And yet, instead of being able to completely enjoy it, she felt twisted up inside.
She’d never had a secret relationship before. As a teenager she’d been a good girl, too focused on her dreams to waste time on the local boys at school. She knew some people found having a secret affair exciting, but Mary hated not being able to put her hand in Jack’s in the back of the taxi without worrying that the driver would see them, then recognize her and end up telling someone.
Why, she asked herself for the millionth time, was she still being so careful, so wary? What would it hurt if people knew that she and Jack were falling for each other? Heck, if being careful was her main goal in life, she’d still be in her childhood town, with babies and children playing at her feet while she helped her mother sew wedding dresses for the other women.
But Mary knew that worrying about other people’s reactions wasn’t the main reason she wasn’t ready to give up the secrecy. The real reason was much more complicated.
Jack was wonderful…so wonderful that a part of her was absolutely terrified.
What if he realized one day soon that he’d had his fill of her and decided to move on?
Or what if the product launch ended up going badly and he couldn’t separate the success of his business from her role in it?
Or what if she screwed up and made a rash decision that he couldn’t forgive her for…just as her mother once had?
The happier Mary was every moment they were together, the more she worried when they were apart, simply because Jack mattered to her—more than any other man ever had.
As the secrecy continued to eat away at her, she had to wonder if never publicly acknowledging their relationship would make losing him any easier.
The taxi pulled up to the curb, and when she looked out the window, she realized they were in front of a beautiful old movie theater. The words in lights on the marquee made her heart skip a beat.
“They’re playing Singin’ in the Rain?” She turned to Jack in surprise. “How did you find this?”
“Some things,” Jack said softly, “are meant to be.”
He extended his hand to help her out of the cab, holding it a few moments longer than a friend would have but not long enough that strangers would wonder…unless they happened to notice the way the two of them were looking at each other and noticed the flush of heat spreading across Mary’s cheeks.
The fog off the Bay was thick tonight, and she pulled her coat closer around her as she looked at the long line of couples waiting to get their tickets. But just as people began turning to take a second glance to see if she was who they thought she was, Jack gently propelled her toward the entrance and handed their tickets to the young man at the door.
“Follow the stairs to the left all the way up and you’ll find your seats.”
Instead of heading for the stairs, Jack led her over to the concession counter. “I hope you like your popcorn dripping with butter.”
“Only if it’s doused with salt, too,” she told him with a smile she couldn’t possibly contain. Mary hadn’t been on many movie-and-popcorn dates in the past thirteen years. She felt, for a moment, like any girl out on a long-awaited date with the boy she couldn’t stop daydreaming about.
A few minutes later, when their arms were laden with candy and soda and an absolutely enormous tub of popcorn, they climbed up the narrow stairs to the balcony. Mary stopped at the top of the stairs in surprise.
“There are only two seats up here.”
Jack looked incredibly pleased with himself. “I know.”
She hadn’t needed romance or wooing to fall for Jack Sullivan. But now that he was giving them to her on a silver platter filled with popcorn and malted milk balls and ice-cold Coke, Mary wasn’t sure how she could ever have thought she’d be able to resist him.
In their private seats high above the rest of the theater, as the lights went down and her favorite old film began to play, Mary not only didn’t have to worry about secrecy, but she realized she could stop worrying entirely for two hours.
Snuggling into Jack, loving the feel of his arm over her shoulder, she reached into the tub of popcorn and knew she was the luckiest girl in the world.
* * *
A little less than two hours later, Mary was startled when the house lights came up. She’d been utterly lost in the fantasy of being Jack’s girl and in the incredible sensuality of his fingers brushing over her shoulder, his thigh pressed against hers, his breath warm as he whispered into her ear during his favorite parts of the movie.
She hadn’t dated much as a teenager, and as an adult the men who asked her out wouldn’t have dreamed of taking her to see an old movie while munching on popcorn and candy. Just as none of them would have bought her pie and ice cream in a diner.
Jack had been careful to buy tickets ahead of time so that they could walk inside the theater quickly and had also thought ahead about reserving the private balcony to make sure their relationship stayed under wraps the way she’d insisted. Which also meant that they would have to wait until the seats below emptied so that they could sneak back out unnoticed.
Mary thought about the end of Singin’ in the Rain, when Debbie Reynolds’s character, Kathy, had stood hidden behind a curtain as she sang…and how wrong it had been for her to hide herself away like that.
Wasn’t that exactly what Mary was making the two of them do by forcing them to keep their true feelings hidden, not just from strangers in a movie theater but also from the people with whom they were working?