So sorry I’m late with this, but I have the flu. And a migraine. And I had to go out for more COFFEE. And my socks don’t match. And a Unicorn ate my first draft. 😀
This week’s lyric prompt is:
“…I met this girl…she ruined my philosophy…my heart skips a beat when she comes around “
For the rules, click on the lyric above.
My mind was all over the place with this prompt. Of course, that could have been due to ridiculous amounts of cold medicine. But where I finally landed surprised even me.
Blog followers will recognize Jonathan Pratt’s distraction–Lenore ‘Lennie’ Porter from Free, a Novella, a free read on this blog, and the extended versions in ebook and print. Can you say Story tie-in?
As usual, Claire Pratt’s cocktail party was the place to be.
Jonathan Pratt marveled at his sister-in-law’s handiwork as he strolled through the seven-bedroom showplace. Only Claire could take leaves, tree branches, and pumpkins and put an elegant spin on autumn decorations.
He recognized a few of the faces from past parties, and there were several from the old neighborhood. While they were affluent, like him, Vernon and Claire would never forget their roots and where they came from. They were all part of a small group which paid into a fund so the daycare centers and the Boys’ and Girls’ Club in the old neighborhood didn’t have to worry over the paltry few dollars from the national charities.
Leaving the sunken living room, Jon headed for the family room where he knew Vernon had set up two kegs of beer… much to Claire’s dismay.
He had one foot in the doorway of the family room when he saw them. Hannah and Liz. Jon did an about-face so fast, he made himself dizzy. There was nothing wrong with forty-two-year-old Asian-American Hannah Nakuru, who ran her own high-end catering business or forty-year-old African-American Liz Brent, a web designer from Vernon’s firm. But both women admitted to being ready to try marriage again after five failed marriages between them… and the forty-nine-year-old confirmed bachelor had no interest in being a candidate.
He headed toward the dining room and Claire’s elaborate wine bar instead.
A dozen people milled around the room chatting in hushed tones. Jon found his favorite Moscato and reached for a glass.
As he poured, he glanced around the room at the well-heeled group… and froze.
She was across the room next to the window talking with two men.
Her emerald green cocktail dress complimented her caramel skin tone and shapely figure. Her thick, chestnut brown hair was pulled back into a loose, but neat French braid held in place by an ornate hair clamp.
Jon looked to the young man next to him who pointed at Jon’s wine glass.
He stopped the pour just before the pale pink vino flowed over the edge of the wine glass… and saved himself a ton of misery. Claire would not have been happy if he ruined her snow-white table covering.
“Hey, thanks, man. Guess I got a little… distracted.”
Staring at a woman in a form-fitting red dress near him, the man tilted his head with a knowing smile. “Yeah, I get distracted too,” and he walked over to introduce himself to the woman in red.
Embarrassed, Jonathan gulped the wine down to a reasonable level. Then, trying to look nonchalant, he strolled to the other side of the table before fixing his gaze on the woman in green.
She was stunning and his jealousy flared as he wondered if she was with either of the men.
He guessed she was near his age, not because she looked older, but her posture and mannerisms spoke of a mature, confident woman comfortable in her own skin.
Averting his eyes, Jon gulped his wine again while his mind raced.
Stop acting like you’ve never seen a woman before! Walk away!
His feet, however, didn’t care for that idea and stayed firmly planted.
Still in a mental battle with himself to leave the room, his brain lost the battle when his eyes were drawn back to his distraction.
She laughed at something one of the men had said and her laughter traveled across the room, wrapping Jon in a tight embrace.
His chest and slacks tightened.
Her laughter was deep and throaty. Warm and soothing. Playful and seductive.
He never wanted it to end.
“Hey, bro? You okay? How much wine have you had?”
Startled, Jon whipped his head around to a grinning Vernon Pratt.
He ducked his head, rubbing the back of his neck.
“No, I’m good. This is my first glass. Think the time zone change is messing with me.”
Vernon gave his shoulder a tight squeeze.
“Okay, man. But don’t overdo it.”
As Vernon looked over the wine selection, Jon figured it was now or never.
“Vern, who’s that?”
He responded while reading a wine label.
“Room full of people, Jonny… could you be more specific?”
“The woman over there… in the green dress.”
Vernon looked up and gazed around the room until he found the ‘green dress.’ He smiled.
“Oh. That’s Lennie.”
Jon frowned. “Lennie?”
“Yes, Lennie. Or rather Lenore Porter. Bobby’s cousin.” Bobby was Robert Pearson, also from the Pratt’s old neighborhood and Vernon’s best friend. Bobby and his wife, Gayle, owned El Encanto, an upscale eatery.
Jonathan’s frown deepened to confusion.
“Wait. We’ve known Bobby since grade school. I thought all his family lived here in Pittsburgh?”
Vernon chuckled. “They did for the most part. Bobby and Lennie are second cousins on his mom’s side. They met once or twice as kids but didn’t get to know each other until Bobby took his mom to Lennie’s mom’s funeral a couple of years ago.”
“She lives here now? And how do you know so much about her?”
“No, she does not live here… just here for the holidays, and, she’s been here several times in the last few months. She has degrees in food sciences and nutrition and ran her own catering business in Minnesota for years. Now she’s a consultant, working with restaurant chefs to incorporate more health-conscious items into restaurant menus. Thanks to her, Bobby and Gayle’s vegan/vegetarian menu is outselling the rest of the regular menu.”
“Sounds like a super smart lady.”
“Good business mind too. El Encanto has been a money-maker from the beginning, but Lennie helped them up their game—streamlining job tasks and increasing staff productivity, raising employee morale, strengthening business relationships with city government—Gayle keeps begging her to move here.”
A faint smile played at the corners of Jon’s mouth. Streamlined job tasks and increased productivity—intelligent and shrewd. Raised employee morale—she knew how to handle people. Works well with city government—she can navigate the political landscape. Jon was impressed
“Vern, introduce me.”
His mouth gaped open. “What do you mean no? Why not?”
“Did you miss the part about her being Bobby’s cousin?”
“No, but – ”
“He’s like a brother to me too, man. I can’t risk it.”
Jon clicked his tongue. “Excuse me. Exactly what can’t you risk?”
“C’mon, big brother, calm down. I wasn’t trying to upset you. But, even you have to admit… your track record with women…” Vernon’s words trailed off, and he leaned in close to Jonathan, speaking in a near whisper, “Your relationships always have an expiration date.”
His anger flared, but the truth tamped it down just as fast.
Vernon was right. His relationships didn’t last long, but it wasn’t always that way. There were long-term relationships in his past. One he’d hoped would lead to marriage. But, she played him… just like a handful of others after her.
After being used and burned one time too many by money-hungry women, a new Jonathan had emerged. The women he dated were of his choosing, the relationships brief—never lasting more than 3-4 months, and… he never took them to his home.
He thought it ironic and a double standard how women accused men of being users, players, and wanting the milk without buying the cow. Jonathan Pratt’s experiences were the opposite.
Successful, middle-class, or struggling, Jonathan Pratt had dealt with women from all walks of life. They didn’t necessarily want him, but the things he could give them. Everything from expensive trips to jewels, to even braces for a teen whose father refused to step up—but whose mother was still seeing the deadbeat on the down-low—had been demanded of Jon. The final straw was when he gifted an up-and-coming sports agent with an expensive attaché for her birthday. She was expecting a car.
The successful freelance technical writer and consultant walked away from that dinner and never looked back. Jon became Mr. Love-‘Em-and-Leave-‘Em, not caring what others thought. His way of life worked well for him for over a dozen years and he’d seen no need to change it.
The modern, forward-thinking, independent career women Jon met in his line of work had no problem with his rules, most seeking the same type of encounter.
Now, here was a woman he didn’t know, tugging at his heart and tying him in knots.
“Dude? You sure you’re okay? Maybe you should call it a night.”
Pulled from his thoughts, Jon pleaded with his brother.
“Vernon, introduce me. Please?”
Before the younger Pratt could respond, Claire slid in between the two men. “Introduce you to who?” She glanced from brother to brother before her husband gave the one-word reply.
“C’mon, Claire. Why not?” Jonathan was at his wit’s end.
“She’s a sweetheart, Jonny. And your record with women… well -”
“I cannot believe my own family is treating me like some kind of sexual predator!”
Husband and wife exchanged surprised looks, caught off guard by Jon’s anger.
He scrubbed his hand over his bald head, trying to collect himself.
“Claire, please? I just want to meet her.” He looked over her shoulder, watching Lenore. “There’s… something different about her.”
The sincerity in his voice and eyes sent a tinge of guilt up Claire Pratt’s spine. “Okay, Jonny.”
As if on cue, the men standing with Lenore were called away for picture-taking. She walked over to the table to refill her glass.
“Enjoying yourself, Lennie?”
“Claire, you do know how to throw a party. Everything is wonderful.”
“I’m taking that compliment and running with it, even though half the food is from your recipes.”
“That makes us an unbeatable team.”
The two women laughed and high-fived each other.
Vernon cleared his throat.
“Lennie… Lenore, I don’t believe you’ve met my brother-in-law, Jonathan. He’s in town for the holidays.”
“No, I haven’t.” She extended her right hand and looked up into his face. “It’s a pleasure, Jonathan.”
Lost in her eyes, her touch jolted him back to reality.
“No, Lenore. The pleasure is… all mine.”
The couple stood there, silent and hands still clasped.
“You know, Jonny, Lennie will be joining us for Thanksgiving dinner.” He slipped an arm around his brother’s shoulder and leaned toward Lenore. “But only if she brings her cornbread dressing.”
She stuck out her tongue. “You’re mean and I’m telling Bobby.”
“Won’t help you, sister, he wants it too.”
Jon gave Vernon a side-eye glance. “Cornbread dressing? With giblet gravy?”
Vernon smirked. “Oh, yes.”
Jon considered Lenore. “With chopped hard-boiled eggs?”
Lenore tilted her head. “You know of another kind?”
Jonathan beamed. “Can we have dinner now?”
The two couples laughed but were interrupted by cheers from the living room.
“Swing, Roy! Swing!”
Claire Pratt growled.
“If Roy Cathey has snuck another piñata into my house…” Her voice trailed off as she rushed to the living room.
Vernon chuckled as he backed away to follow his wife. “Excuse me, folks, but I have to go, um… save Roy’s life.” Still laughing, he turned and followed the crowd’s cheers.
Jonathan relaxed, glad to be alone with Lenore. “So, cornbread dressing and giblet gravy. Save me a seat next to you.”
She laughed, and Jonathan rubbed the center of his chest, attempting to calm the erratic beats of his heart.
“Claire told me it was a favorite of Vernon’s.”
“One of mine too. Our mom. It was one of her specialties. The holidays don’t seem right without it.”
“I hope mine is an enjoyable substitute for your mom’s.”
Intelligent, beautiful, modest and humble. Jon wondered if there was a minister on Claire’s guest list.
“How long are you in town for, Lenore?”
“I cannot deal with crowded airports, so I don’t fly back to L.A. until next Tuesday.”
“L.A.?” He frowned, confused. “But when I asked about you, Vern said Minnesota.”
“You asked about me?”
“Um, yeah. Sorry.”
“Don’t be. I’m flattered. I saw you walk by the room earlier and wondered who you were. Although, even with your shaved head and overnight stubble versus Vernon’s head full of curls and clean-shaven face, it’s obvious you two are related.”
“You noticed me?”
“Is that all you got from what I said?”
“Yeah, the important part.”
Their shared laughter was quieter this time as an easy shyness drifted in, making them both avert their eyes.
“Um, to answer your question, I did live in Minnesota. Spent most of my life there. But after losing my parents, and then filing for divorce, I needed a change. My two older boys are stationed at Camp Pendleton and my youngest son is doing his residency at Stanford. California was the obvious choice.”
Divorced, yes! Thank you, Sweet Baby Jesus!
“You’re not going to believe this, but I live in Cali too.”
“No way! Where?”
“What’s the distance? Twenty miles? In Cali, that’s practically neighbors.”
He couldn’t let her get away. This was Fate at its finest. “Would you like to find a quiet place to talk, Lenore?”
Her smile told him everything before she answered. “I’d like that, Jonathan.”
Before they could exit the dining room, Bobby Pearson rushed in. “There you are, cuzzo! We need you for pictures before some of the peeps head out.” He noticed Jonathan for the first time. “Man, I didn’t know that was you. Love the Isaac Hayes non-hairdo!” They shared a one-arm man-hug. “I’ll send her right back, Jonny, promise.”
“Make sure you do, Bobby. I’ll wait right on this spot.”
He and Lenore shared a look as she followed her cousin from the room. She held up one finger. “I’ll be right back.”
Jonathan stared after her even though she disappeared into the crowd. He couldn’t remember a time in his life when he felt so at peace. He’d just met Lenore Porter, and she calmed his soul. He didn’t see Hannah and Liz approach until they brushed up on either side of him.
Liz cooed. “You still playing hard-to-get, handsome, or can one of us start planning a wedding?”
“Sorry, ladies. I’m off the market.”
“Wait, what? That was fast.”
He chucked, talking more to himself than the two divorcees. “I know, right? I just met this woman [girl]. And just being near her changes me. She’s ruined my philosophy… altered my thoughts. My heart skips a beat when she’s close by [comes around].”
He shook his head.
“Who knew I had to come back home to find out my heart was twenty miles from my front door?”