mackie80 (mackie80) wrote in paulhamm,
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BELIEVE: Chapter 7

Here's Chapter 7.  Sorry it took so long to post.  Enjoy!

Believe

Chapter 7 – “Meet Travis and ‘The Suit’”

 

The Usual Disclaimer:  I don’t own any of these real life people, blah, blah, blah.

 

Morgan opened the door to Jenna’s apartment with gusto.  “Hey, rumor has it there’s a party here!”  He hopped over the back of the sofa and landed on the cushions with his legs stretched out in front of him.

 
Paul just watched him and shook his head.

 
“Well, I hope you’re the life of the party or it’s going to be a rather dull evening,” Jenna called from the kitchen.  “So far you’re the only ones here.”

 
“Hey, I’m always the life of the party!”

 

Paul wandered into the kitchen.  “When’s your brother getting here?”

 
“He called an hour ago, and it sounded like he was making good time, so I’m guessing he’ll be here in about twenty minutes or so.  If he doesn’t get lost, that is.  The one thing that no one in my family is good with is directions.”

 
“How did you get Todd to give you the night off, anyway?”

 
“I begged and pleaded.”

 
“That’s all it took?”

 
“Not exactly.  I have to baby-sit his daughter next week.”

 
“Fun.”

 
“Let’s hope so.  I’m going to have to come up with some new activities.  The last time I saw Mandi she was three.”

 
“How old is she now?”

 
“Eight.  I don’t think Elmo is going to be very impressive anymore.”

 
“Probably not.  You’ll just have to do all kinds of girly type stuff, that’s all.”

 
“Girly type stuff?”

 
“Sure, you know, like painting your nails, doing your hair, watching some sappy chick flick.”

 
“Don’t forget putting on a fashion show,” Morgan added.

 
Jenna looked skeptical.  “Where are all these ideas suddenly coming from?”

 
Both of the twins faces turned red.  “Umm, well, we do have an older sister, you know,” Paul said quickly.

 
“Yeah, I know.”  Their faces were still bright red.  “Something tells me there’s more to this than meets the eye, though.”

 
The guys exchanged a look.  Eventually, Morgan said, “Betsy used to dress us up and make us be part of her fashion shows.”  He cringed.

 
Jenna’s face lit up.  “Oh, this is good!  I want all the details!”

 
The doorbell rang.

 
“Saved by the bell!” Paul cried.  “I’ll get it!”

 
“That couldn’t possibly be Travis already,” she said, following him.  “He’s never on time.”

 
Paul opened the door, and standing on the front steps was an average height guy with messy brownish-blonde hair.   He wore broken in jeans, a black leather jacket, and a faded University of Minnesota Hockey tee-shirt.

 
 “Travis!”  Jenna exclaimed.  “Oh, my god, for once in your life you’re early!  Come on in!”  She ran to the door and gave her brother a big hug.   “I’m so glad you’re finally here!”  She hadn’t realized how much she had actually missed him.  A moment later, though, her eyebrows narrowed.  She looked out the door with pursed lips.  “Where’s Eric?”

 
“Be patient.  He’s coming.  I think he wanted to take his time, you know?”  

 
Jenna merely rolled her eyes.  “Yeah, sure.”

 
Travis looked at the twins and frowned.  He turned to his sister.  “So are you going to introduce me, or what?”

 
“Nah.  I just figured I’d let the three of you stare at each other uncomfortably until somebody leaves.”

 
Morgan laughed. 

 
“She would, too!” Travis muttered.

 
“I know she would!  That’s why I’m laughing.”  He hopped off of the couch.  “Morgan Hamm.”  He stuck his hand out to shake Travis’ hand, then motion to his twin.  “That’s my brother, Paul.  It’s good to finally meet you.”

 
“They’re my next door neighbors,” Jenna explained.

 
Travis gave her an odd look. 

 
She sighed.  “Yes, they’re gymnasts.  You know, the Athens Olymp… Oh, never mind.  I forgot you don’t pay any attention.”

 
“I don’t live under a rock, sis.  I’ve been to enough gymnastics competitions to know who they are.  I just didn’t expect them to live next door to you.”  He laughed.  “It’s nice to finally meet you guys.”

 
“Likewise,” Paul replied.

 
Jenna looked at her watch.  “Where in the world is Eric?” she asked anxiously.

 
“Ask and ye shall receive!” a voice called through the doorway.  A second later a teenager with bright red hair burst in. 

 
“My baby’s home!” Jenna yelled and dashed for the door.  “You better have been good to her,” she called, shoving past him. 

 
“Hello to you, too, cousin,” Eric said sourly into the air.

 
“Baby?” Morgan asked.  He looked at his twin, whose expression mirrored his own confusion.

 
Travis laughed.  “I can’t believe she didn’t tell you.”

 
“Tell us what?” Paul asked slowly.

 
He smiled.  “Go see for yourselves.”

 
“Travis Jeremy Lansing!” a voice yelled from outside.  “There are two sets and I want them both back!”

 
He rolled his eyes.  “Guess I’ll be joining you.  Darn it, I was hoping she’d forget about my set of keys.”

 
“Keys?”  Morgan asked.

 
Travis nodded.  “Come on.  We’d better get the ogling over with now.”

 
The twins followed Travis outside, but then stopped abruptly and stared in disbelief at the site in front of them.  Standing in front of them was Jenna, virtually laying on top of the hood of a car. 

 
“Ya gonna kiss it, or what?” Travis called.

 
“I was thinkin’ ‘bout it,” she called back.

 
“I’ve never seen a woman be so obsessed over a car,” he remarked to the twins.  He laughed.  “Guess I can’t blame her, though.  It is a pretty sweet ride.”

 
Morgan studied the scene.  “Is that a Charger?” he asked in surprise.

 
“Yep.  You into cars?” 

 
“No, not really.  A friend of mine is, though.  Isn’t that an SRT8?”

 
“It’s a Super Bee, actually,” Eric replied.  So sweet.” 

 
“Jenna refused to get anything less,” Travis said.  “I think she said something to the effect of ‘what’s the point of getting a Charger with a V-6?’

 
“Hey!  If I’m gonna have a muscle car, I want a car with actual muscle,” Jenna said, walking up to them.  “425 horse or 178?  You do the math.  Besides, the color is so cute!”

 
Paul chuckled.  “Now that’s the kind of comment I would have expected from you.”

 
She got a gleam in her eyes.  “Hey.  You guys wanna go for a ride?”  She raised her eyebrows.

 
Eric threw his arms up in the air.  “Uh, yeah!

 
She nodded toward the car.  “Hop in.”

 
“I call shotgun!” Travis yelled.

 
“D’oh!” Eric cried.  They both dashed for the car.

 
“How much did you pay for that thing?” Paul asked, following at a leisurely pace.

 
She gave him a wry grin.  “You don’t wanna know.”

 
“Any car that costs that much can’t be worth it.”

 
Eric frowned and shook his head.  “Dude, are you kidding?  This car is amazing.  If I had Jen’s money I’d so totally buy it, too.”

 
Jenna rolled her eyes at her cousin as she hopped in the driver’s seat. “Eric, if you didn’t spend every penny you make you’d be able to afford something better than that 1989 Ford piece of junk you have now.”

 
“Actually, Jenna, I have a better idea.  Why don’t you buy me one for a graduation present?”

 
She turned around and stared at him.  “What?  Do you think I’m loaded or something?”

 
“Well aren’t you?” Eric asked innocently.

 
She heaved a sigh.  Don’t go there.  And, by the way, that is the last time I ever lose a bet to you.  Paul, normally I’d agree with you when it comes to cars… but then I saw this one.  I took it for one test drive and totally fell in love.”

 
Morgan scooted into the backseat next to Eric and sprawled.  He let out a contented sigh.  “Jenna, you are totally going to have to let me borrow this thing some time.”

 
Jenna saw the look on his face in the rearview and pursed her lips.  “Huh-uh.  I am not lending it to you just for that.”

 
“Why not?”

 
“For what?” Paul asked at the same time.  He shoved his brother over to make room.

 
She turned around to look at Morgan.  “Because it’s one of the same reasons my brother always wants it.”

 
“So?”

 
She raised her eyebrows.  “So I told him to go buy a Buick or a VW bus.”   

 
Morgan burst out laughing, and Paul just looked confused. 

 
“What kind of car does your boyfriend have?”  Morgan asked.

 
“An Audi TT.”

 
“Toy car,” Eric muttered.

 
“Yep.  That’s why we always take my car.”  She grinned.

 
Morgan looked around the car, cringed, and said sourly, “I withdraw my request.”

 
Travis made a face. “Why did you have to bring that up?  This car is never going to be the same to me again.”

 
Jenna glanced at her brother.  “Hey, I didn’t bring it up.  And, anyway, you of all people should have figured out it a long time ago.”  

 
“Will somebody please tell me what the hell this conversation is about?” Paul demanded.

 
She looked back at Morgan.  “Do me a favor and explain things to him when he grows up and finally gets a girlfriend?  Oh, wait a minute, that’s right.  He’s got one already.  This must mean I need to have to have a conversation with Stephanie, huh?  Oh, wait, maybe I should let her be the one to borrow it!”  She could hardly get the words out before bursting out giggling, and Morgan was practically rolling onto the floor with laughter. 

 
“All right, all right.  Very funny.”  Paul crossed his arms in front of his chest and sat back in his seat, pouting.

 
“You know, there are some things you just would rather not think about your baby sister knowing about.”  Travis scrunched up his nose at Jenna.  “I think this definitely qualifies as one of them.”

 
“Knowing about or doing?” she asked sweetly.

 
His face paled.  “Both!  Geez, Jen!”

 
“Oh, come on, Trav!  Lighten up!  Don’t forget, I did share an apartment with you.  Besides, you know Jason enough to know better than that.  Yeah, like he would ever be the one to not drive.”

 
“Hmm, yeah.  Mister perfectly pressed pants control freak would never think of getting it on in the backseat of a car.  His shirt might get wrinkled.”

 
“Be nice,” she scolded.  She turned her attention back to the twins.  “It’s also got heated seats, which is just heavenly on an aching back.  I’ve been grateful for it every day this week after leaving the gym.”

 
Paul’s face lit up.  “So did I hear right that there’s an extra set of keys to this thing?”

 

 
Twenty minutes later Jenna pulled the car back into the driveway.

 
“Please, Jenna!  Please,” Eric cried.  “Just buy me a car!”

 
“No!”

 
“I’ll love you forever,” he said hopefully.  “You’ll be my favorite cousin.”

 
“You already should and I already am,” Jenna retorted. 

 
“Oh, come on!  I’ll do anything.  I’ll be your personal slave!”

 
“Well, then you can start by carrying in furniture.”

 
“Awesome!”  Eric bolted out of the car.

 
“Hey, Jen,” Morgan piped up as they got out.  “You want us to start hauling stuff in, too?”

 
“Sure, that’d be great, thanks.”

 
“I’ll be right there,” Travis said to him.  “Just give me a minute to talk with Jen.”

 
Jenna stared at him.  She was amazed at how courteous her brother was being.

 
“Take your time,” Morgan called, as they walked in the front door. 

 
The moment they got inside Jenna dragged Travis into the kitchen.  “Who are you and what have you done with my brother?” she hissed.

 
“What?”

 
“Since when are you ever nice to my friends?”

 
“Since I need to make sure somebody’s taking care of my baby sister.  That reminds me.”  He grabbed a banana off of the counter and peeled it.  “I talked to your friend John,” he said casually.

 
“What?  You called John?”  Her eyebrows narrowed.  “Why?”

 
“He was in town, thought I’d say hey.”

 
"Yeah, right.”  Jenna put her hands on her hips and waited.

 
He shrugged.  “So I wanted to make sure you’d be okay here, all right?  I figured he could probably tell me.”  He shoved half of the banana in his mouth at one time.

 
“What did he say?” she asked cautiously.

 
Travis swallowed.  “He said that you were a big girl and to stop worrying.”

 
She smiled.  “There, you see?”

 
“And then he told me he understood, since he was an older brother, too and that if anyone took advantage of you he’d be the first one to pound ‘em.”  He put a hand on his sister’s shoulder.  “I was a little worried, but he said that Blaine guy you talk to all the time is all right despite the reputation.”

 
“He is.  What else did John say?”

 
“He said that those guys next door would look out for you, make sure you’re okay.”  He glanced out through the living room windows and nodded to himself.  “I think he’s right.  They seem like good guys.”

 
“They are.”

 
“Then I guess instead of calling twice a day now I only have to call every other day,” he said smiling, and tussled her hair.  “Don’t tell anyone,” he whispered loudly, “but I think I actually missed having you around.”  He was smiling, but Jenna noticed his face slowly became serious.  “Look, I know you never said anything about it, but…”

 
“But what?”

 
“Todd’s here in Columbus.  Marcie’s here.  You’ve been talking a lot with that Blaine guy, and it seems like you’ve gotten chummy awfully quick with the Hamms.”

 
“So?” she asked anxiously.

 
“You know what I’m getting at, sis.  You’re considering doing some serious gymnastics again, don’t you?”  Travis caught the look that flashed across her face.  “Wait a minute.  You’re not thinking the Beijing Olympics, are you?”  He briefly looked down and saw her red, cracked palms.  His eyes slowly met hers.  “Damn it, Jen!  Why didn’t you tell me?”

 
She looked down at her feet.  “It was hard enough leaving as it was.  I was afraid you’d try to talk me out of it.”

 
“I wish you would have told me.  I would have felt a lot better about the whole thing if I knew you wanted to move here to get back into training.”

 
“You would have?”

 
“Yeah.  At least now I know it wasn’t all just because of some guy you think you’re in love with.”  Travis ignored the look she gave him.  “Besides, I always liked Todd.  You were never quite the same after the two of you split ways, and it seemed like you kind of lost something when you stopped competing.”

 
“Oh.”  How was she supposed to respond to that?

 
In typical male fashion, Travis was already moving along to another topic.  He eyed the refrigerator.  “What else you got for food around here?”

 
“Marcie’s bringing pizza in a little while.  You’ll also be happy to know I made a special trip to the store just for you.  There’s beer in there.”  She grinned.  “Pabst Blue Ribbon.  In the cans!  I left them in the trunk of Eric’s piece of junk car.  Oh, you don’t mind if they’re a little warm, do you?”

 
He stared at her for a moment.  “You do realize that if all of that is true, then the USA is going to miss out on a couple of gold medals, right?  Because I will be forced to kill you, you know.”

 
She laughed.  “I’ll take that as a backhanded compliment.  Don’t worry, Trav.  I would never do that to you.  You did make sure that I have decent taste in beer, remember?  I got you something you’d like.”

 
“Aw, you do love me, don’t ya?” 

 
“Yeah.  Guess I’m just a sucker.”

 
Travis pulled open the door to the fridge with gusto.   “Holy, cow, girl!  How much beer did you buy?”

 
“Too much, I think.  It was ten o’clock in the morning, too.  The guy at the checkout counter must have thought I was a total lush.”

 
Travis wasn’t even listening.  “Hey, it’s even the good stuff!”

 
“What good stuff?” Morgan asked, setting a box down.

 
“Beer!” Travis said gleefully.  He held up two bottles.  “Want one?”

 
“Yeah!” 

 
Travis lightly tossed him the second bottle.

 
Jenna plunked down on a chair.  “Oh, great, now nothing’s going to get done around here.”

 
“Hey, if I was told correctly,” Morgan protested, “my invitation was simply to come hang out, not to do any actual work.  So in reality, you’re already ahead.”  He gestured to the box he brought in with his bottle, and promptly proceeded to remove the cap.  He took a long swig.  “Yup, that was worth all the effort.”  He eyed the trash bin several feet away and played with his bottle cap.  “Three pointer,” he said, and tossed it in easily. 

 
“And it’s GOOD!” Travis yelled.

 
“Score!”  Morgan cried at the same time, and punched his fist in the air.  He noticed his brother walking back in.  “Oh, no wait.  You’ll have to excuse me, I did that wrong.  I’m sorry.”   He watched Paul put his boxes on the floor before setting his beer on the counter.  “Correct me if I’m mistaken, but I think it goes something like this.”   He hopped slightly, bent his knees as he landed, and slowly punched both fists into the air with a grin.

 
Travis nearly choked on his beer, and Jenna started ooting with laughter.  “Oh, my gosh, that is hilarious!  It was just like him!”

 
“Very funny,” his brother said, smacking him in the shoulder.

 
“Yup, I’ll say.  It was funny the first time, and it’s still funny two years later.”

 
Eric poked his nose in the door.  “Hey, did somebody around here order pizza?  ‘Cause if not, then I just picked up some strange woman off the street.  I hope that’s okay, since I asked to spend the night at her place.  She’s not much of a looker, though.”

 
“Outta my way, you dork!  These boxes are hot.” 

 
Eric grunted as a small figure hidden by a stack of pizza boxes punched him in the stomach with one hand. 

 
“Don’t forget, I can still beat you up,” the voice said.  “I don’t care if you’re bigger than me now.  If you don’t think I’m much of a looker then at least I can be mean.  Oh, um…” The boxes started to slide.  “Hang on... Uh, can I get a little help here?  Please?  Please?

 
“Whoa,” Paul said, diving for the boxes as they fell.  “I got it—oof!” He landed on his stomach, but caught the pizzas. 

 
“Way to take one for the team, bro!” Morgan cheered.

 
“Great distance, but a little sloppy on the execution there, Hamm,” Jenna said.  “I give it a 9.4.”

 
“Oh, come on, that was worth at least a 9.6,” Paul retorted, still on the floor.  “I’d definitely say an extra two tenths in difficulty.”  He heard a giggle and almost did a double take.  Standing in front of him was a petite young woman with fiery red hair that seemed to match her attitude.  He felt her gaze on him and looked up into one of the most piercing sets of green eyes he’d ever seen.  What struck him even more than that, though, was that she bore a surprising—if not uncanny—resemblance to Jenna.

 
Jenna hurried over to take the pizzas from him.  “Thanks for getting these, Marcie.  I appreciate it.  Oh, and if you didn’t know already, your hero of the night here is Mr. Paul Hamm, Olympic gold medalist and pizza rescuer extraodinaire.”

 
“Oh, I figured that out already, considering you did say they lived next door and all.”  Marcie raised her eyebrows at Jenna and twirled a lock of hair around one finger.

 
“Oh.  That’s right.”  Jenna’s face turned pink.  “Forgot about that conversation already,” she said, embarrassed.  “Well, anyway, Morgan, Paul, this is my cousin Marcie.”

 
“And my wonderful sister who’s going to buy me a car since my cousin refuses to,” Eric piped up.

 
“Enough about the car, Eric!”  Jenna turned back to the twins.  “I did tell you she’s on the OSU gymnastics team, right?”

 
Paul smiled at Marcie.  “Yup.  I think I’ve seen a few of your practices.”

 
Marcie’s face turned as pink as her cousin’s, making the smattering of freckles across her nose stand out prominently.  “Oh, dear.  I’m dreadfully sorry for that.  I’m not exactly at Jenna’s level, that’s for sure.”

 
“Ha,” Jenna remarked.  “You haven’t seen my practices lately.”

 
“She’s right,” Paul agreed.  “You do seriously need help, Jenna.”

 
“Hey!” she cried, and punched him in the arm.  “You’re not supposed to agree!”

 
He rubbed his arm.  “I stand corrected.  I think you just gave me a bruise,” he said and stuck out his lower lip.

 
“Baby.”

 
“Drama queen.”

 
“Ho, boy.  Here we go again,” Morgan sighed.  “If you guys keep this up again all night I’m likely to finish off one of those cases of beer by myself.”

 
“Me, too,” Travis remarked.

 
“And me,” Eric added.

 
Five heads jerked to look at him.  They all stared at him. 

 
“Or… not?” he asked, cringing.

 
“I am not contributing to the delinquency of a minor,” Jenna announced, “especially when that minor already happens to be slightly delinquent.”

 
“Hey!  I resemble that.”

 
“Get through high school and we’ll talk,” Travis said in a loud whisper.

 
“Travis!” Jenna cried.

 
“I’m kidding!” he replied and threw up his hands.  “The media would have an absolute field day if they found out about that one.”

 
Paul gave his brother a look.  “Media?  What’s he do?”

 
Morgan gave him a look back.  “No clue.” 

 
“You don’t think I’m that dumb, do you?” Travis finished.

 
Jenna cocked her head to the side, pondering the question.  “Well…”

 
“Oh, come on!  You know that all of the guys on the team would beat me for it, anyway.”

 
A slow smile spread across Jenna’s face.  “They would if I asked them to.”

 
Marcie giggled, and Travis shook his head with a grimace.  “That reminds me,” he said.  “Sheppard sends his love.”

 
Jenna gave a theatrical sigh.  “And how is dear James?”

 
“Oh, just dandy.  Said to tell you he’ll drop everything at a moment’s notice if you’ll marry him.”

 
Marcie giggled again.  “I’ll drop everything for just a date with him!”  The girls’ eyes met.  “Or with Sydney Crosby!” they said at the same time and giggled.

 
Travis and Eric both rolled their eyes.

 
Jenna glanced over at the Hamms.  “Sorry, guys.  I forgot to mention I’m not the only athlete in the family.  Travis plays pro hockey for the Wild.”

 
Paul raised his eyebrows.  “Local boy makes good, huh?”

 
Travis shrugged nonchalantly. “Yeah, guess so.  I s’pose I’m pretty lucky.  Played all four years for the U of M and then got drafted by the Wild.  It’s pretty rare to get to be at home the whole time.”

 
“It never happens,” Eric remarked.

 
There was a knock on the door.  The entire Ohio State men’s gymnastics team arrived en masse.  “Hey, where’s the food?” a voice called.

 
“Work first, then food!” Marcie shouted.

 
In a flash, every one of them had dashed outside and was carrying something inside.  Within a half an hour every box had been brought in and nearly all of the furniture was in place. 

 

 
Morgan plopped down onto the loveseat next to Jenna.  In one hand he had a fresh bottle of beer, and in the other he held a slice of pizza.  He eyed it hungrily for a moment and then started to chow down.

 
“Typical guy,” Jenna remarked absentmindedly.

 
“What?  Why?” he asked.

 
“Downing a piece of pizza in all of about three bites.  It’s a typical guy thing.”  Jenna kept moving the shade to glance out the window.

 
“Are you waiting for someone?”

 
“The boyfriend,” Marcie said knowingly to him.  She sat opposite them on the sofa.

 
“Finally!  He’s here!” Jenna cried.  She jumped off of the loveseat and ran towards the door.

 
Her brother made a face.  “Aw, no.  Is that The Suit?”

 
Jenna gave him a pained look.  “Travis!  Knock it off!  For the millionth time, his name is Jason.  Please, for once be nice, will you?”  She waited a moment, her face pleading with him, before dashing out the front door.

 
Paul turned to him quizzically.  “The Suit?”

 
“Yeah,” Travis replied with distaste.  “Even when he’s not wearing one he thinks he’s gotta act like one.”  He looked to make sure Jenna was still outside.  “One of these days I swear I’m gonna deck him.  Just ‘cause he looks like he deserves it,” he said, laughing.

 
Paul chuckled.  He wasn’t sure what, but there was something about Travis that made him instantly likeable.  “Must run in the family,” he thought.

 
“Jen keeps telling me to be nice, but I just don’t get what she sees in the guy.  I don’t care if he’s a lawyer.  Personally, I’d say she’s had a whole string of loser boyfriends.”  He rolled his eyes.  “Then again, I don’t know if I like any guy who’s after my baby sister.”

 
“Older, younger… it doesn’t matter,” Paul said, smiling.  “Morgan and I threatened to take out our older sister’s husband when they were first dating if he even looked at us wrong.”

 
Travis nodded smugly.  “See?  You get it.  Why doesn’t Jenna? I keep telling her it’s a brother’s responsibility, but she just tells me to back off.  Yeah, like she knows.  She thinks she’s all grown up.”

 
“She is twenty-five,” Paul pointed out.

 
Travis took a swig of beer.  “Don’t mean a thing.”

 
Paul was about to reply when a blushing Jenna walked back in.  Standing next to her was a man in his late twenties with beach blonde hair and All-American good looks.  His arm was loosely wrapped around Jenna’s waist, but his pale blue eyes were scanning the room.  His focus rested on Paul and their eyes briefly met.  Paul frowned.  He had no clue why, but he found himself agreeing with Travis about “the Suit.”  Just like Jenna’s brother, he had a sudden urge to just punch the guy.  It surprised him.  Things rarely riled him up.  The fact that he had no idea where the feeling came from or why it was even there to begin with was rather disconcerting.  He had never even met Jason before, but he still suddenly felt rather uneasy.

 
On the other hand, Jenna couldn’t have looked happier.  She was practically glowing.  Every so often she would gaze up wistfully at Jason.  It was as if the rest of the world didn’t even exist.

 
“Oh, come on, Hamm,” Paul thought.  “If Jenna adores him so much he can’t be that bad.”

 
“Why, Jason Cavendesh!” Marcie exclaimed.  She ran over to give him a hug.  “You finally made it!”

 
“Hey, there, Marcie.  How’s it going?”

 
“Great, now that we got all of Jen’s stuff moved in.”

 
“I know.  I’m sorry.  I was stuck handling something with a client.  Believe me, I would much rather have been here with my cutie.”  Jason smiled gave Jenna a squeeze around waist.

 
“Cutie?” Paul wondered.  “Oh, please.  I’ve heard Jenna called a lot of things, but never Cutie.”

 
She gave Jason an adoring look.

 
“You’ve got to be kidding me.  She actually seems to like it.”

 
“Jay, I’m so glad you’re here.  Oh, I can introduce you to some more of my friends now!  Come on,” Jenna said, grabbing his hand.  She took two steps forward, but Jason was distracted and didn’t move.  She winced as his firm grip inadvertently yanked her back.  “Ouch!”  Jenna gasped.  “Watch the hands, hon.”

 
“Aw, I’m sorry, Jen.”  Jason’s brow furrowed and he briefly took one of her hands in his to look at it. He studied the rough callouses and cracks with a frown.  “That doesn’t look too good.”

 
“Can’t be helped, Jay.  It’s the life of a gymnast.”

 
“Really?  This is normal?”  Jason looked shocked.

 
“’Fraid so, buddy,” Morgan remarked, approaching them.  Paul had followed his brother to introduce himself, so when Morgan held out his calloused hands Paul did the same. 

 
“Oh, Jay, these are my next door neighbors, Morgan and Paul Hamm.  They’re gymnasts, too.  I’ve known them for a long time.  So, anyway, you see?  Rough hands are normal, no big deal.” 

 
“Sure, but they’re guys.  Can’t you put on some lotion or something, Cutie?” 

 
Marcie held up her own calloused hands.  “Sorry, Jason.  It doesn’t matter.  Rough hands just go with the sport.  It’s actually a good thing.”

 
“You’re not serious.”

 
“Sure, I am! It’s the easiest way to tell how serious a gymnast is about training.”  A flying bottle caught her notice.  “Hey, I said no more beer throwing!”  Another bottle sailed over their heads, and this time Marcie and Morgan dashed to opposite sides of the room to stop the impromptu game of catch.

 
“Tough callouses mean you don’t get rips,” Paul added. 

 
“Rips?” Jason asked, looking confused.

 
“He doesn’t know this stuff?” Paul thought.  “They’ve been dating for, like, three years.  It’s not like she never went into the gym.  How could he not know what rips are?”

 
“Oh, hon, I’m sorry,” Jenna said apologetically.  “I forget sometimes you don’t know all of this.  Rips are when you tear the skin off your palms from working on bars too much.  Usually what happens to me is I get a blister and it rubs so much it tears it right open.  It’s pretty painful when it happens.  My hands should look a little better in a couple of weeks when my callouses toughen up again… hopefully.”

 
Paul cocked his head to the side.  He looked over at Jenna and raised his eyebrows.  “Wait a minute.”  He reached over and grabbed one of her hands.  He studied it for a moment before letting go.  “Yep, thought so,” he finally said.  “Your wrists look way too good to not be doing something.  You do use lotion or something, don’t you, Jen?”

 
He noticed her cheeks turn pink.  “I just, um, found some special ointment with vitamin E and aloe that seems to work for healing the cracks and stuff.”  She looked up at Jason hopefully.

 
Jason didn’t seem to notice.  Paul couldn’t quite read the expression on his face, but he could tell that Jenna’s boyfriend wasn’t happy.  Instead of focusing on her, Jason’s pale blue eyes were carefully watching him.  Paul returned the steely gaze that was looking at him. He didn’t buy into intimidation.  He had never been one to back down, and after the Athens Olympics he learned to do it even less.  He trusted his gut instead. 

 

He noticed Jenna glancing furtively between them.  She wanted them to be friends, he knew.  Paul shifted his gaze to her and smiled.  “So, I’m guessing you’re pretty happy to have Jason so close by now, huh?”

 
The grateful look she gave him turned into a wide smile.  “You have no idea.”  She looked up at Jason.  “You hungry?”

 
“I’m starving.  I skipped lunch this afternoon.”

 
“Marcie brought pizza.”

 
Jason’s eyes finally lit up.  “Thank goodness.  I’m so hungry I could fall over!” 

 
“Come to think of it,” Jenna said, “I could go for another slice.  Oh, and there’s beer in the fridge.”

 
"Well, why didn’t you say so before?”  Jason flashed her a thousand watt smile and followed her into the kitchen.

 
Seeing them wander into the kitchen, Paul couldn't help thinking that there was a lot more to Jason Cavendesh than met the eye.  Why, though, or what it could be he had no idea.  He knew there had to be something more to him for Jenna to love him as much as she did, but Paul didn't think that was what seemed to be missing.  watched her for Jenna for a moment, though,  and had to smile at how happy she seemed.  Paul made up his mind right then and there to do his best to get to know Jason… if nothing else than for Jenna’s sake.

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