"See ya tomorrow," Morgan said as she grabbed her backpack and headed out of the break room.
Micah waved half-heartedly, but Justin shook his head as he popped some chips into his mouth. "Off tomorrow. Wednesday," he said, his voice muffled, and Evie smacked him for talking with his mouth full.
"Hey, no smacking the lead!" he protested, and Evie rolled her eyes. Justin was about as laid back a lead as one could find, but his attitude had put Morgan at ease a lot more quickly than a stern shift supervisor would have.
Morgan laughed at their antics, and then she remembered, "Oh, I'm on parade tomorrow anyway, so yeah, it would be Wednesday." The others made sympathetic noises, and she said, "Hey, don't scare me, I haven't done it yet!"
"Parade's a piece of cake. You'll be fine," Justin told her, and she smiled at him and opened the door, nearly running headlong into Matt, her trainer.
"Hey," he said with a smile. "How was the first day? I meant to get here earlier and see how you and Micah were doing, but my class ran long."
"That's okay, thanks anyway for the thought!" She grinned. "Pretty good, it wasn't too busy -- "
"It's a Monday, and it's rainy," he said. "That slows us way down."
"Yep. Justin was really good about answering all my questions, so it went really well. I hope," she added after a moment, glancing over at Justin.
Justin nodded. "Quick learner, that one. Both of them are, though Micah's had a tough day."
Micah kept his head down and concentrated on his food. Not only had he gotten flustered and needed bailing out a couple times -- Morgan had, too -- but he'd gotten into a minor confrontation with a guest over the park's smoking policy. And his shift was only half-over.
Matt patted Micah on the shoulder as Morgan left, pasting a smile on her face for the short walk between the break room and the offstage area.
She stopped by the grocery store on the way home; with the training and the job change and everything, she hadn't had a chance to shop lately, and her cupboards and fridge shelves were looking pretty bare.
Turning down an aisle, she stopped short. She recognized Dean from the back, but barely -- he was wearing a dark blue polo shirt and crisp jeans, obviously on his way home from work. Morgan had only ever seen him when he'd been working in the yard or on his bike, or relaxing around the house. She admired the view for a moment; he really was a good looking guy, from any angle.
"Dean," she said, and he whipped around, nearly dropping the box he was holding.
"Morgan!" He grinned at her and tossed the box into the half full cart he was pushing.
She eyed the cart; it was full of fresh fruits and vegetables and whole wheat bread and none of the Lucky Charms or frozen pizza she knew Adam favored. "Guess you're doing the shopping these days. The cooking too, I bet."
Dean rubbed the back of his neck, a little self-consciously. "Yeah, well, if I let him do it, he'd buy nothing but Top Ramen and frozen junk food."
Morgan glanced down into her own small basket. Top Ramen figured heavily on the menu. As did frozen junk food. When she glanced back up, Dean was looking into her basket as well. He met her eyes, and he was blushing. She laughed at his sheepish expression.
"It's okay. I live alone, and I'm not a great cook; I eat what and when I can. The kitchen is a dangerous place!"
His grin turned roguish. "Well, I seem to have tamed it. Most of the time. You should come over for dinner more often."
"Well, thank you for the offer -- "
His gaze caught hers once more, his expression suddenly earnest. "I'm serious. I'd like to see more of you." His eyes widened when he realized what he'd said. "I mean, see you more often. I'd like to see you more often."
She knew she was smiling like an idiot, but she couldn't stop herself. "I'd like that too."
"Tonight?" His smile was tempting, his deep brown eyes twinkling, and Adam's warning floated back into her mind. He turns on that charm, and people get flattened by it.
Morgan frowned, her good mood deflating. "I really can't tonight, I'm sorry. But thank you for asking! Soon, though. I should get going, before my frozen junk food melts."
Dean's smile faded a little, and he nodded. "Oh. Okay. Well, it was nice talking to you again. I'm sure I'll see you around at home."
She nodded in reply and hurried past him towards the checkout.
Later that night, as she stared into her soup, Morgan thought about the encounter. No matter how much she thought about Dean, she couldn't see him as the charming scoundrel Adam had made him out to be. Adam had a penchant for melodrama, but he'd never lied to her, as far as she knew. Not that they were close confidantes.
She dropped her spoon into her bowl with a disgusted sigh.
"If he's just trying to get into my pants, he's taking an awfully long time to do it."
She wondered if she should call Cassidy and talk to her about it. But Dean was the first guy Morgan had been truly interested in since Rob, and she was afraid to pop the fragile bubble of happiness she could see on her friends' faces.
They'd stood by her while the rest of her life had collapsed and shattered around her, and they'd never pushed her. Some of her acquaintances and extended family members had begun to ask when she was going back to school, when she was going to start going out, when she was going to start dating again, but her friends never had. They were content to let her heal at her own pace, and she would be forever grateful to them for that.
But their hopeful, happy expressions when she talked about her new job or about Dean cut her to the quick much more easily than the pointed questions everyone else asked. They wanted her to be happy again. She wanted to be happy again -- for herself, certainly, but also for them.
She didn't want them warning her away from Dean, which is what they would do if she told them what Adam had said, whether or not they had proof. She didn't want them to worry about her anymore, she didn't want to be the fragile, breakable, handle-with-care one anymore, and she didn't want to be warned away from him -- she liked him. A lot.
Morgan pushed her bowl away from her, her appetite gone. "Maybe I should just ask him," she mused, and then she cringed. "Yes, because, 'Hey, I hear you were a major dog in high school, and I was just wondering if you still are?' would go over so well."
With a sigh, she headed for the kitchen to clean up. Thinking about it obviously wasn't getting her anywhere; she was only tying herself up in knots. She tried to put him out of her mind, but the most she could do was put him in the back of her mind. But she had something else to worry about. The next day was her first Guest Control shift; she was working the parade shift on Main Street.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
"There was this kid, he was so cute, Cass -- " Morgan popped another slice of tangerine into her mouth.
"This was yesterday, during the parade?"
"Yeah, it was a little before the parade started, so Main Street was packed -- oh, hang on, there's another call."
Morgan clicked over to the other line. "Hello?"
"Morgan?" The voice was familiar, and the caller sounded unsure.
She frowned. "Yes. Who's calling, please?"
Before she could wonder where he'd gotten her number, he said, "Adam has your number -- I hope it's okay that I called it."
"Oh, it's no problem! What's up?"
"Well, I'm making chicken stir-fry for dinner. I know it's hard to tear yourself away from the Ramen, but I was wondering if you'd like some."
She laughed, her mind racing frantically ahead. She'd already refused a dinner invitation once -- if she did it again, it would be rude. And despite how confused she was, she could not bring herself to be rude to Dean when he'd been nothing but sweet and politely interested in her. And if she refused him again, he might stop asking.
Besides, it's just dinner and Adam's there. It's safe, and at least he didn't ask you out to a restaurant!
"Sure," she said finally, hoping the pause hadn't been too long. "That sounds great, thank you. Give me a few minutes, okay?"
"Great!" He sounded very pleased, and Morgan wasn't sure whether to be happy or worried about that. "It'll be ready in about fifteen minutes. See you in a few!"
"Yep." She clicked back over. "Cass? You still there?"
"That was Dean, and he just invited me over there for dinner." Her heart was doing the fluttery thing again.
"When'd you give him your number? Thought you were 'just barely talking to each other'?" Cassidy sounded amused.
"I didn't give it to him. Guess Adam did."
"Well, that's good. Always a good thing when the roommate approves. Makes things easier."
And there, that did it. The fluttery thing was gone, swiftly replaced by the squirming uncomfortably within her thing. Thanks, Cass, knew I could count on you. "Guess so."
"So dinner is good! Could lead to naked time."
"Cassidy! Please, it's just dinner at his house, and I'm sure Adam will be there."
"Hmm. Damn. Well, I want details! Unless it leads to naked time. Then I just want a brief progress report. Ah, hell, who am I kidding, I want details!"
Morgan laughed. "I'll call you tomorrow."
Ending the call, she glanced down at herself and then hurried to her bedroom. Jeans and a nice patterned top replaced the sweatsuit she'd been lounging in. She ran a brush through her hair and lip gloss over her lips, and then decided anything more would be too much.
She checked to make sure her front porch light was on before crossing through the yard and knocking on the side door.
"Come in!" Dean called.
She stepped into the kitchen to find Dean at the stove, stirring something. He was wearing a white t-shirt and black jeans, and his hair was glistening from a recent shower. The kitchen smelled heavenly, and she was struck by the thought that her kitchen hadn't smelled like that in years. Between the smell of the food and the vision of him, she almost went into sensory overload.
"God, that smells good," she told him as her stomach rumbled. She flushed with embarrassment, hoping he hadn't heard it.
He turned around briefly and gave her a smile. "Hi. It's almost done, give me just a minute." He gestured to the table with his chin, since both his hands were full. "Have a seat. Want a glass of wine?"
She shook her head as she sat down, and she noticed with mild alarm that there were only two places set. "No, thank you, I'm fine. Water's good, and I can get it."
"Sit," he told her, crossing quickly to the fridge and pouring her a glass of ice water. "I've got it."
"Thank you," she told him as he handed her the glass. Trying to sound casual, she added, "Where's Adam?"
"At work. He's got a closing shift tonight," he said, turning back to the stove. He paused, and then turned around again, facing her. "I'm sorry, I probably should have mentioned that. I didn't even think about it. If you're uncomfortable..."
He looked so sincere, and so concerned, and she shook her head, though a little part of her -- a part that she hated -- wondered if it was just a ploy to lull her into being relaxed. The only evidence she had of his intentions were his actions, and they were a lot more solid than the vague assertions Adam had made. Until Adam gave her more proof, she was going to trust her instincts and stop second guessing Dean.
"No, I'm not. It's fine. Thank you for asking me." She smiled. "This smells a lot yummier than what I had planned."
"You sure you're okay with it?"
"Yes. Of course."
Dean grinned, looking pleased -- and a little relieved. "Good, because it's ready."
He served them both, setting the plate in front of her before setting his own down and taking a seat. Morgan tasted it and almost moaned in delight, trying not to shovel it into her mouth. She hadn't realized how hungry she was, but with the gorgeous looking, magnificent smelling food in front of her, she suddenly remembered she'd skipped lunch. A lot of time had passed since her frozen dinner the night before.
Dean ate slowly, taking a sip of his wine now and then, and she slowed and then stopped as she realized he was watching her, a tiny smile playing around the corners of his mouth.
"I'm sorry," she said with a sheepish grin. "I don't normally inhale my food like this. But I can't cook, and since I don't like restaurants -- "
"No," he said, shaking his head to stop her. "Don't apologize. I'm glad you're enjoying it; I was hoping you would. Adam mentioned that you like Chinese food, so..."
Her heart was fluttery again. "Well, thank you. I definitely appreciate it. I rarely get such good food."
Dean smiled, taking another bite. She watched the fork slide between his full lips, and suddenly she was hungry for a lot more than stir fry. It had been so long since she'd felt a jolt like that about a real guy -- not one of the hot guys on her favorite shows, or a character in a book she was reading, or even a random passerby, but a guy she knew -- and it took her by surprise. She stared down into her plate, feeling her cheeks flame with a mixture of desire and embarrassment, and she prayed that he didn't notice.
There was a pause, just long enough to start being awkward, before he asked, "So, how's work going? Unless you don't want to talk about it."
She laughed. "No, it's going great, I love it. Oh, I wanted to say thank you for the rose. On Friday night, that was very nice of you. I was so nervous."
He looked down, not holding her gaze, but she didn't miss his almost bashful little smile. "You're welcome. I'm glad it's going well."
With a smile, Morgan remembered the kid she'd been telling Cassidy about when Dean had called. "Yesterday, I was working Guest Control for the parade, and there was this little boy -- "
She grinned. "Disney's fancy way of saying crowd control. No crowds at the park, you know. Just pampered guests."
He laughed. "Interesting. Sorry, go on. Didn't mean to interrupt."
"It's okay. So there I am, making sure people are behind the line and aren't stopping in the throughways, and whatever, and I feel this tug on my shirt. So I look down, and there's this little boy -- four, maybe five. Big blue eyes, towheaded little boy, and he looks up at me, completely solemn, and he goes, 'I'm lost.'"
She paused, watching his eyes go wide. "That's all he said?" he asked her, and she laughed.
"Yeah, now you know how I felt. I'm going, oh jeez, now what do I do, because we got basic training in how to calm kids down and how to ask them questions about their parents and how to notify other cast members without making a big scene, but this kid was just totally cool. So I knelt down and I said, 'You are?' and he goes, 'Yep.' And that was all he said! No tears, no panic, nothing."
Dean laughed, putting his fork down and leaning forward as he listened to her story. "So then what happened?"
"I said, 'Well, are you here with your mommy? Your daddy?' And he said, 'Both.' So I asked him if he remembered what they were wearing, and he said his mommy was wearing a blue shirt and his daddy was wearing a green and white shirt, and his daddy was holding his baby brother Danny. So I stood up and started looking around to see if I could see anybody matching that description, and he just stood right by me, not fidgeting or moving or anything. He just stayed really still, waiting by me. He was the calmest kid I've ever seen."
"Yeah. I remember Jason -- my brother -- and I got lost at the fair once, and I was so scared. And I remember my mother screaming for us. But this kid was just... it was a little eerie, actually."
"My little sister got lost once in the mall, and she was screaming -- that's how we found her. So did you find his parents?"
"Well, I took him by the hand -- we're really not supposed to touch the kids, but I didn't want to lose him again, and the whole area was packed since the parade was about to start -- and I started heading for Lost Children, looking for another cast member to temporarily take my spot, and then this woman -- in a blue shirt, I might add -- comes rushing up and she goes, 'Bobby, oh my God, there you are!' And she picks him up and hugs him, and he smiles, and she says, 'Thank you for watching him! He loves to wander away!'"
"She needs to keep a closer eye on him then," he said disapprovingly, and Morgan laughed.
"That's exactly what I was thinking. So she starts to walk away and right before I can't see them anymore, he looks right at me from over her shoulder, and he waves and says, 'Thank you.'" She grinned. "Wasn't bad for my first lost kid experience. I'm sure they won't all be that easy."
She smiled as she remembered the little boy, lost in thought for a moment. "He was a cute kid," she said. "Seen lots of cute kids in the past few days."
Dean was watching her, his dark eyes unreadable. "Sounds like you like kids. Guess you have to if you work somewhere like Disneyland."
Morgan nodded. "I love kids," she said with a shrug. "But my ex didn't want them, and I haven't really given it very much thought lately. I wasn't around them a lot until a couple of days ago."
She would have said more, but there was a strange, sad look in his eyes that she couldn't quite identify. It stopped her from asking his opinion on children, and she realized just how little she really did know about him.
"So how's work for you?" she asked, trying to change the subject. He threw her a mock-threatening look.
"Don't ask," he growled, and she laughed.
"That good, huh?"
The conversation drifted for a while as they skimmed over various subjects -- favorite bands and books and sports teams, and Morgan thought about how nice it was to have a chance to get to know Dean without Adam scowling at her from the sidelines.
She happened to glance at the clock and blinked, surprised at how late it had gotten. "Wow," she told him. "It's pretty late. I should get going."
He looked surprised at the time as well. "Oh. Okay, if you're sure. It was really great to talk to you -- sometimes it's hard to just talk with Adam around. He makes everything into so much drama."
Morgan laughed. "Yep, that's Adam. And yeah, I really should get going. But thank you very much for the wonderful dinner and the great conversation." She paused, and then added impulsively, "I'd love to do it again."
Dean smiled happily. "That sounds great." When she stood, he stood as well. "Here, I'll walk you to your door."
"You really don't have to -- "
He stopped her with a hand on her arm. "I want to."
The short walk was quiet; she was lost in thought, and either Dean was too, or he was letting her have her space. When she reached the door, she opened it, and turned around. Dean was standing very close but not touching her, his hands hidden away in his jacket pockets. He was watching her, his gaze intent on her face, and it made her shiver.
"Would you like to come in for coffee?" she asked suddenly, surprising herself, and him. "You made dinner, it's the least I can do."
"I'd love to. But..." He grinned wickedly. "Are you sure it's safe? You keep telling me you're a terror in the kitchen."
She scowled at him. "Coffee I can do. It's about all I can do, but I can do it. I can't kill you with it. Well, I probably could, but it'd be on purpose, not by accident."
Dean laughed. "Well, with an endorsement like that, how could I refuse?"
He followed her in, glancing around at the décor on the way to the kitchen. Lounging against the counter as she began preparing coffee, he told her, "Your house is very nice."
She glanced at him. "Thanks. I haven't done much to it except dust it every now and then. I should probably redecorate, but I can't bring myself to yet."
He nodded. "Give it time. And you don't have to change it if you like it like this."
Morgan smiled. "You sound like Cassidy." At his questioning glance, she added, "A good friend of mine. She's always telling me to give it time." Her smile became wistful as she thought of her friend. "I don't know what I would have done without her."
Dean came closer to her, but he still didn't touch her, offering as much support as he could without crowding her. She smiled gratefully at him as she filled the coffeemaker with water.
He looked around at all the lights she'd left on earlier when she'd gone over for dinner -- all three porch lights were on as well, front, side, and back doors. "It's bright in here," he said after a moment.
Morgan shrugged. "I don't like it too dark. Feels too... empty."
He nodded, and she stepped away from him to grab a couple coffee mugs. When she turned back, he was peering intently out the kitchen window into the well lit backyard.
"What is it?" Morgan asked, and he jumped.
He turned to her, shaking his head. "It's nothing."
"You were pretty absorbed for it to be nothing."
Dean shrugged. "I was just looking at your wall back there."
She laughed. "What about it?"
"You've got some pretty crappy masonry work." Suddenly, his face flushed bright red. "Oh God, I really hope your dad didn't build that wall."
Morgan laughed again. "Don't worry. He had it built, and I'm sure he had it done as cheaply as he could. My dad was pretty tight-fisted. So what's wrong with it?"
He pointed out a few things, and she nodded along, but for the most part she was lost. She just enjoyed watching him -- it was very clear he knew his business; despite the fact that he never seemed very happy about his job. After a moment, he stopped, looking self-conscious, and she realized she was smiling.
"What?" he asked. "You laughing at me?"
"No! No, it's just... you never talk about your job."
"My job is very, very boring."
"So why do you do it?" she asked, curious. He didn't seem to hate his job, but he didn't seem to like it very much, either.
"If you're bored by it, why do you do it?" She handed him the cup of coffee she'd poured him, and he looked thoughtful as he took a sip.
"Because I know how to do it," he said finally. "It's stable, and it's steady, and it's a good enough job that gives me a lifestyle I'm comfortable with. It's not what I want to do forever, but it's good enough for now. And when it stops being good enough, I guess I'll find something else to do."
Morgan nodded. "Makes sense. That's what I was doing, when I worked for Carl. I was just... coasting. It was stable, and I needed stable. I needed stable very badly. And now... stable got boring, I guess. So I found something new."
"And it seems like you love it."
"I do," she said with a smile. "It's new, of course, and God knows if I'll like it six months from now, but right now I really do love it. The kids -- they're just... I mean, some of them are horrible brats, of course, but for the most part, they're all just so... excited to be there. And working the parade, especially, I mean, I don't get to see too many of the little kids at Space Mountain... but watching their eyes light up... it's great."
Morgan stared down into her coffee cup as memory overtook her. "I remember... I remember being little, and I don't remember the first time they took me -- I was too young, they used to take us all the time -- but I remember being about four, and Mom was... I think Mom was away on a business trip, and my dad took Jason and me, and I remember, it was just so perfect and safe and nothing bad could happen there and -- "
She stopped, horrified, as she realized tears were sliding down her face. She turned abruptly from him. "I'm sorry," she choked out.
"Hey..." Dean sounded alarmed, and she felt awful. Now he'll get scared of the crazy girl, and he'll leave, she thought in resignation. She jumped in surprise when she felt his hand on her shoulder, but she moved easily into his hug when he tugged her towards him.
She was wrapped in his warm arms, and she rested her head on his chest, and though she tried to stop them, the tears came even faster. It had been so long since anyone had held her while she cried, and she'd forgotten how nice it felt.
His big hands were rubbing her arms comfortingly, and his cheek rested against her hair. Morgan could feel the soft whisper of his breath across her skin as he made soothing nonsense noises. After a moment, her tears began to subside. He brushed a soft kiss against her hair, and she tried not to react, not knowing if she'd been meant to feel that.
As the sadness ebbed away -- for the moment, it was always for the moment -- Morgan began to realize how comfortable she was in his embrace. His chest was solid and firm, his body warm and hard, and she remembered the way his dark eyes intently watched her, remembered the sight of the fork slipping between his lips.
Suddenly, she wanted nothing more than to snuggle closer to him, to find out if his lips were as soft as they looked, but she forced herself to stay motionless. Dean's arms tightened around her for just a moment -- long enough for her to feel a jolt from head to toe -- and then he released her. He kept his hands on her arms, stepping back just enough to be able to look into her eyes.
The concern in his gaze was nearly palpable, and it almost set her off again. She tried to smile. "Thank you," she whispered, wiping at her cheeks. "I'm sorry -- "
"Shh..." he said quietly. "Don't be. I'm sorry if it was anything I said..."
Morgan shook her head. "No. No, it wasn't anything you said, or did. Sometimes it's just... there. I'm usually better at not breaking down in front of people -- "
"Maybe you should. Maybe it'll help."
"Or people will just think I'm nuts."
"No," he said firmly, and she smiled at him, a little less shakily. "You gonna be okay? Do you want me to -- I mean, I don't know if I can do anything, but if you need something..." He trailed off, looking adorably unsure of himself.
"Thank you. I'll be fine, and you've gone above and beyond the call of duty. Thank you very much for dinner, and for, well, not running in terror when I fell apart on you. I should let you get home, it's getting late."
"If you're sure..."
"I'm sure," she said, walking him towards the door. He turned, his eyes dark and intense as they studied her face.
"Good night," he said, apparently satisfied with what he saw.
"Good night," she whispered as he crossed the lawn.
Only when he was inside the house did she close the door. Turning to lean against it, she sighed. "Adam, you're wrong. You have to be wrong."
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Work was hectic over the next couple weeks as the busy time of year picked up and she settled into her job. She mostly worked Space Mountain, but she was given a couple of Guest Control shifts a week, either during the parade, or at Fantasmic!, the nightly light and water entertainment on the Rivers of America.
She'd always loved Fantasmic!, and going behind the scenes was a bit of a thrill the first time. After that, like everything else at Disneyland, it was slowly becoming routine. That didn't mean she loved the place any less, though.
"Although it does change some things," she told Jeremy with a laugh.
"Like what?" he asked, and she heard a yawn in his voice through the phone line.
"Don't do that!" she admonished, stifling her own yawn. Jeremy was pretty much the only person she'd been able to talk to lately. He was familiar with sliding, shifting schedules and inconsistent sleep patterns. All of her other friends -- and Dean, her mind whispered -- were on 9-5 schedules, so she barely got the chance to speak to them, let alone the chance to see them.
"Sorry, didn't mean to yawn in your ear. What changed?"
"Well, there's nothing like seeing Cinderella and Snow White sitting backstage and sharing a cigarette, bitching about their boyfriends."
Jeremy laughed. "Could be worse."
"Could be Prince Charming and the Beast sharing a cig and bitching about their boyfriends."
"True, very true," she said, laughing.
"Hey, Mor, I'm home now, so I'm gonna take off. Gotta shower and hit the sack. You gonna be okay the rest of the way?"
She nodded. "Yeah, I'm almost home. You take care, and I'll talk to you soon."
He hung up and she drove on in silence. Her neighborhood was quiet, the houses dark, since it was after two in the morning. She pulled into her garage, noting as she did that the lights towards the rear of Adam and Dean's house were on -- that was where Dean had his room.
"He's up late," she mused.
They were still on when she went into the kitchen to get a glass of water a few minutes later, but they snapped off even as she watched.
Briefly, she entertained the notion that he'd been waiting for her to get home, but she dismissed it with a laugh.
"Good night," she whispered, touching the window before heading to bed.
On to Chapter 5