Theodore stared down at the woman in his arms. The couch creaked a little as he adjusted himself. His shirt had grown damp from holding her against his chest as she snoozed.
She snorted. The woman’s snores could wake a cemetery. Since napping wasn’t in the cards for him, he let his mind drift. Or rather, worry.
His concern for her fainting spells bubbled under his skin. Perhaps she was exhausted—the kind that sneaks up on you and you don’t realize it until the body just up and quits. She’d certainly lost some weight in the last few weeks. Then again, their lunch hours hadn’t exactly been a time for eating.
Suzy’s initial question kept coming back to him. Are you playing her?
He hadn’t been. But then he hadn’t exactly been on the up and up, either. He was trying to protect her. And the more his feelings grew, the more he wanted to tell her everything.
But it was Suzy and Samuel’s company. They didn’t know Alice like he did. They didn’t assume she’d keep quiet about the investigation even though she was the most honest person he’d ever met. When the truth came out, he figured Alice would be happy to be rid of Roger the most dishonest person he’d met.
One question kept arising, however. How did Alice not know about Roger’s lies? She was far from naïve.
His phone vibrated on the coffee table for the third time. For God’s sake, it was end of day. Enough of both of them working twelve hours a day. He grabbed it with his free hand, hit “ignore.”
She stirred in his arms.
She blinked, peered up at him. Then as if recognizing him for the first time, pushed at his chest, rose up. “I’m mad at you.”
“I know.” He brushed hair off her face.
She fell back against him, nestled her face into his neck. “Really mad.”
His phone vibrated again, an annoying buzzing against her wooden coffee table. He reached for it to turn the blasted thing off. But the screen’s message caught his eye.
A long hiss left his throat. Dammit. “It’s Samuel,” he explained. In fact, the last five calls had been him.
Alice didn’t say anything, rather settled herself cross legged on the opposite end of the couch.
“Jimmy’s Sake Bar. 7 PM.” Samuel’s gruff voice filled his ear.
“Not in the mood.”
“Get in the mood.” Samuel hung up.
God, dammit. Susie must have filled him in on their conversation about Alice. And one thing Samuel did not abide by was romantic messiness at work. Maybe that’s why the man had been single for his entire 42 years. He was as active between the sheets as any man, but no one was allowed to warm them for too long.
He scrubbed his hair, stared down at the floor between his knees. “I’ve got to go soon.”
“Of course you do.” Alice’s tone was angry but tinged with sadness. “Suzy and Samuel await, right?”
It seemed the world entire world was mad at him. Right now, however. Only one person mattered in that department: Alice.
His career was important to him. But he’d been alive long enough to know it wasn’t everything. Even Suzy and Sammy would have to agree on that point. They didn’t spend every holiday together and leave pivotal merger meetings when one lands in a hospital for an emergency appendectomy like Suzy had last year for nothing.
He swung his gaze her way. “Just Samuel. He wants to meet. Go with me?” Why not?
“Not interested. Go ahead and have your discussions without me, as usual.”
She had to understand why he couldn’t tell her everything. “Alice,” he reached for her but she scrambled to her feet. Wobbled a second and then headed down the hallway to her room.
He heaved out a long sigh and rose. Her bedroom door was locked. He leaned against the hallway wall and slid down to his butt.
“Alice, you can’t stay mad at me forever.” He hoped.
“Try me.” Her voice sounded like she was just on the other side of the door.
“Well, how long is it going to last? Because it’s not Be Mad At Everybody day.”
Maybe it was in poor taste to evoke a day, but he was out of ideas. “Look I didn’t tell you the whole story because I was under a confidentiality agreement. You understand those, right?“
“Questioning my ability to understand contracts and legal documents now, are we?”
“Just open the door so we can talk.” He raised his hand, held it there against the wood. No more words came from the other side of the door. “It’s important you believe I wasn’t trying to hurt you.”
Because I care for you.
Because I’ve grown addicted to your laugh, the way your lips screw up when I say something stupid about purple golf ball day.
Because I might be in love with you.
All words that lodged in his throat.
The reason for his silence was obvious. He was leaving soon, and he wouldn’t be the guy Suzy accused him of. Loving and leaving, that’s what she was getting at, right? As in, don’t tell her you love her and then catch an airplane out of here.
It was probably exactly what Suzy believed he was good for. And now Alice might think so as well, and she wouldn’t open the door so he could convince her otherwise.
Then again, what could he say? He wasn’t moving on to the next company soon? Probably sooner than he thought now that they’d uncovered the real problem with Edison.
But one thing was for sure. He couldn’t go like this. He let his hand fall back to his thigh. “Alice, please. Be smart about this.”
“Go home, Theodore.”
He sat there for another five minutes in silence. Finally heard some rustling and then the water going on in the shower. He’d been dismissed. It was time to meet Samuel anyway, who was likely going to reassign him—or he was truly fired.
Find typos? Feel free to let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org
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