“I want to blind him with acid.”
“You keep a vial of acid in your drawer?”
“You should know. You’ve been snooping in my desk and planner.”
There is censure in his tone but his eyes remain friendly as he slides his thumb into my arch and makes me purr.
“You’d resign, if I got the job?” He says it gently.
“Yes. I’m sorry, but I’d have to. At first it was my pride making me say it. But now it’s clearly the only option. I want you to know, that if they decide you’re a better fit for the role, I’ll resign happily. I’ll be happy for you, Josh, I swear. I know more than anyone how hard you’ve worked for it.”
I arch a little and sigh. “You’d be my boss. It’d be hot as hell, making out with the COO every chance I got, but we’d get caught for sure.”
“But if you get it?”
“I can’t expect you to resign, but I can’t be your boss. I’d give you inappropriate tasks and Jeanette would have a stroke.”
“And if I were your boss, I’d work you so fucking hard. So fucking hard.”
“Mmmm. I’d have dirty dreams all night.”
“You told my parents I was probably about to be chief operating officer. Did you mean it, or were you just adding to your long list of brags about me? It’s okay if you didn’t mean it.”
“If I were the recruiting panel, I’d look at our CVs side by side and you’d probably edge me out. You’re so good at what you do. I’ve always admired how well you work.”
I rub my hand on my chest to try to relieve the ache.
“Not necessarily. It’s not just the CVs. There’s the interviews. You’re charming. There’s not a person alive who doesn’t adore you instantly.”
“Says you. I’ve seen you in action, when you’re making an effort. You’re like a 1950s politician. Smoother than smooth.”
He laughs. “But you love B and G. And everyone there hates me. That’s your advantage over me. Plus you have your top-secret weapon Danny is spending his weekends on.”
“Yeah.” I dart my eyes away.
“It’s got to do with ebooks, I’m not an idiot,” Josh says.
“Why can’t you be an idiot for once? Just once, I want to keep a secret from you.”
“You’re keeping a secret from me right now. We haven’t gotten to the root cause of your freak-out.”
“And we’re not going to.” I pull the blanket over my head altogether.
“Very mature,” he comments and swaps my feet, squeezing my toes and circling his thumbs. “You can’t keep secrets from me for long. I know you too well. I’ll get it out of you.”
“Well apparently I’m a complete open ebook.” I groan in the dark. “Did Mr. Bexley tell you about my digitalization project? Please don’t screw me on this, Josh. Please. My entire presentation is based on it.”
“Do you seriously think I’d do that to you?”
“No. Well, maybe.”
I expect a whip-crack response. He says nothing, but continues to massage my foot.
I flip the blanket off my face. “Why didn’t you smile at me when we first met, and say, Pleased to meet you? We could have been friends all this time.” It feels like a tragedy. I’ve lost so much, and we have no time left.
“We could never have been friends.”
I try to pull my foot back but he holds on to it.
“So that’s a sore point.” He squeezes the arch.
“I’ve always wanted to be friends with you. But you didn’t smile back. You’ve been one-up ever since.”
“I couldn’t. If I’d let myself smile back, and be friends with you, I probably would have fallen in love with you.”
It’s all the past tense of that statement that kills the leap of joy inside. Because he didn’t, and he isn’t. I try to brush over it.
“You said that to me after the elevator kiss. We’d never be friends.”
“I was angry at the time. I was delivering you to Danny, and you were looking hotter than hell.”
“Poor Danny. He’s so nice. You’ll have to apologize for how you hung up on him. He’s been nothing but nice to me and all I’ve done is give him two shitty dates and made him lose a Saturday.”
“He got to kiss you.” When he says that, Josh looks like he wants to destroy planets. “And he’s not doing the freelance work completely out of the goodness of his heart.”
“Under different circumstances he’d be a great boyfriend.”
Josh is making black scary serial killer eyes at me. “Different circumstances.”
“Well, I’m assuming you’re going to chain me in your basement and keep me as your sex slave.”
This conversation is like a tightrope. One misstep and he’ll know. He’ll know I’m in love, and then I’ll wobble and fall. No safety net.
“I don’t have a basement.”
“Too bad for me.”
“I’ll buy us a house with a basement.”
“Okay. Can I come with you when you house hunt?”
I smile despite the doomed sensation dripping into my blood. I love the energy we create between us when we banter like this. It’s the most intense sensation of pleasure, knowing he’ll always have the perfect response ready. I’ve never known anyone like him; as addictive to talk to as he is to kiss.
“Truth or Dare,” he says after a bit.
“It’s not my turn.”
“Yes, it really is.”
“Truth.” I have no choice. He’ll dare me to eat the mustard again.
“Do you trust me?”
“I don’t know. I want to. Truth or Dare?”
He blinks. “Truth. It’s all truth from this point forward.”
“Have you ever lived here with a girlfriend?”
“No. I’ve never lived with anyone. Why do you ask?”
“Your bedroom is girly.”
Josh smiles to himself. “You’re such a moron sometimes.”
“Thanks. Hey, should I go home? I don’t have anything to wear tomorrow.”
“Would you believe, I own my own washer and dryer.”
“How newfangled.” I go into his bedroom and kneel on the floor to unzip my bag. “I hope Helene doesn’t notice I’m in the same outfit.”
“I’d say the only person at B and G who notices that much about you will be the same one who laundered those walk-of-shame clothes.”
I sit up on my heels and look at his bedroom. He’s put the Smurf I gave him beside his bed. There’s also white roses, petals unfurled and loose. He didn’t have a vase, so he used a jar. I close my eyes. I can’t move for a bit.
I love him so much it’s like a thread piercing me. Punching holes. Dragging through. Stitching love into me. I’ll never be able to untangle myself from this feeling. The color of love is surely this robin’s-egg blue.
When his feet appear in the doorway I take my dirty clothes and hug them to my chest. “No looking at my underwear.”
“That would be rude,” he agrees. “I will close my eyes.”
I sit on his bed. I smooth my hands over the covers, twiddling the silky thread count. I push one fist into his pillow. He dreams. He lives. And he will do it all without me. He finds me sitting there with my head in my hands.
“Shortcake,” he says, and I know he is genuinely regretful.
It’s the strangest sensation. I need to confide in him. He’s the one person I should not trust, but I’m nearly bursting with the secret that I love him and it is hurting me.
“Talk to me. I want to know why you’re upset. Let me work this out.”
“I’m scared of you.” I’m scared of him finding out my biggest, newest secret.
He doesn’t look offended. “I’m scared of you too.”
When our mouths touch, it’s like it’s for the first time. Now that I have this pale blue love running through me, the intensity is too much. I try to pull back but he smoothly lays me back.
“Be brave,” he tells me. “Come on, Luce.”
My mouth is filled with my heart and his breath when we kiss again. I can feel myself trembling as he tastes my fear.
“Ah,” he says. “I think I’m beginning to see what the issue is.”
“No you don’t.” I twist my face away. The sun is setting outside on this confusing day, and the light filters through his filmy drapes, pearlescent and pretty. The entire moment is frozen, date stamped and slotted into my memory vault.
He kisses me like he knows me. Like he understands me. I raise my hand to push him away, and he links his fingers into mine. I bite him, and he smiles against my lips. I slide my knee up to get enough leverage to slide away, and he hooks a hand under my leg.
“You’re beautiful when you’re scared,” he tells me.
I can’t speak as he trails his mouth to my ear. He sighs. My world narrows down a little more. When he kisses my pulse, I know he is thinking about all of my tiny inner miracles and the first tear wells up in my eye. It slides down my cheek, down my neck.
“We’re getting somewhere now,” he tells me as he licks my tear.
I raise my hands into his hair, and press him to me as he presses soft kisses like stamps down my neck. Each pushes me deeper in love. When he smoothes his hand down my torso I wince.
“Let Doctor Josh take a look,” he says, pulling off my sweater and T-shirt in one motion.
He smoothes a steady hand down my throat, over my bra, between my breasts, to my belly. The light in here is brightly diffused, and he can see every vein and pastel paintball bruise as he looks down at me, eyelashes fanned so perfectly I feel the next tear coming.
I love him so much I can’t hold it in much longer. I’m vibrating from it. I’m showering sparks. He makes it even harder to hold on when he speaks, fingers stroking my marred skin.