“Humph. ‘We might as well,’” Chantelle repeated with a shake of her head once she and Dennis were out on the dance floor, gliding and swaying to the spirit of Christmas. “Sometimes I wonder if you’ve got a single romantic cell in that brain of yours.”
“No need to wonder about my brain cells. I’ve got romance coming out of my ears.” Dennis nodded toward the newlyweds, over there in the center of the floor. “Those two wouldn’t have jumped the broom today if it wasn’t for me. You know I’m the one who told Arthur to go for it in the first place, last year. He would’ve let Lexi get away otherwise.”
“Beg your pardon again, but I was the first one who said something about Arthur and Alexis getting together, back in high school. Remember? He resisted it then because he thought it was weird, the idea of dating a friend.” Chantelle’s voice slowly lowered as the end of her commentary slipped from her mouth. Dating a friend.
“He wouldn’t have thought it was weird if he hadn’t been distracted by that other what’s-her-name at the time,” Dennis scoffed, as if he couldn’t very well recall what’s-her-name’s name. “Folks who date should be friends, if they can help it.”
Chantelle’s eyebrows flew up. “You think so?” she blurted before her voice was ready, giving her words a wobble.
If Dennis heard the wobble, he didn’t show it. “Absolutely.” He shrugged a nonchalant shoulder. “I mean, who’d want to date an enemy? It’s already a hassle going out with somebody you like. Why make it even harder on yourself by going out with somebody you can’t stand?”
In spite of herself, Chantelle laughed. “Enemies become lovers all the time. Opposites attract, and all that. Besides, from where I’m standing, dating has never looked like much of a hassle for you, Romeo.”
“Ah. That’s the mark of a master, Chantelephone. Masters of an art make it look easy to folks on the outside looking in.” Dennis pulled her nearer to him, until they were virtually cheek to cheek. “And don’t call me Romeo. He only got—like, what?—two seconds of bliss with his Juliet before everything tumbled downhill and crashed. That won’t be me.”
“Oh, no, never you. Never the master.” A chortle bounced in Chantelle’s throat. “Now, I would pick apart what your deluded definition of ‘master’ must be in this case, but I prefer to save my breath about rational stuff for people with sense.”
“Yeah? Well, if you’ve been saving your breath with me all these years, you’ve sure been doing a yakety-yak-yakkin’ job of it.”
“Says you. But you’ve no idea how much breath I’ve saved, Jawbone.” Chantelle might have come up with more of a reply than that, but the feel of Dennis’s chin barely grazing her temple quieted her for a few heartbeats. She didn’t even flinch at the trace of stubble that had crept onto his clean-shaven face over the course of the day, as her increasing relaxation left no room for flinching. And regarding relaxation…
“I’ve gotta say, though,” Chantelle spoke up, “you did quite a job today, keeping Arthur relaxed. Weddings look so dreamy in movies, but whenever I’m at the real thing, the bride floats and cries and/or smiles her way down the aisle, caught up in the happiest day of her life, while the groom is up there clenching his hands and sweating buckets, looking a nanosecond away from passing out. Arthur looked great, though. You must have fed him a steady stream of your bad jokes in the hours beforehand to keep him laughing—at you.”
Dennis chuckled. “I can neither confirm nor deny that. But I think only a single guy knows just how daunting the prospect of taking on a whole, entire, real-life wife can be. So I reminded Arthur how careful a planner he is, that he wouldn’t have asked for Alexis if he wasn’t ready to take care of her. I told him not to forget that she’ll be taking care of him just as much.” He paused to spin Chantelle to the music before he gathered her back to him. “I’m sure you had a lot of encouraging yakety-yak for Lexi.”
Chantelle smiled at that. “Any encouragement might have drifted right on past her. She was already in raptures, mostly just needed someone to keep her from sailing off on a glorious cloud with her veil on backwards.”
That brought another chuckle from Dennis before he sent Chantelle into a second spin and then tucked her in close.
Chantelle’s insides leapt. Oh, goodness. This man hadn’t any business being such a rhythmic and soulful dance companion for her if none of the romance coming out of his ears had anything to do with her.
Chantelle’s eyelids lowered as she melted into the music and her dance companion’s familiarity, breathing in the scent of aquatic cologne blended with living Dennis. She’d partnered with him enough times since high school to be aware of how he’d subtly changed over the years…
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