“I keep things close to my chest,” she says carefully, taking in a deep breath. “That’s just how I am, and I have my reasons. And one of those reasons is so that men like you don’t walk all over me. I knew you didn’t want to commit, so yeah it was my own fault for thinking you could maybe commit to me. I’ll own that mistake. But to see you so callously move on like that…”
I sigh heavily, my heart a sinking rock. “I know. I felt bad about it and I feel even worse now. I made a mistake and I did some stupid shit. I was a different person back then. We both were.”
“I know.” She says, her attention going back to her phone. “So let’s just let bygones be bygones and pretend you and I never ever happened.”
“That’s not going to be easy,” I tell her.
Because I don’t want to pretend we never happened.
I want to do the opposite.
I want…I think I just want a second chance to see if things can work this time around.
But from the way she’s glaring at me as she dials the phone, I know that’s never going to happen.
She hates me, and if she doesn’t hate me, then she’s going to be indifferent and I’m not sure which one is worse.
“Easy or not, I wiped you from my memory once, I can do it again,” she says, putting the phone to her ear.
I flinch. Ouch. Okay, whatever this is, is worse.
“I’m still your boss,” I remind her gently. “You’ll still see me every day and I’m still living in your house until those cockroaches are gone.”
But if she’s heard me at all, she doesn’t show it. She just nods and says, “Hello, hi, my name is Nova Lane and I’m a Triple A member and I’ve just been in a minor car accident.”
I exhale loudly and grab my shirt as I lean back against the car. She tells the guy on the phone that no one is hurt and there are no injuries.
But that’s just not true at all.
It’s been a day.
And that’s putting it mildly.
After the disaster of a morning, Triple A towed my car away and then Loan was able to pick us up and take us back to my house where we went into Kessler’s Audi.
If I thought the commute was awkward before, now it was unbearable.
We weren’t talking to each other.
Kessler made a few attempts but, in the end, I turned up the radio and he got the hint.
I was mad.
And, well, a little embarrassed if I’m being honest.
The whole blow-up we had at each other was a long time coming, and it wasn’t until we were yelling at each other like a bunch of children that I realized all of this could have been dealt with years ago. Back then it was just easier to cut and run.
And I still don’t regret it. After all, he’s the one who slept with Stacy right after I was sleeping with him for months. That shit hurt, more than I thought possible.
But what was even worse than the whole Stacy thing was the fact that I was in love with Kessler and he broke my heart when he broke things off. Regardless of what happened afterward, who he slept with or whatever, I was a wounded animal, crawling off to heal somewhere.
It ended up being Hawaii.
I just never realized that not everything was so one-sided. I know I wasn’t open with Kessler because I knew what kind of a man he was and I knew I had extra reason to protect myself. What I didn’t realize was that Kessler noticed. More than that, it seemed to have bothered him. When he was yelling at me, I heard the emotion in his voice, I saw the sincerity in his eyes. Maybe if I had let him in more, maybe then things would have ended differently.
Or not, I think with a sigh, leaning back in my office chair and closing my eyes. Whether you protect yourself or not, when you fall in love, it’s going to hurt.
A knock at my door snaps me out of it. It opens and Teef pokes his head in. He’s never been very good at waiting for a response.
“Hey lady,” Teef says, with his big, white, toothy smile as he bites the end of a banana. “I heard about your accident earlier. So sorry there. Kessler said it was a chicken?”
I can’t even smile at that. “Yeah,” I say tiredly. “It was a chicken. I was better off running it over.”
“I can relate,” he says. “Listen, if you need a ride home, I can give you one.”
“Thanks. But Kessler’s my ride. You know the whole cockroach thing.” It’s the only reason it’s convenient that he’s been working late too.
At that, Teef stops chewing, looking shocked. “Oh. No. See we’re the last ones in the office. Kessler is gone, sis.”
“He’s what!” I cry out, pressing my hands into the desk.
Teef backs up, thinking I’m about to launch over the desk and tackle him. “I’m just saying, he’s not in his office. I’m about to leave.”
I grumble. “Whatever. It’s fine. I’m fine. Maybe he forgot.”
Maybe he’s mad at you, too.
“I’m sure Teef, I’ll figure it out. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“A hui hou,” he says quickly, closing the door.
Well fuckity fuck.
How could Kessler forget about me?
I suppose it doesn’t help that I didn’t talk to him for the rest of the day. Maybe he wiped me out of his brain as easily as I once did. Who knows, he could have driven all the way back to Mike’s before he remembered the whole cockroach thing.
If I wasn’t in a foul mood before, I am now. I’m tempted to pick up my phone and call him and yell or text a flurry of expletives, but decide against it. I have every right to be mad that I’m stranded at the office but I still don’t want to give him the satisfaction of my reaction, just in case he did it on purpose.
Instead I pick up the pineapple stress-ball and I launch it across the office so it hits the wall with a somewhat satisfying whack.
Then I pack up my stuff, bring out my phone and try to find an Uber as I head to the elevators.
The door dings open even before I get a chance to push the button and out steps Kessler.
“Where are you going?” he asks.
“Where have you been?”
“I stepped out. I thought you’d be working a little later,” he says. “Were you planning on walking?”
I put my phone away in my purse. “I was calling an Uber.”
He folds his massive arms and I don’t know if that’s his distraction technique, like him taking his shirt off earlier. Whatever it is, it works, because now I’m picturing him without his shirt on, the way his sweaty, naked torso looked against the backdrop of the mountains this morning, the only good thing about the car accident.
“Did you really think I would have left without you?”
I shrug. “I don’t know. Maybe you forgot. Maybe you didn’t care.”
He shakes his head, frowning. “You’re unbelievable. I’d like to think you’d give me a little more credit than that. Just because you said you wanted to let bygones be bygones, doesn’t mean I’m not driving you home…to your own house. What kind of man do you think I am?”
A frustrating one, I think. With one hell of a body.
“I’m sorry,” I mutter, staring down at his fancy shoes that are now appropriately scuffed. “I guess I wouldn’t have blamed you.”
“Why, because we had a fight? You know I love fighting with you, Supernova.”
I glance up at him and it’s like all the air is squeezed from my lungs. The way his hair has curled just so around his ears and the nape of his neck, the shining depths of his jewel-toned eyes, permanently bordering on something wicked and lewd, the hint of a smile on his full lips.
And just like that, I’m staring at him like a dumb idiot, pretty much the same way I did when I first laid eyes on him all those years ago and my heart skipped ten beats at once.
But I’m not that person anymore and because I have a shred of dignity, I clear my throat and say. “Okay, well we better get going so we can stop by Panda Express.”
He laughs as he pushes the elevator button. “We aren’t going to Panda Express.”
“Uh, it’s Tuesday,” I tell him. “Chinese Food Tuesday. It’s a thing. It’s my thing. And I told Loan she could have the night off from cooking.”
He narrows his eyes at me. “I know. I recall you telling my nanny that she could have a night off,” he says as the doors open and we step in. “But Panda Express isn’t even real food.”
“Have you had their Beijing Beef?” I ask incredulously.
He gives me the Oh Nova look. “Trust me, I’ve taken care of dinner.”
“So we’re going to McDonalds then?”
“I’m starting to think you don’t know me at all,” Kessler says. “And that’s fine. You can get to know me all over again.” I’m still staring at him, so he says, “I’m taking care of dinner. I’m cooking. I went out and got groceries, that’s where I was just now.”
“I didn’t know you could cook,” I tell him. “I mean, you never cooked for me before.”
“Palm Desert Kessler is not the same as Honolulu Kessler. Hope you’ll start figuring that out soon.”
I know what he means by that, for me to start forgetting all that shit between us, Stacy and otherwise, and start fresh. But damn if it isn’t hard to let go.
By the time we get back to my house, the sun is just setting behind us, shooting rays of pink and gold over the jagged mountain range and I’ve tried to look at Kessler with new eyes.
It helps once we get inside and he immediately starts making himself at home in the kitchen. With my only apron tied around his white dress shirt, he tells us to relax with some drinks while he cooks up macadamia-nut crusted mahi mahi.
I sit in the living room with Hunter and Loan. Even though he’s playing with some GI Joes and a pineapple pillow and Loan keeps getting up to spy on Kessler in the kitchen, telling him he’s doing something wrong every now and then, it’s nice to have some company over. I’m not anti-social. I’ve had Kate over a few times, sometimes Mahina or Teef come over if they’re surfing on the North Shore, and once I had Desiree over for tea.