I shrug. “Mental illness is a tricky thing.”
Her eyes squint doubtfully. “You’re not serious are you?”
Crap. No lying.
“Technically, she’s never been diagnosed. But her ideas about justice and revenge are certifiable. Imagine Delores…with a decade more experience to perfect her technique.”
Kate’s face goes slack with understanding. “Oh.”
Yep—welcome to my world, sweetheart.
“She brought me coffee,” Kate says. “Should I drink it?”
We both eye the Starbucks cup on her desk suspiciously.
When I was thirteen, I auctioned off a pair of Alexandra’s underwear in the boys’ locker room. Dirty ones. When she found out through the grapevine of older sisters, she played it cool—never let on that she knew. And then she spiked my Coco Pebbles with chocolate-flavored laxatives. I didn’t leave the bathroom for three days.
Now, I realize she’s not carrying that kind of grudge against Kate, but still…
She nods stiffly and slides the cup back away from her.
“What’d you think of Mackenzie? I really wanted to be here when you met her.”
Her smile is warm and genuine. “I think she’s amazing.”
“I’m sure you’ll be thrilled to hear she used your calculator on me when I ran into them downstairs.”
Her smile widens. “That’s nice.”
I shake my head, and Kate says, “I see now why Alexandra started the Bad Word Jar, since you seem to spend so much time with Mackenzie.”
“What do you mean?”
She shrugs. “She talks like you. It’s not every day you hear a four-year-old say Prince Charming is a douchebag who’s only holding Cinderella back.”
That’s my girl.
“Swearing is good for the soul.”
Kate stifles a laugh. And she looks so tempting I can’t help but lean over her chair, trapping her with my arms. Small talk is over. Time to get back to business.
“Come for a walk with me.”
My voice is low. Persuasive.
And utterly ineffective.
“Come on, Kate, it’ll just take a minute. I want to show you something.”
She snorts. “What’d you do? Hire Ringling Brothers to do a show in the lobby? Organize a ticker-tape parade in my honor?”
I laugh. “Don’t be ridiculous. I wouldn’t do that.”
Kate raises one skeptical brow.
“Okay, you’re right—I would so do that. But not today.”
She pushes me back and stands up. I let her.
“You’re not scared, are you?” I ask. “Afraid you won’t be able to control yourself if you’re alone with me?”
To people like Kate and me, a dare is kind of like a hooker at a sex addicts’ convention. There’s almost no chance they’re going to get turned down.
“If you mean am I afraid I’ll kill you if there aren’t any witnesses to testify against me, then the answer’s yes. Although I must admit, twenty-to-life is looking like a small price to pay at the moment.”
Do you think she enjoys the verbal foreplay as much as I do? She’s got to. She’s so good at it.
She circles around, putting her desk between us.
“Look, Drew, I have a new client. I told you that. You know how it is. I can’t afford these…distractions right now.”
I take that as a compliment. “I distract you?”
She huffs. “That’s not what I meant.” Then her face changes. And she’s imploring, “You have to stop this—” her hands wave in the air “—this mission you’re on. Just let it go. Please.”
When Steven was eleven, he ran into a tree during a game of touch football in his backyard—and busted his forehead open. For as long as I live, I’ll never forget the sound of him begging, pleading with his mother not to take him to the hospital. Because he knew he needed stitches. And stitches just—suck. At any age.
But Janey Reinhart didn’t give in. She brought him anyway. Because even though Steven was terrified—even though it wasn’t what he wanted—she knew it was what he needed.
You see where I’m going with this?
“The ball’s in your court, Kate. I told you that from the beginning. You want me gone, all you have to do is go out with me on Saturday.”
She bites her lip. And looks down at her desk.
Sure, I’d love to. With Kate.
Okay—not the time to joke.
“I’m sorry? Could you repeat that, please?”
Her eyes meet mine. They look hesitant but resigned. Like someone waiting in line for a rollercoaster. Determined to get on but not exactly sure what the hell they’ve gotten themselves into. “I said yes. I’ll have dinner with you on Saturday.”
It’s official. Brace yourselves. Hell has actually frozen the fuck over.
“After talking with your sister, I realized a few things…”
You love me? You need me? You can’t live without me?
“…I think you need closure, Drew.”
Oh no. Not closure. Anything but fucking closure.
Closure is a made-up word that women invented so they can overanalyze something and talk about it—to death. And then, after it’s been blessed and buried, closure gives them the excuse to dig the poor fucker up and talk about it—some more.
Guys don’t do that. Ever.
It’s over. Fade to black. The end.
That’s all the goddamn closure we need.
She walks toward me. “I think things with us started and stopped so fast, you didn’t have time to acclimate yourself. Maybe if we spend some time…if we talk away from the office…you’ll understand that after everything that’s happened, the best we can hope to be is friends.”
I’m pretty sure she means without benefits. And that just doesn’t work for me.
A guy can’t be friends with a woman he’s actively attracted to. Not really. Because at some point his dick will take over. It’ll walk like him and talk like him, but—like one of the poor schmucks infected by those freaky face-sucking things in Alien—it won’t be him. And from that point on, every move, every gesture will be geared toward accomplishing the dick’s goal. Which sure as shit won’t have anything to do with friendship.
Besides, I have friends—Matthew, Steven, Jack. I don’t want to fuck any of them.
She doesn’t notice my disgust with the idea. Or she just doesn’t give a damn.
“Yes. We should get reacquainted as coworkers. Equals. Not a date. Kind of more like a business meeting between colleagues.”
Denial is a powerful thing. But at this point I’ll take what I can get. “So, what you’re telling me is you’ll go out with me on Saturday? That’s the bottom line, right?”
She hesitates. And then nods. “Yes.”
“Perfect. Don’t say anything else. I’ll pick you up at seven.”
“No. I’ll meet you.”
I speak slowly, “Now, Kate, I know you haven’t been on many dates, considering the moron you called a boyfriend had you engaged before you were out of a training bra. But in cases like this, the guy—that’s me—is supposed to pick you—the girl—up. It’s an unwritten law.”
See how her lips press together? How her shoulders square off? Oh yeah, she’s ready to rumble.
“I just told you this isn’t a date.”
I shrug. “Semantics.”
“Let’s say hypothetically it is a date. It would be a first date. And I would never have a man that I didn’t know come to my apartment to pick me up for a first date.”
I push a hand through my hair. “That doesn’t make any sense. You know me. We did sixty-nine. I’d say you know me pretty damn well.”
“Look, these are my terms. If you can’t live with them, we can just forget the whole—”
“Wait, wait. Let’s not be hasty. I give. You can meet me at my apartment. At seven. Sharp.”
“But I have some terms of my own.”
She jumps down my throat. “I’m not having sex with you!”
I force myself to look surprised. “I’m wounded. Really. Who said anything about sex? I would never require sex as part of our agreement.”
And then I smile.
“It’s optional. Clothing too.”
She rolls her eyes. “Is that it?”
“What else do you want?”
Oh, baby. If she only knew. Though it’s probably better that she doesn’t. Don’t want to scare her away.
“I want four hours. At least. Uninterrupted. I want conversation, dinner—appetizers, entrée, dessert—wine, dancing…”
She holds up her hand. “No dancing.”
“One dance. That’s non-negotiable.”
She looks at the ceiling, weighing her options. “Fine. One dance.” She points her finger at me. “But if your hands go anywhere near my ass, I’m out of there.”
Now it’s my turn to think it over. “Well…okay. But if you renege on any of my stipulations, I reserve the right to call do-over.”
She waits a moment. Her eyes narrow distrustfully. “And you’ll leave me alone—completely—until Saturday? No priests popping in to say hello? No ice sculptures melting outside my door?”
I smirk. “It’ll be like we never met. Like I don’t even work here.”
Chances are I won’t be here. I’m going to be a very busy boy.
Kate nods. “Okay.”
I hold out my hand. She shakes it and says, “It’s a deal.”
I turn her hand over gently and kiss the back—like I did the first night we met. “It’s a date.”
Have you ever walked into a room to get something, but once you’re there, you have no idea what you came for? Good. Then you’ll understand why I turn and start to walk out of the room.
Until Kate’s voice stops me. “Drew?”
I look back at her. “Yeah?”
Her face is downcast. “I don’t…I don’t enjoy hurting people. So…don’t get your hopes up about Saturday.”
Before I can open my mouth, movement out the window catches my eye. And I can’t believe I almost forgot. Wordlessly, I walk forward and take Kate’s hand. I bring her to the window and stand behind her, resting my hands on her shoulders.
I bring my mouth to her ear. My breath gives her goose bumps. The good kind.
I wanted it to be simple. Something I would have carved on a tree or spray-painted on a wall if we were kids. But I needed it to be clear. A proclamation. Telling Kate and every other woman out there that I, Drew Evans, am off the field.
Kate gasps when she sees it.
Up there in the sky, in huge white letters, for the whole city to see:
Always go out on top. Have I told you this yet?
No? Well I’m telling you now.
I don’t care if you’re a businessman, a singer, or a top-rated television show—leave them wanting more. Never overplay your hand. You can always go back later for an encore, but once they’re sick of you, there’s no taking it back.
I kiss the top of her head. “I’ll see you Saturday, Kate.”
And she’s still staring out the window as I walk out.
Don’t worry—the show’s not over yet. I still have a few tricks up my sleeve, and I always save the best for last. You’re really not going to want to miss this.