Not only was Isaac in a great mood, he wasn’t hard on the eyes. Tall and lean, with pale blue eyes and a mop of sandy blond hair, he was dressed in black slacks and a V-neck sweater. His entire persona came across as casual and boyish, making him seem less pretentious than most of the people around us.
“And what do you think of the art?” I asked, skipping right over the bait he offered for me to talk about myself. I was already strung too tight missing Blake. I couldn’t quite handle meaningless flirting at this point.
Isaac breathed out a whistle and stared at the piece in front of us. “I think I like it, which is good since we’ll be doing a write up on it.”
“Are you a writer?”
“Publisher. I own Perry Media Group.”
I recognized the name, which had somehow penetrated my tech bubble somewhere over the course of my time at school. The write-up he spoke of could belong to any number of quality international publications. I coughed a little on my last sip of wine and caught him smirk as he surveyed the room.
“Tell me more about what you do. I have to admit, I don’t know as much as I should about the social space these days, but it’s fascinating isn’t it?”
“It is,” I agreed. “There’s nothing quite like it. I’m sure publishing moves quickly, but technology sort of blows your hair back sometimes. It’s a challenge to stay current, but that’s what I really love about it.”
“You’re so young to be doing this.”
He was buttering me up, but coming off of my time with Sophia, I couldn’t argue with some praise and thoughtful appreciation.
“I guess so.”
“On top of being a woman, that seems rare.”
“That’s true. I guess I’m a bit of an endangered species in the high tech department.” I would have enjoyed having a peer group with a little more gender diversity, but I figured that would change eventually, all in good time.
“I’m on the flip side. In publishing, I’m surrounded by women. They’re just so damn good at it.”
He was officially enchanting, though I couldn’t imagine why on earth he would be seen air kissing people like the diabolical Sophia.
“You must be tapped into the fashion bloggers in the city then?” he said.
“Not really, no.”
“Oh wow, you should be. They’re like the grass roots effort that gets all of the cream rising to the top. If you can get into their good graces, you’ll be everywhere.”
“I’ll definitely look into it. Thanks for the tip,” I said, clinking our plastic glasses together, my jovial mood beginning to match his. I wasn’t sure if it was the wine or just his sheer force of positive energy, but I felt better than I had all day.
“What are you doing for dinner Saturday?” he asked. His voice was markedly lower.
I chilled at the suggestive tone. I didn’t want to be wanted, but he didn’t know that yet. “I’m sorry, I can’t—”
“Brunch on Sunday then. I’d love to learn more about your business. Maybe we can figure out a way to work together.”
I hesitated. The publisher of Perry Media Group wanted to discuss working together. I couldn’t turn that down, no matter how he was looking at me. Dinner meant too much, implied too much, but brunch I could do.
“That sounds doable,” I said.
We shared contact info, digitally penciling each other in.
Alli joined us shortly thereafter and excused us so we could meet Heath for dinner. We decided to walk, now that the sun had gone down, and Alli wasted no time grilling me for details.
“Who was he?”
“That was Isaac Perry.”
“Holy shit, good find, Erica. He couldn’t keep his eyes off you.”
“Whatever.” I shrugged. “I guess Sophia knows him too,” I added, hoping to prompt Alli. I was eager to know more about her even though she put me in a pretty foul mood.
We turned into our destination, an Asian fusion restaurant that emitted some fantastic smells as we passed through the doors. Alli spotted Heath and immediately changed. Her countenance, her body language, all her energies focused on him. I groaned quietly, knowing neither would notice.
We settled in and ordered.
“Alli says you know Sophia.” I said innocently, interrupting Alli and Heath’s canoodling.
“I do. We’re invested in her agency, actually.” Heath straightened himself as if he were all business now.
“Yes, Blake knows her too.”
I looked to Alli, who appeared conveniently distracted by something on the other end of the restaurant.
“Sounds like he more than knows her,” I muttered, sipping my water.
Heath looked to Alli, drumming his fingers on the table nervously. Like Blake, he was always cool and calm, with an added layer of carefree charm that set the two brothers apart. Why did talking about Sophia ruffle him? She must mean something to Blake. It was the only logical explanation, considering he probably already knew more about my relationship with Blake than I wanted him to.
“I think they dated on and off, when he was in town, you know. But they’ve been just friends for years.”
If I didn’t know better, I would have thought someone punched me in the gut. Jealousy pulsed through me as I absorbed his words. He emphasized years, but nothing he could say diluted the devastating fact that they had history.
The question was whether they had a present, or a future. I checked my phone. Still nothing. The rejection implied in his silence tore a hole in my heart, and tears threatened suddenly. Get it together, I told myself.
Heath’s phone went off and his eyes widened a bit, darting to me and back to the phone. “Excuse me, I’ve got to take this,” he said and left us alone at the table.
“Well this is awkward,” I said.
“I hate to be the one to tell you this, but you’ve done a complete one-eighty since moving here. First you move in with Heath and don’t bother telling me and now you’re introducing me to Blake’s ex-girlfriends without any warning? You could have given me a heads up, you know.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t realize it would come up. Like he said, they’re just friends.”
“That’s a shitty reason for not telling me, and you know it. I realize you’re serious about Heath, but what the hell, Alli? This isn’t you.”
“You know me. I’m the same person I was a few weeks ago. It’s just—things are more complicated than you realize.”