“Okay,” I started, trying to work out how exactly to explain what had happened. “Imagine having phone sex, but in person.”
I could hear rustling in the background, the sound of London getting comfortable, or smothering herself with her own pillow. Honestly, it could be either. “You went from ‘he doesn’t know I’m alive’ to masturbating in front of each other in less than a week?”
“Well . . . if we’re going to get technical, it was just me doing the masturbating,” I told her, imagining the face she must be making. “Also, I don’t ever want you to say ‘masturbating’ again, starting now.”
The rustling stopped. “Wait. Wait, wait, wait. Ruby Miller, are you telling me you put on a little show for your dream boy?”
“You’ve been talking about him for the last, what? Five months? I assume you’re thrilled with all of this masturbation.”
“London, you just broke the oath.”
“I said ‘masturbation,’ a different word. And why are you calling me at four thirty in the morning? Are you requesting a long-distance high-five or someone to hear you melt down in mortification?”
“Maybe both?” I groaned. I didn’t even know how I felt; how could I possibly expect someone else to help me? “I don’t regret it, but I’m not sure where we stand right now. We’re not together, we’re colleagues. I’m actually not even sure we’re friends. Plus, he was drunk and I was mostly drunk and this morning I can almost hear him freaking out across the wall.”
“Freaking out as in he’s regretting it?” she asked, and I thought I could hear her sit up.
“I don’t know.” I chewed on my lip, considering. “I hope not.”
“Yeah, I mean. Yeah. As much as he can be this quickly? He went through sort of a bad divorce and it’s left him a little—”
“Ruby, I know this must have been your way of putting yourself out there, but what did you expect would happen?”
“Um . . .” I started, because to be truthful, I wasn’t really thinking at all in that moment.
I sighed. Was I thinking that he would realize he’d loved me all along and sweep me off my feet? That he’d admit to looking for me all his life and there I was, willing to get myself off in front of him the entire time? Um, probably not.
“I’m not sure really,” I said instead. “Maybe that it would be the first step.”
London yawned and I heard the sound of blankets being rearranged, as she settled herself back in bed. “That’s a hell of a first step, but make it work. Go into the office today, face him like the kind of woman who masturbates—sorry, sorry—in front of the love of her life and doesn’t regret a thing. You know I don’t have a ton of faith in the male population, but if he’s half the man you’ve described—because really, why else would you fall for him?—he’ll be smart enough to catch on. Go get him, Gem.”
Making last night the first step proved to be a bit more complicated than I’d hoped. It seemed Niall Stella was going to go out of his way to keep things exceedingly, frustratingly normal between us. He’d gone in early, and was packing up his laptop for a meeting when I arrived, head down and phone pressed to his ear. He acknowledged me with a small nod, a smile, and then he stepped out past me, into the hall for privacy.
In the handful of seconds it took me to walk around his chair and reach my own, I came up with at least twelve different ways to translate his small smile and semi-avoidance, each more insane than the last.
It was one thing to dissect everything he said in a meeting or to a colleague when there was zero chance it had anything to do with me, but this? There was no way he wasn’t also thinking about what we did last night. Everything had a meaning today.
I heard him talking, still just outside our office door. Was he waiting for me? He’d looked like he was packing up to leave; was he coming back in first?
“That doesn’t make any sense,” he said into the receiver, his posh accent the only thing keeping his words from sounding clipped or flat-out annoyed. “The timeline we were given for estimated completion was a full six months before the date you’re giving me today. The alternative is unacceptable.”
My ears perked at this; I’d never seen or heard him sound angry before.
He was silent while he listened to the person on the other end of the line, and I had the strangest sense of his eyes on me. I unwrapped my scarf, slipped out of my coat, and hung it on the hook behind the door. His attention pressed on my skin and I shook my head, careful to let my hair fall forward and hide the warmth I could feel blooming in my cheeks.
“Tony, I’m not leading the Diamond Square project to be a yes man, I’m leading it because I know what the bloody hell I’m talking about. Tell them that, or better yet, let me. I won’t have any problem setting them straight,” he said, followed by the distinct sound of his exasperated sigh.
I grabbed my notebook and turned to join him. “Everything okay?”
He nodded, but shoved his phone into his pocket, not bothering to elaborate about the call. “Aside from a meeting with some of the MTA engineers this morning, I’d like to visit some of the stations, see for myself a few of the proposed floodgate sites.” He gave me another polite smile.