Shut Out (Just This Once #2) (8 page)

BOOK: Shut Out (Just This Once #2)
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“Yeah, you sure haven’t made it easy.”

“You didn’t like the flowers?
Or the singing telegram?
OK, how about the video?” His smile spread like poison and just as mischievous. After spending the last ten minutes trying to shake my head of that video, there he was bringing it up again. Not only that, but he was wearing the smile that I imagined while watching the video. Though I couldn’t see his face, I felt those eyes on me, undressing me with a look. It was a look I’d seen before. It spoke of sinister desire and a fiery passion I’d become far too familiar with. Those eyes were deceptive, though—deep pools of green that pulled me in, intrigued me with their mystery, and captured me like a fly caught in a web. There was no escaping Joel, not when he looked at me like that.

“Was that from you?” I said trying to gain some ground, anything to cut the hold Joel had over me. He knew I watched that video, knew that I knew it was him, and worse, knew that I watched it until the very last minute when the screen went black while my heart was still racing from the orgasm that swept through my body like a tornado. The video still didn’t have anything on Joel. Nothing did.

“Cute. So tell me, how many times did you watch it? It couldn’t have been only once. I watched the video after I made it; there’s no way it was only once.”

“Joel, do you want to get to the reason why we’re here?”

“Blaire, I’m sorry—”

“You’ve said that already, in
every
imaginable way. In ways I didn’t even think one could say sorry.”

“I know, but you didn’t give me a chance to tell you…it’s not true, you know. I would never do that. I don’t know if that’s the real reason why you won’t see me, but I would never do that to a woman. I’m a make-love-not-war kind of guy. You have to know that. You believe me, don’t you?” He looked like a man who was desperate for someone, anyone to be on his side. I could understand. He was an only child, now orphaned. Sure, he was an adult, but I’m sure he was having a really rough time what with everything that was going on—not including his legal problems.

“Would it make you feel better if I told you I believe you? Because that still doesn’t change anything. Not the case or our situation.”

“Yes. It would.
Even if you never saw me again, if I paid her off, or lost to her in court—whatever.
I want you to know the truth.”

“Why does it even matter what I think? You don’t even know me, Joel. You have plenty of other things to worry about right now.”

“I know, I know, but I can’t stop thinking about you. I know it was only supposed to be a night, but don’t you see? We were supposed to be stuck together in that storm.
You and I.
I thought it was going to be a disaster, but it turned out to be the best week I’ve had in a long time. Do you know what my life has been like this last month?”

“I—no, I can’t imagine.”

“It’s been a fucking nightmare. I never thought I’d be the guy to hide out in my house.”

“Why have you been hiding? Why don’t you just face her? If what you say is true, why don’t you say it?”

“Do you know what people see when they see me? They see a man three times as big as Lara. They think I do steroids, which would explain how I could lose it like that. They see a spoiled little rich kid who probably got everything he ever asked for and didn’t have to work for anything. Even if I
was
never accused of doing something as fucking awful as hitting a woman, there would always be those people who hate me.
That want
to see me fail.
That want
to knock me down a peg or two, just so that I could know what their struggles are like. I’m only one person, Blaire. How am I supposed to go against that?”

“The night we met—”

“Wasn’t supposed to happen. I had been cooped up for weeks, and I felt like I was going stir crazy. I had to get out, even if for a little bit. And then I saw you…”

The waiter chose the perfect opportunity to bring our food. He set our plates down, clouds of steam still billowing from Joel’s fajitas. After we assured him everything looked
good
, he left us alone again—to continue our conversation. I didn’t know what I expected from my lunch with Joel, but it wasn’t that. It wasn’t complete honesty and sincere words.
Maybe a lot of sexual innuendo and sly smirks, pretty much anything to get me to the nearest hotel for a quickie.
Not that the idea crossed my mind or anything
. With the waiter gone, Joel didn’t miss a beat immersing us back in the conversation we had prior to our food arriving.

“You can’t tell me I don’t mean something to you. I saw it. I felt it.”

I never felt as fat in my life as I did in that moment, where I would have rather stuffed my face full of cheesy enchiladas than face what he was suggesting. To say no would be to lie and to say yes would be the truth.
A truth that wouldn’t help either one of us.
Especially, if my intention was to put some distance between us.

When Joel picked up his fork and took a bite of his food, I was thankful he wasn’t going to push it.

“I don’t want you hiding in your house.” The words coming from my mouth shocked even me, but I continued, “I know you said people don’t want to see you, but it looks worse that you’re not doing anything. If what you’re saying is true and Lara is lying, then she’s winning by forcing you to hide out in your home where you have no one and nothing. Do you know why she’s doing this to you?”

“No, but I suspect it has something to do with money.”

“Why did you break up with her after your father died? It seemed like an awful time to dump someone.”

“Things were sour between us long before my father died, and
after his heart attack, I
knew it was the right thing. But I think the final straw was when she started saying things like ‘now that he’s finally dead’?”

“Oh my god, did she actually use those words?” I felt my face contort, displaying every horrific reaction imaginable to someone actually saying that to a grieving child.

“Yeah, I couldn’t believe it either. Needless to say, she had to go. It didn’t hurt that my father didn’t like her anyway. I couldn’t show up to his funeral with her on my arm. I’d never forgive myself.”

“God, that’s awful. I’m so sorry. You’ve really had a rough couple months.”

“You’re telling me. Honestly, Blaire, I wasn’t lying when I said spending time with you was the best thing that’d happened to me in a long time. After all this…I felt like myself again.”

“I know, but Joel, what happened between us can’t happen again. You do understand, don’t you? This is hard for me, too. I haven’t had someone in a really long time and you were…you were just what I needed, but its just bad timing.”

“I understand.” His eyebrows were downcast, staring into the peppers and steak still lingering on his plate. I felt like I’d broken his heart. It was much easier to cut him off when he was still in my house and I was spitting angry and just the sight of his face made me see red, but without the anger, all I felt was an overwhelming sadness. I knew without a doubt that he did understand and this would be the last time I spent with Joel.
Perhaps forever.

It took every bit of effort to continue moving fork to mouth, chewing through the empty pit in my stomach that seemed to be pulling everything into its orbit. My chest felt bottomless, like my heart was incinerating in slow motion so I could feel every cell burn until there was nothing left.

“I really am sorry, Joel. I wish things could be different,” I said as we exited the restaurant. He moved closer and I held out my arms to him, opening to receive him for the last time. I knew he needed to hold me at that moment, as much as I needed to hold him.
Just one last time.

“Me too.”

***

After my lunch with Joel and our obvious stalemate, I couldn’t help but be surprised by the box I found on my doorstep after work. I thought we were past this, but apparently we weren’t, because there it sat—large enough to be seen from the driveway. I rolled my eyes as I pulled into the garage. It was starting to become a rare occurrence that I didn’t have something waiting for me from Joel. Telegrams, drive-bys, phone calls, videos—it was overwhelming. How was I supposed to get over the time we spent together if every day he was reminding me of what I was missing? Didn’t he know how hard this was for me? Maybe not. I tried hard not to show my vulnerable side, not when it came to this. I had to be strong to withstand his charms. And every day it was becoming harder and harder. Some days I got so far as dialing his number before I remembered that I couldn’t call him. It would send the wrong message, and it wasn’t a mistake I could afford to make.

I took the box inside, going straight to my office for a pair of scissors. The box was ordinary—except where you’d usually find an address, there was nothing, just clear tape. Pressing the scissors into the crease of the box, I watched the tape break away, unfolding the top flaps of the box to reveal white tissue paper. I unwrapped the paper and peered in. The surprise that greeted me wasn’t one I was familiar with, nor was it welcomed. The white tissue paper was stained red as if something bloody had been put in the box and shaken.

Obviously with the amount of TV I’d watched and with the line of work I was in, I knew not to touch anything else, in the event that the blood inside was real. I escaped to the bathroom to grab a towel before returning to the office to inspect the contents of the box closer.

I’d seen some pretty gruesome images, so I typically had a thick stomach for those sorts of things, but nothing could compare to opening this box. I felt queasy and damp and uncomfortable—the kind where you think you could be coming down with something, except I knew that I was fine. I had been feeling fine up until the moment I opened the box.

With my hands covered by the towel, I peeled back the tissue again, this time reaching in to get a closer look at the pieces of paper I saw inside. There were bits of shiny paper that looked like the backs of printed photos. On the back of the first print facing up was the word “Is.” I flipped it over and knew I was looking at the image of the person who sent me this box.

Lara.

The picture had been one I’d seen before. A picture included in her file marked as evidence against Joel. I shuffled through the images, disgusted not only by the marred face of the woman staring back at me, but by the message that had been written out on each of the photos. When all of the photos had been turned over, the message read, “Is this worth losing your job over?”

The message was loud and clear. She wanted me to be scared that she had the power to make me lose my job. But she was also trying to scare me out of seeing or speaking to Joel again. Which was silly because she had to know I’d already seen the pictures, considering that I worked at the law firm that represented her. Maybe she thought I was a receptionist. That would explain why she thought it appropriate I escort her to the damn bathroom.

What Lara didn’t know was I’d been scared of the possibility of this happening for weeks. In fact, I’d been expecting any day I would walk in to find my crap thrown in a box and my last check in an envelope. She didn’t know that, but that was the fear I’d been living with since the day I found out who Joel really was.

Was I scared of her threat? Of course, but I was more scared of the person who would leave a bloody box with a creepy message on my doorstep. I had no idea if the blood was real or if she was just trying to scare me, but it didn’t matter. I was officially freaked out. I had tried for weeks to keep myself out of whatever was happening between Lara and Joel, but clearly I hadn’t tried hard enough, otherwise I wouldn’t have come home to that.

The hardest part was figuring out what to do next. It wasn’t like I could go to the authorities—something she probably knew—because then I would definitely lose my job. If I called Kerri, I was sure she would convince me to report it. I didn’t want to involve Joel either, because clearly Lara had been either watching my house or following Joel’s whereabouts.
How else would she have found out our involvement and where I lived?
For the first time in my life, I was without a doubt stuck between a rock and a hard place.

 

Chapter Eight

 

Friday couldn’t have come soon enough. After my lunch with Joel and returning home to find that box,
the remainder of the week felt endless.
 
The compounding days weighed me down like a ball and chain wrapped around my leg. I needed a break, like I’d never needed one before. I wanted a day all to myself with zero work, without even a
thought
of work, where I could sit on my couch in a ratty shirt and sweats and drink wine to my heart’s content.
Where I could mourn the loss of my blink-and-you’ll-miss-it love life.
Where I could mourn the thought of what could have been. Where I didn’t have to worry about what could end up being a short-lived career.

Henderson had me working on the deposition for the case with Lara, which was due Monday morning, while Fitz had me working on a couple pleadings for a few clients—all of this while I still had research and copious amounts of files that needed filing for Lara’s case. The last time I’d been that busy was finals junior year, first semester. I didn’t even remember eating or sleeping for days, but somehow I managed, just like I managed to make it through the work that seemed to keep me glued to my desk for most of Friday.

When I looked at the clock, it read 5:30, and surprisingly, I didn’t hear any tapping of keys or over-exaggerated sighs, signaling that everyone would have rather have been home at that point instead of working another Friday night.

BOOK: Shut Out (Just This Once #2)
8.53Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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