THE SCENE: Tracy has finagled her way into seeing Brendan despite knowing that he’s dating someone else, and he indulges her by showing up at her house to take her out to dinner. But when he arrives, it’s apparent that the kind of evening he has in mind is not at all what she had planned, much to her frustration:
Faded jeans, worn brown boots and a white t-shirt. He looked damned good in those jeans, but still. Jeans, while she was standing there, feeling stupid in her hot little Stella McCartney number. Tracy opened the door and stepped aside to let Brendan in, her face studiously neutral. He laughed at her expression and held his hands up.
“You never told me where you wanted to go.”
“So you assumed what? A cookout?”
Brendan shook his head. “I can think of any number of really nice establishments that would be happy to have me, even dressed like this. In fact, I have one in mind, just across the bridge . . .”
“Where?” Tracy demanded.
“You don’t have to be in charge all the time, Tracy. C’mon, let’s find you something else to wear.”
And before she could stop him, he was taking the stairs two at a time and heading for her bedroom. She really had to start putting her foot down about these liberties he liked to take, she thought following him.
When she got there, he was in her closet. Tracy watched as he moved things around on the racks.
“You talk about me and designer stuff? Where your jeans at?”
Tracy breathed an impatient breath and shoved him aside, pulling out a tiered hanger. Brendan grabbed a random pair of jeans and started hunting for a top.
“I was supposed to be taking you out for dinner,” she said. “So I should be able to . . .”
“Yeah, I thought about that. And that didn’t sit well with me.”
Oh god, he was about to tell her about him and Meghan.
“I don’t feel right about you thanking me for doing something that any decent man would do,” he said, still looking through her tops. “So I’m taking you to dinner.”
“A lot of men aren’t decent, Brendan.”
“Maybe you need to pick a different kind of man,” he said pausing to look at her.
Finally, he pulled out a sleeveless orange blouse and she smiled. She knew he’d liked her in that orange maxi. She took the top and jeans into the bedroom to change.
“Where’s your tennis shoes?” Brendan called after her.
“Downstairs in the mud room. But I’m not wearing them. Tennis shoes are for tennis courts, running or the gym,” she called back.
“Okay, so these then,” Brendan emerged with her pewter ballet flats in hand, just as she’d shed the Stella McCartney, so she was standing in front of him in just her bra and underwear, the dress pooled at her feet.
After a reflexive urge to cover herself, she decided not to bother. This was a man who had come face to face with the most private parts of her body, so what was the point? Brendan seemed to sense that decision and a small smile crossed his lips. He placed the shoes at her feet just as she pulled on the jeans and shrugged the top over her head.
“I wanted to dress up tonight,” she pouted one last time.
Brendan sat on the edge of the bed and looked at her.
“Tracy, you don’t have to dress up,” he said shaking his head. “You could wear a sack-cloth and blow every other woman out of the water.”
She blushed, wondering why his compliments seemed to mean so much more than almost anyone else’s. She went to her dresser and grabbed a ponytail holder, reaching back to scoop her hair up, and was surprised when Brendan appeared behind her in the mirror. He put his hands over hers and raked his long fingers through her hair, pulling it all back into a high swing ponytail and taking the elastic from between her fingers, expertly fastening it.
Tracy almost hadn’t taken a breath while his hands were on her scalp. No matter where and how he touched her, it felt good. She turned to look at him but he was still standing so close that she had to look up to see his face.
“Am I ready?” she asked.
“Are you?” he asked.
Tracy’s heart thundered in her chest and she waited for him to kiss her. He was definitely looking at her like he wanted to. But he didn’t. Instead he put his hands on her shoulders and steered her out of the room, and toward the stairs. Tracy swallowed her disappointment.
At the curb he opened the door for her and let her into the car before getting in himself. As he walked around to the driver’s side, Tracy recalled that Brendan had always done this for her: opened doors, took her hand when she was in heels going down steps, and walked with his hand resting on her back when they entered a room together. Not too many other men she’d known did that kind of thing. And many of them who did, seemed to be forcing it just to impress her. With Brendan, it was effortless, it was just who he was.
They drove for awhile in silence and Tracy watched as he reached out to get some music going. His hands were large, his fingers long. When he’d kissed her in L.A., he put a hand at the back of her head, palming it, cradling it so she’d felt enveloped by him.
The music that resounded throughout the car surprised her; it was restful, smooth jazz and was an artist she had on her playlist as well. Tracy wondered what else she had failed to notice about Brendan. This evening alone, she was racking up quite a list.
“It’s not worth wasting the night driving around looking for a place to park so I’m going to park at my building and we’ll take the train,” Brendan said.
Tracy sat up. “What?”
“The train. You know. The subway?”
“I haven’t taken the subway in ages,” she said.
“Well good thing it’s like riding a bicycle,” Brendan said, unimpressed. “Once you get the hang of it you never forget how.”
An hour later, Tracy was still somewhat irritated as Brendan held her hand and led her out of the foul depths of the 72nd Street station and toward Broadway. When she saw that he was headed directly toward the iconic neon sign she stopped and looked at him.
“Are you serious?”
“What? Who doesn’t like hot dogs? And Gray’s Papaya has some of the most famous hot dogs in the western hemisphere.”