Chapter Seventy-Four

After We Fell

chapter seventy-four




I can’t keep the ridiculous grin off of my face as Kimberly and Christian show me my new office. The walls are a clean white, the trim and door are dark gray, and the desk and bookcases are black, sleek, and modern. The size of the room is the same as my first office, but the view here is incredible; breathtaking, really. The new Vance Publishing office is located in the center of downtown Seattle; the city below is thriving, constantly moving, constantly developing, and here I am, right in the center of it all.

    “This is amazing—thank you so much!” I say, with probably more enthusiasm than most people would consider to be professional.

    “Everything you need is within walking distance—coffee, any cuisine you could possibly crave, it’s all here.” Christian proudly stares down at the city and wraps his arm around his fiancée’s waist.

    “Stop bragging, would you?” Kimberly teases, and he plants a soft kiss to her forehead.

    “Well, we’ll leave you be. Now, get to work,” Christian playfully scolds me. Kimberly grabs him by his tie and practically drags him out of the office.

    I arrange the things in my desk the way I like them and read a little, but by lunchtime I’ve sent at least ten pictures of my office to Landon . . . and to Hardin. I knew that Hardin wouldn’t respond, but I couldn’t help myself. I wanted him to see the view—maybe it would make him change his mind about moving here? I’m only making excuses for my momentary lapse in judgment in sending him the pictures. But I miss him—there, I said it. I miss him terribly, and I was hoping for a response from him, even a simple text. Something. But nothing came.

    Landon sent an excited response to each of the pictures, even when I sent a cheesy one of me holding a coffee mug with VANCE PUBLISHING printed on the side.

    The more I dwell on my impulsive decision to send those pictures to Hardin, the more I regret it. What if he takes them the wrong way? He does have a tendency to do that. He may see them as a reminder of the fact that I’m moving on; he may even think that I’m trying to rub this whole thing in his face. That truly wasn’t my intention, and I can only hope that he doesn’t take it that way.

    Maybe I should send another message to explain myself, I think. Or tell him that I sent the pictures accidentally. I don’t know which would be more believable.

    Neither, I’m sure. I’m overthinking this; after all, they’re only pictures. And I can’t be fully responsible for how he chooses to interpret them. I can’t be fully responsible for his emotions like that.

    When I walk into the break room on my floor, I find Trevor sitting at one of the square tables with a tablet in front of him.

    “Welcome to Seattle,” he says, his blue eyes beaming bright.

    “Hey.” I return his enthusiasm with a smile and swipe my debit card through the slot on the massive vending machine. I press a few small numbered buttons and am rewarded with a sleeve of peanut butter crackers. I’m too nervous to be hungry, and I’ll go out for lunch tomorrow after I’ve had a chance to explore the area.

    “How do you like Seattle so far?” Trevor asks.

    I look to him for permission, and when he nods, I slide into the chair across from him. “I haven’t seen much yet. I only arrived yesterday, but I love this new building.”

    Two women enter the room and smile at Trevor; one of them turns to smile at me, and I give her a small wave. They begin to talk with each other, and then the shorter woman, who has black hair, pulls open the refrigerator and takes out a microwavable meal while her friend picks at her fingernails.

    “You should explore, then; there are so many things to do here. It’s a beautiful city,” Trevor declares as I munch absentmindedly on a cracker. “The Space Needle, the Pacific Science Center, art museums, you name it.”

    “I do want to see the Space Needle, and Pike Place Market,” I say. But I’m beginning to feel uneasy, because every time I glance over at the women, I can tell that they’re both looking at me and talking quietly.

    I’m quite paranoid today.

    “You should. Have you decided where you’re staying yet?” he asks, swiping his index finger across the screen to close the window on his tablet, giving me his full attention.

    “I’m actually at Kimberly and Christian’s house for right now . . . only for a week or two until I can find my own place.” The urgency in my voice is embarrassing. I hate that I have to stay with them, because Hardin ruined my chance to rent the only apartment I could find. I want to live on my own and not worry about being a burden to anyone.

    “I could ask around and see if there are any vacancies in my building,” Trevor offers. He adjusts his tie and smoothes the silver fabric down before running his hands over the lapels of his suit.

    “Thanks, but I’m not sure your building would be in my price range,” I softly remind him. He’s the head of finance, and I’m an intern—a decently paid intern, but I’m sure that I can’t even afford to rent the Dumpster behind his building.

    He flushes. “Okay,” he says, realizing the massive difference between our incomes. “I can still ask around and see if anyone knows of any places.”

    “Thank you.” I smile a convincing smile. “I’m sure Seattle will feel more like home once I actually have a home.”

    “I agree; it’s going to take some time, but I know you’ll love it here.” His crooked grin is warm and welcoming.

    “Do you have any plans after work?” I ask before I can stop myself.

    “I do,” he says, his soft voice fumbling. “But I can cancel them.”

    “No, no. It’s fine, I was just thinking that since you know the city, you could show me around, but if you already have plans, don’t worry about it.” I hope that I can make some friends here in Seattle.

    “I’d love to show you around. I was just going jogging, that’s all.”

    “Jogging?” My nose crinkles. “What for?”

    “For fun.”

    “That doesn’t sound like much fun.” I laugh, and he shakes his head in amused displeasure.

    “I usually go every day after work. I’m still getting to know the city, too, and it’s a good way to learn the layout. You should come along one day.”

    “I don’t know . . .” The idea doesn’t sound appealing.

    “We could walk instead.” He chuckles. “I live in Ballard; it’s a pretty cool neighborhood.”

    “I’ve heard of Ballard, actually,” I say, remembering browsing through page after page on sites showing the neighborhoods of Seattle. “Okay, yeah. Let’s walk around Ballard, then.” I close my hands in front of me and rest them on my lap.

    I can’t help but think how Hardin would feel about this. He despises Trevor, and he’s already having a hard enough time with our “space” arrangement. Not that he’s said this, but I’d like to think that he is. Regardless of how much space is put between Hardin and me, literal or metaphorical, I only see Trevor as a friend. The last thing on my mind is being romantic with someone, especially anyone other than Hardin.

    “Okay, then.” He smiles, clearly surprised that I’ve agreed to come along. “My lunch hour is over, so I have to get back to my office, but I’ll text you my address, or we can go straight from work if you want.”

    “Let’s just go straight from here—I’m wearing reasonable shoes.” I point down to my flats, mentally patting myself on the back for not wearing heels today.

    “Sounds good. I’ll meet you at your office at five?” he says and stands up.

    “Yes, that’s fine.” I get up, too, and toss the crackers wrapper into the trash can.

    “We all know why she got the job anyway,” I hear one of the women say behind me.

    When, out of curiosity, I look over to where they’re sitting, they both quickly get quiet and stare down at the table. I can’t help but feel that they were talking about me.

    So much for making friends in Seattle.

    “All those two do is gossip, ignore them,” Trevor says, placing his hand between my shoulder blades and guiding me out of the break room.

    When I get back to my office, I reach into my desk drawer and pull out my cell phone. Two missed calls, both from Hardin.

    Should I call him back right now? He called twice, so maybe something is wrong. I I think, by way of bargaining with myself.

    He answers on the first ring, and hurriedly says, “Why didn’t you answer when I called you?”

    “Is something wrong?” I stand up from my chair in a slight panic.

    “No. Nothing’s wrong,” he breathes. I can picture the exact way his pink lips move as he says the simple words “Why did you send those pictures?”

    I look around my office, worried about upsetting him. “I was just excited about my office, and I wanted you to see it. I hope you didn’t think I was trying to be mean about it and brag. I’m sorry for—”

    “No, I was just confused,” he coolly interjects, then goes silent.

    After a few seconds, I say, “I won’t send any more, I shouldn’t even have sent those.” I lean my forehead against the office window and stare down at the streets of the city.

    “Don’t worry, it’s fine . . . how is it there? Do you like the place?” Hardin’s voice is somber, and I want to smooth away the frown that I know is marring his face right now.

    “It’s lovely here.”

    He calls me out, I knew he would: “You didn’t answer the question.”

    “I like it here,” I say softly.

    “You sound absolutely ecstatic.”

    “I really do like it, I’m just . . . adjusting. That’s all. What’s happening back there?” I ask in order to keep the conversation going. I’m not ready to get off the phone with him just yet.

    “Nothing,” he quickly responds.

    “Is this awkward for you? I know you said you didn’t want to talk on the phone, but you called me, so I was just—”

    “No, it’s not awkward,” he interrupts. “It’s never awkward with us, and I only meant I don’t think we should talk for hours every day if we aren’t going to be together, because that doesn’t make any sense and it’s only going to torture me.”

    “So you do want to talk to me, then?” I ask because I’m pathetic and I need to hear him say the words.

    “Yes, of course I do.”

    A car horn honks in the background, and I think he must be driving. “So what, then? We’re going to chat on the phone, like friends?” he asks, no anger in his voice at all, only curiosity.

    “I don’t know, maybe we could try that?” This separation feels so different from the last; this time we separated on good terms, and it wasn’t a clean break. I’m not ready to decide if a clean break from Hardin is what I actually need, so I push the thought back, file it away, and promise to visit it later.

    “It won’t work.”

    “I don’t want us to ignore one another and not speak again, but I haven’t changed my mind about the space thing,” I tell him.

    “Fine, tell me about Seattle, then,” he finally says into the receiver.