|Closer to the Heart
Author: The Laughing Libra PM
HM: FoMT, Gotz x Ann. After the deaths of his wife and his daughter, Gotz swore he'd never let anyone get close to him again. Can a certain redheaded innkeeper's daughter find a way into his heart?Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Romance - Ann & Gotz - Chapters: 3 - Words: 14,264 - Reviews: 14 - Favs: 9 - Follows: 5 - Updated: 05-30-08 - Published: 04-01-08 - id: 4170932
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Closer to the Heart
Winter 13 – Missing Opportunities
The next morning, Ann knocked at Gotz's door promptly at seven. Though she had come a little later to avoid a repeat of yesterday's pajama party, she couldn't help but feel a little disappointed that, when he answered the door, he was both fully awake and fully dressed.
It was really too bad, Ann thought to herself impishly. He was certainly not at all unpleasant to look at in an open shirt. She grinned internally as she remembered how Gotz had looked, and though she took care that her train of thought didn't show on her face, he still frowned knowingly at her as she entered the house. How could he know? she thought in amazement. Was she that easy to read?
Well, he was certainly confusing to read. Perhaps that was why Harris had been able to leap to such a ridiculous conclusion yesterday. Ann had realized, albeit with a slight delayed reaction, from that comment Harris had made that he had thought that she and Gotz were secretly dating, and after explaining the real situation to him, she had teased Harris about his dirty mind all the way home.
She and Gotz, a couple? Where did Harris get his ideas?! She remembered Gotz's wife had been very dainty and refined, exactly the opposite of herself—She couldn't be "dainty" if her life depended on it. She was certainly not Gotz's type, and she had told Harris so.
"Well, he certainly must like you," Harris had replied, defending his position, "or else he'd never agree to let you hang around all week. I've never known him to be so sociable in all the time I've known him."
"Sociable?! Ha," she had scoffed. Still, she was pleased with the compliment. Maybe she would be able to get Gotz to talk to Dad after all.
Greeting Gotz cheerfully as she walked to the fireplace, she removed her snowy outerwear. She was rather surprised to get a clear and coherent reply of "good morning" out of him. A promising start to the morning, she thought happily to herself. However, she had no time to waste, so she headed for the kitchen to start Gotz's breakfast.
She was rather surprised yet again when, a few minutes later, Gotz wandered in. He took up a place leaning against a counter at the other end of the kitchen, however, no conversation seemed forthcoming. Instead, Ann watched him in confusion while he fixed her for some moments with an inexplicable look, then shook his head and walked out.
"Oookay. That was weird," Ann said to herself, watching the french toast brown as she wondered what the heck that was about. Did she do something wrong? What could it be? Suddenly, she was struck by a thought—could it be what Harris said genuinely upset him? Gotz was very sensitive, and you'd have to be a fool not to see that he was very loyal to the memory of his wife. He might have been really insulted. She frowned. Stupid Harris.
She tried to put Harris' comment out of her mind as brought Gotz his breakfast. "So how's your morning?" she asked cheerfully.
Gotz, not looking at her, grunted some sort of response. Well, that's certainly a step down from the hello I got earlier, she thought glumly. Let's see if I can get him talking again.
Unfortunately, her next few attempts to get him to open up failed just as badly. So instead, Ann decided to do what she often ended up doing with Cliff: carrying the conversation herself. She informed Gotz that she was intending to only clean the living/dining area for a few hours this afternoon, and make up the rest of the time tomorrow. Today was Ellen's birthday, and she had promised Elli that she'd personally make Mom's famous chocolate cake for the party, which was being hosted at the inn. Ann had treasured the recipe when her mom had given it to her a few weeks before she died, and she only made it on very rare occasions to keep it even more special. Ellen's 80th birthday was certainly an event that qualified for the cake.
She told Gotz all about the party and the cake while he ate. Gotz nodded along to show he was listening, but said almost nothing, though he did seem to perk up a little. It really did remind her very strongly of talking with Cliff, except that Gotz didn't stare self-consciously at the floor.
"I don't suppose you'd like to come?" she called to him as she took his plate into the kitchen. When she came back into the dining room he gave her a "what do you think?" look but softened it with a "no, thank you." She nodded and shrugged on her coat. "Well, I really should run home and bake. I'll come and clean while it's cooling, and then frost it right before the party. Think of how yummy and fresh it will taste—you still have a few hours to change your mind, you know. I'll ask you again before I leave this afternoon." She bowed before she headed out the door. "Bye!"
Gotz walked her to the door. She was happy to receive a rather upbeat—by Gotz's standards, at least—reply of "good bye" from him as he shut the door behind her. Ann smiled. Today was turning out great—and there was still Ellen's party yet to come! She was really looking forward to it. Almost everyone in town was coming. Though it was extremely unlikely, her smiled brightened as she allowed herself to fantasize about how cool it would be if Gotz came, too.
After Ann left, Gotz decided to kick around the house before he actually started the day's work. To his great annoyance, he found himself fidgeting a lot and unable to settle on any activity for more than a few minutes at a time. Well, it was no surprise why.
Despite his best efforts, all last evening and early this morning his thoughts insisted on dwelling on Ann. Well, at least it was only logical, he reasoned, seeing so much of her lately. The only person he saw more of was Harris, and given the choice, if he had to think about one of them, Harris certainly wouldn't be his preference.
Harris. He was such an idiot. While Ann was cooking, Gotz had gone into the kitchen, intending to pour himself a cup of coffee, but had ended up stopping and staring at Ann, trying to imagine them as a couple. He just couldn't picture it and, shaking his head while wondering just where the hell Harris got his ideas, wandered back out of the kitchen without ever getting his drink.
It wasn't until a few minutes afterwards that he realized how weird his actions must have looked to Ann, and cursing himself, fell back onto the familiar pattern of dealing with uncomfortable social situations by grunting and being rude. But Ann sat down and talked to him while he ate breakfast in just as cheerful and carefree a mood as when she arrived. It was amazing how his crabbiness didn't seem to both her. She was so nice. It was impossible to stay embarrassed and awkward around her.
Still, part of him—well, most of him, actually—didn't like how comfortable it felt having Ann around. He sighed and sat down in front of the fire to warm himself. A fresh gust of chilly wind had blown in when Ann had opened up the door to leave, so the house was colder than usual. He was turning his hands back and forth in front of the blaze, when out of the corner of his eye he noticed that Ann dropped what he would have thought was a small makeup bag, only that Ann didn't look to wear makeup. Looking inside, he found her old high school ID, a zipped money purse, and pictures of her parents and friends. It must be what passed for her wallet, and probably fell out of her coat when she hung it up. Gotz got up and left it on a table near the front door where she'd see it when she came back.
However, when Gotz turned his attention back to the fire, he found himself continuously glancing back at the bag. Even though he knew Ann would be back in a few hours to claim it, he couldn't help but wonder if she was planning to buy the ingredients for the cake with the money she left behind. He kept picturing Ann hunting around in the cold and snow outside for where she might have dropped it, worrying that she was losing time to bake. Finally, he couldn't take in anymore and grabbed his coat with a grunt. God, this was annoying! He'd bring her back the thing so he could get some peace. It hasn't even been a half hour yet, so it shouldn't be too hard to find her.
He had Ann's bag in his pocket and his hand on the door before he could stop himself. What was he doing?! Here he was, about to crawl all over town deliberately tracking down a woman he hadn't wanted around him in the first place. He took out the bag and tossed it back on the table and retreated to the fire, shedding his coat. This was stupid. Just stupid. As far as he was concerned, his time with Ann couldn't be over soon enough.
Just around noon, Gotz had been hard at work in his toolshed for several hours of blissful solitude when he heard Ann talking to someone in his front yard. Well, there was only one person that could be: Harris, although he was arriving unusually early today.
However, much to Gotz's astonishment, when he rounded the side of his house he found Ann standing on his front porch deep in conversation with a ponytailed young man Gotz absolutely didn't recognize. Gotz frowned. Who was he?
Identity aside, one thing was clear—from the bashful way the boy was acting around her, Gotz had a strong suspicion that he was interested in Ann. The boy had been staring at his feet for some moments while Ann spoke to him, but then finally said something back to her. It made Ann laugh, and Gotz suddenly decided that he didn't like this guy.
He was momentarily stunned to find that Ann was dating someone, but then he felt a little stupid—of course Ann would have a boyfriend. But… wasn't there actually a reason he thought she was single…? As he watched Ann playfully brush snow off of the boy's shaggy bangs, it was somehow hard to concentrate.
Ann finally noticed Gotz standing there. "Oh, hi! I don't think you've met Cliff. Not only was he nice enough to help me set up for the party, but then he valiantly braved the cold to walk here with me," she said, grinning at Cliff.
Brave the cold was right, thought Gotz, because though the boy was dressed in furs, he wasn't wearing a coat, and his arms were completely exposed to the elements. What, was he trying to impress Ann with his toughness or something? Idiot.
"You left your wallet here," Gotz said in way of a response. He'd be damned before he'd exchange introductions with this moronic delinquent.
"Did I?" asked Ann in confusion. She put her hand in her coat pocket. "Oh gosh, it is gone! I didn't even know!" She grinned at Gotz. "Well, I'm glad someone honest found it. I mean, if Stu had found it, I'd never see it again, right, Cliff?"
Cliff laughed lightly while Gotz could only wonder who the hell Stu was. Another one of Ann's beaux? Gotz found himself frowning that he couldn't share the reference with Ann. The fact that someone like Cliff could share it with her made Gotz feel for the first time a bit regretful that he was alienated from the rest of the town.
"So I'll see you later at the party, right?" Ann said rhetorically to Cliff. She pinched one of Cliff's skinny arms. "I'm going to make you eat all the cake you can stomach!"
Cliff grinned, rubbing his arm. "I'm looking forward to it." He had a very soft voice. Gotz didn't know how Ann could stand him.
Cliff waved a goodbye and started walking back to town via Jack's farm. Ann watched him go for a second before turning her attention to Gotz. "So, I wasn't expecting to see you yet. I thought you'd be working for a few more hours."
"I am still working," said Gotz, before pausing in confusion. That's right, he was still working. Why did he leave the shed? Because he heard Ann's voice, that's why. Could it be…?
He and Ann reached the same conclusion at the same time—"Ah-ha!" she exclaimed, pointing straight at his face in a mock accusatory manner. "You actually came out to greet me!" she said excitedly.
"I wouldn't say that—It's just—your wallet and…" Gotz said, stuttering.
"Aww! I feel so happy! You like me!" Ann said, looking really touched. She smiled that goofy grin of hers so brightly the warmth touched her eyes.
Gotz hadn't seen a smile like that in a long time. He could feel his cheeks coloring and was grateful for his beard. "Well—you're not as annoying as I thought you'd be," he conceded, rubbing the back of his head and looking away from her.
Ann snorted back a laugh. "You know, you'd be surprised how often I get that as a compliment!" she said, opening Gotz's unlocked front door. She stepped inside and Gotz followed her. She continued, "Gray—one of our permanent residents at the inn—he said that to me a few months after he moved in." She stomped her feet to get the snow off her shoes. "But now we're great friends. So that means, given time, you and I can be great friends, too." She smiled brightly again.
"Hnn," said Gotz, but didn't say aloud how unlikely that was. No need to dampen the Ann's spirit.
"Ah, you don't believe me," she said sagely, picking up her wallet from the table by the door and putting it back in her pocket. "But if it's so impossible, why did you not only come out greet me but, instead of going straight back to work afterwards, follow me inside the house for a chat, hmm?"
Gotz was stunned as the truth of what she said hit him. His jaw dropped. Ann, looking at his face, started snickering involuntarily. "Gosh, you look so affronted!" She held up her hands apologetically. "I was just kidding around. I know you came in to get some coffee or something. I'm sorry if I offended you by, uh, implying a false sense of intimacy." She smiled hesitantly, as if she were afraid he was really mad.
Ah. She misread his expression. Good. "It's fine," he said curtly, and realized he should head into the kitchen for the cup of coffee he "came in to get."
She grinned in relief and went into the kitchen with him. "Good. I don't mean to act like an idiot, but I was just really happy you were glad to see me at all. Unfortunately, my happiness tends to overflow into giddiness. My mom was like that, too, so blame genetics."
Gotz nodded, but didn't say anything as he poured his coffee. She opened the fridge and handed him some milk. "Well, I really need to start cleaning, or else I'll never make the party in time. Will I see you again before I go?"
Gotz quickly deliberated whether or not he should spend yet more time with her today. The fact he wanted to was exactly the reason why he shouldn't. "No," he said firmly.
"Oh." She looked disappointed. "Well, then I guess I should ask you again now. Would you like to come to Ellen's party?"
"Not even for the yummy cake?"
"Don't think I'm going to wuss out and save you a slice or anything. People who don't come to the party don't get to eat it. Can you honestly live without tasting the best cake in the world, which was lovingly prepared with my own two hands, using every ounce of my utterly amazing culinary skill?"
"I'll think I'll manage."
"Alright," Ann sighed, and pulled the bucket of cleaning products out from under the sink. "But…" She straightened up and, holding the bucket in her arms, looked him straight in the eyes.
Gotz was expecting a further silly boast about the cake until he saw how serious she looked. Puzzled, he met her gaze, unsure of what to expect. She suddenly colored and looked back down, shyly fiddling with the lip of the bucket. "It's just… I do wish you had said 'yes'…," she said finally, "And I just want you to know that I'll… miss you. The whole time." Pausing for a few moments, she then smiled awkwardly at him before turning quickly and walking out.
Ten minutes later in his work shed, Gotz was still replaying Ann's words over and over as he fussed uselessly around an unfinished endtable, trying to will himself to concentrate on work. Finally he gave up and sat down on a bench with a frustrated sigh, pondering why Ann's words were distracting him so. It was short work coming to a conclusion; he tried to remember the last time that someone asked him to go somewhere, not because it was for his own good, but because they genuinely wanted him there. He couldn't.
No wonder Ann's declaration took him by surprise. After she had left the kitchen, he had stood in there, affixed to the spot—coffee cup in one hand, yet unpoured pitcher of milk in the other. His first reaction was to be confused by what she said—why should it matter to her if he went or not? They barely knew each other.
But though he hadn't understood why it should matter to her, he had known without a doubt that it honestly did. Her eyes weren't lying when she had looked at him and spoke those words. She honestly would… miss him.
Allowing this fact to wash over him, he had been unable to deny that part of him was feeling exceptionally pleased about it. It defied all rational explanation, because, as he acknowledged before, they barely knew each other. Why should it matter to him if she missed his company?
It certainly was a puzzle, but Gotz had the distinct impression that trying to solve it would stir up too many difficult emotions—and he had certainly made an art of avoiding painful feelings. Shrugging it off, he had decided, as he had so many times before, that now was not the time to think about it. Instead, he would get back to work. To that end, he had finished making his coffee, downed it as quickly as possible, put the cup in the sink, and walked out of the kitchen.
He knew he'd have to pass by Ann, as he had to go through the living room to get to the front door. He steeled himself against her potentially wanting to converse with him; however, he had been fortunate enough to find Ann busy polishing the mantle to the fireplace, her back to him. If she had heard him come in, she didn't turn to acknowledge him. Despite his determination to go back to work, he had paused for a second and let his eyes flick over her form. Even though he couldn't see her face, he could see that the tips of her ears were red. Was she flushed from the vigor with which she worked, or was it embarrassment…?
He had hesitated a moment before deciding it was better not to find out. Ending his foolish delay, he headed briskly out to what he thought would be a welcomingly distracting afternoon of work. Well, that certainly didn't pan out, he thought, grimacing at the untouched endtable.
He scratched his beard as he wondered what he should do. Continuing the afternoon in the moony state he was in was intolerable, but it was equally impossible to tell Ann that he had decided to accept the invitation. To go to a party where everyone in town was… a large crowd… old friends… he just couldn't do it. But since she was honest with him, maybe he'd feel better if he were honest with her and just told her he'd miss seeing her, too.
Yes—it was true, wasn't it? He closed his eyes and let out a long breath as he finally accepted the reality of it. He genuinely liked her. He would miss seeing her this evening.
Well, that decides it, he thought, and firmly resolved that he would not to go and talk to her. After all, he'd better get used to not seeing her, because after she finished her hours tomorrow she'd have no more reason to hang around him. She'd leave him for good.
He knew it didn't have to be that way—that if he asked her to continue visiting him, she probably would agree to. But what would that accomplish? Aside from the fact that it reminded him of his family, Gotz cut himself off from the town because he swore to never again experience the devastation of losing someone dear to him. With no friends, Gotz had no one to lose.
Yes, it was clear Ann needed to go, and as soon as possible. Until he could get rid of her, he'd distance himself from her as much as possible. He'd stop caring for her ASAP, and soon this unpleasant feeling of missing her company would fade, and then disappear completely. With any luck, he'd be right back to his wonderfully numb existence soon enough.
Somehow, that thought didn't make him as happy as he felt it should.
To Ann's delight, Ellen's party was a huge success. Though now well into the evening, a good number of the attendees had yet to tire of dancing. Ann grinned as Karen shot a smile at her while dancing with Rick—Karen moving far more gracefully than Rick, but Rick more than equaling Karen's enthusiasm. Though Ann herself wasn't dancing at the moment—she was tending bar so her dad could have a crack at the dance floor—she had had a lot of fun dancing earlier, and was pleasantly surprised by the number of people who had asked her to dance with them.
Even though she was now rather tired, she wouldn't have been ungrateful to be asked to dance again. It would distract her from thinking about the giant fool she made of herself with Gotz. Though she was enjoying the party on a whole, she found that when she was left to herself, as she was at that moment, the smile would slip from her face. For the thousandth time, her words to Gotz replayed in her mind and she tried not to wince as she recalled his reaction to them. It couldn't have been worse. He had looked like a deer in the headlights, and, even more mortifying, he didn't say a word back to her, leaving her overactive imagination to fill in the blank.
Ann let out a short, irritated sigh. What an embarrassing thing to do, assuming that he would care if I missed him, she thought miserably. Now he probably thinks I'm some clingy weirdo. Why do I always blurt out things without thinking?! Her spirits were reaching a new low, and she wished she had some sort of distraction: someone coming to order a drink, or saying hi, or even dropping a plate of food she could clean up. No such luck—everyone was either dancing or quietly enjoying their dessert.
Fortunately, wish number three was granted a few minutes later when Stu knocked half his glass of grape juice all over himself. Immediately volunteering to help clean him up, Ann asked Harris if he'd mind manning the bar, and then escorted Elli and Stu into the kitchen. Ann turned on the faucet and got out some soap, while Elli started wiping off Stu's hands and face with a dishrag. Normally, this would be where Elli would start scolding Stu for making a mess, but to Ann's—and undoubtedly Stu's—great relief, tonight she seemed too happy to care.
"Grandma looks very energetic, doesn't she?" Elli smiled to Ann as Ann took a foamy sponge to the stubborn stains on Stu's shirt. "She doesn't look tired at all, don't you agree? And did you see how she danced with the doctor in her wheelchair? It was so good of him to ask her. And after everyone saw she could dance, people were constantly asking her. Isn't Tim smart?—Nobody else would have thought of her being able to dance like that but him. He's so good."
Ann smiled and was smart enough to have many good things to say about the doctor's brilliance. Elli glowed just as brightly at Ann's words as if the praise had been about her. "But Tim's always doing nice things for Ellen. He seems very attached to your grandmother in general," Ann added.
Stu chimed in. "Did you see the gift he gave Grandma? It was the biggest one! I want a present in a box that big for my next birthday. Only I want a dinosaur robot inside."
"No, I missed her opening the presents; I was in the kitchen getting dessert ready at the time," Ann answered. She grinned at him. "By the way, did you like your grandma's cake?"
He grinned back. "It was reeeeally good! I wish I could eat it every day!"
Ann laughed. "Don't we all. But then you'd have to see the doctor about all your cavities and that's no fun."
"Cavities don't matter if they're only baby teeth," Stu told her.
"Stu!" scolded Elli, sharply. "You know better than that." She turned to Ann. "You just have to see the doctor's present. It's so extravagant! I don't even know how to start thanking him for it."
"I'd love to see it!" said Ann, delighted to have something further to do after this task was finished. The busier she was the better.
After the stains on Stu's shirt were scrubbed to a faint lavender—the best they could do without bleach—they left the kitchen and Elli led Ann over to a wooden chair in the corner that had Ellen's presents piled on and around it. Ann quickly looked over the pile, trying to guess which was the doctor's present, but she didn't see anything particularly larger than anything else. "So which one is it?" she asked.
"Which do you think, silly?" Elli laughed, starting to remove presents from the chair. "The big one!"
Ann was confused for a moment until Stu climbed up on the chair and it moved. "Hey, that's not one of our—it's a new rocking chair!" she exclaimed, coming forward to help Elli move the presents away so she could see it better. The chair was a work of art—a light yet sturdy rocker made of highly polished wood that was tastefully bordered with carvings of ivy and the mythical Flower of Happiness.
Ann picked Stu up and put him on her lap as she sat in the chair. She pushed the balls of her feet against the floor and the chair smoothly and silently started to rock. "It's comfy!" she said. "Ellen must love it!"
Elli smiled brightly as she affirmed it was so, glancing fondly across the room at the doctor, who was deep in conversation with Ellen and Father Carter. She turned back to Ann. "You should see the rest of the presents, too," she said. Ann shook her head.
"Normally, I'd love to, but I really should be getting back to the bar," she said. However, between Stu's pouty face and her own desire for more conversation, Ann easily allowed herself to be strong-armed into being shown more of Ellen's presents. It was very entertaining, but Ann finally ended up get back to the bar much later than she originally intended. She grinned sheepishly at Harris. "Sorry for taking so long. I got sidetracked. It wasn't too busy, I hope?"
Harris shook his head amiably and smiled at her. "Nah, most people have stopped drinking, and anyway, you've been working for most of the party—I'm glad you took a break. What did you get sidetracked with?"
"I missed Ellen opening her presents, so Elli was showing them to me." Ann nodded her head over at the pile of gifts. "Did you see that chair the doctor gave her? It must have cost a fortune!"
Harris laughed. "Nah, I know for a fact it didn't cost too much. Gotz did a really good job with it though, didn't he?"
Ann's eyes widened. "Gotz made it? Wow! How do you know?" She craned her head back to look at it, wishing she had been paying more attention to it before.
"Well, the doctor asked me to place the order for him—most people do, rather than talk with Gotz themselves."
Ann snorted, her eyes still on the chair. "That's unsurprising."
"Indeed. With a less talented man it would really be a problem, but Gotz produces such amazing work that, as you can see, being anti-social doesn't impact his workload."
"Yeah…" said Ann, pensively. The chair was beautiful. It was hard to imagine that something that looked so lovingly produced could come from a man determined to have no emotions at all. When she said something to the same effect to Harris, Harris chuckled. "You shouldn't be so hard on him," he told her.
"Please. I've been as nice to him as I possibly can. In fact…" Ann paused, coloring slightly, wondering if she should detail what happened earlier.
Harris looked at her curiously. "What is it?"
"Well, I invited him to the party—and he said no, of course. But… then I told him I'd miss his being here and he seemed… I don't know. Freaked out."
Harris chuckled. "And now you're embarrassed. I understand. I was like that when I first met him. But take it from someone who deals with Gotz everyday: just because he has decided not to have any emotions doesn't mean you have to forgo them, too."
"That's true…" said Ann.
"What's more, I think it's good for him to be around people with a normal emotional range." Harris smiled. "I do my part, of course, but I'm glad to have your help for the short stint you're there. So my advice is, feel free to miss him as much as you want tonight, and enjoy hanging out there as much as you possibly can tomorrow. Like I said, it can only do him good."
"Yeah… yeah, I guess you're right," said Ann, thoughtfully. "Thanks, Harris. I do feel a little bit better."
Harris nodded cheerfully. "I'm glad I could help."
Ann nodded in thanks, and the two of them chatted for a bit more before Harris made his way back to Mayor Thomas. However, Ann was not alone for long, because Karen, flushed from only having just stepped off the dance floor, soon made a beeline for the bar. Smiling, Ann slid a cold soda over to her before she even asked.
"Hey, thanks!" Karen said, gratefully sipping the drink and leaning against the bar. She sighed contently. "It's a great party, don't you think?" she said conversationally to Ann.
"It is! I'm very happy for Ellen."
"Hey, who wouldn't be? I hope I look that good when I'm eighty." Karen said, brushing her hair out of her face. She took another sip of soda and glanced at Rick, who had taken a seat nearby. When she saw he wasn't looking, she whispered to Ann quietly, "Hey, can I ask a really big favor?"
"Sure, what?" Ann said, curiously.
"Is there any cake left over?"
"A little. Why?"
"Well, I was hoping you could box a slice up for me, so I could give it to Rick tomorrow for Winter Thanksgiving. I'd make him my own, but…"
"Ah… I understand," said Ann, sympathetically. Karen was a terrible cook, though it wasn't from want of trying. "I'll certainly save you a piece. Remind me before you leave."
Karen smiled. "Thanks, Ann! You're a lifesaver!" Karen paused. "So… are you doing anything special tomorrow?" she asked.
"Just the usual," Ann replied. Ever since she was a little girl, Ann and her mom made a homemade treat for her dad every Winter Thanksgiving. Her dad was always good enough to made a big fuss over it, even during the years it was messily and unevenly frosted by a child under five. Now, after her mother's passing, Ann still faithfully continued the tradition alone. "Actually, between getting ready for the party, and… some, uh, other stuff that I've been doing this week… I completely forgot about the holiday," Ann said, mentally slapping herself on the forehead. Shoot. Tomorrow she would be busy for the entire day. Would she have time to fit making her dad's present in? I suppose I'll have to make my Winter Thanksgiving chocolates at Gotz's, she thought.
"Oh," said Karen simply, looking not at Ann but at Cliff. "That's too bad." She shrugged casually. "Well, I'm gonna go back to Rick. I'll see you a little later, Ann."
Ann smiled as she said goodbye but squinted in confusion after Karen's retreating form. What was that about? Did Karen think Cliff wanted to do something with her tomorrow? How silly! She and Cliff were just friends, not boyfriend and girlfriend! Besides which, Cliff had never even mentioned Winter Thanksgiving to her once! Of course, he never mentioned much of anything to her, but still…
Karen couldn't be right, could she? Was it possible that Cliff actually wanted her to ask him out?
After deliberating for a few seconds, Ann dismissed the thought. With her tomboy attitude and looks, no one would ever want to go on a date with her. Her dad's constant nagging made her first aware of the possibility, but her longstanding dating record of zero confirmed it. She sighed glumly. Let's face facts, if it wasn't for the fact that Gotz was forced to spend the day with me tomorrow, the only other man I could possibly spend Winter Thanksgiving with would be Dad.