Single at the Same Time

Due to certain life happenings, May 1st came and went without the full launch of Tales of Romance.  From the bottom of my heart, I am truly sorry if you have come to this website looking for your simple little tale of romance, a romp, or a secret interlude.  

As the school year winds down, I will be able to devote myself to this pet project.  I fully anticipate having loads of content ready by the middle of June when I get back from a trip with my husband, Joe Mance (Eat your heart, ladies!).

Please check back then to experience Tales of Romance the way it should be experienced.  Thank you for your understanding and we hope to see you back!

Single for the first time in almost 25 years, Claudia Grainger finds herself being convinced to give online dating a try.  Leary of what kind of "suitors" she may find, Claudia is pleasantly surprised when she runs across a profile she's 100% compatible with...and he looks familiar. 

"Dear FarmBoy1414, I think we may know each other..."

© 2015 Em Bracken's Tales of Romance

Buy the Extended Version of:

Single at the Same Time

(This version contains adult language, adult themes, and sexual content.)

You must be 18 years of age or older to purchase.

Buy the Extended Version of:

Single at the Same Time

(This version contains adult language, adult themes, and sexual content.)

You must be 18 years of age or older to purchase.


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Buy the Extended Version of:

Single at the Same Time

(This version contains adult language, adult themes, and sexual content.)

You must be 18 years of age or older to purchase.

Single at the Same Time

          "Let me put it this way."  Claudia exhaled heavily, rubbing her temples with her tired fingers.  "I don't trust myself, my friends, my family, or co-workers to find me Mr. Right.  Why would I put my faith and trust in some stupid computer program to know who I'm most compatible with?"

          "Claudia," began her insistent, best friend, Taffy, "It's science.  Computer science.  It works.  It's full of algorithms, equations, geometry, and all those other fancy schmancy science and math terms.  It has worked for millions and millions of people all over the world.  You know my cousin, Rachel, right?  Well, she met --"

          Claudia held up her hand, shaking her head, a smile of dismay crossing her lips.  "No.  It doesn't really work."  Claudia rolled her eyes, watching her friend put her hand on her hip, cocking her head to the side like she was some kind of diva.  Taffy Willis is a diva.  But, Claudia Grainger?  Claudia Grainger is no diva!  "I'll admit, it probably has legitimately worked for some.  But, for millions and millions of other people, it hasn't.  People aren't who they say they are on those things.  With my luck --"

          "With your luck.  Puh-leeze!"  Taffy knew her best friend better than anyone.  Yes, she's stubborn and impossible some of the time, but she's wonderful, caring, and generous the other 95% of the time.  She knew if her friend would at least try it, she'd realize online dating can work if given a fighting chance.  After all, it worked for her cousin, Rachel.  "Why do you have to be like this?  Why can't you just try it?  Pleeease?"  Batting her eyelashes, Taffy pleaded with her friend.  

          It was Claudia's turn to plant her hand on her hip.  She stared intensely at her ridiculous looking friend -- standing there looking like a sad panda with her hands clasped together, all doe-eyed and dumb, her bottom lip sticking out.  Pointing her finger, Claudia declared, "You're obnoxious."

          Taffy jumped up and down, her short blonde curls bounced around her face making her look like a circus poodle.  "Does that mean you'll do it?"

          "What?  What part of 'obnoxious' means 'yes' or even 'maybe' to you?"

          Taffy smirked and nodded.  "It wasn't what you said, my dear friend," she cackled.  "It's how you said it."  Taffy rocked back on her heels as a large, genuine grin stretched over her face, she crossed her arms, rumpling her blouse.  She won and she knew it.  

          Claudia rolled her eyes and stuck her index finger in her friend's face.  Her jaw dropped open, she drew in a deep breath, preparing her next statement of defense.  She paused, blinked, and slowly exhaled as though the wind had just been beat out of her.  Her shoulders slumped.  Nothing.  She had nothing.

.....

          "There."  Taffy rocked back in Claudia's worn leather desk chair, clasping her hands behind her head.  She had spent the better part of her day helping her reluctant friend open an account and fill out a profile questionnaire on a popular dating website.  In a way, she wished Claudia hadn't been so stubborn about the whole thing.  On the other hand, after what Claudia had been through, she understood her reluctance.  "Now you just have to write your own introduction.  You know, let the guys on here know why you're doing this and what you're looking for."

          An explosive laugh burst out of Claudia's mouth, her hands clamped over her lips, trying to conceal her hidden amusement.  Her eyes twinkled.  "So, like I'm supposed to gush about how I like long walks on the beach, pina coladas, cuddling by firelight, massages, and cute puppies?"  

          "No, dipshit," Taffy said, narrowing her eyes.  "You're supposed to tell your potential suitors the truth.  Real stuff.  Stuff that matters in your life.  Stuff that matters to you.  You have one thousand characters.  Make them count."  Taffy rose from the squeaky chair, pushing it back with her legs.  She set her empty wine glass on the desk next to the piece of paper she had scribbled Claudia's username and password on.  "I have to go.  I wish I could stay to see how this all turns out, but it's late.  I'm tired.  I'm frustrated.  And there is a part of me that wants to punch you in the nose for being so contrary."  Taffy smiled and pulled her hurting friend into her arms.  "I love you.  You deserve to be happy.  You deserve to be admired, respected, and adored."

          Claudia bit her lip.  She knew she had been difficult.  Change was never easy on her.  But, since her ex-husband, Jim, left her for that bimbo office assistant three years ago, she was forced into change.  Twenty-five years of marriage she gave him.  Twenty-five years of being faithful when he was not, loyal when he belittled her, understanding when he took advantage of her trust, caring when he got sick.  Twenty-five years of taking care of everything -- the kids, the house, the pets, the yard, his ailing parents, even the garbage for cryin' out loud -- so he could play golf, gamble, and act like a frat brat who never grew up.  And for what?  For nothing.  "Thanks, sweetie." she said, gripping her friend.

          Claudia and Taffy slowly padded their way to the front door of Claudia's bungalow.  They made small talk as Taffy pulled on her coat.  She turned the doorknob and looked at her weary friend.  "Please promise me you will finish your profile.  Please."  Taffy waited patiently for Claudia's assurance, dipping her eyes to meet her friend's.


.....

         

          Most days, a ringing phone doesn't bother Claudia.  But on this particular day, her incessantly ringing phone sounded like an ambulance siren married -- and then had babies with -- a foghorn.  It was terrible.  Awful, to be more precise.  Unable to lift her head from her pillow, she slapped around her nightstand a few times before making one large sweeping motion to find that damn phone.  Her box of tissues, a full glass of water, her reading glasses, and that stupid phone with the earsplitting ring went flying.  "Fuck it," she groaned.  All that stuff would be there later when she was able to pull her hungover ass out of bed.  Finally...the phone quit ringing. 

          Thirty seconds later, it blasted out that shrill ring again.  "Somebody better be dying!"  Claudia slithered out of her bed and landed in a heap of flannel on the floor, dragging sheets, blankets, and pillows along with.  She hissed at the sunlight trickling through her blinds as she pawed clumsily at the bird nest atop her head.  The phone kept ringing.  The only thing keeping her upright, Claudia's back was planted firmly against the side of the bed.  She ran her hands on the carpet near her body, but felt nothing.  She made a large, slow sweeping motion with her legs, like she was making a snow angel.  She felt the cool plastic of the phone with her foot.  It was way too far to try and reach.  She grabbed a pillow and covered her face, hoping to muffle the blaring phone as it continued to blast at Claudia's eardrums.  Whoever it was, wasn't giving up.

          Claudia growled and groaned, making one final stretch for the phone.  "What?" she barked, the phone was clutched tightly in her ghostly grip.

          "Oh!  Well, good morning to you, little miss sunshine and daisies."  It was Taffy, chipper as always.  Well, mostly always.

          "What do you want?"  Claudia didn't have time for this nonsensical, early morning, chit chat bullshit.  She had sleeping to do.

          "Uh...it's 10 o'clock in the morning.  What crawled up your ass and laid an egg overnight?"  Taffy's voice sang. 

          Claudia rubbed her eyes.  "Wine.  Lots of wine."  Taffy roared into the phone like she was at a comedy club in the City of Lost Angels.  Claudia pulled the phone away from her overly sensitive ear.  Disgruntled and irritated, she demanded again, "What do you want?"  Seriously.  She didn't have time for this crap.

          Taffy's uproarious laughter shrunk into a slight giggle.  "Did you finish your profile?"  Claudia could hear the hope in Taffy's voice.

          She exhaled.  "Yeah."

          "Seriously?  Because you promised me you would."

          "And I did.  I did finish it."  Claudia couldn't even open her eyes, let alone roll them into the back of her head like she wanted to do.

          "Yay!  What did you write?"

          Claudia paused.  What did I write? she wondered.  "Uh..."

          "You don't remember, do you?"  Taffy knew her friend all too well.  "Don't do anything.  I'll be right over."  Taffy hung up the phone.  Claudia couldn't manage to find the "end call" button.  She knew eventually the call would end.  Eventually.

.....

          Taffy crashed through Claudia's front door.  She didn't knock.  She didn't ring the doorbell.  She didn't wait.  "Where are you?"  Taffy cased the bungalow.  She was a woman on a mission, that's for sure.  Claudia wanted to answer her friend, but it was too much effort.  Her house wasn't big.  Taffy would find her.  Taffy strode into Claudia's dark bedroom and stopped in her tracks.  She laughed.  "Look at you, Cinderella!"

          Claudia looked like a giant alley cat curled up next to her favorite dumpster.  Her hair was matted, teased, and tangled.  Her clothes were twisted half way around her aching body.  "Don't laugh.  I hurt."

          Taffy bent down to her friend and patted her gently on the back.  "I know you do.  For a change, it's you and not me."  Taffy giggled as she tried unraveling Claudia from the knot of blankets twisted around her.  "Let's get you up.  Get some greasy food in that belly of your's."  It took a little coercing and straight up threats, but eventually Claudia staggered to her feet.  After a long shower and Taffy's famous Hangover Hash Browns, Claudia was feeling a bit better.  The two pals plodded into Claudia's office to finish -- or fix -- what she had started.   

          Claudia had not done a terrible job on her profile.  She didn't do a good one either.  A few tweaks later, Taffy was satisfied with Claudia's profile introduction.  Turning to her friend, she smiled proudly.  "See?  This is how we all see you."  Taffy tapped her fingernail on the computer screen.  "This...is perfect."

          Claudia smiled, biting her lip.  Her eyes held a glimmer of hope, a twinge of hidden excitement.  "So what happens now?"  She exhaled heavily.  The nerves were killing her.

          Taffy brushed the curls out of her eyes and straightened her spine, her shoulders back.  "Two things.  You can search for matches.  Or...you can be a wimp and wait for the matches to come to you."  The corners of her mouth grew wide, her eyes even more so.  She leaned forward and whispered, "Let's look."

          Studying her best friend's face, Claudia exhaled, her shoulders slumping.  She wasn't sure if she was ready for this.  What would the kids think?  What would her brother think?  What would Jim think?  Wait...screw him.  She nodded.  "Okay."

          Claudia readjusted herself in the chair next to Taffy who was behind the keyboard and mouse, her fingers ready to pounce.  A few swipes of the keyboard and clicks of the mouse and they were ready to start checking out Claudia's matches.  

          Profile after profile left Claudia a little disheartened.  There were good matches, but no perfect matches.  "I'm sorry, Taff, but I just don't want to settle for anyone I'm not 100% compatible with.  I've done the opposites attract thing.  It worked for 25 years, but did it really work?  You know?"

          Taffy paid no attention to her friend, her eyes focused on the screen.  "I think we should expand your search beyond the city.  Let's do a 200 mile radius.  That's no big deal, it's a what...four hour drive?  Long weekend?"

          Claudia threw her head back and guffawed.  "Four hours?  Maybe for you.  More like six or seven for old grandma here."  She watched Taffy intently as she expanded the search.  A moment went by while the computer refreshed, looking for matches.  Claudia was splayed out in her wooden chair.  Her arms hung heavy, her legs kicked out in front.  She looked like a rag doll thrown haphazardly across a child's play chair.  

          "Here!  Here is one match that is 100% compatible with Miss Picky Pants!  Yay!"  Taffy jumped out of the way, motioning for Claudia to move into the desk chair, her face beamed.  Claudia looked up at her glowing friend.  She shook her head, glancing at the desk chair.  She could just imagine what kind of nutcase Mr. Perfect was.  Fat, bald, old, and stupid just like Jim?  Most likely.

          Claudia pulled herself from the creaky wooden chair.  Slumping into her new perch, she readjusted her body several times, smoothing her clothes around her and fussing with her hair.  She sighed and tossed a reluctant glance at the computer monitor.  

          Her eyes scanned the screen, her heart began to thump.  She could feel a quiver inside her bones, like that last leaf hanging on for dear life just before the wind blows it from the branch.  Taffy watched her friend like a hawk, glancing between Claudia and computer screen.  "What is it?"  Taffy questioned, leaning toward the desk, peering at the monitor.

          Claudia cleared her throat and cocked her head to the side.  "I know him.  I know this guy."

          "What?"  Taffy shook her head.

          Claudia's eyes were glued to the screen.  Her shaking hands crumpled the ratty sweatshirt she was wearing.  "I know him."  

          "That guy?"  Taffy leaned in, pointing at the screen.  "He's cute!"

          Claudia swallowed hard.  "He always has been."  Her voice trailed off as she stared at the familiar face.  Her thoughts drifted back to her youth.  Pete Barnes -- her very first boyfriend.  Taffy's voice was drowned out by memories of her and Pete driving around the dusty back roads of their hometown, doing things they should not have been doing and loving every minute of it!  

          She was always smitten with him and the way his lovely dark locks danced in the wind on their country road journeys.  She especially loved the way his tan arms rippled and flexed as he drove the family tractor around the hay field, Claudia hung on his every move back then.  Without even thinking, she started to type:

          Dear FarmBoy1414,

                    I think we may know each other...

          

        .....        


          The drive to Buttercup Springs was normally a relaxing one for Claudia.  It was always like traveling back in time -- the same old buildings, the same old businesses, the same old junked out cars dotting the field of Craig County Auctions and Car Yard.  This drive, however, felt a bit different.

          Claudia still had family in Buttercup Springs and visited quite often.  She knew Pete Barnes did, too.  It's not like it had been 30 years since they had seen each other.  They ran into each other quite a bit over the years, in fact -- weddings, funerals, community functions, reunions -- but each time, they were with other people.  She was married or at least had a boyfriend when he was single.  And the short amount of time she was single, he had a girlfriend.  Their timing was never right.  

          Now, to her utter amazement, she found herself driving to Buttercup Springs, not to visit family, but to "catch up" with Pete Barnes, her first love.  His wife had left him for her new boss three years ago, too.   Since then, Pete had moved back to Buttercup Springs to help with the family farm.  They were like kindred spirits, just waiting to rediscover each other on a level they never expected.  

          The two old friends laughed and giggled into the wee hours of the morning on many occasions since their re-connection, rehashing the wild days of their youth and filling each other in on local gossip they've heard over the years.  The conversations she shared with Pete were just what the doctor ordered. 

          Claudia could feel her shriveled, shattered heart begin to restore itself with every mile she drove north to Buttercup Springs, north to Pete Barnes.  Her icy cold attitude about "all things love" began to warm.  It had been three and a half weeks since Claudia first contacted Pete through the dating website.  They decided it had been long enough, they had to meet again.


..... 


          Pete Barnes fumbled with his coffee mug, waiting for Claudia to arrive at Kat's Kafe.  It had been four years since he had seen her.  They were both in town for Bob and Purdie McWray's 65th wedding anniversary.  Pete remembered how he felt seeing Claudia that night and was sure he would have the same butterflies this time, too.  Judging by her profile pictures, she was still a sight to behold.   

          Anytime now, he thought.  His wristwatch showed 3:55 p.m..  Claudia said she would be to the cafe around 4 o'clock.  Pete hoped and prayed she wouldn't back out.  He knew how reluctant she was about this online dating thing -- so was he.  His fingers drummed the red Formica tabletop, his foot tapping with the beat of his heart.  

          Pete's eyes were focused on the parking spots outside the window.  The parking lot in front of the red brick building with the petunia-laced flower boxes was small, and almost filled to capacity.  He glanced at his watch again -- 4:04 p.m..  He exhaled, outlining the rim of his coffee cup, he contemplated calling her cell phone.  Maybe he was right, maybe she decided not to show.

          The delicate sound of bells ringing over the dull roar of the cafe caught Pete's attention.  Wanting to whip his head in the direction of the bells, he thought it best to look a little more nonchalant.  Casually, he turned toward the light reverberation of the tingling sounds.  There she was, a vision in Alice blue cashmere.  Her chestnut hair draped over her shoulders, little wisps of hair covered her left eye.  Her smile grew wide and bright as she locked eyes with Pete.  She's as beautiful as ever, he thought.

          Pete stood, his hands pressed down the front of his plaid shirt and nicely faded jeans.  While his hair wasn't the jet black it once was, the peppery hue fit him well.  His facial features, however, were as chiseled as ever, his smile accented by dimples.  Claudia held her breath, trying not to pant as she approached him.  "Hey, guy!"  Claudia met Pete's open arms with her's.  He smells so good!   

          "How was the drive up?" Pete asked, giving Claudia's back a friendly rub and pat.  It was the first time in 32 years he had held her in his arms.  The memories of their long, "goodnight" hugs flooded back.  He could have stood there all day and all night with Claudia engulfed in his warm embrace.

          Claudia could feel her knees begin to buckle.  She never wanted him to let go, ever.  She could feel his body quivering next to her.  She knew he could feel her as well.  She gave his back a good, solid scratch, tightening her grip on his soft, flannel shirt.  "It was fine.  Went by quick.  Have you been here long?"

          She could feel Pete shake his head.  "No."  His voice cracked.  He cleared his throat.  "No.  Not really."  That was a total lie.  He had been there for over an hour in case she showed up early.  

          "Good.  I feel bad I'm a little late."  Claudia noticed people in the cafe beginning to stare.  Three of the town gossips sat at a corner booth, all of them hunched forward and whispering.  "We should sit down."  

          Pete snickered, well aware of who was sitting in the corner booth, too.  "Good idea," he said, reluctantly releasing Claudia from his embrace, allowing his hand to softly trail down her cashmere-coated back.  He motioned her to their table next to the bay window.  He tossed a glance back to Ginny, Marva, and Tootsie -- the three gossips holding court in the cafe.  Winking at them, he ushered Claudia to her seat.

          Claudia looked up at Pete, thanking him for pulling her chair out -- something Jumbo never would have thought to do.  She watched Pete circle to his chair and sit.  Claudia fidgeted with her empty coffee cup.  "Are you hungry?  Because I'm starving."  She wasn't hungry at all.  It was nerves, but she felt like she needed something to do with her hands.

          Pete nodded, his eyes shimmered.  "Yeah, you know me.  I could always eat."

          "Well, you don't look like you're always eating," she said, feeling her cheeks redden.  Seriously?  Did she really just say that?  Apparently you need something to do with your damn mouth, too, she thought to herself.  Pete blushed and wrapped his strong hands around his coffee cup.  "Anyway," she continued, moving on to a different topic.

          Pete and Claudia enjoyed a few cups of coffee and Kat's famous mashed potato cheeseburgers on hot buttered buns.  Not exactly a "first date" meal, but there was an unspoken comfort between the pair, history -- and a good one at that.  Cafe customers came and went -- including Ginny, Marva, and Tootsie -- while Pete and Claudia laughed over their meal and several cups of black coffee.  The clock slowly ticked by.

          The Kat's Kafe was closing soon.  After taking care of the tab, Pete cleared his throat.  "So, uh...do you wanna maybe go for a drive just like old times?"  He let out a breath, thankful he finally made his next move.  

          Claudia simpered.  "I'd like that."  


.....


           Those familiar bells jangled again as Claudia and Pete exited the cafe.  He placed his hand on the small of her back, leading her toward his pickup truck.  Claudia smiled to herself.  For the first time in more than 25 years, she felt something deep down inside her move...

This short story gets graphic in nature.  If you would like to continue reading Single at the Same Time, simply purchase the e-book for the extremely low price of $0.49!  

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