I reached for her arm, clasping my hand around her wrist. She flinched, but turned back to me.
“I can’t tell you everything,” I said. “But I can tell you everything I know to be true. James’s firm was hired by a publicity shop. They rep a bunch of actors, talent, writers, whatnot. They wanted to know how the paparazzi were getting so many shots of their clients. That’s the assignment I was on.”
“How?” she asked with a scoff. “Because that’s what paparazzi do.”
“They wanted details. Specific details. How the tips work, how a stakeout works. To better help clients who are always getting captured on camera when they don’t want to be.”
“And they assigned you to follow me? Why me? And don’t say it’s because I’m the best, because I’m not.”
“They didn’t assign me to follow anyone in particular. They just want general intel to share with their client. James won’t even tell me who the client is who wants the info. I swear I have no idea. I went to J.P. and I pretended I was a photog so I could get a sense of how it worked, what he heard, how the assignments came in, how a stakeout went. I’m just supposed to get intel for James to share with his client.”
“And what have you learned, private dick?”
I spoke softly. “That when you’re pissed —”
She cut me off again. “Don’t. Don’t make one of those cutesy little comments that guys make in the movies. Like when you’re pissed, you have this vein in your forehead that pops out, and it looks so adorable,” she said in a sing-song voice.
“Do people think veins in foreheads are adorable? Maybe it’s an American thing, but that’s not really what does it for me when it comes to a hot girl like you.”
“I’m not even going to ask what does it for you when it comes to a hot girl because that is so not the conversation we’re having right now.”
“Can I tell you what I’ve learned, Jess? Since you asked.”
“That when you’re pissed, I don’t like it. And I don’t want you to be pissed. Because I like you. I like spending time with you. Because I’m completely attracted to you, I love kissing you, I want to go out with you—that is all real.”
She rolled her eyes. It was a champion-level eye roll. “How does that have to do with anything? You wanted intel. You used me. You kissed me and used me and followed me. Whatever happened between us is over.”
I couldn’t let that happen. I had to lay it out for her as best I could, regardless of whether asking her to be my date this weekend was even still a remote possibility. The truth mattered more than the job James had for me. The truth mattered because I wasn’t the kind of guy who lied to a girl about liking her. I liked Jess, and if the State Department booted me out of this country in two months or not, I wanted her to know the truth.
“The kisses weren’t lies,” I said, and nearly reached for her hand, wanting to reassure her through touch. But words would have to suffice, since her arms were crossed over her chest. “The conversations weren’t lies. I love talking to you and hanging out with you and taking you to the movies. And for the first two days, I didn’t follow you. We were on the same shoots, and yes, I was trying to learn what I needed for James simply by taking the pictures, too. But you were so good at the job, and so good at getting pictures, and I’m dying to stay in America. I love it here. You’re lucky enough to be from here and to get to stay,” I said, my voice now a desperate plea for her to understand me. I didn’t know that she, or anyone, frankly, would, but I needed to try. “I want to stay in the same way that you want to go to medical school. It’s my future, it’s my dream. My student visa ends soon and I’ve been looking for work everywhere and I keep hoping I’ll get this job or that job, but I’ve been getting turned down for everything, which sucks royally. Here was this chance with James and I’m trying desperately to keep up, so I followed you here to see what you were up to next,” I said, and it pained me to admit it, but the truth was all I had to stand on. “I’m sorry. I’m really sorry.”
“You should be sorry. That’s crappy,” she said, her features tight and angry. “Following people is shitty.”
“But don’t you kind of follow people for your job, too?”
“Are you calling me out on being the pot calling the kettle black?”