Coming back from lunch was decidedly far more depressing than usual. No one likes leaving work only to turn around and trudge right back in an hour later, but today it felt much worse for me.
The food was great. Tootsie’s burgers were always like having a sensory orgasm.
The feeling of the perfectly toasted bun in your hands…
The sight of a juicy patty topped with cheese, onion, and tomato—because lettuce only belongs in a salad, which I only eat when I feel guilty for binge eating junk food the night before…
The smell of all of that tantalizing goodness as you bring it in for a bite, followed by the immediate weeping of your taste buds as the flavor explodes through your whole damn body…
It was better than sex, but seeing as I’d only had three rather disappointing partners, I’ll keep my judgment to myself.
No, the depressing part was what Lance wanted to talk about.
He was seeing the same signs I had started to notice during his visit with Mom. She was getting worse.
Her home nurse had suggested that we consider one of us moving in with her or, perhaps, placing her in an assisted living facility.
Lance wasn’t able to commit to living with Mom to keep an eye on her and I had my job.
As it stood, the two of us could barely afford the nurse and the medicines she was taking. Not to mention I was also paying all of her bills, which Lance had not discovered yet.
I flopped to my desk and stared at the black screen in front of me. I was already struggling to make ends meet, so how in the world was I going to afford to put Mom in a facility?
I felt my eyes stinging and took a shaking, raspy breath as I forced them down. No tears at work, Emerald Wells!
I had no idea what I was going to do about my mother, but I did know what I was going to do for the next five hours.
Work. It waits for no one. It just gets dumped on your desk in the form of a pile of files.
“I need these summarized and sent to me by morning,” Mr. King said, and I gaped at the stack. “Is there a problem?”
Now, normally, I’d find some way to talk him into an extension so I wouldn’t have to work overtime, but with the prospect of needing to pay for a facility for Mom, I needed the overtime. A lot of it.
“No, Mr. King,” I said, resigning myself to my fate.
No more dinners with Lance, no more clubs with the two friends I had that weren’t also my boss, no more free time at all.
I was going to live and breathe on the clock if I could. I grabbed the first file and started reading.
“Sir, this is an obsolete contract from five years ago,” I pointed out.
“Yes, I am aware. I need a spending report, Ms. Wells, not obvious facts,” he replied.
“Isn’t this something the finance department should handle?” I asked.
“And why would I pull people from pertinent contracts in order to add and subtract numbers from five years ago?” he asked.
I shrugged and started working on that as well as my usual work.
It was after six when the office door was pulled open with enough force to make me jump and knock my knee on my desk, then roll the chair backward over my own toes.
“Fairy godmother,” I hissed out and bit on my lip to stop real profanities from running out of my mouth like a river.
“I’ve been called many things, but that one is new, Ms. Wells.” Mr. King looked at me with a flat look.
“Can I help you, sir?” I managed to say instead of what I actually wanted to say because I needed this job now more than ever.
“No. Make sure those are done by morning,” he said before stalking toward the elevator.
“Could I take them home? My brother just got home, and it’s kind of tradition to have dinner and play board games we both suck at,” I called after him, and he stopped in the middle of the hall.
He stayed still like that for long enough to make me start thinking he was having a stroke or something before he cleared his throat.
“Just leave them there. I’ll send someone from finance to get them later,” he said and kept going to the elevator.
“Oh, what a lovely idea. Too bad someone didn’t think of it hours ago,” I muttered as I sat the files back in their stack.
“Miserable pain in my ass needs a serious ego check before I throw my stapler at his stupid jerk face.”
I shut down the computer and switched the phones to voicemail before grabbing my purse and phone and leaving the office. I messaged Lance and hailed a cab.
I got home, and the place was dark, which I wasn’t expecting.
“Lance?” I called and immediately got pummeled with foam darts when I turned on the lights.
“Duck and cover, Emerald! Zigzag! Serpentine!” Lance laughed as I tried to get out of the line of fire at least.
“Asshole! I’m unarmed!”
“Reload! There’s more hidden all over the apartment, Em. Find one.” He laughed, ducking behind the couch again.
“Fucking child, I swear.” I huffed as I kicked off my shoes and dropped my purse to run through the living room in search of a weapon.
“How you managed to become a Marine and how they put up with you is anyone’s guess.”
“It’s because of my impeccably good looks and superior charm,” he answered.
“You look like a baboon’s butt, and the last person to call you charming was Great Nana Davis.” I cackled as I grabbed a weird handgun thing.
An hour later, we collapsed in a heap of laughter as the last dart sailed through the air.
“I was at a severe disadvantage, you know,” I giggled when he got up to get the pizza that had been delivered.
“Advanced weapons training does not apply to dart wars, Em.” He rolled his eyes.
“You still have better aim.” I grabbed some paper plates and flipped the box open.
“And I don’t flinch when a dart gets closer than three feet away.” He laughed.
“It went right by my head, asshole.” I shoved his shoulder.
“By a mile.” He snorted.
“Keep talking, and I’ll take you down in some Go Fish,” I warned him seriously.
“I tremble in fear, O Great One.” He laughed and stole the plate I had made for myself.
“That’s right. You better run,” I said as he walked to the living room, flipping me off. “Just wait until I tell your buddies your little sister totally made you cry when I win.”
We watched some stupid reality show while we ate and played games until nearly midnight before I called it.
I still had work in the morning, and I was already pushing the limits of the effectiveness of my morning coffee.
Lance looked half-dead with exhaustion, though I doubt he’d ever say anything.
I was brushing my teeth when the text came through.
I snorted and shook my head at the randomness. After eight months of it, I was used to getting at least one of these a night.
I finished brushing.
“Who’re you texting?” Lance asked as I spit.
“Just a friend,” I answered.
“Wow. You’re going that route?” I laughed. “Yes, a guy. I fail to see how that matters.”
“You don’t text guys while smiling like an idiot if you’re ‘just friends.’” He hip-bumped me away from the sink. “What’s his name?”
“So you can run a background check?” I narrowed my eyes at him.
“Yes,” he answered flatly.
“Yeah, I’m not giving you shit, soldier boy.” I laughed and went to my room.
“It’s a legitimate concern, Em,” he said loudly around his toothbrush. “I don’t want my baby sister dating some asshole player type, and, between us, I’d break him in half if he made you cry.”
“I’m a big girl, Lance. I’ve dealt with heartbreak before, and I’m fairly certain I could handle it again.”
I rolled my eyes as I plugged my phone into the charger and put it on my nightstand. “And you’re taking the protective brother thing a bit far. We really are just friends.”
“You want more, though,” he stated.
“Even if I did, it’s highly unlikely to last very long. We have fun conversations, but there’s not much else that just screams ‘relationship.’ Maybe ‘fuck me harder,’ but that’s it.”
“God! Jesus, Emma! I don’t want to know that!” he said and threw his toothbrush at me.
“Ew! Lance, that still has toothpaste on it,” I said when it landed at my feet. I kicked it toward the door, and he came to pick it up and pointed it at me.
“There is no such thing as going too far when it comes to keeping my sister safe from guys that are only going to hurt her,” he said seriously.
“Lance. I’m twenty-four years old. I’m perfectly capable of dealing with the consequences of any poor dating choices I make.”
I put my hands on my hips. “Not that I’ve made any choices in dating for the past eleven months, but you can’t go around giving every person I talk to the third degree.”
“Eleven months? Em, you poor thing.” He shook his head.
“Shut up, fuck hole.” I threw a slipper at him.
“Fine. You are an adult and I can’t make your choices for you, as much as I want to lock you in a nunnery or something.” He crossed his arms. “But don’t expect me to like anyone you date. Ever.”
“God, are you trying to make up for missing this talk when I started dating or something? Go to sleep. Jesus.” I flopped onto my bed.
“Goodnight,” he said, turning off my light.
“Night.” I smiled into my blankets.
After he closed the door, I picked up my phone.
I smirked at my phone as I hit send and snuggled into the blankets, excited for his response.
God, I hope you don’t wear jeans to the gym. Just the thought makes me sweat. Talk about uncomfortable.
Not to mention, the best ones were with Mom, to help her remember. I wonder if they’d let her keep them once she moved into a facility. Surely, they would, right?
I put my phone back on the table and stared at it.
That was the first time he’d ever asked personal questions. Usually, our conversations stayed along the lines of humorous.
I had to admit it felt kind of…nice. I didn’t have many friends and the ones I had, I didn’t talk to about that kind of thing.
I’d talk to Lance, or Mom, if she was having a good day. For a while, I had a therapist, but I had stopped going to appointments after a few months.
I closed my eyes and drifted off to sleep.
“Do you still have that piece of junk car?” Lance asked over breakfast at three in the morning.
“Yes,” I mumbled as I rubbed at my gritty eyes. “Keys are by the door. Have a blast.”
“Still not a morning person, I see.” He chuckled. “Remind me how you’ve been able to keep this job?”
“I tell my boss what to do and when to do it,” I muttered. I held my buttered toast between my teeth as I tucked my blouse into my skirt and finished zipping it up.
“You are definitely in the right field then, bossy ass.” He snorted. “Have a good day, Em.”
“You too, loser,” I called as I slipped on my shoes and grabbed my purse.
I picked up the coffee and the dry cleaning on my way to Mr. King’s penthouse. Oddly enough, Vince Hyatt joined me in the lobby.
“Dead hooker?” I guessed.
“I’m a lawyer, not a cleaner, Emma.” He laughed. “No, Tate just needs some legal advice.”
“At five in the morning? God, I hope you’re charging him double.” I shook my head.
“Goodness, no. I’m charging triple.”
The elevator let us out, and Vince went for the kitchen while I went toward the bedroom.
“Good morning, Mr. King,” I said and faltered slightly, seeing the lights were already on and the bed was empty. A damn mess but empty.
“Ms. Wells,” he said from the closet, and I startled a bit.
“Who are you and what have you done with my incredibly dependent boss?” I blurted out, seeing he was already dressed.
“Shockingly, I can dress myself on occasion.” He rolled his eyes.
“Not well.” I made a face at the tie he had draped over his shoulders. “Dark blue with a black suit? At least your shoes aren’t brown. I’ll give you a solid four out of ten.”
“Only four?” He raised an eyebrow.
“That jacket is from a different suit than the pants. The shades of black are different,” I pointed out.
“If you would hang the suits together instead of separately, that kind of thing wouldn’t happen, you know.”
“Are we seriously having this conversation right now?” He rolled his eyes and shrugged out of the jacket and handed it, and the tie, to me.
“I guess you deserve an A for effort, but leave the dressing to a professional,” I said, handing him the coffee and going to the closet.
“Mr. Hyatt is here. You have an eight o’clock with the Roth and Grant executives followed by a meeting with the head of marketing for the Muller contract at nine.
“The rest of the morning is free until eleven. You have a lunch meeting at Julian’s with Henry Logan. There were no notes on why and my call this morning went unanswered.”
“Cancel it,” he said as I handed him the right jacket and a better tie.
“It came from your father’s assistant. I can’t cancel it.” I huffed in annoyance.
“You have a conference call at two with the New York and Los Angeles offices, and someone named Haas A. Booner called. I let Devon know you’d call him back after three.”
“Jesus fuck. I have a cell phone he can call,” Mr. King grumbled.
“I reminded him of that and he blew a raspberry before hanging up, so I’m going to assume that means he’d rather talk to me. I am, by far, the more agreeable of the two of us, Mr. King.” I smirked.
“You have a reservation at Garden on the Square with your mother at seven. It’s her birthday today. You sent an arrangement of her favorite flowers and those lemon squares from Sweet Thing’s bakery.”
I left the bedroom and made his breakfast sandwich, swatting away Vince in the process.
When it was made, I grabbed my purse and left, starting another day wishing Mr. King could be more like Tate during the day.
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