Ashton felt a twinge of jealousy at the subtle notation that she hadn’t forgotten Victor’s name. He wondered if anyone else picked up on that. He gulped as Victor sat forward and his sultry voice captured Michelle’s attention.
“I live right here in L.A. and I’m the first baseman for the Dodgers.”
“I knew you looked familiar,” the stocky guy said.
“Another athlete,” someone mumbled.
“I’m getting an inferiority complex.”
“I’m afraid to admit I’m a nurse.”
“You are?” Michelle turned to her right at the guy. “I am, too!”
“You’re kidding,” he said. “I’m Casey. I live in Denver.”
“Oh my gosh, I do, too! What hospital do you work at?” Michelle had turned almost completely toward Casey and scanned him up and down like she hoped to recognize him.
“I’m director of nursing for Eastern Star Masonic.” From anyone but Casey that may have sounded like he was bragging, but he seemed humble and caring, the epitome of how a nurse should look and behave. His appearance was very normal and down-to-earth, with a conservative trim to his light brown hair and average features. There was nothing extraordinary about Casey, and that’s what made him special.
“Whoa, how’d you swing that?” Michelle’s jaw dropped. “Masonic is the finest assisted living facility anywhere in Colorado.”
“Thank you, I agree.” Casey nodded regally. “We take pride in our campus.”
“And it shows.” Michelle reached over and patted his knee. Casey took the opportunity to lift her hand and hold it for a moment.
The jealousy in the room was almost palpable. How could any of them compete with Casey? Athletes, computer geeks, nothing compared to working in the same profession and in the same city.
Michelle seemed to sense the change in the room, squeezed Casey’s hand and flashed him a smile, then turned back to the group, placing her hands back in her lap. “Who’s next?”
“I’m Brock, I live in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and I’m a gamer.”
“What is a gamer?” Michelle’s jaw dropped.
“I play video games and live stream them and people watch me play remotely.”
“And… that’s what you do… for a living?” Michelle’s eyebrows raised, and she gulped.
“Do you live in your mommy’s basement, too?” a snicker from across the room.
“No, I do not live in my mother’s basement.” Brock leaned forward and sneered at the jerk. He turned back to Michelle. “And, yes, I probably make more money than half the guys in this room. In the gaming world, I’m the equivalent of a rock star.”
“Well, that’s really cool,” Michelle said. She cocked her head to the side. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend you. I’m just not familiar with gaming, that’s all. You’ll have to show me what you do.”
“I don’t think it will be quite as sexy as helping you up on a surfboard, but I’d love to teach you some skills.” Brock seemed like a decent guy. He needed to slow down on the booze for the night, though. Ashton made a mental note to steer him away from the bar lest he regret anything about tonight.
“You’d be surprised what’s sexy to a simple girl from Colorado.” Michelle winked at Brock. She looked around again. “How about the rest of you?”
“I’ll go next.” The guy who had made the wisecrack about the mom’s basement slurred his words. “I’m Mason, I live in Philadelphia, and I’m a pharmaceutical sales rep.”
“Drug pusher.” Someone faked a cough to make the snide comment.
“Just think,” the guy next to Mason said. “If you moved to Colorado to be near Michelle, you could be pushing the good stuff.”
“Gentlemen…” Michelle tsked and shook her head. “In the medical field there is a need for people to bring doctors samples and literature about the latest breakthroughs in medications. That’s an honorable profession.”
Mason’s conduct for the evening didn’t warrant Michelle’s kind words, but Ashton didn’t point that out. This was one guy he didn’t care to slow down. He was already a little too far gone and would self-destruct without any further interference. One fewer guy as competition.
They continued introductions around the room, and professions included an attorney from Florida, Andy was a farmer from the Midwest, two computer guys who started a side conversation that made very little sense to Ashton, Kimball was a businessman from New York City, and Reggie was an up-and-coming singer from Nashville. He offered to teach her to play guitar. Ashton got the sense Reggie was on the show to further his singing career.
Eventually they started drawing slips of paper from the bowl. Some of them were really lame and basic, like “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and “If you could be any fruit, what would you be?”
Some of the questions were off the wall, like “Have you ever had any surgeries?” That led the conversation in a queasy direction for a few minutes. The only people who enjoyed the topic were those in the medical field. Brock yawned. Things got livelier when Mason drew a strange question that made some of them scratch their heads.
“On a scale of 1-10, what's your favorite color of the alphabet?” Mason read. He looked up at Michelle, cocked his eyebrows and didn’t crack a smile. “I am way too drunk to even understand that question!” Everyone laughed.
Victor’s silky voice pulled the group from their laughter. “Well, ‘J’ is the tenth letter of the alphabet, so Jade because it’s the color of your eyes.” Michelle smiled and held Victor’s gaze. Ashton fought the urge to sneer. Instead he leaned forward to draw another slip of paper.
“What’s your favorite Star Wars character?” Ashton chuckled. “Funny you should ask that. I was just thinking how you reminded me of Princess Leia in the final scene of the original Star Wars movie.”
“Were you?” Michelle blushed. “So… is that your answer? Princess Leia is your favorite character?”
“No, Han Solo is my favorite character because he’s the one who ends up with the hand of the princess.” Ashton winked at Michelle and she lowered her eyes.
Brock leaned forward and pulled out a slip of paper, pulling his brows together as he read. “Team Edward, or Team Jacob? And why? Huh?”
“Team Jacob,” Victor said. “If I had abs like that, what girl wouldn’t want to be with me?” Victor was bragging.
Several guys rolled their eyes or snickered. One guy mumbled under his breath something about Victor already having washboard abs.
“Team Edward.” Ashton ignored all the other guys and spoke directly to Michelle. “Because if all men looked at their wives the way Edward looks at Bella, we’d all have very happy marriages.”
“What? Like he wants to suck her blood?” Victor asked.
“Like she’s a treasure who he’s loved for a million years and he wants to be with her forever.” Ashton didn’t let Victor faze him.
Michelle sighed and locked eyes with Ashton. They had tunnel vision for each other while the other guys tried to explain to those who were clueless the finer points of the Twilight series.
Victor broke the spell by reaching across the table, right through the line of sight between them and pulled out another question.
“What book are you reading right now?” Victor read. He didn’t hesitate, and he didn’t seem to pick up on the strange irony when he said, “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”
“Sounds about right for your personality,” someone mumbled.
“I’ve read that,” Michelle said. “When you finish, I’d also recommend The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven R. Covey.”
“I read that last year.” Victor leaned forward, mimicking Michelle’s perch on the edge of the sofa. They were connecting in a way that concerned Ashton. It must have bothered others in the room as well because guys started calling out the books they were reading.
“I’m currently re-reading Children of the Mind by Orson Scott Card,” Ashton said. “It’s in the Ender's Universe.”
“I heard they were making a movie from that.” Michelle leaned her elbows on her knees. “I loved Ender’s Game, and the movie really brought the book to life.”
“I agree.” Ashton nodded. “They stayed true to the book and I found that I understood the book better once I’d seen the movie.”
“That happens a lot with books made into movies,” Michelle said.
“What’s your favorite adult beverage?” Casey changed the subject.
“Dirty Dr. Pepper,” Michelle said.
“What the heck is that?” Casey pulled back like she was talking Greek.
“Dr. Pepper with a shot of coconut.”
“Like… Captain Morgan?” Mason asked.
“Dude, she doesn’t drink alcohol. She already said that.” Ashton shook his head and tsked at Mason. He started noticing a pattern in her answers but couldn’t put his finger on the common thread.
“Who’s your favorite singer?” Reggie, asked. He was probably hoping she was a fan of country music.
“David Archuletta.” Michelle’s answer gave Ashton pause. Could she be…?
“How many kids do you want to have?” Kimball asked.
“Well, I come from a big family so I kind of hope to have, like, you know, a bunch of kids.” She shrugged and waved a hand dismissively. “But that’s on God’s timeline.”
That did it. Ashton had all the evidence he needed. By that point the game had become a rapid fire of questions thrown at Michelle, and Ashton jumped at the chance to find out for sure.
“What’s your favorite color?” Casey asked.
“What’s your favorite flower?” Andy said.
“What’s your favorite scripture?” Ashton leaned forward, already expecting her answer.
“Alma Chapter 32 verse 21.” Michelle answered the question without hesitation just as if he’d asked her favorite flavor of ice cream. She continued by quoting the verse as if she were reading it from the Book of Mormon itself and Ashton joined her half way through. “And now as I said concerning faith—Faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things;”
Ashton and Michelle spoke as one. “Therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.”
“I knew it.” Ashton sat back and folded his arms. “You’re a Mormon.”
Her eyes widened, and she glanced around the room. Some of the guys creased their eyebrows, some cocked their head to the side, but Ashton just smirked.
Michelle stood suddenly with fists balled at her side. She narrowed her eyes at Ashton. “How dare you.” She stomped from the room.