After grabbing a box of trash bags from the newly cleaned shelves in the laundry room, I pick out one of my aunt’s albums at random and put it on. Jim Croce’s voice fills the house with its folksy calm.
Aunt Maggie loved this album. Not as much as she loved the Beatles, but it was a pretty close second. Right up there with Johnny Cash’s Man in Black and ABBA’s Super Trouper.
As “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” pours out of the stereo, I bite the bullet and open up the first china-cabinet door. Then I close it and weigh the option of selling the china on eBay and throwing the rest of the cabinet and the untold number of toothpick boxes, drink stirrers, and purloined diner sugar packets into the dumpster when it gets here.
Still, there have been important papers and other things in every single cabinet I’ve sorted through—except the chopsticks cabinet—and the chances are that behind everything else, there are documents stuffed in the back, so tossing it all is not really a viable option. Plus, I love this dining set with its wild swirls and curved edges, and the thought of throwing it away makes me sad.
Which means no more whining. It’s time to get to work.
I clean all the way through the first half of the album, then pause just long enough to grab a glass of water and switch sides on the record before diving back in.
I’ve just finished the first cabinet and am about to start on the second when there’s a loud knock on my back door. It startles me, and I let out a little shriek before peeking my head around the corner.
Surprisingly, and yet not, Nick stands there. As I walk down the hall to the door, he gives me an impatient look, which seems a little out of place. He’s the one standing in my backyard, after all.
“What’s up?” I ask as I slide the back door open.
“I figured I’d pick up the dumpster forms.”
Awww, that is really…hot? Kind? Sexy? Neighborly. I settled on neighborly. “Thank you, but I already emailed them in.”
He nods and walks inside and to the family room, his eyes going immediately to Aunt Maggie’s record collection. “Well, then we can focus on your case.”
Distracted by the way he looks with the top button of his crisp white shirt undone and his tie hanging loose, I miss most of his words except that last one. “My what?”
“Your case.” He pulls his tie free, rolls it up, and sticks it into his suit jacket pocket. “Remember that slimy little shithead in your driveway, the one you’re going to take for every penny you deserve? One of the attorneys at the firm specializes in divorce and would like to meet with you.”
My case. Divorce. Driveway. My body pressed up against Nick’s. The way his steady heartbeat and strong hands felt against me. The fact that I spent last night dreaming about him shirtless and pantsless and— Oh my God, Mallory. Be in the moment.
Inner me is a joy sucker, but she’s right. The last thing in the world I need right now is another man—and an attorney, no less—in my life telling me what to do and how to do it. Plus, there is the little issue of M.O.N.E.Y.
“Look, Nick,” I say as I move in front of him and stand there clasping my hands together, because I don’t trust myself with where my thoughts keep going. “I really appreciate your help, but there’s just no way I can afford the fees your kind of practice probably charges. I’ve seen the car you drive, and the art on your living room wall wasn’t a lithograph—it was the real thing.”
He scowls at me while taking off his suit jacket and laying it over the back of a chair. Then he continues to do so as he rolls up the sleeves of his shirt like he’s doing a striptease but only of his forearms. By the time he’s done, I have no clue if he’s still glaring because I’m staring at his perfect sinewy forearms.
“Give me a dollar,” he says and holds out a hand, palm up.
Sure, a tip is reasonable—and wait, what? “Why?”
“Because then you will have paid our firm the going rate for neighbors who pet my plants—speaking of green things, you’ll have to mow your lawn, too. Do that and consider your retainer paid.”
I don’t believe him but walk over to the couch and grab my purse off the cushion anyway. “My lawn mower is trapped behind a zillion old magazines stacked almost all the way up to the garage ceiling, remember?”
“So you can use mine.” He crosses the room and stands next to me. “Do we have a deal?”
I get it. The grass is long enough that a toddler could get lost in it. The time has come. Ugh. I hate that Mr. Green Grass Police is right.
I scrounge around in my handbag until I hit pay dirt—a single crumpled-up dollar bill.
“Deal.” I give him the cash. “I’ll get to it this week.”
“So does Thursday work for you to meet with the attorney to discuss next steps and give background on that numbnut?” he asks.
“Sure. I hope they have a free afternoon. There’s a lot of background.”
“Don’t worry.” He places his hand on the small of my back. He doesn’t try to guide me away from the couch; it’s just the weight of his palm against me, like a transfer of power. “Don’t worry about a thing.”
“Like that’s possible.” The idea of it is so ridiculous, I start pacing from one wood-paneled wall to the other. “I’m barely able to afford the dumpster the HOA better approve, I owe a ton of back property taxes, I have to come up with more than $120,000 for the inheritance tax, and even if I shake the couch cushions in hopes of finding enough to cover home repairs, I still haven’t been able to find a job.” I wrap my arms around my middle and keep marching one way and then the other. “And why is that? Because I’ve spent my entire adult working life dedicated to making sure Karl’s practice became a success. I worked seventy-hour weeks for minimum wage because he said the practice needed the money more to continue to grow—but I have my doubts now.” I take a deep breath and look Nick square in the eyes. “Really, does it make sense to you that the firm would own our condo? It doesn’t, does it?” It’s like a series of lightbulbs is going off in my head, illuminating just how screwed I am. “Oh my God, what was I thinking?”
By the time I’m done, I’m out of breath, my hands are shaky, and I have a million more thoughts going a gazillion different directions. Nick? Not so much. There isn’t even a flicker of emotion or panic or freaking the fuck outness on his too-handsome-for-real-life face.
“So you need a job?” he asks. That’s what he wants to focus on? Not the fact that I’ve been such a child with my finances?
“Yeah, that would be a good start.”
He nods. “And you have experience as a law firm office manager?”