Page 19

Author: Cora Carmack


That brief interlude of sweetness I’d seen from her at the shelter had yet to make another appearance. And I had no doubt that she’d somehow dragged my phone underneath there to spite me.


“Listen, cat, I don’t know why you hate me so much, but you must have missed the memo. I rescued you.” Flat on my stomach, I squeezed myself beneath the couch, reaching for my phone. “You’re supposed to be thankful”


When my hand got closer, she let out her now familiar low growl.


“Yeah, yeah, shut up.”


I had to push half my body into the crevice between the furniture and the floor to reach my phone and getting out was even more uncomfortable than getting in.


2 missed calls from MOM.


I groaned. I should have just left it under the couch. At that moment, it rang again, for the third time. I answered, “Hi Mom.”


“Why didn’t you answer the first two times? Is everything okay?”


“I’m fine, Mom. I just couldn’t find my phone.”


“Oh, well, you should really have a spot that you put it every time you come home, that way you always know where it is.”


“I’ll keep that in mind, Mom.”


“So, your disorganization is old news. What else is happening in your life?” I swear, my mother was the only person in the world who didn’t think I was a neurotic control freak because she was infinitely worse. She asked the inevitable question, “Have you met anyone?”


I rolled my eyes, which I never could have gotten away with face to face.


“I’m pretty busy with school, Mom. I actually just got cast as a lead in a play.”


“Oh, that’s nice,” she said mildly. She thought going into theatre was a waste of my intelligence.


“It’s actually kind of a big deal.”


“Of course it is honey. You just know how your father and I worry. We’d feel so much better if you had someone to take care of you financially.”


There was a knock at the door, and I went to answer it as I spoke. “First of all, financial security is not a good enough reason to get married, Mother, even if it makes you feel better. Secondly, I don’t need a guy to take care of me. I can take care of myself.” Garrick was on the other side of the door, almost an hour early, and he got to hear the tail end of my speech. He raised an eyebrow, smiling, and if I could have reached through my phone to throttle my mother, I would have. “Anyway, I need to go, Mom. I have company.”


“Is it male company?”


I groaned and said, “Goodbye.”


Hanging up felt so good. I was tempted to call her back and do it a second time.


Garrick smiled, “Your mum sounds a lot like mine.”


I glared at him. “You’re early.” I’d just pulled my hair into a wet ponytail this morning. I’d been planning on straightening it before he came, but now I just looked frumpy. And after crawling under the couch, I was dusty, too.


“Is that okay?”


It would probably be pretty rude to tell him to go home and come back in an hour.


“No, it’s fine. You can watch TV or something. I just need a second.” I waved him into the living room, and slipped into my bedroom, wondering how much improvement I could do in five minutes.


I pulled the band out of my hair, and looked at the wavy, damp mess I had to work with. There was no time to dry it and straighten it. And if I dried it without straightening it, I’d have a fluff ball for hair. I used my hands to mess it up a little more, scrunching it up in my hands, hoping the curly look would do. I worked a little bit of mousse into it, but that was all I had time for. I put on a quick coat of mascara and some chapstick, hoping he was okay with the au natural look.


When I came out of my room, he was stretched out on my couch, watching TV, and Hamlet was curled into a tight ball on his chest. I stood there in shock, certain I was dreaming.


He turned, and saw me watching. “Hey, your hair is curly.” I nodded. I almost always wore it straight. He said, “I like it.”


I was still stuck on the fact that my cat was perched happily on his chest… purring. He had magic powers. That was the only answer.


“Come here,” he said, sitting up, and shifting Hamlet into his lap. I sat down gingerly, a few feet away.


I pointed at Hamlet, and said, “How did you do that?”


“Do what?”


“Get her to let you hold her.”


“It’s a her?” he asked.


“Yes, and she hates everyone. Especially me.”


“Your own cat hates you?”


“We’re working out our issues.”


He laughed. “Maybe she’s miffed that you gave her a boy’s name.”


I reached out a hand to pet her, and as always, received a growl for my troubles. Garrick thought Hamlet’s hatred of me was hilarious. And he kept holding her, which meant I was relegated to the opposite cushion because my cat had stolen my… whatever he was.


Ugh. That was something I didn’t want to think about. I mean, obviously, it was a secret relationship, so it wasn’t like we necessarily needed labels, but I was curious. What would happen when the year was up? Would we even last that long?


I got up to start dinner to distract myself.


I made spaghetti because it was the only thing I trusted myself not to screw up when I was nervous. And well… I was always nervous around Garrick. He apparently had the opposite effect on Hamlet, who was fast asleep in his lap.


I saw my window of opportunity for what I’d been craving since he arrived.


I left the food cooking on the stove, and made my way to the couch. I didn’t sit for fear of waking up the moody one, but I placed a hand on his shoulder, and leaned down for a kiss. Since his hands were trapped beneath Hamlet, I got to control the kiss. My hands found his hair, which was as addicting and soft as always, and the kiss deepened. I kissed him hard, because I could, and he made no effort to stop me. It was the kiss I’d wanted the night before that he’d refused to give me.


I didn’t want to pull back, but I did have dinner on. His eyes were dark when we separated. “I think you might be a little evil,” he said.


I laughed. “Yes, I planned this all. Hamlet was in on it, as well.”


“Kiss me again.”


He didn’t have to ask me twice.


Every time we kissed, my confidence grew stronger. The longer I knew him, the bolder I became. I liked it… almost as much as I liked him.


Someone knocked on the door, three loud raps, followed by three more only seconds later. Our breath was still short from the kiss, and I wasn’t sure if the too-quick-thump of my heart was due to Garrick or the shock.


“Are you expecting someone?” he whispered.


I shook my head.


Three more knocks, and then Kelsey yelled through the door, “I know you’re here, Bliss! Open up!”


“Shit.”


I made no effort to be gentle as I picked Hamlet up from Garrick’s lap, and plopped her on the couch. I almost didn’t even notice the growl; it had become so commonplace.


I grabbed Garrick, and pulled him to his feet. I had no idea where to put him, but decided the bathroom was probably better than the bedroom, seeing as it actually had a door.


I pushed him inside with a quick, “I’m sorry. I’ll get rid of her, I promise.”


If only we had gone to his place.


I rubbed at my lips, hoping they weren’t as swollen as they felt. I ran a hand over my hair, and when I was certain there was nothing glaringly out of place, I opened the door.


Kelsey breezed past me, “It’s about damn time. What were you doing?”


I faked a yawn.


“Oh, you know, just lazing around.”


She rolled her eyes, and looked at me like I was the frustrating one.


“It’s a good thing I came over then. I’m not about to let you stay home on a Saturday night moping about the thing with Cade.”


She snatched my wrist, and pulled me into my bedroom. So, the bathroom had been the right choice.


“I’m not moping!” I said. “And how do you know about the thing with Cade?”


“Because everyone knows, honey. Which, btw, I’m pissed that you didn’t tell me all that drama was happening.”


Great.


“There’s really not that much drama. We’ll patch things up soon, I’m sure,” I said.


“Oh honey, you didn’t hear? Cade almost turned down the role in Phaedra. He didn’t, thank God. Rusty talked him out of it. But I wouldn’t call that ‘not much drama.’”


I sank on to my bed, my insides twisting like a wrung out rag. Cade was that upset? He would give up that great of a part just so that he didn’t have to be around me?


Kelsey’s voice came to me from my closet, and I had déjà-vu of the night that this whole thing started. She started pulling out tops and skirts, and I asked, “What are you doing?”


“We’re going out. You need to remember that a world exists outside your apartment.”


“No, Kelsey, I’d really rather not.” I thought about Garrick in my bathroom, and wondered if he could hear us.


“Tough shit. I’m not giving you a choice. I haven’t been dancing forever, and I need a wing-woman.”


I groaned and flopped back on my bed. She dropped a skirt on my face.


“Get dressed.”


Then I remembered the perfect excuse, “I can’t. I’ve got dinner cooking.”


“Great. I’m starving. What are we having?”


Sometimes I thought my life would be easier if I were friendless.


I returned to the kitchen, and she followed. I’d left the sauce on a little too long and it had burnt around the edges. So much for not screwing up spaghetti.


“Geez woman, were you planning to eat away your troubles? You made enough for three people!” I just shrugged. I had nothing to explain why I was cooking for two people (one with a very large appetite).


I put a little bit of spaghetti on our plates, trying to leave some for Garrick, even though I had no idea when he’d get to eat it.


I ate quickly, letting Kelsey dominate the conversation, which was about how long it had been since she’d had really good sex. I nodded along, laughing in the right places, shoveling food into my mouth the entire time. I cleared my plate before she’d even made a dent on hers. I placed my plate in the sink, and then headed for the hallway.


“Where are you going?” Kelsey asked.


I called “Bathroom!” over my shoulder, and kept walking.


When I reached the door, I glanced over my shoulder, glad to find Kelsey preoccupied with her spaghetti, and I slipped inside the room.


“Is she gone?” Garrick asked.


“Ssshhh!” He was leaning against the sink, and I reached around him to turn on the faucet to cover our whispers. “No. I’m sorry. She’s actually eating our spaghetti.”


His lips puckered, and I leaned forward, smothering my laugh against his chest.


“Is she leaving soon?”


I peered up at him, but stayed close against him.


“No. She thinks I’m depressed about Cade, and she’s determined to force me to go out.”


He pulled me to him, and pressed his face into the space where my neck curved into my shoulder. He let out a growl that was oddly reminiscent of Hamlet.


I wrapped my arms around him, just as disappointed. “I know. This sucks.”


As if I’d given him the idea, his lips covered my pulse point, sucking softly. I laughed, and pushed him back.


“Garrick, she’s right outside.”


As if on cue, Kelsey knocked at the door.


“Enough stalling, chica! I’ve picked out your outfit!” The doorknob started turning, and I rushed to intercept her.


I kept my foot in the way so that only a crack of space formed.

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