Chapter 32

The vanilla and chocolate soft-serve ice cream dripped over the cone and onto my hand while I stood in front of the vendor. I attempted to lick the sweet confection off the backside of my thumb and, instead, succeeded at bumping my nose into the frozen twirled treat. I wiped my free hand across my nose and giggled. “You can’t take me anywhere.”

Brad brushed the tip of my nose with his finger and grinned. “I think it’s cute. Perfection is so overrated.”

I laughed some more. “Maybe so.”

Finding two unoccupied wrought-iron chairs outside the quaint downtown ice cream shoppe, Brad offered me the first one and waited for me to sit down. He then eased himself onto the chair on the opposite side of the table.

“Thank you for the treat,” I nodded to my cone. “It’s very tasty.” I took a couple licks from around the edges, trying to beat the evening heat as it hastened my enjoyment.

Brad’s gaze lingered on my face. “My pleasure.”

Lowering my cone, I refused to cower under his intense visual examination. “As much as I appreciate this li’l excursion tonight, I need to be up front with you about something.” I held his stare, watching his eyes sparkle.

“Certainly. What’s up?” He spooned a small bite of ice cream into his mouth and waited for me to continue.

“You don’t know this,” I said, “but I just moved back to Florida a couple weeks ago. As well-intentioned as Val was by introducing us this evening, I’m not looking for a relationship or anyone to date.”

Brad grinned, exuding confidence. “Yeah, Val mentioned something a couple weeks ago about you coming home from college. I figured you probably weren’t going to be here long—being mid-semester and all—but that’s OK. There aren’t a whole lot of people in our age bracket hanging out at church, if you hadn’t noticed.” His eyes twinkled. “I’m happy to take what I can get, for as long as I can get it.”

I raised an eyebrow. “And, here, I thought our meeting tonight was a chance encounter.”

His eyes danced as he laughed. “Well, it kind of was. I wasn’t supposed to be on kid duty tonight, but someone called in sick last minute, and I offered to cover for her. I admit, I didn’t know who you were when I first saw you, but I put two and two together after Val’s introduction.”

“Sneaky li’l thing, that Val,” I validated her craftiness.

Brad snagged another bite of ice cream between our banter, scraping the bottom of his bowl. “Don’t worry. I’m used to it.”

“Used to what?” I asked, intrigued by his flippancy.

“Being set up,” he smirked.

“Oh, and this happens to you often?” I licked excess ice cream from the edge of my cone, unimpressed by his cockiness.

Brad’s cheeks turned a rosy shade of pink. “I didn’t mean it like that, but yeah. Often enough.”

I took a couple large bites of ice cream, leveling the remaining small mound at the cone. “Whatever the case, I didn’t want you to get the wrong idea about why I’m here,” I clarified. I batted my eyelashes, warding off the oncoming brain freeze making its way across my temples.

“And what idea might that be? That you’re a girl who likes ice cream? Or that you’re being friends with the semi-new guy in town so he doesn’t have to endure a sugar high all by himself?” Brad’s playful smile feigned innocence while he licked his spoon clean.

“Umm…well….” I hadn’t expected a comeback.

His smile broadened at my flustered state. “I must say, it’s been nice getting to hang out with someone who isn’t ready for the geriatric ward or who is so young they feel they need to add ‘Mister’ in front of my name.”

I chuckled and relaxed my guard. “Fair enough. Just as long as we’re on the same page.”

“Absolutely.” His dimples deepened, his easy-going mannerisms drawing me in.

“Well, since we’re here and have a few minutes, why don’t you tell me a little about yourself,” I coaxed. “Who’s this Brad guy sitting in front of me?”

Brad tilted his head and stroked his chin, as if contemplating a tough question. “How long do ya got?” he winked.

“Let’s see…what you can squeeze into ten minutes?” I looked down at my watch and noted the time. “You’re on the clock. Go!”

“Only ten minutes, eh?” Amusement lit up his eyes.

“Clock’s ticking.” I started humming the Jeopardy! tune, pausing just long enough to add, “You could start with your last name.”

Brad beamed, his praise swift. “The girl is quick on her feet. I like that.” Theatrically clearing his throat, he proceeded to formally introduce himself in a James Bond fashion. “My name is Moore—Bradley Moore—but, that’s not all. You should know that whoever ends up with me gets Moore.” He allowed a moment for his joke to set in.

I rolled my eyes and groaned at the same time. “Boo…that’s bad!”

Brad’s grin widened as he held up his hands in protest. “Hey! Don’t blame me. This catchy charm originated with my mother.” He flirted mercilessly with his eyes.

“Sure. Blame your poor ol’ mom,” I razzed, shaking my head. “The woman isn’t even here to defend herself. How uncouth!”

“Now there’s a word you don’t hear every day,” Brad joshed. His infectious laugh echoed off the neighboring buildings. “Do you carry a dictionary in your back pocket?”

“Don’t need one. It’s all up here.” I tapped on my brain. For not wanting to date, something about you sure makes me want to reconsider, I mused. I glanced at my watch and tapped its face. “Still ticking.”

Brad pretended to deeply ponder his next response while patting the tip of his spoon against his bottom lip. “Let’s see. What else should I tell you about me?” He squinted into the distance, as if doing so would bring his answer into focus. “Well, I guess you might want to know I’ve dated a lot.” He glanced my direction, wondering if he’d invoked a response. I made eye contact, yet remained unfazed. “I know, I know. You’re not supposed to bring up past relationships when going out with someone new,” he attempted to excuse his behavior, “but this isn’t a date, remember?”

“Touché.” I marveled at his quick wit.

“In all honesty, I haven’t really dated many women. I just said that to see how you’d react.” He eyed me curiously. “Surprisingly, you didn’t flinch.”

“I’ve learned not to be surprised by a lot of things,” I answered. “So, how many serious girlfriends have you had?”

He shrugged. “I dunno. Two. Maybe three. I’m not a player. I’m a one-woman kind of guy. When it comes to love and romance, I’m a pure sap through and through—but, shh, don’t tell anyone. I like to keep ’em guessing.” He covered his lips with the tip of his pointer finger, as if guarding a well-hidden secret.

I pretended to twist an imaginary lock on my lips and played along. “I promise. I won’t tell.” Brad grinned.

“Most people probably consider me old fashioned,” he continued. “I’m known to have very conservative views.”

“Do tell.” I watched as he pushed up his sleeves while I finished the last of my cone.

“For starters, I don’t believe in sex before marriage. I believe God made sex to be shared within the confines of a committed relationship; and if He believes it’s worth waiting for, so do I.” A defined nod solidified his stance.

A man with similar beliefs. I like that, I thought. “I’m impressed. So, how is it that you’re still single?”

Brad leaned on his forearms and blushed. “It’s been hard finding someone with common interests,” he answered, seemingly intrigued by my attentiveness. “I believe if you’re not growing together, you’re growing apart; so, common goals are a must.”

“True,” I agreed, “especially when you have high standards. You need someone who will meet your expectations, or you’ll constantly be dealing with disappointments and misunderstandings. I admire a guy who gets that and refuses to settle. That’s a rare trait these days.”

“I couldn’t agree more.” Brad extended his arms to expose an attitude of openness. “What you see is what you get.”

“Another rare trait,” I smiled. “I’ve never understood why some people think they need to act like somebody they’re not in order to gain acceptance.”

“Me, either,” Brad paralleled my distaste. “Fake people repulse me.”

“Me, too!” I matched his enthusiasm. “You know, I haven’t met many guys like you. It’s rare coming across someone so authentic.” If, in fact, this is real and not some sort of act, I internally assessed.

“You know, I was thinking the same thing about you,” he flattered me.

“Aww, thank you. That’s nice of you to say.” I could feel my cheeks beginning to warm. “Just out of curiosity, what made you decide to bring up the topic of sex? That’s kind of an intimate subject for a first conversation, don’t ya think?”

“Some might think so,” he readily gave credit, “but I’ve found if you lay everything out there from the start, then you don’t have to worry later about awkward moments and where the other person is coming from or if they have any hidden agendas. Since sex is off the table, you’re free to be you, and I’m free to be me. Make sense?”

“Actually, it does,” I replied. Having nothing to lose and everything to gain, I chose to bolster his ego some more. “These are some pretty good answers from a guy who’s being put on the spot. What else ya got?”

His eyes met mine, and for a brief moment, I felt transparent.

“Well, you already know that I’m an only child, and you know that I was born and raised in Cali—earlier years in northern Cal, teen years in So-Cal—but have I told you, yet, how awesome my mom is?” His chest swelled at the mere mention of her name.

“I believe you started to,” I grinned.

He released a contented sigh. “There are so many wonderful things about my mother. She’s kind and brave and strong, and she has energy that would make the Energizer Bunny envious,” he chuckled. “In a nutshell, she’s a joy to be around and a real positive influence in my life.” He paused to watch me laugh. “When I was a kid, my mom involved herself in everything that went on at school—including the PTA,” he added. “She even headed it up one year—organizing a Fall fair and rallying all the parents together for several fundraisers to help a local family in crisis. She has a soft heart and a natural ministry for serving others.”

I tuned into Brad’s intimate tone and warmed at his sentiment. “She sounds quite special.”

“She is,” he nodded. Tenderness enveloped his words. “She’s my greatest supporter and biggest fan. I’ve never taken that for granted.”

My heart melted. “Those are the best kind to have.” I reflected on my own relationship with my mother, thankful her support had sustained me through so many ups and downs.

“Yeah, my mom is that parent you see cheering on the sidelines at football and basketball games, waving banners, and shouting while blowing an air horn,” Brad bragged. “She’s a very pervasive spirit—to say the least.”

I smiled at his description. “She sounds like a positive role model.”

Brad nodded, again. “When I think of my future, I envision her in it: baking cookies with her grandkids, attending all their music recitals and sporting events—just being there—like she’s always been for me. You would love her—everybody does. She’s a very down-to-earth person.”

I grinned some more. “Well, if she’s anything like you describe, I’m sure I would.”

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