Page 17

 Kristen Ashley

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I shot up and cried, “Jacob! I can’t do that. This is his livelihood.”
“He shoulda thought of that before he asked out the boss then creeped her out.”
This was true.
I straightened my spine and declared, “Okay, I’ve just decided I’m taking this one step at a time. I’ll tell him to come around Sunday. I’ll break up with him. I’ll ask him if we can behave like adults at work. And then I’ll call you for another strategy session if he’s unable to do that.”
He had another smile in his voice when he replied, “Sounds like a plan.”
“Yeah,” I agreed then I called his name like we weren’t talking on the phone.
“I’m here, Emme.”
My voice had dipped low again when I shared, “This is cool, having this back. Having you back. Thanks for making it easy and taking us right back to where we left off.”
That got me nothing and that was unusual. Jacob could be verbally and physically affectionate, and after I said what I just said, the Jacob I knew would say something gruff or funny, but whatever it was, he’d say something to make me know he liked what I said.
Therefore, I asked, “Have I lost you?”
“We’ll talk tonight about where I’m takin’ us,” he said as answer and I froze solid, staring unseeing at my desk blotter.
Where I’m takin’ us.
What on earth did that mean?
Were we an us?
“Now, babe, gotta go. I’ll be at your place tonight at five,” he said.
“I… okay,” I replied, still reeling from what he said before. “Do you need me to text you directions?”
“Everyone in town knows your pad but a big giveaway of how to get to it is that it’s called Canard Mansion and it’s on Canard Lane and there’s only one house on Canard Lane, your house, so I reckon I can find my way.”
That erased the weirdness of before and I laughed quietly as I replied, “I forgot about your awesome mental powers so I’ll let them lead you to me.”
He had quiet laughter in his voice too when he said, “Right. Later, Emme.”
“ ’Bye, Jacob. And thanks for your guy advice.”
“Anytime, baby.”
I was still dealing with that when he rang off.
I looked back out the window into the yard.
Dane was gone.
I sighed.
Things Jacob said last night made me realize that I’d said yes to a date with Dane because I’d been sick, I’d unconsciously reflected on my life and how I was living it, and I decided to live it differently.
I’d always liked my life and tended to gravitate toward solitude. I was close to my family, had a small cadre of friends who were all real, true friends, even Elsbeth had been a true friend (just, in the end, a stupid one). But I didn’t mind being alone.
It was being sick alone that made me feel lonely.
I’d felt loss before. When Elsbeth broke up with Jacob then I broke up with her because she did. I hadn’t realized what a big part of my life they were, including Jacob. How I’d have them over to dinner just to get a chance to talk to him. How I’d pop by their place on the off chance I’d see him. How I’d be the first one to their parties and the last one to leave because I liked spending time with him.
When he was gone, and even before, when he got distant (and I knew that was Elsbeth, I didn’t know why, but she could be weirdly jealous), I felt that loss.
But nothing was worse than being sick, really sick, and going it alone.
Not that I wanted to share my exhaustion and vomiting with someone I loved.
Just that it highlighted how really alone I was. Especially up here, away from family and friends.
I loved the mountains, jumped at the chance to move here, something new, a change. I didn’t know why I did but it just came when I was ready for it.
And it seemed I’d found my calling, not the lumberyard, where I had to admit I enjoyed working. Being the boss didn’t suck and my dad being my boss didn’t suck either, seeing as he loved me and always believed I could do just about anything.
My calling was my house, which I took one look at, saw what was under all the mess and fell in love.
But after I was sick, I made changes I hadn’t really even noticed were changes. They just came naturally. New hair because I’d gone so long without a cut. New clothes because I’d lost so much weight.
And a boyfriend because he was cute, sweet and into me and it meant I might not be so alone.
Now I’d screwed the pooch.
I sighed and turned back to my desk to get some work done, thinking people lived through worse, me being one of them. And at least I had Jacob back. Better, it seemed like Jacob was happy to be back.
So it would probably suck for a while.
But that was life.
Then everyone would move on.
One way or another.
* * *
“Jesus, Emme, baby, this place is a heap.”
This was what Jacob said upon me opening my door to him at five-oh-three that night.
I stared up at him a second then asked, “Are you kidding?”
He put a hand to my stomach, shoved me inside, came in with me and pulled the door out of my hand to swing it closed with a flick of his wrist.
My door was twelve feet tall, solid wood. It weighed a ton. Maybe not literally but it felt like it.
And Jacob threw it to like it was a flimsy screen door.
This was hot and I’d forgotten how Jacob doing superhuman things with his big-guy strength gave me a little tingle.
Back then, I wasn’t allowed to really feel that tingle because he was Elsbeth’s.
Now he wasn’t so that tingle struck full force.
I was dealing with the tingle as he walked into the entryway, looking around and talking.
“Fuck, don’t know whether to pack you up, take you to my place and save you from this nightmare or move in here and start work tomorrow…” he turned, locked eyes with me and finished, “and save you from this nightmare.”
I fought back the tingle and put my hands to my hips. “It’s not that bad.”
“You don’t have any snow on your roof.”
I rolled my eyes. I knew what that meant. Dad had been on me about insulation since about three hours after I moved in. I didn’t need the same from Jacob.
I rolled my eyes back to him and declared, “It’s fine.”
“You’re heating the mountain, Emme, and payin’ for it. It isn’t fine. And you need new windows.”
“Tell me something I don’t know,” I returned. “They’re after the kitchen.”