“What’s this about? Am I being audited or something?”
Am I dressed like a tax collector? I look down at the simple black dress I chose to wear, my sensible heals. My hair is in a bun and I wore my glasses instead of contacts. I guess I do look a bit square today. Probably should’ve worn something that showed more skin if I was planning on asking a stranger to have sex with me. I was too nervous to think about that at the time.
“It’s nothing like that,” I say. “I just need to talk to you for a minute. It won’t take long.”
He rolls his eyes and says, “Follow me.”
God, this guy is definitely single. What a jerk.
He leads me to the back of the shop and out the door into an alley. I wouldn’t be surprised if he shuts the door and locks me out. He doesn’t do that, though. Instead he comes out with me and sits in one of the three chairs surrounding a coffee-can being used as an ash tray overflowing with cigarette butts.
There’s graffiti on the walls. Not like gang tags, but a stunning mural of the cityscape, probably painted by one or more of the artists working at the shop.
He looks at me as though he’d rather be anywhere else right now and sighs. “So, what do you want?”
I’m tempted to walk away. If Kia saw the way this guy was treating me, she would understand.
I take a deep breath. I can’t fail on the first envelope. I have to at least try.
“My best friend died recently.” The words still feel unreal when I say them out loud. They feel unreal even thinking them.
Max’s posture straightens and the smug look on his face slips away into something almost friendly.
I continue. “She has this bucket list that she wanted me to finish for her.” I hesitate. It feels wrong to out her secret but it’s too late now. I can’t bring myself to say the words, so I hand him the envelope.
He reads it, eyebrows shooting up. He flips the note over and reads the back, then bursts out in laughter.
“Is this for real?” he asks.
“Yep. There’s a whole box full of these envelopes and I have to complete one task in order to move on to the next. This is the first.”
The smooth skin of his neck starts to look blotchy. Is he blushing? It’s hard to tell with all the tattoos. He stares down at the note, avoiding eye contact. Whatever self-assurance he seemed to have an abundance of is no longer there, replaced by something reminiscent of shyness.
“Maybe this isn’t even about me,” he says. “There are other artists working here.”
But he’s the only one with a window seat, and the only one I remember fawning over in the bar that night.
“Trust me, it’s you,” I say.
That shy smile is back and he laughs again, a wonderfully deep sound.
“Look,” I say, “I understand if you don’t want—”
“I’ll do it,” he says.
My stomach drops as though I’m freefalling from the tallest roller coaster in the world. From the way he treated me when I first walked into his shop, I thought for sure he wouldn’t be interested.
“You will?” I ask, skeptical.
He shrugs and that cocky smile returns. “Sure. Why not?”
He looks at his watch. “I have some time right now between clients.”
My stomach continues to plummet, twisting and turning in a downward spiral. “Wait, right now?”
I’m not ready. I mean, I haven’t …
Actually, I can’t think of a reason why not right now. I’ve showered and all the necessary parts are landscaped. I have condoms in my purse that aren’t too terribly old. I can’t think of a single reason why not—unless he means to do it right here in this alley, which would only happen if it were on Kia’s bucket list, which, thankfully, it’s not.
“Your place or mine?” he asks.
“Um, where do you live?” I ask.
He points up above the shop.
Shit. That doesn’t even give me the drive-time to pull myself together and come to grips with the fact that this is definitely happening right now. But my place is a mess and it’s all the way across town.
“Yours, I guess,” I say.
He leads the way as we head upstairs and come to a barn-looking door on a track. He slides it open. It’s a huge space taking up the entire second story of the building. For the most part, it’s how I expected it to look. An open floor plan so you can see the living room and kitchen. There are other rustic-looking barn doors which I’m guessing are the bedrooms. What a cool place. It’s full of art and sculptures, mismatched furniture, quirky décor, guitars, painted skateboard decks, and a TV as big as the wall with every video game console you can imagine. A total bachelor pad, though it’s cleaner than I imagined it would be. He’s very tidy. From what I can tell by one of the partially opened doors, his bed is even made.