Dean stared at his cell phone, willing it to ring, trying to use the force. Only one thing could help ease the pain right now and seeing Evy's name pop up on that screen would go a long way. He checked his watch to make sure the time on the screen was correct. It had been nearly twenty-four hours since she had kicked him out of her apartment and it was all he could do to keep from calling her like some lovesick schoolboy. He pulled up her name in his contacts and stared at it, needing to hear her voice, even if it was just her greeting. His thumb hovered above the call button.
His eyes jerked to the picture of them at the ballpark he had brought home from the office in case Clay decided to pull another pop-in. He wanted Evy as far away from that guy as possible. A wistful sigh seeped from his lips. Her green eyes were enchanting, lighting up the living room and breaking his heart at the same time. The smile shaping her lips convinced him they could be like that again. This wasn't over. Maybe she would answer if he called. His thumb circled the green button. Maybe she was ready to talk. He exhaled a pent up breath and scrolled down to Megan's name instead and hit call.
The first ring triggered a flutter in his heart. Maybe Megan wouldn't answer because she had met somebody and they were deep in conversation over a candlelit dinner for two. Maybe Dean would already be yesterday's news and he would be quick to take a hint.
A soft click silenced the ringing and his hopes too soon. Megan fumbled with her phone and he almost hung up.
"Hey sexy, I was hoping you would call me back."
He shut his eyes and cringed, her upbeat tone wringing the air from his lungs. "Sorry about that, I was swamped with meetings all day," he said, hyping up sounding tired from a phony day at the office. Even though it was a lie, it was easy to pull off.
She sent an irritable sounding breath into the phone. "I wanted to apologize about my father stopping by your work like that today."
He glanced out the patio door, praying Evy would be standing there, looking at him with those big green eyes, unable to stand another minute apart. Instead, twilight was his sole visitor. "It's no big deal."
"It is a big deal!" Megan curtly countered. "That is so embarrassing. I'm a big girl and can take care of myself."
Dean rolled his eyes.
"But don't worry, he won't be doing that again. I gave him fifty shades of hell for it and he apologized over and over."
An uneasy laugh slipped from his mouth and dove into the cell phone, snaking down his ear. His eyes dropped to his black Adidas, the walls around him bowing in his peripheral vision as if they were breathing. "How are you feeling?"
"I feel fine. Maybe a little tired but other than that I feel good."
"That's good," he said, praying she would absolve him from his taxiing duties tomorrow morning like any normal person in their right mind would do. Dean shifted on the couch and turned to the TV without registering what was on.
"It also wasn't right of him to ask you to take me to the doctor tomorrow morning like that."
He pulled the phone from his mouth, her words forcing a much needed sigh of relief. Her breathing grew louder in the quiet that stretched between them. Suddenly, he had the eerie feeling it was Megan standing outside his window, not Evy, watching him with her cell phone pressed to her ear. His eyes snapped to the patio door. Still empty.
"Soooo, did you want to take me to the doctor's tomorrow?" she asked, trying to mask a hopeful tone.
He pressed his eyelids together until he saw stars. Agony coursed through him like a black poison, corrupting his soul.
"I mean, you don't have to by any means, but if you wanted to be part of..."
"Actually, that's why I'm calling," he said, cutting her off before she could mutter the word conception again. "One of my cases was bumped up and I have to be in court tomorrow morning."
"It's okay, Dean," she said, saving him with a surprisingly pleasant tone. "It was short notice and rude of my father to ask in the first place. I can find someone else to hold my hand."
Relief spilled over him like a Costa Rican waterfall, cleansing his tortured thoughts long enough to afford him a genuine smile. Maybe he had read her all wrong. "Are you sure?"
She paused before answering, shooting his nerves in the foot. "I'm sure," she said, sounding a bit dejected and sinking his blossoming smile.
Despite that, he refused to say anything else that could feed this conversation into living any longer than necessary.
"Well, I should probably let you go, but I just wanted to apologize for my father. He can be a real jerk sometimes."
"No need to apologize. He's just worried about his daughter, which is understandable."
Another hesitant response made him get up from the couch and start pacing. He was ready to get off the phone before something worse than a doctor's appointment came up.
"Sooooo, I'll see you around?"
He stopped pacing, trying to decide if it was a question or a statement. His free hand balled into a fist. He opened his mouth to tell her sure but it wouldn't come out. His gaze dropped back to his gym shoes, pages of delicate language flipping through his mind. "Yeah, sure." He winced with the lack of conviction in his voice and returned to wearing out the carpet.
She cleared her throat and Dean wasn't sure if he heard a sniffle in there or not. Time slowed to a crawl. The fact that she couldn't take a hint and just say goodbye made his blood boil. Instead, she insisted upon sucking up as much of his time as possible and that scared the hell out of him. His patience ran thin. For all he knew, she wasn't even pregnant. And even if she was, there was a litter of guys out there to choose from. He kicked a dress shoe across the room and clenched his teeth, mentally willing her to hang-up so hard he thought he would get a nose bleed.
"Talk to you later, Dean."
He stopped moving, unsure if had been a question or not. "Bye, Megan," he said, hanging up before she did and staring at the phone for a few seconds before daring to breathe again. His eyes roamed the room's potted plants and IKEA furniture, unsure of how that whole call just went. He checked his nose for blood and started pacing again. The crumpled sheets on his bed quietly reminded him of another night of tossing and turning waiting for him like a monster in the closet. He turned back to his phone and flipped to Evy's name, unable to take it any longer. He needed to hear her voice. His thumb floated above the green button as he imagined what she was doing right now. He grunted. Maybe she was the one who had met somebody new, putting Dean in the rearview mirror where he would fade further into the horizon with each minute that passed. Time was money. He couldn't afford letting it slip through his fingers. Grudgingly, he tossed the cell onto the couch where it came to rest with a soft bounce. At this point, he would only make things worse. His best friend now was time.
Dean glanced at the TV and saw Megan telling her father that Dean wasn't taking her to the doctor tomorrow morning. He could see rage hardening the lines in Clay's face, his hands tightening around the chair's arms. Dean dropped onto the couch and stared at the wall, a ball of gloom growing in the pit of his stomach.
The next day, the clock in Dean's office inched closer to five o'clock like the hands were turning through cold molasses. Following his absence yesterday - and in light of making partner - he was determined to stick it out until the end today. Fortunately, he had an interesting case with a new client to keep him busy. Despite that, he still found plenty of time to keep glancing at the door, imagining Clay barging in and unleashing hell.
Dean wiped his clammy palms on his black slacks, unable to stop envisioning what it would have been like this morning. A snapshot of images flickered through his mind: taking Megan inside the clinic, everyone assuming he was the happy father, running into someone he knew, trying to explain his way out of the unexplainable, seeing it get back to Evy.
His cell phone vibrated on the desk, jerking him from his thoughts. He squinted at the unfamiliar number, wondering if it was Evy calling from Sugars or some other phone. His thumb lingered above the answer button as the phone angrily vibrated in his hand. Or maybe it was Megan calling from her house phone or God knows where. The cell kept vibrating, demanding attention like an infant child. In a few seconds, it would go to voicemail and if it was Evy, maybe she wouldn't have the courage leave a message and he would never know how close they had come to reconnecting.
He held his breath and answered with his thumb. "Hello?"
The sobbing on the other end made him sit up straighter in the chair, making it creak.
"Hello?" he repeated.
His heart nearly burst through his ribcage. "Evy!"
A wet sounding sniffle caused him to swell with joy. She had finally come to her senses. He ran a hand through his hair, his wild eyes sweeping the room, overcome with emotion.
"No, it's Brooke."
His heart sank with his posture. "Brooke?"
"Evy gave me your number."
"What's wrong? Is she okay?"
Brooke cleared her throat. "She's fine. Well, sort of. We have a serious problem and need your help. Can you come to Sugars?"
His blood pounded thickly in his temples. "When?"
"Now, if you can," she sniveled. "It's important."
His mind scrolled through a million different scenarios as quickly as his heart was beating. "I'm on my way."
The bell rang and Evy's pulse quickened when Dean pushed through the door. The world stopped turning as their eyes met for the first time in what seemed like years. Everything else faded into the background, just like it had during their first kiss, and she cursed under her breath. Despite his tailored suit and swept back hair, he looked like he hadn't slept in days. She wanted to jump into his arms and hug the daylights out of him but she refused to get up from the table. He came closer and, somehow, she managed to look away.
"Thank you so much for coming over on short notice, Dean," Brooke said, gesturing for him to join them at the table up front. "But we didn't know who else to call."
Dean tore his eyes from Evy long enough to acknowledge Brooke and Ben. The setting sun sliced through the front window, leaving stripes of light across the empty tables around them. "Are you closed?" he asked, pulling a chair back and taking a seat.
Brooke dabbed at her nose with a wadded up napkin. "For now."
Ben slid a piece of paper across the table, his eyes firmly fixed on Dean.
Dean assessed the grave look hardening Ben's face before slowly lowering his narrow eyes to the paper. "What is this?"
"They t-took our liquor license," Brooke stammered, bursting into tears.
Evy squeezed her hand, her eyes wandering back to Dean. He looked like she felt. After everything they had been through, she was embarrassed telling him about any of this but Brooke didn't care. Her insistence was as relentless as a Wisconsin winter. Evy watched Dean scan the document, praying he couldn't hear her heart racing like a team of wild horses.
Dean looked up, a heavy frown stealing his good looks. "Why?"
"Said we sold to the same minor on two separate days, which is complete bullshit," Ben said, sparking up a cigarette.
Brooke didn't protest.
"Who said that?"
Ben shrugged. "Some bald asshole in a suit."
Dean sharpened his gaze.
"I checked the video," Ben continued, exhaling a rolling cloud of smoke through the sunlit eatery. "Whoever their minor is, they never came in here."
"How can you be so sure?"
Ben tapped the paper with the two fingers clutching the cigarette, spilling ashes onto it. "Says right here they were in yesterday and two days before that." He nodded to a dome-shaped camera hanging from the ceiling. "I went through all the video. That minor never happened. Besides, we ID anyone who looks under thirty."
Brooke rested a wet hand on Dean's. "The majority of our income comes from liquor sales, and if we lose this license..." She trailed off and shook her head, squeezing more tears onto the table.
Dean exchanged a troubled glance with Evy and tried to keep his mind on the business at hand. His eyes skimmed the official document, moving back and forth across the page like a laser scanner. "Did they give you a warning after the first violation?"
"Alleged violation," Ben corrected him.
Brooke shook her head. "No warning. A man came in about an hour ago, handed us an envelope and took our license right off the wall."
Dean followed Brooke's gaze to a blank space near the cappuccino machine. "What the fuck?" he muttered softly.
"That's what I'm sayin!" Ben said, taking another long drag. He leaned forward, blowing smoke out his nostrils like a pissed off dragon. "Listen Dean, I know you and Evy have been through some weird shit recently but we really need your help on this. We're all fairly new to town and have no idea who to turn to."
Evy and Dean swapped a fleeting look. She wanted to keep eyeballing him but wouldn't afford herself the quiet pleasure. It would only make things worse. Regardless, she lost control and stole another glance, her heart beating like a bass drum. He was busy going over the notice again so she took the time to indulge, wanting to kiss his lips and hating herself for it. The last thing she needed right now was more drama.
There was a singe when Ben ashed into a plastic cup lined with water. "For whatever reason, the city council has it in for us and I want to know why."
Dean tried to swallow the lump in his throat but it wouldn't budge. He squinted at the signature at the bottom of the page and tried to act normal while his breath left him.
"What's wrong?" Ben asked, following Dean's flustered gaze to the piece of paper.
Dean looked back up, his face turning white as a ghost, dust particles floating in the beams of sunlight between them. "Let me make a call and get back to you tomorrow," he said, getting up and taking the document. "In the meantime, I need a dozen cupcakes."
Ben frowned at him for two or three seconds and then sprang to his feet. "I can't tell you how much this means to us, man," he said, dropping his smoke into the cup with a hiss. He scurried behind the counter and Dean followed, watching Ben fill a white pastry box. Evy tried not to stare at the way Dean's slacks hugged his curves but it was impossible not to. Just looking at him tightened a knot of need in her gut. She tore her eyes away, fighting the flush of heat between her legs.
Ben handed the pastry box to Dean and walked him to the front door, speaking softly along the way. "If we lose this shop it is game over, boss. We invested everything we had in this place and we have played it by the rules." He jerked his chin toward the paper in Dean's hand. "That is total bullshit."
Dean nodded and craned his neck to see around him, making Evy's stomach wrench. "We'll get this straightened out, trust me," he said, raising the box and trying to smile.
Brooke wiped her face. "Thank you, Dean."
Dean took Ben's outstretched hand and shook it before spilling back outside. Evy watched the door slowly shut behind him, twisting her fingers on the table. She could still smell his cologne blending with the cigarette smoke in the air. She wanted to run out onto the street and catch him before he got away.
"I just don't get it," Brooke moaned again. "This can't be happening."
Ben locked the front door and came back over. "He's going to fix everything up now, babycakes," he said softly, stroking Brooke's hair. "He's a smart guy."
Evy jumped to her feet and pushed past Ben.
"Hey!" he bellowed, falling into another table.
She slammed hard into the front door, forgetting to unlock it, cursed out loud and turned the deadbolt. She pulled the door back just enough to slip through and sprint out onto the sidewalk. She stopped, looked the way he had gone and inhaled a deep breath. "Dean!"
Dean stopped in his tracks a half a block down but didn't look back. They stood like they were made of stone, neither making a move. Evy stared at his back and opened her mouth to tell him to come back but nothing came out. He had clearly heard her. Slowly, Dean continued walking away without looking back. Evy shut her mouth, despair wringing the breath from her lungs. She clapped a hand over her heart as Dean turned a corner and disappeared into downtown Milwaukee.