OLD SCHOOL

Written for the P.S. I Love You contest

1

Of course it starts pouring because I actually flat-ironed my hair this morning. I hunch my shoulders as if playing turtle might stop the raindrops from landing on my head and my skintight clothes. If only I had a real waterproof shell to escape into.

Come on, 51! If the bus arrives before my T-shirt gets soaked through, this day might not be a total disaster.

A body shuffles behind me; the rain stops—or at least, it stops falling on me. A soft pitter-pat above my head muffles the noise pollution of the city street. Any other day, I would shrug away from a stranger's umbrella. Today, I can't afford to be prickly.

Craning my neck, I take a cautious peek at the pavement behind me. A man's brown loafers, almost twice the size of my own open-toed sandals, stand firm against the water droplets ricocheting off the sidewalk. My gaze ventures up his tan corduroy pants, just reaching his thigh when a deep voice startles me.

"Sorry, didn't meant to scare you. I hope you don't mind."

My focus jumps to the man's face—a handsome, grown-up face framed by a close-trimmed salt-and-pepper beard. A hint of a smile brushes his cheeks, mirrored in his silvery-blue eyes.

"Not at all. Thanks, actually."

His grin widens. "It goes against my grain to let a lady get wet."

Coming from any other guy, that line would definitely ring the creeper bell. Something about this man—maybe the crinkles etched at the corners of his eyes and lips—lends a sense of depth that instantly sets me at ease. Or maybe his swoon-worthy smile has lulled me into a false sense of security.

"I appreciate that."

"My pleasure." He steps close to my side, creating a safe, dry island for two.

A rustle of cellophane draws my attention to a bouquet of sunflowers in his opposite hand. Be still my romantic heart.

"Those oughtta brighten somebody's rainy day," I say, allowing myself the brief, wistful fantasy of those flowers—and the smile behind them—being for me.

"Hope so." He glances at the flowers as if they disappoint him somehow. "So, what brings you out in this monsoon?"

"I have a job interview."

He scans my outfit as if he must have seen it wrong the first time. The eyebrows rise, but he resets his neutral expression just as quickly. "I see."

I should make something up, something that would impress a man who buys flowers and keeps ladies dry in the rain. But fuck that, because if I can't even say it out loud to a stranger on the street, how am I ever gonna get this damn job?

"I'm applying at Hooters." It's almost a dare.

"I see," he says again. His gaze falls to my chest, just for a split-second, but long enough for my stupid nipples to form two sharp points against my damp shirt. "I like your chances," he says, "if you don't mind my saying so."

Gee, why would I mind a complete stranger telling me my tits will get me a job?

Get over yourself, Bella. "I guess it kind of goes with the territory."

He chuckles. "The terrain, so to speak."

Okay, so done talking about my chest. "And where might you be headed?"

"I'm going to visit my mother at Shady Acres."

Duh, the flowers! "Oh, is that a cemetery?" Excellent. I'm standing here discussing my tits with a man going to visit his dead mom.

A short, crisp laugh leaves him. "No. It's a nursing home."

"Oh, God, I'm so sorry."

"It's fine," he says. "I like to have lunch with Mom on Mondays. They make a surprisingly decent meatloaf."

Grateful for his humor, I play along. "You just go for the food, then?"

"Oh no," he answers so seriously I think maybe I've offended him after all. "Mom's loaded, and she's gonna kick the bucket pretty soon. I have to make sure I stay on her good side so she doesn't write me out of her will and leave everything to the young stud who does her sponge baths."

My jaw drops. "Wow, that's terrible"—though I couldn't say whose behavior was more deplorable, the aide's or the son's.

"Um... I'm messing with you."

"Oh my god! You're a jerk!" I haul off and punch his umbrella-holding arm right in the bicep. Solid rock meets my knuckles. "Ow! Jeez!"

"You do realize you're the one who hit me, right?" The man's smile reminds me of my cousin Sam when we'd wrestle as kids, and he'd let me think I had a chance at pinning him.

"Sorry about that. I guess I'm nervous."

"No worries. I can take it." He stands there looking big and strong for a second before leaning in close. "But I wouldn't tell your prospective employer about your temper. They might not look kindly on a waitress who beats her customers with hot wings if they joke around with her. Very bad for business. Oh look, here comes the bus."

Sure enough, the bus chugs closer, swooshing through the water trough at the edge of the road before coming to a stop at our corner. The door opens with a loud hiss. My knight with a shiny umbrella walks me to the bus and waits until I am safely inside.

Well, that was interesting.

My plan to ignore him flies right out the window when my mystery man's head appears in the stairwell. He's even more handsome in full-on frontal view than the snippets of profile I'd stolen outside. My heart flutters and flips.

He scans the rows of seats as if reading a page line by line—across, back, across, back, duck, duck, goose! His eyes light up when they land on me, and I feel about as grounded as dandelion seeds in a hurricane. As he approaches my row, his smile curls into his cheeks, forming an enormous dimple on one side. "Almost forgot to wish you good luck."

I tap the molded plastic beside me. "This seat's open."

"You sure?" He waits for me to nod before sliding into the seat, careful to keep his wet trench coat and umbrella from touching my side. The bouquet rests in his lap. I try not to stare at where those sunflower heads are aimed, but it isn't easy.

The bus starts up with a lurch, and I grab the seat in front of me. Nerves and a bumpy ride add up to a sour stomach I don't have time for right now.

"Are you okay?" he asks.

"Could you... keep talking, maybe?"

He grins that Sam-grin again, humoring me but not seeming to mind. "Anything in particular I should talk about?"

"Oh, I don't know. Do you have a job, or do you just go around impressing women?"

"You're impressed?"

"Maybe."

"Hmm, maybe I should just keep you guessing, then."

"Why? Will I not be impressed if I find out the truth?"

Laughter rolls out of his throat like a song. At the end of it, he shakes his head and sighs. "Now, how am I supposed to know what would impress you?"

"The usual, I guess. Like if you were some kind of a superhero."

"Superhero!" He waggles his bushy eyebrows. "Umbrella Man saves the day?" He's not so far off, actually.

"I bet you're looking for a phone booth right now, aren't you? Got a cape and tights on under that outfit?"

"I'm not sure I know you well enough to discuss my underwear." Never mind that we've already discussed my boobs.

"Damn, my stop is next, just when it was getting good."

He stands up to let me out, though I would have happily climbed over his lap—or stayed in it a while.

"Here," he says, handing me the umbrella. "Take this with you."

"What about you?"

He runs his fingers through his hair, and it all settles perfectly back into place. "Mom won't care if my hair is a little wild. But what she would mind is if I let a pretty girl go back out in the rain without an umbrella."

"You're gonna tell her about me?"

He smiles. "I just might."

There's no time to argue, and I really do need that umbrella. Nice meeting you feels off, as we haven't actually introduced ourselves. "Thank you. For everything."

"My pleasure… and good luck. Almost forgot again!"

I start down the aisle toward the door, then turn around one last time. "Tell your mom I said thanks for raising you right."


Author's Note: Well, hello! It's ME! Surprised? I wrote this story for the P.S. I Love You Contest here on fanfic, and the full contest version of the story is available under that author listing... HOWEVER, I do plan to embellish the story in certain spots, and knowing me, other "improvements" might take place as we go along here. SO, if you want the new and improved version, maybe don't spoil it for yourself by reading the contest version? Or maybe you already have? Well, I'm not the boss of you, so do whatever you like!

A few people need big thanking- Ladyeire most violently, for her endless patience and enthusiasm for plot twisting and character torturing; Shell Taylor (shellshock81) for her super duper pre-reading superpowers; and then there's Chayasara, beta supreme. They're all pretty damn marvelous. And thanks to the contest hosts, Srishti (Sri) Banerjee and Chrissie Purple (purpleC305), for creating an inspiring topic and running a great contest. If you haven't read the other stories over there, go on and check them out at P.S. I Love You Contest!

I'd like to thank everyone who read, reviewed, and voted or judged and YAY for 2nd place with the judges and the public and another lovely award- best couple! Now that it's all over, I'm curious to know if you guessed this was mine. I will definitely take a spin through the reviews over on the contest page, but it's much easier for me to see you here and respond as I get the notifications. That's not a plea for reviews, though you know I love them! Hopefully you'll stick around and see what's what with Old School and the Hooter Girl. Heeheehee. You know what to do... talk to me, people!
XXX ~BOH