“Yes, thanks,” he replies absently. “Great water pressure in the shower.”
I look up at his face and watch the corner of his mouth quirk, the little smile line deepening.
The receptionist is definitely imagining him in the shower. Her eyes stray from bicep to computer screen. Screen to his face. She staples and folds and searches for the perfect little envelope for his receipt, even though the customer at the next counter didn’t get one.
She fiddles and does a dozen other little things so she can look at little segments of him. She tells him about their loyalty program and how his next check-in will be with a free bottle of wine, and probably her, draped across his bed. She reconfirms his address and phone number.
I’m gimlet-eyed with annoyance. He doesn’t notice, and begins kissing my temple. Who can blame her, though?
A man built like this, with a face like this, being so ridiculously sweet and tender? I’d die a little too, watching this, and I’m the one on the receiving end. It’s like seeing a bruised nightclub bouncer cuddling a tutu-clad toddler, or a cage fighter blowing a kiss to his sweetheart in the front row. Brute, raw masculinity contrasted with gentleness is the most attractive thing on earth.
Josh is the most attractive thing on earth.
I watch her eyes harden speculatively as she glances at me. I spread my hand across his chest. It says, mine. The tiny jealous cavewoman in me can’t resist.
“Shall we bring your car?”
“Yes,” Josh says at the same moment I say, “No.”
“No, we’re having breakfast. Can we leave our bags here?”
“Of course.” She checks Josh’s bare left hand. My bare left hand.
“Thank you, Mr. Templeman.”
“I need a fake wedding band on you if we ever came back,” I grumble as we walk through the lobby to the restaurant.
Josh nearly trips over his own foot. “Why on earth would you say that?”
We walk past the ballroom and I can see cleaners taking down the huge bunches of Mindy-pink balloons.
“The receptionist wanted to jump on you. I can’t blame her, but sheesh. I was standing right there. What am I, invisible?”
Josh looks at me sideways. “How primal.”
We push through the glass double doors and he pulls me to one side. I crane around the doorframe. I can see his family. I raise my hand to wave but he tugs me back and scolds me unintelligibly.
“It’s a buffet.” My delight is evident in my voice. “Look at those croissants, plain and chocolate. Quick, there’s not many left.”
“I am going to appeal to you one last time. Let’s just go. Things went pretty well yesterday, family-wise. Let’s cut our losses.”
“And what, screech out of here like Thelma and Louise?”
“They all loved you.”
“I’m immensely lovable. Josh, come on. Croissants. I’m here with you. No one will hurt you as long as I’m here. I’ve got my invisible paintball gun. Take me in there, feed me pastry, and then drive me back to your pretty blue bedroom.”
He presses a little kiss to my lips. I look over my shoulder at the reception desk.
“Come on, be brave. Forget about your dad and focus on your mom. Be a gentleman. I’m going in.”
I weave through the room and I have no idea if he’s following. If he’s not, this is going to be a little awkward.
At the table by the window sits Elaine and Anthony, and Mindy and Patrick. Everyone stops talking when I approach. I wave like a dork. Everyone looks surprised.
“Lucy! Hello!” Elaine recovers first and looks at the table. Oh. There are no spare chairs. We’re barely five minutes late. They clearly weren’t expecting us to turn up. Josh is dawdling, thankfully.
“Quick, quick!” I start looking around at other tables.
“More chairs,” Elaine gasps. She understands perfectly. If he walks over here and there are no seats for us, he’ll shrivel up.
Anthony sits at the daddy-end of the table and continues reading his folded up newspaper. No wait, medical journal. Jeez. He makes no indication he’s aware of any other people in the room.
There’s a great deal of shuffling and I manage to borrow spare chairs from a nearby table. By the time Josh arrives with a plate of croissants and a cup of tea, we’re all sitting as casually as we can, trying to slide the plates back in front of their original owners.
“Good morning,” everyone chimes.
“Hi,” he says cautiously, and puts the plate and tea in front of me. “I got you the last ones.” It’s a plate filled with croissants and strawberries. He strokes his hand down the side of my neck.
“Sweet of you. Thanks.”
“I’ll just get something,” he says, and retreats. Elaine watches him, part sad, part amused, and looks at Anthony.
I smile at Mindy to show I’m not upset anymore. I probably have a nuclear post-orgasmic glow. She tentatively smiles back.
“How do you feel, Mrs. Templeman?”
I didn’t put too much thought into the question, but the words Mrs. Templeman make her physically jolt. Maybe I’m exceptionally empathetic, but I feel like I’ve dropped a bombshell. The words ring in my ears, off the walls, right through my bones.
Mrs. Templeman. How primal, indeed.
“Wrecked. I’m so tired I feel like I’m dreaming. But in a good way.” She breaks into a smile and looks at the tablecloth.
“Mrs. Templeman. It sounds so . . .” She covers her face with her hands and sighs and laughs and dorks. Get out of my head, Mindy.
“Sorry we took a smaller table,” Elaine begins, but I shake my head.
“It’s okay. I had to use my lasso to get him down here.” I mime swinging a rope over my head and the women burst out laughing. The men sit silently, reading and eating.
“I can imagine it. Little cowgirl dragging him behind her, bucking and snorting.”
“I don’t know why he makes such a big deal of everything,” Patrick interjects mildly, taking a quick wincing mouthful of his coffee.
I have a feeling he’s always so busy he eats all of his meals in painful scalding gulps and swallows. Maybe it’s a doctor thing. Ingest the fuel rather than enjoy it.
“He’s shy. Leave him alone.”
Patrick frowns at my kid-sister impudence, and then laughs. He glances at Josh.
“Shy. Huh.” I can see the realization dawning across his face, like it did mine yesterday. Shyness takes so many different forms. Some people are shy and soft. Some, shy and hard. Or in Josh’s case, shy, and wrapped in military-grade armor.
“Josh, Lucy, thank you for the gift,” Mindy says when Josh takes his seat. She catches my eye and smiles, clearly thinking I chose it.
“I never did see what he ended up choosing.” I take a huge bite of croissant. He’s got one arm across the back of my chair, his warm hand spread across my shoulder.
“The most beautiful set of Waterford crystal champagne glasses, engraved with our initials. And two bottles of Moët.”
“Good job, Josh.”
“The wedding was nice,” Josh tells her. I look at his eyes as they assess each other. It’s probably the first time they’ve faced each other since the breakup. I almost quiver with concentration, trying to detect any residual heartbreak, lust, resentment, loneliness. If I had whiskers, they would be twitching.
“Thanks,” Mindy replies. She looks at her wedding ring again and then at Patrick with such helpless devotion I look at Josh sharply. If ever he was going to react badly it would be now. He smiles, looks at his plate, and then looks at me. He kisses my temple and I’m convinced.
“How have you kept Lucy a secret from us all?” Mindy says as she cuts her grapefruit.
“Oh, you know. I keep her in my basement.”
“It’s not as bad as it sounds. He’s made it comfy down there.” Everyone laughs, except Anthony, naturally.
I have a refreshing realization. I’m not trying. It explains why I’m so comfortable sitting here, eating with strangers. If they like me, fine. If not, I can live. But I feel the same relaxed slouchy feeling I get when sitting with my family. If I tilt my head just right, I can’t see Anthony at all.
Mindy lists some of the other gifts they received. Patrick’s new gold band winks in the pale sunshine filtering in through the clouds, and he occasionally curls his thumb in to touch it. Mindy watches him, tenderness in her eyes.
Josh’s breakfast is two poached eggs, a slice of wheat toast, and a heap of wilted spinach. He drinks his coffee in two swallows. I look at my own plate and pinch my stomach under the table. His body is a temple. Mine will be a hut made of butter at this rate.
“More coffee?” I get up and decide to bring myself back some more fruit. I can’t just sit there eating pastry. He snags my wrist and looks up at me.
Stay, his eyes tell me. I pat him kindly and he reluctantly relinquishes his mug.
“I’ll be right back. Anyone else?”
I take my time fiddling with the coffee machine. Everything’s a little stilted and it does occur to me that I’m essentially an intruder. I’m the only one at the table who’s not a Templeman.
As I struggle with the long plastic tongs to get another slice of watermelon, I am dimly aware of sharp tones. I’m piling my plate with a bunch of grapes when realization dawns. Oh shit.
I hurry back to the table and put down my plate and Josh’s mug. Mindy is frozen, eyes frightened, and Patrick looks resigned.
“But what I want to know is, why would you throw away premed? Any monkey can get an MBA.” Anthony has laid aside his breakfast reading and is staring down Josh, gimlet-eyed.
Seriously, I was away from the table for maybe two minutes. How did this escalate so quickly? I suppose a nuclear bomb has one red button, and that doesn’t take long to press. I put my hand on the back of Josh’s neck, like I’m holding an attack dog by the collar.
“For fuck’s sake. If you knew anything about it, you’d know it’s almost impossible to complete an executive MBA while working full-time. And I did it. And I was in the top two percent. I got four job offers, and two of those companies still call me.”