What the Ducks?
Don’t forget to read part 1 first, you can find it here: www.rebeccahchase.com/puppy-love-part1
“You’re telling me you’re a secret geek? Does that mean you’re a bit dull?” Fern asked with a cheeky wink as she tucked her feet under her and sunk into the plush sofa. There was nothing dull about his living room. She gawked at the mixture of paintings featuring traditional ladies from Asia in massive skirted dresses or large beachscapes as the sun was rising over the waves. Amongst these were photos showing groups of grinning people with surfboards or hanging out in markets or coffee houses. It was hard to miss the large television too. It had to be bigger than her sister’s, which she frequently boasted was 65 inches.
“Game designers are not dull geeks. Kids at university would kill to do what I do. I’m like the David Beckham of the digital world.” Fern stifled a laugh at his shakily shared response to her jokey question. Maybe she wasn’t the only one with confidence issues. “You’re not buying it.”
“Are you?” she teased.
“I don’t think that’s relevant,” he laughed elbowing her as they sat thigh to thigh on the sofa.
“I always wondered why you didn’t go out to work. I joked to friends that you might be a lottery winner, but then you probably wouldn’t be living here,” she added, sipping the hot coffee. There was a weird pleasure to the burn it gave her throat. “I’d see you heading out for a jog just as I was readying myself for a slog through rush hour.”
“Or that morning you were coming home from a night partying with a bag of something that smelt suspiciously like brownies,” he replied, his fingers resting against the edge of his shorts. Sadly he had made good on his promise and put a t-shirt on. The grey cotton clung to his biceps, reminding her the taut abs that were underneath. A hot geek? Could it get any better?
“You mean my walk of shame?” Fern sighed. “It was a bad date where the guy kicked me out at 2 in the morning because I wouldn’t have sex with him. Luckily his housemate was kind enough to let me sleep on her floor. I always buy brownies at that bakery around the corner after a crap date.”
“Oh, right.” He shifted awkwardly. “How is dating going?”
“Let’s just say I’m on first name terms with all the staff at the bakery these days.” She gave a hollow laugh. An awkward silence descended. Fern ran her fingers across the jade cushion that had been propping up her elbow. Ask him about his dating; you know you want to. Say it, Fern. Come on. She opened her mouth, but a squeak came out.
“Sorry, what did you say?” Ollie leaned closer, a fresh waft of cedar filled her lungs. He was way out of her league.
“I said…” She fumbled with her words. “I mean, I was going to say how beautiful your place is. There is so much to see.”
You gutless wimp. No wonder you haven’t had a successful date in forever. You can’t even chat when there is a perfect opening.
“You like my place?”
“Yes, it’s stunning.”
Ollie beamed, it made his eyes crinkle at the edges. “I got all of these things from my travels. I worked for a long time in South Korea, after that California.”
Two beautifully carved wooden ducks perched on the surfboard shaped coffee table. The ducks had been placed tail to tail, and curiously one duck had a string tied around its beak. The table was adorned with scrawls of writing, a mix of messages that were too far away to read apart from one, “Ollie, thank you for saving my life and giving me hope. You were the best friend a girl could have.” There was so much she wanted to know about him. “You have incredible taste,” Fern replied.
“Unlike you,” he joked.
“What do you mean?” she asked, unable to look away from his big blue eyes.
“I meant because of what you said about dating. Sorry, my humour doesn’t always cross over well,” he replied, his shoulders slumping a little. Ollie tapped restlessly against his tanned thighs. “One of my many faults.”
His sighed as he looked down, betraying a sadness she didn’t understand. “Tell me about the ducks,” she requested. “Where are they from?”
He breathed deeply, sucking all the air from the room. “The ducks? They’re from a friend in South Korea. A pair of carved wooden ducks are traditionally given by the bride’s father and mother to the bride and groom. The friend couldn’t come to my wedding, so he sent them as a gift for my wedding day. My ex-wife said they were ugly and refused to have them out.”
“Oh right,” Fern skirted around the ex-wife comment. “And why has one of them got string around its beak?”
Ollie laughed awkwardly. He ran his fingers through his hair, reminding her how much she still wanted to touch it for herself. “Promise you won’t judge my friends?”
How bad could a piece of string be? “Okay. And if you ever meet my mum, you have to make the same promise,” she joked.
He picked up the duck with the string around its beak and handed it to her. His hand brushed hers; the brief touch brought a shiver to her skin. Up close, she realised there were slight differences to the ducks; the beaks were different shades of brown, and the wings had been decorated in various patterns and colours. The wood was cold and smooth to the touch. Its beady eye watched her as she studied it back. How could the ex-wife say they were ugly?
“You can get them in a variety of colours and patterns,” he said softly, taking the other duck in his hand. “And sometimes string is tied to both beaks to symbolise that the couple shouldn’t speak harshly of each other or criticise. You have the female duck there. My friends didn’t like my ex or the way she spoke to me, even before we married, so they sent me a female duck with the string around its beak. Here is the male one.”
He swapped ducks with her, but questions hung in the air between them. Why had Ollie married his ex-wife if she had a history of mistreating him? Did he display the ducks because he missed her or to remind himself not to make the same mistake again?
Ripper took that moment to leap onto her lap. The duck flew into the air. As one they watched it sail past the coffee table before clattering on the floor. The beak broke off and skittered under the sofa.
“I’m so sorry, Ollie,” Fern cried out as she scrambled to the floor, desperately searching for the beak. ”How can I replace it? Maybe your friend can send you another one, and I can pay him.”
Ollie bent down with her and held her hands still in his. His baby blue eyes fixed on hers. “Please don’t worry. My ex cut the beak off the male one after our wedding, it was likely to break again at some point and to be honest it’s Ripper who should replace it.” He smiled a soft smile, and her gaze rested on his full lips. What would he taste of if she kissed him? She sucked her bottom lip into her mouth. Goose pimples rose on her skin again as his gaze flicked between her lips and her eyes. Did he want to kiss her too?
His fingers reached up and tucked strands of her hair behind her ears. His soft touch lingered.
An out of date pop tune played from his TV speakers, the soundtrack to their moment.
“You’re gorgeous, Fern.” The smell of cedar was like an aura around him. He leaned in closer, and she licked her lips. Fern shut her eyes and closed the gap between them.
Ripper barked, shoving herself between them and killing the moment.
At the same time, Ollie’s mobile rang. It was the song “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead” from the Wizard of Oz.
Who has that as their ring tone?
“Sorry,” he replied, sensing her unspoken question. “It’s the tune for my ex-wife. My mum changed the ringtone as a joke after the divorce.”
Even his mum hated her.
“Right, well, I should go. I don’t want to be in the way,” Fern replied, standing up, slipping on her heels and collecting her bag. If ever there was a time for hasty exits it was now.
“You don’t have to. I can’t imagine why she’s calling. We haven’t spoken since I moved out a year ago,” Ollie offered.
I’m hardly going to wait here while you talk to your ex-wife so that we can continue our near kiss, which you’re probably already regretting. Fern attempted to make light of the moment, “I have things I need to get on with. Got to get back on those dating apps and find myself a single man, preferably one without a wife,” she said, wishing the earth would open and take her under. Why do I say this stupid stuff?
“Just so you know we’re not married anymore,” he said hurriedly while answering the phone. His shoulders hunched, and his tapping became frantic as he answered. “Hello, Jana.”
A clipped tone sounded out of his earpiece. There didn’t seem to be a hello back. Instead, the person at the other end launched into a rapid spiel.
Maybe Ollie had too much baggage for dating, but it didn’t stop her revisiting that near kiss as she slipped out the door.