“People make mistakes all the time,” I gritted out.
“Yes. Your husband-to-be seems to be living proof of that. And now he is faithful, I’m guessing?”
“More than your wife ever will be.” Chase shrugged.
“Watch it.” Julian lifted a warning finger.
“Seen enough.” Chase sucked his teeth, a taunting grin playing on his face. “And cut the brotherly bullshit. Our relationship died the day Dad announced me as the future CEO. Just remember, Julian, in war, there are winners and losers. Historically speaking, the winners don’t take mercy on those who tried to dethrone them.”
My eyes ping-ponged between the two men. I was trapped in the unfurling of a family calamity. Finally, I stepped between them, a referee of sorts.
“Okay, that’s enough. Chase, give him the quarterly . . . growth . . . whatever.” I gestured impatiently with my hand to the folder on his desk. Chase took the paper he’d been reading earlier and held it out to Julian. “Julian, please give us some privacy, and do knock next time. Thank you.”
I physically closed the door behind Julian to speed up the process. Being around them together was exhausting. I turned to Chase. “About what we discussed. To continue this until . . .”
Your father dies. I couldn’t complete the sentence. We both looked away. I thought about Mom. Specifically, about one of her letters, where she said there was beauty in everything. Even in losing someone. I’d been so mad when I’d read it that I’d taken a lighter to it and started burning it before chickening out. To this day, it was the only letter in less than pristine condition. It was blackened around the edges, marshmallow-like. “I’m sorry, Chase, but I can’t do this. I would if I could, but I don’t want to get hurt. And this”—I motioned between us—“it’s already killing me, and it’s not even real.”
I shook my head, escaping his office before he had the chance to convince me otherwise. To lure me into his devil’s den, which was full of dark, gorgeous things I wanted to explore.
I tripped back to the elevators, my feet moving on their own accord. I glanced at Chase’s office, ignoring the blur of faces staring at me curiously from all corners of the room. The blinds were still drawn.
When I got back to the studio, an email from Nina awaited me. It was sent to my Gmail, as opposed to my company email, where it could be seen by HR in one of their random checks.
You’ve received flowers from some loser who thanked you for sending her a wedding dress after an article about her making herself a wedding dress out of toilet paper (WTF?).
They’re by your drawing board, right next to a picture of her in your dress. The dress looks hideous. So does the bride. Please stop hoarding flowers in the office. Some of us actually suffer from allergies.
I was tempted to write something back to her. Something vicious and offensive. Then decided I didn’t want Sven to know there was trouble between me and the pretty intern. Instead, I collected my things, watered my flowers, grabbed the Polaroid of the bride I’d sent the dress to, and then slunk back home to lick my wounds.
There were two delivery guys waiting at my building door. They were holding a huge cardboard box, yelling directions at each other, rolled cigarettes sticking from the side of their mouths. I squinted, rushing toward them. “Can I help you?”
“We sure hope so, ma’am,” the sweatier one of the two grumbled.
“Bed frame delivery for Goldbloom?” The second guy, a pimply kid of nineteen, blew a dreadlock out of his face, dropping the rollie on the ground in the process. I felt my eyes widening.
No, he didn’t.
“Yes, that’s me. A bed frame?”
They nodded. “Don’t look so surprised. You paid extra for rush delivery.”
I fought a giddy smile. “Is it white?”
The teenager bristled. “Whiter than my knuckles, ma’am. Can we come in?”
I let them through. I resisted the urge to text Chase, even if just to say thank you, not trusting myself not to cave to his advances. Truth was, I couldn’t afford to help him anymore. I was beginning to not hate him, and that was a luxury I couldn’t afford, because Chase was still Chase.
The man who’d cheated on me.
The man who’d brought countless women to his bed after we’d broken up.
The devil in the dapper suit, who wore his smile like a weapon.
After the delivery guys left—promptly tipped and sent away with cans of Diet Coke—Ethan arrived. He showed up earlier than we’d arranged, carrying Mexican food. (“Can you believe China Palace closed early? Nothing is going as planned today!”) We sat down at my coffee table, which also served as my dining table, seeing as my apartment was the size of a shoebox. Daisy was pestering us for scraps, shoving her nose into the food containers and whimpering. I focused on eating the broken chips only (for solidarity purposes), my mind still reeling from those two kisses with Chase. I knew what I had to do and dreaded the poor timing, especially on the day Ethan and I were supposed to sleep with each other. I put my taco down, turning to Ethan on the couch. We were watching the local news, after the record player had broken down on us, completely ruining the already tarnished mood. Ethan was eating with gusto, engrossed in a news piece about a new footpath gate in Brooklyn that was too noisy for the residents living around it.
“So I have to tell you something.” I cleared my throat. He looked up, pieces of cheese and shredded lettuce peeking from his mouth. God, I really didn’t want to do this.
“I saw Chase today. Not voluntarily. His sister invited me for lunch, and he showed up. One thing led to another, and we kissed. I’m really sorry, Ethan. I’ve been feeling shitty about it all day.”
I was referring to the second kiss. The one with my full consent. The one that had felt like our souls were dancing together, that could have led to more than just a kiss.
Ethan put his taco down, reluctantly turning his attention from an elderly woman on TV complaining about the loud gate under her apartment building to me. “You kissed him in front of his sister?” he asked, confused.
“Yes. I mean, no. I mean, yes, on the lips, a peck, I suppose. He initiated it. Then I went to his office to confront him about it, and we kissed again.” Pause. “A real kiss.”