“Don’t you dare tease me about this on Monday.”
The word Monday rattles between us, and he takes his hand away. I think that’s our new safe word.
“I’ll pretend it never happened, if that’s what you want,” he tells me stiffly and I feel a sinking in my gut. The last time I asked that of him it was about the kiss; he kept that promise pretty well.
“Don’t try to use anything against me. The job interviews, I mean.”
The look on his face probably melts the paint off the wall behind me.
“Knowing the consistency of your vomit will give me the edge. For fuck’s sake, Lucinda.”
When the door bangs behind him and silence expands to fill my apartment, I wish I had the courage to call him back. To say thank you, and to apologize for the fact that yes, he’s right as always.
I am completely freaking out. To avoid thinking about it, I sleep.
When I open my eyes again I have a new perspective. It’s Saturday evening and the sunset is making the wall at the foot of my bed a glorious honey-peach candle-glow. The color of his skin. My bedroom blazes with the force of my epiphany.
I stare at the ceiling and admit the astonishing truth to myself.
I don’t hate Joshua Templeman.
IT’S WHITE SHIRT Monday, six thirty A.M. I’m so washed out I should call in sick, and Helene isn’t in anyway, but I need to see Joshua.
Rest assured, I have microanalyzed every moment he was in my apartment, and I know I need to apologize for throwing him out like that. He was nothing but decent and kind to me. We were teetering on the edge of friendship, and I ruined everything with my sharp mouth. When I recall eavesdropping on Josh’s conversation with Patrick I feel sick with guilt. I wasn’t meant to hear any of that.
How do I properly thank a colleague for helping me vomit? My grandma’s vintage etiquette handbooks won’t help me with this. A thank-you note or a pound cake won’t quite cut it in this instance.
I stare at myself in the bathroom mirror. The weekend’s sickfest has bleached me of color. My eyes are puffy and bloodshot. My lips are pale and flaky. I look like I’ve been trapped down a mineshaft.
My kitchen is now as neat as a pin. He has sorted my mail into a tidy pile on the counter. I claw open the top envelope with one hand while I dunk a herbal tea bag with the other. It’s a friendly little note to advise me that my rent is going up. I squint at the new monthly figure and my inhalation probably rattles the Smurfs on their shelves. My rash announcement to quit B&G now feels infinitely more terrifying.
How can I even attempt to face an interview panel at a different company and try to articulate what makes me so good at my job? I try to think of all the things I do well, but all I can think of is pranking Joshua. I’m childish and so unprofessional.
I sit down heavily and try to eat a mouthful of dry cereal from the box. Then I wallow in low spirits and self-doubt a little more.
I open an Internet browser and begin clicking my way through a depressingly barren recruitment website. I’m relieved to be interrupted by my phone buzzing with Danny’s caller ID. Weird. Maybe he has a flat tire.
“Hi. How are you feeling?” His tone is warm.
“I’m alive. Barely.”
“I tried to call you a few times on Friday night, but I kept getting Josh. Man, he’s such an asshole!”
“He helped me out.” I hear how stiff my voice is and realize I’m beginning to prickle in defensiveness. What the hell is happening?
He held me while I threw up. And called his brother in the middle of the night. He washed my dishes. And I’m pretty sure he watched me sleep.
“Oh. Sorry, I thought we hated him. Are you going to work today?”
“Yeah, I’ll go.”
“I’m downstairs in the lobby if you, um, want me to drive you.”
“Really? Isn’t today your first day of freedom?”
“Well, yeah. But Mitchell’s written me a letter of recommendation and I need to pick it up. It’s no trouble to give you a ride.”
“I’ll be down in five.” I check to make sure my gray wool dress is zipped up. Putting lipstick on my haggard face would look ridiculous.
“Hi,” Danny calls when I step out of the elevator. He’s holding a bunch of white daisies. My emotions balance on a tightrope between delighted and embarrassed.
It seems he’s on the tightrope right next to me. I’d have to be blind to not see the split-second pop of crestfallen surprise in his eyes. As sweaty and gross as I was on Friday, I still looked better than this.
He blinks away his reaction and offers me the flowers. “Are you sure you shouldn’t stay home?”
“I look worse than I feel. Should I . . .” I gesture at the elevator. I take another look at him. He’s wearing a Matchbox Twenty concert T-shirt, and the sunglasses on the top of his head have ugly white frames. We stand awkwardly and stare at each other.
“You could always put them on your desk at work.”
“Okay, I will.” It seems like a bad idea but I’m all flustered. If I take the flowers upstairs, I’ll have to invite him up. We walk out to the pavement and I breathe my first fresh air in days.
I need to snap out of it. Danny has been nothing but thoughtful this morning. I shade my eyes from the sun. Maybe I can try being thoughtful too. Maybe the convenience store sells olive branches?
“I need to grab something. I’ll be right back.”
As I pay for Joshua’s thank-you gift plus an overpriced red adhesive bow, I can see Danny leaning patiently against his car. I stuff the present into my bag and scurry back across the street.
He opens the door to his red SUV and helps me in. I watch him round the hood. In casual clothes, he looks younger. Slimmer. Paler. As he straps himself in and starts the car, I realize I haven’t properly thanked him for the red roses. I am a girl with no manners whatsoever.
“I loved the roses.” I look at the little bouquet on my lap.
“The daisies?” He pulls into traffic.
“Yes, these are daisies. A good choice for someone recovering from an epic vomit weekend.”
I wish I hadn’t said something so gross, but he laughs.
“So. Josh Templeman. What’s his deal?”
“The devil sent his only son to earth.” Weirdly, I feel guilty.
“He’s got a big-brother protective vibe going on.” Danny is fishing and I know it.
I am noncommittal. “He does?”
“Oh, yeah. But don’t worry. I’ll tell him my intentions are honorable.” He throws me a sideways grin but a sense of deep disappointment is starting to echo through me. The sparky little flirtatious feeling in my chest has died.
Am I like a little sister to Joshua? It’s not the first time a guy has said that to me. Ancient embarrassments echo through me. He’d kissed me in the elevator; that goes against this theory. But he’d never tried again, so maybe it’s true. I remember telling him how hot the elevator kiss was and wince.
“He didn’t tell me you’d tried to call. Thanks for checking on me.”
“I didn’t think he’d pass on my messages. But it doesn’t matter. I’d like to take you out again. Dinner this time. You look like you need a good meal.”
I have to appreciate his perseverance in the face of my weirdness and present appearance. Just because I have developed a fascination with Joshua, doesn’t mean I should say no. I look at Danny. If I’d thrown a torn-up wish list into a fireplace, he’s the guy Mary Poppins would have delivered. “Dinner sometime would be nice.”
He parks in a twenty-minute zone and I sign him in as a visitor. As the elevator doors open I realize too late he has delivered me all the way to the tenth floor.
He steps out with me and tugs me to a halt. “Take it easy today.”
He straightens the collar of my coat, his knuckles brushing my throat. I resist the urge to look to my left. Either Joshua is at his desk, witnessing this tableau, or he’s not in yet. The tension of not knowing is excruciating.
“Dinner? What about a little dinner tonight? Couldn’t hurt?”
“Sure,” I agree just to get him to leave. He gives me the daisies with a little flourish, and I manage a smile. I slowly pivot.
Once upon a time, this moment would have been a triumph. I’ve had daydreams like this. But when I see Joshua sitting at his desk, sharply tapping paperwork into straight stacks, I wish I could rewind time.
We’re playing a new game. While I don’t know the rules, I do know I’ve made a major misstep. I lay the daisies on the end of my desk, and shrug out of my coat.
“Hi, buddy,” Danny says to Josh, who slouches down into his chair. It’s a boss-type power pose he has perfected.
“You don’t work here anymore.” Josh isn’t one for pleasantries.
“I gave Lucy a ride in and thought I’d come by and make sure I’m not treading on your toes.”
“What do you mean?” Josh’s eyes grow knife-sharp.
“Well, I know you’re pretty protective of Lucy. But I’ve been treating you right, haven’t I?”
I’m floundering under their collective gaze. “Sure, of course.”
For a guy facing off against someone Joshua’s size, Danny certainly does have a remarkable amount of courage. He tries again.
“I mean, you’ve clearly got some kind of problem. You were a real asshole on the phone on Friday.”
“She’d got vomit on her tank top. I had enough to deal with without being her secretary.”
“Your protective big-brother thing is something we need to talk about.”
“Voices down,” I hiss. Mr. Bexley’s door is open.
“Well, no one is good enough for my kid sister.” Joshua’s voice is heavy with sarcasm, but I still deflate. This morning is the absolute worst.
“And you’re right. I don’t work here anymore, so I’m free to date Lucy if I want.” Danny looks past me at my desk and raises his eyebrows. “Well, well. What do you know. Romance isn’t dead.”
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