My phone dinged with a text from Alli.
A: Can you talk?
I waited a few minutes before responding, not wanting to seem like I really had time.
E: Tied up at work. Will call later.
A: I’ve heard that before. You’re a broken record.
I set the phone down, noting the time. She was on her lunch break with limited time. If I could get through the next half hour, I’d be in the clear until she got off work, which was always late. I jumped when the phone rang. She was calling me. I turned off the volume and let it go to voicemail. I couldn’t talk to her right now. I had no idea what Heath had told her or what I would say. I’d rather say nothing than lie to my best friend.
A: If you don’t call me soon, I’m going to hunt you down. You realize that, right?
I smiled. Alli and her empty threats. I opened my photo app and flipped through the last photos I’d taken. I’d snapped a series of selfies with Blake in the limo on the way to the gala. He looked dashing in his tux and was making funny faces in half of them, pretending to be attacking me in the background.
I laughed and my heart twisted. I rubbed at the ache in my chest. My heart, that empty place, had started pulsing back to life again. Since I left the apartment yesterday, I’d remembered what being happy with him felt like, as happy as I’d been in the photos. The last time I felt anything close to that was at the beach with James, but the moment had been short-lived. By some miracle, he’d had me laughing and forgetting my reality. I had to give him credit for that.
I put the phone down. I needed to stop torturing myself. I’d come a long way to keep Blake safely out of my life. Further than I ever thought I’d come. Now I was on a high-speed train moving backwards, letting the addictive, potent moments I’d shared with Blake take hold again.
I checked the clock. Time to make my daily attempt at a meal. What I really wanted was an adult beverage, but that would have to wait. I moseyed down to Mocha and looked over a menu at a table in the corner.
Simone slid into the chair opposite me.
“Hey,” I said.
“Oh, you know. Same old stuff. Work is busy.”
“Yeah? How’s investor guy?” She pursed her lips and propped her chin up on her hand. She looked like she was in the mood to gossip. This worried me, because I wasn’t.
“And how’s James? Still in love with you, I imagine.”
“I’m not sure that’s what I’d call it.”
“In lust?” Her eyebrows shot up, as if that wasn’t entirely a bad thing either.
“No, it’s not like that. He’s a good guy. I don’t know. There’s definitely an attraction there.”
“Are you thinking about ditching investor guy for him?”
I shook my head. “I’m not with Blake anymore, but no, I’m not ready to be with anyone else. I like being friends with James, but I also feel like I’m not being fair to him because I know he wants more. Does that make me a bitch?”
She shrugged. “He’s a big boy. If you consider him a friend, I’m pretty sure he picked up on the fact that you’re probably not ready for another relationship. If he wants to push the issue and risk being rejected, that’s on him.”
I sighed. “Maybe you’re right. I just don’t want this to blow up in my face one day.”
“There’s always that chance when you let relationships blossom at work.”
“I know. I get it, but I feel like it’s too late for that now, you know? I can’t just tell him that we can’t be friends anymore without causing a lot of tension.”
“Sounds like you’ve already got enough tension.”
I groaned. “I know. Jesus, what a mess.”
“Well don’t break his heart too badly because when you drop him, I’m coming in with a vengeance.”
I laughed. “Why wait? Do me a favor and deflect some of this off of me.”
“Believe it or not, Erica, I consider you a friend, and I’m not about to voluntarily engage in a love triangle with you.”
“That should be easy because I’m not in love with James. I don’t expect I ever will be.”
“What if he loves you though?”
I shook my head. “That’s impossible.” We’d only known each other a few weeks. Plus, he worked for me. Then again, Blake and I had known each other only a few weeks before I was already head over heels for him. But James and I weren’t sleeping together. Nothing was nearly as intense as my relationship with Blake in the beginning. I’d fought so hard to stay away, only to find myself back in his arms, happier than I’d ever been. Our happiness had been too brief.
“What are you thinking about?”
I frowned. “Why?”
“Because you just got all dreamy. I have to know, who were you thinking about just then?”
“I was thinking about Blake actually.”
She smiled. “Well, there you go.”
I stared back at Simone. She was like a wise Sufi in her own right.
I rubbed out my frown. “I wish it were that simple. I really do.”
“Well, don’t fret, okay? You’ll figure things out. I don’t know what to tell you about Blake, but when it comes to James, be honest with him. That’s all you can really do.”
“I know. You’re right.”
“Let me get you something to eat before you waste away on me.”
“Sure.” I grabbed a menu and hoped something would catch my eye.
James popped in at the end of the day, his smile a welcome sight.
“Hey, I’m hitting the gym after work tomorrow. Do you want to come with me?”
I laughed a little. “Are you trying to tell me something?”
His eyes got wide for a second. “Definitely not. You have an amazing body. But I thought you might want to blow off some steam. That usually helps me when I’m stressed out.”
My face heated at the compliment. He needed to stop saying things like that. I should have told him, but I didn’t.
“Are you stressed out?”
“I don’t know. Maybe.” He shifted his weight a little, as if the question made him uncomfortable.
I tried to ignore the little voice saying that was probably my fault.
“What do you say?” He abruptly interrupted my little voice.
“You’re determined to cure me of my malaise, aren't you?”