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BOOK: To See You Again
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Chapter 6
Rachel

 

Beckett is cooking up a storm when I arrive, and
as usual, it smell delicious. I love that Beck knows his way around the
kitchen, because I'm useless when it comes to cooking. Managing not to burn
grilled cheese is still a culinary feat for me. I shrug off my coat and take a
minute to drink in my man. Beck is tall with dark curly hair and blue eyes
nearly the same shade as my own. Vanessa once told me she thought we looked
related. "Seriously, like fraternal twins or something. He's the male you!" The
death stare she received as a result of that comment was enough for her to
never revive the topic of our resemblance ever again.

At the sound of me tossing my commuter bag down on
the floor, he turns and charges toward me, scooping me up in one fluid motion.
Our usual quick peck greeting is transformed into something a little more seductive.
I gasp and he grabs my behind. Make that
a lot
more seductive. I moan
into his mouth, part of me turned on, part of me protesting. He pulls back and
serves me up a wicked smile.

"I'm proud of you, baby."

"Thanks," I reply, still a little breathless from
his attack. "You shouldn't be proud of me yet, though, nothing's happened."

Beckett returns to the stove and begins serving up
heaping portions of chicken, pasta and red sauce onto two plates. "But it
will." His voice is so confident, I nearly believe him. He places the plates
down on his kitchen table and grins at me.

I pull out a chair, sit, and then look up at him.
"I wish I had your confidence in myself. This whole thing is going to happen
pretty quick and I really hope I'm prepared. Speaking of which, do we have
plans on Friday?"

Beckett raises his eyebrows at me as he sips his
wine. "I don't think so. Why?"

"Tim has tickets for you and me to attend this
charity event. Apparently the C.E.O. from Marshmen's will be there along with
our main competition."

"Who's the main competition?" Beck looks
intrigued.

I shrug. "You know Tim. I was lucky to get all the
information out of him that I did. All I know is it used to be this company
that just handled primarily high-end photos and clip art type stuff for
advertising and recently either merged or acquired this other company that does
the sort of stuff that we do."

Beckett shoves a piece of chicken in his mouth and
then garbles out, "you'll nail him, baby. You always do."

I reach over and squeeze his knee, thankful for
him; he's good to me. "Thanks, Beck."

"Anything else happen today?" He asks, dabbing the
corners of his mouth with his napkin in a way that would make any Miss Manners
proud. I think of brunch with Vanessa, and then a wave of unexpected guilt
floods me. I've never told Beckett anything about Collin.
Outside of Vanessa and Ryan, he has only met a few
of my college friends—but none of them were connected to Collin. It seemed
easier, for some reason, just to leave him out of any retelling of that period
of my life. I hover over this omission for a moment, wondering about its
meaning.

"Nope. This is a great dinner, thank you." He
nods. We eat in silence for a while and I glance around his apartment. It is
such
a bachelor pad. He has expensive taste when it comes to anything requiring an
electrical cord, but other than that, he could care less. We eat at his
mother's old kitchen table, which she happily cast off to him the moment Beck's
dad offered to go furniture shopping with her. He has little on the walls and
likes it that way. He doesn't enjoy art, loves mindless tv, including reality programming,
and all things sports—his home is a reflection of this. It's purpose driven in
layout and décor, but lacks anything that makes it feel personal. I used to
think it was just a guy thing, but the older we've gotten the more I just think
it's a
Beckett
thing. I consider my townhome and wonder how it will be
possible for our two households to successfully merge in the fall. Everything
on the walls, shelves and tabletops of my home is in some way an artifact of my
life. It all carries meaning, even if the story behind it is just for me.
Beckett calls it cluttered and busy. He claims it gives him a headache.

Beck's deep baritone voice interrupts my reverie. "Did
you see the other stuff I added to our calendar?"

I nod, covering my mouth, which is full of food. "You
put a lot in there, Beck."

Although it's technically a shared calendar, there's
not a lot of sharing going on. He pretty much controls our social lives. I
think he just got sick of me perpetually forgetting dates and times for all the
things he planned for us to do, so he took matters into his own hands. Most of
the time I don't mind. Nearly all of his large, extended family is in the area
and they're all pretty close.  There's something going on all the time, and
Beck likes us to be there as much as we can. I sometimes wonder what it would
be like if we had to split time between our respective families. Beck isn't the
best at compromise, but given that my family is far away both physically (and
emotionally), it works out.

When we were growing up I was never close with my
dad's kids. My stepmother was a master at making me feel like I was a temporary
inconvenience in their lives whenever I visited. It didn't start out that way,
partially because I think she wanted to impress my dad, but over time her
resentment toward me grew and grew until it was too big for anyone to ignore.
Once she started having babies it was clear I was in the way and that
her
kids were hers. She only changed her tune slightly when I became old enough to
babysit. She and my dad began regularly going out on the weekends he was
supposed to have me. "Bond with your sisters," he'd say on his way out the door,
giving me a weak smile. I could see in his eyes that he knew he was hurting me,
but it wasn't enough to stop him.

Life with Mom was different. After the divorce she
made dating her focus, and went through a lot of boyfriends before she settled
on my stepdad, Jack. I was too young to really understand what was happening
with her, but I remember the feeling. There was a frenzy surrounding her, a
constant nervous energy. I remember wanting to cling to her, though I'd never
been that sort of child. One specific memory stands out from around that time.
She was applying make-up and getting ready to go out with Jack. The babysitter
with the bad breath was coming soon. I didn't want Mom to leave, so I was in
her room absorbing every second with her I could.

"You only get this," she'd gestured from head to
toe at her reflection in the mirror, "for a short period. So, you have to make
it count." She'd come from a pretty rough family and as far as she was
concerned, my dad had rescued her. So, when things fell apart, she panicked. I
can look back now and grasp the fear she must've felt. I just wish she could've
seen mine too.

She and Jack didn't have kids immediately after
getting married, and so my half-brothers were a distant eight and nine years
younger than me. Jack is nice enough, but pretty flaky, like her. He went in
and out of different careers, never too worried about money, often to the
detriment of his family. I learned not to rely on him, but he was always kind,
and he never, that I can recall, raised his voice to me. Neither Mom nor Jack
was big on discipline, however, so the boys ran wild a lot; and I was kind of
left to do my own thing.

By the time I was a teenager this seemed like an
ideal arrangement to all of my friends. They were envious of my lack of a
curfew and enjoyed my mother's laid back nature whenever they came over. I
pretended to bask in it, but there was also a part of me that yearned for the
attention and structure I'd never received. I wondered later if things would've
been different if I'd demanded it, by acting out, but it would've been quite
the feat in a house with so few rules.

I tried not to resent my bothers and sisters for
having relationships with my parents that were so different from my own, but at
times it was challenging. As adults we don't talk much, and my relationship
with my parents, both biological and step, has remained peaceful but distant—an
arrangement that seems to serve all parties well enough. Mindy is the one
outlier. She's made a point to maintain a relationship with me in spite of
distance, our age gap, and the fact that my stepmom nearly always "forgets" to
include me in family get-togethers.

Thinking about all of this reminds me that she
emailed me last week about trying to visit sometime soon. I pick up my phone
and start scrolling through, searching for the email. "Can you put a hold in
there for a few days next month for Mindy to visit?"

Beck's reply is a blank stare.

"My half-sister." His expression goes unchanged.
"Remember you met her once about a year ago at my dad's house."

I see recognition wash over him. "She's short,
right? Red hair?" I narrow my eyes at him, while nodding.

"Sorry, babe. It's hard for me to remember she's your
family. You two don't look anything alike."

Just what I need, yet another reminder of how
obvious it is that I don't belong. "Don't complain, Beck. You have it pretty
easy. There are about twenty relatives of yours for every one of mine. I still
manage to keep all the M's in your family sorted." I start listing cousins.
"Matthew, Martin, Michael, Mark…"

He puts a hand up. "OK, OK, Rach. I get your
point. I'm sure I can move some stuff around. Lemme look after dinner." I note
his annoyance, but decide against commenting on it. It's not worth the
argument. I set my phone down and nod. He's conceded, but I feel the battle
isn't over, just delayed.

 

Chapter 7
Collin

 

I'm dressed and ready to go, just waiting on Leighton,
who insisted on getting ready at my place. She thinks I'm unaware of what she's
trying to do. She's banking that the more she hangs out, sleeps over, showers,
and keeps her stuff here, the more I'll warm up to the idea of us moving in
together. An issue she knows better than to push any more with me. She's acting
like she's let it go, but really she's just launched another weapon in her
arsenal. I half expect to come home one day to a room full of moving boxes with
her standing innocently next to them.
What? These things? Weren't they
always here?

Leighton saunters into the room, swishing her tiny
hips side to side. She's petite, fair-skinned and often gets mistaken for years
younger than she actually is. Like last week, when someone made the assumption
that she was my daughter. I thought it was funny, perhaps because I
know
I don't look old enough to have parented her. But she was definitely not amused,
and sulked in the car for at least an hour afterward. She isn't helped by the
fact that she finished high school early and started college at seventeen,
little brainiac. She told me once she used to be self-conscious about her aptitude
in school, at times playing dumb just to try to fit in. I never felt self-conscious
per se, but I could definitely relate to her plight. I, too, spent a fair
amount of time purposefully underplaying my intellect. Those days are long
over. Leighton is a book-smart little beauty, but she also has a certain
innocence about her, which I find attractive. Tonight, however, all dressed up,
she looks
all
woman and
all
beautiful.

"Damn," I appraise her, as inarticulate as ever.

"Hmm," she hums, sauntering toward me in a sexy
strut. She's wearing a skintight, low-cut, black dress with sequined straps,
and her hair is knotted up in a twisty pattern off her neck. "Does that mean
you like what you see?" Even in heels she has to tip up on her toes to reach
me. I lean down and kiss her cute mouth first, and then each cheek.

"Very much so. I'll show you how much later, but
now we have to go. I can't be late tonight." She kisses me and then pirouettes
under my finger showing off her dress once more. I smile down at her and place
my hand on the small of her back, guiding her to the door.

 

Rachel

 

Beckett shifts uncomfortably as we're standing
around "schmoozing"—as he would say—with a couple of executives Tim knows. On
the way here he joked that he'd wondered how many crazies they'd let in to a
charity event for crazies. Annoyed, I corrected him that the charity was
intended to support local organizations that help people with mental illness. His
insensitivity can be really grating sometimes. I let him know as much, but I
don't think he cared. He hates this type of event. He claims it's because his
philanthropist mother dragged him to endless charity events as a kid and young
adult, but I think it's because this setting requires Beckett to restrict his
conversing to polite small talk. He comes from a boisterous and somewhat
argumentative family. I've witnessed "debates" between his brothers that are
more like two members of opposing political parties spouting off on cable TV,
both completely deaf to the other, only interested in hearing themselves talk,
rather than engaging an actual discussion.  Beckett likes to be in charge and
boss people around; nights like this force him into the background. His direct
and assertive personality has made him successful in business, but a little
less so in the girlfriend department. He had a series of short-lived, failed
relationships before we got involved, though I doubt he sees the connection. For
all of his intelligence, he's not exactly introspective.

Things with Beckett had been smooth sailing until
recently, when I showed some reluctance to take things to the next level. An
opportunity to sublet my townhome had come up, which would've allowed me to
move in with him several months early. I'll readily admit—to myself anyway—that
I sabotaged the whole thing to buy some time. I didn't want to move in with
him. Not then, anyway. The weird thing is, I'm not even sure why. I love him;
he's sweet, smart, and good to me, even if he can be somewhat pushy at times.
What the hell is my problem
?

Tim breezes over to me, after giving Beckett a
polite, possibly bordering on curt, greeting and then he unceremoniously
launches into strategy and direction on the night's dual goal of wooing
Marshmen's CEO, Maxine Jefferson, and sizing up our competition from IWC. I
think it stands for innovative something or other. It doesn't matter. My job is
supposed to be to get to know the owner, who is allegedly here, gain as much
information as I can, and then crush them when we get to the sales call. Tim is
giving me the rundown of all he's learned, per his personal assistant, about
this guy. So far, I haven't heard anything that sounds all that threatening. It
doesn't sound like he's been running this company for long at all, and it was a
merger, which sometimes equals disaster, for at least a year.

 "So, we think this guy is in attendance tonight,
Tim?" I take another sip of my wine and glance over at a significantly less
bored Beckett. This has just become a competition of sorts to him. Even if this
isn't really his business, he's thrilled to be privy to Tim's strategizing. He
gives me a little eyebrow raise that seems to say:
game on.

"Yes. In fact, I believe that's him right over
there." He gestures across the room to a tall blonde-haired guy in a sharp
black suit talking with a tiny, very animated blonde-haired girl. "His name is
Collin Jackson."

Everything. Stops. I can't breathe. Tim is still
talking, but I'm hearing nothing. I'm staring at the back of my former best
friend, whom I haven't seen in ten years, who has now been declared my
competition in the biggest event in my career thus far. This feels like a cruel
twist of fate even my nightmares couldn't conjure. I've considered what it
would be like to see him again in a number of scenarios;
this
was never
one of them. So many thoughts are crowding my brain at once that if it's
possible to actually think
nothing—
that is what I'm doing. Tim is saying
my name. Once, twice, three times.

Beckett tugs on my elbow. "Are you OK, baby?" His
voice breaks through the haze. I turn to face both of them and their sharing
the same concerned expression.

"Um, yes… No… I don't know," I stammer, struggling
to speak coherent words with the scant amount of moisture left in my mouth.

Beckett pulls me close to him and Tim stands in
front of both of us, shield-like.

"All the color has drained out of your face. Are
you feeling faint?" Beckett's eyes narrow with concern.

"A little." I extract myself from his embrace and
move past Tim. "I'll be fine, though. I think I'll go to the ladies room, and
um, freshen up a bit."

Tim nods, the worry still plastered across his
face, and Beckett offers to walk me there, but I assure him again that I'll be
fine. Spinning around and not looking, I take a half step and slam right into
someone. Cold liquid splashes in my face and runs down my cheek, and I let out
an embarrassing, involuntary yelp. Perfect. I look up to discover that the
drink I'm now wearing all over my face actually belongs to a completely stunned
Collin.

"Shit." My voice is barely audible—not that I can
hear much over my pounding heart.

"Collin! What's going on with you? Help her out."
The mini-barbie standing to his left shoves a handful of cocktail napkins into
his hand and then turns her attention to me. "Are you OK?"

I stare down at my cranberry-colored satin dress
and am relieved to see that it appears nearly untouched. I return my gaze to
hers and nod, mumbling a series of apologies and ‘I'm fines', while somehow
managing not to make eye contact with Collin. He says nothing, but I feel his
intense eyes on me. He has regained his composure enough to hand me the second
wad of paper-thin napkins that his girlfriend swiped off a passing hors
d'oeuvres tray, and I use them to wipe up my neck and face.

"Will you excuse me?" I squeak to everyone and no
one in particular. They all nod awkwardly and step aside making room for the
little train wreck that is me. I shuffle past everyone concentrating on not
tripping in my high heels as I exit the ballroom into the hallway. By some
grace of God the bathroom is straight ahead. I practically sprint into it,
wishing I could lock myself up in there for the duration of the night,
whimpering like a teenager at the prom. I enter the first open stall and lock
it shut, exhaling for what feels like the first time in minutes.

 

BOOK: To See You Again
3.43Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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