Frayed Page 71

’’Yes,’’ he says in a cold tone.

I step in and leave the door open.

’’Shut the door and take a seat.’’

I inwardly roll my eyes at his dramatic behavior, but I do as he says.

’’What the hell were you thinking? When a client asks you to come meet him, you don\ say no. Was it because you didn\ want to run into that boy toy of yours so you didn\ come?’’

Boy toy? I have no idea what he\s talking about, and the blank look on my face must register with Tate.

’’Romeo told me he saw some guy\s name on your phone and that same guy was at Beck\s with his face buried in another girl.’’

Tears sting my eyes and any energy I had managed to muster up this morning is depleted immediately. Ben already found someone else? I should have known. I sit up straight, knowing I am not going to allow my boss to see my weakened state. ’’No, Tate, that\s not what I was thinking. I was actually thinking how inappropriate it was for you to tell our client where I live and for said client to call me at the last minute and expect me to drop everything to come running.’’

He clears his throat. ’’Well, moving on, the Johnsons are having some issues with the florist. Can you see if you can help them out?’’

I jot it down on my pad, trying to control my furious shaking. He continues with a list of items that need to be taken care of and I write them down, never once lifting my head to meet his scrutiny. About twenty minutes later he finishes.

I stand up. ’’I\m still not feeling well, so if you don\ mind I\m going to take care of these issues from home.’’

He nods. ’’That\s fine.’’

I walk out of his office on trembling legs and go to my desk, collect my things, and make my way to the door. As I step out onto the sidewalk I realize I never said good-bye to Josie. I didn\ even notice if she was at her desk.

•••

My grandmother loved to go places but hated to drive. She didn\ think it an extravagance that she had a driver take her where she wanted to go, and neither did any of us. My grandfather used to joke that she was like Driving Miss Daisy. I own that movie now and watch it whenever I want to be close to her. I stop it and rewind before it gets to the sad part, though. I don\ like sad. My grandmother had her license and she could drive;she just chose not to. She told me she liked to ride in the car and look out the window that was why. In fact, the only time I remember her being behind the wheel was the night my father killed himself. She came to pick up River and me, but I didn\ know why at the time. It wasn\ until much later that night that my mother and brothers told me my father was dead. I blamed myself, Xander blamed himself, we all blamed ourselves for our fractured family, but we stayed close, maybe even closer because of what had happened.

My father\s death made River and Xander stronger but not me. Somewhere along the way I let everyone shelter me, coddle me even after all, I was the baby of the family, the younger sister to two older brothers, the girl who couldn\ make her daddy happy when all he wanted was for her to play the guitar, and the young woman who got pregnant and who lost her direction at the same time. I might look like my grandmother the red hair, the shorter stature, the curvy form but unlike my grandmother who loved to go places and found an alternative way to get to them, I\m struggling finding my own alternative way in life.

I want so much to find that elusive direction in my life that I\m determined to make this job work even though it doesn\ . It isn\ just Tate either, it\s me too I just don\ love it the way I wanted to. But Tate\s hot-and-cold demeanor isn\ helping at all. And now it\s Friday and the workweek isn\ even over. I have to work with him all day tomorrow. The thought makes me want to crawl back into bed. It\s been exhausting trying to push what happened with Ben aside and concentrate on work, so much so I\ve ended up sleeping most of the week when I wasn\ at work.

And just as draining has been my avoidance of my family. They\ll know immediately something isn\ right when they see me, and I don\ want to discuss what happened with Ben right now. So every time one of them calls I blurt out a reason I have to rush off the phone. With my mother and Jack in New York City, avoiding them has been easy. My brothers too. But Dahlia saw through it all when she called me last night and I couldn\ help myself I broke down and told her a little bit about Ben just that I had seen him and it didn\ go well. I left it vague and she didn\ pry. I thought it would be awkward, but it wasn\ . As usual she listened and gave support.

Peeking through the blinds this morning, I see it\s later than I usually get up, but I\m not sure of the exact time. I unplugged my clock because time was moving too slow. I roll out of bed and relocate to the couch. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn draws my attention and I decide to read a little bit more. I\ve become obsessed with the boy who isn\ thrilled with his new life of cleanliness, manners, church, and school. The boy whose life on the straight and narrow isn\ necessarily for him but who sticks it out for his friend. It makes me wonder if Ben somehow relates to this character and that\s why he loves the book so much. More than anything I wish I could ask him.

A light knock on my door tears me from my thoughts, but I opt to pretend I\m not home. When the knocking turns into pounding and a familiar voice carries through the door, I can\ ignore it any longer.

’’Bell, it\s me, Dahlia. I know you\ e home. I saw your car in the parking lot.’’


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