“Get in here.”
He obeys reluctantly and I pull the door shut and lean on it. We remain silent as the heels round the corner and continue past.
“This is cozy.” Josh kicks his toe against a bulk quantity of toilet paper. “Well? What?”
“I’ve screwed up. I know I have.”
“There’s nothing to screw up. You’ve pissed me off. The status quo is maintained.”
He leans an elbow on a shelf to drag his hand tiredly through his hair, and his shirt slides up an inch or so out of his trouser waistband. We’re so close I can hear the fabric stretch and slide over his skin.
“I thought maybe the war might be over. I thought we might be friends.”
His eyes flash with disgust, so I might as well put it all out there. “Josh, I want to be friends with you. Or something. I have no idea why, because you’re awful.”
He holds up a finger. “There’s an interesting couple of words in among what you just said.”
“I say a lot of interesting words. And you never hear any of them.” I ball my hands until the knuckles crack, and the realization hits me across the head.
The reason for my rising distress is this: I will never see his hidden softness again. I think of his hands braced on either side of my pillow, talking me through the fever. His hands passing easily over my skin.
Right now he looks like he’d burn me at the stake. He was my friend once, for one delirious night, and it’s all I’ll ever get.
“Or something,” he uses his fingers to add quotations. “You said you wanted to be friends, or something. What exactly does or something entail? I want to know my options.”
“It probably entails not completely hating each other. I don’t know.” I try to sit on a stack of boxes and they crush underneath me so I stand back up.
“So, what is he, your boyfriend?” He has hands on hips and the small room shrinks to microscopic.
He’s close to me now. Whatever divine soap Josh uses, I need some. I’ll keep a bar of it in my top drawer to scent my lingerie. I feel my cheeks beginning to heat.
“You couldn’t care less if I date Danny. You can’t believe any guy would want to be with me.”
Instead of replying, he holds out his hand, palm up. His shirt sleeves are still rolled, and I look at the strong tendons and cords in his wrists. I notice for the first time he has those muscly-guy raised veins in his inner arms.
“Touching at work is against HR policy.” My throat is bone dry. Not touching me should be illegal.
He stares expectantly at me until I slide my hand into his. It’s hard to resist someone holding out his hand this way, and it’s completely impossible if it’s Joshua. I register the heat and size of his fingers before he turns over my hand to inspect the scratch on my palm, handling my hand like an injured dove.
“Seriously though, did you clean this? Rose thorns can have fungus on them. The scratch can get infected.” He presses around the wound, fussing and frowning. How can he be these two different men? A second realization hits me. Perhaps I am a determining factor. The concept is scary. The only way I can get him to drop his guard is to drop mine. Maybe I can change everything.
When he hears me shorten his name, he folds up my fingers and gives me my hand back. It’s time to try this. I pray I’m not wrong.
“I wanted you there on Friday night. You, and only you. And if you don’t want to be friends with me, I’ll try to play the Or Something Game with you.”
There’s a long pause and he doesn’t react. If I’ve misjudged this, I will never live it down. My heart is pulsing uncomfortably fast.
“Really?” He is skeptical.
I push him against the door and feel a thrill when I hear the thud of his weight against it.
“Kiss me.” I whisper it and the air gets warmer.
“So the Or Something Game involves kissing. How interesting, Lucinda.” He passes his fingers through my hair, raking it gently away from my face.
“I don’t know the rules yet. It’s a pretty new game.”
“Are you sure about that?” He looks down to watch my hand spread out over his stomach.
I push at the hard flesh. It doesn’t remotely give. “Are you wearing a bullet-proof vest?”
“I’ve got to in this office.”
“I really am sorry for hurting your feelings, and for throwing you out of my apartment. Josh.” When I use his shortened name, it’s a little peace offering. It’s an apology.
Frankly, it’s a pleasure. It lets me imagine he’s my friend. My friend, who lets me run my palms up his torso in a cleaner’s closet. I wish he’d run his hands up mine.
“Apology accepted. But you can’t expect me to be a nice guy when another man walks you into the office, and kisses you and gives you flowers. It’s not the way this game works between you and me.”
“I have never had the faintest clue on how it works.” I swallow heavily. He touches his fingers underneath my chin, raising my face to his.
“I thought you were so clever, Lucinda. I must be wrong.”
I rise on tiptoes and when my hands slide onto his shoulders and grip. When I press my fingernails into him, his throat constricts in a swallow and I manage to land one glancing, openmouthed kiss across it. I can feel the effect it has; his hands flex, his hips tilt toward me. Something heavy presses into my stomach.
This is the best game I’ve ever played in my entire life.
His hand settles on my lower back and I arch against him and manage to get one hand on the nape of his neck.
“Is there any reason we’re not kissing yet?”
“The height difference, mainly.” He’s trying to conceal the fact he’s got an erection hard enough to dent a tin can. It’s an impossible task. I smile and try to tug him down to my mouth.
“Well, don’t make me climb up there.”
His mouth belongs on mine, but he doesn’t move down farther. His face tightens with indecision and restrained lust. I imagine he’s mulling over the work implications.
“We’re barely working together for another two weeks. So what does it matter?” I congratulate myself on my casual tone.
“What a romantic proposition.” His tongue emerges and licks the corner of his mouth. He wants to. It’s obvious he does. But yet he still resists.
“Put your hands on me.”
Instead of grabbing me, he puts out his hands, offering them to me like I just did to him. Then he just stands there. His chest rises and falls.
“Put them on yourself.”
Nothing ever goes the way I expect it will. I take one of his hands and lay it on my side. The other, I decide to slide around to my butt. Both squeeze me, but they don’t move. Basically, I’m feeling myself up, hardly aided by him at all.
“Is this to get around the HR rules? No more HR threats. It’s a complete waste of breath at this point.” Saying it was a waste of my breath. I need all the oxygen I can get. The heat of his hands on me burns through my clothes.
I push his hand down to where my butt meets thigh. He has to bend down a lot and it gets his mouth much closer. Now, I pull his other hand up from my ribs to the side of my breast. He looks like he’s about to pass out. My ego is nearly too big to fit in this room.
“So this is what sex with you would be like.” I can’t resist teasing him. “I was hoping you’d participate a little more.”
He finally says something. “I’d participate. So well, you wouldn’t walk straight the next day.”
More footsteps pass. I’m in a room smaller than a jail cell and Josh has his hands on me. Too bold for my own good, I lift his hand and press his fingertips into my cleavage, just to see what happens.
“That’s okay, walking is overrated.”
Whatever control he has on himself slips significantly and his hand regains its autonomy. He puts a hand under my knee to lift my leg. His fingertips stroke up under the hem of my dress, making a smooth line up my outer thigh to the side of my underwear. His fingertip touches the elastic and I shiver. Between my breasts, his fingers dip and stroke. Then he puts my foot back on the ground, and both his hands in his pockets.
“I want you to do something for me. I want you to have your cute little date with Danny, and I want you to kiss him.”
Even as he says it, his mouth twists in distaste. I drop back down to my regular height. We’ve said some fucking unbelievable things to each other recently, but that was completely out of left field.
“What? Why?” I drop my hands from his shoulders.
The sinking feeling has started. He’s been messing with me all along. He sees the alarm in my eyes and halts my retreat with a hand on my elbow.
“If it’s better than our elevator kiss, case closed. Date him. Plan a spring wedding in a gazebo at Sky Diamond Strawberries.”
I begin to protest but he cuts me off. “If it isn’t as good, you have to admit it to me. To my face. Verbally. Honestly. With no sarcasm.” Every loophole is neatly closed.
“It’s weird you want me to.” I take a step back and knock over a broom.
“The Or Something Game doesn’t resume until you tell me that no one kisses you like I do.”
“Can I just tell you now?” I tiptoe up again but he won’t have a bar of it.
“No way am I going to be your little experiment before you choose Mr. Nice Guy. So yes, I want you to kiss Danny Fletcher tonight and report back on the result. If it goes great, then good luck to you.”
“You certainly are biased against nice guys.”
He adds one more caveat. “One last thing. If kissing him isn’t as good as kissing me, you can’t kiss him again.” He opens the door and pushes me out. Mr. Bexley is clomping along sullenly, so I pull the door shut quickly behind me. He does a double take when he sees me come out of the janitor’s closet.
“I was looking for some glass cleaner. There are fingerprints all over the office.”