“I’m keeping me too busy. I like it that way though. You know that.”
“You’re not walking alone at night, are you?”
I laughed out loud, and it felt good. It seemed as if I hadn’t smiled in a long time.
“Liis?” she said, concern in her voice.
“Just for you guys. Tell Daddy I say hi.”
I could hear my father from somewhere in the room. “Hi, baby! Miss you! Be good!”
“He started the fish oil pills this week. Gives him gas,” she said.
I could hear the scowl in her voice, and I laughed again.
I pressed the End button with my pinkie, and then I added in the chicken and cabbage. Just before adding the pea pods and sauce, someone knocked on the door. I waited, thinking I’d imagined it, but the knocking happened again, louder this time.
“Oh no. Oh, crap,” I said to myself, turning the heat almost all the way down.
I wiped my hands on a dish towel and jogged to the door. I peeked through the peephole, and then I scrambled to open the chain and bolt lock, grabbing at it like a madwoman.
He was standing there in a plain white T-shirt and workout shorts. He hadn’t even taken the time to put on shoes, gauging by his bare feet.
He began to speak but thought better of it.
“What are you doing here?” I asked.
“It smells good in there,” he said, taking a whiff.
“Yeah.” I turned toward the kitchen. “Stir-fry. I have plenty, if you’re hungry.”
“It’s just you?” he asked, looking past me.
I chuckled. “Of course it’s just me. Who else would be here?”
He stared at me for several seconds. “You’re wearing my hoodie.”
I looked down. “Oh. Do you want it back?”
He shook his head. “No. No way. I just didn’t realize you still wore it.”
“I wear it a lot. It makes me feel better sometimes.”
“I, uh…needed to speak to you. The office is buzzing about your outburst.”
“Just mine? I’m the emotional one because I’m a woman. Typical,” I muttered.
“Liis, you spoke in Japanese at the office. Everyone knows.”
I blanched. “I’m sorry. I was upset, and I…shit.”
“The S.A.C. gave the green light to move forward with the plan to remove Grove.”
“What? What about Sawyer? I thought he was the Master of Surveillance. Doesn’t he keep tabs on Grove?”
“Sawyer’s out there, looking for Grove now. Don’t worry. Sawyer will find him. Do you…do you want me to stay with you?”
I looked at him. His expression was begging me to say yes. I wanted him here, but it would only mean long conversations that would lead to arguments, and we were both tired of fighting.
The skin around his eyes softened. He took a step and reached up, cupping each side of my face. He gazed into my eyes, his inner conflict swirling in his twin hazel-green pools.
“Fuck it,” he said. He leaned in and touched his lips to mine.
I dropped the dish towel and reached up to grip his T-shirt in my fists, but he was in no hurry to leave. He took his time tasting me, feeling the warmth of our mouths melding together. His lips were confident and commanding but giving way as my mouth pressed against them. Just when I thought he might pull away, he wrapped both arms around me.
Thomas kissed me as if he had needed me for ages, and at the same time, he kissed me good-bye. It was longing and sadness and anger, twisted but controlled, in a sweet soft kiss. When he finally released me, I felt myself leaning forward, needing more.
He blinked a few times. “I tried not to. I’m sorry.”
Then, he walked away.
“No, it’s…it’s fine,” I said to an empty hallway.
I closed the door and leaned against it, still tasting him. Where I stood still smelled like him. For the first time since I’d moved in, my apartment didn’t feel like a sanctuary or the representation of my independence. It just felt lonely. The stir-fry didn’t smell as good as it had minutes before. I looked over at the girls in the Takato painting, remembering that Thomas had helped me hang them—not even they could make me feel better.
I stomped over to the stovetop, switched it off, and grabbed my purse and keys.
The elevator seemed to be taking an extraordinary amount of time to reach the lobby, and I bounced in anticipation. I needed out of the building, out from under Thomas’s condo. I needed to be sitting in front of Anthony with a Manhattan in my hand, forgetting about Grove and Thomas and what I’d refused to let myself have.
I looked both ways and crossed the street in wide strides, but just as I reached the sidewalk, a large hand encircled my arm, stopping me in my tracks.
“Where the hell are you going?” Thomas asked.
I yanked back my arm and shoved him away. He barely moved, but I still covered my mouth and then held my hands at my chest.
“Oh God! I’m sorry! It was a knee-jerk reaction.”
Thomas frowned. “You can’t just go walking around alone right now, Liis, not until we get a location on Grove.”
A couple stood ten feet away on the corner, waiting for the light to change. Other than that, we were alone.
I puffed out a breath of relief, my heart still racing. “You can’t just go around grabbing people like that. You’re lucky you didn’t end up like drunk Joe.”
Thomas’s smile slowly stretched across his face. “Sorry. I heard your door slam, and I was worried you’d risk going outside because of me.”
Thomas braced himself, already hurting over his next words. “I’m not trying to make you miserable. You’d think I could stay busy enough just doing that to myself.”
My face fell. “I don’t want you to be miserable. But that’s what this is—miserable.”
“Then”—he reached out for me—“let’s go back. We can talk about this all night if you want. I’ll explain it as many times as you want. We can lay down some ground rules. I pushed too hard before. I see that now. We can take it slow. We can compromise.”
I had never wanted something so much in my life. “No.”
My eyes glossed over, and I looked down, forcing tears to spill down my cheeks. “Because I want it so bad, and that scares me so much.”
The quick onset of emotion surprised me, but it set off something in Thomas.
“Baby, look at me,” he said, using his thumb to gently lift my chin until our eyes met. “It can’t be any worse together than it is apart.”
“But we’re at an impasse. We have the same argument over and over. We just have to get over it.”
“You’re still trying to get over Camille,” I thought aloud, “and it might take a while, but it’s possible. And no one gets everything they want, right?”