“This is more stalker behavior,” I said as I walked toward him, head tilted back for a kiss. “I’m building a profile. I think you’re going to be surprised by the strength of my case against you.”
“I look forward to the hearing,” he said, and leaned down to kiss me.
“You know, some people have really strange ideas of what constitutes flirtation,” said Tasha. “Do you think he’ll propose by sending her a subpoena?”
“Inviting her to appear in the county clerk’s office on a specific date, yeah,” agreed Will.
“Hey, now,” protested Nathan, breaking away from me to mock-scowl at my coworkers. “My family is very traditional. I’d never propose via subpoena. My father would never let me hear the last of it if I sent anything short of a full collections unit.”
“Romance is not dead,” said Tasha blandly. “You out, Sal?”
“Unless there’s anything left for me to do here, I think this is my cue.” I looked back at them, brows raised hopefully. “Am I done, Will?”
“Get out of here. Don’t come back until tomorrow.”
“You heard the boss,” said Nathan. He laced his fingers through mine and led me toward the door. I went willingly, relieved that I wasn’t going to need to call him after all. This conversation was going to be awkward enough without trying to have it over the phone. I wasn’t even sure where I would begin.
The bell over the door jingled again as we left the shelter for the street, and the sweet, welcoming warmth of the late summer air. Nathan kept my hand until we reached the car, where he released me in order to unlock the doors. I was inside and buckled by the time he finished his approach of the driver’s seat.
Nathan blinked when he opened the door and found me already settled. “Are you in a hurry to get somewhere?” he asked.
“I’m in a hurry to get somewhere alone with you,” I said. “Do you think we could get takeout and go back to your place? I wanted to talk to you.”
“You want to talk?” Nathan’s expression sobered, like he was steeling himself against the inevitable. “Sal, I know I’ve been pretty busy lately, but—”
“What? No! This isn’t the breakup talk. Jeez, Nathan, I don’t even know how to have the breakup talk. You’re the only boyfriend I’ve ever had.” Sally had dated. Sally had dated quite a lot, as her checkered Facebook archives would readily testify. I knew I hadn’t been physically a virgin the first time I’d had sex. But none of that counted for me, not really; that was all part of another lifetime, one that I didn’t remember at all.
“Then what’s going on?”
“I’ll tell you when we’re at your apartment, okay?” I looked at my shoulder bag resting against my feet, and managed to restrain the urge to pick it up and clutch it for dear life. Things were getting too confusing, too fast, and I didn’t know how to make them go the other way anymore. If there had ever been a way to make them go the other way—I wasn’t sure there had been.
“Okay,” said Nathan, and started the car. “Indian okay?”
“Indian sounds great,” I said, and closed my eyes.
Thirty minutes later, we were seated on Nathan’s couch with takeout containers in front of us. By mutual unspoken consent, we unpacked and ate, sitting in comfortable if anticipatory silence. I hadn’t been able to break for lunch—things had been too hectic at the shelter—and I didn’t realize how hungry I actually was until I smelled food. Then all conversation, no matter how important, was put on hold in favor of calories.
When we were both too full to eat another bite, we leaned back on the couch, surveying the ruins of our meal. “I think I’m going to explode,” said Nathan.
“That would be messy,” I said. “Please don’t.”
“The maid service would have to hose down the ceiling, not you.”
I shuddered exaggeratedly. “That was a sentence I never needed to hear. You understand that, don’t you?”
“Forgive me?” asked Nathan, and smiled.
“Always.” I smiled back. Then I sobered. “Nathan, about before…”
He paused, smile fading. “I wondered when we’d get back to this,” he said, and grimaced, sitting up. “Okay, Sal. What’s going on? I’m sorry if I pushed you last night.”
“No, it’s okay; I understand. That’s sort of what this is about.” I sketched out the events of the day as quickly and economically as I could without leaving anything out; it was surprisingly easy, once I managed to get started. Nathan didn’t ask any questions. He just listened, expression solemn, until I finished talking myself out. For a moment, silence stretched between us like a thin wire, drawn tight and vibrating with the things that neither of us were saying.
Finally, he asked, “Can I see the note?”
I reached for my shoulder bag, pulled out the notebook, and handed it to him wordlessly. He’d read my journal before; there was nothing there that I was worried about him seeing. He flipped past the pages with my handwriting, slowing as he encountered the blank pages that followed. He stopped when he reached the note.
“ ‘Knowing the direction doesn’t mean you have to go,’ ” he read aloud. Nathan raised his head, frowning. “You said the woman on the phone seemed to be quoting something. Do you remember what else she said?”