I sit right up. “Calm down.”
She frowns at me. “I’ll calm down when you remove that noodle from your forehead.”
I swipe away at my forehead until a noodle dislodges and plops back on the table. I swipe it away onto the floor.
“He’s your ex-boyfriend?” she says, and her voice is still so high that only dogs can hear her now.
“He’s my ex…whatever we were,” I tell her, pressing my hands into the table as I lean forward to look her in the eye. “You have to promise me, you can’t tell a soul.”
Kate looks like I slapped her. “Why? Why would you do this to me? You know I can’t keep a secret. At all.”
“You’re going to have to try,” I plead. “It’s only going to make things worse if people know, especially since he’s my fucking boss now. Argh!”
“You need some fucking alcohol, stat,” she says, after watching me for a moment. She flags down the waitress and puts in an order for a mai tai for me and a beer for her.
“A mai tai? Really?” I ask.
“You love them and there’s no shame in it. Plus all that booze will only make things better. So, before we discuss the whole Roger and the hooker thing, you’re going to have to take me back further and explain…just how the hell Mr. Almond Roca was your boyfriend?”
I flinch. “Don’t act like he’s out of my league.”
She rolls her eyes. “Come on, hot stuff. No one is ever out of your league. Was he always that sweaty?”
“It was a dry heat in Palm Desert.”
“Okay, so you worked with him?”
I nod, take in a deep breath, and then launch into it.
“I was fresh out of an internship at a hotel in Seattle. I’d just gotten hired, I was green, I was eager, I was happy to move down to California for a million reasons. About a year after I started work as a marketing assistant, Kessler came on board. At first he was an assistant to the executives, then he moved to the marketing team. He pissed me off right from the get-go.”
“Because he’s so handsome and you hate that?”
I roll my eyes, though she’s kind of right. “He didn’t have any experience.” I practically spit the words out. “You know, my dad had a motel growing up, we lived there. I grew up knowing how to run one. I went to school for it. I worked my ass off. Then he just shows up with no degree and no experience, looking to get into the hotel business because he’s bored or something and within no time he has the same job as me.”
The waitress stops by with our drinks and while Kate orders our food, I’m sucking back that mai tai through the metal straw, as if the booze will obliterate all memories of Kessler immediately. I barely take a breath to place my order for George’s soup to-go and a chicken karage sandwich for myself.
“That’s men for you,” Kate mutters. “We do all the work, they take all the credit.”
“Well that’s Kessler, especially. And really it’s all because he was in the NHL.”
If she had ears on the top of her head, they’d be perking up right now. “Really?”
“He doesn’t look all big and burly by accident. He’s straight from the Yukon, forged of ice and maple syrup, with legs like Douglas firs.”
“Are his legs the only thing in the shape of a Douglas fir?” she asks, before sipping coquettishly on her drink.
I raise my hand. “I don’t want to get into it.”
She grins at me. “You don’t have to. You’re blushing.”
“I do not blush.”
“You do and you are and okay so now we know that Kessler has a penis that belongs in an old growth forest. What else can you tell me? Was he good in bed?” Before I can even give her a dirty look, she goes on. “It could go either way, you know, it’s either he’s never had to work for pussy a day in life and he has this massive dick, so he doesn’t know shit about pleasing a woman. Or, because he’s so blessed in the looks department, both above and below, he’s found it his calling in life to make women come, much like Mozart was called to the piano.”
“You are the worst,” I tell her, feeling the rum start to swirl through me. I don’t make it a habit of drinking during my lunch hour, and now with Kessler here I really should be sharp and clear-headed, but fuck it.
“Guilty,” she says. “I just don’t get what being an NHL star has to do with the hotel business.”
“It doesn’t have anything to do with it, it just buys interest and favors from the CEOs and what not. Anyway, so Kessler and I pretty much worked together for a good few years.”
“When did he start impaling you with his tree trunk?”
“It took a while. I mean, I was only twenty-four.”
“Only twenty-four? That’s the prime hook-up stage of your life. If you’re not getting laid, you’re doing something wrong.”
“Says you. Anyway, I was getting laid and it was wrong.”
“Yes all that good sex with the sweaty big-dick beast must have been terrible.”
The thing that I don’t want to admit to Kate, because as much as I like her and trust her, she’s not exactly emotionally vulnerable, is that I used to be head over heels in love with Kessler.
I was from the moment we started working together.
I knew I shouldn’t have been so easily charmed by his looks and his effervescent humor and the way he made me feel, but I was swept off my feet. By the time he made a move on me at our Christmas office party, I would have done anything he said. I was completely his in heart and soul, and soon my body belonged to him. We had a passionate and secret affair for three months and during those three months I had fallen deeper in love with him than I had with anyone before, deeper than I had ever thought possible.
And then, one day, he wanted to call it off. Didn’t want us getting too serious. Said he didn’t want to complicate things at work, didn’t want a girlfriend at the moment, didn’t really believe in marriage, never wanted children. Just a whole mess of things thrown at me, as if they’d all make it easier to fall out of love with him.
I never told him how I felt and that’s my greatest possession. He never knew just what he did to me, the way he broke my heart. He never knew what he meant to me, and that’s something I hope he never finds out.
Which is why I can’t tell Kate. I am sure at some point our security guard, Bradah Ed, will know that Kessler and I were an item back in the day so I sure as hell won’t let her know the truth.
Kessler was the man I never quite got over.
My level-ten heartbreaker.
And he’s now my motherfucking boss.
“It’s going to be okay,” Kate says, reading whatever horrid expression I have on my face. She puts her hand on top of mine and then winces as she picks a noodle up. “Do they not wipe down these booths?”
“How is it going to be okay?” I ask her, as she flicks the noodle onto the floor where it lands with the other noodle. “I thought I escaped him. I moved all the way here, I transferred jobs. I’ve been happy for the last five years, moving toward something and suddenly I discover there is no something. I’ve had the wool over my eyes, Kate. And now, now he’s here and he’s taken what’s mine. I can’t let this happen.”
“I hate to be all adult and responsible because believe me, I’m usually down for inter-office espionage, but maybe you should have a talk with Desiree about it. Tell her what happened with you guys. Let her know you’re not comfortable.”
I sigh just as the waitress comes by with my sandwich and Kate’s soup. My appetite is suddenly gone so I order another mai tai. “I don’t want to do that. It’s not over yet. The job might still be mine and I’m not about to show any vulnerability, not now. I can tell Desiree isn’t one-hundred-percent sold on him. She’s still super pissed abut Mike. Hence why he’s here on a three-month probation.”
“Hmmm.” She slurps her soup noisily. “It’s a gamble to move all the way here for three months when you might not even get the job in the long run.”
“Especially since he has a son.”
She stops, dead slurp, noodle dangling from her mouth. Slowly she sucks it in. “I’m sorry, you said he has a son? Oh my god, it’s not yours is it?”
I frown. “What? No, Kate. No. That’s not how things work. I never knew he had a son until today.”
“So he’s married,” she says. “Bummer.”
“Not a bummer, and I don’t know if he’s married or not. The point is—”
“He’s a DILFOAH,” she says, poking a mushroom in her vegan soup with a chopstick. “Daddy I’d Like to Fuck Often and Hard. And Sweaty. With Your Tree Trunk Dick.” I can tell she’s trying to make the abbreviation in her head. “Mr. Almond Roca.”
I’m about to tell her to stop when something, maybe instinct, brings my attention to the front door of the restaurant.
Kessler has just walked in, and he’s scanning the restaurant like he’s the T-1000.
“Oh shit,” I swear under my breath.
The waitress took my menu away, so I have no way to hide unless I hold up my chicken sandwich.
Before I even know what I’m doing, I’m ducking down and sinking under the table.
“What are you doing?” Kate hisses, as I’m on my hands and knees underneath, the top of my head bumping against the bottom of the table.
“He’s here,” I whisper harshly up at her.
“Who do you think? Pretend I’m not here. God, it’s so fucking gross under here!”
“Damn, hot stuff, it’s like you’re acting out one of my fantasies right now,” Kate says.
“Are you talking to me or him?”
“You of course,” she says, and then I see a pair of male legs stop right beside our table.