Strangelove - Part 16
The rest of her day flew by after such a pleasant lunch with Peter. He never took his eyes off her, listened to every miniscule detail of her latest tax case and kissed her through the car window before driving off with a wave. On the way back in, her heart fluttered. It’d been way too long since he’d elicited such a reaction in her.
The sun began to set. She escaped the office and made her way home. With nothing on the docket, she’d planned to warm a can of soup, turn on whatever movie her streaming service recommended and draw a warm bath thirty minutes before bedtime. But her plans were interrupted by the sight of Peter’s white Audi SUV parked outside her apartment building.
As she approached the driver’s side door’s open window, he smirked. “Hi again.”
“Hi,” she replied, crossing her arms. “Weren’t you scheduled tonight?”
“I was, but I switched with a guy. I’ll do a double Wednesday. There’s somewhere I wanted to take you and it’s the perfect day for it.”
“I just got home. I was planning on…”
“Remember how you said I should ask for what I want?” He interrupted, slipping his arm out of the window and clasping her hand. “I’m asking. Please.”
She eyed her apartment’s window then him with her head tipped. “All right. But should I change shoes?”
“No need,” he answered, unlocking the passenger side door. “You look perfect.”
She exhaled with a smirk of her own. “Fine. And thanks.”
“Hop in. We’re on a tight timeframe.”
The engine purred as he eased onto the main road and off to his secret destination. She felt the pull of the motor press her into her leather seat as he shifted to fourth gear, merging into the fast lane. A warmth bloomed in her belly as her eyes closed, thrilled at the pull of momentum.
He glanced over. “You know, I don’t drive enough. I put twenty miles a week on this car. You all right with me ferrying you around for a change?”
She met his gaze, her lips turned up at the corners. “Of course, if you always drive like this.”
“Deal,” he murmured, refocusing on the road.
Twenty minutes later, they arrived at a bar and lounge she’d driven past many times. The uptown spot was three stories higher than its neighbors and about a half-mile from Peter’s station house. He pulled into a nearby spot and turned to her as she reached for the door handle. “No, allow me.” Her lips parted as he climbed from the car, stepped around and opened her door, offering a palm.
She could only smile as he helped her from the car and closed the door behind. His arm slid easily around her middle as he ushered her through the front door and into the lively bar scene. A crowd her age, with pint glasses and wine stems in their fingers, mingled around high-top tables, still in their work attire of polos, slacks and midi dresses. The bartender caroused with a few servers at the wooden ledge’s end while a hostess showed another young couple to a table in the back.
Peter waved back at someone imbibing at a nearby table before turning to his date.
“Come on, we’re headed upstairs.”
Jessica nodded as he tugged her toward a staircase to their right. She walked at his side up three flights to the roof deck. When he pushed open the heavy door, her eyes squinted into slits as the setting sun’s rays pierced through.
She stepped into the light, pulled to the railing of the rooftop deck to revel in the multicolored dusk on full display. The radiant sun was halfway down behind the horizon already, casting an amber and violet glow across the landscape. Stars had already begun to dot the blueish black sky above her head and the moon, wrapped in a gauzy haze, glowed over her shoulder.
She stood still for ten minutes, her eyes fixed straight ahead on the sunset while he waited
patiently at her side. He heard her easy breathing as her chest rose and fell, watched her irises widen as the light dissipated by degrees, and delighted in seeing her mind turn off as she gazed out at the warmth she so often reminded him of. When the last wink of sunlight extinguished, strands of party lights along the rail illuminated, the white light radiant against her porcelain skin.
He reached for her hand, pulling her attention from the darkening sky. “Pretty amazing, huh?”
She exhaled, mirroring his gentle smile. “Yeah, what a perfect view. I haven’t watched a sunset since…”
“Our first date,” he interjected, lifting her knuckles to his lips. “And you’re still just as fascinated by them today as a year ago. A year ago, today, in fact.”
Her gaze widened as realization set in. April eighteenth, exactly one year ago, he’d driven them to the beach forty-five minutes away. After an amazing seafood meal, they’d walked along the tide until the sun disappeared beyond the ocean. And he’d taken a chance, standing there in the settling darkness with the waves crashing behind them. He’d risked embarrassment and humiliation when he took her by the waist and dipped his head to kiss her for the first time.
But she’d reciprocated, easing his mind and beginning their relationship.
“Oh Peter,” she breathed, laying a hand on her heart. “I lost track. I’m so sorry. Thank you for this, for bringing me here.”
He laid both hands on her hips, pressing his lips to her forehead. “My pleasure. It’s not the beach but they have a great view and crab cakes. I figured that was a decent substitute.”
She chuckled. “That’s plenty.”
Before he could pull away, she dragged his lips down to hers, standing on her toes with the sounds of the lounge and the evening around them.
On the drive home, with twilight outside his car windows, Jessica lifted her phone from her purse. Their meal and evening had been awesome and she’d avoided the digital distraction’s buzzing for almost three hours. To halt the incessant vibrations, she opened her email app. There were five waiting unread messages, including one from Garrett. Her palms began to sweat instantly.
She quickly closed the app and glanced over to see Peter regarding her curiously. “You just can’t get away from the work, can you?”
“Nope,” she replied, tucking the phone away. “The exciting life of an accountant. The client for that file I told you about before, the one I’m pulling my hair out over? He’s way too eager to get the estate cashed out. If it was that easy, it’d already be done. He’s driving me crazy.”
“It was so nice while it lasted,” he sighed listlessly.
She turned in her seat to face him. “What was?”
“Seeing you relax.”
With a scowl, Jessica sat forward again, her eyes on her lap. “I’m sorry. I know you wanted this to be a nice evening and I’ve ruined it.”
With a sharp turn of the wheel, he veered to the curb with a wail of horns behind him. When their eyes met, hers were wide and astonished. His were tinged with frustration and impatience.
“You apologize too much. Seriously, you apologize like a hundred times a day. Is that work-Jessica’s defense mechanism?”
She gaped, panic burning in her jade eyes. “You almost got us killed, swerving like that!”
He scowled at the dashboard. “We’re fine, but I’ve heard enough. I’m tired of you being so guilt-ridden all the time. I bet you apologize all day at work, too. It’s exhausting. And for the record, we did and are having a great night, and we had a great day. You laughed, you smiled, you kissed me. You never kiss me. And don’t apologize for that, either.”
She tucked her lips together, muting the apology he’d seen coming.
He sat back, his eyes on the roof for a moment before leaning in closer to her. “I love you, Jessica. I have for a long time. I will for a long time. I love spending time with you. I miss you when we’re apart. You are the sun in my sky. Please, stop apologizing to me. You’ve done nothing wrong.”
Her heart kicked once hard against her ribs. She wanted nothing more than to believe him.