F2: An Extra TicketbyPennLady©
FAWC 2: An Extra Ticket
(Author's note: This story is a submission to the second Friendly Anonymous Writing Challenge (FAWC). The true author of this story is kept anonymous, but will be revealed on August 16th, 2013, in the comments section following this story. Each story in this challenge is centered around a random determination of four "mystery ingredients." There are no prizes given in this challenge; this is simply a friendly competition.)
(The mystery ingredients for this story were sarcasm, food, intellect and sport.)
* * * *
"What am I doing here?" Jaden Connors grumbled to himself. It was freezing, his friend had apparently stood him up, and he had no ticket to get in. What a god-awful idea this had been.
He turned to try to find his way back and stumbled when someone bumped into him.
"Oh, I'm sorry. Excuse me." A woman decked out in red and white except for the blue of her jeans looked up at him. "I didn't see you there."
"Really? I would think I stick out like a sore thumb. I'm the only one that doesn't look like a candy cane."
She frowned. "I said I was sorry. No need to be rude."
Jaden sighed and dragged a gloved hand over his face. "Look, I'm sorry. This day has just—not at all gone the way it was supposed to."
Her frown faded and she smiled, all the way up to her green eyes. "I've had those days. Here, let's step out of the way."
Jaden let her take him off the main pathway, slightly away from the rowdy but good-spirited crowd making its way into Toyota Park for the Chicago Fire's game against FC Dallas. Most were dressed in red and white, like the woman in front of him, to support the home team.
"So what's the problem?" the woman asked. "I'm Kayla, by the way."
"Nice to meet you, Kayla. I'm Jaden Connors. And the problem is that I was supposed to meet someone here and they're not here. I am miles from home, I don't have my car, and I don't have a ticket. So I suppose I will get a cab, if they come all the way the hell out here."
"You could get a ticket," she pointed out.
"I didn't come for the game," he said, impatience getting the better of him. "I came to meet a friend of mine and take advantage of our company's box. If I'd wanted to be out in the cold I could have done that for free and closer to home."
Instead of walking away, which Jaden thought any other woman would have done when faced with his attitude, Kayla laughed.
"You sure are having a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day, aren't you?"
She waved it off. "Never mind. Kids' book. Tell you what, Jaden, I can help you."
"You can?" He was skeptical. He didn't particularly need help; after all, he was perfectly capable of calling a cab.
"I can. I can tell you where to go," here she paused for effect, "to get a cab. Or . . . ."
Jaden fought a smile. "Or?"
"Or," she continued, "I can get you a ticket. If you go to the game, you won't have come all this way for nothing. What do you say?"
"I say, 'Point me to a cab.'"
"No, no." She shook her head and the brown curly hair under her red-and-white hat swayed back and forth. "You say, 'Hey, that sounds like fun. Let's go.'"
Jaden narrowed his eyes. "Why would I say that? I don't like soccer and I don't like the cold."
"What do you like, then?"
* * * *
Kayla grinned. She couldn't help herself. Somewhere, underneath the grumbling exterior, she was sure there was a nice guy who would be fun if he loosened up.
"You don't have to stay cold, you know," she told him. "You can get coffee, hot chocolate, or the choice of most people, beer." She studied him for a moment. He had dark hair to match his eyes. "Wearing a hat would help, too."
"Why are you trying to convince me to go to the game?"
"You came all the way out here and you look like you could use some fun. Besides, I have an extra ticket and you might as well use it."
"Why didn't you say that in the first place?"
"It was more fun to convince you." She laughed. "So, do you want the ticket or not? You have anything better to do?" she asked before he could refuse.
Jaden pondered the question and laughed himself. "No, I don't. All right, you win." He shook his head and took the ticket she held out to him. "You're pretty tenacious. You must be hell on car salesmen."
"No, that's my mom. I'm just in training."
They went into the stadium and while Jaden was tentative at first, he asked a few questions about the team and the game, then in the second half moved on to strategy. Kayla was amazed at how quickly he grasped the concepts. She'd played and watched soccer for years and didn't think she understood it as well as Jaden did after one game.
When it was over, the score was three to one in favor of the Fire, and Kayla stood and cheered with the rest of the crowd. Jaden stood and clapped, and she thought he might even have enjoyed himself.
She nudged him. "That wasn't so bad, was it?"
"It was okay." When she gave him a look, he raised his hands in mock surrender. "All right, all right. You win." He grinned. "That was a hell of a lot of fun."
"Hungry?" she asked as they made their way out.
"Does it matter?" He gave her a wry look. "Won't you just try to convince me to eat something if I say no?"
"Probably. So, let's just skip all that and go to a little diner I know with the best pierogies in town."
"There's no such thing as a good pierogie, let alone a best one."
"Blasphemy!" She smacked his arm. "Come with me."
An hour later, Jaden conceded defeat once more. "I have to learn not to argue with you. Those were indeed excellent pierogies."
"I am pretty stubborn. My mom used to say I'd argue with the Pope."
"And no doubt, you'd win."
Kayla shrugged. "Well, it might be a draw. I hear the Pope is a smart guy."
Jaden shook his head and smiled. "I'm curious, what do you do when you aren't browbeating people into attending soccer games and eating these potato pockets?"
"You say that like it's a bad thing," Kayla teased. "But if you must know, I work for the family business."
"You're in the mob?"
She laughed; Jaden had a pretty good sense of humor now that he'd relaxed. "No, nothing so exciting. My family owns Nowak Heating and Air Conditioning. My grandfather started it, now my dad runs it but Gramps keeps his hand in."
"You crawl around in air ducts?"
"No, not my style and too dusty." She shook her head. "I handle the scheduling, help with the billing, things like that. What do you do?"
"Biomedical stuff at Abbott Labs. I'm a researcher."
"Wow. Way beyond me. Suffice to say biology wasn't my favorite subject." She made a face. "I almost threw up when we had to dissect frogs."
"I don't deal with frogs," he assured her. "It's all computers and microscopes and white walls."
"No wonder you needed to get out and do something. That would drive me crazy." Kayla glanced at her watch. "It's getting late, I'd better get home." They paid the check and stepped outside, huddling into their jackets against the biting wind.
"How far away are you?" Jaden asked. "Want to split a cab?"
"No, I'll just take the El." She nudged him with an elbow. "I do want to say thanks, though. I had a fun day, thanks for going along with it."
"Surprisingly, I had fun, too."
They stopped at an El station entrance. Jaden held his hand out. "It was nice to meet you, Kayla Nowak. Maybe we can meet up again sometime?"
"Likewise, Jaden Connors, and I'd like that very much." She pulled a business card and a pen out of her purse and wrote on the back of the card. "There's my number and here's something to remember me by until you call." She rose onto her tiptoes and kissed him.
His lips were cold for a moment and then body heat conquered the winter cold. Kayla hesitated, then touched the tip of her tongue to his lips. He responded to the challenge by wrapping his arms around her and thrusting his tongue against hers. Kayla laughed inwardly as she brought her arms up around his neck, not backing down from the kiss.
When they were finished, Jaden looked down at her, his dark eyes glinting. "You're a piece of work, Kayla. But so am I."
* * * *
"Tell me more!" Theresa Jablonski, the other receptionist at Nowak Heating, leaned over her desk. "Did you go home with him?"
"No!" Kayla scolded. Never mind that she had thought about doing just that. She'd almost suggested it after that kiss, but had made herself take a step back. "Come on, I don't do that!"
"But you said he's cute, and smart! God, a doctor!"
"Not that kind of a doctor," Kayla reminded her. Jaden had handed her his own business card and she'd looked at it on the train home. When she saw the "Ph.D." after his name, she'd been a little awed.
Maybe she should toss the number, she thought. She didn't consider herself dumb by any means, but the business degree she'd worked for didn't compete with a doctorate.
"But—wait." Theresa picked up the phone. "Nowak Heating, this is Theresa, how can I help you?"
Kayla busied herself with checking the daily schedule, seeing if anything needed to be canceled or rescheduled. They were in a slower period, which was good. The cold snaps in December and January and the heat waves in the summers kept their technicians on the go constantly, but as spring approached and the weather warmed, the pace slowed a little.
Her mind wandered back to Jaden. She wanted to see him again, but could she hold his interest? Soccer and pierogies were fun, but not much to build on if there wasn't anything else.
"Hey, Kayla!" A loud voice ripped her from her thoughts and she winced.
She took a breath. "Hi, Mickey."
"What's on tap for today, babe?"
"Don't call me 'babe.' I'm printing out the schedule now."
If Mickey wasn't her father's best friend's son, she'd have let him have it long ago. Ever since he'd been moved up to a supervisory position, he thought he was the best thing since sliced bread. He also seemed to think it entitled him to Kayla. He'd started calling her things like "baby" and "sweetheart," which she didn't like on several levels, not least because it was unprofessional.
Kayla had told him flat out to stop, but he hadn't. He seemed to think she'd "come around" and she didn't appreciate it. When he'd tried to kiss her, she'd slapped him but he looked bemused instead of offended.
She'd told her father about Mickey's treatment, but he hadn't acted as she'd hoped. "He's my friend's son," her father had said. "He's a good boy, Kayla. Just ignore him and he'll move on."
Well, he hadn't moved on and Kayla was sick of it.
"Here, Mickey." She held out the papers but kept her eyes on her monitor, hoping he'd take the hint.
"Don't call me that," Kayla said through gritted teeth.
As though he hadn't heard her, he went on. "I'll pick you up for lunch, okay? See you later."
"I have plans," she replied, but he was on his way out and didn't hear her.
"You have lunch plans?" Theresa asked in surprise. Kayla tended to eat quickly in the break room.
"I will." Kayla pulled out Jaden's card and punched in the numbers.
* * * *
Jaden flipped Kayla's card over his fingers, wondering if he should call or wait a while. He had a break, so the timing was good for him, but it might not be for her.
"Hey, Jaden, did you get the trial results back?" His coworker, Mark Callahan, poked his head in the door. Mark's blond hair, which was untamed at the best of times, looked especially so today. Jaden wondered how it could defy gravity like that.
"No, not yet. I wasn't expecting it until this afternoon, or maybe tomorrow. Any problems?"
"Don't think so. Just checking." Mark nodded and made to leave but Jaden called him back.
"Hey, Mark, what happened on Saturday?"
"Saturday. The soccer game. We were supposed to meet and go to the box and all?"
"Oh, wow." Mark smacked his forehead. "I am really sorry, man. My mom called last minute the night before because my dad was sick and I couldn't get in touch with you."
"Couldn't get in touch?" Jaden gave him a baleful look. "Right, because it's not like we have these nifty little phones that let you call people from just about anywhere. Not like you can write a text message or anything."
"Hey," Mark said defensively, "I said I was sorry. Truth is, I took my phone with me and the battery ran out and I actually don't know your phone number. That's why it's stored, so I don't have to remember it. You probably don't know mine, either."
"Yeah, true. Okay, sorry. Didn't mean to take it out on you. How's your dad?"
Mark came in and sat on Jaden's extra chair. "He's okay, thanks. Needs rest, mostly. So, what did you do?"
"Believe it or not, I met this woman who had an extra ticket and I went to the game."
"Really? Damn. How come that never happens to me?"
"Because you're married."
"Ah, right." Mark nodded and popped up out of the chair. "So what next? Are you going to see her again?"
"I have her number." Jaden held up the card. "I'm thinking I might call her. We had fun."
"Ha!" Mark was triumphant. "I told you it would be a good idea to go to the game!" He left before Jaden could reply.
Jaden stared after his friend for a moment, then studied the card again. The game had been a good idea, if only because he'd met Kayla. Who was he to stand in the way of a good idea?
* * * *
"Hello, this is Jaden Connors."
Kayla was relieved when he answered the phone and savored the sound of his voice for a moment. "Hi, Jaden. This is Kayla."
"Hi. Guess you saved me the trouble of wondering whether I should call you."
She smiled. "I guess so. I was thinking since I helped you out the other day, maybe you can return the favor."
Jaden laughed. "Helped me out?"
"Sure. You needed to get out and relax, and I helped."
"Is that what happened?"
"Never mind," Kayla said. "Listen, I do need to ask you a favor."
"Are you free for lunch? Today?"
"I don't know. Hold on." She heard tapping and guessed he was looking at an online schedule. "Actually, I am. Were you planning a trip out here?"
"Oh, I forgot you worked out there." Kayla was disappointed; Abbott Labs was outside the city and not terribly conducive to spur-of-the-moment lunch dates. She should have realized. "Never mind."
"Is something wrong?" Jaden sounded concerned.
"No, I'm just trying to avoid someone." She sighed. "It's okay, I'll just make myself scarce."
"Why did you call me? To see me or to avoid someone else?" He didn't sound angry, but genuinely curious.
"Can't it be both?"
He laughed. "I suppose. Tell you what, you're in luck. I am free for lunch, I need to run some errands anyway, and it should all work out."
"I can meet you halfway," she offered.
They worked out a place and time to meet and Kayla hung up, relieved.
"I guess you have plans," Theresa said. "And not with Mickey."
"I can't stand him," Kayla grumbled. She took a deep breath. "Yes, I do."
"With the doctor?"
"Okay. Remember: if he has a brother, I want to know."
* * * *
"At last, the damsel in distress." Jaden grinned as Kayla stepped out of a cab and hurried over. He held his arms out. "Your knight in shining armor is here."
"Where?" Kayla craned her neck and looked around him.
"Very funny. I'm not the one who called up begging for help."
"I wasn't begging." Kayla strode past him as he held the door to the restaurant open. "I was asking with urgency."
Once they were seated and had placed their orders, Jaden leaned back in his chair. "I can't imagine what sent the intrepid Kayla running for cover. Tell me. I'm dying of curiosity."
She glared at him and fiddled with her napkin. Jaden knew he shouldn't, but he couldn't help enjoying her discomfort. She'd been so forward the other day, so fearless, that the idea of her hiding from someone made no sense.
Kayla huffed out a breath and tugged at the ends of her hair. "There's this guy at work and he's got a thing for me. So today after he pulled his usual Neanderthal act, he informed me we were going to lunch. I decided I had other plans."
"You decided I had other plans as well, hmm?" He raised an eyebrow.
"I did ask first," she pointed out, "and I said you didn't have to come."
Jaden nodded in acknowledgement of her point and the conversation halted as the server brought their food. Jaden grinned when he saw Kayla's pierogies. They remained quiet as they ate and Jaden turned over Kayla's words for a few minutes. He didn't like them.
"Who is this guy that bothers you at work? And can't you tell the boss? Wait—you said you worked for your family, right?"
"His name is Mickey Dalton," Kayla said. "He's my dad's friend's son and yes, I have told my dad. My dad is a good guy, but he's got the 'boys will be boys' attitude. He doesn't think it's any big deal, that it's just the way Mickey is and he doesn't mean any harm."
"What do you think?"
"I think Mickey is a jerk. He thinks that since my dad owns the company, and our dads are friends, that gives him some kind of claim on me."
Jaden didn't like that idea any more than Kayla did. "Want me to come down and have a talk with him?"
Kayla stopped with her fork halfway to her mouth and gaped at him. Then she put the fork down and laughed herself silly. "Oh my God," she said when she could breathe again. "I don't know whether you're being sweet, serious, or crazy." She wiped at her eyes. "Either way, I appreciate the offer."
He grinned. "Maybe I was being all three."
"I'll be fine." She waved it away. "I've been thinking of getting another job anyway. I love working with family, though, and Mickey's more hot air than anything."
Jaden frowned. "Problem with that is sometimes guys like that are more than hot air."
"I'll be okay," she repeated. "If he gets out of hand I'll get out and tell my dad, and he'll handle it."
"Hmmm." Jaden let it go.
The rest of the lunch was more enjoyable than he'd expected. Kayla was fun to talk to and made him laugh. She was a welcome change from the white-walled lab he spent so much time in. As he had been at the soccer game, he was glad she'd talked him into coming.
"Thanks, Jaden," she said as they walked out. "I appreciate your meeting me, and I had a lot of fun."
"Me, too. Come on, let's get a cab and get you back to work." He hailed a taxi and held the door for her, pleased when she smiled at him in thanks. When they arrived at the office, he stepped out with her. "I always walk a lady to the door," he said against her protests. She shrugged and walked in.
The office was set up to be warm and comfortable. There was pale wood paneling on the walls on which hung a few pictures of the Chicago skyline. A couch and two chairs covered in light blue fabric were arranged around a coffee table. Against the far wall was an empty desk Jaden assumed was Kayla's, and a pretty blond woman sat at another one near the door.
"Hi, Kayla," the blonde said. She looked at Jaden and grinned, then glanced back at Kayla. "So this is the doctor, I see."
"No, I'm not a doctor. I mean—"
Kayla interrupted. "We know." She smiled at him. "I saw the Ph.D. on your card; that's pretty impressive."
"Hey, Theresa, where's the¬—" A man that Jaden knew had to be Mickey Dalton came out of a back hallway. Mickey had short hair, a square jaw and a five o'clock shadow. Jaden judged the other man to be a little shorter than his own six feet, with a stocky build and broad shoulders. He didn't look pleased.
"Hey, Kayla, I thought we were going to lunch." Mickey glanced from Kayla to Jaden.
"No, we weren't," she said firmly and turned to the woman at the desk. "Theresa, this is Jaden Connors. Jaden, this is Theresa Jablonski, our receptionist."
"Nice to meet you," Theresa said.