Chapter 7 - Drive to Atlanta
Nicholas held the door for me as I slid into the passenger side of the rental. I had my seatbelt fastened before he walked around the car and popped into the driver’s seat. He started the engine and off we went, neither of us commenting on the fact that practically the entire town was out in the street watching us leave, but we were both aware of it.
I sat very quietly on my side of the front seat, trying to understand what had just happened and why it had such a profound effect on me.
About twenty miles out of town, we had to stop for gas. While he filled the tank, I went into the store to get us some drinks and snacks for the trip. My cell phone chirped. It was Anna Lee. She sounded out of breath.
“Auntie Danielle, you should have heard him. He was wonderful. I can’t tell you everything he said, but…”
I had to interrupt her.
“I was there Anna Lee, at Carl’s. I was in the kitchen. I saw and heard everything.”
“Oh Auntie Danielle, wasn’t he wonderful?”
“Yes, Anna Lee.”
“Did I do wrong, Auntie Danielle, I didn’t intend to do that, but I couldn’t think of the proper words to tell him how I felt.”
“No, Anna Lee, you didn’t do wrong. I’m sure he understood what you were trying to say. I’m sure he appreciated the gesture as much as he said he did.”
“Auntie Danielle, you knew my Robbie, and you heard what Mr. Nick said about him. You know my daddy, and my granddaddy was your daddy.”
“Yes, Anna Lee,” I said, wondering where she was heading.
“I’ve had good men in my life, Auntie Danielle, great men.”
There was silence between us for a moment, and then she changed my entire world.
“Auntie Danielle, that man you are with is the mostest man I have ever met in my entire life, and you have to tell him that.”
The mostest man she has ever met in her entire life, and…she was right.
He was the mostest man I had ever met in my life also, but how do you tell him that? How do you put those feelings into words? Maybe that’s how Anna Lee felt at Carl’s. Words weren’t enough!
I told Anna Lee I would find a way to let him know, promised to call her next week, paid for our drinks and went back to the car. The door was held open for me as usual, and after I was settled, he got in his side and we were on our way to Atlanta. Anna Lee’s words kept swirling around in my head.
The mostest man I have ever met in my entire life.
I thought about my entire relationship with this man, from the moment he first walked into my office right through this morning. He wasn’t one man, he was many men. There were so many facets to this man I didn’t think I would ever see them all. My concentration was broken by the sound of his voice.
“Are you OK, Ms. Palmer?”
“I’m fine, just going over everything one last time.”
“Ms. Palmer, don’t let the situation in Cauldwell upset you. They know the factory will probably close and they’ll have to move and everything they know and have known all their lives will change. They’re not bad people, just frightened ma’am.”
After dressing down the entire town, now he’s making excuses for them.
Why? Just to make me feel better!
“Don’t give up ma’am, I know people. I may be able to find some people that will be willing to take a chance on Cauldwell. It’s not a dead issue yet. When we get back to Fort Lauderdale, I’ll make some calls. I can’t promise anything, but there’s still hope.”
That put my brain on overload. After everything that happened in Cauldwell. After everything that happened this morning, first he defends them and now he’s trying to save them.
No Danielle! It’s not them, it’s you. He’s doing this for you!
I had to settle myself down. I thought about how he and I had met and the six months I had known him. I thought about my life before we met. I thought all the way back to my childhood and the reasons we had come to Georgia.
The car was heading for the Interstate Highway that would take us to Atlanta. I closed my eyes and brought it all back. I don’t know how long I sat like that, but an idea began to form.
When I opened my eyes, we were on the Interstate. We passed a sign, ‘Rest Area 2 miles’. No food court or gas station, just one of those places that have toilets, a Visitor’s Center, and vending machines. I asked Nicholas to stop.
Having made a decision, I felt better. I asked Nicholas to retrieve one of my suitcases from the trunk of the car and I rolled it into the restroom. I’m sure he had no idea what I was doing, but he never questioned me or complained. It must have been twenty or thirty minutes before I exited the restroom.
If you don’t know me well, you won’t understand just how crazy and off the wall my plan was. I am basically a reserved, proper lady. I’m not shy about coyly letting a man know I might be interested in dating him, but, I’m not forward, and definitely not flashy. I like to dress up and make myself as pretty as possible, hence, the two months’ pay for a Stacy Geer gown, but in a conservative way. This was not me! This was outrageous conduct. But, I didn’t want there to be any doubt as to what I had in mind.
After my breakup with Jack, my kid sister Colleen had bought an outfit for me. She called it my vamp outfit and it was that. It was something I would never wear in public, and I was even embarrassed when I tried it on in my apartment. Colleen insisted I keep it and suggested I put it in my suitcase.
“On one of your business trips, you may run into a situation that calls for something extra.”
I didn’t want to hurt her feelings, so this outfit had traveled all over the country but had never left my suitcase.
It was time. This was the situation.
This vamp outfit consisted of black lace panties and a matching demi bra. A hot pink skirt that was so short, it barely covered the essentials. A beige silk blouse with buttons that stopped just above the top of the bra and a pair of high heel strapped sandals.
I let my hair down, brushed it out, redid my makeup, put on my vamp outfit, and checked myself out in the mirror.
You really don’t get a real reflection in those metal mirrors they have inside of the road restrooms, but even so, I thought the lady staring back at me looked pretty hot.
As I exited the restroom, I looked for Nicholas. He was in the car, sitting in the driver’s seat, watching the restroom door. When he spotted me, he got out of the car, moved over to the sidewalk, and watched me as I strutted toward him.
And, I mean I strutted over to him. He never took his eyes off me as I made my way down the walk and over to the car.
When I was within a few feet of him, he opened the car door and stood aside so I could enter. As I slid into the passenger’s seat, I was certain all of my womanly charms were readily available for his enjoyment, and I glanced up at him to gauge his reaction.
He was not looking at me. His eyes were pointed straight ahead. So typical of him. Not wanting me to feel uncomfortable by leering at me.
But my friend, I’m not going to give you a choice today.
Nicholas put the suitcase away, got in the left seat, and while he was fastening his seat belt and getting ready to start the car, I said in my most casual tone, “Well?”
“Excuse me, ma’am?”
“Don’t I, at least, rate a comment?” I said while using my hands in a sweeping motion to indicate my attire.
Nicholas turned to look at me. He has a habit of always looking directly into your eyes when he speaks to you. He never looks down, up or to the side. His eyes are directly on yours as if he’s trying to read the reaction to what he’s telling you.
But not this time. I saw his eyes move from my head to my toes and back very slowly as if he was trying to categorize every feature.
Then, with a thoughtful look, he said, “Ms. Palmer, when I was in high school, there was a sign above the blackboard in shop class. It read; ‘Please engage brain before starting mouth.' I am trying to do that now, ma’am, but I am having difficulty finding the correct words. Seeing you like this brings only one thought to mind.”
“And what might that be?”
“Well,” he hesitated, “No disrespect meant Ms. Palmer, but the only thing that comes to mind is VA VA VOOM.”
He said it so loud and with such energy I was shocked at first, and then I giggled.
“That will do Nicholas,” I said to him, still giggling, “That will do very nicely. Thank you!”
“Yes ma’am,” was his only reply, as he turned straight and prepared to start the car.
“Aren’t you curious as to why I’m dressed this way?”
“Well ma’am, I expect you feel so bad about the situation in Cauldwell, you just wanted to feel better, and dressing up helps.”
About what I should have expected from him. So, now to the direct approach. Remember, this is not the Danielle Grace Palmer we all know. This is a gal on a mission to tell a man…what?
Well, as the saying goes, in for a penny!
As Nicholas was backing out of the parking spot and headed out toward the highway, I took a deep breath.
“Nicholas, let me tell you what I have in mind. My plan is to drive to Atlanta, cancel one of the hotel rooms, have dinner, have a few drinks, maybe one or two more than usual, and then, you and I spend the night together.”
Before he could answer, I added, “But, there are rules Nicholas.”
“Rules?” was all he said.
“Yes Nicholas, rules. Rule number one, it starts when we get to Atlanta. Rule number two, it ends when we get out of bed tomorrow morning. And, then Nicholas, you will forget it ever happened, because as far as we are concerned, it never did!”
We were almost on the highway by the time I had finished my little speech. Nicholas pulled over to the shoulder of the road, put the car in park, and turned to look at me, this time directly into my eyes.
“Ms. Palmer, any man who would turn down such an offer from you would be considered a complete fool, and my daddy didn’t raise any fools. But, before I agree, I need to ask you a question. Ms. Palmer, I need to know WHY?”
“Why?” I said in surprise.
“Ms. Palmer, I like you, I think we are more than boss and employee. I believe that we are friends.”
“We are friends.”
“Yes, ma’am. And I really like being your friend. I like the relationship we have. I’m afraid if the reason you propose this is because you feel bad about what happened in Cauldwell or as a way to say thank you for anything I’ve done, I’m afraid later on you may regret this and maybe even resent the fact I took advantage of the situation. And that Ms. Palmer would undoubtedly affect our friendship.
“As much as a night with you appeals to me, it’s not worth losing you as a friend. So, Ms. Palmer, I need to know why!”
Is it possible that one word could make you fall head over heels in love with someone? If it is, then he had said that word!
How do I answer that? How could I possibly put into words what I was feeling?
How could I make him understand when I didn’t understand myself? It was nothing he had done and everything he had done, everything he was. I tried to recall every minute I had known this man. I tried to find the perfect answer to his question. In the end, it came down to one thing…Anna Lee. I looked into those deep-set brown eyes of his.
“Nicholas, when you were getting gas, Anna Lee called me.”
A worried look from Nicholas, and I knew he was afraid Anna Lee had told me what had happened at Carl’s this morning.
“Miss Anna Lee is a very fine lady, ma’am, what did she have to say?”
“We couldn’t talk long. She just wanted to tell me something she wanted me to pass on to you.”
I kept my eyes focused on him in hopes he could see the sincerity of my words.
“Ann Lee wants you to know you are the mostest man she has ever met in her entire life.”
That brought out one of his great smiles.
“That’s a very nice thing for her to say, ma’am.”
“The truth is Nicholas, I agree with her. You are the mostest man I have ever met in my entire life also.
“It’s not anything specific you’ve done or said it’s who you are! You are truly one of a kind, Nicholas. The most honorable, caring, responsible, open, loving, and sincerest man I’ve ever had the good fortune to meet… And, Nicholas, I want to know what it is like to be intimate with such a man!”
He looked into my eyes for a very long time, and then he looked down. I could feel the wheels turning as he tried to make sense of what I had just said. His eyes came back up to meet mine and very seriously said,
“Ms. Palmer, I must admit the thought of spending a night with you has crossed my mind on more than one occasion. But, ma’am, there are three things I must say first.”
“OK,” I answered, wondering what he was thinking.
“First, if it takes a few drinks more than normal than I feel your reasons aren’t quite what you say.”
“OH Nicholas! That was such a stupid thing for me to say. I didn’t mean it at all. Nicholas, I have never tried to seduce a man before and I…I didn’t know how to go about it. I don’t need alcohol. Not a few more or any drinks at all. I want to know you intimately, Nicholas, and cold sober is the way I want this to happen.”
That brought another smile to his face.
“Second, your rules are all wrong.”
“What’s wrong with my rules?”
“They don’t leave time ma’am.”
“Time for what?” I inquired.
“The before and after. The before and after are at least as important as, maybe more important than the actual…doing!”
Before and after. What man cares about a before and after? The before is usually just a necessity to get you into bed, and the after is usually non-existent.
What have I let myself in for?
“What would your rules be?”
He sounded very serious again.
“Ms. Palmer, I can’t promise you I will ever forget this happened. I have a feeling ma’am I will never be able to forget this weekend.
“But, I do promise you will never see or hear any indication from me anything happened between us.
“I promise you, as a gentleman to a lady, you or anyone else will never know I have any recollection of this weekend. And Ms. Palmer, a gentleman never breaks a promise to a lady.”
I waited for the rest of his statement.
“My rules would be, rule number one: it starts right now. Rule number two: it ends when we walk off the plane in Fort Lauderdale. And then, Ms. Palmer, I promise you, you will never see any indication from me that anything happened.”
“A gentleman’s promise to a lady?” I asked.
“A gentleman’s promise to a lady!” he repeated.
“OK, Nicholas, your rules!”
At that, Nicholas turned in his seat, put the car in gear, and drove onto the Interstate.
“You said there were three things,” I reminded him.
“Yes, ma’am. Nicholas is my Deltron Motors name, my friends call me Nick.”
“OK, Nick. What now?”
A quick glance in my direction and a smile.
“Now Danielle, you trust me!”
It wasn’t a question, it was a statement, and I did. It was the very first time he had called me Danielle, except for when he shouted for me to get back inside in the alley last night in Cauldwell.
And this time, I liked the sound.
Once he had gotten the car up to speed and set the cruise control, he reached for his Bluetooth ear piece, put it on, took out his cell phone, and punched a speed dial number. When the party on the other end answered, he started a very unusual conversation.
“I need accommodations in Atlanta, Georgia, tonight, just the one night.”
I don’t know what the person on the other end of the phone was saying, but Nick’s end of the conversation was a series of yes and no’s. He ended the conversation with, “Thanks, Sweetie, get back to me.”
When he put down the phone, I reminded him, “We already have reservations at the Doubletree.”
His answer was one of the two lines I had heard many times before, and would hear many times again.
“Don’t like the Doubletree?”
“That’s where we stay on company business. Tonight is special, requires something special.”
“I am completely in your hands,” I said teasingly, “And I guess Sweetie’s also. Girlfriend?”
“If I had a girlfriend, Danielle, this wouldn’t be happening.”
Why was it so easy for me to believe that statement?
“Sweetie’s name is Pam Dugan. She is the Director of Corporate Travel for a major company in Fort Lauderdale, and she is superb at getting last minute reservations and special requests. When we get back to the office, I’ll give her number to Crystal for the phone log. I’ll give Pam your name and if you ever need anything last minute or special, she’s your gal.”
“She seems to know exactly what you want. You must know her well.”
“I’d say I know her well, Pam is my late wife’s daughter.”
Oops. That brought ten minutes of silence between us.
Nick’s cell phone broke the mood. He answered and pulled over to the shoulder of the highway. He cleared the GPS and inserted a new address. Then he asked Sweetie to cancel our reservations at the Doubletree and check our flight reservations to Fort Lauderdale tomorrow. After disconnecting the call, he sent a short text message and pulled back on the highway. We were back up to speed, and the cruise control was engaged. I decided it was time to really get to know this man.
“Tell me about her.”
“Your late wife.”
Nick glanced at me, smiled, and then we began a very intimate conversation about both of our lives, loves, triumphs, and failures. We stopped for lunch and continued our talk, all the way to Atlanta.
I was interested in the man and his feelings, not his career or worldly accomplishments, but the inner man. He seemed to want the same from me and managed to pull out feelings I usually kept to myself.
We hadn’t made love or had sex or shared a bed yet, but talking to him like this felt so intimate, and isn’t this what I had told him I wanted?
Yes, it was exactly what I wanted and I felt so close to him, I didn’t want the trip to end.
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