Delay of Game Chapter One and Two

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Chapter One

I was eight when I first started telling people I was never going to marry. Wyatt Majors, my best friend at the time, said he wouldn’t marry anyone either because girls were gross and he didn’t want to live with another boy either. That made me feel better because it meant I wouldn’t be alone. It didn’t occur to me that if I got married, I wouldn’t be alone either. That sort of logic didn’t exist when I was eight. Or when I was eighteen, to be frank.

It was in college, while my psychology major roommate was spouting off on projection and behavioral confirmation, I realized that my eight-year old self’s declaration had been made out of self-protection. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to get married; it was that I never thought anyone would ask me, and therefore, I hated the whole idea of it.

As I grew older and other people dated and I didn’t, that resolution solidified from an ephemeral youthful statement into a meaningful part of my make-up. It was one thing that everyone knew about me—I was a serious student who eschewed dating.

When I was a sophomore and one of our new acquaintances asked me why I wasn’t seeing anyone, Wyatt informed them that I didn’t believe in the archaic, primitive notion of pairing off. I didn’t protest because he was simply parroting something I’d espoused dozens of times before.

I’d said it so many times that I’d become confused as to whether I truly did believe it or if it was still something I’d say to preempt anyone from telling me that I was unmarriageable.

But now I’m twenty-seven, five years out of college, and the idea of marriage—or at least dating—is pretty darn attractive. I’m tired of being alone. The problem is I have zero prospects. My entire circle of friends is either married or a bunch of horn dogs.

Somehow, probably because I wasn’t looking to hook up, I became one of the guys. I’m still one of the guys, even though I have boobs and a fairly sizeable ass. Maybe the fact that I wear oversized t-shirts and baggy jeans has caused them to mistake me for a man.

When I look in the mirror, I don’t see datable material. I see…a bunch of drab brown hair, thick eyebrows, a chest full of boobs, and hips that move on their own. I’m not anything like the sexy ladies that come up to the guys at Mulligan’s as we sit around the table, drinking beer, eating chips, and cheering on our favorite teams.

Most of our friends are paired off now, except for Wyatt.

I don’t know why Wyatt’s not dating anyone. Or why he’s not married. He’s a catch. Granted, I’m biased because I’m in love with Wyatt, but I think anyone who likes men would be interested in him. He’s got a good-sized bank account. He likes animals and kids and is generally a decent person.

Even sitting on my sofa, shoveling potato chips into his mouth like Idaho and all of its starchy crops will disappear tomorrow, he’s bangable.

“Lisle, why are you staring at me?” he asks, hand halfway to his mouth.

“Was I?” I suppose I was. I stare at him all too often, preferably when he isn’t looking, because nearly everything about him makes me happy. The sun-kissed, wheat-colored hair that has a tendency to fall over the left side of his forehead has become my favorite version of blond.  It’s overlong in the back because he only gets it cut every three months or so. His eyes are this tawny gold that remind you of lions and cougars. Big, lithe, sexy cats—also my preferred animal.

“Yeah, you’re staring. Is there something on my face?” He brushes a hand over his square jaw—the one that looks so firm and solid you could break a rock against it.

A few guys have tried. To hit him that is. He’s gotten into bar fights. He’s super protective of his friends. One guy in a bar called me an ugly name, and Wyatt turned around immediately and clocked him. When the bouncers came over, Wyatt told them quietly he’d been standing up for me and if that meant getting kicked out of the bar, it’d be worth it.

The bouncers bought it and kicked the other guy out, which I was grateful for because I really liked Mulligan’s.

“Remember the time you hit that guy over at Mulligan’s for calling me an ugly bitch?”

He frowns. “Okay, that’s random but yes.”

“Why’d you do it? I mean it was rude, but I’ve been called worse.”

He sits up immediately, brushing his hand down his abs to dust away some nonexistent potato chip crumbs. The motion causes his shirt to ride up a bit, and a delicious sliver of skin appears. I suck in my breath and bite my lip. The whole motion discombobulates me, and I leave to go into the kitchen on the pretense that I’m thirsty.

Unfortunately, Wyatt follows. “First, no one says anything bad about you in front of me and second, who the hell is calling you worse things than that asshole?”

See? Wyatt is so nice he can’t even bring himself to repeat the words. I grab a glass from the cupboard and pour myself some water from the pitcher in the fridge. I’m parched. Thinking about Wyatt’s perfect body and his bare skin makes me hot all over. The single glass of water does nothing to quench my desire. I need the whole pitcher to be poured over my head.

“I don’t know. I can’t remember all of the times.”

“All of the times?” he nearly roars. “Why are you just now telling me this?”

I stare at him over my second glass of water, utterly confused, but touched by his show of anger. “It didn’t seem important at the time. They were stupid, careless things.”

He runs an agitated hand through his hair, and the ruffled mess makes me think of the times I’ve seen him wake up—mostly when he’s passed out at my place from too much drinking, even though his apartment is across the hall from mine.

“None of the people we hang out with though, right?”

Do we count the prissy Donna who, at the last Super Bowl party Wyatt and I co-hosted, said I should lay off the chip dip if I ever wanted to snag a man? I informed her that I love jalapeño, bacon, and red pepper dip, and it’s impossible to lay off that stuff unless you don’t believe in food.

She told me to believe in food a little less. I’m not a fan of Donna.

“Lisle?” he prompts impatiently.

“No. No one we hang out with.” I mean, honestly, I see Donna three times a year at the most. She hooked Keith good and he’s not allowed to see his friends anymore because he has too much fun with us. Literally, that’s what she said during the Fourth of July party. But it’s nearing Christmas so she’ll have to let poor Keith out of his cage for our annual pre-Christmas bash.

“You going to tell me if you are being hassled?” He levels a glare at me.

“Are you going to go around punching people?”

“If they’re being assholes, yes.”

“Then no. I’ll keep that info to myself.” I place the glass on the counter and move past Wyatt, making sure there’s enough space between us so we don’t accidentally rub up against each other or I might jump him.

I learned that lesson about four months ago. We’d both tried to go into the construction trailer at work at the same time, and I swear my hand brushed his jeans in an area where only his girlfriend should be touching. It felt big and hard and I had the very best self-help sessions for a week afterward imagining that monster working its way between my legs and in my mouth.

“Why would you keep it to yourself?” His tone is one of frustration.

“Because I’m a big girl, and you don’t have to go around hitting everyone who is so miserable that they feel the need to build themselves up by tearing me down. It doesn’t bother me,” I insist. I drop into the single chair and lift my feet up on the coffee table.

I used to sit on the sofa next to Wyatt but a few months ago, about the time I started fantasizing about him during my me-times, I gave that up. It was too painful. So I sit in this chair, and Wyatt gets the sofa all to himself.

He plops in his usual spot—right in the middle—and throws his feet onto the coffee table. We are almost touching. His sock-covered toes and my sock-covered toes. It’s as much intimacy as I can handle.

“It bothers me,” he grumbles but lets it go. He flicks on the television again.

I pick up my notepad. We’re planning the pre-Christmas bash—the one that Keith gets to attend. It’s something we’ve held jointly since freshman year, when all the students went home but the poor football team. Wyatt played and so did many of our friends. Only one of them went pro—Ty Masters. The team was supposed to be good but injuries and illnesses and scandals wore the team down until we counted it a success when they ended up with the same number of wins as losses.

But the bonds they’d formed on the team were lasting, and many of us stuck around, got jobs, and started growing up. We refused to allow those friendships to die off. We’d go out on Friday and Saturday nights. Watch games on Sundays. Meet for Monday Night Football.

As the years wore on, though, the number of participants at these social gatherings dwindled, and often it was just Wyatt and me—mostly because we live across the hall from one another.

“Why do you still live here?” I ask suddenly. Wyatt can easily afford someplace else. I should know. I write out his check.

“Why do you?” he counters. He knows my financial status as well. We both work at Cunningham and Associates, formerly known as Cunningham and Sons until I convinced my dad a year ago that since I didn’t have a penis, the word son was misleading.

“Good question.” My answer is because Wyatt lives across the hall, but if I’m making changes in my life, if I’m truly going to move on from this horrible unrequited love that burns me up inside, then finding a different place to live makes a lot of sense.

That should be top of my list, even above getting a haircut, going to the make-up counter, and buying new clothes. I nod firmly. Getting a new place is priority number one.

“I’m going to move,” I announce.

What?!” Wyatt shouts, rocketing off the sofa like it has a spring trap beneath his butt. “Since when?”

“Since right now. You’re right. There’s no reason for me to be living in this place anymore.”

“What’s wrong with this place?” He places his hands on his lean hips, the movement pulling his already low-riding jeans down so I can see the black strip of his Under Armour underwear.

I inhale deeply and breathe out through my nose, thankful that my female body is made in such a way that he can’t tell how hot I find him. Or how hot he makes me.

“It’s too small.” The apartment has one bedroom, one bathroom, a living space, and a tiny galley kitchen. It was fine when I was first out of college, but I want to outgrow it. I want a big house with lots of people in it.
“What do you need more space for?” He looks genuinely confounded.

“I want…more.” I don’t feel comfortable telling him that I want to get married. I suppose because I don’t want him to remind me of my own oft-stated proclamations about the tired state of marriage, nor do I want him to look at me with shock because he doesn’t think I’m marriageable material.

“More what?” His confusion has morphed into suspicion, and he turns those golden eyes toward me. I look away. I can’t be caught in his tractor beam of a gaze, which compels me to spill silly secrets; such as the time I confessed to stealing a beef jerky stick at the gas station on a road trip to see our friend Ty because I’d forgotten my wallet. I mailed the owner a five-dollar bill hoping he’d forgive me. Wyatt called me the “Beef Thief” for far too long after that which was more than enough punishment for my wrongdoing.

“More space. More room. More… Just more,” I answer. I stand up and smooth down my leggings. Since it was just Wyatt and I, I had pulled on my stretchy yoga pants and tossed an old t-shirt over it. I think it was Wyatt’s at one time. It has ‘Southern Texas University Football’ on it.

Wyatt’s eyes fall to my legs and stay there too long. Does he think my thighs are too big for leggings?

“You don’t need more space,” Wyatt argues. “This place is perfect for you.” He waves a hand around. “You decorated it just the way you’ve wanted—with lots of color and stuff.”

My apartment is colorful, from my mustard yellow sofa to the retro, blue velvet side chairs. The curtains are a white and yellow stripe with wide blue bands around the bottom. It’s comfy and pretty and yet not overly feminine. I realize that I decorated it with Wyatt in mind.

I decide that my next home will be decorated in all white, minimalistic with only splotches of gold—no, silver. Gold and yellow and any shades stemming from that parent color shall be prohibited. I don’t want any reminders of Wyatt and my old life in my new one.

“Yup, and this will give me a new opportunity. Time to go.” I start pushing Wyatt toward the door. It’s not easy. He outweighs me by at least seventy pounds. The man is solid. He doesn’t work out because his entire day consists of lifting, carrying, pushing, and pulling lumber, concrete, rebar, and anything else involved in the commercial construction business otherwise known as Cunningham and Associates.

Wyatt digs in his heels, and I only manage to move him about two feet.

“Is something wrong, Lisle?” he ask.  at the door.

Yes, my life, but I’m going to fix that. I’m going to fix everything.

Chapter Two

“What did you do to your hair?” Wyatt frowns at me.

I pat the side of it so I don’t mess up the style. “I got it cut.” And colored and styled. The whole process took over two hours. I had a long lunch. “Is it bad?”

The stylist cut my long hair into layers so I could wash, blow dry, and go. I was informed I’d have to come in every six weeks for a trim, but I enjoyed the head and shoulders rub so It won’t  be too big of a sacrifice.

The biggest difference is the bangs. There’s a fringe across the top of my forehead that now frames my face and highlights my so-called “killer” cheekbones. The stylist and the make-up lady made a big deal out of those. The bangs didn’t make me look childish, as I’d feared when the cut had first been proposed.

I thought it looked amazing but Wyatt’s unhappy face has me second-guessing it.

He grunts. “It’s different.” Different? In what way? I want to ask but I bite down on my tongue. Wyatt’s approval is unnecessary and unwelcome, I remind myself. It’s hard to hear over the galloping of my heart whenever Wyatt appears.

“Is that where you’ve been this whole time?” he asks. He slaps down a roll of plans and a stack of paper. “I was here an hour ago because I needed you to sign off on these invoices so we could get moving on stage two.”

“I’m sorry.” I sit down and pull out my pen. “You’re allowed to sign them now, you know. You don’t need me.”

“Since when?” he scoffs.

“Since your dad retired and moved to Florida,” I remind him, signing the last of the invoices and passing the stack back to him. His hand, lightly dusted with golden hair, rests like a glorious paperweight on the edge of my desk. I’d love to make a cast of it, and then I could hold it—God, is that creepy or what? I shake my head in dismay. Excising Wyatt from my heart isn’t as easy as snipping off two inches from the bottom of my hair.

Wyatt sighs, an aggrieved and unhappy sound. “I know my dad retired. I still need you.”

“You don’t,” I say. “Your name is on the Cunningham and Associates partnership agreement. Is it the name? We can change the name, but originally you said you didn’t want to because the brand had been built up. I don’t mind, though. Let me get Grant on the phone and he’ll whip up an amendment to our corporation papers.”

Wyatt’s frown deepens to a scowl. “Is this about Grant Wilkins?”

“Is what about Grant?” I ask with frustration. It seems like Wyatt and I can’t communicate at all anymore. We used to be able to finish each other’s sentences and now it’s difficult to even carry on the simplest conversations. He seems to be talking about one thing and me another and neither of us understands the other.

“This.” He gestures toward me. “The hair. The move. Is Wilkins making you do this?” Wyatt asks angrily.

“No. What does Grant have to do with anything? He’s our company lawyer.” I couldn’t be more confused.

“You had lunch with him yesterday and dinner with him last week.” Wyatt punches the dates on my calendar pad with a forceful finger.

“He asked me to go over our minutes. He thinks we need to do a better job of conducting monthly meetings and keeping appropriate business documents. He wanted to show me an example.”

“And that had to be done over dinner at the Bistro?” Wyatt mocks.

“What’s wrong with eating and working at the same time? You and I used to do that all the time.”

For some reason, that’s entirely the wrong thing to say because Wyatt shoves away from the desk with obvious anger and stomps to the trailer door. “Fuck it. You want to be with Wilkins, then be with fucking Wilkins.”

“What?” I jump up and run after him. “What are you even talking about?”

“You and Wilkins!” He leaps from the trailer as if my nearness is an anathema to him.

“There is no me and Grant!” I yell after him, but my words are lost in the noise of the construction site, and Wyatt stalks off toward the job site.

My phone rings. I pull it out of my back pocket with a sigh. The screen reads ‘Rachel.’ Is it bad to ignore your sister? Probably. I press ‘Ignore’ and tuck it back in my pocket. Then the office phone rings. I suspect it’s Rachel again, but it might be a supplier or a sub-contractor so I answer it.

“Lisle!” Aaaaand it’s Rachel.

“Hey, Rachel,” I answer flatly.

“I wish you’d answer your cell phone,” she sighs. “Am I that terrible to talk to?”

“No. It’s just that…” You’re perfect. You have the beautiful husband, the two funny, sweet kids, and the gorgeous house in the suburbs. You have a graduate degree in English literature but spend your days volunteering at a domestic abuse shelter. Basically, you are living the life I want, and every time I talk to you, I’m reminded how very empty and lonely my life is.

“Just what, honey?” she asks softly. I wonder if having a baby gives you special insightful powers.

“I need a makeover,” I blurt out.

“What?” she shrieks. I hold the phone away from my ear. “I’m coming over. Are you at the job site? I’ll be there in thirty minutes. Don’t move.”

Rachel shows up in twenty minutes, her youngest in tow. “Oh good, I thought you might leave.”

She shoves two-year-old Lauren into my arms, a bundle of sweet-smelling, curly-haired girl.

“Auntie Leesee,” she coos and rubs her soft cheek against mine. My ovaries explode. Yes, I want this. I want this so bad. And I want it with Wyatt, but he’s not for me so I need to find someone who is.

Rachel drops into my desk chair. “Tell me everything and start with your hair. It looks amazing. I love your bangs.”

I run my finger along the fringe. It’s taking some getting used to.

“What’s there to tell you?” I pull a hank of hair out of Lauren’s surprisingly strong grasp and give her a ruler instead, which she promptly uses to bang me on the head. “I’m tired of my look. My hair was blah, which I fixed, but my clothes are even more blah.”

“You want a man,” she states with authority.

I scrunch up my nose. “Maybe I just want to feel good about myself.”

“You want a man,” she repeats.

“Fine,” I sigh. “I’m tired of being alone. I want your life.”

She laughs. “No, you don’t. You would be bored to tears living in the suburbs and not working. You love your job, and you’re damned good at it.”

Her sincere compliments warm me from head to toe. “I do love my job,” I admit. Rachel spent a lot of time with Mom, while I was a total daddy’s girl. Still am. I followed him around on job sites and spent more time wearing overalls and mini work boots than dresses and heels. I know as much about the construction business as anyone, which is why Dad felt comfortable going on a six-month sabbatical with Mom around Europe, leaving Wyatt and me in charge. “But I’m lonely.”

Rachel makes a sympathetic noise. “I agree that you could do with a small wardrobe change, but Lisle, you’re beautiful just as you are. The reason you don’t have a man in your life is because you don’t want one.”

Lauren strikes me on the head with the ruler to emphasize Rachel’s point. Rachel gets up, pulls the ruler away, and hands Lauren a soft toy instead.

“But I’m out there. I hang around with guys all the time. All my friends are guys,” I point out.

“Yes, but you encourage them to date other women. I’ve been out with you. You point out which girls are hot and you say to them, like Wyatt, ‘you should hit that.’ Or ‘I’d tap that if I were a guy.’”

Wellll, okay, but it’s true. I can appreciate a hot woman just as much as I appreciate a hot guy,” I protest.

Lauren slaps me in the face with the soft toy. I pull it out of her hand and set her on the floor. “Lauren is really aggressive.”

“She’s just picking up on the fact that you are saying really stupid things.” Rachel scoops up her youngest and grabs me. “Let’s go. I’m taking you to the salon to get your eyebrows waxed, and then we’re going shopping for some clothes that remind all the men you work with that you don’t actually have a penis. We’ll talk about the rest of your issues at that time. Maybe the chemicals in the coloring formula will have softened your thick head.”

I follow her out, rubbing the sore spot that Lauren hit with the ruler a few too many times. My head doesn’t feel that dense.

———————————————

I can’t stop staring at myself. They thinned my eyebrows and Rachel had them do a complimentary make-up session at the end. They’d given me a tinted sunscreen to put on every morning and a berry-colored stain that I could rub on my cheeks and my lips. The hardest thing for me to replicate at home was the brown pencil I am supposed to draw around my eyes. I’m not convinced I can do that, but the whole make-up routine didn’t take more than a couple of minutes.

Rachel smartly didn’t try to give me anything complicated, and the effect of a little eyeliner, mascara, and lipstick makes me look …mysterious and different and sexy. I’m still me but a hotter version. I wish I could go out tonight to test the goods, but it’s Monday and Wyatt’s coming over for the game.

But maybe he’d want to go to Mulligan’s. I could flirt with the bartender, Scott, as practice. He flirts with everyone who comes in, so I could pick up some pointers from him.

The door flies open and I jump back from the hall mirror.

“Games going to be on in five…” Wyatt’s voice trails off. His eyes sweep over me, taking in my new style and my new clothes. Rachel had me buy a knit pencil skirt that was stretchy enough to accommodate my big bottom and not so short that I feared I was flashing my private parts at every stranger in the room. She topped it with a long-sleeved knit top that was shirred at the side. It covered my round stomach and drew attention to my “spectacular” cleavage. Adjective supplied by Rachel and the lady in Nordstrom’s bra department. I’m still getting used to the deep valley between my boobs, and Wyatt’s glower is not helping. “What the hell, Lisle?”

I fight the urge to round my shoulders and hide my body. I’m hot-Lisle, and if I’m not used to it, I guess it’s reasonable that Wyatt is shocked too. I lift my chin and stare at him in challenge. “I got a haircut, remember?”

“I’m not talking about your hair. I’m talking about all of this.” He waves his hand down my body. “You’re wearing a skirt. You have make-up on. Are you going out with Wilkins tonight? This is Monday night. We watch football on Monday nights!” Wyatt angrily slams his six-pack on the side table.

I brush my bangs away from my face in confusion. “I still want to watch the game. I thought we’d go to Mulligan’s instead. And why are you so obsessed with Grant all of a sudden?”

He plants one hand on his hip and grabs the back of his neck with the other hand: a classic Wyatt sign of frustration. I had seen it in action before when he was talking to a sub-contractor who screwed up.

I’ve clearly done something to make Wyatt upset, but I don’t have the first clue as to what it could be.

“I’m obsessed with Grant?” He laughs mirthlessly. “You’re the one who is changing everything to make him happy. You’re even thinking of moving away from me.”

Away from him? What does that even mean?

“For the last time, I do not like Grant Wilkins. He doesn’t even like football, for God’s sakes. What would I talk to him about?” I throw out my arms, completely exasperated by this line of questioning and Wyatt’s fixation on the construction company’s lawyer. “Maybe you like him and are jealous that I’m spending time with him! Is that it? Well, next time Grant Wilkins calls the office and wants to schedule a meeting to talk about S corporations, you’re going to be the one to sit with him for two hours while he drones on about codes and case law.” I jab Wyatt in the chest.

He grabs my offending finger and drags me up against his chest. His breath is rough and a wild look is in his eyes. I don’t recognize this version of Wyatt. Like me, he’s undergone a transformation but his is internal.

“I’m jealous,” he grinds out. “Is that what you want to hear? That you’re making me jealous? That I’ve been wanting you for years; waiting for you to see me as a man, not just a random body that sits in your living room and drinks beer?” His hand sweeps out and knocks the cans off the table.

I lean down to grab them but my hands are shaking so hard the six-pack drops back to the floor. I stare at the cans splayed on the floor while Wyatt’s words ricochet around my brain. Wyatt’s jealous. Wyatt wants to be with me?

“But…you’ve never said,” I manage to stammer out, my eyes pinned to the floor. I’m afraid to look at him because I know he’ll see my hope, my love, my utter vulnerability.

Above me he makes an agonized sound. “Will you leave the beer alone and look at me?”

“I’m afraid,” I whisper. I look down at the stretchy fabric of my skirt. I feel the tickle of bangs on my forehead. I remember the slight but obvious brush of Wyatt’s erection when he jerked me against his body. I don’t want to lose Wyatt as a friend, but isn’t it him I want to build that big house with? And isn’t it him I want to see every night before I shut my eyes? And isn’t it him I want to grow old with? Isn’t it better to take a chance?

I take a deep breath and push to my feet. Wyatt’s hair is standing up and his lips are flattened in an unhappy line but he’s still here and he’s clearly waiting.

Here goes everything.

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