Geraldine couldn’t stop looking at Bart in the driver’s seat. He’d insisted on driving them to the airport, deciding then that he was fully in. She wasn’t sure what to say, especially in the wake of what they’d both heard back at his place. She knew he wasn’t happy with the development of Eleazar’s grandmother asking for custody, but she had no words of comfort for him.
Bart sighed heavily. “You’ll wear out my face with all that staring…” he drawled.
Her cheeks warmed but she didn’t look away.
He glanced once at her before facing the road ahead. “Nervous?”
Even now, he was thinking of her. Geraldine propped her elbow on the seat rest and leaned her chin on her open hand. “What about you?”
His lips curved to one side, and Geraldine imagined the dimple in his cheek. “Not exactly.”
“You didn’t have to come with me…”
“It’s fine, I needed the distraction..” Bart didn’t look her way. “I understand the woman’s plight but Eleazar is our brother. She has no right to change that.”
Geraldine nodded, at a loss for words. The thought of someone threatening the separation of his family hit her too close to home.
He snorted. “I’m preaching to the choir, so I’ll stop.”
“Don’t…” she said weakly, lifting her eyes back to his shadowed face. “If you’re angry, be angry. You won’t hear any judgment from me, know that.”
“Thanks.” Bart lifted one of his hand to his head. “Anyway, let’s go over it again.”
He glanced her way then. “Our story. How we met and fell in love.”
Geraldine frowned as her heartbeat skipped. She shifted in her chair and looked forward. “Take that exit,” she instructed with a nudge of her chin in that direction. “It’s faster.”
Bart snorted. “Not since they added five traffic signs on that street. This way’s better.”
“Since forever. Anyway, tell me again what you told them.”
“About us…” she licked her dry lips. “Us falling…”
She looked back at him, his tone serious. “Huh?”
“If we’re gonna do this, you have to act normal.”
“I am acting normal.”
“Stuttering every ‘I love you’ is not normal, especially if your folks think we’re engaged.”
Her lips parted as she tried to counter his words but could think of nothing except, “They’re not my folks.”
“Right… but they’re Jozy’s grandparents.” Bart took the exit off the highway. “We need to practice some.”
Her rebellious heart skipped a beat or two. “Practice what?” she asked, breathless.
“Being affectionate,” Bart said without missing a beat.
Geraldine bit her bottom lip. Her late husband was hardly affectionate, barely touching her unless he was in a very good mood, which was a rare occurrence. The thought of experiencing intimacy and affection from a sane man, and Bart at that was terrifying.
She blinked from her trance. “Uh yeah–!” she gasped when his hand brushed hers.
Bart clucked his tongue even as his fingers laced with hers. “You were okay taking my hand earlier…”
Her cheeks burned. “I-I was comforting you!”
The feel of his strong fingers entwined with hers felt warm and oddly comforting as it was unsettling. She snuck a peek at Bart’s profile. She’d never been a fan of holding hands, mostly because her late husband only held her hand to drag her away or to make a show in front of his parents and friends. So what made this pretense feel differently?
He then released her hand to drape over the steering wheel. “What terminal?”
Bart glanced her way. “Terminal where your folks–my bad, Jozy’s folks, are coming from.”
She stared at the strong hand that gripped the steering wheel, oddly bereft of their warm and comforting touch. “Terminal C.”
“Of course, international.” Bart shook his head and turned back to face the road. “What’s next?”
He chuckled. “You sound like Darah… what’s next? Should we have pet names for each other?”
Geraldine frowned. “Ugh, no.”
Bart laughed. “Good, ‘cos that would be overkill.”
The sound of his laughter made her smile and Geraldine relaxed into her seat. “Let’s just be ourselves. Friends get married all the time and we’re friends, aren’t we?”
He was silent just for a moment and then nodded. Geraldine tamped down a sigh of relief, grateful he didn’t protest. Touching him was already complicated enough; she wouldn’t be able to handle calling him pet names like Phoebe called Abe.
“Can I kiss you?”
Geraldine’s heart went into overdrive and she jerked her attention to him. “What?!”
Bart laughed aloud. “I’m kidding.”
She glared at his profile and willed her heart to calm down.
His chuckles lasted until he pulled the car in front of the double doors leading to Terminal C. “I’ll wait here, but call me if they’ve got plenty bags,” he instructed.
Slightly distracted, Geraldine hummed her reply and pushed open the door.
She paused stepping out and looked back at him. From the light pole, she could see most of his handsome face clearly. “Yeah?” she sounded breathless in her ears.
He didn’t make note of it and just smiled. “It’ll be okay.”
Geraldine gave him a grateful smile and scooted out of the car. She drew in a breath, gave herself a quick pep talk and headed through the double doors to collect her in-laws.