But instead I gave him every detail of the meeting, how Gugliotti reacted to me, and how I redirected his focus to the project at hand. I recounted every aspect of the discussion in such detail that by the end of my story, Bennett was laughing quietly.

“I think it went well,” I said, stepping closer. Put your arms around me again.

But he didn’t. He leaned back and gave me a stiff smile, the detached Beautiful Bastard kind. “You were great, Chloe. I’m not at all surprised.”

I wasn’t used to this kind of compliment from him. Improved handwriting, great blow job—these were the things he knew how to notice. I was surprised how much his opinion mattered to me. Had it always mattered so much? Would he start to treat me differently if we were lovers instead of f**k buddies? I wasn’t actually sure I even wanted him to be softer as a boss, or try to blend lover and mentor. I rather liked the Beautiful Bastard at work, as well as in bed.

But as soon as I thought it, I realized the way we used to interact now felt like a strange, foreign object in the distance, or a pair of shoes that I’d long since outgrown. I was torn between wanting him to say something dickish to jerk me back into reality and wanting him to pull me closer and kiss my breast through my slip.

Again, Chloe. Reason number 750,000 you don’t f**k your boss. You turn a well-defined relationship into a mess of blurry boundaries.

“You look so tired,” I whispered as I began running fingers through the hair at the nape of his neck.

“I am,” he mumbled. “I’m glad I didn’t go. I threw up. A lot.”

“Thanks for sharing,” I laughed. Reluctantly, I pulled away and put my hands on his face. “I brought Popsicles, ginger ale, gingersnaps, and saltines. Which do you want first?”

He stared at me, completely confused for a beat before blurting, “You called my mom?”

I went down to the conference for a few hours in the afternoon so he could sleep some more. He put up a strong front, but I could tell even half of a lime Popsicle made him queasy when he turned a matching shade of green. Besides, at this conference in particular he could barely walk ten steps without being stopped, fawned over, pitched to. Even healthy he wouldn’t make it far enough to see anything worth his time anyhow.

When I returned to the room, he was sprawled on the couch in a most un–Beautiful Bastard–like pose, shirtless and with his hand shoved down the front of his boxers. There was something so ordinary about the way he sat, bored, staring at the television. I was grateful for the reminder that this man was, in some ways, just a man. Just another person, moving around the planet, getting his bearings, not spending every second lighting the world’s stage on fire.

And buried within that epiphany that Bennett was just Bennett was a sense of wild longing because there was this chance that he was becoming my Just Bennett, and for a heartbeat, I wanted that more than I think I’d ever wanted anything.

A woman with freakishly shiny hair flipped her head and grinned at us from the television. I collapsed on the couch next to him. “What are we watching?”

“A shampoo commercial,” he answered, pulling his hand out of his shorts to reach for me. I started to tease him about cooties but shut up as soon as he began to massage my fingers. “Clerks is on, though.”

“That’s one of my favorite movies,” I said.

“I know. You were quoting it the first day I met you.”

“Actually, that was Clerks II,” I clarified, and then stopped. “Wait, you remember that?”

“Of course I remember that. You sounded like a frat boy and looked like a f**king model. What man could ever forget that?”

“I would have given anything to know what you were thinking right then.”

I laughed and leaned against his shoulder. “God, that first meeting was miserable.”

He didn’t say anything but kept running his thumb along my fingers, pressing and soothing. I had never had a hand massage before, and if he’d tried to turn it to o**l s*x, I might have turned him down just to keep him doing what he was doing.

Wow, that’s a total lie. I’d take that mouth between my legs any day of the—

“How do you want it to be, Chloe?” he asked, pulling me out of my internal debate.

I stared blankly at him, my pulse sending my blood thrumming in heavy bursts through my veins.

“Us,” he clarified, with forced patience. “You and me. Chloe and Bennett. Man and shrew. I realize this isn’t simple for you.”

“Well, I’m pretty sure I don’t want to fight all the time.” I bumped his shoulder playfully. “Although I do sort of like that part.”

Bennett laughed, but it didn’t sound like a completely happy noise. “There’s a lot of space that comes after ‘not fighting all the time.’ Where do you want to be?”

Together. Your girlfriend. Someone who sees the inside of your home and stays there with you sometimes. I started to answer and the words evaporated in my throat.

“I guess that depends on whether it’s realistic to think it can be anything.”

He dropped my hand and scrubbed his face. The movie came back on and we fell into what I think was the most awkward silence in the history of the world.