“You know I hate the speakerphone.” Her voice wafted with the spices in the air. “Liis, take me off the speakerphone.”

“I’m the only one here, Mom. No one else can hear you. I need both hands.”

“At least you’re cooking for yourself and not eating that processed poison every night. Have you gained any weight?”

“I’ve lost a few pounds actually,” I said, smiling even though she couldn’t see me.

“Not too much I hope,” she grumbled.

I laughed. “Mom, you’re never happy.”

“I just miss you. When are you coming home? You’re not going to wait until Christmas, are you? What are you cooking? Is it any good?”

I added broccoli, carrots, and water to the hot canola oil and then pushed them around the skillet as it sizzled. “I miss you, too. I don’t know. I’ll look at my schedule, chicken and vegetable stir-fry, and hopefully, it will be amazing.”

“Have you mixed the sauce? You have to mix it first, you know, to let it blend and breathe.”

“Yes, Mom. It’s sitting on the counter next to me.”

“Did you add anything extra? It’s good just the way I make it.”

I giggled. “No, Mom. It’s your sauce.”

“Why are you eating so late?”

“I’m on West Coast time.”

“Still, it’s nine there. You shouldn’t eat so late.”

“I work late,” I said with a smile.

“They’re not keeping you too busy at work, are they?”

“I’m keeping me too busy. I like it that way though. You know that.”

“You’re not walking alone at night, are you?”

“Yes!” I teased. “In just my underwear!”

“Liis!” she scolded.

I laughed out loud, and it felt good. It seemed as if I hadn’t smiled in a long time.

“Liis?” she said, concern in her voice.

“I’m here.”

“Are you homesick?”

“Just for you guys. Tell Daddy I say hi.”

“Patrick? Patrick! Liis says hello.”

I could hear my father from somewhere in the room. “Hi, baby! Miss you! Be good!”

“He started the fish oil pills this week. Gives him gas,” she said.

I could hear the scowl in her voice, and I laughed again.

“I miss you both. Good-bye, Mom.”

I pressed the End button with my pinkie, and then I added in the chicken and cabbage. Just before adding the pea pods and sauce, someone knocked on the door. I waited, thinking I’d imagined it, but the knocking happened again, louder this time.

“Oh no. Oh, crap,” I said to myself, turning the heat almost all the way down.

I wiped my hands on a dish towel and jogged to the door. I peeked through the peephole, and then I scrambled to open the chain and bolt lock, grabbing at it like a madwoman.

“Thomas,” I whispered, unable to hide my utter shock.

He was standing there in a plain white T-shirt and workout shorts. He hadn’t even taken the time to put on shoes, gauging by his bare feet.

He began to speak but thought better of it.

“What are you doing here?” I asked.

“It smells good in there,” he said, taking a whiff.

“Yeah.” I turned toward the kitchen. “Stir-fry. I have plenty, if you’re hungry.”

“It’s just you?” he asked, looking past me.

I chuckled. “Of course it’s just me. Who else would be here?”

He stared at me for several seconds. “You’re wearing my hoodie.”

I looked down. “Oh. Do you want it back?”

He shook his head. “No. No way. I just didn’t realize you still wore it.”

“I wear it a lot. It makes me feel better sometimes.”

“I, uh…needed to speak to you. The office is buzzing about your outburst.”

“Just mine? I’m the emotional one because I’m a woman. Typical,” I muttered.

“Liis, you spoke in Japanese at the office. Everyone knows.”

I blanched. “I’m sorry. I was upset, and I…shit.”

“The S.A.C. gave the green light to move forward with the plan to remove Grove.”

“Good.” I hugged my middle, feeling vulnerable.

“But they haven’t found him.”

“What? What about Sawyer? I thought he was the Master of Surveillance. Doesn’t he keep tabs on Grove?”

“Sawyer’s out there, looking for Grove now. Don’t worry. Sawyer will find him. Do you…do you want me to stay with you?”

I looked at him. His expression was begging me to say yes. I wanted him here, but it would only mean long conversations that would lead to arguments, and we were both tired of fighting.

I shook my head. “No, I’ll be okay.”

The skin around his eyes softened. He took a step and reached up, cupping each side of my face. He gazed into my eyes, his inner conflict swirling in his twin hazel-green pools.

“Fuck it,” he said. He leaned in and touched his lips to mine.

I dropped the dish towel and reached up to grip his T-shirt in my fists, but he was in no hurry to leave. He took his time tasting me, feeling the warmth of our mouths melding together. His lips were confident and commanding but giving way as my mouth pressed against them. Just when I thought he might pull away, he wrapped both arms around me.

Thomas kissed me as if he had needed me for ages, and at the same time, he kissed me good-bye. It was longing and sadness and anger, twisted but controlled, in a sweet soft kiss. When he finally released me, I felt myself leaning forward, needing more.

He blinked a few times. “I tried not to. I’m sorry.”

Then, he walked away.

“No, it’s…it’s fine,” I said to an empty hallway.

I closed the door and leaned against it, still tasting him. Where I stood still smelled like him. For the first time since I’d moved in, my apartment didn’t feel like a sanctuary or the representation of my independence. It just felt lonely. The stir-fry didn’t smell as good as it had minutes before. I looked over at the girls in the Takato painting, remembering that Thomas had helped me hang them—not even they could make me feel better.

I stomped over to the stovetop, switched it off, and grabbed my purse and keys.