My mom met her Prince Charming when she was a freshman in college and my dad leaned over and asked to borrow a pen so he could take notes. Rumpled, obviously hungover but flashing a smile that promised a good time and with a twinkle in his eyes, he was impossible to resist. She always told me and my sister that it happened that fast. In a split second she knew he was the one for her.
It was a sweet story. One that my parents shared with us often, both still sharing private smiles and eyes still twinkling, but neither one of us gave it much thought until my younger sister met her very own prince before she was old enough to drive. It was during a hard time for my family, hard for all of us, but especially for her. She’d always been the baby, been spoiled and treated like a princess. When the attention was yanked off of her in a really ugly way, she was lost and let the family tragedy consume her. Lost in grief and confusion she somehow managed to sign herself up for auto shop instead of an extracurricular that actually made sense for my very girlie, very feminine younger sibling. She spent five minutes in that noisy, greasy garage, but she spent years and years leaning on and loving the quiet, enigmatic auburn-haired boy she met in those five minutes. He saved her and even though she was way too young to know anything about anything, she had the same story that my mother did … she just knew he was the one for her.
It happened fast in my family. We fell hard and we didn’t get up once we fell. We stayed down and we loved hard and deep. I also learned as I watched all my friends, the men I worked with, the women that I considered sisters of the heart, that when it was right for anyone it happened fast and that they did indeed just know. They knew when it was right. They knew when it was going to last. They knew when it was worth fighting for. They knew when they had found the person that might not necessarily be perfect, but that was without a doubt perfect for them. They just knew.
So I waited, admittedly impatiently and anxiously, for my shot, for my turn to fall. I waited through my family healing, for them to come back with a love that was even stronger. I waited through my sister screwing up and desperately trying to repair her perfect. I waited and watched so many weddings and babies that weren’t mine. I waited through danger and drama. I waited through one bad date and one failed relationship after another. I waited through nights alone and nights spent with the occasional someone I knew wasn’t the one for me. I waited and waited as good men fell for even better women, all the while wondering when it would be my turn. I waited and watched love that was easy and love that was hard, telling myself I was far more prepared for my fall than anyone else around me was. I wanted it so bad I could taste it … but the more I waited the more certain I became that I was never going to fall.
I would be lying if I said that I didn’t think Dash Churchill was something special the second he walked into the bar where I worked—all coiled tension, sexy swagger, and with a swirling, threatening cloud of attitude hanging over him that would dim even the brightest summer days. I had eyes and I had a vagina, so all the things that I thought were special were the things those parts of my anatomy couldn’t miss. Long limbed, with a body that looked like it was ripped from the cover of Men’s Health magazine, bronze skin, unforgettable eyes, and a mouth that even though it was constantly frowning brought to mind every single dirty, sexy thing a pair of lips like that was capable of doing. I liked the way he looked … a lot … but I couldn’t say I much liked him. He was sullen, distant, uncommunicative and there was an air about him that marked in no uncertain terms that he was dangerous and volatile. He came across as a very unhappy individual, and no amount of rest, relaxation, and good friends seemed to shake that dark shroud of discontentment that hung over him. His amazing eyes flashed warnings that I was smart enough to heed. I liked my days spent basking in the sun, not dancing in the rain.
I was friendly to Church because I was friendly to everyone. The first month or so we had an uneasy working relationship that involved me dancing around him while every other single and not-so-single woman that came into the bar where we worked did their best to catch his eye. It worked out well for me and seemingly for him, so I went back to waiting for my perfect, my fairy tale, my heroic knight, my unmatched hero. He had to be out there somewhere and I was starting to think if he wasn’t looking for me I needed to start looking for him. My patience was wearing thin and my typically affable attitude was starting to get just as gloomy and gray as the one that hung over Church.
But then it happened and I just knew. I knew like I had never known anything as clearly and as unquestionably in my whole life. I knew with a rightness that shot through my soul and made my heart flip over in my chest.
I was trying to cash out a group of overly intoxicated and obnoxiously difficult young men. It wasn’t anything new. I’d been a cocktail waitress for a long time and knew how to handle myself and the customers. This drunken group was no better or worse than any other one I’d had to deal with in all my years slinging drinks and working the floor, but they were loud and the things they were saying were easily heard throughout the bar. Some of it wasn’t so bad. They liked my hair (curly and strawberry blond—who didn’t like my damn hair?) and they liked the way my shirt fit tight and snug across my chest. I was a solid D cup, so again who didn’t like my tits? But they also had a lot to say about my ass. Apparently it was too big for my small frame, and they didn’t love my freckles. That red hair was authentic and as real as it could be, so there wasn’t much I could do about the colored specks that dotted the bridge of my nose and brushed the curve of my cheeks.