258,723
07.03.2019

Fresh flowers cover every available surface. White daisies. Before, I thought seeing them would remind her of Warren, but I’m not worried about that now. They’re Kate’s favorite, so they’re the only kind here. Bocelli plays softly on the sound system. Candles light the room. Hundreds of them—glass-enclosed.

You can’t go wrong with candles. They make everyone look better. They make everything smell better.

Knock-knock.

That would be Kate. Right on time. I scan the room once more. This is it. My Super Bowl. Game Seven. And everything’s ready. I’m ready. As I’ll ever be. I blow out a deep breath. And open the door.

And then I can’t move. I can’t think. Breathing? That’s not a frigging option either.

Kate’s dark hair is piled high on her head. Elegant tendrils kiss her neck, caressing the very spot that I spent hours nibbling on not so long ago. Her dress is dark red—shiny—maybe satin. It hangs from delicate straps that bridge her shoulders and fall low in back. The bottom rests above her knee, exposing her smooth legs inch by delectable inch.

And her shoes…Mother of Christ…her shoes are all heel, held on by an intricate black bow tied at the back of her ankle.

When I’m actually able to form words, my voice is rough. “Is there any way we could renegotiate the no-ass-grabbing clause? ’Cause I have to tell you, in that dress? It’s going to be hard.”

And it’s not the only thing, if you catch my drift.

She smiles and shakes her head. “All previous stipulations stand.”

I stand back as she walks in, looking me over out the corner of her eye. Watch her face closely. See how her eyes darken? How she licks her lips without realizing it? Like a lioness that just spotted a gazelle in the high grass.

She likes what she sees. She wants to compliment me. She wants to, but she won’t. This is Kate we’re talking about here. Post-my-colossal-foot-in-mouth-fuck-up Kate. And despite my recent progress, she’s still defensive. Untrusting. On guard.

And that’s okay. I’m not offended. Her eyes tell me everything she won’t let herself say.

I lead her toward the living room, and she bites her lip as she asks, “So, where are we going?”

And then she stops short when she spots the candles. And the flowers. And the perfectly set table for two.

I tell her softly, “We’re already here.”

She gazes around the room. “Wow. It’s…it’s beautiful, Drew.”

I shrug. “The room’s nice. You’re beautiful.”

She blushes. And it’s amazing.

I want to kiss her. Badly.

You ever been thirsty? Really thirsty? Like on a ninety-eight-degree summer day when you don’t have enough spit in your mouth to even swallow? Now imagine somebody puts an ice-cold glass of water in front of you. And you can look at it, and you can picture how perfect it would taste—but you can’t touch it. And you definitely can’t drink it.

That’s pretty much the hell I’m in at the moment.

I tear my eyes away from Kate’s face and hand her a glass of red wine. Then I take a long drink of my own.

“What happened to your fingers?” She’s referring to the Band-Aids that cover four of my ten digits.

“Mushrooms. Spongy little bastards don’t appreciate being sliced.”

She looks surprised. “You cooked?”

I was going to take Kate to a restaurant. The best in the city. But she’s about quality, remember? And I figure she’ll appreciate my effort a hell of a lot more than anything a gourmet chef could come up with.

I smile. “I have many talents. You’ve only seen a few.”

And this might remain true. I’ve never cooked before.

Which reminds me—Martha Stewart? She’s my new idol. Seriously. I used to think her whole deal was a joke. Who becomes a billionaire by showing people how to fold goddamn dinner napkins correctly? But that was before. Before I actually tried to use my oven or set a table.

Now Martha’s a f**king god. Like Buddha. And if her recipe helps me pull this off? I’ll worship at her pudgy sandaled feet every day for the rest of my life.

Kate and I sit on the couch.

“So…how are things at the office?” I ask.

She sips her wine and brushes nonexistent wrinkles off her dress. “Good. Things have been good. You know…quiet.”

“In other words, you’ve been bored out of your mind without me.”

“No. It’s been…productive. I’ve gotten a lot done.”

I smirk. “You’ve missed me.”

She snorts. “I didn’t say that.”

She didn’t have to.

“Come on, Kate, I’ve taken a vow of honesty here. It’s only fair that you do the same.” I lean forward. “Look me in the eyes and tell me you haven’t thought about me—at all—in the last few days.”

“I—”

Buzzzzz…buzzzzz…buzzzzz.

Dinner’s ready. Kate takes another drink from her glass.

“You should get that, Drew. Don’t want it to burn.”

And she’s saved by the buzzer.

For now.

The chicken Marsala I made looks…unique now that it’s actually out of the oven and on our plates.

Okay it’s f**king frightening. I admit it.

Kate’s brow is furrowed as she pushes at the brown lumps like she’s dissecting a frog in biology. “Did you mix the flour with water before you added it?”

Water? Martha didn’t say anything about water. That bitch.

“You know, Drew, some of the best culinary dishes in history looked disgusting. Presentation doesn’t count for much. It’s all about the taste.”

“Really?”

She picks up her fork and takes a deep breath. “No. I was just trying to make you feel better.”

I stare at my plate. “Thanks for trying.”

Before she takes a bite, I reach across the table and put my hand on hers. “Wait. I’ll go first.”

That way, if the food makes me keel over like bad blowfish, at least one of us will be conscious to call 9-1-1. Plus, if I’m hospitalized, I think there’s an excellent chance Kate would throw a pity f**k my way.

And don’t think for a second that I wouldn’t take it. In a freaking heartbeat.

I try not to breathe through my nose as I take a bite. Kate stares at me. I chew.

And then I smile slowly. “It’s not bad.”

She seems relieved. Maybe even a little proud. She slides her fork through her lips. Then she nods. “It’s really good. I’m impressed.”

“Yeah—I get that a lot.”

Through the entire meal, our conversation flows easily. Comfortably. I keep the topics safe. We talk about her new client, Matthew and Delores’s burgeoning relationship, and the never-ending political antics going on in DC.

For dessert, I serve strawberries and whipped cream. Strawberries are Kate’s favorite. I knew that from our Lost Weekend. Originally, I was going for strawberry shortcake. But you don’t want to know how the pudding turned out. I don’t think even Matthew would’ve eaten it. When Martha said stir constantly, she wasn’t screwing around.

While we enjoy our last course, I mention Mackenzie’s impending Christmas present.

Kate laughs. Unbelieving. “You’re not really going to buy her a pony, are you?”

“Of course I am. She’s a little girl. Every girl should have a pony.”

She sips her wine. We’re halfway through our second bottle.

“And I’m going to get one of those carts like the horses in Central Park. That way they can train it to take her to school.”

“This is New York City, Drew. Where are they going to keep it?”

“They have a five-bedroom condo. Two of the rooms are filled with Alexandra’s useless shit. I figure they can clean one out and make it the pony’s room.”

She looks at me straight-faced. “The pony’s room?”

“Yeah. Why not?”

“How are they going to get it to their floor?”

“Freight elevator. All the older buildings have one.”

She sits back in her chair. “Well, you’ve thought of everything haven’t you?”

I take a drink. “I always do.”

“Have you thought about what method your sister will use to kill you?”

“I’m sure she’ll surprise me. Will you defend me when she tries?”

She fingers her wine glass and glances up at me through those insanely long lashes. “No way, Pony Boy. She’s bigger than me. You’re on your own.”

I put my hand over my heart. “I’m crushed.”

She’s not buying it. “You’ll get over it.”

Our laughter fades into relaxed smiles. And I’m content to just watch her for a moment. She’s staring at me too.

Then she clears her throat and looks away. “This is a good CD.”

She’s talking about the music that’s been playing in the background for the last few hours.

“I can’t take all the credit. The guys helped me burn it.”

On cue, “I Touch Myself” by the Divinyls pours from the speakers.

“Jack picked that one.”

Kate laughs, and I stand up and press the button on the CD player, changing the song.

“And since I most likely only have a few weeks to live—” I hold my hand out to Kate “—may I have this dance?”

A new song fills the room: “Then” by Brad Paisley. I’m not really into country music, but Brad’s pretty cool. He’s a guy’s guy, even for a singer.

She takes my hand and stands up. Her arms go around my neck. And my hands rest at her waist—trying not to squeeze. Gently, we start to sway.

I swallow hard as her round, dark eyes look up at me without frustration or anger or hurt. They’re all warmth, like liquid chocolate. And my f**king knees go weak. I trail my hand up her spine to the back of her head. She turns her cheek and lays her head on my chest. And I pull her against me even closer—tighter.

I’d like to tell you what it feels like. To hold her again. To have my arms wrapped around her, at last, and her body pressed against mine.

I’d like to, but I can’t.

Because there aren’t words—in English or any other language—that could even come close to describing it.

I inhale the sweet flowery scent of her hair. If the poison in the gas chamber smelled like Kate?

Every Death Row inmate would die with a smile on his face.

She doesn’t lift her head as she whispers, “Drew?”

“Mmmm?”

“I want you to know…I forgive you…for what you said that day in your office. I believe you, that you didn’t mean it.”

“Thank you.”

“And, in hindsight, I realize that I didn’t help the situation. I could’ve said something, given you…reassurance about how I felt…before I went to talk to Billy. I’m sorry that I didn’t.”

“I appreciate that.”

And then her voice changes—becomes lower.

❮❯