Worth A Thousand Words ~ Second in the Cupid Series
Cupid smiled and clapped with glee as he watched his most recent success story, Lance and Rusty, walk down an Orlando street, hand-in-hand after their sixth official date. He almost patted himself on the back (and probably would have if his arms weren’t on the short and chubby side). Instead, he regretfully reached into the cloud he was sitting on and retrieved the clipboard and his Ain’t Never Gonna Happen list.
Almost a full month had passed since he had so proudly crossed Rusty’s name off the list and had arrogantly decided to start working on another of his impossible projects. Yet, in all that time, and with all the hours spent watching the city of Orlando, he had yet to spot a girl who would be able to put up Justin Timberlake, the person and the celebrity.
It wasn’t fair, he grumbled to himself as he flopped back onto his cloud with a dejected sigh. He’d felt so…successful after getting Rusty and Lance together. He’d thought that with all his romantic ability and recent success, it should have been a snap. But nooooo, Justin had to go and be his difficult little self, right when Cupid thought he might be able to grab just any girl off the street and send her his way.
Speaking of random girls…Cupid dug himself a peep hole through the cloud (it took a LOT of energy, after all, to actually sit back up to look over the edge of the cloud) and checked again on Lance and Rusty. They were still happily meandering along the flower lined path in the Orlando park. Lost in their own little world. If he wasn’t a cherub that thrived on love, their little twitterpated goo-goo eyes might have made him sick. Still, it was almost too much, even for him. His eyes began to wander…and landed upon the frazzled, distracted form of Sheena Brandon. Cupid could almost FEEL the wheels turning in his brain as he watched her absentmindedly leave her photo album on the park bench. Suddenly rejuvenated, he sat up and began scanning Orlando for a certain young pop star…
Justin growled to himself as he flipped the cell phone closed. It would just figure that Lance would walk off after accidentally grabbing HIS cell phone. Although Justin couldn’t actually REMEMBER leaving his cell phone in a place where it would get switched with Lance’s, obviously ONE of them had been a little dazed at this morning’s group breakfast. And Justin’s money was riding on his friend, whose head had been stuck in the clouds for the last couple of weeks.
As Justin put a quarter in the parking meter and wandered away from the street and into the park, he tried to figure out WHY he had gotten the sudden urge to switch back cell phones right this instant. For one thing, Justin knew that by calling Lance to report the switch and make a plan to change phones, he would be interrupting a disgustingly happy date. For another, it wasn’t like he’d missed his own phone at all between their ten o’clock brunch with the guys and his discovery ten minutes ago at four. All Justin knew was that he wanted his own phone NOW, even if it meant chasing Lance and Rusty down in some lovey, dovey, happy, little park.
And then he noticed something out of the corner of his eye. Well, seeing as how the cover of the little book was neon orange, it would have been rather hard to miss. Although he seemed to be the only one compelled to pick it up and check it out, he noticed as he sat on the bench it had been lying on and watched other people pass by without seeming to care that someone had left or lost this little–he flipped the cover–photo album. That first photo drew him in though, and he forgot the rest of the world walking past him.
It was a 4x6 photo of two girls. One of them was model skinny with legs that seemed to go on forever. She was looking at the camera, her impossibly bright blue eyes seeming to know the secret to life. She looked into the camera with her dark lashes lowered, her sleek blond hair sweeping elegantly across her brow and the corner of an eye. A knowing smile played about her lips and she seemed to own the picture, the camera, and the photographer.
And yet, even for all that, it was the other girl who snagged his attention.
She looked absolutely nothing like the first girl. Obviously shorter, obviously rounder, and obviously messier, she seemed to be the opposite of her cool, sleek, elegant companion. Her jeans had a gaping hole in one knee and white paint splattters on the other leg. They looked broken in, comfortable, well-used and well-loved. Rather like his favorite gray sweat pants (his mom called them his lazy pants). Her t-shirt was the kind of white t-shirt you could buy at K-Mart, 20 shirts for ten bucks. Its uniqueness lay in the design–colorful children’s handprints covered as much as he could see, and the names had been penned with black permanent marker in hectic, disjointed children’s scrawl. Her black hair was pulled into two messy pigtails, she wore no makeup, and ended up looking like she was fifteen. But it was her eyes and mouth that really held his attention. She had obviously been laughing when the picture was taken, a look that seemed natural and fitting on her. And her eyes–her smile reached them, unlike other people and their forced photo smiles. Their smoky gray color held a secret all of their own–the secret to happiness.
Justin must have stared at that photo–at that smile and those eyes–for a good couple of minutes before a nearby falling acorn snapped him out of his reverie. His fingers working quickly and seemingly with a mind of their own, he pulled the picture out and flipped it over, hoping against hope to find some kind of info about that girl. And he was in luck–kind of. Small, neat, and even writing captioned the photo: “Pizza Hut, Mike, Tonya and I; February 20, 2003.”
Great, he thought sarcastically, that was a big help. It wasn’t till he’d carefully replaced the photo into its coverslip and turned the page that he struck gold. It was a picture of the dark-haired girl, standing in front of a building proclaiming to be Salinas Elementary School. The picture had captured the same natural vivaciousness he had noticed in the first photo, her arms flung wide in a dramatic pose, that same laughing expression.
He almost ripped the coverslip in his hurry to see the back of the photo–and the widest grin settled on his face when he read the elegant, cursive message: “September 18, 2002–Our little Sheena, all ready for her first day of school. We love you babe and wish you luck–You’re gonna need it. (We’ve all seen Kindergarten Cop!) Love Tonya and Mike.”
Justin was still staring at the photo and grinning like an idiot when Lance and Rusty stumbled across him.
(October 3, 2003)
Sheena was in the middle of a tug-of-war when HE walked in. HIM. She suddenly found it hard to breathe and even harder to swallow. And she almost forgot that she was the object of said tug-of-war.
Thankfully, Janet and Brad brought her back to her senses before she drooled on the cheap, industrial carpet. It took a moment, but she finally remembered the solution she’d come up with for the tug-of-war problem before he’d walked in and her brain had flown out the window.
Pulling the two kids to her, and subsequently each other, she effectively ended their attempts to tear her in half. Kneeling down, she quietly suggested, “Brad, why don’t you show the jet you drew to Janet? And Janet, honey, how about having Brad help you with the computer game?”
It took all of two seconds for their expected reactions. They both protested her idea at the same time.
“What would SHE know about jets? She’s a girl!”
“He doesn’t know how to get past level 12! I bet he’s never even played.”
Sheena was feeling rather smug when both five-year-olds immediately denied the other’s claim. The next thing she knew, Brad was running to the computer to prove he could too help her and Janet was grabbing his drawing to prove that a girl knew something about jets.
“Well, that was handled rather nicely.”
That sexy voice, the one she’d heard in her dreams last night was right behind her. Remembering the nature of that dream (Sheena blamed it on the fact that the line, “Better have you naked by the end of this song,” was the last thing she remembered hearing before falling asleep), her face flamed and she was back to reminding herself to breathe. The damn dream had been so vivid, it replayed in her mind like a DVD, including surround sound. Whispers. Moans. Oh God, this was NOT what she needed to be thinking about in front of her class of twenty five-year-olds! But in trying to erase the sounds from her mind, her dream-playback sense of feel increased twofold. Skin on skin. A hand skimming over her thigh. Her fingers twisted in his hair. And his mouth…oh God, that mouth…
Before she let herself get carried away with the damn dream, she whirled around to face the man of her dreams (literally!). Wanting to face him, to look him in the eyes, and not let her embarrassment be too obvious, she tried to make her gaze meet his. But she was too afraid he might see…well, she didn’t know what, but there was no way in hell she wanted him to sense that he had been her dream lover. Instead, she focused on his smile. That sexy-as-all-HELL grin. His lips slightly parted. His tongue darting out to wet his lips. Oh damn it all to hell–that tongue!
Get a grip, get a grip, get a–NO, do not think about his curls!
Oh Christ, she was acting like she was thirteen! Must talk, must talk. Say something! “Can I help you?”
She just hoped to God that the break in her voice hadn’t been as obvious to him as it had been to her!
Justin felt like crying, he was so disappointed. Yesterday, there had been something about her picture–something that had lured him out of bed at nine in the morning and driving across town. If ever a picture had been worth a thousand words, those first two pictures in the album had been.
But now…the disappointment swept over him. She was a teeny. The kind of fan who got tongue-tied on TRL because she was meeting the man of her dreams–a man that she actually knew absolutely nothing about.
Well, at least this was one teeny who managed to say SOMEthing…well, squeak something. “Uh, I found this in the park yesterday. The main office said I could find you here.”
She was giving him a confused look and it took him a moment to realize it was because she couldn’t take her eyes off his mouth long enough to see that he was holding her photo album out to her. He licked his lips nervously, wondering how to gracefully and tactfully bring her attention to his hands, and saw her eyes widen at the nervous gesture. Well, not her eyes–her pupils dilated, the black centers enlarging and he heard the slightest of hitches in her breathing. His body instinctively began to react to the signals he was receiving from her. He groaned inwardly; this was NOT happening in the middle of a kindergarten classroom!
He cleared his throat, yet another nervous gesture, and found his voice again. “Uh, your photo album.”
His words, accompanied with his practically shoving the unnoticed item into her hand, finally broke the spell.
When her eyes fell to his hands and she automatically took back the album, he saw surprise and embarrassment and recognition flash across her face. Embarrassment was the only thing that stayed, her face quickly turning pink. “Oh crap! You must think I’m an idiot. I was just a little…um…surprised when you walked in the door.”
“I could tell,” he remarked dryly. And then he immediately felt bad, because he could tell he’d just embarrassed her even more, and his mother would’ve smacked him upside the head for not being much of a gentleman. He tried to lighten the mood a little, relieve the color flooding her face. “Not everyday a famous popstar walks into your classroom?”
“What?” she asked, blinking a little in surprise and some confusion. “No, that wasn’t it. It was just that…” her explanation faltered. “Uh yeah, that was it. I mean, you’re Justin Timberlake.”
Justin could tell she was lying and found himself wondering what she had really been about to say. In his experience, a twenty-something young woman would not readily admit to being a teeny. So whatever the truth was, it had to be pretty good to make the embarrassment of being a teeny seem appealing. He grinned. “You’re lying.”
He could tell she was startled. “What? No, I’m not!”
His smile widened. She was so cute when she was lying–mainly because she was so bad at it. “I’ve seen a lot of screaming teenies in my days. You’re not one of them.” And that little truism was a large part of his smile. He no longer felt like crying in disappointment, instead he wanted to do a jig, or something equally ridiculous. The laughing, real girl he’d been drawn to and had tracked down might prove to be worth the trouble after all.
Making a face and practically forcing the words out through clenched teeth, she growled, “I am too a teenybopper. See, look at me, stuttering and fainting in delight that my idol just walked through my door.”
Laughing, he shook his head at the distaste she obviously felt towards that wonderful lie. “It must be a pretty good explanation if you’d rather be a teeny.”
“Dang it, I’m not lying! I’m a teeny. I worship the ground you walk on, I’ve already named our children, you’re my sex god. Uh, blah, blah, blah. See?”
Justin found it interesting that her protests had faltered a little over the sex god part, but before he could explore THAT little detail, he felt a little hand tugging on his pants leg.
What had to be the smallest kindergartner ever was smiling shyly up at him. One hand was twirling her uncontrollable brown curls, and once she got his attention, her other hand waved at him.
Crouching down (and she was STILL too small to be at eye level with him), he smiled at her. “Hi, what’s your name?”
She’d put her one hand in the pocket of her little jeans, but used the finger tangled in her curls to point at him. “You’re Justin.”
Chuckling, he tapped her on the nose. “That’s right. And who are you?”
She continued to smile at him, now rocking back and forth on her heels. Apparently, she was done talking! Justin glanced up at Sheena, silently asking for a little help. Sheena’s grin was rather evil. Understandably, she was enjoying his predicament after he’d enjoyed her embarrassment, but he shot her a dirty look, regardless of the fact that he didn’t exactly deserve her help.
“Hmmm,” Justin said, tapping his chin thoughtfully. “Is it alright if I guess?”
“Is it…Mary?” Negative head shake. “Jennifer? Jessica? Melissa? Angela? Tonya? Brittany? Rebecca? Fred?”
At that, she giggled, and for the first time, her smile showed her teeth…or rather, lack thereof her two front ones. Her hand clapped over her mouth pretty quickly, and Justin wondered when, and how, she’d lost them, but she seemed to still be enjoying the game, so he continued.
“Okay, it’s not Fred. What about George?”
She giggled again, although it was muffled behind her hand, and nodded. His eyes widened in mock amazement. “You mean I finally got it right? And it only took me two hours?”
Speaking from behind her hand, she said, “Georgia.”
Justin pretended he hadn’t heard her. “I’m sorry. Did you say Genevieve? I thought you said it was George!”
“Georgia.” Still behind the hand.
“Grace?” He held his own hand to his ear.
“Georgia!” Still behind the hand.
Finally, she took her hand away. “Georgia!” She then stuck her tongue out at him, through the gap in her teeth. Flashing him a teeth-showing grin, she turned and ran off.
Standing back up, he fixed the teacher with a wry look. “Thanks.”
She was staring at him, no longer with the pay-back look in her eyes. “No, thank you. George hasn’t talked without her hand over her mouth since she lost the teeth three days ago.”
Justin was a little taken aback. “Are you serious? How come? What happened to her teeth?”
“Her mom said she tripped and hit her mouth on the coffee table. Apparently, the doctor told her it might be a couple of years before her other teeth would come in, and she’s had her mouth covered ever since.”
He was about to reply when he felt the same insistent tug on his pants. Georgia was back.
Crouching back down, he ruffled her curls (after the years he’d endured of being ruffled, it was only fair other children should get the same). “Hello, George.”
“Hi, Justin. Can you sign this for me?”
He nodded, glad to see that the hand-over-the-mouth gesture didn’t accompany her question. Taking the pen and marker box that she’d put a couple of magazine cut-outs of him on, he talked as he wrote a quick message. “Your teacher was just telling me about you and your new friend, the coffee table. You know, I lost my two front teeth when I was your age.”
Her eyes widened at that. “You did? Did you hit a table too?”
“Nope. Mine was more embarrassing.”
“Well, I was teasing this girl in my class that I kind of had a crush on. Turned out, Liz had a crush on me too. She turned around and hit me. And then I had to admit to everyone that a girl had knocked my teeth out. I’ve been a perfect gentleman ever since.” Justin ignored the unladylike snort of disbelief that came from Sheena, who was still observing the two.
“Did you have to wait a long time for your new teeth to come? Can you sign this for my sister, Morgan?”
Justin took the scrap of paper she’d handed him, shifting so he could write on the mini-table he was crouching next to. “It took a year or two, but then everyone thought I was seven instead of five since I’d already lost my baby teeth.” Justin ignored the fact that her size made her look like she was four instead of five.
“Cool!” She grinned, obviously liking that. “My little sister, Heather, is three and people always ask if we’re twins, but she’s a baby and I’m not. Can you sign this for her?”
She and Justin exchanged scraps of paper, and continued talking about looking older. By the time they finished talking and he finished signing, he’d discovered that George had five sisters total, four best friends who weren’t in this class, and seven girl cousins who also needed autographed scraps. Before any of the other kids in the class realized who he was and asked him to sign something, George invited him to play Duck, Duck, Goose and got most of the class involved in the game.
Sheena could only stand and stare in wonder as her shyest student suddenly came out of her shell, talking to her favorite singer and getting him and the rest of the class to play a game with her. It was hard enough for her to get George to play group games, but Sheena had never seen her INITIATE anything with her classmates.
As Sheena pulled out a chair and pretty much dropped into it, she decided to get comfortable for this little show. Being a kindergarten teacher, it really shouldn’t have surprised her to realize that a guy who could play Duck, Duck, Goose with twenty five-year-olds was incredibly sexy. But after the already sexified dream, she was surprised; for something so cute and innocent to turn her on after THAT…
Oh God, if she had been drooling BEFORE she had seen this, she would surely be a babbling idiot by the time he left her classroom. Even more so when she realized that he had taken a two-second break from the game long enough to sit next to her lone wolf student, Alex, and talk quietly with him. This time, she actually wasn’t surprised when Alex put the blocks down. Blocks that he NEVER left alone or looked up from, even when SHE was talking to him.
Hmm, maybe she could kidnap Justin and keep him in this room forever as a teacher’s aide. Her kidnapping scheme, unfortunately for her already over-turned-on temperature, led to more wicked thoughts. About how to spend all those hours when there wouldn’t be kids around. About all the delicious ways she could…
God, what was happening to her?! She had never before acted like this around a guy or even thought of one like she was thinking of Justin.
Who knew? Maybe it was the fact that she had already “spent the night” with him, technically speaking, that made him so different from other guys. Maybe it was the fact that he could play a game with kindergartners unselfconsciously.
“Penny for your thoughts?” The sound of a coin dropping onto the table top in front of her snapped her out of her thoughts as much as the sexy drawl had.
Justin watched her cheeks flame as her eyes connected with his. He knew his smile was half smirk, half sexy grin as he continued his teasing, “Or are those thoughts…worth a little bit more?”
He really shouldn’t take so much pleasure in her embarrassment, but it was too hard to resist. She was so damn cute when she was trying to deny something, and he waited in anticipation for the expected arguments.
But was he ever surprised when she kept the eye contact–and added her own little devilish grin. “You sure you can handle them, big boy?”
He could tell by the way her eyes widened that even SHE had been a little shocked by her teasing. But she covered it well, reaching out a quick hand to snag the still wobbling penny. That you-know-you-want-me grin on his face evolved into a full blown smile.
Unfortunately, his watch alarm started beeping, reminding him of a previously scheduled appointment that he couldn’t be late for. Damn, what he wouldn’t give to find out what she had really been thinking. They had to be good thoughts–engrossing enough that he doubted she’d noticed her kids leaving for lunch, or that they’d lined up at the door and she had absentmindedly waved them out. Speaking of a meal…“Might they be worth dinner tonight at Chez Alice?”
She gave him a cocky grin. “Is this a date?”
“Is that a yes?”
Trying to look nonchalant about it, she shrugged. “Maybe you’ll see me there at seven tonight. Maybe you won’t.”
Justin grinned at her before making his way towards the door. Oh, she’d be there alright. She was too interested NOT to show–his first clue being that as he closed the door behind him, he heard her ask in a rather bewildered voice, “Hey, where’d everybody go?”
Cupid was doing a victory dance up on his cloud. Anyone who had ever known him would have dropped dead in shock at the sight of the laziest person they knew, dancing for what could pass as a football player’s touchdown moves. But he couldn’t help himself!
Dropping back onto the cloud in mid-step, he crossed Justin’s name off with a little bit of flourish. Combine one sexy, kid-loving, patience-wearing popstar with an exuberant, life-filled, laughing kindergarten teacher and watch the sparks fly.
Speaking of the list and sparks, two more names from the clipboard jumped out at him. Knowing their history, Cupid found it somewhat amusing that they had BOTH ended up on his Ain’t Never Gonna Happen list. Amusement aside though, it really was time for Chris Kirkpatrick and Reese Verrazano to cross paths again…