“Is that what you’re calling it? You think you did them a favor.”
He frowned. “I did the world a favor.”
I poured the hydrogen peroxide over his injuries, and he sucked air through his teeth as he jerked his hands back.
I sighed. “I just can’t believe you lost your shit like that over a stupid insult and an empty threat.”
Thomas leaned his face toward his shoulder and used it to wipe his cheek, smearing two small specks of blood.
“You should probably bathe in this,” I said, holding up the big brown bottle in my hands.
I grabbed tissue from the toilet paper roll and soaked it in the disinfectant. “Because I’m fairly certain that’s not your blood.”
“I’m sorry. Would you like me to leave?” I asked.
I dabbed at his wounds with a clean cotton ball. “Strangers can’t hurt my feelings, Thomas. People I care about can.”
His shoulders sagged. He suddenly looked too tired to argue.
“What were you doing at Cutter’s?” I asked.
“Bad Monday?” I asked, wondering if there was ever a good one.
“April Fools’ Day?” I asked. Thomas gave me a few seconds. “Oh! His birthday.”
Right when I said the word, Thomas jerked his hand back.
“Son of a—” He pressed his lips together, the veins in his neck swelling, as he strained.
“I miss you,” Thomas said quietly. “I’m trying to keep it professional at work, but I can’t stop thinking about you.”
“You’ve been kind of a bear. People are likening it to the days just post-Camille.”
He laughed once without humor. “There’s no comparison. This is much, much worse.”
I concentrated on wrapping his wounds. “Let’s just be glad that we didn’t let this get too far.”
He nodded. “You should definitely be glad. I wasn’t that smart.”
I let my hands fall to my lap. “What are you talking about? You told me two weeks ago that you couldn’t love me.”
“Liis…do you have feelings for me?”
I stared into his desperate eyes for a long time. The more seconds that passed, the more hopeless he looked.
I let out a faltering breath. “I don’t want to be in love, Thomas.”
He looked down at the bandages on his hands, already dotted red with his blood. “You didn’t answer my question.”
“You’re lying. How can you have such a strong personality and be so fucking afraid?”
“So what?” I snapped. “You would be scared, too, if I told you I was still in love with Jackson and you were way, way out of your emotional comfort zone.”
I lifted my chin. “I don’t have to be fair to you, Thomas. I just have to be fair to me.” I stood and took a step backward toward the door.
He shook his head and chuckled. “You, Liis Lindy, are most definitely my payback.”
THE STAIRS SEEMED PREFERABLE to taking the elevator one floor down. I trudged down to my floor and passed my door to walk the few steps to the window at the end of the hallway.
The corner across the street was smeared with blood, but no one seemed to notice. The people who walked by had no idea about the violence that had occurred, not even an hour before, in the space they were passing through.
A couple stopped just a few feet from the largest stain, arguing. The woman looked both ways and then crossed the street, and I recognized her just before she slipped beneath the awning of our lobby. Marks followed her, and I sighed, knowing they would both be stepping off the elevator minutes later.
I went to my door and unlocked it, and then I waited in the open doorway. The elevator chimed, and the doors revealed my friend looking angrier than I’d ever seen her.
She stepped out and then stopped abruptly, elbowing Marks when he ran into her. “Are you leaving?” she asked me.
“No. Just getting home.” I held the door open. “Come in.”
She passed by, and then Marks paused, waiting for my permission. I nodded, and he followed her to the couch.
I shut the door and turned, crossing my arms. “I am not in the mood to Dr. Phil you two. I can’t figure out my own shit.” I raked my hair away from my face, and then I walked over to the chair, scooping up the folded throw and holding it in my lap as I sat down.
“You agree with me, don’t you, Liis?” Marks asked. “She needs to kick him out.”
I rolled my eyes. “C’mon, Marks. You know the law. He is her husband. If the cops came, you would be the one asked to leave.”
Marks’s jaw worked beneath the skin, and then he looked beyond my kitchen. “You have a second bedroom. You’ve invited her.”
“She doesn’t want to lose her condo,” I said.
“I don’t want you living with him! It’s fucking weird!” Marks said.
“Joel, I’m handling this,” Val said. “If you don’t want to stick around, I understand.”
I narrowed my eyes. “Why are you two here?”
Marks sighed. “I came to pick her up for dinner. He made a big deal. Usually, I wait for her outside, but I thought I’d be a fucking gentleman for once. He made a scene. Who’s she pissed at? Me.”
“Why do we do this to ourselves?” I asked, mostly to myself. “We’re grown adults. Love makes us so stupid.”
“Yes, I do,” Marks said, looking at her.
She slowly turned to him. “You do?”
“I chased you for months, and I’m still chasing you. You think this is a casual fling for me? I love you.”
Val’s face fell, and her lip jutted out. “I love you, too.”
They hugged each other and then began to kiss.
I looked up at the ceiling, contemplating a tantrum.
“We should probably get going,” Marks said. “We barely got a reservation. I don’t want to have to drive around looking for a decent meal at nine thirty at night.”
I forced a smile and then walked to the door, opening it wide.
I shut the door, walked straight back to my bedroom, and fell face-first onto my bed.
Val and Marks had made finding a solution look so easy, figuring it out even though Val had been sharing a condo with Sawyer for over a year. I was miserable living an entire floor below Thomas. But our problems seemed more complicated than living with an ex. I loved a man who I couldn’t love, who loved someone else but loved me more.