Little did Kelly Mathis know that joining a health club in Green Bay, the summer following her first year
teaching, would change her life forever….
She was late…well, not that it mattered exactly when she started her workout, but she liked to get it in before 10am. She rushed in, put her purse in a cubby, and headed for the treadmill to warm up.
“Hey girl, thought you weren’t going to show up. I had to actually concentrate on the pain today instead of distracting myself with talking to you.” It was Tina Driver, wiping her face with her towel and rubbing her bulging baby belly. She was the wife of the Green Bay Packers wide receiver, Donald Driver, and the two had struck up conversations while they were doing their routines for the past few months.
“Are you supposed to be working out so close to your due date?” Kelly asked as she started the treadmill at a slow pace.
“I’m letting up some, but the doctor said it’s the best thing I could be doing. A little over a month to go. Now that Donald is back to work, I have to get the exercise in when I can. The kids need to go back to school. The fighting has been terrible the last few weeks, so this is my oasis amidst it all.”
“Well, if there’s anything I can do to help give me a holler. Does Christian know he’s going to be in my class this year?”
“Really? He told me he was in Miss Mathis’ class, but I never even put it together because I guess I never really knew your last name. Duh! You told me you were a third grade teacher at Heritage. Blame it on the pregnant hormones!”
“Well, it should be a fun year. I’m looking forward to it.”
“Hey, we’re having a small get-together at our house on Friday…just neighbors and friends for a picnic. We’d love it if you could join us,” Tina said, as she grabbed her purse and car keys.
“Oh I don’t know…I really appreciate you asking, but I won’t know anyone…”
“You know me! And you know Donald…sort of.”
Laughing, Kelly replied, “I don’t think watching him play football on TV counts as ‘knowing’ him.”
Tina took out a pen and paper, writing something down. “Here’s our address and my cellphone number. Come any time in the afternoon. We’ll get started early since the boys have practice the next day.”
Kelly could hardly suppress her excitement. As a born and bred Packer fan, getting a job and moving to Green Bay after graduating from college was the ultimate dream…until this moment. Now she was being invited to a party at the Donald Driver home and it sounded like “the boys” meant there would be other Packer players there.
“Ok, I’ll try to make it.”
“Don’t try…just DO it!” Tina
said as she breezed out of the club.
“Did your friend say she’d come to the picnic tomorrow?”
“She said she’d try. I sure hope she does.”
“And you didn’t tell her that you had ulterior motives?”
“What ulterior motives?”
Donald laughed. “You are evil.”
“Evil? What’s so wrong about wanting to introduce one of your teammates to a cute little sweet single blonde instead of some of the hoochies that throw themselves at him?”
“And what happens if neither of them shows up?”
“They’ll show up. I can feel it.”
“That’s just the baby kicking.”
Tina punched her husband playfully on the arm before wrapping her arms around him and kissing him.
“Wow, this is a small get together?” Kelly thought as she pulled up to the Driver house and noticed all the cars and SUVs. She pulled up behind a black Cadillac Escalade and quickly checked her hair and makeup in the rearview mirror. “I gotta be nuts,” she muttered to herself, as she walked up to the front door.
“You must be Kelly…” Donald said as he came to the door. “Nice to meet you. Thanks for keeping Tina company in the morning.”
Kelly laughed. “No, thank Tina for keeping me in my exercise routine. I have a bad habit of stopping what I’m doing while I’m talking, so she reminds me when I’m just sitting there watching her exercise
while I talk.”
Donald returned the laugh. “Tina’s in the kitchen, right through there. Let her know you’re here.”
Kelly walked down the hall and entered the kitchen and was immediately almost starstruck as she recognized Greg Jennings and his wife.
“Hey girl, it’s about time. I was just going to call you, but remembered that you have my number but I don’t have yours. Greg and Nicole…this is Kelly Mathis. She’s my exercise partner in the morning.” They all exchanged greetings and small talk, when Tina handed Kelly a tray of chips and various dips and salsa. “I’m going to put you to work for me, if you don’t mind. Take these out back and serve these will you please?”
Kelly didn’t catch the wink she and Nicole Jennings shared.
The sun hit Kelly square in the eyes as she carried the tray onto the deck. She was cursing herself for forgetting her sunglasses when she bumped into a large body she could see only in silhouette.
“Oh I’m sorry, I didn’t spill anything on you, did I?” Kelly said as she tried to shade her eyes.
“No, not at all. I’m sorry, I didn’t see you coming.” Wow…that voice, Kelly thought. Smooth and sexy and somehow familiar. And that silhouette, it’s got to be one of Donald Driver’s teammates too.
Just then, Tina came out of the house with a pitcher of lemonade and glasses.
“Oh I see you two have met already…”
“Well, no, not exactly…” Kelly said, still trying to shade her eyes. Tina came over and took the tray from her and put it on the table.
“Clay, this is my friend from the health club, Kelly Mathis. Kelly, this is…”
“…Clay Matthews” Kelly said, finishing the sentence for Tina. She wanted to kick herself. She was sounding like a teeny freaky Packer fan and she knew she was blushing.
“Yes, Clay Matthews” Tina said, laughing.
By now, Kelly had moved so she was no longer staring into the sun, she was staring into the linebackers gorgeous deep blue eyes, which were smiling at her. “Did Tina say your name was Matthews?”
“No, Mathis. Close though.”
Awkward. Awkward. Awkward.
Just then, Christian Driver came running out of the house.
“Miss Mathis, I’m going to be in your class this year!” he exclaimed as he ran up to her.
“That’s what I heard, Christian. I’m looking forward to it.”
“Me too. See ya” he hollered as he ran off to play with some of the other children there.
“You’re a teacher?” Clay asked.
“Yes. Third grade at Heritage Elementary. My second year.”
Tina came over and handed each of them a glass of lemonade.
“Take it easy with this, it’s not your mother’s lemonade. Go have a seat you two” she said as she aimed them towards a wicker loveseat on the deck.
Kelly sat first and then Clay sat down. There was barely room for both of them, even though it was a large and very comfy wicker loveseat. Kelly was instantly aware of the fact that her leg and Clay’s were touching, but she tried not to think about it.
(this part is under construction…I’m notoriously bad at dialogue. Just can’t quite wrap my mind around a conversation yet!)
(several weeks later…don’t have anything in between thought out yet)
“Just do it!” Tina told her. That seemed to be her favorite phrase for anything pertaining to Kelly lately.
“But…I haven’t heard from him except for one phone call and a few text messages since your party. I don’t think he’s interested. I’d feel foolish.”
“Believe me, he’s interested.”
“What? How do you know that?”
“I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you” Tina teased.
“Honestly? He’s probably got dozens of women after him.”
“Well, that’s true, but Clay is serious about football and once training starts, he really doesn’t make much time for anything else.”
“There you go. I can’t be acting all fan girly and disrupting him!”
“I’m telling you Kelly, just meet the plane tonight. It’ll be a surprise. What’s the worst that could happen?”
Kelly didn’t even want to think about what “the worst” could be.
“You won’t come with me? What about you meeting Donald?”
“Honey, we’re old married people. And I’ve got kids to take care of. You have no excuse!”
This was so out of character for her…she didn’t know what to do. Her head told her to stay home and forget about Clay Matthews, but her heart told her to get in her car and drive to Straubel. Her heart won out.
So, okay, she was here. Now what? Tina said the plane was due in around midnight. There were some cars in the parking lot, but the airport looked pretty deserted. “Maybe I missed them and they’re already gone.” She no sooner had those thoughts when she saw a plane approaching from the east. “Okay, decision time.” She watched as the plane safely touched down, circled and taxied to the terminal.
Kelly got out of the car and started walking toward the terminal when she saw a few people leaving and walking toward cars. Everyone was pretty quiet. It had been a loss in Cleveland after all. One of the players smiled and nodded and held the door open for her as she went in. She stood off to the side and watched as more players walked past, carrying duffel bags and saying little.
Then, she saw him in the distance. He had earbuds in his ears, looking down at the floor as he walked, appearing tired. She almost turned tail and ran, but found her feet frozen to the spot. Then, as he neared her, he looked up. Instantly, his expression changed, his eyes softened and he smiled.
“Hey Kelly, what are you doing here?”
“Um….Tina thought I should…um, I mean, I thought that…um….” The smile and the fact that he was so close to her wasn’t helping her to form an intelligent sentence.
He put his arm around her back and turned her toward the door. “Come on, walk with me to my car.” They walked in silence, but Kelly was very conscious of the fact that Clay still had his arm around her. He wasn’t going to make this easy. And when some of the other players started whistling and catcalling, it didn’t help.
“Shut up you guys!” Clay called to them. Then, Kelly noticed Donald, who flashed that great big grin of his and gave her a “thumbs up.” She wanted to die on the spot.
“I’m really sorry, I shouldn’t have come” Kelly sputtered.
“Why not? I’m flattered. Honest.” They stopped in front of the black Escalade. “This is it. You want to grab something to eat with me?”
“I’ve got my car here…really, I should be getting home.”
“Wait a minute. You drive out to the airport at midnight, presumably to see me, and so you see me and now you go home?” He was teasing. “Look, things get pretty intense from here on out with practice and then the season starting. I may not have a lot of time, but I would like to spend some of that time with you. Please, there’s a 24 hour diner not far from here. Hop in, we’ll catch a bite and then I’ll drive you back to your car.” He put his arm around her and squeezed her gently.
Well, what could she say to that except “sure, sounds good.”
(this is where I get stumped…again…conversation between the two of them. It will come sometime in the future…just want to get ideas down for now)
The bell rang for lunch at Heritage Elementary School on a sunny and warm Tuesday.
“Okay, I will see all of you here after lunch…Justin and Jason, please go get your lunch and bring it back to the room so that you can work on your profile while you eat since you weren’t able to concetrate earlier this morning.”
The boys groaned and slumped their shoulders as they walked out with the rest of the class. Kelly sat down at her desk and pulled out the completed profiles the rest of the students had done. They were to write a little bit about who they were, their families, their interests, and what they hoped to learn or get better at during the year. It wasn’t long before Justin and Jason were back with their lunch trays.
“Okay, you two can eat first and then get back to your profiles. I know you both have some great things you want to write as you’re both great guys. The boys smiled. They were good kids, they just were easily distracted and needed some help staying on track.
Kelly was back to reading when the door opened at the back of the room. “Excuse me Miss Mathis, may I see you out in the hall for a minute?” Kelly’s head shot up, as did Justin’s and Jason’s. They all had their mouths open, staring at Clay Matthews leaning against the doorjamb, his hands behind his back….
“Uh, Justin and Jason, I’ll be right back…only be a minute. Start in on your work please.”
The boys watched as Kelly walked to the back of the room, went out into the hall and pulled the door partway closed behind her.
“Clay! What are you doing here?” She knew she was flushed, and put her hand up to one cheek in a vain attempt of hiding it.
“Well, I wanted to give you these,” he said, smiling and pulling a bouquet of deep pink tulips from behind his back, handing them to her.
“Oh my goodness, they are gorgeous!” she said, taking them from him. Her heart was pounding so loudly, she swore Clay would be able to hear it.
“I remembered that you said you loved tulips and that your favorite was pink.”
“That is really sweet…but what’s the occasion? Kelly looked up from the flowers into Clay’s eyes.
“None really, but I also wanted to bring these,” he continued, pulling something else from behind his back with his other hand….he held four tickets.
“I want you and your brothers and dad to come to the opening game Thursday night.”
Kelly brought a hand up to her mouth and her eyes welled up with tears.
“Hey….I don’t want to make you cry,” he said, taking her face in his hands. She was shaking like a leaf.
“Well, you told me how long you all have been Packer fans and that none of you have ever been to a game because of the responsibilities of the farm, so I thought this would be the perfect chance for that to happen. Now, they aren’t in the luxury box…”
“Oh no, these are perfect…it’ll be exciting sitting in the stadium. I just hope they can all get away from the farm….
Clay interrupted her. “I’ve got that covered too.” Kelly furrowed her brows and looked confused.
“I called your dad…there aren’t that many “Mathis'” in Winnebago County. I just wanted to make sure it would be okay with him. We had a nice chat…talked about you a little.” He grinned.
“Your dad is a great guy. I can’t wait to meet him in person. And yes, he’s got the farm covered for a day.”
“I can’t thank you enough, Clay” she said as she stood on tiptoes to put her arms around his shoulders and give him a hug.
“Miss Mathis?” It was Justin and Jason.
“Oops…I need to get back inside…” She opened to the door and the boys were standing right there, eyes widening as they looked up at Clay.
“Hi boys, how are you doing?”
“G..ggg..gggreat,” Justin replied.
“This is Justin…and this is Jason” Kelly said, introducing them. Clay put out his hand for high-fives from both of them.
“You boys take it easy and maybe I’ll see you again sometime…Miss Mathis, I’ll talk to you later.” He squeezed her arm and turned and walked down the hall.
“Wowwwwwwww………how cool was THAT?” Jason said. “Yeah,” Kelly thought, “how cool WAS that?”
(several weeks later….still haven’t come up with the opening game day chapter)
Kelly had just gotten into her lounge pants and sleep tee and sat down on the couch to correct some papers. She was tired. She’d watched the Packer-Bear game, delighting in the win and the fact that the camera seemed to focus on Clay quite a bit. She was on the edge of her seat for the whole game, feeling like it was now much more than just a Packer game. She had a lot more interest.
Glancing at the clock, she wondered if the team was back in Green Bay yet. She checked her phone. No text messages. She checked Twitter and saw that some of the players had tweeted that they were back. She sighed. Just then, the phone rang.
“Hey Kelly….” It was, of course, Clay.
“Hey, congratulations on the win. What a game!”
“Thanks. Yeah, they never make it easy do they?”
She laughed. “No. They sure kept you busy.”
“That they did. Hey….I thought you might be at the airport tonight.”
“Oh…I’m sorry. I kind of ignored grading papers all weekend, so I felt I’d better do it. Still working on them…”
“No, it’s okay.” He sounded kind of quiet and “down” for having come off a win.
“Where are you now?”
“On my way home. Why?”
“You want to stop over for awhile? I can correct these papers in the morning.”
“No, it’s ok. It was just good to hear your voice.”
“Aw, that’s sweet. Everything ok?”
“Yeah. It’s good. Worried about Brian.” He was referring to Brian Bulaga who went out of the game early with a knee injury.
“That looked painful. He going to be ok?”
“I guess so. We don’t know yet. And then Ryan…they took him for x-rays.” And Ryan Grant had gotten hit hard.
“Well, I’m glad you’re ok.”
Clay laughed. “Thanks. Ok…well, I’m off tomorrow…”
“Have a good day. Think of me surrounded by 20 rambunctious 8 year olds if you get a chance.”
“I think of you often.”
Whooomp. There went her heart racing again.
“Um….ditto Mr. Matthews.”
She held onto the phone, staring, for several minutes before sighing and going back to grading papers.
(shift to the future…..December….snow is falling and…..)
Kelly pulled on her hat and mittens as Clay’s SUV approached and stopped in front of her house. She pulled the door closed and looked up at the grey sky and smiled…it was snowing. How perfect. She always loved going out and cutting a Christmas tree with her family, but especially when it was snowing. It really felt like Christmas then. This year, she didn’t have her family, but she had Clay.
Kelly opened the door and jumped into the front seat. Clay smiled at her and leaned over to give her a soft, gentle kiss. “You’re really excited about this, aren’t you?” His long blonde hair was tucked up under a black knit hat, which Kelly thought looked particularly attractive.
“I’m like a little kid at Christmas…love it. Love everything about it,” she said smiling. Clay shook his head and pulled away from the house. “And you not so much?” she asked.
“I’m a Southern California boy” he said, smiling. “Third year here and I’m still not loving the cold and snow.”
“Wuss,” Kelly mumbled under her breath.
“What? Wuss did you say?” he reached over and pulled her hat off.
“Oh I’m sorry…you win, big, tough Clay Matthews, now give me my hat!”
They were both laughing as he handed her hat back. “So, where is this place?”
“Just north of Green Bay toward Suamico.”
It wasn’t long before they arrived at the tree farm and were greeted by the owner who supplied them with a small saw and aimed them out to the 8,000 acres of pine trees.
“This is great,” Kelly said, inhaling deeply. “Doesn’t it just smell wonderful?”
“C’mon little girl, let’s go get your tree,” Clay said lauging, “before I freeze my ass off.”
They walked through row after row of trees, some that looked like Charlie Brown trees and some that looked big enough to grace the White House. Every few feet Clay would point to one and say, “How about this one?” “No, it’s too bare on this side,” Kelly would say or “no, too tall for the ceiling in my living room” or “no, it’s not full enough” and Clay would sigh and trudge on.
Finally, Kelly, at least 50 feet ahead of Clay down one of the rows, turned and shouted back “I’ve found it!”
“Thank God,” Clay mumbled as he pulled his coat collar up and flexed his arms, getting ready to cut the perfect tree.
“What do you think?” Kelly asked.
“You want my opinion after you’ve shot down every tree I’ve picked out?” he asked, putting his arms around her.
“Yes, I do,” she said, wanting to but not adding “I want this tree and this Christmas to be as special for you as it will be for me.”
“Ok…it’s great. Can I start cutting now?”
Kelly nodded. “Yes, Mr. Party Pooper…go ahead and cut.”
Clay lay down on the cold, snowy ground and had the tree cut in a matter of seconds. It always was such a production with her family. But then, none of her brothers had Clay’s build or muscles and they’d take turns cutting the trunk.
“Now what?” he asked as the tree toppled over.
“We haul it back to the car, silly.” Kelly shook her head. “You California boys really don’t know anything about Christmas trees, do you?”
Clay picked up the end of the tree and easily dragged it across the field to the SUV. Kelly went and paid for it while Clay started strapping it to the top. Kelly had warned him about bringing rope to tie it down and he at least seemed to understand that part.
Back at Kelly’s apartment, they brought the tree in and Clay placed it in the stand in front of the bay windows in the living room. Kelly had been prepared and had already brought the decorations and lights and the Christmas tree stand out.
“How about some hot chocoate?” Kelly asked, as Clay took off his hat and coat and rubbed his hands together. “You look cold.”
Clay followed her into the kitchen and smiled.
“You are like a little kid….” he said, hesitating. As Kelly put the milk on the stove to warm up, Clay came up behind her and put his arms around her, leaned over and whispered closely into her ear “and I like it. It’s cute on you.” Kelly turned around to face Clay, delighting in the feel of his strong arms around her.
“I bet you say that to all the girls,” she teased.
He leaned over and kissed her…softly at first, then more urgently.
“Well, Clay Matthews, I do think the snow and cold agrees with you” she said, when he pulled away, and leaned his forehead against hers. “I think YOU agree with me” he replied before kissing her again.
Kelly turned around and moved the pan to another burner and turned off the stove. When she turned back, Clay easily picked her up in his arms and carried her to the bedroom.
Clay let out a long audible sigh and fell back onto the pillow, eyes closed. They were both breathing rapidly and trying to catch their breath.
“I love you, Kelly Matthews…” Clay finally said.
Kelly’s eyes flew open, and she mulled over what she’d just heard. She raised up on one elbow and looked at Clay. His hair was cascading over the pillow, a few strands clinging to the sweat glistening on his forehead. He opened one eye and saw her staring at him.
Kelly smiled at him. “Did you hear what you just said?”
It was clear that he wasn’t at his most eloquent after lovemaking. He closed his eyes again.
“You just called me Kelly Matthews.”
“Yes, you did.”
“Well, how do you feel about that?”
“Being Kelly Matthews.”
“Are you asking?”
“Asking you what?”
Kelly groaned and sighed. This was getting frustrating! Clay opened up his eyes and looked at her and smiled. He pulled her into his arms and she laid her head on his chest.
“I’m asking you if you’d like to be Mrs. Matthews.”
Kelly picked up her head and looked into Clay’s eyes.
“Clay…we’ve only known each other a few months….”
“True…but I feel as though we’ve known each other a lot longer.”
“And we’re so different…such different upbringings, where we live…”
“Are you trying to talk me out of it or yourself?” He sounded a bit perturbed.
“Oh Clay…” She laid her head back onto his chest and listened to his strong, even heartbeat. “I care for you more than you can imagine. It’s just that it’s so soon.”
“I’m sorry…I think I ruined the mood”
“Oh no…don’t be sorry. I’m not exactly saying no….”
“But you’re not saying yes either.”
“I think I’m saying, ‘not yet.’ OK? Let’s just enjoy what we’ve got for now.” She was so afraid that he was going to want an “all or nothing” relationship. She wanted Clay…very much…but she was way too practical to say “yes” after knowing Clay for only a few months. She’d never been to California with him, had only seen him in his element as a football player, had only met his family briefly, and he hers even more briefly. Outside of Green Bay, she felt their lifestyles were probably polar opposites. Would he be happy? Would she? She just didn’t want to rush into something they both might regret later.
“Kelly Mathis, I am so sure of this, I’ll wait however long it takes….now let’s go decorate that Christmas tree. I think I’m getting into the holiday mood.”