Joshua scowls darkly and picks at his thumbnail. “Get out before I throw you out.”
Danny kisses my cheek, and I am almost certain he did it because of our audience. It was a petty move on his part.
“I’ll call you later today about dinner, Luce. And we’ll probably need to talk more, Josh.”
“Bye, man,” Joshua says in a fake voice. We both watch Danny get in the elevator.
Mr. Bexley makes a bull-calf bellow from his office and I finally notice the red rose on my keyboard.
“Oh.” I’m a complete and utter moron.
“It was there when I got in.” I’ve more than a thousand hours in the same room as Joshua and the lie in his voice is crystal clear. This rose is velvet-red perfection. In comparison, the daisies look like a tangle of weeds growing in a sewer.
“They were from you? Why didn’t you say so?”
Mr. Bexley bellows again, more annoyed. Josh continues to ignore him and impales me with his glare. “You should have had Danny stay with you. Not me.”
“He’s . . . We’re just . . . It’s . . . I don’t know. He’s nice.” Olympic-level floundering.
“Yeah, yeah. Nice. The ultimate quality in a man.”
“It’s right up there. You were nice to me on the weekend. You were nice to send me roses. But you’re back to being a total fuckwit.” I am hissing like a goose by this point.
“Doctor Josh,” Mr. Bexley interrupts from his doorway. “My office, if you can possibly spare me a moment. And mind your language, Miss Hutton.” He huffs off.
“Sorry, boss, I’ll be right there,” Joshua says through gritted teeth. We’re both blazingly frustrated and mere seconds away from mutually strangling each other. He sweeps past my desk and whips away the rose.
“What is wrong with you!” I make a grab for it and a thorn drags across my palm.
“I only sent you those fucking roses because you looked so cut-up after our fight. This is why I don’t do nice things for people.”
“Ow!” I look at my palm. A stinging red line is forming. I’m holding drops of blood. “You scratched me!”
I catch him by the cuff and squeeze his wrist in a death grip.
“Thank you, Nurse Joshua, you were wonderfully kind. And thank your gorgeous doctor brother.”
He remembers something. “I have you to blame for the fact I now have to go to his wedding. I’d nearly gotten out of it. That’s your fault.”
“If you hadn’t been sick, I would never have seen Patrick.”
“That makes no sense. I never asked you to call him.”
He examines the line of blood I’ve left on his cuff with a look of complete and utter revulsion. He stuffs a tissue into my palm.
“Just wonderful,” he tells me, tossing the ruined rose in the trash. “Disinfect that.” He disappears into Mr. Bexley’s office.
I open my inbox and see our interviews have been scheduled for next Thursday. My stomach makes a little heave. I think of my rent. I look at the empty desk opposite me.
I then lift up my mouse pad where I have hidden the little florist’s card from the bunch of roses. I’d peeked at it last week whenever Joshua wasn’t looking.
I stare at the card and wonder how I could have ever thought it was from Danny. It’s Josh’s handwriting; but I didn’t notice the way the letters slashed and swooped.
You’re always beautiful.
There’s one red petal on my desk and I press it onto the pad of my thumb and breathe it in deep while the daisies blur at the corner of my eye. My palm stings and itches. Josh is absolutely right. I’ve somehow injured myself due to my own carelessness.
I sit and breathe in the scent of roses and strawberries until I can trust myself not to cry.
I feel childish as I look at his rolled-up white cuffs, one of which now contains my DNA. He’s glowering at his computer screen and has not spoken a word to me in hours. I’ve royally fucked up.
“I’ll dry clean your shirt,” I offer, but he doesn’t acknowledge me. “I’ll buy you a new one. I’m so sorry, Josh—”
He cuts me off. “Did you think it’d all be different today?”
I feel a lump begin to squeeze in my throat. “I’d hoped so. Don’t be mad.”
“I’m not mad.” His neck is red against his white collar.
“I’m trying to tell you I’m sorry. And I wanted to say thank you, for everything you did for me.”
“And are those pretty daisies for me, then?”
I remember. This might fix everything. “Wait, I did get you a present.”
I pull the little plastic cube topped with the red bow from my purse. I present it to him like a boxed Rolex. His eyes spark with an unidentified emotion before he reassumes his frown.
“You said how much you love them.” The word love has probably never been said in this office, and it gives my voice a weird little tremor. He looks at me sharply.
“I’m surprised you remember anything at all.” He puts the strawberries into his out-tray and logs back onto his computer.
After several more minutes of silence I try again.
“How can I pay you back for . . . everything?” The balance has shifted dramatically between us. I’m in his debt now. I owe him.
“Tell me what I can do. I will do anything.”
What I want to say is, Speak to me. Engage with me. I can’t fix anything if you ignore me.
I watch him continue to type, his face expressionless as a crash test dummy. Stacks of sales figures are to his right and he slashes a green highlighter across them. Meanwhile, I am at complete loose ends with no Helene.
“I’ll clean your apartment for you. I’ll be your slave for the day. I’ll . . . bake you a cake.”
It’s like a soundproof pane has dropped in between us. Or maybe I’ve been erased. I should let him do his work in silence, but I can’t stop talking. He can’t hear me anyway, so it won’t matter if I say this next thing out loud.
“I’ll go with you to the wedding.”
“Be quiet, Lucinda.” So he can hear me.
“I’ll be your designated driver. You can get drunk. You can get so drunk and you’ll have the best time. I’ll be your chauffeur.”
He picks up his calculator and begins to tap. I persevere.
“I’ll drive you home and put you to bed, like you did for me. You can vomit into Tupperware and I’ll rinse it. Then we’ll be even.”
He rests his fingertips on his keyboard and closes his eyes. He seems to be reciting a string of obscenities in his mind. “You don’t even know where the wedding is.”
“Unless it’s in North Korea, I’ll go. When is it?”
“I’m free. It’s settled. Give me your address and I’ll pick you up and everything. Name the time.”
“Pretty presumptuous of you to assume I won’t have a date.”
I nearly open my mouth to retort that I know for a fact I’m his plus-one. Just in time, my cell phone rings. Danny. I swivel my chair a full one hundred eighty degrees. Hasn’t he ever heard of texting?
“Hi, Lucy. Feeling any better? Are we still on for dinner?”
I drop my voice to a whisper. “I’m not sure. I have to go pick up my car and I’ve been feeling pretty shitty.”
“I’ve heard so much about this car of yours.”
“I think it’s silver . . . that’s as much as I can remember of it.”
“I’ve booked a table for seven tonight. Bonito Brothers. You said you like it?”
There’s not much choice left then. It’s hard to get a reservation there. I try not to sigh.
“Bonito Brothers is good. Thanks. I won’t have a huge appetite but I’ll do my best. I’ll meet you there.”
“See you tonight.”
I hang up and sit facing the wall for a bit.
“Danny Fletcher has a clichéd evening in store for you. Italian restaurant, checkered tablecloth. Probably a candle. He’ll push the last meatball to you with his nose. Second date, right?”
“Let’s change the subject.” I pretend to start typing. My screen fills with error messages.
“Most guys would try for a kiss on the second date.”
That stops me in my tracks, and the look in my eye is probably crazy. The idea of Joshua making an effort on a second date is inconceivable. Joshua on a date, period.
I imagine Josh, seated across from a beautiful woman, laughing and smiling. The same smile he once gave me. His eyes lit up, anticipating a good-night kiss. I’ve got a dark ball of pressure burning in my chest. I try to clear my throat but it doesn’t work.
I’m not the only one looking a little crazy. “Just say it. You look like you’re about to explode.”
“Do yourself a favor and stay home tonight. You look terrible.”
“Thank you, Doctor Josh. Why does Fat Little Dick call you that, anyway?”
“Because my parents and brother are doctors. It’s his way of reminding me I’ve failed to reach my potential.” His tone indicates I am the town simpleton, and he gets to his feet. I trail after him down the hall toward the copy room. He doesn’t slow so I grab him by the arm.
“Wait a minute. I’m trying to fix this. You’re right, you know. I did come in here today hoping these last days together might be different.”
He opens his mouth, but I steamroll ahead. He’s letting me hold him against the wall, but we both know he could pick me up like a chess piece if he wanted to.
Some heeled shoes are clopping toward us sedately as a Clydesdale and my frustration mounts. I need to clear this up, now, or I am going to have an aneurism.
The cleaner’s closet will have to do. It’s thankfully unlocked, and I walk in and stand among the chemicals and vacuum cleaners.
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