(My deepest thanks go to ArthurianMorgaine for editing this story for me. It was a joy to work with her and her edit has made this story flow so much better. In turn I hope you the reader enjoy this story as much as I had fun writing it.)
Karma: - For every unpleasant event that occurs, a second event will occur that will cancel out by virtue the first event by being pleasant.
As the organist flawlessly changed the background music to 'Here Comes The Bride,' everyone in the church turned, and gasped at the vision coming down the aisle. Toni was so very proud at that moment, I should know. I've lived with her for twenty of her twenty six years. I'm her brother.
"Damn it Jeff. What ever does a girl like that see in a guy like me?" the groom asked.
Being the best man to your best friend since grade school and having to play match maker for both of them all through college was both fun and a nightmare at the same time. I told him once that the next time this situation came up I would much rather stick my hand in a furnace. Being my friend's best man still meant I had to keep him calm, even though the beauty that was my sister, seemed to be doing a really good job of that at the moment.
I still couldn't resist it, "I suppose the two million you have stashed in that offshore account, may have something to do with it buddy."
It earned me a jab in the ribs and a small chuckle. It also earned me a glare from my Dad as he drew up alongside us, "Jeffery Andrew Marshall, this is your sisters wedding and I expect you to behave with a certain amount of decorum." Who but my Dad would ever use the word 'decorum,' yet he did and I was suitably chastised. So other than checking for the tenth time I had the ring, I pushed Jason forward and Dad went and sat with Mom. The whole ceremony went off without a hitch, even the part when the reverend asked if anyone had any objections. The urge to turn around and check out the guests was close to overwhelming. I did often wonder if anyone would ever be brave enough to stand up at a time like that and say yes. No one did so the 'I dos' went ahead and I now had a brother in law as well as a business partner. Nothing like keeping it in the family I suppose.
Even the speeches were a formality. I showed mine to Toni a few days before and she cried, telling me not to change a word of it. Getting them both on the plane to Hawaii for the honeymoon was even more fun. They were going to be late for their flight and I threatened to come into there hotel room and throw a bucket of water over them. That seemed to work. I was the one left watching them at check in, breathing a sigh of relief, just grateful that everything had gone to plan. Well at least the parts I had to organize anyway
So with one final wave to them both, I was happy that my sister had married the best guy I knew. He doted on Toni and I suspected he loved her even before his body told him what love was. They were made for each other and for the next three weeks I was left to take care of the business, as I was reminded when my cell rang. Of course being a guy has its limitations. Doing two things at once being one of them, and that's when I literally walked straight into some woman.
She stumbled and fell, the over-sized hat she wore obscuring her face as she became comfortable with the departure lounge floor. Her friend helped her up and that's when two of her bodyguards dropped me on the same part of the departure lounge she had occupied not ten seconds ago. Airport security noticed the commotion and joined in. By then of course the woman's well oiled security team had wheeled her out of the airport, leaving the two bodyguards holding me down until security cuffed me and took me away.
Even with all my details and why I was at the airport in the first place. It took nearly two hours to explain it was an accident and that I have been known to be a klutz most, if not all of my life. The two security guys didn't press charges when I insisted we watched the security footage, even they admitted it looked like an accident. When I did finally get to the car I was grateful it wasn't parked in a tow away zone. The whole incident left me feeling rather pissed at life, one woman in particular. If I thought about it long enough, her team of suited gorilla's were in there as well.
But work saved me. Work was my security blanket and I wrapped myself in it for the next two days. My phone rang and my secretary told me two men had come to see me. Curiosity got the better of me and I left the office to investigate. I recognized them instantly as the two that held me down at the airport. One stepped forward and said. "This is for you, from the lady you barged into at the airport and she accepts your apology."
Now this was interesting, firstly seeing these two guys with a bunch of flowers and then being told that I had barged into her and that she actually hung around long enough for me to apologise. They didn't say anything else, just turned and left. Janice stood to get a vase for the flowers, until I told her not to bother. My Dad had always told me I should watch my temper, all through high school and college he said the same thing. You have just got to love your parent's foresight in these matters.
I picked up the flowers and went to my office and looked out the window seeing both the suits head towards the limo parked under my window. I added a paperweight to the flowers and a small message of my own, before I dropped both out the window. I watched as it landed on the roof of the limo before going back to work. Perhaps a small part of me was grateful that our office was on the first floor. I did expect the police to turn up but they never did, so I settled into work again, just finishing up when Janice stuck her head around the door and wished me goodnight.
Now I'm a creature of few habits, but two habits I do hold most dear are early morning jogs around the park across from my apartment and coffee at Charlie's when I'm done. Charlie's was a family owned diner. I went to school with Marco who runs it now and we like to keep in touch, even take in a few ball games when we could drag Jason away from Toni that is. The jogging was a left-over from school. I'm no track jock, I just liked to keep in shape. The fear of looking like Dad when I was older made me keep it up after school.
Marco was telling me about his latest date when the door opened and the diner went a little quiet. Both of us looked over towards the door and I inwardly groaned. There was only one of them this time. He spotted me and walked over, pulling an envelope out of his inside pocket at the same time. I was more surprised when he didn't say anything, just sat the envelope on the counter in front of me and left.
At first I whistled at the cost of the damage to the roof. Then I realized this had not only been a rush job since dropping my answer onto it yesterday, but it was also a limo. Telling Marco I would see him in the morning, I walked home to shower and change. It wasn't until I was back at the office that I pulled the bill out of the envelope again, only this time a hand written note came with it.
'I'm willing to go halves on the bill, if you accept my apology.'
That in itself raised an eyebrow, but my Father always told me to be beholden to no one. So I rang the shop and paid the bill in full over the phone, after all, I did it. My temper got in the way and it was time to pay for what I did, feeling very lucky that the police didn't haul my ass down town for doing it. The bill was handed to Janice for filing and the rest of the day became work overload for everyone in the office. As far as I was concerned, the whole incident was nothing more than a fading memory. When Janice knocked to remind me it was time and she was going home. She told me it was about time I did the same thing. I took the hint, being the last out and locking up after myself.
He was waiting by my car. "You have got to be kidding me. You do know the laws on stalking in this state don't you?"
The same guy who handed me the bill for the damage to the limo simply stood stone-faced by my car, until I got closer, and then his hand went into his jacket. I couldn't be bothered anymore.
"As long as your hand comes out empty I don't have an issue with you. Let's all call it even and get on with our lives shall we? I'm sure whoever pulls your strings has better things to do than getting you to annoy me so often."
I'm not a gambling man but I could have almost bet my apartment he was about to agree with me. I wished him goodnight, even held out my hand and he shook it before I got in my car and drove away. Dinner with Janice and her family was a weekly event. Somehow she got the feeling I didn't eat properly so she invited me over one evening and it's been a standing dinner date from then on. Her husband was a great guy and I had offered him a job several times. He always turned it down saying he didn't know what Janice got up to at work and he felt safe in that knowledge.
We both knew he loved that woman to bits and the two little girls she gave him in return, sealed the deal with there love for each other. Getting called Uncle Jeff sure made me feel old but I got over it. Reading them both bedtime stories when I was there was one of those chores any guy that didn't have a heart of stone looked forward to. I said my 'goodnights' and drove home. I was still thinking about Janice and her family and asking myself why I wasn't where her husband is in my life right now.
A devoted wife, two great little girls and not a care in the world. Instead I'm heading for a quiet, cold and dark apartment. Shrugging my shoulders, I decided that was a thought too depressing to keep in my head. The next morning the stretching exercises over, I jogged across the road and began my circuit of the park.
"Mind if I join you?" I hadn't even noticed her jog up alongside me. The surprise nearly made me trip over my own feet. The knockout behind the voice sure slowed me down some.
"Ma'am I jog, if you want to keep up, then by all means be my guest."
"Thanks, the names Caroline and if you try to shorten it, I may have to stab you with something."
After looking at her for a moment I slowed even further and then started to walk, finally stopping and resting my hands on my knees, taking deep breaths as I did. I took a closer look at her now, still unsure how to take her last comment. Caroline was as tall as me, her blonde hair held away from her face in a pony-tail, and natural, given the color of her eyebrows.
Her piercing deep blue eyes held me in her stare. "I'm sorry that was uncalled for, I just have a thing about people shortening my name."
Shrugging my shoulders seemed to be the only thing my brain would allow my body to do, before saying. "Remind me not to let you loose around my rabbit and a cooking pot."
She laughed, and not just one of those polite laughs, with her name settled we continue jogging again. For the rest of the circuit she said nothing, Caroline upped the tempo on the second circuit.
"Ma'am I told you I'm a jogger. Now that you're in front, I don't want you accusing me of checking out your ass."
Without even looking back she said, "And have you checked out my ass?"
I shrugged my shoulders, why lie. "Damned straight I have. Why do you think it's taken me half a circuit of the park to tell you?" By now Caroline had adjusted her speed so we finished the second circuit together.
"If were going for a third circuit, the least you can do is tell me your name since you know mine," Caroline said. My face felt warm and I'm sure she heard me say 'shit.' As I realized that I hadn't even exchanged names when she told me hers.
"Sorry about that, the name's Jeff and after the third circuit how about we head for Charlie's on the corner, where I treat you to a drink for my bad manners."
The third circuit went without either of us saying anything. It was as we passed our start point that she looked at me and said, "Race you to the diner."
I made a grab for her and missed her shoulder, my hand ended up on her shorts so I held on. Caroline shot me a look that by all rights should have turned me to stone. "Take you're fucking hands off of me, how dare you touch me, you don't own me, no one owns me." To emphasize her point she spun round and slapped me hard across the face. I let go of her shorts just as she was getting ready to unload on me again. I figured I had nothing to loose so I unloaded first.
"Ma'am, for a start that road is dangerous to just run across, second you have to warm down or you will cramp up and I'm not going to be the one massaging your muscles when their as stiff as a board and your screaming in agony." Her face changed as she realized why I had tried to stop her, but I was on a roll and as far as I was concerned it was all down hill from here so I continued to unload on her. "And third you are just one weird woman, and I formally retract my invitation to Charlie's for a drink."
Caroline opened her mouth to say something. I didn't hang around to find out what it was. The slow warm down jog along the edge of the park towards the diner was done with me thinking some very unfriendly thoughts of the fairer sex, one of them in particular. The chair next to me scraped on the floor as it was pulled away from the counter. Caroline sat on it and shuffled the chair back up to the counter.
She waved at Marco and said, "I'll have what his having and he's paying." Both of us just looked at her. "Well you don't expect a girl to carry money in clothes like this do you?
I couldn't fault her logic. The skin tight running gear left little to the imagination as to what it was holding onto, even the sweat marks made her look just as attractive as the first time around the circuit. I shrugged my shoulder and gave Marco a nod; he smiled and disappeared, coming back a few minutes later, a glass of something red in his hand. We both watched as she downed it in one and regretted it once she had.
Caroline kicked the chair back stood and held onto the counter as she coughed, her face crimson. She desperately tried to breathe between bouts of almost lung busting coughs. I slapped the space between her shoulders a couple of times and Marco, wisely made his escape, although I could still hear him laughing out back. Eventually a more pale color replaced the crimson one and the coughing eased, she finally sat back onto the chair.
"What was that? Why is your friend trying to poison me?"
I still had to pause for a moment and try to keep the humor out of my voice. "Perhaps you should have asked what I was drinking, before you ordered one."
Showing my glass to her, it was the same color as the one she had just downed in one. I then explained to her that it was a high protein drink with a little something to take away the taste. The glare I got from her as I said that only made me add that it was also an acquired taste. Marco reappeared with an orange juice and again made a hasty exit. The sound of more laughter out back made us both look at each other, this time Caroline sipped her orange juice.
"We keep messing this up don't we?"
Before I could answer Marco appeared with two plates and parked them in front of both of us. She looked at the bacon, eggs and mushrooms, then at Marco. "You did say you wanted what he's having and I've already put it on his bill so, enjoy," Marco said.
Marco made it to the door before Caroline said anything, the look on her face spoke volumes but she said it anyway. "What's the point of doing circuits around the park if I'm going to just stick it all back on again by eating this?"
Almost on queue, Marco reappeared her plate was removed, to be replaced with a salad. By now she was getting spooked. "Are you two some kind of double act or something?" The morning crowd had started to appear now so Marco got busy, leaving us to our breakfast, or rather me to my breakfast and Caroline to her rabbit food. She watched the door and everyone that came in and glared at Marco as he wandered by from time to time. I think she forgave him when he came back with a second orange juice though. The strange thing about our time at the diner was that I actually liked her company, I know that sounds weird but that's me.
We walked back to her apartment block and laughed when I found out she lived across the park from me. She said she could actually see the diner from her window but until today had never been in there. I said my 'goodbyes,' jogged back to my apartment to get showered and changed and then headed in for work. This same cycle went on for the next couple of days. Caroline would be waiting at the park warming up when I got there.
"We both know your far fitter than I am so why are you just jogging. I have got to be holding you back," I commented.
She looked at me and smiled. We had already done two circuits and she hadn't even broken into a real sweat. "Let me ask you a question. When was the last time you asked me for something?"
I found that an odd question but answered it anyway. "Other than to ask you to slow down on occasions, I haven't. I don't know you well enough to."
"And that my dear Jeff, is a breath of fresh air."
We added another circuit and also some speed to our usual morning exercise although I protested vigorously, and then hit Charlie's Diner while I still tried to get my head around her comment. I'm sure to a blind man it would make sense, for now it was a puzzle that would nag at me until the real meaning to her answer became clear. As I walked Caroline back to her apartment I told her I couldn't do tomorrow. I needed to go out of town on business and wouldn't be back until the afternoon flight. For a moment a mask seemed to drop over her face and the light in her eyes seemed to leave.
She simply nodded her head and went into her apartment block. Now me being a guy, I simply stood and wondered 'what I had done wrong now' for a moment before shaking my head deciding all women where indeed from Venus. I went home to pack an overnighter. I swung by the Diner when I returned and Marco told me that Caroline had came in this morning and paid for breakfast for tomorrow. I left after spending a few minutes watching my friends far away look in those eyes of his as he tried to figure out where she could have put the money in those clothes she always wore for our runs.
I was early for our morning run, yet Caroline was still there warming up ready for our turn around the park. She watched me walk over, waving to her as I did and she smiled and we both set off still not a word spoken between us. That was until she asked me a question that made me slow a little to look closely at her.
"Do you find me attractive?"
I stalled. Okay I didn't stall I damn near fell over my own feet. Still jogging, my head now turned towards her. It was plain to see for her it was a genuine question, so thinking it prudent the jog slowed to a fast walk so I could breathe and talk.
"Caroline perhaps you haven't noticed but I'm not up on being subtle, so if you're looking for a compliment you're really barking up the wrong tree."
It was Caroline's turn to slow us down even further. "So you don't find me attractive?"
"I didn't say that, as a matter of fact I find you hot with a capital H. But if there is one thing I've learned in life, is women like you are way out of my league. I'm not a film star, rock star, in the Forbes top five hundred richest and my family don't holiday in the Hamptons."
Something I couldn't identify passed across her face at that. Her cheeks flushed slightly but she wasn't going to let this rest just yet. "So you think I'm here with you because I think your one of those you just mentioned?" she asked.
I could tell this conversation wasn't going away. Inwardly I groaned, mentally getting used to jogging in the park on my own again, because I really couldn't see this conversation having a happy ending. "Look if you want to continue this conversation then we will go to Charlie's now. I can't talk to you while you look like that, it's too much of a distraction. I am after all male."