“Boom, I need—”
He turned back to the cutting board but pointed to the coffee area. “Already got you covered.”
“Thank you, thank you, thank you.” I breezed past him, grabbing a mug asap.
I hoped Dean would step back, give me a breather for a minute.
I got my coffee, turned back, and there he was. Still waiting, readjusting his Mustangs’ tie. Those cufflinks flashed again, and for some reason, that settled me. I grinned at him. “You going to get through the next dos dias? Need a fresca? A bebida?”
He frowned, twisting his tie the other way. “I don’t know what any of that means.” He lifted up the papers. “But I want to hash all this out before the first Mustangs get here.” His gaze dropped to my coffee where I was still pouring creamer into it.
I was a cream type of girl.
“You done yet? Want some coffee with your creamer?”
My grin spread, all slow like. “And there you are, thinking you can write the manual for office sexual harassment. You go, boy. You lead from example.”
He blinked at me. “Huh?”
“Never mind.” The moment was gone. I led the way to my office, and once inside, my purse was dropped on the floor. Coffee set on the desk. I dug out my phone and booted up my computer. First things first, right?
I grabbed for my coffee, and leaned back, taking a big whiff. This was my porn.
“Okay, Deano. Let’s do this.”
He just rolled his eyes at his nickname and pulled out the first sheet. “Cut Ryder was taken off the volunteer schedule for today. He might get in tomorrow, but they’re not sure.”
Well, there went that porn-inspired coffee-creamer mood.
I tried to ignore the shrinking on the stomach lining. “Why? I mean, did they say how come?”
He shook his head. “Said something about PT, but since they’re sending the entire team, I think we can still use them for our social media marketing. And if he doesn’t come tomorrow, I’ll reach out and see if we can get him to come alone on another time. This might work in our benefit.” Second sheet was pulled out. “And we need to talk about changing our distributors—”
I mentally checked out.
I was trying not to think about Cut, about what PT he’d need, about everything that had nothing to do with Come Our Way. I was still looking at Dean, and he thought I was paying attention. I could tell because I was simultaneously monitoring his word efficiency, speed, tone, and volume frequency.
But I was thinking about Cut.
He was in PT.
Probably because of his fight. He’d had two in two games.
And he was being used to cover two lines.
He was fatigued by the end, and I’d wanted to text him, ask if he was all right, but I was also more of a chickenshit at the same time.
Dean’s speech hadn’t changed. He thought I was paying attention…but there was Cut.
He wasn’t coming today.
That was good.
Maybe it wasn’t.
No, no. It was good.
Even if he came tomorrow, it was business. And I’d be hiding in the office, and that made me remember—“Wait, I’m not coming in tomorrow.”
Dean stopped, his mouth open and in mid-sentence. “What?”
“I have a thing tomorrow.”
“A thing? We need you. It’s our biggest social media day.”
I shook my head at the same time my mind was buzzing, so was my blood. I was whirling. Winding up. He had no clue what he was asking of me, but nada. I couldn’t do it. “No comprendo.”
“That means you don’t understand.” Dean huffed. “I had a photo op planned for tomorrow, especially if Cut Ryder is coming. We need you—”
“No, you don’t.” Blood, calm down. Mind, pause. One thing at a time.
Thoughts… I was mentally watching them. They were wheezing by. I could almost feel the breeze from them.
I turned the thoughts into words. Words I could read.
I read one at a time. One word at a time, and as I did this, knowing Dean was now focused on talking me into coming tomorrow, it was working. I was calming down.
I could tune in, pick up what he was saying, and he was saying, “—I never know what Boomer is going to make if you’re not here. He loves you. Worships you. He’ll make everything great and something worthy of a magazine spread, but if you’re not here, he gets all adventurous, starts thinking our budget is ostrich egg and lamb chops, and we don’t ever have the budget for that.”
He was right. Our grant was good, but not that good. We allocated most of it to education, recruiting, and general resources for everyone. Not to mention, the food. Food was expensive, but we tried to maintain a healthy standard, and it helped land us in multiple magazines, even a television show interviewed us, including Boomer.
Boomer got a kick out of Dean getting a kick out of that.
Me. I hated it. That’d been an extra bad day on paying attention. The reporter had been extra extra on everything. Extra smiles. Extra flirting with Dean. Extra perfume. Extra makeup. Extra loudness in her voice. Extra jewelry. All that went away the second the camera came on, and that whole segment showed me sucking in air like I’d been dying in a desert.
Not my best moment, but really, there was a whole long list of them, and maybe that wasn’t too bad after all.
He got me.
I’d been slipping and I was saying something. I had no clue. I recognized my voice and my own tone. Okay. That was convincing. Dean would be convinced I was paying attention, but I had to be adamant. “I’m not coming tomorrow. You know I don’t always come to these days. And I can’t. Sasha needs me.”
He snorted. “What does Sasha need you for? Writing a grant for new stripper poles or something.”
I frowned. Could I do that? Was there a grant for that?
“Stop.” He leaned forward, planting his hand on the desk. “I can tell you’re struggling right now.”
I thought I’d been so sly. Crappers.
He kept on, “You think I can’t tell, but I can. And like right now,” he raised his tone, “You’re starting to drift—”
“This is why I can’t be here tomorrow! It’s too much. I just can’t—” Dean didn’t know about my history, or my medical file, or any of it. He didn’t even know I’d been homeless at times. “Dean. Do not push me on this.”
Cold sweat was forming on my forehead, and I felt it on my top lip, but my words were spoken quietly, and slow, and that meant they’d come across as clear and articulate to him. But also beseeching, almost begging, and who could say no to that?
Well. Most people, but Dean had a soft spot for me. I wrote the magic and he knew it. I knew it.
He was quiet.
Now was my chance, and I shoved all the distracting background thoughts and noise to the far reaches of my mind and I pounced. “Boomer can bring Gail.” He was quiet again, pensive. I recognized that look on his face and added, “You know that everyone loves Gail, and everyone adores Boomer and his wife being the duo they are in the kitchen.”
He mashed his mouth together. “We don’t know if Gail can do it—” Score! Because that meant he was open to that idea. “—and I still think you should be here tomorrow.”