She looked contrite but didn’t shrink under my stare. I was beginning to see why she and Chloe were such close friends: they were both strong willed bordering on reckless, and fiercely loyal. “Understood.”
“May I ask why you’re here? Did you see her?”
I waited. I didn’t want to press her confidence, but good lord, I did want to shake every detail out of her.
I let out a tense breath. A decent firm, if small. An up-and-comer with some good junior executives but a few real ass**les at the top. “Who is she reporting to?”
I closed my eyes to hide my reaction. Troy Julian was on our board, an egomaniac with a penchant for barely legal arm candy. Chloe would know this; what was she thinking?
She was probably also thinking that Julian would have the resources to get her a project that she could get worked up substantially enough to present in three months.
Sara walked to my door and closed it to keep the information quiet. “Sanders’ Pet Chow.”
I stood, slamming my hands on my desk. Fury strangled me, and I closed my eyes to get a grip on my temper before taking it out on my brother’s assistant. “That’s a tiny account.”
“She’s only a master’s student, Mr. Ryan. Of course it’s a tiny account. Only someone in love with her would let her work on a million-dollar, ten-year marketing contract.” Without looking back at me, she turned and left my office.
Chloe didn’t answer her cell, her home phone, or any e-mails I sent to the personal account she had on file. She didn’t call, come by, or give any indication that she wanted to talk to me. But when your chest feels like it’s been cracked open with a pickax and you’re unable to sleep, you do things like look up your intern’s apartment address, drive over there on a Saturday at five in the morning, and wait for her to come out.
And when she didn’t emerge from the building after almost an entire day, I convinced the security guard that I was her cousin and was worried about her health. He escorted me up and stood behind me as I knocked at her door.
My heart was going to slam its way out of my chest. I heard someone moving around inside, walk to the door. I could practically feel her body just inches from mine, separated by wood. A shadow moved through the peephole. And then, silence.
She didn’t open the door. But she didn’t walk away either.
“Baby, please open up. I need to talk to you.”
After what felt like an hour, she said, “I can’t, Bennett.”
I leaned my forehead against the door, pressed my palms flat. A superpower would have come in handy at that moment. Fire hands, or sublimation, or even just the ability to find the right thing to say. Right now, that felt impossible.
“Chloe . . . Christ. I get it, okay? Berate me for being a new kind of prick. Tell me to go f**k myself. Do this on your terms—just don’t leave.”
Silence. She was still right there. I could feel her.
“I miss you. Fuck, do I miss you. A lot.”
“Bennett, just . . . not now, okay? I can’t do this.”
Was she crying? I hated not knowing.
“Hey, buddy.” The security guard definitely sounded like here was the last place he wanted to be, and I could tell he was pissed I’d lied. “This isn’t why you said you wanted up here. She sounds fine. Let’s go.”
I drove home and proceeded to drink a lot of scotch. For two weeks, I played pool at a seedy bar and ignored my family. I called in sick and only got out of bed to grab an occasional bowl of cereal, or refill my glass, or use the bathroom, whereupon I’d look at my reflection and give myself the finger. I was a sad sack and, having never experienced anything like this before, had no idea how to snap out of it.
Mom came by with some groceries and left them at my doorstep.
Dad left me daily voice mails with updates about work.
Finally, Henry came by with the only known set of spare keys to my house and dumped a pot of cold water on me, then handed me some takeout Chinese. I ate the food while he threatened to tape pictures of Chloe all over my house if I didn’t get my shit together and come back to work.
Over the next few weeks, Sara surmised that I was incrementally losing my mind and needed a weekly update. She would keep it professional, telling me how Chloe was faring in her new job with Julian. Her project was coming together well. The folks at Sanders loved her. She pitched the campaign to the executives and got their go-ahead. None of this surprised me. Chloe was better than anyone they had, by a mile.
Occasionally Sara would let something else drop. “She’s back at the gym,” “She looks better,” or, “She cut her hair a little shorter—it looks really cute,” or, “We all went out on Saturday. I think she had a good time, but she left early.”
Because she had a date? I wondered. And then I discarded the thought. I couldn’t imagine seeing someone else. I knew what it had felt like between us, and was fairly sure Chloe wasn’t seeing anyone either.
The updates were never enough. Why couldn’t Sara pull out her phone and take some covert pictures? I hoped I would run into Chloe at the store, or on the street. I trolled La Perla a few times. But I didn’t see her for two months.