Chapter 16


Rick sighed happily as the workday ended. Much to his pleasant surprise, his assistant actually got all the numbers right on the reports he was working on. He guessed his gentle suggestion that the kid check his math at least twice seemed to be paying off. He pulled on his overcoat and stashed a few files in his briefcase to look over before he went to sleep later that night. Before he could reach the door, however, his cell phone rang. He clicked it on as he headed out the door and to the elevator.


"Great! I caught you!" Travis sounded relieved.

"Yeah, bud," he laughed. "It usually works that way when you dial someone's cell and they answer. What's up?"

"Want to grab a bite with me on the way home? We haven't had a chance to talk in almost a week."

Rick might have begged off at any other time, but he was interested in how things with Rhonda were progressing. He really wanted to keep a close eye on Travis until he was sure the guy was happy in a relationship this time. No offense to Rhonda, of course, but Rick wasn't sure Travis could make it through another messy breakup. And there was the added bonus of conspiring with Travis to help him get closer to Jackson.

"Sure, but maybe we'd better meet somewhere closer to your place, just in case Jackson and Rhonda decide to eat out, too."

"That sounds unlikely, but better safe than sorry," Travis agreed. "Let's go to Applebee's then."

"Meet you in 20."

The ride over was quick, and Rick was both surprised and pleased that so few people were on the road. When he went inside he found Travis waiting by the hostess' station. They greeted each other amiably and followed the hostess as she seated them in a booth in the bar area so they could keep an eye on whatever game was playing as they ate.

"So what happened this weekend?" Rick asked as he scanned the menu.

"Rhonda and I went to the mall on Sunday," Travis replied. "And you-know-who showed up again."

"You'd think she'd be tired of getting told off by now," Rick groused.

The waitress approached for their drink order, and they slipped an appetizer with it, along with their meals, since they were both creatures of habit and tended to order the same thing every time they went there. When the waitress took their menus and left, they resumed their conversation.

"Did Rhonda let her get any good zingers in?" Rick asked.

"Are you kidding? That's a negative," Travis grinned. "She cut her down quickly and we went on with our day."


The waitress returned quickly with their beers and Travis took a sip of his before turning back to Rick pensively, and that's when the blonde knew he was in for a conversation.

"So, I take it you saw Jackson again?"

"You look like you already know the answer to that, bud. Why?"

"Well," the brunette shrugged. "It's just that Rhonda mentioned he's getting spooked by you."

"Hmm," Rick deadpanned. He wasn't sure where Travis was headed with that statement, but he determined to wait and see what he said before acting. "The same woman who warned me off him. I see."

Travis chuckled and nodded his head. "Yeah, that's what I thought when she mentioned it at first. But then she started offering advice." He took another long sip of his beer. "I think she's changed her mind on whether or not you're good for him."

Rick narrowed his eyes as he took sip from his own beer quietly. He wasn't yet convinced Rhonda had a change of heart. Perhaps it was a change of tactics to get him to stand down from chasing her best friend, though. She was a formidable woman, and Rick knew she felt protective enough of Jackson to make sure someone she didn't want to bother him didn't bother him. But would she use Travis to do it? She seemed to genuinely like him now. This would take some time to puzzle out.

"She said that you need to pull back a little on him or you'll spook him," Travis went on.

"A little?" he asked dubiously.

"Yeah, just a little. She said he's not comfortable being pursued so heavily."

"Are you sure she isn't trying to help Jackson get rid of me?"

"Nearly positive," Travis smiled. "She says she sees the way he looks at you. Says it's not like he really wants you gone. Maybe you've stumped the psychologist!"

Rick sighed and shook his head. He would be the first to admit he was out of his element in going after the other man at all. He'd tried all of his usual methods, but they were geared toward women, and Jackson made no bones about being thoroughly male. Plus, with the man's psych degree, Rick was sure he would be able to evade whatever tactics were used on him. It seemed hopeless, but the only thing he could think to do was what he'd always done.

"Here's a good quote she told me to give you: The definition of insanity is to repeat the same action over and over again, and expect to someday get a different result."

Rick nearly choked on the nacho he'd just popped into his mouth. "Sounds more like something Jackson would say."

"Yep," Travis said proudly. "She told me it's his favorite quote. She also said we need to make him see that he's not exactly adhering to its advice himself."

"'We'? So it's a team effort now?"

"Tell me you don't think you need our help."

Travis quirked a pointed eyebrow up and went in for his own nacho as Rick sat back and contemplated this turn of events.


"C'mon, Ronnie," Jackson whined. "I don't want to watch American Idol!"

"Tell me what's better than watching Steven Tyler act creepy and leer at kids a third of his age," she challenged.

"Watching paint dry?" he suggested. "I hate that show now that Simon's gone."

She shook her head and laughed as she turned the channel back to the offensive show. Jackson knew if he reached over to try to take the remote his sworn feline enemy would attack. As it was, it eyed him disdainfully from her lap, looking like it was waiting for Jackson to make a move.

"It's almost over anyway," she went on. "Besides, you know I ordered you that movie you've been wanting to see."

"They have it?" he exclaimed and noted her nod. "Yes!"

"You want me to sit through The Green Hornet, I get to watch J Lo."

"Okay, deal!"

When they came to a commercial break, Rhonda turned to him looking thoughtful. He sat back and waited for her to gather her thoughts, as he always did. Rhonda hated to be rushed, and he was a best friend with endless patience. Look at Pookie still breathing and all.

"Jacksie, do you like Travis?" she finally asked him.

Ah, so that's it. Rhonda really was growing attached to the guy. Good thing he seemed all right to Jackson … so far. He was still watching any man who approached her, though, like a hawk.

"He seems like a decent guy," he said slowly nodding. "And I love what he's helping you do to Ron."

"Me too!" she grinned widely. "I hear he's still in jail!"

"I hope you're not expecting sympathy from me."

"Never!" she laughed. "Perish the thought!"

"Where's all this coming from?" he asked seriously when they stopped laughing.

"It's just …" she hesitated. "It's just that I'm getting the feeling he's really interested in me." She looked away and shrugged. "And I think he's starting to grow on me, too?"

"Like a fungus?" he joked and grunted when she kicked his leg. "Ow, just kidding!"

"Don't call him a fungus," she hissed. "Now what are your vibes saying?"

"I think he's a nice guy. I'm not getting anything yet."

"Oh good!"

"But keep in mind we didn't meet him all that long ago."

She smirked at him. "That's my Jacksy! Always looking out for me."



"What you need to do is find a reason to kiss the woman," Rick said around a mouthful of burger. He knew he should cut back on the burger habit, but damn they tasted good!

"What?" Travis yelped. "I think she might kick me in the jewels if I just up and grab her!"

"Well. Yeah, if you do it like that. You need Jen."

Travis stared at him like he had two heads. "In what reality did we fall into where you're telling me I need my ex-bitch?"

Rick threw back his head and barked with laughter at that. True, he'd never had thought he'd ever utter that sentence to his best friend, and he didn't mean it in the literal sense now. But damn was it funny to see the look on Travis' face.

"I just think you need to use Jen as the excuse to kiss Rhonda. You know, like in front of her. Then you can explain to Rhonda you wanted to up your game in front of your ex if she gets mad at you."

Travis chewed thoughtfully on a French fry as he contemplated the suggestion, and Rick knew he was turning it over in his mind every which way to make sure it was sound. It came with the territory when you became a lawyer, he'd told Rick once.

"That could work out well," he decided.

"See? Jen might actually be able to do something good for a change."


AUTHOR'S NOTE: Ah ha! Another chapter of this one, too! Hot damn! LOL! Thanks for the reviews on the last chapter. More on this one would be every so lovely!