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The first time I saw Aimee Gilpin walk into a bar, it was love at first sight. She looks nothing like the women I usually go for, and everything like the woman I’d want to come home to every night. Then my best friend showed up and I had to let him pursue her. It was the right thing to do as a friend and business partner, but the wrong thing to do for my heart.
The second time I see Aimee walk into a bar, she has finally convinced my friend that she isn’t interested, and I was planning on drinking myself into oblivion to avoid calling her. She probably thinks I hate her. I tried to.
Tomorrow I’ll deal with my best friend and the company we built with his money and my brains.
Tonight, she’s mine.
The first time I saw Chase McKay at a bar, I thought I’d met the man of my dreams—I just didn’t recall the man of my dreams looking like the lead singer of a grunge band. Then as soon his friend showed up, Chase bolted like I was his worst nightmare.
The second time I see him in a bar, I can tell by the look in his eyes that we both regret his choice that first night. He has no idea that I just started working for the company that their company is about to start working with.
I don’t want to make things any more complicated than they already are, but I do want him like nobody’s business.
Tomorrow we’ll deal with the fact that Chase, his best friend and I will be working together.
Tonight, he’s mine.
If you would like to read the first TWO CHAPTERS of Tonight You’re Mine, keep scrolling down! I can’t wait for you to meet Chase and Aimee!!!
Text Copyright © 2019 Kayley Loring
CHAPTER ONE – Chase
There’s something inherently optimistic about walking into a bar on a Friday night. It could be the beginning of a bad joke or the beginning of the rest of your life, but it’s always the start of something. No matter how many bad choices you’ve made in a bar in the past, the future always holds the possibility of better music, just the right number of drinks, and finding the one person who just might matter more to you than anyone else.
It’s the middle of spring and Brooklyn looks so fucking beautiful but I’ve been declining every invitation so I can stay late at the office to work. I’ve had zero fun and given zero fucks about anything other than keeping our startup in the black. Keaton practically begged me to meet him for a drink. He had dinner with his parents tonight and he always needs a drink after seeing his parents. He’s late for meeting me, as always, but I’m glad I’m here. It’s been a while.
Bitters is my favorite bar, mainly because they stock my favorite Irish whiskey. It’s pretty busy, even for nine on a Friday night. They’ve got strings of warm white lights hanging from the ceiling, and I don’t know what it is about them that makes me want to be in love, but I’ve suddenly got that yearning. A quick scan of the crowd presents a few promising options, but no one who grabs my attention.
“McKay! Where ya been, man?” Denny the bartender holds his hands up in the air and greets me like a long-lost friend. We are old friends, actually, I’ve known him since we were kids.
“The office, mostly.” We half-ass a bro-hug over the counter.
“Mr. Bigshot CEO over here.”
“Not as glamorous as it sounds, believe me. How’s your dad doin’?”
“He’s all better. It was just the flu, he got over it. The usual?”
“Give it to me.”
I take a seat at the bar. I had spent so many hours at this counter, dreaming up my business. With my whiskey, my notebook, and sometimes Keaton. Now that the company’s a reality, and the owner of this bar is a client, all I can think about when I sit here is that I should be back at the office. As soon as Denny slides that tumbler of Redbreast in front of me, though, I’m game. I reach for my wallet, but he insists it’s on the house. One of the perks of providing a service for local businesses—everything’s free.
That first sip is always the best, and I revel in it, eyes closed, before turning to face the door.
I’m still feeling the glorious burn down my throat and into my chest when that door opens, and the warmth in my chest spreads everywhere. Warmth and satisfaction and a gentle ache for more. But it’s not the whiskey that’s making me feel this way, it’s a face. It’s the face that I can’t look away from. Open and friendly and inquisitive and surrounded by the most luxurious dark hair that makes me want to reach all the way across the room to run my fingers through it. We’re both tall enough that I can see her over the shoulders of the people standing in between us. Her eyes stay locked on mine as soon as she sees me too. She isn’t smiling and she isn’t frowning, but she’s really looking at me.
She’s nothing like the women I usually go for, and everything like the woman I could see myself coming home to every night.
She starts walking right towards me, determined but a little hesitant, like she’s heading for a train that she needs to catch but she isn’t quite sure if it’s the right one. She’s no ingénue, but there’s something so pure and graceful about her expression and the way she moves. It’s captivating.
It isn’t until she stops in front of me that I realize the full extent of her … everything.
The pencil skirt, the knee-high boots, the tight sweater under the trench coat that doesn’t hide her curves. The subtle swirl of fragrance—like walking past a florist shop where someone’s burning incense and drinking a Hot Toddy.
Who is this woman?
I want her.
I want everything with this woman.
Her eyes are hypnotic. With the same combination of white and the warmest shade of blue, they remind me of my mom’s collection of Italian pottery. Like those ceramics that I grew up with, she is beautiful in the way that everyday things are beautiful. While she doesn’t look at all dainty or fragile, I find myself wanting to be extra careful with her. This is special. Somehow, already, this says “home” to me.
All she says is: “Hi there.” It’s the voice and directness of a woman who’s been to business school. I recognize it instantly.
“Who are you?”
“I’m Chase McKay.” I hold out my hand to her. “Who are you?”
“Aimee Gilpin. Nice to meet you.” I can hear her crystal clear over the Beastie Boys, which is impressive in a noisy bar. She’s just as smooth and soft and warm as she looks, and I don’t want to let go of her. We just stare at each other like we’re trying to figure out if we’ve seen each other before. I know I haven’t, because I would have remembered. “Hi,” she says again. She giggles as she pats my hand, releasing herself from my grasp.
“Can I buy you a drink, Aimee Gilpin?”
“Oh, sure! Thanks. I’ll have whatever you’re having.” So friendly. If I had to guess, I’d say she’s either from Canada or the Midwest.
“You like Irish whiskey?”
“I don’t know. Guess I’ll find out.”
I laugh. “I like your attitude.” I signal to Denny that I want another glass of what I’m having. He nods, but he’s busy chatting up some hipster chick.
“Is Irish whiskey your favorite drink?” She manages to ask it without sounding like she’s grilling me in the way that some women do on first dates.
“I drink Scotch at home and Irish when I’m out.”
“Interesting. Why is that?”
“You’ll see. Irish is friendlier.”
“And are you Irish or Scotch, Chase McKay?”
Oh Christ. She’s got a dimple. I’m dead.
“Half Irish, half Italian.”
“All trouble?” She cocks an eyebrow and smirks.
I get that a lot. I’ve got the shoulder-length hair, the tattoos and the beat-up old leather biker jacket, but that’s just the way I look. It’s not who I am. “Looks can be deceiving, Aimee.”
She studies my face and says earnestly: “I believe that.” She finally looks away from me to scan the room. “I like this place. I’ve never been here before.”
“Yeah, my roommate. She’s coming from a restaurant in the East Village. You come here often?” She asks that like she really wants to know, like she has no idea it’s a line people have used forever.
“I used to. Been working a little too hard lately.”
“Me too. That’s why my friend basically blackmailed me into coming out tonight.” She studies my face again, takes a breath, and suddenly this avalanche of words tumbles out. “I just moved out here from Michigan a few months ago,” she says. “For a job. Roxy’s been my best friend since college, in Ann Arbor. She moved out here right after she graduated, but I decided to build up my resume before coming to New York. I’m glad I did. Moving here is risky, you know, but it’s something I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid, so I needed to know that I wouldn’t blow it. The last thing I wanted to do was show up in the Big Apple and get the crap kicked out of me and then have to go back home, all bitter and depressed for the rest of my life. I think it’s more important to be shrewd than ballsy. Although, the ballsy people have all the fun. Are you from around here?”
I finally take a breath, even though she’s the one who really needs to. “Born and raised in Brooklyn. But I know exactly what you mean. And I think you did the right thing.”
Denny finally shows up to pour two fingers of whiskey in each of our tumblers, then disappears.
“Here’s hoping,” Aimee Gilpin says, as she raises her glass to me.
“Welcome to New York,” I say, and we clink glasses. I notice her hand is trembling and it’s clear to me that she’s more nervous than she’s letting on. Before I can tell her what to expect, she takes a big gulp.
One second after swallowing, she sticks her tongue all the way out and makes an adorable, hilarious face while stretching the fingers of her free hand out wide. Then she slams the glass down on the counter and covers her mouth.
“Guess you don’t like Irish whiskey,” I say.
“I am so horrified!” she says, her voice muffled.
“No—well, I didn’t expect it to be so sweet. But I just …” She shakes her head and waves her hand in front of her face, like she’s trying to erase what just happened. “Last week I was watching this YouTube video about face yoga exercises. This woman was making all these crazy facial expressions that supposedly relax your face and get rid of wrinkles and release tension—but I was like—I would never in a million years do those exercises because if anyone ever saw me doing them, I would die of embarrassment. And I just made one of those faces. In a bar. In front of you. So that’s awesome.”
I lean in towards her and say: “Guess we’ll have to find another way for you to release tension.”
She laughs, nervously, and then stops to look at me. “You know what? It has a really nice aftertaste.” And then she realizes the subtext of my comment about releasing tension, and her cheeks turn the most amazing shade of deep pink. “Oh my,” she exhales.
‘Oh my.’ Who says that?
The song changes to a quiet ballad, a Jackson Browne song that my mom loves. The sudden shift from thumping bass to soulful piano changes the air around us and the molecules inside of everyone in here, and the awareness shifts from the lower torso up to the heart. I fucking love the playlists in this bar, and I fucking love the way this woman is looking at me like I’m some deep philosophical question that she doesn’t know the answer to but she’s willing to muddle through anyway.
“Try it again,” I say, nodding towards her glass. “Take a sip and close your eyes. It’s meant to be savored.”
Slowly lifting that tumbler to her beautiful lips, she takes a sip and closes those gorgeous eyes of hers—sky blue and black. I savor her like my whiskey, so jealous of the rim of the glass that gets to touch her lips. I watch her respond to every smooth and warm, surprising flavor as it caresses her tongue—the fruity honeyed sweetness, the sherry and licorice and ginger, the peppery spice that erupts in her throat as she swallows, the hint of toffee that lingers. When she opens her eyes again and looks at me, she lets out a sigh, and I know that she gets it now. The union and explosion of unexpected soulmate flavors that can change the way you experience the world. It’s like drinking music. Just a taste and you know how big and magical and soft this dangerous collision of contradictions can be.
But two seconds later, she shakes herself out of the reverie and I can see her trying to rein in her fear of that big magic. I get it. She doesn’t know if she can handle it. Then her expression changes again and I get the feeling she’s about to surprise both of us.
“So, I don’t usually do this, but … here’s my number.” She hands me a folded-up piece of notepaper that already has her name and number written on it. “My roommate dared me to give a guy that I like my number even if he doesn’t ask me for it. So just in case there’s a hurricane or a zombie apocalypse in the next hour or so, I’ll get this out of the way now.”
“Thank you. I would have asked you for your number anyway.”
“Well, that’s nice to know.”
I reach for a napkin on the bar and pull out the pen from my pocket.
“I don’t usually give beautiful women who don’t like whiskey my number, but in case of hurricane or zombie apocalypse … This is my cell phone, if you need assistance.” I hand her the napkin with my name and number on it.
“I appreciate it. I keep a pretty cool head during natural disasters, but I lie awake at night worrying about zombies.” She carefully folds up the napkin and places it in her purse.
“I can definitely help you get to sleep if necessary.”
I take off my leather jacket, expose the ink, so she knows it’s not just a long-hair situation she’d have to deal with.
Her eyes widen as they scan the parts of my arms that aren’t hidden by my T-shirt. I can tell she likes what she sees, but she gets a whiff of something that she does not like when I move my jacket to my lap.
“Do you smoke?”
“Not much anymore. I used to … up until an hour ago.”
“You really shouldn’t smoke.”
“I have been meaning to quit.”
“You really should.” Her spine straightens and she places her glass down on the bar again and actually raises her index finger in front of my face and wags it. “Smoking damages nearly every organ in your body, you know, not just your lungs. And not just your organs—your brain and your bones and your cardiovascular system! It’s shortening your lifespan by more than a decade. There’s poison in tobacco you know. It’s not just the nicotine, you’re inhaling carbon monoxide and tar! I just don’t know why anyone would do that to themselves—not to mention the people around them. And cancer—do you want to talk about cancer, Chase McKay?”
“I really don’t.”
I think I just quit smoking.
“Point taken. You got some sort of rule about not kissing smokers, Aimee?”
The lighting in here may be dim, but I can see her blushing even harder. She clears her throat. “I did … up until a minute ago.”
I think I just quit other women.
When I sit up straight on this barstool, Aimee and I are about the same height. She’s staring at my mouth and her lips are parted. I’m not aware of how much time has passed since she walked in here, but I’ve been wanting to kiss her for what feels like forever. Leaning towards her, I notice her chest expanding as she prepares herself for my kiss. Just when she starts to lean in towards me too, a hand slaps her on the shoulder.
“Aim! Honey! I am so fucking sorry I’m late! That fucking F train has it in for me, I swear.”
The woman whips her around for a hug while giving me the once-over.
I can’t tell if Aimee is frustrated or relieved by the interruption—maybe both. Maybe I’m feeling the same way too. Her friend sizes-up the situation. I can’t tell if she’s impressed or amused or both.
“Well, fuck me,” she mutters.
“Uh, Roxy, this is Chase. Chase—Roxy.”
“Hello there, Chase.”
Shaking Roxy’s hand, I utter a friendly “Hey, how are you?” but I turn my attention right back to Aimee. I can tell that Aimee’s probably used to men gawking at her friend, and I just won a few points for not being most men. But Aimee is not most women. Not to me. Not tonight.
“I was just encouraging Chase here to quit smoking.”
“Is that what you were doing? Can I just borrow Aimee for one second?” She pulls Aimee a couple of feet away and yells in her ear.
I, along with the whole bar, can hear Roxy tell her: “You need to take it down a notch, Professor McGonagall.”
“I saw the way you were lecturing him when I walked in. You might as well just flash him your granny panties.”
“What?! No, I’m being a sexy teacher.”
“No. You’re not.”
Yeah. She is, Roxy. She is.
Then I overhear Roxy utter the word “bet” before Aimee shushes her with a murderous look. Roxy walks off to join a group of people she knows, without another word. Aimee watches her walk away before removing her coat and draping it over the barstool next to me.
“Sorry about that,” she says.
I can see the outline of a black bra beneath her tight creamy white sweater and I’m pretty sure I’d forgive her for absolutely anything.
“Sorry about lecturing you.” She stares at her hands. “It’s none of my business, I just think you’re great and I want you to live, and not have to breathe through a hole in your throat.”
“You don’t have to apologize. And thanks.”
She looks over at me and pouts.
We both laugh.
“Can I get you another drink?”
“Yes! Dear God, yes!” The voice belongs to my best friend Keaton. I had completely forgotten that I was here waiting for him. Aimee is quite the distraction. She may be the distraction I’ve been waiting for my whole life.
“You would not believe the night I’ve had,” he continues, shaking his head. “You don’t know how lucky you are to have the parents you have, man.” He really does look beaten down. As beaten down as a guy can look in a bespoke suit and coat and shoes that cost more than my rent. And then he notices Aimee, and the outline of that black bra beneath her tight creamy white sweater. “And I cannot believe how much better my night just got. Hello there.” He holds his hand out. Instead of shaking Aimee’s hand, he places his other hand over it and just stares at her.
“This is Aimee. I was just asking if I can get her another drink.”
“Aimee,” he says. “I’m Keaton Bridges. Hi.” I know that tone of voice. Every time Keaton switches to that golden tone of voice, he has gone home with the woman on the receiving end of it. I’ve got that sinking feeling and my whole body clenches up. If I didn’t love him so much, I’d already have kicked his teeth in by now.
He doesn’t even realize he’s cockblocking me, because it just wouldn’t occur to him that he and I would want the same thing. It rarely happens. We both wanted to go to Wharton. We both wanted to start my business. One of us did both of those things by studying and working his ass off, and one of us had the money to do whatever the fuck he wanted.
I watch how Aimee responds to Keaton’s immediate full-court press. She’s so nice and polite. It’s hard to tell at first if she’s being friendly with the best friend, like I was with Roxy, or if she’s falling for this shit.
“Why don’t I get you a drink.” Keaton is really laying it on thick. “What have you got there?” He sees the tumbler behind her on the counter and grimaces. “Do not tell me he made you drink Irish whiskey? That stuff is nasty.”
“I think I’m acquiring a taste for it, actually,” she says.
“Admirable, but I bet you’re more of a…Moscow Mule kind of girl.”
She twists her lips to the side and glances over at me apologetically. “I do love Moscow Mules.”
“Denny!” Keaton leans in against the bar, right between me and Aimee. “Two Moscow Mules and another whiskey for my friend here.” He stays in place between me and Aimee and says, “Damn, Aimee. You smell incredible. That’s Chanel, isn’t it?”
“It is. You’ve got a good nose!”
What follows is the kind of conversation that only Keaton can have with a woman. About his grandmother being friends with Coco Chanel. It might be true and it might be total horseshit, but he sells it like the best car salesman. I know this guy so well. I know when he’s making an effort with a woman and when he’s on auto-pilot, and he’s actually making an effort with Aimee. I can see, out of the corner of my eye, that Aimee is trying to maneuver herself so she can include me in the conversation, but it’s no use. Everything’s fading away and I’m retreating inside where I can have a tactical meeting with myself in my board room.
Thank God I went to business and law school. I’ve learned how to make rational, informed decisions. My heart’s telling me this is a woman worth fighting for, but my brain’s telling me that’s not my heart talking. It’s my dick. It’s the whiskey. It’s the strings of warm white lights. It’s the Jackson fucking Browne song.
It’s not that she isn’t worth fighting for. It’s that I have to pick my battles. And I am not going to pick a battle with my best friend and business partner. Not now, anyway.
I’ve known Keaton for nearly a decade. He let me live in his apartment in Philadelphia for four years when we were at Wharton and nearly kicked me out once when he was convinced that his girlfriend was in love with me. She wasn’t. He didn’t. We got through it. I founded a company with him less than two years ago—a company that he invested the seed money for, and I need him on my side when we’re voting at a board meeting soon. I’ve known Aimee for less than half an hour and had one drink with her. If she doesn’t want to kiss a guy who smokes, then she won’t be kissing a guy who smokes. Not tonight, anyway. Even though I never want to see another cigarette again in my life.
Just because I’ve never experienced love at first sight before, it doesn’t mean it’ll never happen again. I see how this is going to go and I need to leave sooner rather than later, so I don’t end up in a pissing contest.
I swallow the whiskey that Keaton ordered for me, stand up and put my jacket back on. I shake Aimee’s hand and say, “It was a pleasure meeting you. Enjoy your Moscow Mule.” The look on her pretty face could break my heart if I’d let it. But I won’t let it.
I pat Keaton on the back and tell him I’m heading back to the office. He barely protests. He doesn’t want to lose Aimee’s focus. I don’t blame him. I didn’t either. But I will.
The road to a successful business is littered with sacrifices, and Aimee may not be the first, but she is certainly my favorite thing that I’ll be letting go of to make this business work.
And so, I’ve heard some good music and had just the right number of drinks and met a woman who could have mattered to me more than anyone—in another life. I’ve made a choice, and it might be a bad choice, but it’s the right one.
I walk back out into the surprisingly cold night, but I’m not alone. You’re never alone at night in New York, and Brooklyn is still so fucking beautiful. I feel a chill, but it’s got nothing to do with the temperature. It’s knowing that if I turned around and looked back through that door that I just walked out of, I’d see Aimee watching me. If I stayed there looking back at her long enough, she’d follow me outside and leave Keaton behind. I know it deep in my lungs and all my organs and my brain and my bones and my cardiovascular system, just as well as I know that I’m going to keep walking away, even though I’ll be thinking about those deep blue eyes long after I close mine tonight.
CHAPTER TWO – Aimee
**ONE MONTH LATER**
I’ve been wearing yoga pants all day, because I was hoping it would make me feel more Zen about everything, but it turns out it’s not that easy to feel Zen when you’re frantically stuffing your face with donuts. It’s just so disappointing that no matter how delicious and comforting they are, they all start to taste the same after your third or fourth or fifth. No matter how much icing or sprinkles or filling, they’re still so simple. A quick fix. They’ll never wake up your palate with breathtaking contradictory flavors and leave a smooth, complex, haunting aftertaste like certain other vices do.
This has been the longest two-day weekend ever and it’s nowhere near over yet.
Also, my roommate keeps handing me bottles of beer and taking them away when I’ve finished so I can’t keep track of how many I’ve had. Beer and donuts are a terrible combination, but also strangely appropriate for the occasion. I lick the melted chocolate icing from my thumb and call out: “Roxy! How many beers have I had?!”
“If you’re sober enough to ask without slurring, it’s not enough!” she calls out, from the bathroom. I can tell from her voice that she’s curling her eyelashes. She has Make-Up Face voice. She’s listening to Prince. That means she’s getting ready to go out, which means she’s getting ready to convince me to go out. I do appreciate that she stayed in with me on Friday and Saturday night, but …
“I start a new job tomorrow!”
“Exactly! We’re celebrating. And you need to drink one beer for every month that you’ve been celibate.”
“I am not going to drink six bottles of beer on a Sunday night, Roxy.”
“Fine. Then one beer for every week you wasted being polite to that bonehead.”
“I’m not going to drink four beers either. I’m serious! How many have I had?”
“Three, sweetie. Only three.”
I exhale and then polish off my third bottle of beer.
“He’s not a bonehead,” I say meekly.
He really isn’t.
Keaton is good-looking and he looks amazing in a suit. Keaton is charming, in the way that eight-year-old boys are charming. A good guy. But not the guy for me.
When he showed up at the bar that first night that I met him and Chase, I had the exact opposite response to him as I did to his best friend. When I saw Chase, my body immediately went on high alert. I assumed he was the lead singer of some grunge band that I wasn’t cool enough to recognize, but I could totally see myself screaming up at him from a mosh pit, begging for his attention. When he saw me and held my gaze, I just kept walking toward him. I’ve never done that before in my life—walked up to some stranger in a bar and started talking? He made me feel like some heightened version of myself, like an awesome drug that I’d probably never try. I was turned on. Actually switched on, like a lightbulb that had been set to dim forever and then BAM! Here’s all that electricity we’ve been holding back from you! How do you like that?! It felt like the difference between walking around your hometown and walking around Manhattan for the first time. Suddenly you’re so aware and awake and anything could happen.
I liked it and I was afraid of it.
When Keaton showed up, he felt familiar and safe. It was like getting off a roller coaster. I still had the dizzying buzz from flirting with Chase, but I was stepping back onto solid ground again and needing to find my balance. But it’s not like I didn’t want to get back on that roller coaster! If I were put in a situation where I had to make a choice, I would have chosen Chase. But he took himself out of the equation.
It’s not that I wasn’t flattered by Keaton’s attention.
He’s like a purebred puppy who doesn’t understand the word “no.” He’s exasperating, but you can’t hate him because at the end of the day, he’s still a cute puppy. And I’m too old to date puppies.
Which is why I would have rather dated Chase. The day after meeting him, I sent a text to the number he’d given me.
It was great meeting you and Irish whiskey at Bitters last night! Haven’t seen any zombies yet, but you never know…
I mean. Maybe he gave me a wrong number. But I had a feeling it was a Bro Code thing. I get it. I don’t like it, but I get it.
A few days later, I had a phone conversation with Keaton and I learned more about their relationship, so I could certainly see why Chase didn’t want to rock the boat.
I liked Keaton. I really did. I especially liked that he had such a cool best friend. But I also hated that he was friends with Chase. Because I really liked Chase.
But I’m a nice, polite Midwesterner, and Keaton is persistent. Every few days he’d call or text to invite me out to all these great restaurants. And all the flowers he sent to my office? Oh lord, so many beautiful flowers. And Wicked. He said he could get us greats seats at Wicked on Broadway. Roxy and I always used to sing “Defying Gravity” when we were drunk at karaoke bars in college. That was a tough one to say ‘no’ to, but I did.
And then I found out that I was being laid off. The job that I had moved out here for—at the prestigious business consulting firm—had to eliminate my position. So I had a lot more on my mind than dating.
The next few times he asked me out, I gave him the excuse of being stressed-out from job-hunting. On Thursday, I found him waiting for me outside my apartment when I came home from a job interview. He had a lunch reservation at a great restaurant by the river and wanted me to go with him right then. He was very charming and persuasive, but I just couldn’t go out with him if there was ever a chance that I could be with Chase. I didn’t tell him that, of course. What I finally told him, very clearly, was that I liked him but I didn’t think we were a good match and I really didn’t want to lead him on. He seemed to think I was joking at first. I’m guessing no one’s ever said those words to him before.
For a few seconds, I saw this storm of indignant anger in his eyes, and I understood why Chase didn’t want to take any chances. But as quickly as that look in his eyes appeared, it was replaced by polite words of thanks, a sincere handshake, and a genuine “Good luck with everything. Let’s keep in touch. I hope to see you again sometime.”
He was classy. I felt good about everything. I wondered if and when he’d mention to his best friend that I’d totally refused to date him. I wondered how long I should wait before “accidentally” running into Chase in the neighborhood after subtly and ever-so elegantly stalking him.
That was Thursday. That was before shit got weird.
“Lady, lady, lady …” my roommate says as she collapses onto the sofa next to me. She’s got her going-out face on, she’s got her I’m-getting-laid-tonight musk on, and I can’t help but laugh. Roxy looks like Betty from the Archie comics, if Betty were drawn by a horny twelve-year-old boy who’s into manga. Blonde ponytail, pert nose, comically enormous boobs that are packed tight into a 1950’s teen-girl outfit, and a sweet smile that does nothing to hide the foul-mouthed vixen’s devious thoughts. She takes the empty donut box from me and says, “You finally got another fucking job. It’s a good thing. We should be celebrating.”
That’s right. On Friday afternoon, I got a call from Elaine Hoffman. Elaine is the president of the boutique business consulting firm that I interviewed with on Thursday. I had been unemployed for nearly three weeks. I was deliriously happy when she offered me a position at her firm, because her company specializes in consulting for startups, and that was my focus in business school. The pay is great, the office is in Brooklyn, I loved her no-bullshit attitude and I just knew we’d be a great fit. And then she told me that the project she’s assigning me to, starting Monday, is for her important new clients: SnapLegal-NYC. Keaton and Chase’s company. They hired her company and they’re paying for an on-site project manager for a month. She hired me specifically because she needs a project manager to help them transition to a subscription-based model for their services, although she never mentioned this in our meeting. “You’re a Godsend,” she said. “You’re a perfect fit for this.”
That means I get to see Chase McKay on Monday! I thought to myself. I wonder if he wears suits at the office? I thought to myself, before imagining him slowly taking off his suit.
It wasn’t until after I’d hung up that I realized I’d also be seeing Keaton Bridges on Monday.
I immediately called Roxy at work, and told her about my situation. She laughed so hard she didn’t even make a sound, then she snorted, then she hung up on me. The fifteen random emojis she sent afterwards made no sense and didn’t make me feel any better.
I drank one cup of coffee spiked with just a tiny amount of Irish whiskey and a huge amount of cream, and I called Elaine back.
“I just had my HR woman send a courier over with your paperwork and a company cell phone,” she said when she answered. “Please don’t tell me you’ve changed your mind.”
“I haven’t changed my mind about working for you, Elaine, not at all. I just have a bit of a dilemma here, and I felt that I should tell you that I actually know the founders of SnapLegal, a little bit. I met them socially, and Keaton Bridges pursued me for a few weeks, but I finally made it clear to him that I wouldn’t go out with him. He was always a perfect gentleman and it was a friendly parting. No hard or deep feelings at all, and I promise you that I am fully capable of doing the job your company has been hired to do for them. I just … you know … full-disclosure.”
“And what about Chase McKay?”
“What about him?”
Oh shit. Did I accidentally verbalize my little Chase McKay in a suit fantasy without knowing it? Did I think those dirty thoughts so loud that my new boss could hear them?
“You said that you know the founders socially.” I could hear the strain in her voice. She was trying so hard not to yell at me. “Did Chase McKay also pursue you?”
“Oh God, no! No no nooooo.” I wish. “No, I just know him because he’s Keaton’s best friend. I mean, I actually met him half an hour before I met Keaton, but that was it.” And I overanalyzed his reasons for not wanting to pursue me endlessly.
I heard her exhale slowly. “Okay. So that’s your big dilemma? You dated Keaton Bridges a few times, and now you are not dating him, but it’s a friendly break-up?”
“Yes. I mean, no! It wasn’t even a break-up because we never dated. We’re just not dating. End of story.”
“Okay. Here’s a short story for you: I once had to work for the man who ran over my dog. I wanted to murder him, but I did my job because I am a professional who is capable of compartmentalizing. That is why I did not spit in his coffee once, as far as he knew.”
“I’m … so sorry about your dog.”
“Okay.” I could hear her tapping on her desk with her pen. “Listen. I have three kids and I am currently the main breadwinner in my family because my husband has decided that it’s finally time for him to write The Great American Novel, and I haven’t slept for more than four hours a night in months, so I don’t have time to filter my thoughts on this and then get back to you. I like you. I had a good feeling about you. You have the perfect resume for this position and fantastic references. And you are literally, on paper, the best person for this SnapLegal job. So, if you are honestly telling me that your personal dynamic with our clients will not affect your ability to do your best work and represent my company in a professional manner, then I seriously don’t give a shit about your private life, as long as you keep it private. So just sign and return the contract. Your company e-mail address will be set up by Monday morning, and I will meet you at the SnapLegal offices at ten on Monday morning for a quick meeting with the founders. But if they try to get out of my contract with them because of you, then obviously I will be firing you.”
She hung up before I could thank her for understanding. I also sort of wanted to ask her to marry me. If she was cool about the situation, now all I had to do was make sure that Keaton would be cool with it. And I was nearly positive that he probably would be. I just wished there was one person that I could talk to about how to approach this, someone who knows Keaton better than I do, someone with impossibly beautiful wavy hair and rich, dark bedroom eyes and a deep smooth voice that always sounds like he’s talking dirty on the phone—even when he’s grumbling to you about Moscow Mules and walking away from you.
“I need to talk to Chase,” I say, reaching for my phone. I’ve already called him twice and texted him three times today.
“Has he responded?”
I sigh. “No.”
“Send him a boob pic.”
I bark out a laugh. “That’s your answer to every man problem.”
“That’s the answer to every man problem. You can send him one of mine if you’d like.” She smiles big and bats her eyelashes at me.
She’s joking. She’s never actually taken or sent boob pics. It’s a joke. I’m pretty sure it’s a joke.
Roxy is an angel. She’s an angel disguised as the little blonde devil perched on my shoulder. The one who convinces me that a shot or three of tequila and going dancing are the answer to all of my problems. And they were! When we were in college.
Roxy works just as hard as she plays. She’s the manager of customer loyalty for an online retail company, and she makes a buttload of money, some of which she has been using to pay for most of our meals for the past few weeks. I am eternally grateful to her. Except for one thing.
“This is all your fault. If you hadn’t bet me that I couldn’t give a guy my number, I wouldn’t have gone out that night and maybe I would have met Chase another time, when Keaton wasn’t around.”
I had only been out on a few dates since moving to New York, because I seem to be really good at attracting guys that I’m not really attracted to. Roxy dared me to go home with a guy that I met in a bar. When I refused to acknowledge that one, she dared me to give my number to a guy that I actually liked and to give a fake number to any guy I didn’t like if he asked me for one. That was the one and only time I had ever actually taken her advice …Well, sort of … Minus the fake number part.
I can’t not stay in touch with people. I still send Christmas cards to my friends from kindergarten. I send thank you cards to former bosses when I’ve been laid off. Every stationary store in New York is still in business because of me.
But I couldn’t give Keaton a fake number, because I didn’t want him to tell Chase that I was a sneaky b-face.
She brushes the hair out of my eyes. “If you want Chase, go get him.”
“I can’t get Chase. I have to go to work with Chase and Keaton tomorrow.”
“Why don’t you just ask your new boss to assign you to a different project?”
“She specifically hired me because she needs someone on this one.”
“Then quit. You’ll get another job.”
“Wow. You are full of great ideas. Maybe I should also do heroin while I’m at it.”
“Hey, don’t knock it until you try it.”
“That’s not funny.”
“Sorry. Don’t do heroin. But you should definitely do Chase. I mean, the man quit smoking for you.”
“He did not quit smoking for me.”
“You said he quit smoking.”
“Keaton mentioned that he did, when we were on the phone.”
“Right after he met you and you criticized him for smoking.”
“I’m quite sure I’m not the only one who’s ever criticized him for smoking. He obviously hates me, or he wouldn’t have bolted from the bar like it was on fire.”
“Maybe he’s secretly burning for you.” She grins and waggles her perfect eyebrows. “Call him again.”
“I’ve already texted him three times to tell him that I really need to talk to him and called twice. He probably thinks I’m a stalker now.”
“Did you leave a voicemail?”
“Nobody leaves voicemails.”
“Do you know where he lives?”
I just want to tell Chase that I have a new job at the consulting firm that they hired for implementation consultation and that I’ve been assigned to their project. I just want to make sure he’s okay with it and discuss how best to approach this with Keaton. I want to have this conversation with him, because I need this job and I’m a professional and he’s a professional and we’re all grown-ups. Also, I want to hear his voice and smell him just a little.
“I think I might know where Chase is…” I say, hesitantly.
“In your dirty dreams every night?”
“At that bar in Carroll Gardens.”
Roxy claps her hands so loud that it echoes around the room. “Yes! That is where you need to go. That is what you need to do. And I know exactly what you need to wear when you go there to do that.”
“But it’s seven o’clock. On a Sunday. I start a new job in the morning.”
“But I mean … we’re twenty-seven years old.”
“Girl. Do not make me slap you.”
***end of excerpt***