Oh, girl, that’s what you’re going with?
Ignoring my snarky inner voice, I make eye contact with the back of Nick’s head, expecting him to argue with me. Everything about him screams that he’s the most efficient person on the planet, after all. But instead of coming back at me with facts and figures, he looks up with an amused grin that kind of freezes when our eyes connect.
And suddenly, that weird breathless feeling is back. It’s the one that makes me feel like all the baggage from my broken marriage is sitting squarely on the middle of my chest.
“What’s wrong?” I ask when he continues to stare at me without saying anything.
“Nothing. You just—” He breaks off and blows out a long breath. “You look nice.”
“Yeah, well, when you last saw me, I was at risk for drowning in my own sweat. Anything is an improvement over that.”
“Nothing wrong with working up a little sweat,” he says, turning his attention back to the chicken.
There’s something in his tone that has my heart beating too fast, even as Sarah lets out a little snort.
My mother is surprisingly quiet.
I’m in the middle of trying to think of another comeback—I’m fast like that—when my phone dings. I glance down at the text from Mikey, asking if I want to meet for a drink around two.
It’s pretty much the last thing I want to do—I’m tired and grumpy and it’s way too hot outside right now—but I make the mistake of mentioning the invitation to my supporting cast.
“You should go,” my mom says. “He sounds like a nice guy.”
“He’s a very nice guy.” I sit down in the empty chair next to her. “I’m just not sure I want to go anywhere right now.”
“You should totally go,” Sarah chimes in. “You look super hot and besides, what else do you have to do?”
What do I have to do? The only things that come to mind are drudgery, followed by hard labor, followed by chores. “Clean out another room so that maybe, maybe I can get my ass off that miserably uncomfortable couch. Plus, I still have the lawn to finish.”
“The lawn?” Sarah looks confused. “But—”
Nick places the four perfect portions of chicken on a platter in the middle of the table and sits down across from me. “You should go.”
It’s pretty much the last thing I expect him to say. On the plus side, it makes the breathless feeling go away really fast.
I’m trying to process the why of that when I happen to glance out the window with a view of the front yard. Then I’m breathless for real, because all the air in my lungs whooshes out in one big angry breath. My entire front lawn has been mowed.
“What did you do?” I demand.
“What do you mean?”
He tries to look innocent, but I’ve gotten to know him well enough now to see a hint of something lurking behind his eyes. The big jerk. We had a deal. Just because I’m broke doesn’t mean I need his pity.
“You. Mowed. My. Lawn.”
“Oh, that.” He serves Mom a piece of chicken, then passes the tray to Sarah. “I thought it would free up the rest of the day for you—”
“So I can go on a date with Mikey?” Acid that has the distinct hint of hurt burns the back of my tongue.
“That wasn’t my first choice, no.” He shrugs. “But, like I said, you should go if you want to.”
Oh wow. Isn’t that just fucking big of him to allow me to live my life. “Thanks for the permission.”
He sighs. “That’s not what I meant.”
“I don’t actually care what you meant.” Heat stirred up by frustration and annoyance and bruised feelings makes my whole body tingly in a very bad way. “We had a deal. I give you a dollar and mow the lawn, and your firm will represent me in my divorce.”
He shrugs again. “Yeah, well, I decided to renegotiate after you almost gave yourself a heart attack today.”
“That was not your decision to make,” I snap. Doesn’t he get that I don’t want anyone taking care of me anymore? Men. I swear.
“Sorry, I didn’t realize you were emotionally invested in the lawn.” He holds his hands up in surrender. “I was only trying to help.”
“Oh, no.” I narrow my eyes at him. “You don’t get to do that.”
He looks mystified while Mom and Sarah are both watching the happenings as if it is the best reality show ever.
“Do what?” he asks.
I’m not buying it. I’ve had men do this shit to me over and over in my life—the whole time acting as if I’m the one with the problem or that my concerns or feelings aren’t valid. Karl was an expert, and now that I think about it, so is my dad.
“You did what you thought was best for me,” I say, forcing myself to keep my voice steady even as my knee is jiggling under the table to let out some of the angry adrenaline rush. “But you never even bothered to ask if I agreed. You did what you wanted to do and didn’t care at all if I wanted help.”
“Are you kidding me?” He looks incredulously from Mom to Sarah as if they’ll back him up against the overreaching, hysterical, probably PMSing woman.
They’re now looking at every single spot in the kitchen except the two of us, and I can’t blame them. Part of me feels guilty for putting them in the middle of this, but I’m not backing down.
“No, I’m not,” I say. “I didn’t ask for your help—”
“You literally mowed SOS into your lawn.” Nick leans forward on the table, his entire body strung tight. “It’s the universal call for help. Pilots flying into Newark from all over the world probably think you’re asking for help, so how the hell was I supposed to know you weren’t?”
“Because,” I say, my temper on the precipice of going Mount Vesuvius. “If I wanted help, I’d ask for it.”
My phone buzzes again with another text from Mikey. I don’t think about it. I don’t even read his new text; I just started thumb-typing that I’d love to go out and get a drink. Right. Now.
Maybe I should have thought it was strange when Mikey suggested we meet somewhere instead of picking me up, like he did for our other two dates. But truth be told, I’m just excited to have my own transportation—that way I can leave after one drink without feeling bad.
But the minute I see him sitting at a barstool nervously thumbing through his phone, I know there’s going to be trouble. I mean, he didn’t even bother to get a table. No man does that if he’s hoping to have an intimate, private date with a woman.