“Yes, she went to lunch with Johnny,” she tells me before taking a big chug of water.

My fists clench at my sides. Charlie doesn’t notice, because she continues, “I really think her new look has helped her confidence. She has been absolutely glowing here lately. I talked to one of Brody’s friends and I think he will be perfect for her. A double date is just the ticket.”

Still clueless, she throws her cup in the trash and keeps walking, never noticing that my face is, I’m sure, white as a ghost.

When I hear Carrie come in from lunch, I busy myself on the computer.

She lays a brown bag on my desk and the smell of hamburger fills my nostrils. My stomach growls, because I haven’t eaten anything today.

“Thank you,” I say and then, because I can’t stop myself, I add, “How was your lunch?”

“It was good. I was going to tell you where I was going but you were on the phone when I left,” she explains.

I raise my hand to stop her. “You don’t owe me an explanation. I don’t need to know where you’ve been. Thanks for the lunch but I have to get back to work.”

I see the hurt on her face and I almost take the words back. What I really wanted to tell her was she’s not permitted to date anyone else or go out to lunch with someone else, but I don’t.

When she walks out of my office, I slump over my desk. What am I doing? I ask myself. I want her. I’m pretty sure she wants me. So why am I pushing her away? But instantly I think about how young and inexperienced she is. She just found her confidence. I can’t strap her down to me knowing that I don’t plan on letting her go. It’s better for her to get experience, no matter how badly it hurts.

I avoid her the next two weeks. I see her every day, and I treat her just like I did before we went out on our date. I can see the tiredness in her eyes and I have to wonder if she’s sleeping okay. I know I’m not. But of course, it could be because she’s dating Charlie’s friend now and is getting home late.

The thought of her with someone else almost has me doubled over in pain. So many times, I almost pull her to me and ravage her lips… but I don’t.

On Friday the following week, I walk out of my office and her chair is empty. It looks like she has already left for the day. I look at my watch and realize it’s after five. But still, she usually tells me bye before she leaves.

Johnny is walking from the back and notices me standing there, staring at her chair. “She already left. Charlie said she had a date tonight.”

My fists clench and I stride back into my office and slam the door.

Seconds go by and Johnny follows me in. “Look, I don’t know what’s happened between the two of you but you better grow some balls or you are going lose her forever.”

Enraged, I’m standing chest to chest to him and I’m not backing down. But neither is he. “Mike, you have both been miserable these past two weeks. Don’t you see what you are doing to her?”

I throw my hands up. “What do you care? I thought you wanted her anyway.”

“We are friends. That’s it. She thinks you didn’t want anyone to know you were dating. And no, she didn’t tell me. I saw you together one night at the pub across the street. And she never told Charlie about you and her, so she has pretty much forced her into going on this date tonight.”

My hands clench and unclench at my sides as I try to wrap my head around it all. Could I still have a chance with her – or did I totally fuck this up?

“Where did she go?” I ask him as I grab my keys.

“I don’t know, but he picked her up here and I would guess her car is still outside. She’ll be back.”

I sit down at my desk and put my head in my hands. Oh Carrie, what have I done?

When Johnny starts to walk out, I call out to him, “Thanks, brother.”

He just smiles back at me. “No problem. But try not to fuck this up.”

I sit here for what seems like hours, watching the security camera, not taking my eyes off her car. When I see a car pull in next to hers, I jump out of my seat, stride out the side of the office, and stand in the shadows.

Carrie

Well, that was a mess. I knew before I even met him that this wouldn’t go well. He took me to a pizza place down the road. The food was good, but the whole time all I thought about was Mike. Which wasn’t fair to my date, Brent.

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