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Today - Saturday evening:
She sat alone in her small apartment, the radio softly playing in the background as she waited for him to call. He had said that he would, and hoping against hope, overlooking her past experiences, Caroline waited. She wanted his promise to be true, not just a convenient fiction that he had used to paper over an awkward reaction. He had learned the truth about her the previous night - had seen it with his own eyes. She remembered her own pain on seeing the look of shock on his face. Caroline had to admit that he had recovered well - had been the perfect gentleman in fact - but she KNEW what was likely to happen now. She had lived through this kind of thing too many times before to still have any illusions that it would not matter.
Still, she waited for his call; even though she did not really expect it to come.
"What did I ever do to deserve this?" Caroline thought bitterly. It was not as if she was an evil person. She had tried to live her life like most people do - not expecting very much, either good or bad - just trying to get by with some small measure of comfort and happiness. She had struggled in school, working her butt off to get the same grades her older sister had found so easy to achieve. Not that she had been stupid; she had just needed to work much harder than her sister to succeed. But if she had not been blessed with the brains in her family, she had been blessed with the looks. While her sister had only had a few boyfriends in high school and college, Caroline had seemed to have a new one every week. She had never been without a date for the weekend and had her choice of escorts when the prom came around. But now life had turned out so ironically - her sister Fran ending up the one that had become happily married. Caroline had just never worried about ending up alone - had felt no pressure to chase after a serious relationship. She had always thought that there would be plenty of time to find that one special person and settle down - had in fact once thought that she had found just such a companion. Too bad that fate had made other plans for her.
Now she was thirty-one and never-married. Nor did she feel that she was ever likely to wed. Caroline had learned too late that a person only gets so many chances in life, and she feared that she had used all of hers up. So now she was sitting at home, alone on a Saturday night, waiting for a phone call that might never come, and thinking about the man that she was ready to once more risk her heart for, despite all the disappointment and pain she had felt whenever she had previously allowed herself to care about a man. She dreamed that maybe this time things would be different. The romantic part of her still wanted to believe. She clung to that. What else could she do?
Several months ago, before Christmas:
His name was Brandon Knight and she had first met him at the Christmas party for the real estate company where she was a junior partner. He had caught Caroline by surprise. She had just broken up with her boyfriend, for the same reasons that she had broken up with the half-dozen boyfriends before him, and had not yet been seeking another relationship. But as fate would have it, her friend and co-worker Gloria had been in the same boat - between boyfriends - and had brought Brandon, her brother, along as an escort.
Gloria had seen Caroline standing off by herself in the corner and, waving to her, headed over to talk, dragging her brother in her wake.
"Caroline... What on earth are you doing hiding over here? You are being absolutely anti-social."
"Sorry, Gloria. I was feeling out of place amidst all the couples. As you can see, I am unfortunately without male companionship at the moment."
"Tell me about it," Gloria responded, taking a swallow from the highball in her hand. "Between boyfriends? That's the story of my life. Why is a good man so hard to find? Just look at me - I'm stuck with my brother here," she said, gesturing to the man beside her. Gloria gave Caroline a sly smile and continued, "Maybe I could lend him to you. He's not much, but he might do in a pinch."
"Thank you for your enthusiastic endorsement, Sis," Brandon said with a laugh. "Instead of offering me such halfhearted praise, why don't you introduce me to this lovely lady?"
"Oh, sorry. Brandon, this is Caroline Foster, just about the only junior partner in this place worth a damn," Gloria proclaimed, the alcohol having loosened her tongue a bit too much.
Caroline glanced around to see if anyone had overheard Gloria's remarks. A quick scan indicated that no one had. Gloria might have been indiscreet, but fortunately she had not been loud. Still, Caroline was embarrassed by her comment.
Brandon stepped in to ease the awkwardness. "So you're Caroline. It's so nice to meet you at last. My sister has mentioned your name in several of our conversations."
"Really?" Caroline responded. "Only good things, I hope."
Gloria jumped back into the conversation, "Now that wouldn't be much fun, would it?" She then looked up at her sibling, who stood almost a full head taller than she and continued, "Anyway Caroline, this is my brother Brandon. He's the baby of the family."
Brandon shook his head, laughing again. "Jesus, Gloria. Will you ever stop pulling rank on me?" He turned back to Caroline with a smile and explained, "We're fraternal twins. Gloria is a whole sixteen minutes older than I am."
"That's what makes me the big sister," she gloated.
"Big pain-in-the-ass is more like it," Brandon proclaimed, teasingly.
"Well!" exclaimed Gloria, mock indignation filling her voice. "I do not have to put up with this... this abuse."
"So don't. Caroline and I will manage just fine by ourselves."
Gloria's sly smirk returned to her face. "Are you trying to tell me something, Brandon?"
"Take a hint, Sis. I'd like to talk to the lady."
"O.K. by me," she replied. "Just don't get too involved. You're MY escort, remember?" Gloria then rose up on tiptoes and gave her brother a peck on the cheek. "I'll see you later."
"Just go easy on the drinking," Brandon admonished her. "I WILL get pissed if you throw up in my car."
"Spoilsport!" she laughed, poking Brandon in the ribs and then bouncing off to rejoin the party.
"Well," Caroline stammered, "That was... different. Now I know what a fly on the wall feels like."
"Don't let it bother you. My sister and I banter like this all the time." He lowered his voice level to a near-whisper. "Gloria is really sweet, but I do have to remind her not to drink too much. She has very little tolerance for alcohol. I wouldn't want her saying something she shouldn't."
"Like that remark about me?"
"Like that. Although from what Gloria has told me about you, I suspect she was only telling the truth."
Caroline blushed, feeling like a schoolgirl in the presence of the male talking with her.
"So tell me," Caroline demanded, "What has Gloria told you about me?"
Several months ago, after Christmas:
Caroline and Brandon had hit it off immediately. She shocked herself by giving him her phone number before the party ended. She was usually not impulsive like that, particularly where men were concerned.
He called her two weeks later, right after Christmas. She was running a bath when the phone started ringing. Pulling her robe tightly around herself, she entered her small bedroom and picked up the receiver.
A male voice responded, "Hi. Is Caroline Foster there?"
"This is she. Can I help you?"
"This is Brandon Knight. I hope you remember me. We met at your office Christmas party."
Caroline perked up immediately. "Gloria's brother?"
"The same." There was a slight hesitation. "Ah... look, I've been meaning to call you, but I thought you'd be busy for the holidays. I know this is last minute, but my sister said you don't currently have a boyfriend and I was wondering if you might possibly be free for New Year's Eve? That is, if you don't already have plans."
She smiled to herself at his request. She had made plans all right - like getting into bed early, and maybe indulging in a little white wine before turning out the lights. She had not even planned on staying up until midnight to see the New Year in.
"So what if it is last minute?" she thought. She had found herself attracted to this man. Now he said he wanted to spend New Year's Eve with her. She knew she should be coy - a woman should not let herself appear to be too eager. But Caroline didn't care.
"I'd love to join you for New Year's Eve," she responded brightly. "What did you have in mind?"
"Well, Gloria and I had reservations at Benton's, until she and her boyfriend got back together. Did she tell you? They made up on Christmas Eve. So now they've made other plans and I was going to have to cancel if you hadn't agreed to accompany me."
"Don't you dare!" Caroline exclaimed.
.... There is more of this story ...