When those eyes hit me, I know.
He looks at me. Top of my head to the tips of my shoes. Say the words, I think desperately. You’re beautiful. Please, let’s be friends.
“Tell me what the hell is going on.”
“I’m sworn to confidentiality.”
In a clever strategy, he has utilized the one thing he knows I won’t argue against.
“Tell me they just didn’t informally offer you the job.”
“No, they didn’t.”
I lower my voice to a whisper. “Do they know about . . . us?”
My two big fears seem unfounded.
“So . . . how are we getting out of here? Do I still have to?”
“Yes. That thing over there”—he points as he unhooks my coat from the hanger—“is an elevator. You’ve been in it before. With me, in fact. I’ll step you through the process.”
“What if someone sees us?”
“You say that now? Lucinda, you’re priceless.”
I slap my keyboard to lock my computer, snatch my handbag and clatter after him. I try to tug my coat from his arm but he shakes his head and tuts. The elevator doors open and he tugs me in, his hand at my waist.
I turn and see Helene, leaning on her doorframe, her posture one of casual amusement. She then throws her head back and laughs in delight, clapping her hands together. He waves to Helene as the doors close.
I use both hands to push him to the other side of the elevator. “Get over there. We look so obvious. She heard us. She saw us. You’re carrying my coat. She knows you’d never do that.” I’m almost hoarse with embarrassment.
“Newsflash, I am doing that.” He circles his finger over the emergency stop button. I grab his hand in a steely grip. I think he suppresses a laugh.
When we get to the basement I creep out ahead. “We’re clear.”
I go to my car and unlock the trunk. My suitcase is lying crooked and upside down and it feels like a sign. I want to leap into my car, screech out, and lose him in a high-speed chase. As quickly as the image forms, his hand materializes, reaches, takes my suitcase, and walks off to his car. I snatch up my garment bag, lock my car, and then realize something.
“If we leave my car here, Helene will know. She’ll see it.”
“Should we hide it under some branches in a forest?”
What an excellent idea. I rub my stomach. “I don’t . . .”
“Don’t even say you don’t want to do this. It’s all over your face. I don’t want to do this either. But we’re going.”
He’s getting a little terse. My belongings are in his trunk, my handbag is on the passenger seat.
“Can I take my car home?”
“Yeah, right. You’ll escape. If anyone asks on Monday, say it broke down again. It’s the perfect alibi, because your car is shit.”
“Josh . . . I’m freaking out.” I have to put my hands on the door of his car to steady myself. If I thought things were going too fast before, it’s all hitting warp speed. He pulls off his tie and undoes two buttons. He’s beautiful, even in this dreadful basement.
“Yes, that’s obvious.” His little brow-crease is deepening. “I am too. You look exhausted.”
“I couldn’t sleep. Why are you freaking out?”
He ignores me. “You can sleep in the car.” He opens the door for me. He tries to fold me in but I dig my heels in.
“The interview. The job.”
“Fuck it. The interview will happen. We will deal with the outcome.” He takes my shoulders in his hands.
“It’s not that easy. I lost someone important to me in the merger, my friend Val. I kept my job, she lost her job, and now we’re no longer friends. Just as an example,” I hastily tack on. I nearly told Joshua Templeman that he is important. I just hinted that we’re friends. He narrows his eyes.
“She sounds like an asshole.”
“It’s why I’m a lonely loser. Look, I’m meeting your family tomorrow. Let’s face it, we’re almost certainly seeing each other naked sometime soon. Tiny bit of pressure.”
He ignores me again. “This is our last chance to sort our shit out.”
I still hesitate, stubborn as a mule.
“This weekend is going to be hard for me. But with you there, maybe it won’t be so bad.”
Maybe it’s the surprise of that little admission, but my knees weaken enough to allow me to get into the car and momentarily relinquish control to the last person I ever thought I would.
I feel weak with defeat. Even when packing my bag and buying a dress, I’d felt sure I’d find some last-minute way to escape or get out of it. Only in my worst-case-scenario imaginings did I think I’d be in his car, exiting the B&G underground parking lot.
The sun drops lower in the sky as he drives us through the heavy afternoon traffic. It seems like everyone in the city has had the same idea: It’s time to escape into the pale, pretty hills.
I have to break this awkward silence. “So how long is this drive?”
“Google Maps says five,” I say without thinking.
“Yeah, if you drive like a grandmother. Glad I’m not the only one who’s done some hometown cyber-stalking.”
He sighs as a car cuts us off, braking. “Asshole.”
“How are we going to pass four hours?” I know what I want to do. Lie here in this warm leather seat and stare at him. I want to lean across and press my face against the firm pad of his shoulder. I want to breathe, and imprint it all into my memory, for when I need it one day.
“We manage it all the time.”
“So, where are we staying? Please don’t say your parents’ house.”
“My parents’ house.”
“Oh holy fuck. Why? Why?” I scrabble upright in my seat.
“I’m kidding. The wedding reception’s at a hotel. Patrick has made a booking of a bunch of rooms. We mention the wedding when we check in.”
“Is it seedy?”
“Sorry, no, not remotely. I’ll make sure you get your own room.”
Seems he’s dead serious about his promise to not lay a finger on me. It’s a bucket of cold water on the fire burning in my chest, and I’m left with the charred remains, unsure if I’m relieved.
“Why don’t you stay with your parents then?”
He nods. “I don’t want to.” His mouth turns down unhappily and I impulsively pat his knee.
“I’ve got your back this weekend, okay? Like at paintball. But the offer stands for this weekend only.”
“Thanks for covering for me. You took a lot of hits. I still don’t know why you did it, though.”
He squints against the sun, and I find a pair of sunglasses in the glove compartment. I huff on them and polish them with my sleeve.
“Well, you’d made me the last person to go for the flag. The most expendable.”
“I did it because you looked like you were about to keel over. Thanks.” He takes the glasses.
“Oh. I thought it was another one of your little tricks. No one covering for me. Lucy Hutton, human shield.”
“I was always covering for you.” He checks his mirror and changes lanes.
There’s a little candlelight flicker in the vicinity of my heart. “You should see my bruises, though.”
“I saw a few of them.”
“Oh, right. When you took off my Sleepysaurus top.” I rest my cheek on the seat and open my eyes. We’re stopped at a traffic light, and I see the little smile line near the corner of his mouth.
“You have no idea how much I regret you seeing my pajama top. My mom gave it to me a few Christmases back.”
“Oh, don’t be self-conscious about it. It looks great on you.”
I laugh and a little of the stress leaves me. The city bleeds into suburbs, and the sun begins to set as we wind through vast tracks of green. I’ve never been out this far. I need to start living my life, rather than walking the same path, in and out of B&G, like a little highland sheep.
“So you’ve said I’m coming along for moral support. Will you tell me why? I feel like I need to be forewarned and forearmed.”
“I have . . .” he begins, and sighs.
“Baggage?” I hazard. “Who’s this about?”
“It’s largely just about me. I made some mistakes and didn’t try hard enough on something important. Now I have to go and have it rubbed in my face a little. It’s just going to sting a bit.”
“Medicine.” Without thinking I reduce it down to one word. “I’m sorry. That was insensitive.”
“You’re talking to the king of insensitive, remember?” He rolls his shoulders, desperate to change the subject. I take pity.
“I should come out here on the weekend and do some exploring. I could buy some stuff to decorate my apartment.” I look at him sideways. Fishing for an antiquing pal? Seriously, Lucy, get it together.
“Well, I’m sure your new good friend Danny would love to drive you.”
I cross my arms and we don’t talk for twenty-three minutes, according to his perfectly accurate digital display.
I break under the silence first. “Before this weekend is over, I am going to crack open your head. I am going to work out what is going on in your evil brain.”
“I’m serious, Josh. You are destroying my sanity.” I lean forward and put my elbows on my knees and rub my face.
“My evil brain is thinking about grabbing some dinner soon.”
“Mine is thinking about strangling you.”
“I’m thinking if we plunge off a bridge I won’t have to go to this wedding.” He looks at me, perhaps only half joking.
“Oh, great. Watch the road or your wish will come true.” When we do cross a bridge, I supervise him with suspicion.
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