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“Why? Because you knew I’d tell you you’re crazy?” Patty demands. “Because going to Rock Ridge to bail a kid who isn’t even your own out of jail is crazy? Just like marrying a guy you’ve only been going out with for three months is crazy?”

I have to hold the phone away from my head, she’s yelling so loudly. I can’t help glancing at Cooper to see if he’s overheard. But he’s messing with the tape deck—oh yes, the 2002 only has a tape deck—to turn up the dulcet tones of Ella. I think I’m safe.

“I’m not going to Rock Ridge to bail him out,” I growl into my phone. “I’m just going there to talk to him. Besides”—I lower my voice further, turning my head toward the window—“you’re the one who brought the bridal magazines over. Plus, he hasn’t even asked me yet. All he said was that he had something he wanted to—”

“What? I can’t even hear you? Heather, a man is dead. Shot in the head just feet from your desk. In the same building where, just a few months ago, you yourself were nearly killed. What is it going to take to convince you that you need a different job? A job where people don’t DIE all the time?”

“Funny you should mention that,” I say, glancing at Cooper out of the corner of my eye again. Now he’s keeping his gaze on the road, because a very large semi is passing us, the driver pulling angrily on his horn because we’re going so slowly. Cooper doesn’t seem the least bit perturbed by this. In fact, he waves happily at the trucker.

“What is that sound?” Patty demands. “Are you on a boat?”

“No, I’m not on a boat,” I say.

“Because that sounds like a foghorn.”

“It’s just a truck. I’m on the highway. Patty, this isn’t really the best time to have this conversation—”

“Heather, you know I’m only saying these things because I love you like a sister.” And, just like a sister, Patty completely ignores me. “But something has got to give. You can’t go on like this, sleeping with one guy while being in love with another—”

“What’s that, Patty?” I say, making whooshing noises with my mouth. “You’re breaking up.”

“Heather, I know you’re totally making those noises. You don’t even sound anything remotely like static. When you get back to town, we are sitting down and having a talk.”

“Uh-oh, can’t hear you at all now, must be passing through a no-cell-tower zone, gotta go, bye.”

I hang up. As soon as I do, Cooper goes, “Tad asked you to marry him?”

“God!” I cry, frustrated. “No! Okay?”

“Then why did you say that Patty brought you a bunch of bridal magazines?”

“Because everyone is jumping the gun,” I say. Then wince. “Ouch. I didn’t mean to use the word gun. It’s just that the other day, Tad said he has something he wants to ask me, but only when the timing is right.” I cannot believe I am sharing this information with Cooper, the last person with whom I enjoy discussing matters pertaining to my boyfriend. I am going to kill Patty when I get back to town. I really am. “But I’m sure it’s nothing, I never should have mentioned it to anyone, especially Tom, who has the biggest mouth in the known universe, and—”

“You guys have only been going out for a couple of months,” Cooper says, to the steering wheel.

“Yeah,” I say. “But. You know.”

“No,” Cooper says. Now he’s looking at me. And if I had to describe his expression, I would have to say it’s a mingling of incredulity and sarcasm. “I don’t know. What’s happening to you? Who are you supposed to be now? Britney Spears? My brother’s happily married and popping out sprog now, and you can’t stand to get left behind, or something? What’s next? You’re going to get yourself knocked up, too?”

“Excuse me,” I say, taking umbrage. “I didn’t say I was saying yes. I don’t even know that’s what he’s asking. Maybe he’s just asking me to move in with him, or something.”

“And you think that’s a good idea?” Cooper wants to know. “To move in with your math professor? Who doesn’t even own a TV? Or eat anything except tofu-covered bean strips dipped in wheat germ dust?”

“You don’t even know what you’re talking about,” I point out to him. Because he doesn’t. “There isn’t even such a food as what you just described. But if there was, you might want to look into trying it. Because it might do you some good, judging by all the fast-food wrappers I see lying around your office. When is the last time you had your cholesterol checked? Your heart is probably a ticking time bomb.”

“Oh, excuse me, were those your carefully constructed Giada De Laurentiis—inspired Nutella Chips Ahoy! Macadamia Brittle ice cream sandwiches I saw in the freezer last night?”

I glare at him. “Oh my God, if you ate one—”

“Oh, I ate one, all right,” he says, his gaze back on the road. “I ate the mall.”

“Cooper! I made those especially for—”

“For what? For you and Tad? You have got to be kidding me. He wouldn’t touch one of those hydrogenated fat-wiches if you served it to him on his favorite Frisbee with a big side of babaganoush.”

“Now you’re just being mean,” I point out. “And that’s not like you. What, exactly, is your problem with Tad? Or your problem with me and Tad, to be exact?”

“I don’t have a problem with Tad,” Cooper says. Although he can’t seem to say the man’s name without sneering. “Or with you and Tad. I just don’t think—as a friend — your moving in with him is the best idea.”

“Oh, you don’t?” I ask, wondering where on earth this can be going. “Why?”

“Because the whole thing just has disaster written all over it.”

“For what reason? Just because he’s a vegetarian and I’m not? People with different values end up together all the time, Cooper. And the TV thing—I’m not convinced it’s a deal breaker. He just doesn’t know what he’s missing. He still watches movies, you know.”

Cooper makes a noise. If I didn’t know better, I’d have thought it was a snort. “Oh yeah? Do they all have hobbits in them?”

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