Mike nods with understanding.

“Oh yeah, they tried a few years back to bring in some warehouses not too far up the road from here. But we vetoed that idea. This is a residential area and we don’t need that kind of nonsense. Warehouses bring semi-trucks, pollution, and of course, lots of warehouse workers. That needs to be kept far from residential zones.”

Wow, I feel very adult talking about zoning restrictions and industrial development. Mike gestures for me to take a seat in a spacious armchair near the fire. The leather has soaked in much of the heat already and I instantly feel warm as I sink back into the supple seat. Michael continues to move about.

“I’m going to pour myself a glass of wine. Now, I know you aren’t twenty-one yet, so I went ahead and bought you a nice bottle of sparkling juice so that you can share a drink with me. I picked up some sparkling red raspberry cider. Does that sound okay to you?”

I think to myself what a sweet gesture this is and I’m happy that he’s not made uncomfortable by the fact that I’m under the drinking age still.

“That sounds wonderful, thank you for thinking of me.”

He nods. His color seems a bit elevated from the fire.

“Of course. I have some hors d’oeuvres put together as well if you’d like a snack later on?”

I nod.

“Sure, maybe later. But I have to ask: is Samantha here?”

He shakes his head.

“No, she went to a party with that boyfriend of hers tonight. She’ll probably crash at his place afterwards. I know I shouldn’t be letting her stay at her boyfriend’s house, but old habits die hard. She’s been doing it since she was sixteen.”

I smile ruefully.

“That’s okay. I’m sure she’ll be fine. I’m just glad we have the house to ourselves.”

He smiles knowingly too, and we get to talking. Conversation seems to flow naturally between us. With each passing moment I feel my blood running a bit quicker, my throat swelling up with joy. We vacillate between deep, intimate conversation to playful banter. I’m laughing like I always dreamed I one day would be, when I met the man of my dreams. It feels pure. I feel happy in a way I haven’t ever before. I think he might feel the same by the way he keeps looking at me.

Sides of Michael I would have never suspected begin to unfold before my eyes. On the outside, he has a very direct and corporate demeanor. But inside, he’s a deep thinker, and a very intimate man. He cares so much: about the world, about his community, and about the people in his life. Passion overflows from this man’s heart, and it makes me swoon.

He tells me about the non-profit he wants to found with the revenue brought in from his liquor store chain. Business really boomed during the recent coronavirus pandemic, which is fortunate for him, if not his customers. But he says he’s not one to make a dime off of other peoples’ suffering. He wants to use that profit to give back to the greater community.

“I want to use the money to support first responders,” he explains. “We can provide support in the form of financial resources, and access to therapy or support groups for those who have experienced loss or suffered trauma during the pandemic.”

My heart melts.

“You’re a really great man, Michael. I think it’s amazing that you want to use your success to help others.”

He lights up and reaches over to me, momentarily placing his hand on mine, a smile forming across his face. Then, he exhales and relaxes back into his chair, shaking his head ruefully.

“I’ve been going on and on about myself. What I really want to do is get to know more about you, Tilly. What are your plans, your dreams, and your passions?”

I tell him how much I enjoy reading and how it’s therapeutic to be able to escape into these other worlds, to get caught up in the life of the character in the words on the page. I spend some time gushing over some of my latest romance novels and sharing a video of my favorite slam poet on YouTube. He seems to enjoy hearing about it.

“And I of course plan to go away to college next year. I think I’d like to double major in English Literature and Visual Arts. It will be a lot of work, but I think these two subjects will go really well together.”

One black eyebrow quirks.

“Really? I wouldn’t have thought those two were related.”

I smile.

“I’m not sure that they totally are, but it’ll be interesting to see how my courses overlap and relate. Ultimately, I want to play with inspiration: how literature inspires works of art and of course, the artists themselves. Maybe even how a piece of art, or an entire movement, can then flow back and create a ripple effect in the world of literature. To me, it’s really fascinating.”

Tags: Winter Renshaw Romance
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