By Maureen Thayer
 
Rollie’s gaze slid over Angie’s face, seeing the sadness in her eyes, in the turn of her lips, in the way that she didn’t meet his gaze.  He’d seen that sadness many times in the eight months that had passed since Manny’s death.  It wasn’t always there.  Usually, Angie was fine whenever she visited him, talking about her life in college and the friends she’d made.  But, sometimes, the grief showed through, making his heart ache for her.  The holidays had been the worse.  Each one spent for the first time without her father had been torment, especially Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Angie had done nothing but cry all night long in his arms on Christmas Eve.  He had tried to comfort her as best he could, but he had felt a poor substitute for the person she really wanted there.  Lost in her own anguish, Angie had never seen the tears flowing down Rollie’s face as he mourned the loss of his friend and mentor and felt the pain of seeing another friend, his best friend, torn apart with grief.

Rollie wished he knew what had brought Angie’s sadness back this time so that he’d know what to say, what words to speak to make her feel better.  Not knowing, all he could do was be there for her and try to take her mind off it.

“Hey, Ange, would you like to go out for a while?” he asked cheerfully.

“Out?”

“Uh huh.  We could go to the arcade at the mall, maybe walk around a little.  Or do you have to study?”

“Yeah, I do, but it’s a light day.  I can do it tonight.”  Angie met his eyes for the first time since coming there.  She saw the concern in his gaze and realized that he could tell she was upset.  He could always tell.  She was never able to hide it from him.  His eyes saw through every act she put on.  His beautiful, gentle eyes. . . .  ‘No, don’t go there, Angie,’ she told herself. ‘Rollie is your friend, that’s all.  You have to remember that.  And, someday, he’ll be your boss or maybe even your partner.’  She never thought about choosing another career.  She never considered that some other line of work might be better for her.  No, special effects was what she wanted to do.  It had been her father’s passion, just as it was with the man before her.  She wanted to share that passion with Rollie.  She wanted to work side by side with him.  Deep down inside, she knew that she wanted so much more than that, but that would have to be enough.

Angie knew that Rollie’s offer to do something with her was an attempt to cheer her up.  She smiled inside.  He could be so very sweet, so warm and giving, especially with her.  It made her feel loved.  And he did love her.  She knew that.  He loved her as a friend and a brother--and that’s the way it would always be.

“So, what do you say, Ange?” the Aussie asked.

How could she say no?  “Sure, Rol.  That sounds like fun.  But don’t you have work to do?”

“Nope.  I finished last night.  The movie wraps in a week, and the rest of the shots being filmed don’t need me.  I’m all yours, sweetie.”

‘Oh, if only that were true,’ Angie thought.  “Okay then.  Let’s go.”

Rollie grinned brightly and grabbed his coat.  A while later, they were in the mall, heading for the arcade.  After an hour of playing the games, they left the arcade, laughing, and went to the food court to get something to drink.

Sipping on his soda, Rollie looked at Angie.  The sorrow in her eyes was gone, but he still sensed that something was wrong.  He stretched his hand across the table and laid it on hers.  Angie jumped slightly and turned to him, surprise on her face.

“How are you doing?” he asked, finding it surprisingly pleasant to be touching her hand like that.

Angie looked down at the hand lying upon hers.  It felt warm and strong, yet so gentle.  She wanted to entwine her fingers in his and hold his hand for the rest of the day.  She wanted to-- Angie cut her thoughts off abruptly.  Her eyes returned to his.

“I’m good.  Do you mind if I do a little shopping while we’re here?”

“Not at all.  Whatever you want to do, Ange.”  He gave her hand a squeeze, then released it.  She immediately missed his touch.

They went wandering through the mall, stopping at a few shops.  Rollie accompanied her into every store, even those that had only women’s clothing.  Angie had never gone shopping like this with him before, and she was having a great time.  He seemed to be enjoying it too.  She sometimes even asked his opinion on what he thought would look good on her.

Rollie had never known that shopping in a mall could be so much fun.  It was being with Angie that made it so.  He’d been missing her a lot lately, though he didn’t know why.  She visited him as often as she ever had since starting college, but it just wasn’t enough anymore.  The time when she wasn’t with him seemed to pass more slowly, and he found himself thinking about her all the time.

Angie saw a group of five people heading in the opposite direction and waved at them.  They spied her and came over.

“Hey, Angie,” greeted one of the two girls, whose name was Anne.  “What are you up to?”

“Nothing much.  We’re just doing some shopping.”

“Who’s we?” the other girl, Roberta, asked, looking at Rollie in a way that made Angie want to take his arm possessively and tell her that he wasn’t available.

Angie decided that to be polite, she should introduce Rollie to them.  “Guys, this is Rollie.  He’s a friend of mine.  Rol, this is Anne, Clark, Roberta, Luke, and Bill.  They’re friends from college.”

“G’day,” Rollie greeted, smiling.

The expression on Roberta’s face grew even more interested.  “You’re not American.  Where are you from?”

“Australia, but I’ve been here for quite a few years,” the Aussie told her.

“Australia.  That’s cool.”

“No, actually, it’s hot there,” the young man named Luke said, grinning at his own joke.

Roberta gave him a glare, then returned her attention to Rollie.  “So, how do you and Angie know each other?”

“I was her father’s apprentice.  I took over the business after he died.”

“Oh, yeah.  I remember Angie saying something about that,” Clark said.  “You two have known each other for a long time, right?”

“Since she was eleven,” the Aussie told him.

Roberta looked pleased at hearing that.  “So, you’re sort of like her brother then.”

Rollie thought about that.  Did he think of Angie as a sister?  He had at one time, when she was younger.  But now. . . .  He just didn’t know.  He didn’t really feel so much like her brother anymore.  He didn’t know what had changed, but something had.

“I don’t know if I’d say brother.  We’re friends, best friends,” he said.

Angie looked at him, surprised and delighted by his answer.

“Oh!  Hey, Angie, look at what I got,” Anne said, reaching into one of her bags.  The three girls gathered closer together to look at what had been pulled out of the bag.

Rollie glanced over at the three men, feeling slightly uncomfortable about being in the presence of Angie’s college friends.  He had so little in common with them.

Just then, he caught the one named Bill raking his eyes up and down Angie’s body, a lustful expression on his face.  A shockingly intense desire to break the guy’s jaw hit the Aussie full-force.  His hands curled into fists.  Something must have shown in his eyes because Bill, who had turned to him, took a hasty step backwards, paling slightly.

“Come on, guys, we have to get going,” he said, sounding a bit nervous.  “It’s getting late, and I have to study.”

Everyone said goodbye and continued on their way, which made Rollie happy.  He and Angie resumed their shopping.  As they headed toward one particular shop, the Aussie realized what kind of store it was and stopped outside the entrance, blushing faintly.

“Um, I’ll just wait outside, Ange,” he said, not about to set foot inside the lingerie shop.

Angie looked at the expression on his face in amusement.  “What, you don’t want to help me pick out something that would look good on me?” she asked, trying not to giggle.

Rollie’s blush deepened.  He stammered something unintelligible, then said, “I’ll just wait right over there.”  He walked away a few feet to stand by a bench.  Grinning, Angie went into the store.  Her eyes perused the racks, seeing all the beautiful, expensive, sexy lingerie.  She sighed inside.  She had no one to wear such things for.  Most of the guys who became interested in her either weren’t her type or only wanted to get her into bed.  She had dated a few times, but the relationships never went anywhere.  She’d always found herself comparing the men to Rollie and finding them coming up short.

“Angie!  Well, hello.”

The blonde turned to see another one of her college friends coming up to her.  “Hi, Diane.”

“So, what are you doing here?”

“Oh, I need a new robe, that’s all.”

“Ah.  Well, I’m here shopping for something new to wow Mitch with.  We’re spending Valentine’s Day and the whole weekend together.  We’re going to go upstate to this cute little Bed and Breakfast.  I’ll tell you, I am so lucky to have found a guy who likes the romantic stuff.”

Angie felt a little twinge of pain and envy.  She wished that she had someone to spend Valentine’s Day with.  No, the truth was that she wished she could spend Valentine’s Day with Rollie--and not as just a friend.  That was the reason why she was feeling blue today, because she knew that wasn’t going to happen.

“So, are you here alone?  Would you like to pal around with me for a while?” Diane asked.

“Thanks, Diane, but I’m with someone.  He’s waiting outside.”

Curiosity instantly leapt onto her friend’s face.  “He?  Who?  Where is he?”  She glanced around the area of the mall in front of the shop.  Her eyes settled on Rollie, widening.  “Him?”  She looked at Angie, who nodded.  Diane’s gaze went back to the Aussie.  “He’s gorgeous!  Wow.  Who is he?  Is he a Senior?  I don’t remember ever seeing him before.”

“No, he doesn’t attend the university, Diane.  That’s Rollie.”

Diane’s eyes grew even wider.  “That’s Rollie?  I thought he was old.”

“I never said he was old.”

“Well, no, I don’t mean old old.  I just mean a lot older than that.  You said that he went to work for your dad when you were a kid, so I just assumed that he was a whole lot older than you.  So, why didn’t you tell me he was so hot?”

Angie blushed.  “Because I don’t talk about him like that.  I’ve known him since I was eleven, Diane.”

“Well, yeah, but you can’t tell me you aren’t aware that he’s a fox.”

“Diane, please.”  Angie shifted uncomfortably, her cheeks growing hotter.  She was very aware of how handsome Rollie was and had been since the day she met him.  But she didn’t like to hear other women talk about him that way, maybe because she was always afraid that they’d take Rollie away from her.

Diane focused her attention on Angie.  “Is there something going on with you two?”

“No, absolutely not.  Rollie and I are just friends.”

“Uh huh.”  Diane didn’t sound convinced.  “Well, now I can see why you never last more than one or two dates with anyone.  If I had a friend who looked like that, I wouldn’t look any farther.  I bet he’s really great in b--”

“Stop it, Diane,” Angie interrupted.  Now she was getting angry.  “Rollie is my best friend, and a terrific guy.  I don’t want you talking about him like that.”

Her friend looked at her in surprise, then held up her hands.  “Okay, okay.  I’m sorry.  Kind of touchy about him, aren’t you?  Never mind.  I think I’ll get out of here before you get any madder.  See you later.”  She was gone before Angie could say another word.

Deciding that she didn’t want to stay there a moment longer, Angie joined Rollie.

“Didn’t get anything?” he inquired.

“No, I changed my mind.  Let’s go.”

“Where to next?”

“I just want to get a birthday card for a friend, then we can leave.”

“Are you sure?  We could go someplace else, then have dinner somewhere.”  Rollie could tell that Angie was upset again.  He really wished he knew what was going on.

Dinner with Rollie.  That would be nice.  Angie sighed inwardly.  But all she would do was wish that they were sharing dinner as more than friends.  “Thanks, Rol, but I think I’ll take a rain check.  How about another night?”  Silently, she added, ‘A night that isn’t the day before Valentine’s Day when all I can think about is how much I want you to hold me, and kiss me, and--’  Again, she stopped herself.  This wasn’t doing her any good.

“All right, another night then.”  Rollie hid his disappointment.  It was so great spending this time with her.  He didn’t want it to end.

They went to the card shop, and Rollie helped Angie pick out a nice birthday card for her friend.

“Happy Valentine’s Day,” the clerk wished them as they left.

Rollie paused for an instant.  Valentine’s Day?  That’s right.  Tomorrow was Valentine’s Day.  All at once, Rollie knew what had been bothering Angie.  She was unhappy because she didn’t have a sweetheart to share the holiday with.  A secret smile curved the Aussie’s lips.  Now he knew what he could do to make her feel better.

He and Angie went back to the loft.  After she’d left, he started scanning the phone book and making his plans.  That night, he went to bed determined that this would be a Valentine’s Day Angie would never forget.


Angie sighed as she covered the last block to her apartment.  It had been a horrible day.  Everywhere she’d looked there had been couples hugging and kissing.  Half the school seemed to have caught some kind of love fever.  And with every couple she saw, her mind had superimposed the images of herself and Rollie over them.  She was so glad it was over.  Now all she had to do was go home, fix some popcorn, find a totally unromantic movie on TV--and spend the rest of the night feeling sorry for herself and wishing that Rollie was there with her.

The blonde pulled into her parking space and wearily climbed the stairs.  She opened the door of her apartment--and stopped dead in her tracks.  There were flowers everywhere, dozens of them.  Red roses, white roses, yellow and pink roses, along with carnations, tiger lilies, and too many others to name.

Her eyes fell on a bouquet of a dozen blood red roses sitting on the coffee table.  Beside it sat not one, not two, but half a dozen heart-shaped boxes of chocolates.  She could see a card sticking up out of the bouquet.  She opened it and read the message inside.

“To my very own valentine and my very best friend.  Love, Rollie.”

Angie felt the tears well up, and soon they were pouring down her cheeks.

“Happy Valentines’s Day, sweetie,” said a soft voice to her right.  She turned and saw Rollie standing in the doorway of the kitchen.

The tears started flowing ever faster.  Seeing them, the Aussie quickly covered the distance between them and pulled her into a hug.

“Angie, please don’t cry.  I’m sorry.  I wanted to make you feel better.  I didn’t--”

Angie started shaking her head.  “I’m not upset, Rol.  I’m crying because I’m happy.  This was just so sweet of you.  I didn’t expect it.”

A tentative smile curved Rollie’s mouth.  “You’re not upset?”

“How could I be upset when you do this?  You must have spent a fortune on all these flowers.”

There was a full-blown grin on the Aussie’s face now.  “What’s a few hundred bucks for my best friend?  Nothing’s too good for you, Ange.”

Angie pulled him to her, hugging him close.  “Thank you, Rollie,” she whispered.

The Aussie held her tightly, surprised at how wonderful it felt.  He’d given her countless hugs over the years, yet none of them had ever made him feel like this, like he wanted to hold her in his arms forever.  It took a lot for him to finally release her.

“I rented a couple of chick flicks for us to watch, and I ordered dinner to be delivered here from one of those fancy restaurants you always wanted to eat at,” he told her.  “Or, if you’d rather, we can go there to eat.”

“No, I’d like to stay here with you.”  She couldn’t believe that she was actually going to be getting her wish.  She would be spending Valentine’s Day with Rollie.  It wasn’t going to be the way she really wanted it, but she was content to just be there with him as a friend.  “So, what ‘chick flicks’ did you get?”

He handed her the tapes, and she looked at the titles, nodding her head in approval over his choices.

After moving the bouquet on the coffee table, they settled on the couch side by side and watched the first movie, a romantic comedy that Rollie found himself enjoying.  He knew it wasn’t so much the movie as the company.  He was really enjoying being here with Angie, laughing right along with her at each funny moment in the movie.  Most of all, he found that he liked having her there so close beside him.  More than once, he’d had the urge to put his arm across her shoulders and draw her even closer.

After the movie ended, they talked about the scenes they liked best, Rollie reenacting some of them, making Angie laugh.  Just then, there was a knock on the door.

“That will be dinner,” Rollie said.  He went to the door and came back a few minutes later, his hands full of food containers.  He put the containers on the coffee table as Angie went to get plates and silverware.  After heaping their plates full of wonderful-smelling food, they settled back on the couch, talking while they ate.

After dinner, Angie fixed a big bowl of popcorn, and they started watching the second movie.  This one was also a romantic comedy, but had a serious side to it as well.  As the movie progressed, Rollie kept finding his eyes straying from the TV screen to the woman sitting beside him.  She looked very happy.  Her eyes and cheeks were glowing, and her lips were parted in a smile.  The Aussie’s gaze locked on her lips and stayed there.  They were slick from the butter on the popcorn, looking pink and inviting--  Whoa!  Rollie snapped his eyes away from Angie’s mouth.  What just happened there?  He should not be thinking things like that.  This was Angie, not some girl he was dating.  This was the girl he had watched . . . grow. . . .  The Aussie’s eyes had drifted of their own accord back to her lips, then started roaming across the rest of her face, seeing things he’d never noticed before, like the shape of her ears, the curve of her cheekbone, the way her hair caught the light.  He noticed the smooth column of her throat, so soft and ready to be kissed--  Rollie pulled away from the direction of his thoughts again.  This wasn’t right.  He shouldn’t be thinking these things.  She was just a kid, nineteen years old.  No, that wasn’t true.  She was not a kid.  She was a grown woman and only eight years his junior.  Many women her age were already married.  The voice that was the more austere side of his conscience spoke up.  ‘But she’s Manny’s little girl.’  Rollie found his gaze drifting lower.  No, she most definitely was not a little girl.  He suddenly blushed furiously, embarrassed and shamed by the turn his thoughts had taken.  Again, the voice spoke up. ‘She’s Manny’s daughter.’  Yes, she was, but did that mean that she was off limits, that he wasn’t allowed to . . . to what?  Have a relationship with her that was more than friendship?  Since when did he want that?  Up until tonight, he’d thought of her as just a friend.  At one time, he had even looked upon her as a sister.  But these were not brotherly thoughts that were running through his mind, and it wasn’t friendship that was suddenly making him feel hot and jittery.  Trying to push his thoughts aside, Rollie attempted to focus on the movie.

Angie noticed that Rollie had grown quiet during the last few minutes.  Not only that, but he had stopped eating the popcorn.  The blonde looked at his profile.  Was it her imagination or did he appear flushed?  She hoped he wasn’t coming down with a fever.  Angie shifted her position on the couch, her arm coming in contact with his.  She was shocked when he nearly jumped out of his skin.

“Rollie, are you all right?”

“Uh huh,” he said, keeping his eyes glued to the TV.

“You’re not feeling sick, are you?”

“No, I’m fine, Ange,” he assured her, his voice sounding just a wee bit higher pitched than it should have.  He drew in a deep breath.  “Actually, I am feeling a bit . . . off.  Maybe I’d better go home.”

Angie laid her hand upon his.  “Rol. . . .”  Her voice drifted off as she saw how he was staring at the hand she’d laid on his, like it was something he’d never seen before.

Very slowly, his gaze lifted to hers.  Angie let out a sharp gasp, feeling heat flood through her body.  There was a look in Rollie’s eyes, one she’d never thought that she would see while he was looking at her.  Desire.  He was looking at her the way that a man looks at a woman when he wants to kiss her.  But there was also confusion and fear in his eyes.

“I-I should go,” the Aussie said.  He made a move to rise.  Angie’s hand left his and clamped onto his arm instead.  Rollie stared at it much like one would a poisonous snake.  “I-I-I need to go now, Angie.”  There was a note of desperation in his voice.

“Why?”  Angie’s voice was barely above a whisper.

“Because . . . because. . . .”  Rollie’s voice stalled as his eyes met hers again, and he found himself drowning in their blueness.  Something snapped inside him.  He pulled Angie into his arms, and his mouth descended upon hers.

The instant their lips touched, it was like a bomb had gone off inside them.  Two moans rose above the sound of the TV as Rollie and Angie crushed their bodies up against each other, their senses spinning crazily.  Lips parted and they were suddenly searching each other’s mouths with wild abandon.  Neither one of them noticed when the bowl of popcorn slid off Angie’s lap and spilled onto the floor.

Rollie was beyond thinking about what he was doing.  His mind had shut down, taken over by the fire flowing through his body like molten lava.  The taste of Angie’s mouth, the feel of her body pressed so tightly against his was driving him insane with desire.  He didn’t want to stop.  He couldn’t stop.  And so he kissed her, and kissed her, and kissed her, until there was nothing else in the world but that kiss.

Angie was way past the point where she could think about what was happening.  She could only feel, and taste, and smell.  The feel of Rollie’s body pressed against hers, his lips consuming hers in soul-deep kisses, the taste of his mouth as she kissed him back with equal intensity, the scent that was his and his alone.  She felt like she was being burned alive, consumed on the pyre of their passion.  She wanted it to go on forever.

At last, their lips separated as they took in great gulps of air to fill their oxygen-starved lungs.  They searched each other’s eyes, looking for signs of regret, but there was nothing there except the desire to close the distance between their lips.  Giving themselves only a few seconds, they came together again, both of them groaning as the fire blazed upward.  Rollie’s lips finally left hers to travel down her throat.  He could feel Angie start to tremble in his arms, and he looked at her.  Some semblance of rational thought finally returned to him.

“We shouldn’t be doing this,” he said hoarsely.  “I shouldn’t be doing this.  This isn’t right.  You’re Manny’s daughter.  If he was alive, he’d kill me.”

“No, he wouldn’t, Rol.  He’d be happy.”  Angie knew this to be true.  Her father had known about the way she felt toward Rollie and had told her that if the Aussie ever felt the same way, they had his blessing.  He had loved Rollie like a son and liked the idea of him being a son-in-law.

“He would?” the Aussie asked uncertainly.

“Yes, he would,” Angie assured him.  No longer able to fight the desire to kiss him again, she pulled his head down to hers.  He stiffened for a moment, then a soft sigh escaped him, and he began kissing her back.  The kiss was slow and deep, the kind that made you feel dizzy and breathless.

When they finally drew apart, Rollie was more than a little dazed.  “Angie,” he murmured huskily.  He started kissing her face over and over again, feeling something warm and incredibly powerful well up inside him.  He couldn’t believe this was happening.  He couldn’t believe that it was Angie in his arms, that he was feeling these things toward her.

All at once, it became clear to him why he’d been feeling the way he had been recently.  He was falling in love with her and had been for months now.  Somewhere along the way, sometime since the day she started college, he had stopped seeing her as a little girl, as a sister, and had begun to look upon her as someone he wanted to be more than friends with.

“I love you,” he murmured against her lips, unable to stop himself from revealing this glorious emotion he had discovered.

Angie drew away, tears returning to her eyes and a joyful smile coming to her lips.  She stroked his cheek.  “I love you, Rollie.”

Giving her a smile that matched her own, he searched her eyes.  “You do?”

“For a very, very long time.”

“How long?” the Aussie asked, his mouth straying back down to her neck, making her respiration quicken.

“Oh, since the moment I first saw you standing beside my father just a few hours after he’d hired you.”

Rollie lifted his head in surprise.  “But you were just a kid.”

“A kid who had fantasies about marrying you and living happily ever after.”

“I never knew.”  He was amazed that he’d never seen this.

“Well, you know now.”  Angie brought her lips up to his.  “So, what are you going to do about it?”

The Aussie smiled against her mouth.  “I’m going to work on ‘happily ever after’,” he said, then took her lips with his, knowing that this was a Valentine’s Day neither of them would ever forget.
 

THE END

 
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