I could do with a cold one.
“Are you hungry?” asked Max, who was standing behind us out in the hall. His arms were crossed over his chest, and something akin to jealousy had washed right over his face. His brows were knotted, his lips were a thin line. I’d never seen him so green with envy.
I mentally slapped my forehead. I was going to see if she wanted to eat anything, too. I swore I wasn’t here just to look pretty and ogle the poor woman. “I can throw a pizza in the oven for you, if you’d like.”
Alice threaded her fingers together and said, “No, that’s… You’re both already doing so much for me. I couldn’t ask you to cook, too.”
I waved my hand dismissively. “It’ll take twenty minutes and the oven’s doing all the work. Trust me, it’s no trouble at all. Why don’t you take a seat on the couch and watch some TV? Just relax, Alice. We’ve got you covered.”
Alice gave me a little smile that squeezed at my heart. I felt so terrible for her. To lose her home and everything she owned in just a couple of hours must have been absolutely gut-wrenching. And yet, here she was, still as pleasant as ever when she had all the right in the world to be upset.
Max sat down on the left end of the couch while I took up the other end, leaving Alice plenty of space in the middle. She sat with her knees tucked close to her chest, arms wrapped around her legs. There were dark circles under her half-hooded eyes, and her face was looking pale against the glow of the television screen. Max had flipped through a couple of random channels before stopping on a late-night run of Jeopardy. We were all pretty bushed, so I wasn’t about to complain about his choice in entertainment.
Up on screen, Alex Trebek read the first clue to the contestants, “The category is Quick Books for two hundred dollars. 1903: A dog runs with the wolves.”
Before any one of the contestants could even press their buzzer, Alice mumbled under her breath, “Call of the Wild.”
“What is Call of the Wild?”
“That is correct.”
I smirked at her. “Lucky guess.”
Alice grinned. “It wasn’t a guess. I’m just that good.”
I chuckled. “Someone’s confident. Bet you a pepperoni slice I can get the next one before you.”
She giggled. “You’re on.”
Back on screen, the contestant said, “I’d like Also a Baseball Word for two hundred, please.”
“A bargain so amazing it’s almost like you’re paying nothing.”
“A steal!” I exclaimed before Alice could even get her mouth open to answer.
“What is a steal?”
“Correct you are, sir.”
Alice nudged me in the arm with her elbow. “Not bad, not bad. Looks like I’m going to have to up my game.”
I shamelessly winked at her. “Double or nothing.”
“Whoa, slow down. Four whole pepperoni slices on the line? Should I be scared?”
Max chuckled. “Jeremy’s all talk. You’ve got this.”
I gasped in mock horror. “Dude, I thought you had my back?”
He took a casual sip of the beer he’d swiped from the fridge. “I never said that.”
“I’m going to give you all the skinny slices of pizza. Then we’ll see who’s laughing.”
“The category is Body Language. For four hundred dollars: You’ve got to hand it to this tropical tree.”
My mind drew a blank. I had no idea where to go with a clue like that. Alice looked a little stumped, too, but she quickly snapped her fingers and declared, “A palm.”
“What is a palm?”
“That is correct.”
Alice did an adorable little fist bump, smiling wider than I’d seen in literal hours. My heart skipped a beat when she let out a light and genuine giggle of joy. “You better step your game up,” she teased. “Or your pizza’s going to be really plain.”
Max laughed, tilting his head back slightly. It was a rare sight to find Max Cato in such a good mood, especially after a long day of work. “Oh, shit. She’s going to kick your ass.”
I cracked my knuckles. “Ooh, baby, you’re so on.”
I stared at my plain cheese pizza slices and then glanced over at the mountain of pepperoni stacked atop of Alice’s plate. I pouted, “Well, damn.”
Alice laughed, picking up a piece and placing it on the edge of my plate. “Here, have a sympathy point.”
“Oh, that’s mighty gracious of you, thank you.”
I honestly wasn’t as upset as I pretended to be. As it turned out, Alice was brilliant. Listening to hear answer clue after clue correctly had me totally amazed. It was surprisingly easy to get along with her. She laughed at all my jokes, and not in a fake way, either. Her shoulders shook when she giggled, a telltale sign she was being real with me. As the night went on, I found it easier and easier to open up to her, to talk to her like we’d known each other for years and not just a day.