I really liked this scene between the heroine and the hero. They are still platonic co-workers at this point but the barriers are falling fast. I like the sweet unspoken intimacy between them.
These 2 scenes span portions of 2 chapters and the “kiss” (Gayle) and text messages (Jon) is referencing a Friday night work party incident just two days before these Monday/Tuesday scenes.
Thirty minutes later, I heard Jon rustling in his cubicle as he slipped on his jacket.
“Lunchtime?” I grabbed my purse to join him.
“Yeah, but I can’t go with you today. I have some errands to run.”
“Oh…okay. See you later then.”
Neither one of us had mentioned his text messages from the night of the Ternes’ party thirty-six hours ago. I had attributed his flip-flop messages to him giving me a taste of my own medicine. But I didn’t know if he sent them out of annoyance or in jest. That he might now be avoiding me because of what I had done saddened me.
I asked Scarlett to lunch and though surprised at my invitation, she agreed to go. She suggested a place I’d never been to before but declared it served fabulous food and played jazz, always nice in my book.
The place was borderline seedy, dark and smoky inside but a cool oasis from the unseasonably warm Dallas afternoon. The aroma of fried foods weighed heavy enough to serve as an appetizer. Home-style offerings like corn bread, collard greens, barbeque and catfish dominated the menu. Though I was more a fan of Mexican food, being from Albuquerque where the hotter the better was our culinary battle cry, I welcomed some traditional greasy southern cooking.
We sat at a table near the back with a good view of the entire restaurant. Our server delivered our food a scant ten minutes after we ordered, a fringe benefit of a limited daily menu. We enjoyed our food and gossiped about the Ternes’ party until Jon walked in with a very beautiful woman.
Scarlett saw him too and said, “Isn’t that Jon?”
“Yeah, looks like he’s got a date with him,” I muttered.
“Do you want to invite them over to join us?” She kept her eyes on the couple as she asked.
“No. Let’s give them some privacy. I don’t want to cramp my boy’s style.” I shovelled a huge fork full of greasy food in my mouth as I watched them walk to a small table near the bar, his hand on the small of her back.
From what I could see and imagine, this woman was a Victoria’s Secret model with a day job as an investment banker. Tall and slim but nicely endowed, Latin-looking with long curly hair, she was the exact opposite of me. Her knit suit hugged her curves in all the right places. Together, they made a sultry and arresting couple.
Jon and his “errand” ate and conversed, their heads close but their expressions indiscernible. While they didn’t touch, their body language told me she wasn’t a sibling or casual acquaintance. I don’t think Jon had any idea that I sat a few tables away. I couldn’t stop myself from glancing at them all through lunch. By the time Scarlett and I had finished, I’d shredded my napkin into multiple tiny ropes that I tied together to form a long chain with a noose on the end. I had no recollection of what we talked about after I’d seen Jon and his mystery woman.
“Come on, Scarlett, let’s say hello on our way out.” I didn’t wait for her answer but grabbed my purse and marched toward Jon’s table.
As I neared, Jon’s head popped up and did a double-take. Even in the darkened restaurant, I could see him blanch. I gave him a brittle smile and said, “Hello Jon. Get all your errands done?”
“Gayle. Yes, all done. Uh, Thalia these are two of my co-workers, Scarlett and Gayle. This is my girlfriend, Thalia Milano.” Though his tone was upbeat, his eyes betrayed his distress. Thalia was unreadable—neither friendly nor aloof. She was still breathtaking but not as beautiful up close and she had an annoying, whiney voice.
I hoped my jaw hadn’t dropped too far at Jon’s introduction of her as his girlfriend. Why he hadn’t mentioned her or brought her to the Ternes’ party? I prayed to God he hadn’t told her about the kiss. Surely not since it was a one off, but had I detected her giving me the stink eye? Get over yourself, Gayle.
As Scarlett and I left, she casually asked, “Did you know he had a girlfriend?”
“No. Did you?”
“If you didn’t know, I sure as hell didn’t. But damn, that woman was gorgeous. Ooh, I spy a cookie shop. Whaddaya say?”
Scarlett and I made our way back to the office within our one hour lunch break. Jon returned an hour after us. He walked past my cubicle without a word, slipped off his jacket and resumed his work. At five when I left, he kept working. We hadn’t spoken since lunch.
“Goodnight, Jon, see you tomorrow,” I said.
“Goodnight, Gayle,” I heard him reply after a long silence.
The next morning, Jon had his head down working when I plopped my purse on my desk and slipped off my jacket. I sang along to a slow elevator music version of Billy Idol’s Rebel Yell. I never understood why anyone thought it was a good idea to pipe in bad background music.
“Good morning, Jon.” I had done some soul searching last night and decided that Jon’s reasons for keeping Thalia under wraps all this time were his own. They had nothing to do with me nor with our working relationship.
Shuffling of papers and the popping of his chair as he shifted were the only noises he made inside his cubicle. Is he mad at me? Did he not hear me say good morning?
I frowned and decided to confront him. We met halfway. He handed me a Starbucks coffee and said, “I ordered what I thought was your usual.”
I looked dully down at the cup in my hand then back up to his face. “Thank you?” I said, then with a little more confidence added, “But, you didn’t have to do that.”
“I lied to you about having to run errands at lunch yesterday.”
“I know, but you didn’t have to buy me a coffee in atonement. So you had a date with your girlfriend and you told me a little white lie. Big deal. I’m actually more curious about why you’ve never mentioned her before, not that it’s any of my business.”
“She’s not my girlfriend.”
“But you said–”
“I know. Yesterday I said she was.”
“You lied about that too?”
“No. She was my girlfriend…yesterday. No, that’s not quite true. She was my fiancée…yesterday. She’s not anymore.”
“Oh.” I held on for dear life to a sympathetic expression.
“We broke up.”
“Yesterday apparently. I’m so sorry, Jon.” Liar.
“It’s okay. It was something I needed to do, was dreading doing but now that it’s done, I feel a lot better.” He shrugged. “She’d been seeing someone else anyway,” he added without emotion.
“Oh. Wow, I’m sorry, Jon. How long were you engaged? Are you okay?”
“I’m perfectly fine. But I’m sorry that I lied to you.”
I flipped a hand at him. “Please. It was so not about me. But, no worries. Thanks for the coffee though. That was really nice of you but totally unnecessary. Next one is on me, okay?” Stuff a sock in it already and stop licking your chops, you shameless hussy. He did not break it off to be with you. Plus, he’s a co-worker. Remember what happened the last time you skipped down that thorny path.
Relief flooded his face, fanning the flames of my conceit, because he seemed more troubled that he’d lied to me than that he’d broken off his engagement. An engagement whose length remained a question mark.
“You got it. Lunch today then?”
“Sure. I’ll call my husband and cancel our nooner. Kidding.” I gave him a friendly nudge on the arm with the side of my head, then returned to my desk with my coffee. He smiled at me over the low wall of the cubicle divider as I retook my chair, holding my eyes as I sipped my coffee. I hoped he couldn’t see that I was grinning like an idiot between sips. Oh boy, was I in trouble.