I tried to keep busy, immersing myself in the last weeks of school, dancing late into the night for no audience, just an empty auditorium. I’d taken my last final yesterday and was feeling confident my junior year of college had been my most successful to date.
I’d spent the first part of the day picking up applications in hopes that I could land a summer job that would work with my summer class. However, plenty of schools had already let out for summer, and it seemed the majority of jobs, or at least the good ones that didn’t pay peanuts, had already been scooped up. I’d be lucky if I could swing a part-time gig waiting tables at a late-night café.
I’d take it. I wasn’t picky, especially these days. I’d take whatever employment I could find, especially with Jude being gone the entire summer. I needed something—in fact, many things—to keep my mind off missing him.
And if that meant pouring coffee and slapping hash browns down on diner tables until I was blue in the face, I’d do just that.
After gathering a couple dozen applications, I’d stopped by a few specialty markets in search of just the right ingredients for tonight’s dinner, because today was day number fourteen. Jude’s much anticipated homecoming. Cue the hallelujah choir, because I’d been jiving and waving my hands at the heavens all day long. Jude’s flight was coming in late, so it wasn’t exactly “dinner,” but I’d never known Jude Ryder to turn down a good meal no matter what time of day—or night—it was.
In the years since starting college, I’d learned to cook. Well, kind of learned to cook. Not out of curiosity, but out of necessity. Cafeteria food was the last resort, especially after dining on my dad’s culinary masterpieces for years. In fact, I was fairly certain the number one ingredient in cafeteria pasta was cardboard.
The other option was eating out every night, which, with an appetite like Jude’s around, was impossible on a college student’s nonwages. So I learned how to cook. Nothing fancy, but good, nutritious home cooking.
Tonight’s menu consisted of roast chicken, garlic mashed potatoes, and roasted green beans—a Jude Ryder favorite. Like the weekends during the school year and the last two summers, I’d moved into Jude’s and my apartment in White Plains. This year, though, I was planning on living in it during senior year and using public transportation to get to the city. I was done living in dorms. Done.
The apartment was a notch or two above being deemed condemnable, but God, I loved it. It was ours. Where we could be together. Where we’d formed more memories than most couples do in a lifetime. It was home, and I was happy to be here for another summer.
I would have been happier if Jude was here, too. But tonight I’d have him for almost twenty-four hours, because he had one rare day off of training and had to be back by Monday morning. So as soon as he walked through that door, I wasn’t going to fixate on the fact that he’d be leaving in less than twenty hours. I was going to live each moment like it was a year. I was going to make time my bitch, pay it back for what it had done to me the past two weeks.
I checked the time on the new iPhone Jude had sent me last week, the first of what he said would be many sweet gifts. After warning him he’d better not start treating me like some expensive mistress he had stuffed across the country, I’d thanked him profusely and given him a few dozen air kisses through my sweet new phone.
“Crap!” I shrieked when my hand accidentally grazed the casserole dish holding the green beans that had just been baking at three hundred and fifty degrees for more than an hour. I was about to run the burn under water when the time registered in my brain.
“Double crap!” Jude was going to be here any minute and I wasn’t ready. Tonight I wanted everything to be perfect. Normally I would have picked him up at the airport, but then I couldn’t have surprised him with what I’d been cooking up the past few days.
He’d sounded hurt when I’d first told him he’d have to catch a cab because I was planning something. But when I repeated I was planning something, with just the right amount of inflection, I could feel his classic smile coming through the phone.
Blanketing my hands with oven mitts, I rushed the beans to our dining table. It was nothing more than a six-foot-long plastic craft table surrounded by a menagerie of mismatched chairs, but when you covered it with a nice tablecloth, it classed it up a rung so we looked less like poor college students and more like fresh graduates with their first paying jobs.
Dropping the dish on the table, I heard footsteps striding up the stairwell. Thundering footsteps. The walls were that thin and Jude’s footsteps were that loud.
Loosening the knot of my bathrobe, I let it slide off my arms and chucked it onto the couch. After double-checking that the candles were lit, the table set, and the music playing at just the right volume in the background, I plopped down into my chair. The chair was chilly, running cool from my spine down to my backside. A metal folding chair probably wasn’t the best seating option for a girl who was naked.
Well, na**d except for the suede turquoise pumps that I’d chosen to match the tie I had loosely tied around my neck. A tie that had SAN DIEGO written above a yellow lightning bolt only a few dozen times.
Lounging back in the chair, I kicked my feet up on the table, crossing my ankles as I twirled the tie between my fingers. It was a very Pretty Woman moment. In fact, that movie, which had been replaying every night on TV, had been my inspiration.
The steps were getting louder, only a few strides from our door. I sucked in a breath, trying to calm myself, as I was now reaching heights of epic overanticipation. Other than the time we’d split back in high school, this was the longest we’d gone without seeing each other. It should have been considered a form of torture to be separated from a guy like Jude Ryder for two weeks.