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Her halloween treat, p.19
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       Her Halloween Treat, p.19

         Part #1 of Men at Work series by Tiffany Reisz
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  listened to wheels on gravel, the sound receding into the distance.

  But when Chris drove away it was different.

  When Chris drove away, Joey cried.

  13

  “YOU LET HIM drive away?” Kira asked. “You just...let him go?”

  “What was I supposed to do?” Joey demanded. “Shoot him?”

  “Why would you shoot him?”

  “Because he cheated on me? Or on his wife with me? Or something?”

  “I wasn’t talking about Ben. I was talking about Chris! Why the hell would you let that beautiful bearded boy of yours drive off? He fucked your brains out against a wall, told you he loved you, showed up when Ben was there but didn’t start a fight with him and then he left and you let him go?”

  Joey didn’t answer at first. She leaned back on the tree stump behind her and sighed. In an hour and a half she’d have to hop in her car and drive to the wedding, and she hadn’t even taken a shower yet, put on her costume yet, fixed her hair yet. Every attempt she’d made at pulling herself together and getting ready had failed. Finally, she’d given up, put on her boots and coat, and went for a walk to clear her head. Somehow she’d ended up at the edge of the lake. She sat in the shadows of a million Douglas fir trees on a fallen log. In the distance, Mount Hood’s peak rose up white against the blue-gray marbled sky. It was lovely, unbearably lovely, and she was lonely. Unbearably lonely.

  “I don’t know what to do,” Joey finally said.

  “Oh, I don’t know, maybe tell Chris you’re crazy about him, too. You are, aren’t you?”

  “I am.”

  “So what’s the problem?”

  “I just got out of a relationship two weeks ago. Two. Weeks. Ago. That’s not even a whole month. That’s half a month. That’s a fortnight.”

  “What’s a fortnight?”

  “Two weeks!”

  “You dumped a cheater. You’re not a grieving widow.”

  “A cheater I’ll have to see at work.”

  “Quit the job.”

  “You’re the one who told me not to do anything drastic for six whole months, Kira,” Joey said, shouting the words because it felt so good to yell.

  “So? You don’t have to listen to me. And that was before Chris. Rules exist. So do exceptions to the rules.”

  “This is not helping.”

  “Tell me—what’s stopping you from getting together with Chris?”

  “We’ve had sex like twenty times in eight days. Nothing stopped me from getting together with Chris.”

  “You know what I mean. Is this idea that you can’t quit your job for a guy the only thing keeping you from quitting your job for a guy?”

  “Kira. I cannot quit my job for a guy. I cannot. I will not. It’s not happening. I love working.”

  “I know you do. But you can do your work somewhere else, right? I mean, every company on earth has a marketing department.”

  “I repeat—I am not quitting my job for a guy, especially a guy I have only been seeing for a couple weeks. Do you hear how insane that sounds? What if your sister called you up and said, ‘Hey, I met a guy a couple weeks ago and now I’m quitting my job and moving twenty-five hundred miles away’? What would you say to that? I can guess what you’d say to that.”

  “I know what I’d say to that. I know exactly what I’d say to that.”

  “Tell me, then. What would you say to your baby sister if she made that phone call?”

  “I would say...” Kira paused and laughed. “I would say, ‘Is he a good man? Does he love you? Do you love him? Does he treat you well? Is he kind to others? Can you take care of yourself if the relationship falls apart?’ And if she answered, ‘Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes and yes,’ then I’d say, ‘You’re a grown-ass woman. If this is what you want, go for it.’ So let me ask you...what are your answers to those questions?”

  “Kira.”

  “Joey.”

  Joey leaned forward and buried her head against her arms.

  “I was so proud of myself,” she said. “I graduated high school and I moved to Hawaii for college.”

  “It’s a big move. You should be proud of yourself for that.”

  “Mom and Dad did nothing but worry about Dillon. That’s all they did when we were in high school—worry about my brother. And I don’t blame them. Kids tried to beat the shit out of him once a week his senior year. But I needed to get away from that. Age eighteen and I moved to an island in the center of the ocean.”

  “Good for you, Miss Independent.”

  “I got my own job, my own apartment. My family hasn’t even had to help me move since I live so far away. And now if I move back? I’ll be working for Dillon. And Mom and Dad are less than three hours away.”

  “You like them, right?”

  “I love them.”

  “So the single only reason you don’t want to quit your job and move back home is because you’ve somehow convinced yourself you shouldn’t do that? Am I getting this right?”

  “One week. I’ve been with Chris for only...one...week.”

  “That’s not true.”

  “Fine. It was actually ten days.”

  “That’s not what I mean. You knew him in high school, right?”

  “Right...”

  “For how long?”

  “Since I was twelve. But,” Joey said before Kira could counterattack, “I didn’t know him for most of those years. He and Dillon lost touch for a few years after high school. They only started hanging out again after Dillon hired him to do some work earlier this year. He could be a serial killer, you know. Did you think about that? He’s got the tools for it. And tarps. He keeps tarps with him in his truck.”

  “Because he’s a contractor.”

  “Or a serial killer.”

  “You’re scared shitless, aren’t you?”

  “God, yes.”

  Kira’s laugh warmed Joey all the way from LA. Today was her birthday. Happy birthday to her. Heartache and impossible choices for her birthday. Just what she wanted.

  “Are you scared shitless because you think you’re in love with Chris? Or do you actually think you’ve been sleeping with a serial killer?”

  “He’s to die for in bed. But no, I don’t think he’s a serial killer.”

  “So you do think you’re in love with Chris?”

  “No.”

  “You don’t think you’re in love with Chris?”

  “No.”

  “Joey.”

  “I don’t know!” Joey’s voice echoed off the lake, the mountain and through the trees. “Wow. That was loud.”

  “You feel better now that you’ve spooked all the wildlife in a fifty-mile radius?”

  “Yes, actually.”

  “Good.”

  “Kira, tell me what to do.”

  “You know I can’t do that. And you know you don’t want me to. You’re one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. Why is this so hard for you?”

  “I dated a married guy for two years without realizing it. Do you know how stupid that makes me feel? I don’t know if I can trust my own instincts anymore. It’s like going through life thinking you’re a good driver, a safe driver, and bam—you blink and cause a horrible car accident. Would you want to get behind the wheel again? Or would you be terrified?”

  “Joey, you didn’t cause a car accident. The only person who got hurt here was you. Ben caused the accident. You were just a passenger in his car of lies.”

  “His car of lies.”

  “His car of lies. Yes.”

  “I love you,” Joey said.

  “I know you do. And you know why? Because I’m awesome.”

  “True.”

  “I’m awesome. You know I’m awesome. And you love me because I’m awesome. So clearly your instincts about people aren’t as shot as you think they are.”

  “You’re not asking me to quit my job and move back to Oregon.”

  “I thought you liked Oregon.”

  “I love
Oregon.”

  “So let me make sure I have this straight. Your pretty bearded boy with the good job, the magnificent cock and the ability to remodel an entire house singlehanded told you he loved you and asked you to maybe possibly consider living somewhere you love close to your family who you love while doing a job you’d love. Yes?”

  “Well...yes.”

  “What a bastard.”

  “He’s awful. I hate him.”

  “I can tell.”

  Joey sighed the sigh of sighs. She sighed so hard it almost surprised her she didn’t capsize the canoes gliding across Lost Lake.

  “I just want to do the right thing,” Joey said. “I don’t want to do the wrong thing again. Dating Ben was the wrong thing, and it was the wrong thing for two years of my life.”

  “Here’s the problem. You’re looking at this choice likes it’s right versus wrong. It’s not right versus wrong. It’s right versus left. You’re at a crossroads. You can go left or right. Left to Hawaii and your current job. Right to Oregon, a new job and Chris. Both are good options. That’s why it’s so hard to decide. If this were a choice between right and wrong, it would be easy. But since both choices are good ones...”

  “Since both choices are good ones, I’m sitting on a tree stump by a lake when I should be getting ready for my brother’s wedding.”

  “You don’t have to decide right now. It’s not like it’s do or die. Go to the wedding. Have fun. Go home to Hawaii tomorrow. Decide on your own time. If Chris really loves you, he’ll give you time, right?”

  “He’ll give me time.”

  “Then stop stressing. Have fun tonight. Drink an extra glass of red wine for me, okay?”

  “Done.”

  “I love you, JoJo.”

  “Love you, too, KiKi.”

  “Call me if you need me. But I have a date tonight so try not to need me until tomorrow morning after ten.”

  “Oh, thank God. Please distract me for the next half hour with your personal life. I’m so sick of mine.”

  “Can’t. You have a wedding go to, and I have stuff to shave.”

  “Have fun.”

  “You, too.”

  Joey ended the call and stood up. She needed to hurry but she took one more look around, one more deep breath. In the fading light of sunset, the entire world seemed made up of shadows and shade. Only the highest trees on the highest part of the mountain still shimmered in the golden light of day. Black water. Green mountain. Blue sky. Brown earth. Red sun. She wanted to stand here and take in all the beauty until she had nothing but beauty within her. She wanted the beauty to crowd out the confusion, the uncertainty and the fear she carried around inside her head. And the embarrassment, too. Kira was right. It wasn’t her fault Ben had lied to her. But knowing that in her mind and knowing it in her heart were two different things. She didn’t feel ready to jump back into a relationship so soon. It wasn’t the relationship that scared her so much as the jumping. This wasn’t jumping off a diving board into a pool. It felt like jumping out of an airplane into the ocean.

  Was it the ocean, though? Or did it just seem like that? Maybe it only looked like the ocean from a distance but once she jumped in it she’d find herself in a swimming pool. The deep end seemed very deep from where she stood, however. The deep end meant quitting her job, moving twenty-five hundred miles away from the place that had been her home her entire adult life, dating a guy who was already in love with her, a guy she’d only been seeing for a week—okay, ten days. Ocean or swimming pool—a person could swim in both or drown in both.

  Yet...if she were honest with herself, a part of her wanted to close her eyes and just cannonball. The past two days since their fight in the cabin she had missed Chris. She’d missed him more than she’d ever missed Ben when he’d gone back to LA for work. Of course, she’d known Ben would be back in a week or two and Joey had no idea if or when she’d ever see Chris again after she returned to Hawaii tomorrow. That possibility felt...unacceptable. She had to see him again. Her entire body ached to see him again. Last night she lay alone in the bed he had crafted with his own hands and felt the absence of him inside her so keenly it hurt. Her entire body longed for him. Her hands missed his hands, her breasts missed his mouth and all of her missed his smile, his voice, his laugh in her ear and his cock inside her.

  And him. Just him. She missed him. All of him. Every part of him. Even if he were standing next to her right now not touching her, not speaking, she would be happy.

  But she couldn’t stand here debating with herself a minute longer. She said her farewells to the lake and the mountain and headed down the path toward the cabin. As the sun set, the air chilled and she walked faster to stay warm. Yet when she passed the path leading to the stone cabin Chris had shown her two days ago, she slowed down. She saw a tendril of smoke escaping from the stone chimney. Was someone in the cabin? No one should be in the cabin, right? Lost Lake Village Rentals wasn’t even open for business yet. Joey jogged down the walkway. Better to be late for the wedding than let one of Dillon’s cabins burn down.

  She reached the cabin and found all was well. It wasn’t on fire, anyway. Someone had turned on all the lights in the cabin, however, and left the red door unlocked. She pushed the heavy wooden door open and found two men in the cabin moving furniture. One had a rocking chair in his hands that he placed by the fireplace. The other moved a wood frame sofa so that it lined up with the faded Persian rug on the floor.

  “Ma’am?” One of the workmen saw her in the doorway. “You lost?”

  “Oh, no,” she said. “Sorry. My brother owns this cabin. I saw the smoke. I wanted to make sure the house wasn’t burning down.”

  “Nothing burning down. Sorry to scare you,” he said. “We’re almost done here. Right?”

  “Not yet,” the other man said. “Couple more little things in the truck.”

  “I’ll get them.”

  Joey looked around the cabin while the man got whatever it was out of his truck. All the furniture looked perfect for this cabin. Exactly what she would have chosen. She climbed the stairs to the loft and found a brass bed. It would need a new mattress and an old quilt. Quilts—not comforters or duvets. Real Amish quilts. On the bedside table was a metal lamp with a painted hand-blown glass shade. She’d seen similar lamps up at Timber Ridge Lodge. Downstairs she found a lawyer-style bookcase, antique walnut. Inside on the top shelf were a red leather dictionary, a black leather thesaurus, hardbound books on local flora and fauna and a blank book ready for ink on pages. The desk was also antique walnut, and with all the dings and nicks and chips in the wood, she would guess it had been around since the ’50s or so. It must have weighed five hundred pounds from the looks of it. Now this was a desk someone could write their magnum opus on. Of course they’d need a...

  “Excuse me, miss,” the man said. Joey moved out of the way as the man sat a typewriter onto the top of the desk. A black Remington with black-and-white keys, a fresh black-and-red ribbon and polished to a high shine.

  “Does it work?” she asked, staring at the vintage typewriter.

  “It should,” the man said. “Try it.”

  He handed her a blank invoice from his clipboard and Joey flipped it over to the back and rolled it through the typewriter. Instinctively she went to hit the on button before remembering it had no on button. Manual typewriter. She was the on button.

  She put her fingers on the keys but didn’t push them yet.

  “I don’t know what to write,” she said. “I’ve never christened a typewriter before.”

  The man hung a plaque on a nail over the desk. “Just do what he
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