“What were you doing before I came over?” I asked, as I finished the dish and turned down the heat on the stove. “Doing curls or crunches or studying for your first bio exam next fall, right? Wait, you were making a spreadsheet of celebrity sightings and likelihood of whereabouts.”
She smiled brightly at me. “You think I’m hyper prepared?” she asked, but she wasn’t bothered that I’d figured out that she was.
“Well, you do have flash cards, don’t you?”
“That reminds me—I need to add publicists’ faces to my cards.”
“Oh, well, don’t let me keep you,” I said as I began plating the food.
“It’s okay. I can do it when you leave,” she said with a sexy little wink, as if it was some naughty secret that she was a workaholic.
“What if I keep you busy all night, though?” I asked as I ran a hand along the waistband of her skirt on my way to the table.
“You’ve got a lot of stamina, then,” she replied.
“I do, Jess. I absolutely do.”
“Maybe I’ll find out how much someday,” she said, lowering her voice to a flirty whisper, the words heating me up.
“Maybe you will. For now, this is your one and only chance to eat this fantastic dinner because after that I’m going to have a hard time keeping my hands off of you.”
She opened her fridge, waggled a beer bottle at me in offering, raising her eyebrows to ask if I wanted it.
Then she took one for herself, which surprised me, but made me happy, too, because it meant she wasn’t depriving herself of something worth having due to calories. Even though she only drank one-quarter of it while we ate dinner.
* * *
The pans were washed, the dishes were dried, and the meal was officially delicious. The conversation was great, too. William and I had talked the whole time at dinner—I told him more about my favorite movies and how I got into photography, and I even told him about the pictures I still felt guilty about. The ones I took of Nick Ballast.
He shook his head. “Don’t feel guilty, Jess. It shows you’re a good person that you feel that way, but truly, everyone is responsible for what they do and their own choices. Just like you. You’ve taken control of things, and you live your life the way you want now, and Nick is doing the same.”
“Thank you for saying that,” I said, and hearing that from him made another small layer of guilt shear off.
Then it was his turn to share, and he told me about the summer he spent in Italy learning the language, and about how frustrated he felt at times for not having a job yet.
“It’s like I keep trying with James, and in all these other places, too, and it’s not happening yet. It makes me feel like I’m not good enough,” he admitted in a quiet voice as we put the final dishes away.
William was usually so confident, so sure of himself. But the frustration in his tone was tangible and I would have felt it, too, in his situation.
“You are good enough,” I said firmly. “You just haven’t met the right job yet.”
That made him laugh. “Like when you say to your unmarried spinster aunt, you haven’t met the right guy yet?”
“Exactly. But I believe it. There’s a job for you. You just have to keep looking. And besides, it seems like you’re good at everything. Let me get this straight. You speak twenty languages, ride a bike, have a six-pack, a hot accent, and you can cook?” I arched an eyebrow.
“Oh please. You’re embarrassing me,” he said, holding up his hands in mock humility, as we settled down on the couch. He lowered his voice to a stage whisper. “I only speak five languages.”
“Somewhere, there are a bunch of guys who got the short end of the stick. They’re sitting around at some sorry dudes meeting, moping about how there was a completely uneven distribution of assets when you were born,” I said, and William simply smiled at the compliment.
“See? That’s another thing. Great smile. It’s like you took everything and left the rest of the guys with nothing,” I said as I reached for the dessert bowl on the table that was filled with blueberries. I popped one into my mouth.
“My, my. Haven’t you taken a one-eighty,” he said, scooping a handful of blueberries for himself.
“Or maybe I’m just being nice to you because you’re following those guys for me,” I said, returning to our familiar way of teasing. In a flash, he dropped the blueberries from his hand into the bowl, grabbed my wrists, and pinned me. Flat on my back on the couch, my breath came fast as he hovered over me.
“Take it back,” he said, his dark gray eyes locked on mine. “Take it back or I’ll have no choice but to show you why you like having me around,” he said darkly, pressing his groin against me in demonstration.