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Zero
Author: S.M. West

 


1

 

 

MORGAN

 

 

“Given your poor taste in candy, I’m rethinking my decision to watch a movie with you.” Lips pursed, I point at the bag dangling from his fingers filled with the offensively bright orange-and-white candy. “Maybe we should just call it a night. Dinner was delicious, the company entertaining, and leave it at that.”

Cary staggers back as if I’ve hit him. “Oh, boy, you’re brutal on a guy’s ego.”

Maybe I took the joke too far? I was only kidding, and I open my mouth to say just that when he dramatically clutches the candy bag to his chest like Gollum did the ring.

“I can’t watch a movie without candy corn, and let’s be truthful, the dinner company was more than entertaining.” His free hand waves down his Adonis physique while he straightens to his full height, somewhere over six feet. “C’mon, Morgan, have a heart. I’m feeling judged.”

Chuckling, I tilt my head back, eyes squinting at the harsh glare of the fluorescent ceiling lights in the gas station convenience store.

“I was only kidding, especially about the company.” My tone softens for a second before I’m back to ribbing him. “But I just can’t let it go. How can you like candy corn? It’s disgusting.” My nose wrinkles like I’ve smelled a rotten egg.

He drags in a breath, mouth parting, aghast. “Like? Nuh-uh. This guy loves candy corn. I eat it year round. My mom had our kitchen stocked with this stuff because she knew how to keep her baby boy happy.”

My ears perk up at the mention of his family. As an only child, I’m fascinated and a little envious of people who have siblings. Growing up, I had my cousin, Zach, and while we were close—both of us only children—I wondered what it would have been like to have had a brother or sister, or both.

“Baby boy? Are you the baby of the family?”

During our dinner—a blind date—Cary hasn’t said much about his family. Only that he was from Los Angeles and had moved to Destin, Florida, about three years ago.

“Nah. I’m the oldest of three, but the only boy, so I’m spoiled.” He winks and rakes a hand through his golden head of hair.

“Why doesn’t that surprise me?” As we pass the air conditioning vent, cold air rushes at us, and I tuck a few loose strands of my burnt-auburn hair behind my ear. He glances at me, brow quirked in a way that prompts me to explain. “That you’re spoiled. Your sisters must have hated you.”

“Not a chance. Elizabeth Taylor and Grace Kelly adore me.” He spins on his heel and leads us down another aisle of candy.

I almost trip over my feet. “Come again. Your sisters are Elizabeth Taylor and Grace Kelly.” I must have heard him wrong.

“Uh-huh. Though not the OGs, of course.” A wide, easy grin softens his chiseled jawline.

“Of course.” My sarcasm is barely contained, desperately waiting for him to go on.

Our first date is going way better than I’d have guessed when Lorna, my friend and colleague, set me up with him. Right out of the gate, he gained major points with his text to meet him at Boshamps for dinner, a popular and yummy local seafood and oyster restaurant.

Cary suggested picking me up, but no way—not on a first date even if we shared a mutual friend. Then when I first laid eyes on him, I nearly turned right around and slipped back into my car. Not sure if a fabulous restaurant could make it worthwhile.

He’s a bit too pretty for me.

I don’t have a type, but I do go through phases and right now, I’m into the beanpole, artsy type, whereas this guy is all-American. Clean and wholesome and stupidly handsome. Everything I’d walked away from.

“Well, like I said, we’re from Los Angeles. My family rubs elbows with Hollywood.”

He doesn’t have to say it, but my guess is they’re wealthy. I can spot the one percent a mile away, and I should know; I’m one of them even if I ignore my inheritance and choose to live paycheck to paycheck.

His smile wanes and tone sobers. “My mother picked our names. I just…I don’t really understand it.”

“She’s a fan of Hollywood legends.” I shrug, trying not to make a big deal out of it though internally I’m losing the battle.

Sardonic cackles prick at the back of my throat like porcupine quills, and as if sensing the hilarity that I’m unable to contain, his features brighten.

“Guess my middle name.”

“Cary… No.” I fidget from one foot to the other, rejecting the obvious movie star name, and try not to burst out laughing. “You’re shitting me, right?”

He better be pulling my leg or forget it, I’m peeing my pants.

Shaking his head, he unleashes a cheeky grin. “Say it.”

“Not Cary Grant.” My laughter trips over the famous movie star name.

He dons a deep, showbiz kind of voice and stretches his arms out in a welcoming gesture. “Why Morgan Rothwell, it is my pleasure to introduce myself to you, Cary Grant Buchanan.” He dips at the waist into a bow and that does it, I’m a goner.

Howling with glee, I cover my mouth with my hand to muffle some of the less than attractive noises escaping my lips. “Oh my God, I’m so sorry.”

A teenage girl stares at us. Her dark kohl-rimmed eyes narrow, and the disdain written on her face is easy to read. She thinks we’re crazy, or at the very least, I am, and disappears down an aisle.

I wipe my tears away. “That was so inappropriate of me.”

“It’s okay. Go ahead, make fun. I’m used to it.” He drums his fingers on the edge of a shelf, clearly amused at my unraveling.

“I’ve heard of people like you but never actually met one.”

He stiffens, dropping his arm to his side. “What does that mean, people like me?”

“You know, parents that name their kids with the same letter or something just as quirky.”

He crinkles his nose, features hardening in confusion, and I’m compelled to go on. “Like Allison, Adam, and Aurora. Or they name their kids in the order of the alphabet. Anne, Ben, Cary.” I point at him, hoping he gets it. “David, Erica… It’s cute and different, but I’ve only ever read about it in books or seen it in a movie. It’s cool to see these people actually exist. You’re kind of like a unicorn.”

I’m rambling and I can’t tell if it’s because I’m truly shocked and awed, or if I’ve dug a great big hole for myself and I don’t know how to stop. It might be best if I just bury myself this very instant.

He’s silent, studying me with a blank expression. It’s the first time all night he’s hard to read, and I can’t tell if I’ve gone and done it now. Really and truly offended him.

On one hand, I no longer have to worry about whether I want a second date or not; I’ve clearly made that decision for him. My laughter dies and I ready for Cary to dash out of the store, never to look back or call again.

“Now I can say I went on a date with Cary Grant.”

Why can’t I shut up? Stop my mouth from opening and spewing more garbage?

It’s as if I want him to go. And truthfully, I’m not sure if we’ve got a connection beyond friends, but I don’t want to insult him, and I’m looking forward to hanging out and watching a movie. Unless I’ve ruined the night. It wouldn’t be the first time.

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