it's Saturday. Thank heavens for that. He recalled how Friday had worn him out with meetings and deadlines. He was so tired that he'd almost been afraid to drive home. When he did get home, he felt badly that he could barely keep his eyes open before saying good night to Connie.
He had to admit, he was really enjoying being her boyfriend. Pretending, he corrected himself, and sighed when he recalled Connie's words the night before. That led to thoughts of what followed and... wow, what had followed had been great. The feel of her next to him, under him, touching him -- it had driven him crazy. He wanted it again.
That was when he realized Connie wasn't in the bed. Oh, no, he thought, did I just screw it all up? No, he reassured himself after a minute's reflection, he didn't think so. Connie was a fairly early riser, even on weekends, and probably hadn't wanted to wake him after he'd been so exhausted. Would she talk about what happened? He was willing to bet not, at least not right away.
After analyzing the situation, and what he knew about Connie, he decided it was best to wait before talking, and certainly before confessing his feelings. If he told her now, he was sure that she wouldn't believe him. She would think he was doing it out of obligation, which wasn't true, but it would be hard to convince her. One thing he'd learned during this rehearsal period was that Connie put on a good front of self-confidence, but it wasn't always true. He didn't want to pressure her.
I'll find the right time, he promised himself. It will have to wait, but I'll find the right time.
Thanksgiving seemed to arrive suddenly. They both worked hard Monday through Wednesday as their offices moved to make up for lost time that the days flew by. It seemed to Connie that before she knew it they were in Simon's car, which was larger than hers and more comfortable, and starting on the four-hour drive that would take them to her parents.
The night they'd almost made love never came up again, even though Connie had spent two more nights in Simon's bed. When they came home from work on Tuesday, it was to discover that the ceiling in Connie's room was leaking badly and had soaked the bed. There was a problem with the apartment above theirs and although the superintendent was working on fixing it, her room was unusable. There was an unspoken agreement that nothing besides sleep would happen, and they stuck to it.
Connie loved sleeping next to him. He made her feel safe, just as she had imagined. She had decided the next day that she would tell him how she felt, but the time had never seemed right. As more time passed, she became less certain about it. She'd been in his bed, letting him hold her. They had been stressed, both of them, and it was only natural -- wasn't it? -- that in those circumstances, they would turn to each other for physical comfort. Comfort, she decided, was probably exactly what Simon had been offering, and she left it at that.
Simon wondered what Connie was thinking, but didn't ask her, as he was pondering a few things himself. Although they had both avoided discussing the previous Friday night, there had -- amazingly -- been no tension between them. Mostly there was no time for tension; neither of them had gotten home before seven for the past three nights.
Mostly, Simon had sensed that Connie needed to think about it before she could talk about it. So he didn't press her. We have a few days with no work ahead of us, he told himself. I'll take her for a walk, or something, just the two of us, and then we'll be able to discuss it. Simon hoped that if they were doing something like that, just walking, then she'd see that he was quite serious about loving her. He was afraid that if he said it while he was hugging her -- or more, should more happen again -- she wouldn't believe him.
I'll be so glad when this game is over, he thought to himself. Pretending had mostly been his idea, he knew, even though Connie had actually made the suggestion. He, however, had pressed the issue and convinced her, so he felt like the fact that they were at this impasse was his fault. Not for much longer, he promised himself.
"Connie!" Emily shouted at her sister happily while sitting on the front porch. Connie grinned as she stretched. She hadn't seen Emily in months. She got a shock, though, when Emily stood up -- Emily was pregnant!
"Em!" she called, running over to hug her sister. They embraced, then Connie stepped back, looking at Emily's slightly rounded figure. "When did this happen? How far along are you? Why didn't you tell me?"
Emily laughed. "Slow down, sis. I'm about five months along."
"So why didn't you say anything?" They linked arms as they walked into the house and sat on a couch. "Is everything all right?" Connie asked concernedly.
"Actually, it is now," said Emily. "I'm sorry, Connie. It wasn't that I didn't want you to know. There were just some complications at the beginning, and then I had to have an amnio and we were worried about the results. We didn't tell anyone except Mom and Dad and John's parents before that. But the results came back fine and now we're getting all excited." Emily fairly beamed.
"Oh, I'm so glad everything's all right," Connie said with relief. "Congratulations! Boy or girl?"
"We don't know yet," said Emily. "We can't decide whether to find out. I'll show you the ultrasound pictures later. I just had a checkup a couple of days ago."
"This is so great," Connie said happily. "I can't believe I'll be an aunt!"
"Will Simon be an uncle?" Emily teased. Connie looked at her, puzzled.
"Well, honorary, I guess," Connie said slowly. "What do you mean?"
"Sweetie, I'm the one who's supposed to be a little slow these days," said Emily. She winked at her sister. "Mom told me about you and Simon -- and it's about time, I say. You guys have danced around it for years. I'm glad you finally got together."
"Ah," said Connie. She hadn't told Emily anything about the arrangement. At the moment, they were alone, but she could hear Simon and her parents outside. Emily's husband must have run an errand for their mom, as Connie hadn't seen him or their car. "The thing is --" Connie started, but before she could continue, her parents and Simon came in the house.
"Where's my mouse?" their father's voice boomed. Edward Davetsky was a large man who put one in mind of Santa Claus, despite looking nothing like the traditional images. He was tall and lean but it was his spirit, Connie thought, that brought Father Christmas to mind. He called Connie his mouse because she'd been so small when she was born.
"In here, Grampa," she teased. She stood up and ran back into the foyer, Emily following more slowly. Her parents stood there, with Simon behind them.
"Well, come on, hug your old man," he instructed with a grin. Connie did, tightly. She missed her parents, and it seemed especially acute around holidays.
"It's good to see you, hon," said her mother. The girls looked like an exact cross between their parents. Black hair from their father, green eyes from their mother, and height fixed firmly in the middle.
"You, too, Mom," Connie said. Her mother smiled happily and held her arms open. Connie hugged her and stepped back next to Simon.
"Wow, Emily," Simon exclaimed. "Look at you. How did you get that basketball to stay put under that shirt?" He grinned at her.
Emily came over and hit him playfully on the arm, then gave him a quick hug. "Double-sided adhesive tape, nosy. How else?"
Simon laughed. "Seriously, congratulations!" He put an arm around Connie's waist, almost unconsciously.
"Thanks," said Emily. She glanced quickly at Connie, who looked slightly uncomfortable. Well, perhaps she wasn't comfortable with affection in public. What was she going to say before they were interrupted, Emily wondered. She smiled inwardly. Simon would be good for Connie. You can tell by the way he stands near her, Emily thought. A little protective, but not overbearing. He's there for her if she needs him, but he won't get in the way.
"Now, let's get these bags up to your room and then you can help me with dinner," said Lydia briskly.
"How was the trip?" her father asked, grabbing one suitcase. Simon grabbed another one and a smaller travel bag. They started up the stairs in a line, Emily remaining behind when her cell phone rang.
"Good, thanks," said Simon. Connie nodded in agreement.
"We left early and there was hardly any traffic," she said. "I guess everyone did all their driving yesterday." Connie and Simon had decided to leave early Thanksgiving morning, as they were so tired from work and didn't want to fight the onslaught of holiday travelers. It had worked out well. They'd managed to leave before eight, stopped once for restrooms and food, and had arrived before one o'clock.
"You made good time," said her mother. "Dinner will be around four. I've invited Sophia, from down the street."
"Oh, that's nice," said Connie, dropping her bag on a chair in the bedroom. "I haven't seen her for ages. How's her son, Ben?"
"Ben will be here, too," her father said, his voice oddly flat. Connie studied him curiously for a moment, but his face was unreadable. She shrugged to herself, figuring she had simply misread his response.
"I thought Ben was overseas," Connie said. "The last I heard his unit had deployed to Iraq."
"He was injured," said Lydia. Connie gasped.
"What happened?" she asked. "Is he all right?"
"He is," her mother assured her. "But he had to be discharged. His unit was ambushed." Connie glanced from her mother and then to her father, looking for more details.
"He lost an arm, Connie," her father said gently. "It was an IED. Otherwise he's fine, and he's bearing it very well. Insists on being called 'Lefty,' actually." Connie giggled. That sounded like something Ben would do.
"You'll like Ben," she said to Simon, who had laid his suitcase on a small table by the bed. "He's a lot of fun."
"I'm looking forward to meeting him," Simon said. This is nice, he thought. So far it was all going well. Lydia hadn't said anything to hurt Connie's feelings, the ride had gone well, and he was glad to have a change of scenery. With an early dinner, perhaps he'd be able to steal Connie away before it grew too late. He supposed he could wait until tomorrow, but wanted to talk to her sooner.
Connie had been right, Ben was a lot of fun and so was his mother, Sophia. Dinner was a lot more comfortable than it would have been with his family, Simon thought. Especially with whatever disagreement he was having with his brother. He honestly wasn't sure what had started it. Politics, probably, he decided. He and Jason were frequently opposite on issues, and although Simon tried not to talk about it too much, sometimes he couldn't help it.
Jason tended to take a difference of opinion as a personal offence. Presumably Simon had questioned Jason's position on something, and Jason had responded by ceasing communication. He generally got over it, but Simon had learned the best thing to do was apologize quickly -- which he had -- and then wait for Jason. Ah, family, he thought, all dysfunctional in their own way, like Tolstoy said.
After the eating was done and most of the dishes cleared away, Sophia and Ben said their good-byes. Simon felt his heart rate speed up slightly as he began to figure out how to pry Connie away for a talk. His hopes were somewhat dashed when Lydia asked Connie and Emily to go with her for a short visit to another neighbor down the street.
"The poor Fishburns," Lydia said. They were an elderly couple, with typical health issues. "He fell and hurt himself, although thank heavens he didn't break a hip. But he needs a walker for the moment, and when her arthritis acts up, she can barely hold a cup of water. Come with me, girls, and help me take them some leftovers, will you?"
"Sure, Mom," said Connie. She grabbed the opportunity to postpone talking to Simon. It was silly, she knew, but her nerves were getting the better of her. The women packed some turkey and side dishes into some plastic containers and put them in a cooler to take down.
"I'll carry it," said Connie. She teased Emily, "You shouldn't carry anything heavy in your condition."
"Oh, don't you start," groaned Emily, rolling her eyes. "If John had his way, I'd be on bed rest."
"Don't knock it," said her husband. "I'd stay with you." He came over and put his arms around her, nuzzling her neck. Connie quashed a pang of jealousy.
"I'll be back soon," she said to Simon, and gave him a shy kiss. She'd never kissed him in front of anyone else.
"I'll be here," he said. "I'm going to clean up the table with John and your dad when we play poker." He gave her a quick squeeze, wishing he had time for more.
"Ha," said Emily. "Where were you when we really had to clean the table?" Her husband laughed.
The women set off and were quickly at the Fishburns'. Connie and Emily were very fond of them. They had been surrogate grandparents to every kid on the block while the girls were growing up. After a bit, Emily proposed that she and Connie return while Lydia visited for a while longer. Connie suspected Emily was using the pregnancy as an excuse to get her alone. She was right.
Emily grabbed her sister's arm as they started walking. "Okay, Connie, what's going on?"
"What do you mean?" Connie wasn't trying to play ignorant, but she wasn't sure what Emily was getting at.
"You started to say something earlier, when I remarked about you and Simon," Emily reminded her. "What was it?"
Connie sighed. "It's going to sound silly." Emily shrugged. "Well, you see, we're just... pretending."
Emily stopped and stared at her. "What are you talking about?"
"I talked to Mom about three weeks ago," said Connie, resuming their walk. "She was pushing me about the last guy I saw, his name was Ron." She told Emily what Ron had said, and Emily's eyes narrowed.
"Jerk," said Emily.
"Yep," said Connie. "Too bad I never see it soon enough." She continued before her sister could interrupt. "Anyway, Simon and I were talking about the holiday, and I said he should pretend to be my boyfriend, to get Mom off my back for a while. I was kidding, I swear!" She held her hands up to ward off protests. "Honestly, Em, I didn't mean it. But then Simon said he'd do it and then... well, here we are." She shrugged and looked away.
"It sounds nuts," Emily said, "but there's more, right? You sound like there's more." Like Simon, she knew the signs when Connie was trying to avoid a subject. "Come on, tell me."
Connie sighed and kicked a rock on the sidewalk. "It was going fine. We were 'practicing.' Simon called it 'rehearsing.' We went on dates and acted like a real couple. Then a few nights ago, I was afraid I was going to have a nightmare." She described Simon's offer to sleep together, and what had almost happened, in broad strokes.
"You're adults, you know," said Emily. She kept Connie walking past their house. This was obviously a conversation in need of more distance. "There's nothing wrong with what you did."
"I know," said Connie. "It's just... well, I guess it's two things. First, I freaked out about my leg."
"You really have to let that go," Emily interrupted gently. "Simon is not the type of guy to care about that."
"Yeah, I know," Connie agreed. "He even said so. That's totally on me. But the other thing is..." she swallowed. "I love him, Em. This whole time, it's been fun and killing me at the same time. I know I need to tell him, but I'm so afraid he doesn't feel the same, and then everything will change. He's been my best friend for ages. What do I do?"
"You tell him," said her older sister. Emily was never one for hemming and hawing over an issue. She looked at, saw a course of action, and took it. "You have to take the chance, Connie. It's stupid not to." They stopped and she studied her sister, seeing the full extent of Connie's apprehension for the first time. "Besides," Emily continued, "I really don't think you have anything to worry about."
"What?" said Connie.
Emily laughed. "I may be pregnant, but I'm not blind, Connie. Simon's got it bad for you, he has for a while. I saw the way he looked at you. That's not someone pretending."
"You really think so?" Of course she does, Connie thought. Emily didn't say things she didn't mean. She wasn't tactless, but she wouldn't offer false hope in this situation.
"I know it's hard," said Emily gently. "I know you're afraid. But you have to try. I really, really think it will work out for you. You just have to take the chance. Talk to him. Soon, tonight if you can."
"I want to," said Connie. "I'm just not sure we'll be able to tear him away from his poker game." She gave her sister a tentative grin. Emily had made her feel better. She was still nervous, but not as much.
"Are you kidding?" Emily asked, turning back around so they could walk to the house. "John will mop up with him. Simon won't know what happened."
Emily proved prophetic. Despite Simon's grandiose claims, John had wiped out both him and Edward in a few short hands. He was more than happy to see Emily and Connie return. Lydia came in a few moments later, and headed into the kitchen to make coffee and tea to go with their pumpkin pie. Overstuffed from dinner, there had been unanimous agreement to save the pie until it could be properly enjoyed.
John pulled Emily to the sofa and refused to let her go, so Connie went to help her mother.
"Things going well between you and Simon?" asked Lydia.
Connie nodded, her guard up. She wasn't sure how to handle these questions, so she needed to answer carefully. "Yes, actually. It's been very nice." That much was true.