Her Halloween Treat, p.4Part #1 of Men at Work series by Tiffany Reisz
“I don’t remember,” she said. “That’s how well it worked.”
“Glad I could help by putting you to work. If you need more distraction, you could clean the gutters.”
“You know what? I’m good. But thanks for the offer.”
“Dinner now?” he asked.
Chris turned on the ceiling fan to help dry the paint more quickly. Joey went to the guest room—her room apparently for the next couple of weeks—to figure out what to wear for their date. Not a date. Not really. Well, sort of a date. She had two missed texts from Kira.
Text message one read, Have you banged him yet?
Text message two read, How about now?
Joey wrote back, No, we haven’t banged yet. He’s an old friend from high school. We are going out to dinner so stop texting me. If/when there is banging, you will be the first to know.
Then she sent a quick text to Dillon letting him know she made it to the cabin a day early and she’d see him tomorrow unless he was dying to see her tonight, which she knew he wasn’t because she still had a feeling he’d planted Chris here in the cabin for nefarious reasons. Seemed like something Dillon would do.
She cleaned up for dinner as quickly as she could. Chris had seen to everything in the house, every little detail. He’d even installed a rain showerhead and put new soft cotton towels in the bathroom linen closet. It was like staying in a hotel, a hotel that came with its own sexy contractor/concierge, which made this the best hotel she’d ever stayed in.
While drying her hair she realized she was smiling. That was good, right? She’d cried all Saturday night on Kira’s couch at her place in LA. Smiling was a huge improvement over gut-wrenching sobbing. She felt more human back in Oregon, back on the mountain and near the lake where she’d spent so much of her childhood. If she wanted to go to the lake she could walk there blindfolded—out the back door and down the cut stone path to the edge of the forest. Then five hundred and sixty-eight steps on the dirt path. She knew the exact number because she’d counted as a kid because kids did weird obsessive stuff like count their steps. It was also one thousand one hundred and thirty-seven steps to the main road and nine hundred ninety-one steps to where she and Chris and Dillon had set up their campfires in high school.
It had always been the three of them back then—her and Dillon and Chris. Dillon wasn’t the sort of brother to resent his sister’s company. He’d needed her, even wanted her, around. Part of it was fear. At age fourteen he’d confessed to her he was ninety-nine percent sure he was gay, and she’d kept his secret for him until he’d worked up the courage to tell their parents. He’d told Chris shortly thereafter, and she and Chris had been first his secret keepers and then his protectors when the secret got out. At the time it hadn’t seemed strange that Chris had guarded Dillon’s back after her brother got outed at their mostly rural high school. They’d been friends forever. Of course Chris watched out for Dillon because Dillon would have done the same for Chris. But only now, after so many stories in the news about kids and bullies and suicide and school shootings and all that, did it occur to her that Chris had put his life on the line by protecting Dillon. Dillon’s life was on the line every single day just for being Dillon, but Chris had been right there with him, throwing punches when needed, and sadly, those punches had been needed.
Thinking back she was so grateful both Dillon and Chris survived those two ugly terrifying years of high school with their bodies and spirits intact. Still, she had to wonder if her constant worrying for her big brother was the reason she never got around to noticing how hot his best friend was?
By the time she finished blow-drying her long, dark hair and dressing in clean jeans, her knee-high leather boots and a red sweater, Chris had finished up in the master.
“Your car or my truck?” he asked as he pulled on his jacket. “Or should we go separately?”
She paused before answering. If they went together in the same vehicle, that meant they’d both have to come back to the cabin tonight. If they drove separately, Joey could come home alone and Chris could return to his place, wherever that was. Driving separately made sense. Driving together made it a date. Chris had left it up to her, like a gentleman. She liked that.
“Your truck,” she said. “The only small cars the rental place had left were Miatas. I don’t trust rear-wheel drives in Oregon rain.”
“I’ll drive, then. Truck’s a little messy, fair warning.”
“I can handle it.” She pulled up her jacket hood and opened the front door where she promptly received a slap of frigid sleet right in her face.
She stepped back inside the house and closed the door.
She wiped the sleet off her face and looked at Chris.
“Nice weather we’re having,” he said. “Isn’t it?”
THEY ATE IN, which was fine. More than fine as Chris had filled the fridge per Dillon’s request with all the basics. She threw together a salad while Chris cooked chicken on the George Foreman grill. It wasn’t haute cuisine but it tasted a lot better than that mouthful of icy rain and sleet had earlier. While they ate she flipped through her pictures on her phone and showed Chris photos of the beach and her last whale-watching excursion. None of the pictures in her phone were of her and Ben together. He was camera shy, he’d told her. Another red flag she ignored.
Chris took out his phone then and showed her before, during and after pictures of the cabin as he’d cleaned it up and remodeled it. She couldn’t believe how thoroughly he’d transformed it.
“This place used to be such a dump,” she said. “Remember?”
“It was a nice dump, though,” he said. “Lots of good memories here. It was fun working on the place. It needed help.”
“How much is all this costing Dillon?” she asked, waving her fork around the newly remodeled cabin. Now that Chris had fixed the place up so beautifully, she was half-tempted to see if Dillon would sell it to her. Although with all the renovations, it was probably out of her price range.
“Not as much as it should. I gave him a discount on the labor. The interior work was about five. The exterior another five.”
“That’s not much for this kind of makeover.”
“You can swing a lot of bargains if you know what you’re doing.”
“And you definitely know what you’re doing.”
“I do now.” He took a bite of his salad and it appeared he was trying to cover up a smile. Of what? Pride? Pleasure in her compliment? Because this felt like a date?
“Is Dillon selling the place?”
“Did he say something to you about it?”
She shook her head. “No. Just a guess. I know Oscar’s not the mountain-life sort of guy. He said he hates nature so much that when someone says being gay is ‘unnatural’ he takes it as a compliment because nature is so gross and horrible.”
Chris laughed. “Oscar’s great. You’ll like him.”
“So are they selling it?”
“Not selling it. They’re planning on renting it out. He asked me to fix it up and gave me a ten thousand dollar limit. I used every penny.”
“He can afford it,” she said. Dillon made mid-six figures at his law firm, and Oscar was several years older and very well-off from his investment banking job. She didn’t begrudge Dillon his success, though, not with the hours he put in. She much preferred her forty-hour workweek and her evenings and weekends off to enjoy her life. And she had been enjoying it. Until meeting Ben’s wife, that is. But tonight...she was kind of enjoying tonight.
“So...can I ask something?” he said.
“You just did.”
He glared at her.
“Ask,” she said.
“Why’d you come back?”
“My brother’s getting married? I would assume that’s a good enough reason.”
“No, you said you changed your flight to come back early. You had a weird look on your face when y
“Oh. That.” She sat back from the bar. They’d eaten at the bar on counter stools instead of the table. Since the bar was small they sat on opposite sides facing each other. It felt more informal that way, more like friends than the strangers they’d become to each other. “I had booked a couple days in LA between Hawaii and here. I had plans with a friend and they sort of fell through. So I came home a day early.”
It was technically true. Her boyfriend was also her friend and she’d had plans for them. She’d barely wrapped her mind around the accidental affair she’d been having for the past two years. She wasn’t about to drop all that on Chris’s lap. The lap could be used for much better purposes.
“You called it home.”
“What?” Joey asked.
“You called Oregon home. You said you came home a day early. Do you still think of Oregon as home?”
“Well... I did grow up here. That makes it home.”
“Does Hawaii feel like home?”
“No. Not that that’s a bad thing. It’s been an adventure, but it’s never felt permanent. Maybe it will someday. When I go places and people ask where I’m from I still say Oregon, even though I’ve been living there for years. So yeah, Oregon is home still. And I’m glad I had it to come home to after...you know, my plans didn’t work out. I feel better already being back.”
“Sorry your trip didn’t work out with your friend.”
“It’s okay. It’s for the best, really. Will you excuse me?”
Joey put her napkin down and walked quickly but not too quickly to the downstairs bathroom. She didn’t have to go, but she did need to take a few deep breaths to calm herself down. Crying with Kira all night and a few hours painting a bedroom with Chris wasn’t going to heal the wound that fast. But she refused to succumb to tears. Ben didn’t deserve any more of her tears.
In the kitchen she heard the distinct beeping of her phone. She’d set it to wolf whistle whenever she got a message.
“That’s Dillon,” she yelled through the door as she dried her hands. “What does he want?”
“He wants to know if I’ve banged you yet.”
“Oh, shit...” Joey buried her face in her hands, took a deep breath and peeked her head out of the bathroom.
“That text wasn’t from Dillon,” she said.
Chris eyed her with amusement—thank God.
“Not unless you put him under ‘Kira’ in your contacts list. I didn’t know I was supposed to bang you.”
“Yes, ugh.” She eased back down onto her bar stool, wincing in her extreme embarrassment. “I have to tell you something.”
“Before or after I bang you?”
She grimaced. “Cute. Here’s the thing.” She clasped her hands in front of her.
“How do you feel about spooning? I’m for it myself if I get to be the big spoon.”
“Now I remember why I didn’t have a crush on you in high school.”
He laughed, which was good. Better than getting up and leaving before she could explain herself.
“I told you I had plans with a friend in LA and they didn’t work out? Well... I have a boyfriend. Had a boyfriend. At least, I thought he was a boyfriend.”
“What was he?”
“He was your husband?”
“No. He wasn’t my husband. That’s the problem.”
Chris started to sit back but then clearly realized he was on a bar stool and leaned forward instead.
“That doesn’t sound good.”
“No...no, it really isn’t good. Ben works at Oahu Air. He’s one of the VPs there. Luckily not of my department. He commutes from LA. Couple weeks in Honolulu. Couple weeks in LA. He says he hates LA, and I believed him, but I like LA so I thought I’d visit him there. A surprise. Happy surprise? No. Not happy surprise.”
“I went to his house and rang the bell, and his wife opened the door.”
“My sentiments exactly. Two years. We dated two years. Nobody at work knew he was married. He kept it a secret for whatever reason. Probably so he could date in Hawaii, which he did. We were together two years before I figured out he was married. And I didn’t even figure it out. It had to be shoved down my throat.” She took a ragged breath. “So...as you can imagine, I’m feeling pretty stupid.”
“You shouldn’t feel stupid. Sounds like he had his game down pat.”
“Nobody at work knew. Not even my friend Kira, who worked with him in the LA office. Kira told me that the best way to get over one guy is to get under another.”
“It’s a sound theory, really.”
“When I got here I was on the phone with her. And I told her you were cute, and she told me to sleep with you. I told her to mind her own business. She’s not good at that part. As you saw. Again, sorry. That was awkward.”
“You’re having a bad week. It’s okay.”
“You know, Dillon never liked Ben. I thought it was because Dillon’s never met him. Ben would never come back to visit home with me. He’d only see me in Honolulu. Dillon must have known something was off. I should have known. That should have been a bright red flag in my face.”
“Do you remember what you said to me when Cassie dumped me my senior year? It made me feel a lot better.”
“I said something?”
“You said something.”
“What did I say?”
“You said, ‘Forget it. Wanna go see Batman Begins with us?’”
“That’s it? That’s the big thing I said to you?”
“It wasn’t a big thing. It was a little thing. It made me feel normal again, going to see a movie with you and Dillon. It made me remember that life goes on and that’s a good thing.”
“And it was a good movie.”
“Fucking A it was.”
“So you think we should watch a Batman movie?”
“What should we do, then?” she asked.
He put his glass of wine down and moved his plate out of the way.
Then he moved her plate out of the way.
Then he leaned across the bar and kissed her lightly on the lips.
Joey’s eyes widened as he pulled back.
“I should have asked if I could do that before I did that,” he said.
“You can do that.”
“I already did it.”
“You can do it again.”
Chris leaned in again, kissed her again. By the time that kiss was done, she had her smile back.
“And again,” she said.
“Are you sure? This is a little weird.” Chris winced. He was even cute wincing and that was cute.
“Because I wanted to do this ten years ago. And then I didn’t think about it for, oh, nine years and six months or so. And now...here I am doing it. High school me is freaking out.”
“What about grown-up you?”
“He’s freaking out, too. But in a much cooler way. Like, so cool you can’t even tell.”
“I can tell,” she said.
“How?” The corners of his eyes crinkled a little when he smiled.
“Because I’m freaking out and I’m projecting.”
“You’re prettier than you were in high school, and in high school you were perfect.”
Her Halloween Treat by Tiffany Reisz / Romance & Love have rating 5.5 out of 5 / Based on44 votes