He stood there in his doorway, looking handsome as hell, that heat coming off his skin that I seemed to feel and respond to even two feet away.
“Yes, absolutely. Where would you like to go?”
This was going to be fun.
I did not expect to see her at my door. I figured I’d spend the evening calling my brother, doing some work, answering emails. Maybe crack open the airplane bottle of vodka in my suitcase and watch some ESPN. So a beautiful redhead offering to go out for a drink was an upgrade over what I had planned.
I was startled, thrilled, a little confused. I wanted to go right that second before she changed her mind, but I was barefoot.
“Come on in. I have to get ready,” I said.
She stepped into the room and a hundred things flashed through my head. All of them X-rated. I wanted her in that room. But I didn’t want to spend my time looking for my socks and shoes.
“Make yourself at home,” I said tightly, trying to ignore my body’s response to her. Instead of a commonplace ‘wait a second while I get my shoes on’ interaction, this felt fraught with sexual tension.
My pulse seemed to beat in my neck, my fingertips. I hastily shoveled through my once-organized bag to find clean socks.
“I am at home here, always have been. I’m the one who put the sheets on that bed before you arrived because the housekeeper was running late. I used to play in the empty rooms. Especially the bathrooms. Every tub in this place hosted a Barbie pool party at one time or another,” she said lightly.
I smiled at that. She was so at ease with herself here, not in the room of a strange man, but in a room of her second home where she’d grown up. She lounged on a club chair, its country-looking floral pattern suddenly old-fashioned and pretty framing her hair and complexion. I got myself together and opened the door for her to precede me.
“Lead the way.”
We had said very little, but the sparks between us, the smiles that seemed private—it was its own conversation. My hand brushing the small of her back as we went out to the car.
“We can walk,” she said, so I pocketed my keys. We walked the few blocks to Cecil’s. I wanted to reach for her hand, but it seemed too loaded with meaning or something. Like it would be me claiming her. Everything felt like I was ready to claim her. Every action had weight; every look was so full of intensity. We said a few words. I mentioned how pretty the town was, how kind everyone had been.
“That must make your job harder,” she said.
“Yes, it does. But I’m surprised you said so. Considering why I’m here.”
“I don’t have to like your job to realize it’s not an easy thing. This is hard for all of us,” she said. It struck me as such a fair thing to say, so generous under the circumstances.
“I’m going to assume since you’re so understanding that you’re not going to get me drunk and threaten to post videos of me acting like an idiot, so I’ll keep the factory open,” I said. As soon as I said it, I felt crappy about it. It was an obnoxious thing to say especially after she’d been so mature.
“We’ll see. It’s an idea,” she said playfully.
We sat down at a table and ordered our drinks. She insisted I try the queso there, which really was delicious.
“I haven’t had chips and dip in I don’t know how long,” I mused.
“That’s a good question. I don’t know. I guess I just never think to buy them for myself.”
“Hmmm. They’re like the first thing on my list,” she said.
“Ahhh so you should add chip connoisseur to your titles along with desk clerk and teacher,” I teased.
“I’m not a teacher. I mean I have the credentials for early childhood ed, but I’m the director of the facility. It’s more the business side than the teaching side. I like it, running my own business, making all the decisions, knowing I can make it come out right. I mean, my parents own their own business so there’s some control thing there for me, and I like being my own boss.”
“I understand. I want that someday myself. I’m good at what I do, or at what I did before I was reassigned. I was a project manager. I could turn an idea into something practical and profitable, and bigger than they ever imagined. That’s what I like to do,” I said almost wistfully.
“So tearing businesses apart and shutting them down isn’t your idea of a good time?” she asked sarcastically.
“No, it’s not. I see that it’s necessary sometimes, but it’s not my dream job.”
“So you didn’t sit on the plane sharpening your claws for the kill or anything?” she joked.