L'Affaire C. 14bysharkandpen©
She hadn't heard from Liam yesterday, which could mean he was busy, or that he didn't want to keep seeing her, or that he only intended to see her for sex when he was feeling the urge. It could mean anything, really, and so it was useless to try and determine all of the possibilities. She'd had a lovely evening with Ally, and it was friends she should be focusing her energy on, anyway.
She was meeting her father and stepmother for lunch and it was already getting late, she'd taken a cab home from the bar because she'd had a few too many and had slept until 10:45 this morning, which was pathetic. She was a grown woman; grown women did not drink excessively and sleep until 10:45, waking up with raging headaches: At least... not on weekdays. Luckily, she did not have classes today. She showered, watched the water flow over the mounds of her breasts for awhile before snapping out of it and turning the water off, wrapping herself in a towel and blotting the excess moisture out of her hair with another towel before finally hanging them both up and pulling out her hair dryer.
She combed the tangles out of her thick blond hair. It tangled so easily, because of the bleach treatments. She'd have liked to have long lustrous locks, the kind men love to run their hands through, but she could not for two reasons—the chemicals made her hair on the fragile side, and past a certain length she had dual problems, brittleness and dryness. The other was that her face, while the coveted oval shape, was a touch on the long side, and having hair anywhere past her shoulders gave her face the effect of being even longer than it was. Or maybe gave the effect of her face being as long as it really was.
She moisturized her face, then her body, choosing a lotion scented with bergamot before she started blow-drying, working her wavy hair smooth with an oversized round brush while focusing most over her attention on her breasts, which were, quite frankly, spectacular. Sure, on many occasions she regretted her implant decision, or perhaps regretted what it said about her, but at the same time she had to admit that even after four years they were holding up amazingly. They were not so large that she looked disproportionate, and she finally filled a shirt out nicely.
Hair dry and mostly smoothed, she moved on to putting on her makeup. She was still naked, not wanting to get powder on her clothes. She layered concealer over eye cream, trying to hide the dark circles that plagued her this morning, then applied bronzer in an effort to mask the paleness in her face, spending extra time on her eye shadow to draw attention away from what she assumed must be a very obvious haggard appearance.
When she made it to her dad's building, wearing jeans, Uggs and hiding underneath an oversized ivory Irish fisherman's sweater, she met her stepmother, already waiting. She was only a few minutes late, despite having had to wait for a cab to arrive to take her to collect her car at the bar.
"Hi Helen!" Carly smiled, waving excitedly as she approached. Helen turned and, spotting Carly, smiled infectiously; throwing her arms wide for a hug Carly was happy to run into.
"Oh, my darling, how are you?" Helen asked, pulling away and cupping a cheek in her hand.
Carly shrugged noncommittally and stepped back, readjusting the strap to her oversized shoulder-bag and sighing. "Things are okayish, I guess."
Helen nodded, "We can talk more at lunch, or later if you want."
"Is dad on his way down?"
"He's finishing up a quick email and will be down after that."
Carly's heart slammed against her chest and she felt a jolt of something—nerves? excitement?—rush through her body. She turned her head to see Liam and Jack approaching, each of them carrying deli to-go bags and coffees. She could see small streams of steam rising into the crisp air through the holes in the cup lids. She could feel Helen's eyes on her and she waved as casually as she could and said, "Hello Jack. Hi Liam."
"I got stuck with the uptalker once you left," Jack told her.
"I heard, I'm sorry."
"That's okay, I'm getting used to it. I can almost tell whether or not she's really asking a question and when she's making a statement I don't need to answer."
"Jack, Liam, you've met Helen, haven't you?" They agreed they had, and the conversation died off. Jack excused them, and she found Liam looking at her questioningly, as if she should say something else, or ask him to say, before he snapped out of it and said goodbye, following after Jack, who was by that time ten feet away. As Liam left a corner of Helen's mouth curved upwards in a smile. "Well isn't he a tall drink of water?"
Carly felt herself blush furiously, hoped the extra make up she'd applied in an effort to look like a living and breathing person hid the flush in her cheeks. "Yes," she whispered. "Yes he's very handsome." She forced herself to look at Helen, realized she was still under scrutiny, and tilted her chin up. Helen nodded, and closed the door on the topic.
"Your father asked me via a text message where I bought my new fragrance. I answered back 'Ulta' and the auto-correct on my phone changed it to 'Ukraine'. Now, I find myself wanting to go fragrance shopping in the Ukraine."
Carly giggled, smiling gratefully at her stepmother. Her dad saved them from further efforts to avoid the subject of Carly's reaction to Liam, which by that time she was embarrassed to realize had been clear as day.
Liam caught up with Jack, who slowed down to hold the door open for someone walking into the building behind him. Jack was grinning triumphantly as the gentleman rushed through the door, nodding in thanks. Liam's hear sank, fearing that Jack's expression was because he had seen what a bumbling idiot he'd just been and pieced together the puzzle. "What's so funny?" he asked, trying not to sound defensive.
Jack cocked his head back toward the person who'd entered the building before them. He was halfway to the elevator banks. "The passive-aggressive door game," Jack said. "It's my new thing."
"The what's that now?"
"The rules are, you open and hold the door for a man at least ten feet away. If they speed up as a response, and scurry into the door at an accelerated pace, you win. If they have the testicular fortitude to not speed up, and maintain their pace up to and through the doorway, you lose."
Liam laughed, both in relief and true enjoyment for Jack's newest way of interacting with the general public. "So you've turned the perfectly polite practice of holding a door open for someone and turned it into a way to emasculate strangers through a game they don't know they're playing?" He paused, and then nodded at Jack. "Yeah, not all that surprised." Liam took a sip of coffee, winced as the heat of it burned his tongue. "Fun game, though."
"Hell yeah, it is." They entered the elevator with the man in the doorway and as such dropped that conversation. Jack transitioned seamlessly onto an alternate topic. "Dugan wants to throw an engagement party for Ally and I, which I thought was nice but Ally thought was weird. Plus she doesn't want to go because he's planning on inviting the whole firm, and 'isn't it bad enough that she's marrying a lawyer?' I don't know though, Dugan seems really excited about it, and I don't want to disappoint the old man, mostly because the son of a bitch scares the shit out of me." He reached out, pressed the button for their floor. "This morning he came into the office and asked me a question I should have had the answer to, and I blurted out 'I'm engaged' like a fucking mental patient. That was at six this morning and by ten he'd secured the Chinese Room as a venue for the engagement party I never knew I wanted. So what the fuck, man? I have to figure out how to get Ally to go."
"That is weird, right? Bosses don't throw engagement parties, do they? Doesn't the couple plan that?"
"I think parents. I really don't know. But I think it's safe to say no, bosses don't throw engagement parties."
The elevator chime rang, indicating they'd reached their floor, and Liam and Jack crowed out, smiling broadly as the doors closed. "Man, that pansy ran for that door like a little bitch. No balls, not even small, misshapen ones." And with that he walked off in the direction of his office.
Chuckling, Liam started to make his own way through the lobby when the new receptionist waved him over. "Liam," she said, and it sounded like a coo. The woman had an incredibly sexy voice. "I have something for you."
He steeled himself, moved over to the desk, where he was assaulted by a wave of perfume. Someone had to talk to the woman about fragrance moderation; being too close to her gave him a headache. He wasn't sure anyone else noticed it, though, as everyone seemed pleased with her. The clients were especially pleased, the dirty old men in particular. "What have you got, Jesse?"
"Jasmine." He flushed, grimaced in a way he hoped looked apologetic. Yesterday he'd called her Jerri, and Cameron. "Sorry, I'm not normally so bad with names."
She smiled, and it reminded him of Jack's smile downstairs. Triumph. Like she was playing a game he was losing.
She held out a USPS Priority envelope to him. Mail. Mail she should have given his assistant. As if anticipating a remark, she held her arm toward him, leaned forward with the gesture, giving him a view of the swell of breasts underneath her sweater. He darted his eyes away, having developed a newfound fear of sexual harassment accusations in the workplace. Biting her lip, she said, "It looked important."
Liam took the envelope without meeting her gaze, mumbled what could have been 'thanks' and fled the scene. He found he was rushing toward his office with an unnecessary haste, but he didn't care. His head swirled with thoughts of Carly and secret games and the burn on his tongue he expected would severely limit his ability to even taste his lunch.
His assistant was working on the computer when Liam walked by. Without looking up, he said, "Dugan is still expecting that update on Hong Kong. You promised it by two."
"Shut your unhelpful piehole, you pain in the ass. I know what I told him," he grumbled as he rushed by, closing the door behind him. As he entered the heat of his office, which by some violation of science was still warmer than the rest of the firm's suite, he heard the intercom on his phone come to life and the words, "Well you were late last time and I had to pretend you'd eaten bad clams and were stuck in the bathroom with a horrible case of the shits."
"Which is the worst excuse in the history of man, you fucktard." Liam shot back. "I still haven't forgiven you for that."
Liam sat down and sighed, his thoughts straying back to Carly. She'd been in an oversized sweater that hid nearly everything, but the sight of her still made his heart race and blood flood into his cock. She'd looked like a deer in headlights, and he suspected it was because she didn't want Mrs. Dugan finding out about them, and letting Mr. Dugan know. He knew her inclination to keep that from them was in his best interests, but it still hurt.
He tried to get his mind off of her and concentrate on work, and he struggled for an hour and a half before deciding to punish himself with another cup of coffee. He called Jack, who refused to make the trip, but asked a cup be brought back. Typical. He pulled his coat on and made his way toward the elevators, but was stopped by the receptionist.
"Where are you going?" she asked, sounding playful, as if he were doing something naughty. He stopped midstride, gave her a skeptical look before, going for polite, he said, "I'm going out for coffee, bringing Jack some back. Would you like me to bring you a cup?"
She shook her head, dark curls dancing with the movement, and it struck him then that she was a beautiful girl. He hadn't noticed it because she had the look of a girl, not the look of a woman. Her skin was either a blemish-free golden brown or any blemishes had been hidden under make-up. Big brown eyes watched him from behind retro glasses, and she smiled. She had killer dimples. "No thanks, Liam."
He nodded, and stood there for a second, feeling awkward. The moment stretched out too long for him to just walk away, and he felt the need to say something. "By Jackie."
Fuck! "Bye Jasmine." He departed then, feeling like an idiot.
The air outside was crisp and cool and it was just what he needed to clear his thoughts. He moved into the deli, held up two fingers, and the girl behind the counter started pouring two coffees. He rolled his shoulders, trying to release some of the tension.
"I found you."
At first Liam thought the voice wasn't speaking to him, but there was no one standing near him, so he turned around. Jasmine had tied a vibrant red wool coat on and had, apparently, followed him to the coffee shop.
"I changed my mind, thought I'd try and catch up with you." She turned her attention to the counter. "Can I get a green tea please?"
He grabbed the coffee order and paid for all three drinks, leaving money in the tip jar, and turned back to Jasmine as she grabbed her tea. "Ready?" he asked, as brightly as he could manage. Jasmine nodded and followed him out of the deli. He nearly knocked over a woman who was passing by on the sidewalk, and he was horrified to find that it was Carly.
"Oh, shit, are you okay?"
Carly looked up, realizing only when he spoke that it was him. "Liam, hi." She gave him what he could only describe as a forced smile, her eyes darting to his right. Which is when he remembered Jasmine, who was standing to his right. "Twice in one day."
"We just came down to get some coffee," Jasmine chirped. She was standing much too close to him.
Carly nodded and started to move off, "Well, we finished with lunch, headed home now." Her eyes darted back to Jasmine, then away again.
He held up both coffees, as if to show her evidence of his innocence. "Grabbing coffee for Jack, too."
"I'm parked down this way," she hooked a thumb in the direction she'd been walking when he'd nearly taken her out. "I better go, I overestimated how warm this sweater would be." He opened his mouth to speak but she had turned her back to him and started walking away, which in all honesty, was what he fully expected her to do. Just not yet.
"It's cold," Jasmine said, touching his arm lightly. "We should get back."
Liam pushed Jack's coffee into her hand. "I'm sorry, I forgot to tell her something, could you take that to Jack?" He didn't wait for an answer. "Thanks," he said, already moving down the street in the direction Carly had gone. He had to jog a bit to catch up with her, which was a mistake, because he was still holding his coffee cup and the hot liquid sloshed on his fingers, stinging him.
She had reached her car and was about to move off the sidewalk toward the driver's side door when he called her name. She froze, then turned, her face full of confusion. She opened her mouth, as if to ask a question, but closed it again. He answered her anyway.
"That was—not anything. I went out to get coffee, I didn't mean to have coffee with her, we didn't even—"
"Don't," she said, and the word came out soft. He felt a stab in his chest, knowing this wasn't going well for him. "You don't have to explain having coffee with someone else, I mean, we're having—" She stopped, searching for words. "Its not like we were exclusive."
Were. The word killed him. "I didn't mean to have coffee with her, we didn't even, she showed up in line—"
She squeezed his arm. "It's okay. Even if you did mean to have coffee with her it's okay, it's not anything, it's fine."
She pressed a button on the keychain in her hand and he heard her car unlock. Having exhausted all other options, Liam set his coffee on the trunk of her car and pulled her to him, snaking an arm around her waist and tilting her face up with his fingers. She made a small sound of surprise, her mouth falling open. And he kissed her. He kissed her in the middle of downtown, on a street packed with pedestrians and traffic, and he kissed her as if there was a chance he might never have the chance again.
Carly responded with so quickly and with such passion that if he didn't know any better he'd think she had initiated the kiss. She wrapped her arms around his neck, melting into him. He didn't time the kiss, of course, didn't know for sure how long it lasted. But it lasted long enough they got a "woot!" of appreciation from a passing group of teenagers, who should have been in school, and the driver of a car passing by tapped his horn twice, two short bursts piercing the air.
When he pulled his mouth off of hers he kept holding her, not wanting to let her go until they'd at least settled something. "Can I take you out tonight? We could go to dinner, or..ice skating?"
"Ice skating?" Carly looked baffled. "You ice skate?"
"No," Liam admitted. "That was weird, I don't know why I said that, and it just seemed like something people did on dates."
"You mean white people, right? You think white people's dating lives revolve around trips to ice skating rinks populated by pre-teens needing an excuse to hang out at the mall, don't you?" She was teasing, the laugh on her voice like a song. He laughed too, embarrassed.
"I'm just teasing. How about we grab dinner, and go from there—as long as we don't go skating."
Liam nodded, squeezing her close, kissing her again, this time without tongue, just a sweet brushing of lips that shouldn't have renewed the fire of his need. "I'll pick you up."
Time got away from her, and when she heard a knock and glanced at the watch on her wrist she groaned. She was sitting on the kitchen floor, her fingers stained black from pages of a novel she'd picked up for a dollar at a library used book sale. She'd been gluing the pages of the novel to milk cartons, then gluing windows she'd drawn on cardstock, painting the frames black around yellow, as if they were windows to a home with every light on. She'd drawn a witch in one window, a black cat in another and, after gluing the six different-shaped milk cartons together, she had moved on to cutting out and gluing on the windows and the door she'd crafted.
Carly looked down at her hands, speckled with paint and ink, and stood, rubbing her hands on her sweatpants. She moved hurriedly to the door, limping slightly because a leg had fallen asleep while she was crouched on the floor. She opened the door, a grimace on her face. She knew what she looked like, in a faded and stained college swim team T-shirt and baggy sweatpants that had been black once upon a time. Liam wore a white half-zip pullover over a white t-shirt and black denim jeans. She was pleasantly surprised to see he was in converse, which gave him a boyish quality she'd never noticed in him before. But then, she'd never seen him without a tie...unless, of course, he had been naked.
"I'm so sorry, I lost track of time! I'll get changed right away and we can go. Let me just go get cleaned up."
Carly moved toward the kitchen and, curious, Liam followed. She was bent over picking up scissors and glue from the ground, where she's spread out butcher paper and had made a black and white house that looked an awful lot like a Halloween decoration. "You know Halloween was back in October, right?" Liam asked, oddly intrigued. A closer inspection revealed it looked more like a section of brownstones than a single house.
Carly nodded. "I know. But I hit up the after Christmas sales for impossibly cheap Christmas decorations and it reminded me I'd done the same thing at Halloween and stored everything away. I figured I'd get a start on making everything, since my ex 'cleaned' the attic and 'accidentally' got rid of all the holiday decorations because he 'thought they were junk'." She sounded irritated about it. "Prick." Or pissed, more than irritated maybe.