“You woke me up,” I say accusingly.
“Sorry,” Gabby says, although she doesn’t sound terribly sorry. “It’s eleven in the morning, you know. Most normal people are already awake.”
“Want to grab brunch at Pete’s?” she asks. “I’m craving French toast.”
I run a hand through my messy hair. My mouth feels like an incinerator, even though I didn’t have any cigarettes last night. I doubt Hunter would find my scent intoxicating right now. “Give me an hour.”
An hour and ten minutes later, I’m pushing open the door to Gabby and my favorite diner. I wave hello to the hostess and find Gabby deeply engrossed in her phone. Her pixie cut is freshly washed and she looks adorable in her simple T-shirt and shorts. Gabby’s always been a girl who looks best when she’s being casual.
She giggles at something on her phone, but then quickly shoves it back in her purse when she sees me. I wonder who she’s texting with. I didn’t think Gabby was seeing anyone, but maybe she is. The thought of Gabby having a secret boyfriend doesn’t sit well with me after what happened to Sydney.
“So where were you last night, missy?” Gabby says.
I roll my eyes. “Can I order before you give me the third degree?”
“No! I want details, Nelson.”
Fortunately, we get interrupted by a waitress who wants to take our order. Gabby gets her French toast, and I agonize internally between eggs and a burger. I can’t decide if I feel like lunch or breakfast. That’s the inherent problem with brunch—too many choices.
“I’ll have two eggs over easy,” I tell our waitress. But then immediately wish I had gotten the burger. Oh well. When I go with Jamie, he usually lets me have some of whatever he ordered when I have my inevitable buyers’ remorse, but I know Gabby won’t let me pick at her plate the way he does.
Although I don’t think Jamie is going to be inviting me to brunch any time soon.
“So who was he?” she asks, her eyes opening wide as they can go.
“Nobody you know,” I mumble.
“That’s okay. What’s his name?”
“Oh my God,” Gabby says, “you better tell me his name, Brooke. If you don’t, I’m going to stalk you during your next date until I find out. I’m not letting my best friend get murdered.”
I roll my eyes again. “He’s not a murderer, Gabby.”
“Do you think Syd thought her boyfriend was a murderer?”
Good point. I don’t think Hunter is a murderer though—I really don’t. I did spend a large amount of time last night Googling Hunter Stone when I should have been going to sleep. He didn’t seem to have a Facebook account, but there was a LinkedIn account for a Hunter T. Stone who was an investment banker in New York that I suspected was his, although there was no photo.
“Look,” I say, “I’m telling you, he’s not a murderer. He’s, like, this rich investment banker who knows everyone in the city.”
“And I suppose he’s tall, dark, and handsome.”
“Well, sort of.”
“Name, please,” Gabby says, looking me directly in the eyes. “I require a name.”
“Okay,” I sigh. “His name is Hunter.”
“What’s wrong with the name Hunter?”
“Nothing,” she says. “It’s just, you know, a murderer kind of name. I mean, Hunter. What does he hunt?”
“He doesn’t hunt,” I say. “It’s just his name.”
“And it starts with H,” she says thoughtfully. “Just like Sydney’s boyfriend…”
I fold my hands across my chest. “You’ve got to be kidding me. You think that Hunter is the same guy Syd was dating?”
“It’s not out of the realm of possibility.”
“It’s entirely out of the realm of possibility.” (Even though a teensy tiny part of me had thought the same thing. But I won’t admit that.)
The waitress arrives with our food. I stare down at my eggs, wishing they were a burger. Damn it.
Gabby’s about to dig into her French toast, but her phone buzzes in her purse. She pulls it out and smiles at what she sees on the screen. I might have considered letting it go, but after she called my date from last night a murderer, I feel like giving her a hard time.
“Who are you texting with, Gabs?” I say.
She shoves her phone back in her purse. “Nobody.”
“I require a name, please.”
“It’s not a murderer, okay?” she says. “Definitely not.”
“How do you know?”
“Because he’s just not.”
“So why can’t you tell me his name?”
Gabby chews her lip for a moment, then finally says, “It’s Jamie.”
My stomach sinks—I almost wish it had been a murderer. “Jamie?”
Her round cheeks color. “I don’t know. He asked me to the movies last night and I didn’t have anything else to do so I went and…”
My heart speeds up. “And?”
“It was nice.” She shrugs and smiles. “I don’t know. I kind of like him. Is that okay, Brooke? I mean, you’re not interested in him, are you? You’re dating Hunter.”
I can’t believe Jamie asked Gabby to the movies. Okay, yes, I did tell him to ask her. But I didn’t think he’d really do it. Or if he did, I figured they’d go as friends.
“But…” I shake my head. “You and Jamie are always fighting.”
She giggles. “I know. It’s fun to fight with him.”
I still have that sinking feeling in my stomach. Why did I tell Jamie to ask Gabby to go to the movies? I should have canceled on Hunter and gone with Jamie instead. Hunter’s sexy as hell, but he’s not long term relationship material. He’s not the kind of guy I’m going to be married to for forty years and be telling our grandchildren about. I didn’t even really want to go out with Hunter. It just… happened.
Okay, I realize that sounds like an incredibly lame excuse. But how do I explain to my friend that half the time I’m with Hunter, I feel like I’m in some sort of trance?
Gabby scrunches her eyebrows together. “Are you okay with this, Brooke?”
“Yeah.” I force a smile. “Of course I am.”
“Because he asked me to go to dinner tomorrow night,” she says. “And I was going to say yes, but if you don’t want me to go…”
“Don’t be silly,” I snap at her. That came out harsher than I wanted. I clear my throat. “Really, why would I care? I’m dating Hunter. You should totally go out with him tomorrow.”
Yeah, I’m “dating” Hunter. I’ll probably never hear from him again.
Although if that happened, part of me would be incredibly relieved.
“Okay.” Gabby smiles happily as she takes a bite of French toast. “He’s really cute. I’ve always thought so, but he seemed so into you that I figured there was no point thinking about it.”
I feel horrible right now. And it’s all my fault. I turned Jamie down. I told him to ask Gabby to the movies. And now I feel like I’m about to cry. And then an even more horrible thought occurs to me. “Did you guys kiss last night?”
“No,” she says, and I have to restrain myself from sighing with relief. “But our hands kept touching in the popcorn during the movie.” She raises her eyebrows at me. “And what about you? Did you kiss Hunter last night?”
I hesitate a beat too long and her eyes widen. “Brooke! You kissed him? Oh my God, I thought you didn’t do that on first dates.”
“Well, it’s not like we had sex…”
“Kissing is even more intimate than sex.”
“It’s definitely not.”
“It can be.” Her eyes glaze over and I wonder if she’s imagining kissing Jamie. Her phone buzzes in her bag with another text and I get that sick feeling in my stomach again. “So when are you going out with Hunter again?”
“He said he’d call me,” I say.
“Oh,” she says. “Well, I’m sure he will.”
I puncture my egg yolk with my fork, watching the creamy yellow liquid pour over the whites. Usually I love eggs over easy, but I don’t have much appetite right now.
I usually spend Sunday afternoon doing errands, so I start my afternoon off by picking up my dry-cleaning. I actually dry-clean my white lab coats, because otherwise they get unacceptably wrinkled. And I’m worried there are traces of blood on them if I don’t get the coats cleaned properly.
There’s only one guy in the store when I come in, so I get in line behind him. The guy is tapping his fingers on the table while he waits, and somehow I recognize he’s tapping out the beat to the Macarena, which makes me smile. He’s around forty with black hair and looks oddly familiar to me when he turns his head.
And then I notice that he’s looking at me very blatantly.
“Uh, hi,” I say.
“Hello, Ms. Nelson,” the man says.
And that’s when I realize who he is. It’s Detective Bateman. In jeans and a T-shirt. Holy crap, he looks sexy in jeans and a T-shirt.
“You can call me Brooke, actually,” I say.
“Brooke,” he repeats dutifully. He doesn’t offer to let me call him Richard, but I wouldn’t have expected him to.
“Um,” I say, “are there any suspects in the case?”
Bateman shakes his head. “I’m afraid I can’t really discuss it.”
“That means no.”
“No, that means I can’t discuss it.” His brow furrows. It’s obvious that the detective, like Jamie, is a decent guy. He’s the sort of guy you could be married to for forty years and have grandchildren with. (I don’t know why I keep thinking about grandchildren. I’m not even thirty yet.)
“Sorry to bug you,” I say. “I just want whoever killed Sydney to be brought to justice.”
He waves his hand. “It’s okay. I understand.”
“No, I feel bad,” I insist. “Here you are, on your day off, and I’m trying to pump you for information about a case.”
Bateman glances at the rows of clothing hung up and smiles thinly. “Well, to be fair, it’s not like I’m doing something terribly exciting, am I?”
“You don’t find dry-cleaning exciting?”
“Well, I do, but I thought I was the only one.”
I smile at him. “Nope. If you gave me a choice between a weekend in Aspen and picking up dry-cleaning, I’d be like ‘dry-cleaning all the way!’”
He laughs. It’s the first time I’ve heard him laugh and it’s a nice sound.
There’s probably some rule against dating someone involved with one of his cases. And anyway, I’ve got Hunter. If he ever calls me again.
The clerk brings out what appears to be two freshly dry-cleaned suits. Detective Bateman pays for them, then scoops them up under his arm. He looks over at me one last time and smiles. “I guess I’ll be seeing you around town, Ms. Nelson.”
“Brooke,” I correct him for the second time.
“Brooke.” There’s a warm tone to his voice this time that makes me a bit tingly. “And if you have any new information on the case…”
“I’ll call,” I complete his thought.
He nods. And then, after one last look, he’s gone.
When I get home with my dry-cleaning tucked under my arm, I find Jamie in the lobby, leaning slightly against the wall to support himself as he pulls his mail out of his mailbox. I consider doing an about-face, but before I can slip away, his eyes lift and he’s seen me.
“Um,” I say awkwardly. “Hey.”
He looks at me for a moment like he’s considering not answering before saying, “Hey.”
I stand there, chewing on my lip. Why didn’t I agree to go out with Jamie last night? Yes, Hunter is gorgeous. And our date was out of this world. But he’s so clearly not boyfriend material.
I’m worried I might have screwed things up irreversibly.
“Listen,” I say, “I’m sorry about—”
“Don’t be,” he cuts me off. “There’s nothing to be sorry about. Really.”
He’s saying that, but it’s incredibly obvious he’s pissed off at me. I don’t think he wants to be, but he is.
“We can go to the movies tonight?” I offer.
Jamie looks down at the cane in his left hand. “I know what you’re doing, Brooke, and it’s okay. You don’t have to do me any favors.”
I want to tell him that it wouldn’t be a favor. That I really want to go out to the movies with him and I want our fingers to touch in the popcorn and then I want him to kiss me goodnight, even though it’s a first date and I usually don’t kiss on a first date. I almost say it, but somehow the words seem lame in my head. He won’t buy it.
Before I can even start to explain any of this to him, my phone buzzes in my purse. Twice.
Jamie has started flipping through his mail, so I reach into my purse to see who was texting me. I assume it must be Gabby, but it isn’t. It’s Hunter.
Had a great time last night.
Can I take you to dinner again one night this week, beautiful?
I don’t even realize I’m smiling until Jamie says, “Is that your date from last night texting you?”
I shove my phone back in my purse. “No.”
He shrugs. “It’s okay if it is.”
Our eyes meet and I realize the text from Hunter has weakened my resolve. Just the thought of him makes me almost desperate to see him again—it’s like he has some kind of psychic hold on me. I know that sounds nuts, but it’s the only way I can describe the almost painful longing I have for him. I want to go out with him again. I really, really do. More, I guess, than I want to make things right with Jamie.
A noise from behind me startles me out of my thoughts and I turn to see Mr. Teitelman is attempting to walk in, struggling with the door. I glance at Jamie, who ducks his head guiltily because he obviously can’t run over to help with the door. I sprint over to hold it for him.
“Brooky!” Mr. Teitelman says warmly. “You don’t have to hold the door for me. You’re a lady—I hold the door for you.”
Jamie mutters something under his breath that sounds like, “I know the feeling.”
“I don’t mind holding the door,” I say quickly.
“And James,” Mr. Teitelman adds, “I wanted to thank you again for showing me how to make the internet on my computer.” He looks at me and explains, “My grandson is going to spend the night and he said, ‘Grandpa, you better have the internet!’ So I had to get it.”
Apparently, Jamie is the building’s tech support person. I don’t know what I’ll do the next time I have an issue if he still is this pissed at me.
“It was no problem,” Jamie says. “It was the least I could do after you invited us to the bar mitzvah party.”
“Wasn’t that a wonderful day?” Mr. Teitelman says. He looks at us both meaningfully. “Maybe someday you will be having a party for your own son’s bar mitzvah. Eh?”
Jamie and I exchange pained looks. There are so many things wrong with that statement, not the least of which is that neither of us is Jewish.
“I have to get upstairs,” Jamie mumbles, not looking at either of us. “I’ll see you later, Mr. Teitelman. Bye, Brooke.”
I watch him limp down the hallway, a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach. I’m scared that not only have I ruined a chance for a relationship with the one decent guy I know, but I’ve also wrecked our friendship.
Mr. Teitelman is shaking his head. “Why doesn’t that boy ask you out? I’m going to tell him to do it right now.”
“Mr. Teitelman, no…” I bite my lip. “It’s not… I mean, he and I aren’t…”
“Everyone notices how you two look at each other!” he exclaims. “Some people are meant to be together. Like me and Beverly—my wife.” He smiles at an old memory. “Brooky, did I ever tell you about when I first saw Beverly?”
I shake my head no. I love sweet old man stories.
“It was at a New Years’ Eve party,” he recalls. “Dick Greenberg’s party. I didn’t think I was going to have anyone to kiss at midnight that year, but then I saw Beverly across the room. And I noticed right away…”
He’s trailed off. “How beautiful she was?” I prompt him.
“Eh?” he says.
“YOU NOTICED HOW BEAUTIFUL SHE WAS?”
“No!” he says. “I noticed she had the biggest titties of any girl in the room!”
“Mr. Teitelman!” I cover my mouth. I want to cover my ears.
“It’s true,” he insists. “The other girls were all so skinny, like Olive Oyl. Who wants that? I hated it! But Beverly had a real figure.” He nods his head. “That’s when I knew I was going to marry her.”
This is not the sweetest story I’ve ever heard.
“And then we were married for forty years,” he sighs. “I never thought I’d be without her. I miss her so much, Brooky. Sometimes it feels like… like half of me is gone.”
Despite the fact that he just told me a story about his late wife’s huge knockers, I feel a lump rising in my throat. It actually is a beautiful story.
To be continued....