“Harrison can’t find out about this.”
“Okay.” I draw in a breath to elaborate but decide to let the words die in a silent exhale. Is that code for tonight never happened? Instead of coming across as needy or clingy, I simply smile. “Goodnight.”
Flint nods once as I get in my car. He closes my door and watches me pull out of his driveway. It’s possible I won’t see Flint again after I move in five days. That makes me sad, but I still smile because tonight a man touched me, healed me, and erased a little bit of the hate from my past.
I can’t tell which burns more, my legs or my lungs. Heidi would hate me for allowing a woman into my bed with our son in the room across the hall. Heidi would hate me for thinking I have the right to one second of pleasure. And she would be right.
“Good morning. How was your run?” my mom asks as I push through the back door and grab a green juice out of the fridge.
Harrison keeps his head down toward his bowl of fruit, earbuds blocking out the rest of the world, while my dad gives me a knowing smirk over the newspaper framed in his hands.
“It was good.”
“Did Ellen ever find her coat?” Dad asks.
I narrow my eyes at him.
“I hung her coat up on the coat tree.” Mom offers me a cup of coffee.
I shake my head at it.
“That’s what I thought too…” my dad refocuses on the paper but continues to run his mouth “…but she and Flint were focusing their attention on the coat closet.”
“I sure like her.” My mom sips her coffee.
“I do too.” Dad folds down the side of the paper to grab his mug of coffee. “What do you think of her, Flint?”
I think Ellen Rodgers is trouble. “She’s nice enough.”
He tips his chin and glances at me over the frames of his glasses, coffee mug paused a few inches from his mouth. “On a scale of one to ten, how nice do you think she is?”
“You’re acting weird, Gene. Did you miscount your pills last night?” Mom eyes him with sincerity.
“I’m fine, Camilla. Answer the question, Son.”
I scratch my chin with my middle finger. “A seven.”
“Just a seven, huh?”
Tossing the bottle into the recycling bin, I nod. “Seven.”
“She was more than a seven, sweetie. You just didn’t hang around after dinner to get to know her like we did,” Mom says.
“Exactly.” My dad nods several times. “We saw a side of her you probably didn’t get to see. Maybe you should get to know her better.”
I want to strangle him.
“And she’s so pretty, Flint. My goodness … that auburn hair makes her blue eyes pop. She looks like a living doll. I couldn’t stop staring at her. I want to look like her in my next life. She’s stunning.”
“Stunning.” My dad coughs, hiding his grin behind his fist. Such a smart-ass.
“I’m going to shower.”
Friday. Two days and counting down …
I’m glad my new landlord is eighty and partially deaf. I don’t have to worry about him hearing the instruments and singing. I also don’t have to worry about having sex with him after being served an eviction notice. I don’t have to explain to his son why I won’t be able to play guitar with him after school anymore.
“My dad said you’re leaving and I have to give the guitar back.”
I turn in my desk chair toward the voice I will miss.
“Hey, Harry. Yes, I’m moving out, but you don’t have to give me back the guitar. I want you to have it.”
I smile at his somber enthusiasm.
He kneels on the floor to take the guitar out of its case.
“I’m surprised you’re here. I haven’t seen your dad today. I hope he knows where you are.”
“My grandpa dropped me off. My dad is on his way. I’ll ride home with him after he does whatever …” He dismissively waves his hand.
“It was fun having dinner with you.”
“Yeah.” Harry nods, strumming a few chords. “They were talking about it yesterday.”
“Everyone thinks you’re nice. A seven.”
“Something like that. I don’t know. Just something my grandpa asked my dad.” He continues to play as he mumbles.
“What did your grandpa ask your dad?”
“I don’t know. Something about a scale from one to ten. My dad said you’re a seven. Which is weird. Seven’s like seventy percent. That’s a D at my school. Sixty-six to seventy is a D.”
I hear everything—everything in my profession. It’s part of therapy. But this eats at me. Flint called me a seven. Sure, it’s been a while, but I’d hardly call Tuesday night a seven. What could I have done to up my game? I smile when Harry glances up at me, but it’s a fake gritted-teeth smile. Inside I’m not smiling. I’m ready to tear someone apart.
As if the gods of revenge are granting extra wishes today, my phone vibrates with a text from Mr. Seven himself.
I’m finishing up some paperwork downstairs. Send him back down if you need to leave or have other things to do. Thanks.
“Harry, I’m going to run downstairs for a minute. I’ll be right back.”
I take the stairs, my heels clicking on each concrete step as I stomp my way to the first floor. I hum, trying to calm my anger, but it’s not working.
“Hey, Elle.” Amanda smiles, twisting off the cap to a glass bottle of flavored tea.
“Hey …” I hold up a finger as I breeze past her. “I just need a quick second to talk to your boss.”
Flint looks up from his paperwork as I shut the door behind me. A slight smile curls his lips. It’s not a stellar smile. I’d give it a seven out of ten at best.
“Ms. Rodgers.” His slight grin twists into a smirk that I want to punch off his face.
“You can’t bury your face between my legs and then call me Ms. Rodgers.”
His smirk fades, his expression settling into discomfort as he glances past me toward Amanda. I wedge my way between him and his desk, forcing him to roll back a foot or so. His gaze makes a quick inspection of me as I sit on the edge.
I love the quick glances he makes to Amanda and the thoughts that must be going through his pretty little head. What if she turns around? How must this look? Why doesn’t “Ms. Rodgers” care what Amanda thinks?
He clears his throat. “Sorry, what shall I call you? Ellen? Elle? Are we friends now?”
I ease my leg up, resting the toe of my shoe on his lower abdomen and pressing the pointy heel of it into his junk.
He grunts, grabbing my ankle.
“How about you call me Ten.”
Flint’s eyes narrow a fraction as he continues to tighten his grip on my ankle to fight the pressure I’m exerting on his cock. Within seconds, realization steals his expression.
“That little shit. He’s so selective with what he acknowledges, but he hears everything.”
“Don’t pass the blame onto him. He only repeated what you said. I just came down here to let you know that I am not a seven. Not a D. So you can be an ass all you want. You can try to make me feel inferior and unwanted, but I am not that girl anymore. So go fuck your own hand. I’m sure it’s the only thing you consider a ten, you egomaniac.”
I jerk my foot out of his grip and push off his desk. That was not cool. I know it, but I’m suppressing the shame the same way I did after I popped his birthday balloons.
“Bye, Elle,” Amanda says.
“Bye.” I don’t stop for small talk, instead I run to the lobby restroom and splash water on my face, closing my eyes and humming Chopin. After my pulse settles into a slow steady rhythm, I exhale a cleansing breath and make my way to the elevator. When the doors open on the second floor, Flint—leaning against the opposing wall with his hands resting in his pants pockets, one leg crossed over the other—twists his lips and makes a slow visual assessment.
It’s quiet. The lights at the accounting office are off, and I don’t hear Harrison on the guitar.
“Who made you feel less than perfect?”
I laugh a little, stepping off the elevator. “Where’s Harry?”
“Doing his homework in my office.”
Brushing past him, I continue humming Chopin.
“Answer my question.”
Plopping down in my desk chair, I lean back and prop my feet on the desk, watching the sun begin to set behind a curtain of scattered clouds. “Besides you?”
He doesn’t respond; I knew he wouldn’t. I don’t look at him. And I’m not going to have this conversation with him.
“Did you know that music and exercise are the only two activities that stimulate your whole brain? It also stimulates the release of dopamine. And it can heal … not just emotions. Music can repair brain damage. Parkinson’s disease, stroke victims, gunshot wounds to the head. I’ve worked with so many people and they all think I’m responsible for this miraculous recovery, but … it’s the music. I’m just a facilitator. It never stops amazing me. I know what could or even should happen over the course of treatment, but it still shocks the hell out of me every single time.”