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Our Secret Moments: Chapter 11

CAT/CONNOR - ROMANCE IS NOT DEAD

CAT

YOU KNOW that feeling when you first bring a puppy home and they’ve overcome that awkward stage where they’re adjusting to the new environment. It’s usually only a few days in where they start to become their hyperactive self, jumping off furniture, biting holes into socks and slippers, practically bouncing off the wall.

That’s a pretty accurate description as to how Connor has been acting since he told me he needed my help.

Don’t get me wrong, I want to help him. All I’ve done today is plan ideas and questions to ease him into the interviewing process. But every time I write a new question down, alternating between picking up my phone or getting a snack, I get a new text from him. I’m toying with him, using the day to recoup on ideas before reaching out to him. Still, he’s as eager as ever as he continuously texts me as I lounge on the couch in the empty dorm, watching my favourite TV show.

CONNIE

Tomorrow night? I don’t have a game.

I’m busy.

CONNIE

Monday?

I’m busy.

CONNIE

Tuesday?

If your next question is Wednesday, don’t bother texting me.

I shut off my phone, hiding it in the cushions. Maybe if I don’t look at it, I won’t have the urge to text him and rile him up. I hit play on the episode of Desperate Housewives as I pull up my document on a separate slide. I’m about to start transferring my notes into my physical notebook before I hear repeated buzzing sounds coming from the cushions. This man just won’t give up, will he?

He’s spam-texting me.

Even better.

I ignore all of his messages and press the call button instead. Leaning my phone against my ear, I look out onto the nearly empty courtyard from my window. It’s one of the perks of having a luxury room where the sunsets and sunrises look ten times prettier. I don’t get a chance to enjoy the deep blue sky before Connor’s voice booms down the phone.

“Catherine Fables, to what do I owe this pleasure?” he drawls. I can just hear the smile on his face.

“Can you stop texting me? Or I’m going to block your number. You just got phone privileges, you really don’t want them revoked already,” I say playfully.

“So, you don’t have a three-point strike system in place?” he asks. I greet him with silence, not enabling his stupidity. “Fine,” he concedes, “I’ll just have to find another way to text you. Why are you avoiding this, Cat?”

“I’m not avoiding it,” I say, closing the tab of my show. That’s been ruled out now. “I really am busy.”

“Yeah, doing what?” he asks. I dip my apple slice into the peanut butter, covering it completely before shoving it into my mouth.

“Busy people things,” I respond around a mouthful.

“Busy people things, huh?” he repeats.

“Mm hm,” I muffle. He sighs loudly.

“Open the door, Catherine. I’ve been standing outside for the last ten minutes.”

My eyebrows knit together in confusion. What the hell…

“Ten minutes?” I repeat. “I called you two minutes ago.”

He groans at me like I’m missing something. “Yeah, and I’ve been standing out here for ten.”

“Why?” I say, exasperated as I stand up from the couch, tightening my blanket around my shoulders. There’s no point trying to hide the mess I’ve made here. I have a chaotic working environment and I’ve come to peace with it. It’s apples and some sort of dip or nothing at all. It’s the only way I can get anything done.

“Why do you think?” he replies.

“You’re that desperate, Connie?” I ask, a little louder this time as I reach the door so he can hear me. I end the call and shove my phone into my back pocket.

“Just open the door and put me out of my misery, woman,” he says on the other side of the door, trying the handle.

I can’t help the laugh that escapes me as I open the door.

Fuck.

Have I mentioned before how fucking tall this man is? Because he’s huge. Or I’m just small. I don’t know. Either way, the wind practically gets knocked out of me as I open the door wider, letting him walk in. He’s wearing black baggy jeans and white t-shirt. The way this man can exude confidence and comfortability at the same time completely baffles me. I’m too caught up in the sheer size of him and his hypnotising smell of fresh wood that I don’t notice the box he shoved into my hands.

Before I can question it he looks over my head at my messy set up in the living room. “Busy, right?”

“Super, super busy,” I say. He peers down at me and then at the box. I look at the white box with a red ribbon poorly crafted on top of it. “What’s this?”

His face explodes into a smile. “Open it and find out.”

That’s not weird or suspicious at all…

I gently remove the ribbon, placing it onto the counter beside us. He watches me carefully, a slightly pensive look on his face. I open the lid of the box and I’m greeted by two very badly decorated cupcakes and an empty wrapper beside them. The frosting is a colour between off-white and a pale pink. I can’t really decide. One of them has a dollop of red icing in the middle which I can only hope was supposed to be something else that melted off.

Connor has always been a gift giver. I’ve never known why. Sometimes he’d show up to parties or events with something random he made. But never anything he bakes. He saves those for special occasions like birthdays or a holiday. They very rarely taste good, but we all get a kick out of making fun of his bad baking skills.

But he made these.

For me.

“Sorry about that,” he mumbles, laughing a little as he picks up the wrapper. “I got hungry on the way here since you so kindly locked me out.”

“I did not lock you out,” I retort, “I didn’t even know you were coming.”

“Yeah, yeah,” he says, dismissing me with his hand. The sass on this man is insane. “Just try one.”

I do as he asks and take the one without the extra dollop of icing. It smells fresh, but they feel a little warm which I can’t decide is a positive thing or not. I gently peel off the wrapper, feeling the heat of Connor’s gaze on me. I bring the cupcake to my mouth, silently praying that they’re not as bad as they usually are, and I take a bite.

They are… not great.

It’s probably the worst thing I’ve ever tasted in my life. It remains a mystery to me how he can fuck up something so simple so badly. The frosting tastes like it has salt added to it instead of sugar and the inside of the cupcake tastes like it has added bits of… something.

“I added crushed up Oreo’s in there ‘cause I know you like them,” he says sweetly. Jesus Christ. He added in Oreo’s because he knows that I like them. Why does he have to sound and look so adorable? He scratches the back of his neck awkwardly. There is no way I can tell him how bad they are. Not like this. “What do you think?”

“They’re so–” I get out through a mouthful, finally swallowing that god-awful icing. “So, so good. I can’t get enough.”

“Yeah?”

I nod, painting my face into a smile as best as I can. He steps in closer to me, his eyes a little dim as he searches my face. I’m not good at acting. That’s Nora’s thing. I just hope I’m putting on the performance of a lifetime right now before his feelings get hurt. I have no idea when I started to care this much about them, but the softness on his face is making me second guess a lot of things right now. A lot more than just his feelings.

For extra conviction, I add, “They’re brilliant. The icing really ties it together,” I lie.

“Thank you, Catherine,” he says quietly. I hate the way he says my name like that. I can’t tell if he’s even saying it like anything, or if that is just the way he sounds sand I’m that pathetic. Regardless, it sends a shiver down my spine and his proximity only makes this worse.

He raises his hand to the side of my face slowly, and I stay glued to the spot. Am I supposed to be speaking right now? Telling him he’s welcome whilst lying through my teeth? His thumb raises to my cheek, and I can immediately feel just how hot my face is. I never get flustered by guys. Not anymore. Mostly because I haven’t been in close contact with one since my ex, but still. This is new.

The soft caress of his thumb against my cheek pulls my body into instant comfort mode and it takes all that I am not to close my eyes. To not show him that I’m already weak by his touch. I keep my eyes locked with his, trying to search for some explanation, but he clearly knows what he’s doing. In one swift motion, his thumb glides down my cheek to the side of my mouth where he swipes the frosting I hadn’t noticed was there.

He doesn’t take his eyes off mine as he places his thumb into his mouth, a low hum coming from the back of his throat as he swallows. “You’re right. The icing does tie it together.” I open and close my mouth to say something, but nothing comes out. “It tastes much better coming from you, though.”

CONNOR

She ate my cupcakes.

Catherine Fables, a real-life walking human ate my fucking cupcakes, and she didn’t spit them out. Either she’s just a really nice person, or she’s madly in love with me. Unfortunately for me, there’s no in-between.

I know how bad they taste. I ate one before just in case and added the wrapper for extra effect. I’ve known it for years but God, I really like this girl. Way more than I should.

I wait in the living room as she collects herself from the very stupid thing I just did. A huge part of me was hoping I’d get to do that, but I would’ve kissed it off her face. I don’t know if I’m making up the chemistry between us in my head, but there is no way she’s not affected by me the same way I’m affected by her.

I sigh as I fall between the cushions on the couch. “So, how is this thing going to work?”

She makes her way over to me, shaking her head as she mumbles something to herself. I tripped her up. I finally did something to throw her off and I’d be lying if I said doing it once didn’t make me want to do it again.

“Well, as you can see from my very busy office here, I’ve been prepping your questions,” she says.

I take a look at her very busy office and realise it’s a lot worse than I thought it would be. Blankets and pillows scatter the floor despite the chair she’s sitting in looking like it’s made entirely of blankets. A particularly ominous episode of Desperate Housewives plays in the background as she has various dips laid out and a bowl of apple slices next to her notebook and computer.

“I have a question,” I say sincerely. Her eyes meet mine, full of curiosity and wonder. “Do all journalists watch Desperate Housewives while prepping, or is that just a personal choice?”

She gives me a sarcastic fake smile. “A personal choice and a necessity,” she replies, and I nod. “Okay, are you ready to start?”

“As I’ll ever be,” I say, picking up the other cupcake.

It’s a nervous tick I don’t know how to get rid of. I always need something in my hands. Whether it be a football or a cupcake that is most likely going to make me lose years off my life. I take a bite of the monstrosity, grimacing as I put it back. When my eyes lock with hers she smiles shyly as I catch her staring at me. I can’t help but watch as she pushes her hair out of her face, her long curls falling down her shoulder.

She’s so fucking pretty.

Have I said that before?

I hope she can’t feel how obviously I’m staring at her, but it’s a crime not to. Every time I see her, I feel like my whole world is restarting. As much as she can have a quick joke to relay, she’s also got that sweet sensitive side which I want to see more often. The side that lets me into her dorm when it’s a mess. The side that eats my terrible cupcakes just because. The side that spends the whole day writing up questions to help me just because I asked.

Everything about her is beautiful – inside and out.

“First question,” she announces, opening her notebook in front of her. “What do you do for fun?”

“Uh, football and work out,” I answer truthfully. There’s nothing that makes me happier than being out on a pitch or reaching a certain goal at the gym. Setting myself weekly targets is what helps keep my head in the game, knowing I’m working towards something.

“Okay,” she draws out, scribbling my shitty answer down. For some reason I feel like I didn’t hit the nail on the head with that one. Catherine can try to hide her emotions all she wants, but I read her like she’s my favourite book. I’ve always liked that about her. “How about what makes you happy?”

“Football.” The answer sounds salty on my tongue. Foreign, almost. It does make me happy. It does make me want to work hard at it and get better, but there’s something that’s missing from me. A part of me that is supposed to make me stand out in some way that I can’t find.

“Connor,” she says gently, her eyes filled with silent sympathy. The way she says my name doesn’t sound condescending like the way Coach says it after a bad pass or the way my mom says it when I told her I haven’t been out again. She says it like she really cares and understands. Like she really wants to help me.

“I know,” I say, sighing, “I’m trying, Cat.”

“It’s okay,” she replies immediately, no sign given that she was about to talk me down or make fun of me. “Should I give you some model answers? You can ask me the questions instead.”

That sounds a lot less daunting. I nod and she slides over the notebook to me. I pick it up, reading over the questions in front of me that a baby could probably answer. Her handwriting is so fucking neat and tidy — everything is underlined neatly, her purple colour scheme is perfect. Fuck. I don’t think I’ll ever run out of things that I like about her at this rate.

“When did you fall in love with football?” I read it again and shake my head as she snickers. “Wait, no. Sorry.” I clear my throat, my cheeks instantly getting hot. Maybe I should ask to crack a window. I try the question again. “When did you fall in love with… journalism, right?”

“Yeah, you got it,” she replies, still giggling. If I could hear that sound before I go to heaven, I know I would die a happy man because fuck. It does something warm and fuzzy to my chest. Like a warm hug. I settle in the seat, watching as the memory takes over her whole body. “So, as a kid, whenever something bad or strange happened, I’d almost subconsciously give it a headline. It was usually something stupid. But one of the things I remember is this one time I was in the car with my parents, and we were road tripping around the US. We stopped in the middle of nowhere and they were playfully arguing over getting a new car, but my mom didn’t want one because she had that beat up Vauxhall for years. The whole time, my mom was basically arguing with herself while my dad watched her, smiling, knowing he was only playing and doing it just to rile her up. I pulled up the notebook I bought at the gas station and wrote, ‘She was transfixed by their love, but surely it was a fable.’”

I’m suddenly taken aback by her words. I don’t think she’s ever spoken to me that much in one sitting. I love hearing her talk. I love hearing what she talks about. She has this incredible, almost innate ability to be able to make anything sound interesting. It’s a skill I wish I had.

“And she was you?” I ask. Her eyes meet mine and she nods, pulling in the side of her cheek. “So, you’ve always been a cynic?”

“A realist,” she corrects, shifting underneath her blanket. She drops her gaze from mine, settling somewhere in the mess of the dorm. “Their love was too picture-perfect. It was natural to think it was some sort of story unfolding in front of me. Not the fairytale kind with happily ever after, but one I had to learn from.”

I catch the slight glimmer in her eyes as she talks, as well as the tightness of her voice. “Your mind is extraordinary, Cat, you know that?”

I watch as her face softens a little before a ridiculous smile spreads across her face. “I know,” she sighs, throwing her hair over her shoulder in that simple yet sexy way that I like. “God, it’s exhausting being this incredible every day.”

“Big ego too,” I mutter.

She rolls her eyes at me, getting back into her serious position. “So, Connie,” she says. Fuck. I love it when she uses my nickname like that. “When did you fall in love with football? And you’ve got to tell me the truth because I know when it was too. I saw it in those tiny little eyes.” She coos at me, scrunching her face up.

I know exactly what she’s talking about.

It’s the only memory I can replay before a game that calms me down.

“The morning after mine and Nora’s eighth birthday,” I whisper, laughing a little. Catherine’s whole face lights up, fidgeting to get into a more comfortable position as if this is the best story she’s ever heard. If it makes her this happy, I’d tell her over a hundred times. “We went to the Cheesecake Factory like we did every year. Wes was busy giving Nora a Wet Willy, and she was screaming and squirming so badly that she fell off the chair and then Russell Wilson picked her up. I had recognised him from the TV and at that point I wasn’t that big of a fan. I only watched it when my dad said I could stay up late to watch the highlights. He looked at me when Nora got back to her feet. All he did was nod at me and…”

“And you haven’t been the same since,” she says, finishing my thought for me dramatically.

A laugh escapes me as I shake my head. “It was pathetic. I bought every magazine, used up all my pocket money to buy my first football and a Russell Wilson jersey. I begged Wes’s dad and my dad to run drills with us in the park while you guys watched from the swings.”

Her smile falters. “My mom loved watching you guys play. She would talk about it over dinner and how she secretly wished she had more kids, a boy.”

I nudge my foot against her knee playfully. “You could still play football.”

She barks out a laugh. “With my two left feet? Yeah, right.”

“Yeah, you’re right,” I reply, laughing. “I don’t think it would be a good look for me either.”

Catherine tilts her head to the side, zeroing in her gaze on me. “Why’s that?”

“Because I think that if you tried hard enough, you could be great at anything, Cat and I mean that,” I admit. She sucks in a breath at my admission. “I’ve seen you through every awkward stage imaginable. Which also means that I saw you try out for every extracurricular in high school until you found your calling. Just because you didn’t stick with football on the first try, if you wanted to, you could try again, and you’d probably be better than me.”

She tightens the blanket around her again, shifting uncomfortably. “You have a lot of faith in me, huh?”

“Somebody has to.”

She lifts one perfectly shaped brow. “What does that mean?”

I sigh. “Nothing,” I say, shaking my head. She’s clearly not going to let this go. I shouldn’t have said anything anyway. “It’s just because your dad– I haven’t– Recently he’s just been–”

“A dick?” she finishes. I nod slowly. Eric has always been kind to us. Before Catherine’s mom passed, we’d have weekly dinners together in the Mackenzie’s backyard. He’d always help out at barbecues and play with us at the park, but since her mom passed, he’s not been to any get-togethers at all. “Yeah, I don’t know. He’s trying though. Sort of.”

“Well, I’ll always be your cheerleader, Kit-Cat,” I say, and she rolls her eyes at the nickname.

“You should take some of the faith you have in me and use it in yourself,” she whispers quietly. “I think you’re just too in your head about this, Connie. Trust me, with a bit more practice, you’ll be fine. You’re confident in every other way. This shouldn’t be any different.”

When she puts it like that, it actually seems possible. She makes it seem like I have some sort of potential. It’s been a while since someone has believed in me like that and I want to feel like that all the time.


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