More Than Words
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“Ah, hi.” He ran his hand through his hair, glancing at Ben.
“Oh, sorry, um, Ben, this is Callen Hayes, an old friend of mine. Callen, this is Ben Roche, my coworker.”
They both nodded at each other, and there was an awkward pause. Ben jumped in first. “Well, nice meeting you. Jessica, see you tomorrow.”
“Okay, see you tomorrow.” Ben turned and headed toward the elevator and Callen put his hands in his pockets, looking sort of unsure.
“I was hoping you’d be getting off work about now and you might want to have dinner,” he said, and my heart fluttered at the unusual vulnerability in his stance and expression. Then again, how did I really know if it was unusual? It was strange. In some ways I felt like I knew him based on the recent interviews I’d watched and magazine articles I’d read. But I realized that wasn’t true, or if it was, then the whole world knew him, too.
“Dinner sounds perfect.”
He smiled. “Great. Do you mind if my friend Nick joins us? I dragged him along on this vacation with me, and he’s holed himself up in his room working. I need to make sure he eats once in a while. I made reservations in the dining room.”
I ran a hand self-consciously over my hair. I wanted to freshen up, but I was also hungry, and sitting down with a glass of wine sounded heavenly. I decided to put on my best smile and hope I only looked slightly wilted. “Sounds good. I’d love to meet your friend.” We walked toward the dining room. “So, what’d you do today?”
“Not a lot, actually. I went back into town and walked around, looked through a few shops.”
I glanced at him, and he had a frown on his face. “Not as much fun without me, huh?”
He chuckled. “No. Not even close.”
We turned into the château restaurant, already filled with guests, the delicious smells of rich French cooking wafting in the air and the soft sounds of classical music overlaid by the chatter and laughter of the people dining. A man sitting by the window waved. “There’s Nick,” Callen said, taking my arm and leading me toward him.
Nick stood when we arrived, smiling and holding out his hand to me. “Jessica, nice to meet you. I’m Nick, Callen’s only upstanding friend.” He had light brown hair and bright green eyes that seemed to sparkle from behind his glasses. He was almost as tall as Callen, but much less solid, bordering on skinny. He was cute, and his smile was warm and sincere.
I grinned, glancing at Callen, who had one brow raised. “It’s true. I can’t deny it,” he said, motioning me to a seat and taking the one next to mine.
“It’s very nice to meet you, Nick.”
“Callen told me you’re here on business and you two knew each other briefly as kids and even more briefly as …” He raised his eyebrows.
I narrowed my eyes, not providing the description he was clearly asking for. Two people who kissed in a bar? Strangers who groped each other on a rooftop patio? No, I wanted to hear his version. Clearly Callen had told him something.
“… cocktail waitress and patron,” he finally finished.
I laughed, and Nick did, too. I liked him. “Nice save. Accurate enough.” Grinning, I glanced at Callen, thinking of what Frankie had said. “Yes, fate seems intent on throwing us back together again and again.”
“What’s meant to be will always find a way,” Nick offered.
“Deep. Isn’t that a country song?” Callen asked sarcastically, picking up the menu.
Nick laughed. “Probably.” He eyed Callen’s menu and picked up his own as I took a sip of the water in front of me.
“The, ah, special looks good,” Nick said. “If you’re in the mood for beef in a burgundy sauce.”
“Sounds perfect,” Callen said, setting his menu down. A moment later, the waiter came up to our table and took our wine order.
“So, Jessica, what kind of work are you doing here?”
I explained a little bit about the writings that had been discovered and the connection to Joan of Arc, and then told him about my role as part of the team studying them.
“Wow, being fluent enough in French to translate such important documents is really impressive, not to mention you must be a master at it to do the work you do.”
I smiled, acknowledging the compliment. “I don’t know that I’m a master, but I’ve always been good with languages. I went to a French school growing up, so I’ve been studying it for a long time.”
“Jessie used to translate her French books to me when we were kids.” Callen smiled. I thought back to that, the way he’d listened so raptly, the way he’d seemed mesmerized by the stories. I’d loved watching his enjoyment and delighted in the closeness we’d shared huddled together in that boxcar—our own secret world. The memory caused tenderness to flicker in my chest.
The waiter showed up with our wine, pulling me back to the present, and then he took our dinner order, me the white fish, Nick a chicken dish, and Callen the beef special. “Excuse me,” Nick said, glancing at his phone when a text message came through, making a soft ding. He began typing something in reply, and I took a grateful sip of my wine, sighing as I set it down on the table. This was nice, and I didn’t need to overthink it. What would I have done if Callen wasn’t here? I’d be eating alone, probably in my room, and that would have been okay, but this was better. People had vacation affairs all the time and then went back to their normal lives. Not that I was going to have an affair with Callen, per se, or rather, we might kiss, but it wasn’t going to go further than that … probably … I meant definitely …
“Are you all right?” Callen asked softly, bumping my shoulder with his. I realized I was staring off into the distance, excited nervousness skipping through my body, my mind running away with itself. I crossed my legs, a surprising burst of pleasure making me very aware of what even thinking about getting physical with Callen did to me.
I took a long sip of wine, taking a moment to pull myself back to the present, and smiled. “Yes. Just thinking about today. It was intense.”
“Yeah. There’s just so much to do, and we’re all trying to get the work done before the project wraps up.”
He nodded. “The guy with you downstairs, is he a translator, too?” He took a sip of wine and appeared only mildly interested, but his jaw ticked once, and I wondered if he might be a little … jealous? Surely I was imagining things. Of course I was. What in the world did Callen Hayes have to be jealous about when it came to any other man on earth?
“Ben? Yes. He’s the other assistant working under the head translator, Dr. Moreau. His specialty is medieval French weaponry.”
“Sounds smart.” His voice was clipped, and Nick looked up from his phone, placing it back on the table.
“He is … yes. He’s very smart. I’m lucky to be working with him. The whole team is very impressive.”
“Including you,” Callen said, smiling at me.
I laughed softly. “Well, I hope I can keep up.”
“I have no doubt.”
Our food came, and we talked about Nick’s company and how he and Callen had met. I was only vaguely surprised that Callen had been a troubled teen. Even when I knew him, I could see the darkness within. The hopelessness. Interesting how both Nick and Callen downplayed that aspect in the telling of their story. Filling in some of the gaps of Callen’s life had me enthralled, and I listened to it all intently, learning of their initial meeting and of the few hand-to-mouth years before either had achieved any success. Callen was tenacious, a fighter, driven. And I’m sure that contributed to his incredible success.
Callen talked and even laughed, but something seemed to be weighing him down, sort of an underlying moodiness that I’d seen in him years ago as well. That sense I’d always felt when I knew something was wrong but he wasn’t sharing it with me. Now I wanted to ask what brought that troubled look to his face sometimes, or what cast that vulnerable expression in his eyes, the one I was sure he thought no one noticed. And maybe no one did. Well, no one except me. And I thought perhaps Nick as well.