* * *

After numerous attempts, Blake finally lured me out of the apartment to come to work with him. I was trying to grasp onto the positive, but memories of what I’d been through would inevitably drag me back down. I didn’t want to leave the house. I didn’t want to come face-to-face with the world that had maimed me. Also, I couldn’t stomach anything remotely close to an office knowing that a few blocks away, Sophia and Isaac’s new business was carrying on without me day after day.

Sometimes I wondered if they knew about the shooting. Of course they would have heard about it. The question was—did they care? Did it matter at all that I’d almost died?

It’s just business, I muttered to myself in my best mocking Alex voice. I needed to move on and find hope with new things. Everything had changed, like it or not. I had to accept that.

My thoughts kept returning to Geoff’s project. Even as I mourned Clozpin, I found myself thinking through the logistics of his venture. I had too much free time not to. But I’d ignored Geoff’s last emails from before the shooting, and he hadn’t reached out to me since. I wasn’t sure he even wanted my help anymore. If he did, what could I offer? Money, but no guidance. Investment alone would be an empty kind of support. I didn’t want to just fund things. I wanted to be a part of them, but I didn’t know what I was really capable of after all this.

I could barely manage to get farther than the grocery store these days.

Instead of venturing out and trying to start over, I turned my attentions to the apartment. I cooked every night. I ordered decor online, determined to bring a piece of myself into the space that previously had been dominated by Blake’s simple minimalist world. Blake didn’t argue. He seemed content that I was getting up and around, even if I refused to leave the house for more than short trips. Even with Clay in toe, I felt uneasy.

I tried to start painting rooms, but Blake wouldn’t let me, afraid the physical effort would upset the healing I’d already done. But despite his fussing, I was better. I still felt the pain, but I was better. The garish red wounds had faded slightly. Not enough to blend in, but the doctor promised me in time that they would. My skin tone would be forgiving. I had to take solace in the small things. 

I tensed as we walked toward Blake’s office. His hand touched the small of my back, a reminder of his constant support. I slowed in front of the door, but Blake stopped short.

“I want to show you something first. Let’s go up.” He motioned toward the elevator.

“What’s up there?”

He grinned. “You’ll see.”

I followed him in and waited for our ascent to begin. As the elevator doors opened, he covered my eyes with his hands. “What are you doing to me?” I laughed, trying to hide my nervousness.

“It’s a surprise. We’ll be there in a few seconds. Walk with me.”

Carefully I followed his guiding motions until we slowed to a stop. I heard voices, and they seemed familiar. Blake moved his hands, and I winced at the sudden brightness. I faced a door much like the one leading into his office below. On the frosted glass read, E. Landon, Inc.

My heart beat heavily in my chest. “Blake…”

Through the clear glass of the lettering, I saw faces I knew. Opening the door, Alli greeted me from inside. She smiled broadly. “Surprise!”

I laughed, not entirely sure yet what the surprise consisted of. “What is all this?”

Work stations filled the long room. Sid and Cady were standing by one where they’d been talking, their focus on me now. Geoff stood up from one of the desks, his blue eyes bright with the excitement that everyone else seemed to share.

I felt like Dorothy, reunited with all of her best friends after an adventure of the most strange kind. But what the hell? I looked to Blake.

“Do you want to tell me what this is all about?”

Alli beat him to the punch “When you were on the mend, Sid and I got to talking. With the payout from the sale, we didn’t have to jump into anything else just yet. Then Blake introduced us to Geoff. He told us how interested you were in the project. And we decided to get together and see if we could help make it happen.”

My hands trembled as they reached my lips. The news was overload. “This is too much. I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to see you all here.”

Sid gave me a shy smile. “We feel the same way. We’ve missed you.”

I swallowed over the emotion tight in my throat. “I thought we’d lost everything. Honestly, after everything that’s happened lately, I started to realize this is what I missed the most. Working with everyone again. I never thought we’d get another chance.”

Alli’s lip trembled, threatening to set off tears of my own. She pulled me into a hug, full of meaning and understanding. I couldn’t have gotten through this without her. She pulled back and wiped a tear away with her hand. “Well, go look at your office. It’s so awesome.”

Blake caught my hand, excitement glimmering in his eyes.

I brightened with a smile. “Sure.”

He led me to the far end of the room and into an expansive private office. The door clicked behind us.

He’d spared no expense furnishing the space.  A large executive desk filled the room, along with a small couch and an enormous whiteboard. Small items that I’d stashed in a box back home decorated my desk the way they had at the old space.

“Thank you for all of this. Thank you for everything. This is truly amazing.”

“And private,” he murmured, curling an arm around my waist.

I closed my eyes, devastated by the smallest touch. Weeks had gone by, and I was ready to lose it. I turned to wrap my arms around his neck. I crashed into him, kissing him with fervent passion. He returned my eagerness, backing me up gently to the desk.

Grateful as I was for the space, the world had ceased to exist beyond the two of us in that moment. “I want you, Blake. God, I’m dying wanting you.”

“I know.” He kissed me, softer tender brushes of his lips over mine. “But let’s wait.”

I gasped. “Wait?”

“We’re getting married in a few days. An army couldn’t come between me and making love you to on our wedding night. We’ve waited this long. What’s a few more days?”

I sighed almost painfully, willing the surge of desire to ebb away. A few more days. An eternity when so much time had passed without intimacy. I closed my eyes, relenting. “Okay.”

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