Page 16

 Kristen Ashley

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This question was met with silence that stretched so long I had to call his name.
When I did, he spoke.
“What kind of expensive gift?”
“A very expensive gift,” I told him.
“What kind, Emme?” he pushed.
I closed my eyes, opened them, looked to the yard, saw Dane was now there talking to a customer and I looked away.
“A ruby and diamond ring,” I answered quickly.
This was met with more silence that lasted longer.
I spoke into the void and I did it semi-babbling. “Jacob, honey, I don’t know. It’s weird. I mean, it isn’t an engagement ring or anything. More like a cocktail ring. Which is weird in and of itself because I run a lumberyard. I wear jeans to work. They’re nice jeans but it’s not like I go to the opera on weekends and hobnob with society. But more, the ruby is very big and you don’t have to be an expert jeweler to know it’s expensive. Like very expensive. Even the box it’s in is really nice.”
I was quiet a moment then my voice dipped low.
“It’s kinda creeped me out.”
I was quiet another moment then my voice dipped lower.
“It’s actually kinda made me make my mind up about Dane.”
Through this, Jacob said nothing.
“Jacob?” I called.
“And what’s your decision about Dane?” he asked.
I shook my head like he could see me and didn’t even consider how weird this was, talking to Jacob about this, talking to him like there wasn’t nearly a decade between meeting him in town yesterday and the last time I saw him.
Then again, I’d talked through a lot with him, none of it really personal because, back then, I really didn’t have a life. But the personal part of my life, when he was in it, he knew. What movies I went to. What candidates I was voting for. The specifics (in detail) of where I was going on my next vacation and what I intended to do. That all was personal to me and very few people knew it, except family, my few friends and Jacob.
So it seemed natural, having him back, having him happy to see me, having him say it straight then act on the fact that he wanted us to stay connected this time.
We just, both of us, slid right into where we used to be.
Like real friends. Like the friends we once were.
So I answered, “I talked to him this morning, said I needed a bit of space but I wanted him to come over on the weekend. Then I’m breaking up with him.”
A moment, before, “How’d he feel about the space comment?”
“He didn’t seem pleased,” I gave him my understatement.
“I bet,” Jacob muttered, knowing it was an understatement.
We were conversing but he wasn’t giving me anything.
So I pressed for it.
“Okay, I laid that out and you haven’t said anything. You’re a guy. Is this something you’d do? The ring thing. I mean, is he being sweet and I’m just being weird?”
“Guy’s a dick and he’s a moron and he’s into you, Emme, too much. That feels wrong, smothering, creepy, you get the f**k out,” Jacob answered.
There was no way to misinterpret that and he was right about the last part. The first parts, I felt it necessary to say something.
“He’s actually not a dick or a moron, Jacob. But he is kinda into me, well… too much.”
That also was an understatement.
“Thought I was somethin’ else when he met me yesterday, called you on it right in front of me. Didn’t shake my hand, tried to break it. That’s a dick. That’s a moron.”
I didn’t know about the hand-shaking thing but I wasn’t surprised. That seemed a Dane thing to do.
But when Dane went weird about Jacob, that ticked me off.
Then again, Dane going weird around guys tended to happen a lot so I tended to get ticked off a lot which was one of the reasons why, even though he was usually sweet, not hard on the eyes and it felt nice that he was way into me, I wasn’t so sure about him.
That and him being… off.
I put my elbow on my desk and my head in my hand, mumbling, “Oh God, now I have to break up with him.”
“Do it on neutral ground then walk away. Or have me over, open your door to him, tell him it’s over, close the door. He knocks again, I answer.”
I blinked at my desk. “You’d do that?”
“Fuck yeah, Emme. Guy’s a moron and a dick. No tellin’ what he’ll do. So you break the news on neutral ground with people around and then get the f**k away from him or you do it when I’m over.”
“I can’t… I mean.…” I stammered. “I can’t believe you’d do that, honey. That’s so nice.”
“Today’s Thursday,” Jacob declared. “I got a lot of shit to do, put him off ’til Sunday and I’ll be sure I’m around.”
So, so nice.
But, this brought me to my next problem. I’d done what my father would call shitting where I lived. This was one reason I’d put Dane off since he’d asked me out the first time about three days after I got back to work after I’d been hospitalized. Now I had to work with him after I broke up with him. Work with him as in be his boss.
“Emme? Baby?” Jacob called.
Thoughts of breaking up with Dane exited my head instantly.
What was that?
Jacob had said that several times since we reconnected and each time he said it, it felt like a physical touch. A good one. An affectionate one.
A sexy one.
Jacob had never been sexy toward me.
He was my then–best friend’s boyfriend, of course. But he’d never even flirted in a casual way.
He’d called me “babe” before, a lot (even though Elsbeth didn’t like it). He’d also called me “honey” sometimes (and Elsbeth didn’t like that either).
But baby?
“Emme,” he growled, his voice rougher and getting impatient.
He’d also never growled at me.
It was hot.
I didn’t need to think of Jacob as hot, or not hotter than he naturally exuded simply being Jacob.
“I’m here. I’m freaking but I’m here,” I told him.
“It’ll be okay,” he assured, growl gone, his deep voice was again smooth.
“I work with him, Jacob.”
“Yeah, that probably wasn’t your usual smart,” he murmured.
I closed my eyes, plopped back in my desk chair and groaned, “Ugh.”
“You’re an adult, he’s an adult. You both suck it up and act like adults. I know you can do that. He can’t, you find a reason to fire him.”