I hated it. I hated how awkward I’d appear sometimes, not knowing how to communicate with her when she walked into a room. Mainly because she took my breath away. Everything about Emery was remarkable. From the way she cooked, to the way she dressed. To the way she loved her daughter, and the way she spoke with such a softness to her tones. Being around her made me uncomfortable, because a part of me didn’t want her to leave. She felt like a safe place, and I’d never had that in a woman. I’d never had someone who’d stay up late on the phone with me just to make sure I was all right, outside of my family.
Emery did it with so much care too. She never seemed tired by our conversations, and I swore I could almost feel her light through the phone when she spoke about her life.
Whenever we hung up, I instantly missed her voice.
Then, when she showed up for work, I’d freeze up in front of her. She never seemed to care, though. She just remained her bubbly, kind self and made me some of the best meals I’d ever tasted in my life. I was thankful for that. For her ability to make my awkwardness less . . . awkward.
“You’re staring at her,” Kelly remarked as we sat at the dining room table eating our lunches. The more often I could get Kelly to sit down and eat her meal with me, the better. She was looking a bit better lately. The bags under her eyes were slowly fading away, and she laughed a lot more too. That was also due to Emery. Emery had that personality. The moment she and Kelly had connected, they’d become great friends. I was happy about that too. Kelly needed someone to lean on, and I knew I wasn’t that person for her.
She was smiling more each day, which was a good thing. Emery had that effect on people. She made the saddest souls want to feel better.
“Staring at who?” I grumbled, looking back down at my salad. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Kelly beaming ear to ear.
“You know who!” she whispered, leaning in toward me. “Oh my gosh. Do you like Emery?”
“Like Emery?” I pushed out a sarcastic laugh. “I don’t even know her.” That was a lie; I was learning more each day. She liked Scrabble; she hated Monopoly. She loved all genres of music, except for heavy metal. She’d had a goldfish named Moo that her mother flushed down the toilet when she was ten, and ever since then, she’d avoided seafood. She hated Reese’s camp friends. Her favorite color was yellow, and her favorite season was autumn. And when she smiled with her lips, a faint dimple would appear on her left cheek.
She didn’t tell me that; I just happened to notice.
“Then why are you blushing?” Kelly asked.
“I’m not blushing. Men don’t blush.”
“It’s true. Besides, even if I did like Emery—which I don’t—it would be too soon. I just got out of a long-term relationship.”
Kelly huffed. “Are you seriously calling what you and Cam had a relationship? I’ve had better relationships with stray cats on the road.”
“So, be honest. Do you like Emery?” she asked. Her lack of true whispering skills was making me nervous that Emery could overhear the conversation. “I won’t tell. It’s our little secret.”
“There’s no secret, because there’s no truth to your question.”
“Okay. Well, I guess you won’t mind if I invited Emery to eat lunch with us,” she said. She was acting just like an annoying little sister. Before I could oppose the idea, Kelly was calling Emery’s name. “Did you eat yet, Emery?” she asked.
Emery peeked her head into the dining room, and a knot formed in my stomach. Then she smiled, and another knot joined the first one.
“No, I haven’t yet.”
“Great! Come join us.” Kelly smirked as she looked my way with a guilty grin.
“Are you sure? I don’t want to intrude,” Emery said.
“No. You wouldn’t be. Come sit right here, between Oliver and me.” Kelly patted the seat right beside me, and within a few seconds, Emery was entering the room and sitting down. Right beside me. With her salad. And her smile. Her smile that was smiling toward me.
Maybe men did blush.
I turned my stare back down to my plate and started stuffing my face.
Kelly glanced down at her watch. “Oh, man! I forgot I have to shoot off some emails. I’ll be back in a bit.”
I sat up straighter. “Shouldn’t you finish your lunch first?”
“No, no. I’ll get back to it in a few. You two go ahead and eat and enjoy each other’s company. I’ll be back.” She began to walk away, and Emery’s back was to her as I shot Kelly a death stare. Talk to her! she mouthed before slipping away.
Silence filled the space, and I didn’t know what to do with myself. I kept overthinking every topic that I could bring up to her, so I went back to stuffing my face as Emery ate like a normal human.
I looked up toward the kitchen and saw Kelly peeking around the door toward us. She once again mouthed, Talk! So I swallowed the too-big chunk of chicken and began choking on it like a damn fool.
“Oh my gosh!” Emery gasped. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, it’s just”—I coughed, feeling the piece of meat sitting tight in my throat—“I’m”—the coughing grew worse and worse—“fine.” I choked the last word out before the coughing became overpowering. Well, fuck. I was choking.
“Oh my gosh, here!” Emery said, standing to her feet. She walked behind me and pulled me up from my chair and began patting me on the back before she wrapped her arms around me and started giving me the Heimlich maneuver. Her small body flung my massive body around the room like she was an Olympic weightlifter.
“Okay, okay, hold on,” she said. Then she began singing, yes, singing, “Stayin’ Alive,” by the Bee Gees, as she pumped her palms into my gut. She did it repeatedly as I searched for a breath of air, and on her final pump, the lodged piece of poultry came flying out of me and landed across the dining room table.
All of my pride went flying, too, with the piece of meat.
“Oh my gosh, Oliver, are you okay?” Emery asked, rubbing my back in circular motions, and oddly enough, I didn’t want that movement to come to a halt.
“I’m fine. Yes. Sorry about that.”
“Don’t worry about it. Gosh, you scared me. Here, let me go get you some fresh water.” Emery hurried into the kitchen, and Kelly was now standing in the dining room with her jaw dropped open in shock at the events that had taken place all within five short minutes.
“Well, that escalated quickly,” she said, a small smile on her face.
“You think this is funny?”
“Kind of. Yes. All I wanted you to do was talk to her, and, well . . . that didn’t happen at all. You seriously froze up there.” She walked over to me and patted me on the back. “You okay?”
“Okay, good.” A wicked smile fell over her. “Remember that time when I tried to get you to talk to Emery and you choked—both literally and figuratively?” she joked.
Needless to say, Kelly’s matchmaking skills didn’t go as she had planned, and I escaped to my studio to avoid any more embarrassment. I was still licking my wounds even after Emery left that afternoon, overthinking how idiotic I must’ve appeared as Emery thrust me around like a potato.
The only thing that disrupted my thoughts was Tyler coming over in a complete flurry of emotions.
“Did you see this?” Tyler barked, marching into my living room. He held his phone out toward me as he wiped sweat from his forehead. “Un-fucking-believable,” he grumbled. “She’s a freaking snake! I’ve always known she was a snake, but this is bullshit.”
His nose flared as I took the phone from his hand and read the headline.
Cam Jones Tells All about What It’s Been Like Living with Oliver Smith
“You read that? Don’t read that,” Tyler said, snatching the phone from my grip. “It’s trash. She’s trash. Why would she even do that? What would make her go out to do that kind of interview?”
“I broke up with her a few days ago.”
He looked at me, and his eyes flashed with glee. “You broke up with her? There is a God! You broke up with her!” he repeated, jumping up and down with bliss. Then, his joy seemed to dissipate as another reality set into his head. “Oh no . . . oh no, oh no, oh no . . .”
“What is it?”
“What is it? Dude. Cam is crazy. And now she’s out there getting exposure on your breakup. Who knows what she’s going to say?”
Before I could reply, my phone had started ringing. Kelly’s name popped up across the screen, and I answered. “Hey, what’s up?”
“Oh my goodness, she’s insane!” she exclaimed—speaking of Cam, I assumed.
“Yeah, I saw the article.”
“The article? No. She’s on Channel Five right now doing a sit-down interview.”
Within seconds, Tyler had switched the television on, and there she was, holding a tissue in her hand, speaking to the interviewer through her sniffles. Screw her singing career: Cam should’ve gone into acting.
“So, you’re saying living with him was like living with darkness?” the interviewer asked her.
“Yes. It wasn’t always like that. I knew Oliver suffered from depression, but I never thought he’d go to the level of belittling me in the way he had. He was cruel with the name-calling, saying I was worthless, putting me down on the regular.”