I know the truth about him now, and it’s impossible to know how I’m supposed to navigate from here. Do I try to wipe my memory completely clean of last night? Do I pretend he was just being polite? Nothing more, nothing less? I don’t think it’s possible. I’d have to hit myself in the head with a rock or something.
Maybe instead, I could bring it up casually and laugh it off. Ha ha, I have a crippling fear that Andrew has broken me in a way that can’t be fixed. LOLOL, FUNNY RIGHT?!
Obviously neither of those choices will work.
I sigh, and then, like fools, we try to talk at the exact same time.
“About last night—”
“I was wondering—”
I laugh and he smiles, waving for me to go first.
“I was just going to say, thanks for last night. You didn’t need to be that nice. I think I remember 90% of what happened, but it’s that 10% that really scares me. I’m worried I might’ve flashed you, or joined a Mexican cartel or something.”
“You might’ve done both, but I hear those guys have a 24-hour try-it-before-you-buy-it policy.”
I drop my head into my hand and pinch my eyes closed. “It was pretty bad, huh?”
“Pretty bad? No. You were honest with me, and I’m glad. Also, yes, you flashed your underwear a few times, but I was raised a gentleman and I didn’t look.”
I glance up at him and arch a brow.
The right side of his mouth perks up just a little. “Well, when I could help it.”
“What is it with me?! First the swimming debacle and now this. I swear I’m not usually such a weirdo around my friends.”
I can feel heat spread across my neck. Funny how friends feels intimate after being enemies.
“I mean, we are, right? Friends?”
“I guess so.”
He doesn’t seem all that enthusiastic. GIVE HIM AN OUT BEFORE THINGS GET WEIRD.
“But don’t worry, I have a 24-hour try-it-before-you-buy-it policy too.”
“Nice.” He laughs.
“Because maybe you want friends who can hold their alcohol better than I can? Or better yet, friends who don’t get snot all over you? Or most of all, friends who don’t hysterically cry about their disastrous marriages?”
He smiles and shakes his head. “You don’t have to feel weird about last night. I don’t.”
“Even though you had to blow my nose?”
“What were you going to say earlier when I cut you off?” I ask.
He swallows and turns back to his half-eaten plate of pancakes. “Well, I was just wondering if maybe you’d woken up still upset about our fight? Remember, I told you I’d give you an out. You were drunk.”
“Not that drunk.”
He gives me a teasing smile. “Pretty drunk.”
After that, we go back to eating in content silence. I have to hurry and finish so I can clean up and get ready for yoga. People will be arriving soon, and I still need to change. I could really use a shower, but I’ll save that for after since I’m about to get sweaty anyway.
I finish my last bite then push to stand.
Jack catches my hand to stop me. “Meredith?”
His voice is barely louder than a whisper.
I swallow and stare down at my hand tucked in his. I bet he can feel my wild pulse—his thumb is pressed right over my artery. I stay focused there as he continues.
“Do you remember what we talked about last night? How you told me you don’t have anyone to care for you? To put your needs above theirs?”
My throat constricts. I was hoping that part of the conversation was an alcohol-induced delusion. If that was real, did I also tell him I think he’s handsome? Did I spell out the word h-o-t?!
“Um…” I stall, waiting to see if a meteor will strike and save me from having to admit I said something so sad and depressing. The earth keeps spinning, so I have no choice but to mumble, “Uh-huh.” I clear my throat and wear a mask of feigned coolness. “I mean, yes.”
He lets go of my hand and I step back.
His brows are furrowed, his voice steadfast and thoughtful when he says, “I know you haven’t known us long, but if you want, Edith and I could be your people—that is, if you decide not to join the cartel.”
My chest cracks right down the middle.
Emotion squeezes my throat and makes it impossible to speak.
He pushes away from the table and carries our plates to the sink. “Think about it.”
He doesn’t need to angle himself that way to wash a dish. He doesn’t need to keep his attention on the sink. He could have pressed me for an answer, but he didn’t. He’s letting me stand here with tears filling my eyes and overwhelming gratitude bubbling up inside of me, and he’s giving me privacy.
I’m pushing out the back door and stumbling out into the backyard before I can even process that I’m moving.
That…that is so not what I was expecting from him this morning.
A pat on the shoulder and a sad, pitying smile—maybe. A one-way ticket away from this ranch—much more likely. Instead, he just looked me in the eye and told me I’m his brand of crazy, that my flaws and failures don’t scare him, that he believes me about why I left my marriage.
I’m nearly back to the shack when I turn on my heel and run right back to the kitchen. He’s still there, washing dishes when I whip the door open and lean inside.
“Okay! But I want Alfred too!”
IN THE DAYS following the wedding, Jack and I solidify what can only be described as a friendship. We smile at each other a lot. We joke and tease and I picture him in his underwear. Friend stuff.
Edith and Jack don’t have an official adoption ceremony for me, but I’m theirs all the same. I have a standing invitation for dinner every night. Most of the time Jack grills chicken or steak and I whip up a side dish or two. Edith provides two things: sweet tea and local gossip.
If someone were going to make a movie about my life, this chunk of it would be contained in montage-style scenes backed by an upbeat song from a band with banjos. I’d be laughing and cleaning one second then running in gleeful slow motion through the lawn sprinkler with Alfred the next.
Everything is great.
There’s just one tiny, microscopic problem: I have developed what I can only describe as the world’s biggest crush on Jack.
To anyone watching the montage play out, it’s painfully obvious. There are quick cut scenes where I watch him and the second he turns my way, I jerk my gaze in another direction so fast my neck breaks. The montage then gets a quick dose of comedic relief as I visit a chiropractor to fix my new neck problem.
But it doesn’t end there. I spend extra time doing my hair and makeup in the mornings, as if he will notice that I look prettier than usual as I empty his trashcans. I make his favorite foods and bring him coffee in the afternoon just to have an excuse to see him. It’s pathetic. I’m pathetic. All the viewers shift uncomfortably in their seats.
In the early weeks of working at Blue Stone, I was so consumed with the turmoil surrounding us that my attraction for him wasn’t at the forefront of my mind. I was discovering the art of survival and learning how to share the shack with woodland critters. I was basically Harry Potter in a parallel universe where he never gets a Hogwarts letter, instead living in the spidery cupboard under the stairs all the way through his late twenties, cursing the mean Muggles he lives with. Now that things have settled down, however, it feels as if someone has tweaked the connection between us like a TV antennae. All the static and background noise are gone—he’s coming in loud and clear. That handsome face of his is showing in full HD glory, and there’s no going back now.
I like him. I really like him. However, I’m smart enough to sit on my crush, to push and shove and poke it so that maybe, just maybe it’ll go away. Why? Because nothing good will come from wanting my boss, the man currently providing me with a safe haven and who also sort of happens to be my only friend (besides you Alfred! You’ll always be my numero uno).
To his credit, he is nothing but respectful and kind. I never get the sense that he’s harboring feelings for me like I am for him—and believe me, I look for the signs. There are the obvious things men do when they’re interested in a woman: spending time with her, laughing at her jokes—but he has to spend time with me because I’m always around, and he’s probably laughing at me rather than with me. Beyond that, there are more subtle ways to tell if a guy is interested, like if he finds excuses to touch you (he doesn’t) or if you catch him checking you out (I don’t) or if he creates situations to get some alone time with you (I wouldn’t know—Edith is always around).