Not In The Plans

Adelyn is an expert at planning and making lists–including one with the required qualities for the perfect man. This mythical specimen, unfortunately, seems harder to find with every passing year. She tells herself she’s not picky, she’s discerning, but sometimes it’s hard to be sure.

Her best friend’s older brother, Jason, has been slowly falling in love with Adelyn since returning from his final deployment with the Army more than a year earlier, but she sees him only as a buddy. So how does he get her to see that he is the perfect man she describes on her list? It’s time Adelyn took another solid look at her plans.

 

One

The air was clean and balmy after a spring rainstorm earlier in the day and Jason McCormick rolled down the window to breathe it in. He loved Kansas in the spring and the fresh air was especially nice after a long day of sanding mud off sheetrock in an office building downtown. Jason was anxious to get to a woman who didn’t love him. He glanced at his watch and then turned his beat-up Chevy toward the city office. He’d told Peter he would pick up the building permit for tomorrow’s job, but he’d been at the lumber yard longer than expected and now the city offices were about to close. With any luck, Adelyn would still be there.

Letting out a breath of exasperation, he slowed at a red light and speed dialed Adelyn’s cell phone number.

“Hi, Jason, what’s up?” As usual, her sweet voice soothed and pricked at him at the same time.

“Are you still at the office?” Please say yes.

“I’m about to lock up. Do you need something?”

He tapped his fingertips on the steering wheel and stared at the red light, willing it to change while a single car puttered through the intersection. “The permit for the Parker complex. You do have it ready, right?”

“Of course. It’s been sitting here since yesterday. How far away are you?”

“Getting close. I’m stuck at the light at the corner of Maple and Grove.”

“I’ll wait for you, then.”

“Thanks, you’re the best.” Jason was relieved he had caught her before she left. Peter wouldn’t have been happy if the excavator couldn’t start the new project first thing tomorrow morning because they didn’t have the permit to post on the property.

“I know. See you in a few.” She hung up.

He eased on the gas as the light turned green, sliding the clutch back down as he shifted the truck into second gear. The fact that he’d get a chance to see Adelyn was enough reason to hurry on over there, even without the thought of keeping Peter, who owned Elliot Construction, off his back.

He glided into the parking lot four minutes after five and pulled into the spot beside Adelyn’s car in the otherwise-empty stretch of asphalt. It was a good thing he’d called ahead. Had everyone left early for the Easter weekend? Like two days early?

She was waiting for him at the glass door, her blond hair coiffed back in a smooth bun on one side. She let him in and locked it behind him. “Lucky you called me. I’d have been out the door at five—it’s been a very long day.”

“They left you alone?”

“Just for the last half hour.” She circled around the customer service window and brandished her key card to get into the office area. The place was perfectly ordered; her desk held only one piece of paper, which she picked up, along with her purse, which had been tucked out of sight under her desk. “We’re short-handed because the schools are out for spring break and a couple people took vacation while their kids are free. Mandy and her family flew to Florida to spend the week at Disney World.” She glanced at the space around her, then flipped off the light.

“Sounds fun.”

“If you like that kind of thing.”

“Who doesn’t like that kind of thing?” He thought of Worlds of Fun only half an hour away and tried to remember the last time he had been there.

Joining him back in the foyer, Adelyn passed him the signed permit. “Everything is good to go. Despite Elliott Construction pulling out of the Indulgence Row project, they’re still keeping you busy, aren’t they?”

“Definitely. There’s plenty of work to go around.” Jason waited for her to lock up and walked her to the car, glad to have a few minutes to talk, even if that’s all it could be. She was always so pretty and put together in her business suits and pearls. It was more appealing than he would have guessed before he’d started noticing them on her.

“Are you guys doing anything fun for Easter?”

“Coloring eggs and then Easter dinner. Mom has been looking forward to having a grandchild to spoil, and Felicia will fit the bill.” Since his parents would become defacto grandparents to the third-grader when his sister married his best friend, Ben who was Felicia’s uncle and guardian, in a few months, they were jumping into grandparenthood with both feet.

She shook her head. “Is Angelina going to make it home?”

Jason frowned as he thought of his youngest sister—she’d moved to New York City almost the moment she graduated from high school and apparently hadn’t looked back. After seven years away, she’d not hit on any real success on Broadway, but she wouldn’t consider coming home, either. “Angelina is always busy with something in New York. Someday maybe we’ll get lucky and she’ll grace us with her presence again.”

Adelyn chuckled, her tones musical—had it always been that way? He couldn’t remember. He never noticed her like this when they were growing up and she, Piper, and his sister Maddie had been running in and out of each other’s homes like they were community property. No, his fascination with her was much more recent. And ridiculously hopeless. She didn’t even notice he was a man—he was just Maddie’s family.

“Hey, are you doing anything Friday night?” she asked, pulling him from his wayward thoughts. “I mean, I know you aren’t seeing anyone and it sounds like you guys aren’t going out of town.”

“Not really. What’s up?”

“I wondered if you’d like to go out.”

He nearly got whiplash, he looked over at her so fast. “You mean like a date?” Had he stuttered?

She looked nervous and embarrassed, gripping her purse strap tighter just below where it looped over her shoulder. “Well, sort of, I mean, Piper challenged us all to get dates, and the deadline is coming up for me and I don’t know who to ask out, so could you do me a favor and go with me? Otherwise I’ll be the idiot who didn’t follow through and I hate that.”

His heart went from racing double-time to thunking down into his boots. He should have guessed—of course she was only asking him out because she’d gotten desperate.  Why else would she notice that he was datable? Obviously, she only thought of him as a convenience, someone to take for granted, and he didn’t want that.

He needed to get a life. “You know, I don’t think so. But good luck finding someone.” He yanked open the door to his truck and slid inside, fuming—mostly with himself—for this pointless attraction he felt for her. Apparently, it was all one-sided.

Her eyes widened in confusion. “But why not? I mean, it wouldn’t have to mean anything.”

“I don’t think that’s what Piper had in mind.” Any other answer would be too revealing, and he honestly didn’t need to deal with her knowing that he had fallen hard for her when he returned from Afghanistan a year and a half ago. The fact that he hadn’t been truly interested in anyone else since was his own stupidity.

He might be in love with her. Maybe. But he wasn’t going to be her pity date.

As Jason sat back in his truck, he wished he could figure out how to make her see him as something more than a buddy, but he had no idea where to start.

***

Adelyn watched Jason drive off in his truck, her brow furrowing as she settled in her sporty blue Ford Focus. What had that been all about? They hung out a lot, and she had helped him with the renovations at his house. So what was the deal with him turning her down? Was there something wrong with her so that he couldn’t bring himself to go on an actual date with her instead of hanging out as friends?

She settled into the seat of her car—so different and less comfortable than the ergonomically correct chair she used at work. She had hoped Jason would agree to the date so she could clear the whole situation from her plate. Now she would have to ask out someone else. Why did dating have to be such a pain?

 

Two

 

Two and a half months later.

The community garden was in full swing and Jason was in the back, weeding beds and picking veggies. How had he gotten dragged into this again, he wondered as the sweat dripped from his forehead despite the fact that the sun would be setting in twenty minutes.

The humidity was reaching toward eighty percent and the temperatures still hovered at a life-sucking ninety-two degrees. After a long day of hanging sheetrock in this heat, he wanted to go home and drown himself in a cool shower. But there was Adelyn in her now-wilting office attire, sweat glistening on her face, and smiling as she talked with Maddie while they picked green beans. That made the heat and sweat worth it.

It had been over two months since she had asked him out while making it clear it was only her desperation talking, and though he’d been mad and she’d been embarrassed for a few weeks, they were long past that and back into their old groove again—which meant he tried to ignore his feelings and she was oblivious to them.

Could he be any more pathetic?

He pulled another weed and caught a phrase from her. “He totally didn’t fit the list, so I kicked him to the curb.”

List?

“Did it ever occur to you that the list could use some revision?” Maddie asked.

“I’ve revised it.” Adelyn scowled at her.

“Um, I think revision implies changing some of the current content, not just adding more to it.”

“What list?” Jason asked.

“It’s nothing.” Adelyn hurried to say.

Maddie shook her head. “It isn’t nothing. It’s this list of qualities a guy has to have for her to take him seriously as a romantic prospect. It’s great in theory, but she’s using it as an excuse to not get serious about anyone. Why do you think she’s never had a boyfriend?”

Hadn’t she? He couldn’t remember—he hadn’t been paying that much attention until a year and a half ago, but surely she’d had a regular boyfriend before that.

“I’m more discerning than most people,” Adelyn said.

“I see, so I was happy to date just anyone—you know, before Ben and I got together—but you’re discerning.”

“That’s not what I mean, and you know it.” Adelyn shot Maddie a look of reprimand.

Maddie’s head tipped in acknowledgment.

“What kinds of things are on your list?” Jason asked.

“It’s just your garden-variety list,” Adelyn wouldn’t meet his eye, very focused on the plants in front of her.

“Yes, totally,” Maddie agreed with a false earnestness. “He will go shopping without complaint, trusts her to handle her own problems, will step in to help without being asked—”

“Wait, hold on—aren’t those mutually exclusive?” Jason wished he could see the list, maybe it would make more sense than the way Maddie was telling it.

“Not at all—it’s all about context,” Adelyn said.

He didn’t get it, but didn’t argue. She had a list. He wondered what other kinds of things were on it, and how he could get a copy.

***

“You want to grab some dinner tonight?” the text message read.

Adelyn scowled. She had been trying to discourage Eric Sanders since they first met in March, but he wouldn’t quit asking her out—it wasn’t like he was an obsessive stalker, but still, every couple weeks he would find an excuse to ask her for dinner or a show. She wondered if it was time to move beyond polite refusals and lay her disinterest on the table for him.

Maddie’s voice echoed in the back of her mind, saying that she ought to re-evaluate her list and give someone a chance. Was it weird that she made it to twenty-eight without a serious boyfriend? She ignored the screaming voice in her head that said yes, yes it was—especially when she didn’t lack for dinner invitations. Was she too picky, or did she really attract too many of the wrong guys?

She tucked the portfolio with the—hopefully—final revision of yard plans for Jason to approve. He had been roped into hosting Piper and Reece’s wedding in a little over two months, but the yard in his historic home was in serious need of an overhaul. She had been conferring with him and the deliriously happy couple to make sure it would meet their needs as well as be something he could be happy about maintaining for a good long while—if he stayed in the lovely place after he finished fixing it up instead of flipping it.

Either way, she hoped this would be the last round of revisions—they needed to get a move on with the work.

Adelyn lifted her hand to knock, but Jason opened the door before her knuckles could make contact.

“Glad you could make it. Dinner is on the table,” Jason gestured behind him through the kitchen that still needed an overhaul and into the freshly painted dining room. Things in here were certainly coming along, though far slower than she had anticipated. The kitchen and laundry room were all that was left to be done on the main floor and that was coming up next on the inside.

“What did you pick up?”

“DeQuan’s. It’s been a while.”

It had, and the Chinese place adjacent to the community garden was the best in town. “Sounds great. We can go over the adjustments Comfrey and I made on the plant list and paths and eat some dinner. If you like the plan, we can go mark the lawn.” Calling it lawn was a little generous, since that implied grass, rather than the patch of neatly trimmed weeds she had crossed through.

“Sounds good.” He sat in the chair beside her and pulled a couple plates and cartons toward them. “You’re not exactly dressed for this.”

“I changed into more sensible shoes.” She let her sandaled foot peek out from below the table. They were flats and very comfortable.

His brows lifted. “If you say so. At least you won’t be walking on stilts out there.” He helped himself to hearty portions of chow mein and orange chicken, passing the sweet and sour pork to her. She appreciated that he remembered her preference without having to be reminded constantly.

She felt her shoulders start to loosen from the stress of her job at the city as he talked about how things were going with his current construction job and the renovation he would be doing later with Charlee’s construction crew.  It was always comfortable and easy with Jason—far more than with most guys she was around. Dates were fairly torturous most of the time, which was the reason she kicked the guys to the curb, and not because she was too picky, like the girls kept telling her. She had her standards—who didn’t?

“I’m glad things are going well for Charlee—she has worked so hard for this.” Adelyn set her fork down, done eating. “You want to check out the plans?” She pulled out the portfolio.

Jason set his hand on hers and she tried to move out of his way. “Hey,” he said. “No need to rush to that. Is something bothering you?”

Adelyn slid her hand away as her phone vibrated in her pocket. She pulled it out, grateful for the distraction. Eric again.

“Is something wrong?” Jason asked.

“Just a guy who wanted to grab dinner.”

“You’ve already eaten.”

“Yeah, it’s not tonight he wants to go out. He’s asked me out several times but doesn’t seem to be getting the hint.”

Jason nodded. “Was Maddie right the other day when she said you’ve never had a steady boyfriend?”

Never was such a harsh word. “Um, yeah. But that’s because of bad timing and stuff. It’s not a big deal.” Except she was starting to wonder if maybe it was a big deal.

He studied her face for a moment. “You have a list of requirements for a man to reach?”

“Who doesn’t?”

“I don’t. No man, no how.”

She chuckled. “You know what I mean—the purpose of dating is to figure out what you can and can’t tolerate in a relationship. That way when you find the right person, you recognize it.”

His brows lifted, but he didn’t speak for a moment. “What other things are on your list? You know besides shopping with you and that contradictory will help without being asked, but trusts you to handle things yourself.”

“I told you, those two are situationally relevant. For example, if I hire someone to come paint my house and they don’t do the job right, I don’t want someone to step in to try to fix it for me. I’m a capable person and can handle the conversation with the painter myself. But if I’m setting up for a friend’s wedding, that’s a big job and stepping in to help with the massive job would be completely appropriate.”

“Okay, I get you now. What else is on your list?”

Adelyn almost didn’t tell him—it was a little embarrassing, having him ask—and how did he remember the conversation so well at the garden? “You have to promise not to tease me about my list.”

He had to pause, as if he wasn’t sure if he could manage that, then nodded. “Okay, I promise—even if I have to cut out my tongue to avoid teasing.”

She rolled her eyes, but accepted it. “The guy has to have goals—he can’t slide by and figure the status quo is enough for him.”

Jason grabbed the yellow legal pad he often kept handy for notes and scribbled on it.

Adelyn craned her neck to see what he was doing. “Why are you writing that down?”

“So if I see your perfect man, I can point him out to you, of course.”

He spoke with full sincerity, so though something seemed hinky to her, she continued. “He looks out for what’s best for me even when I’m not.”

Jason paused halfway through writing that and stared. “Meaning?”

She sighed, hating to admit this. “I’m told I have a habit of being a bit of a workaholic. There may be times when I need to be reminded to step back and take a break, or whatever. He needs to recognize when I’m pushing myself too hard and point it out to me, that kind of thing. Not in a bossy or overbearing manner, but with kindness. I would do the same for him of course.”

Nodding, Jason finished writing that down. “Next?”

“He needs to be open to new experiences, and I want him to introduce me to new things too—I’m not talking about taking me skydiving or anything—as interesting as that seems, I am not jumping out of a plane—but something different than my usual.”

“Makes sense.”

“There was the shopping one, and the two you said were contradictory.”

“You can’t remember the rest, or is that the whole list?”

“I’m telling them in order, otherwise I might forget them.”

A grin lit up his face. “You have them memorized in order?”

“Are you going to make fun of me, or do you want to hear the list? Because we could go out and start work in the yard.”

“Sorry, of course you know them in order.” He added the three she had just mentioned to the list, though his smile didn’t disappear. “Go ahead.”

She considered refusing to go on, but the teasing had been minimal, so she continued. “He doesn’t think that an offer of comfort, like a hug when I’ve had a bad day, has to lead to something more. Sometimes a hug is only a hug. And sometimes a back rub is only a back rub.”

“This guy is supposed to be Superman, isn’t he?”

“Give me a break—are you saying you can’t accept that sometimes people just need a hug that isn’t going to lead to intimacy?”

“No, but a lot of guys don’t get that. You’re right to have it on your list.” His lips quirked as if he were holding back a smile.

Adelyn narrowed her eyes at him. “He needs to be able to have an adult conversation about feelings without trying to back out of it. He needs to be equally capable of wearing a suit and tie as wearing work clothes. I don’t want someone who thinks one or the other is beneath them.”

“Good solid middle-of-the-road guy. Gotcha.”

“More like a flexible guy. He doesn’t have to love going to city functions where we have to dress up, but I have to go sometimes, and he would need to come with me. It would be far easier for both of us if he was moderately comfortable in a suit and tie. But some of the guys I meet at those things don’t know the first thing about physical work. They’ve never mowed a lawn or used a shovel and that’s not what I want, either. I don’t think my parents even have a hammer and screwdriver—if something needs to be done, they call for someone to do it. That’s great for some things, but I want him to be able to do basic things, at least. Which leads to the next item—I want him to be good with his hands.”

Jason grinned. “That could be interpreted more than one way.”

Adelyn felt her face heat, and looked down at her food. When she had first written that, she meant it in the work form, but… “Both interpretations would fit.”

“Likes me for who I am, and not the idea of who I am, or what I can get for him, and he doesn’t want to change me.”

“But you want him to introduce you to new things?”

“There’s a difference between say, taking me to a rodeo, and trying to get me to change my wardrobe or my group of friends.”

“Agreed.” Jason scribbled a few more lines between bites of dinner, then pushed the list away. “That’s quite a list. I noticed the list wasn’t entirely one-sided—you want him to …encourage you to grow as well as wanting someone flexible. How hard could it be to find someone like that?”

“Much harder than you might think. I dated a lot in college and the first couple of years after moving home so the list has grown over the years. I haven’t been trying much lately, which is why Piper pushed me to get out and date someone last spring.”

“Did you find someone for your date in March, then?”

She pushed a sliver of carrot around on her otherwise-empty plate. “Yes, but it didn’t work out.”

“He didn’t want to go to the opera on his first date?”

“It wasn’t anything formal. All we did was go to dinner, but he dominated the conversation talking about golf. Seriously, he didn’t ask one question about me the whole night. Not again, thanks.”

He grabbed the list and added to the bottom 15) Needs to know the difference between a conversation and soliloquy.

She was impressed, even if he was teasing her now. “Whoa. You know the word soliloquy. You know how to spell soliloquy. I’m truly impressed.”

“There are all kinds of things you don’t know about me.”

Looking into his brown eyes, Adelyn thought he might be right about that.

***

It was more than an hour later when Jason said goodnight to Adelyn. They had reviewed the changes she and Comfrey had made to the plans and laid out the paths and beds with marking paint. She would be spending a lot of evenings with him putting everything into place, which suited him fine. Apparently he was a glutton for punishment.

He picked up the yellow notepad and looked at the list of items she’d mentioned her perfect man would need. He could be all those things.

Was he already all those things? He re-evaluated the list and thought back through the years, considering his past behavior. The only thing he lacked—at least that he thought she might have issues with—was being happy with his status quo. Except he really wasn’t.

Not romantically, and not in his job. Why had he been dragging his feet on both of them? He’d been working construction on and off since high school and had taken some classes in college that taught him about running a construction business.

He’d talked about branching out on his own, but instead, here he was, still working for Peter’s construction company—which was now focused mainly on commercial construction. He did some work for Charlee, but she was focused on renovations. What he wanted to do was build custom houses, to help someone realize their dream in a new home.

Sure, he’d waited before because he knew he could get called up at any time, but he’d been back from his last deployment for a year and half, and been out of the Army for more than a year, and he still hadn’t done anything about it.

He looked at the notebook again to re-read the list. Maybe it was time he pursued the things he wanted most instead of letting them slide. If he wasn’t happy with the status quo, there was no one to blame but himself.

He knew which of the items on her list to check off first. The others were going to take a little longer to prepare.

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