So Hunter calls for a limo to deliver me back to my apartment building. The whole thing is paid for in advance, so all I have to do is sit in the back, wondering if I still have to tip.
When the limo pulls up in front of my building, I can’t help but notice the couple enthusiastically making out by the front door. I smile in amusement until I realize the couple is Jamie and Gabby. At which point, I get that sick feeling in my stomach that I’ve now become accustomed to.
In the three years I’ve known him, I’ve seen Jamie kiss a handful of women at various times, but it’s hard to assess from that what his kissing ability is. But I can see whatever he’s doing right now is making Gabby very happy. His lips are pressed against hers and she’s pressed against the walls of the building, a smile playing on her lips. It’s at that moment I realize any chance I ever had with Jamie is gone forever.
And it makes me feel so goddamn sad.
I climb out of the limo and it drives away before I can think about whether or not I’m supposed to tip. I can’t stop staring at Jamie and Gabby, and what’s worse is that I have to walk right past them to get inside the building. Honestly, it’s really rude of them. Don’t they know that people would like to get home without having to push past kissing people?
I try to hurry past them before they can notice me, but I trip over my own heels on a crack in the pavement. I manage to catch myself, but not before I let out a little yelp that pulls Jamie and Gabby apart.
Jamie’s cheeks redden when he’s sees me, but Gabby just grins wider. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her so happy with a guy in all the years I’ve known her. And for the first time in a while, I realize how cute Gabby is. I get so used to looking at her that I forget what she really looks like. But Gabby is pretty, especially when she’s all dolled up with the mascara bringing out her eyes and her big boobs squeezed into a low-cut blouse. Even her pixie cut looks cute tonight. I can see why Jamie likes her.
“Sneaking home awfully late, missy,” Gabby teases me.
“I could say the same for you,” I point out.
“Touche,” she laughs. “And when do we get to meet this mystery man? Shooter, was it?”
I roll my eyes. “Hunter.”
“Right.” She nods. “So when do we meet the guy? Jamie’s down with it, right?”
Jamie’s smiles crookedly at me as he reaches for his cane, now that he’s not leaning on Gabby for support. “Sure. I want to meet him.”
I toy with a strand of my red hair. “Um, Hunter feels like it’s a little… soon to be meeting my friends.”
“What?” Gabby bursts out. “Too soon! What’s wrong with this guy? Brooke, I’m getting a commitment-phobic alert here.”
“Look,” I mumble, “it hasn’t been very long. He’s got a point.”
“It’s a red flag,” she insists. “Jamie here is willing to meet my friends. Hell, he’d meet my parents if I wanted.”
Jamie’s blue eyes widen. “Your parents? Jesus, Gabby…”
She smacks him in the arm. “I’m saying hypothetically, you idiot. Don’t have a panic attack. Sheesh.” She sighs. “Okay, fine. It’s not totally weird that he’s hesitant. But I still want to meet the guy.”
“You will,” I promise. “Soon.”
“It better be.”
I walk up the steps to the front door and take one last look at Jamie and Gabby. “Um, you coming inside, Jamie?”
It’s a loaded question. Gabby already told me they haven’t had sex yet. Will Gabby come up with Jamie tonight? Or will she go home? I may have a three month rule about sex, but Gabby has no such rule. At some point, it was a “five date rule” then it became a “three date rule.” Now I suspect it’s just a free for all.
Jamie takes Gabby’s hand in his. “I think we’re going to stay out here a little longer,” he says.
“Oh,” I say. “Okay.”
“G’night, Brooke!” Gabby calls.
“Good night,” I say.
And I quickly walk into the building before I have to watch them kiss again.
I sit across from Detective Bateman’s desk in his office, butterflies filling my stomach. It’s been three full days since I got the blond hair from Hunter's apartment, and I only just worked up the courage to call him this morning. He’s watching me with his dark eyes—almost as dark as Hunter’s but maybe not quite. When I called him and told him I had new information on the case, he was eager to see me immediately. But now he appears skeptical of what I have to say.
“You want me to match a hair with Ms. Lancaster’s?” he repeats.
“And where did you find this hair?” he asks me.
“I…” I bite my lip. “I can’t say.”
“You can’t say?” The detective looks at me in disbelief. “Brooke, if you expect me to do an analysis for you, I need to know why. This isn’t the Police Academy movies.”
“I can tell you,” I correct myself. “But only if they’re a match.”
“How about this?” Bateman says coolly. “How about you tell me or else I arrest you for obstruction of justice?”
I stare at him. Bateman was always so nice to me in the past, and we were practically flirting at the dry-cleaning place. It’s a shock to see this side of him. But of course, I shouldn’t be surprised. He’s not here to play games. He wants to figure out who killed Sydney and bring that person to justice.
And so do I. I have to know the truth.
He sees the look on my face and the hard lines around his mouth soften. “Just because you saw me in my gym shorts, that doesn’t mean I’m not going to take my job seriously,” he adds.
“Actually,” I say, forcing a smile, “you were wearing jeans.”
“Right.” He nods. “And so were you.”
We look at each other across his desk. His desk is so cluttered with papers, it seems like any wrong move will cause an avalanche of documents to fall to the ground. When I came into the office, he had to clear papers off one of the chairs so I could sit. The only other thing I can discern on his desk is his computer and a plaque with his name on it. There are no photographs in the room—nothing to indicate any sort of personal life outside of the police force.
“Okay,” I finally say. “I found it at the apartment of a male… friend of mine who claims he didn’t know Sydney. I got suspicious, but… if I’m wrong, I don’t want the police showing up at his door. He’ll know it’s me and he’ll…”
Detective Bateman raises his dark eyebrows at me. “Is it your boyfriend?”
“He’s not exactly my boyfriend,” I mumble.
Now the detective looks amused. “All right. Give me his name and we’ll compare it to hair samples we have from Ms. Lancaster. I won’t act on it unless we feel confident of a match.”
“You’re going to do DNA testing?”
He holds up the baggie containing the mystery hair. “Yes, although DNA testing capabilities are limited on hair that’s naturally shed. If we find hair that’s been ripped forcibly from the scalp, sometimes we get lucky and there’s usable nuclear DNA material there. But we can still run the test and see if it shares mitochondrial DNA with hair samples we have for your friend. But I wouldn’t do that first.”
“What will you do?”
“I would start off by doing a microscopic comparison to Ms. Lancaster’s hair,” he says. “It’s far less specific than DNA testing or a fingerprint and wouldn’t be enough to prove anything in court, but we have a great forensic pathologist. If she agrees there’s a high likelihood it’s from the same person, we’ll run the mitochondrial DNA analysis.”
“Oh.” The microscopic comparison is the same thing Jolene did, although she’s far from an expert on hair. Still, he seems confident.
“So what’s this guy’s name?”
I take a deep breath. Once I tell him Hunter’s name, I’ll have gone down an irreversible path. But I have to tell him. I have to know the truth. “Hunter T. Stone.”
“What does the T stand for?”
“I don’t know.”
Detective Bateman scribbles something down on one of the million papers on his desk. But even as he writes, his eyes are trained on mine. “And you’re dating this guy?”
I hesitate a beat before I nod.
A tiny smile plays on his lips. “So you’re dating a guy who you think could be a murderer and you’re just… okay with that?”
“I’m not okay with it!” I cry. “That’s why I gave you the hair.”
“Are you going to go out with him again?”
I hesitate again. “We have a date tonight.”
The detective throws back his head and laughs. “I guess it really is true—women like dangerous men.”
“If it turns out he killed Sydney, I’ll end it,” I say. When I see the look he gives me, my cheeks grow warm. “Obviously.”
“I’ll be in touch,” he says. “Just to let you know if you should cancel your next date because we’re taking Mr. Stone to jail.”
“I’d appreciate that,” I huff.
I feel a little ridiculous. He’s right—if I really think there’s any reasonable chance Hunter killed Sydney, why would I go out with him again? Am I really that dumb?
Apparently so, because I have no inclination to cancel.
When I get into my building and see the “Out of Order” sign on our only elevator, I let out a groan. I’ve been on my feet at work most of the day and I’m not excited about trudging up seven flights of stairs to my apartment. Seven flights is a lot—the other times I’ve done it when the elevator has been broken down in the past, my legs felt like they were going to fall off by the end of it. I’m not in great shape.
Also, I’ve been jumpy and irritable ever since I handed that hair over to Detective Bateman. Every time my phone rings, I’m certain it’s Bateman, telling me the hairs were a match. Hunter called me up last night for a date and I put him off, not wanting to see him again until I heard back on the DNA test. But those things can take two weeks… I don’t think I can put him off that long.
Jamie comes in behind me and he doesn’t look thrilled either when he sees the sign on the elevator door. It’s got to be even worse for him than for me. Even though he only lives on the fifth floor, I can imagine it taking him the next hour to make it up there. Stairs are not his friend.
“Sucks, right?” I say, gesturing at the sign.
“Actually…” He flashes me a crooked grin. “I have a key for the service elevator. The super let me have it the last time the elevators stopped working.” He raises his eyebrows at me. “Want a ride?”
Is he kidding me? “Definitely.”
I follow him down the hall to where the service elevator is located. I’ve never taken it before, but it appears tiny and cramped, based on the size of the door being about half the size of our own elevator door. Still, it’s way better than stairs.
“I hope you’re not claustrophobic,” Jamie says as he inserts his key into the pad by the elevator door.
“I don’t think I am.”
Although when I see the inside of the elevator, I change my mind. I very well might be claustrophobic because the thought of going inside this dimly lit, tiny elevator with padded walls scares the shit out of me. Jamie steps inside and puts his hand on the door to hold it open for me. I hesitate, debating if this will be worse than climbing all those stairs.
Ultimately, laziness wins out.
I step inside the elevator, standing far closer to Jamie than I’ve been since he started dating Gabby. I’m close enough that I can smell spearmint on his breath and when I lift my eyes, I’m staring directly into his. He has nice eyes.
“It’s a little cramped in here,” he comments.
“Yeah,” I breathe.
Funny how I thought I was going to be terrified in this elevator, but somehow, I’m feeling something entirely different. Our faces are less than a foot apart. The way I feel around Hunter is like nothing I’ve ever felt before in my life, but there’s something that isn’t entirely real about it, if that makes any sense. Sometimes it’s like I’m watching a movie about a girl dating a really handsome guy. Me and Jamie in this elevator—it feels real. I think about all the years we’ve known each other, all the kind things he’s done for me, how sexy he looks when he smiles…
Like he’s smiling right now.
If I leaned forward and kissed him right now, what would happen? He’d push me away, right? He’s got Gabby. He wouldn’t cheat on Gabby. I know he’s not a cheater.
The elevator dings to announce Jamie’s floor. Without breaking eye contact with me, he steps off the elevator. “Uh, listen,” he says, “do you want to come over for a bit? We can have a beer, watch some television…”
I smile at him. “An infomercial?”
He laughs. “I don’t know if any are on, but we can channel surf till we find one.”
I hesitate. I don’t know how Gabby would feel about this.
“Come on,” he says, “you haven’t been over in a really long time.”
“Um,” I say, “okay.”
I step off the elevator to join him. The last thing I want is to get back in that coffin all alone anyway. Besides, it’s been forever since Jamie and I have hung out. We used to go to his place or mine once or twice a month for a beer, some TV, and some conversation. A lot of times, we’d order in a pizza or Chinese food and hang out the entire night. I can’t even remember what we used to talk about. Usually one of us would be dating someone, but it never stopped us from hanging out before.
When we get to Jamie’s apartment, I settle down on the couch while he grabs a couple of beers from the fridge. I hear his voice calling out to me, “Is light beer okay?”
“Sure!” I call back.
I hear a buzzing sound and realize Jamie’s left his cell phone on the end-table. I can’t help but glance at the screen and am not surprised to see Gabby’s name.
Will be over in about an hour.
Gabby’s coming here? Why did Jamie invite me over if he’s got a date with her?
Before I can contemplate further, the phone buzzes again: Still shaking from what you did to me last night.
Followed by a winky smiley face. And then an emoticon of a tongue.
Well, she isn’t leaving much to the imagination.
Jamie limps into the living room holding one beer in his hand and the other tucked under his arm. He plops down on the couch, then hands me one of the two beers.
“Why do you have light beer anyway?” I ask him. “I thought you hated it.”
He shrugs. “It’s Gabby’s.”
“Um.” I bite my lip, wanting to say something about Gabby coming over, but not wanting to reveal that I read his text message. Then again, I didn’t really do anything wrong. They popped up right on the screen. “Is Gabby coming over tonight?”
He nods. “Yeah, I think so.” He glances over at his phone and picks it up. “Yeah, looks like she is.”
Then he grins at the other message on the screen.
I clear my throat. “Does she come over most nights?”
“Maybe a few times this week.” He raises his eyebrows at me. “Why do you ask?”
“I don’t know.” I shrug, trying to act like I don’t care. “It just seems pretty serious, considering you haven’t been together that long.”
“Well, I’ve known her a while. Through you.”
“So it is then?” I say. “Serious, I mean?”
I hold my breath, waiting for his answer.
“Brooke,” he says. “I’ve only been with her a month. How serious could it be?”
I let out the breath, not wanting to admit how relieved I am by his answer. Then again, they’re pretty hot and heavy for a month. At this rate, she’ll be nearly moved in by three months and they’ll be married by six.
“Anyway,” Jamie says, “what about you and Hunter? How’s that going?”
“Great!” I say.
Great. Wonderful. I’m having him investigated by the police, but other than that, it’s the ideal relationship.
I lean back on the couch, remember that night I got scared of the boogeyman in my closet and Jamie rushed over at two in the morning to “save” me. The time when he would do such a thing is clearly long gone.
“Do you give foot massages to Gabby?” I ask him.
He laughs. “You know what? It’s never come up.”
“Don’t tell her how good you are,” I warn him. “You’re going to end up doing twenty-four/seven foot massages.”
He raises his eyebrows at me. “I was that good, huh?”
I take a long swig of beer and avoid looking at him. “Pretty good.”
“Just pretty good now?”
“If I say you were really good, would you give me a foot massage right now?”
I was just joking around, but maybe I wasn’t entirely. In any case, Jamie’s cheeks redden and he looks away from me. “Better not,” he mumbles. “Don’t want to get in trouble with Gabby.”
“I was joking.”
I get this feeling like I’m almost going to start crying. I put down my beer and grab the remote. “Dibs,” I say as I turn on the television, even though I already knew he’d let me watch whatever I want.
Any tension between us melts as we devour two episodes of How I Met Your Mother. We both love the show, although Jamie finds Bob Saget’s narration to be annoying. I’ve watched every episode of the show at some point, but it’s okay to watch it again. I like watching shows I’ve already seen before—it’s like hanging out with a friend you know really well.
As the second episode is wrapping up, I hear the doorbell ring. Jamie yells, “It’s open! Come in!” And even though I knew Gabby was on her way over, it’s clear she didn’t know I’d be sitting on the couch, sharing beers with her boyfriend, when she arrived.
“Oh,” she says. “Um, hey, Brooke.”
She doesn’t say it, but her meaning is clear: What the hell are you doing here?
“Hey, Gabby,” I say, as I get to my feet. Jamie is doing the same, although it takes him a little more effort. He needs to hold onto something and push himself into a standing position. “We were just watching some television.”
“Hey, there,” Jamie says as he holds onto the couch, making his way over to her. “Glad you could make it.”
When he gets over to her, Gabby grabs him by the collar and pulls him in for a kiss so steamy that I have to look away. Somehow I get the feeling the kiss was at least partially for my benefit.
When their lips separate, Gabby runs her hand over his chest and he smiles at her. “You look really hot today,” she says. I hate the fact that I agree.
He grins back at her. “So do you.”
God, I have to get out of here.
“I should probably get going,” I mumble.
“Oh, do you?” Gabby frowns at me, but I’ve known her seven years and I can tell fake sadness when I see it. “That’s too bad.”
“Yeah, why don’t you join us for dinner?” Jamie says, because he’s not taking the hint.
“Uh, that’s okay.” I reach for my purse. “I’ve got to get going. I’ve got plans.”
I don’t have plans.
“We’re getting lunch tomorrow though, right?” she asks me.
“Of course,” I say. Gabby and I have lunch together once a week, but I’m worried she’s going to be huffy with me for hanging around with her boyfriend when she wasn’t around. Still, she knows Jamie and I are friends. This was completely innocent.
“Maybe I can convince you to let us meet Hunter,” she adds.
“Maybe,” I say, knowing it’s unlikely. Hunter is never going to agree to meet Gabby and Jamie. I feel absolutely certain of it.
To be continued.....