I am such a fucking idiot, Tobias thought as he sat, staring at his computer screen but not seeing anything written on it. He was supposed to be transcribing notes from his interview with a hacker in federal custody, but all he could think about was Tris. And their kiss.
He desperately wanted to call her, but every time he reached for the phone, he second guessed himself. She had a boyfriend. Even if she wasn’t happy with Peter, it was something she had to deal with, and Tobias just had to accept that.
But that kiss….
Tobias signed deeply and scowled at the computer. He hadn’t slept will, haunted by dreams where Tris didn’t pull away. Where she took his hand and led him to her apartment, to her bed. His scowl deepened.
“You know, my mom always said if I kept making scrunchy faces, one day they’d stick that way.”
Tobias looked up into Lauren’s amused brown eyes. She was dressed in khakis and a polo, her light brown hair pulled up into a ponytail. He vaguely remembered that it was time for them to re-qualify, so she must’ve spent part of the day on the shooting range. He made a mental note to schedule some range time himself, and consciously smoothed his features into a more pleasant expression.
“Sorry. Range day?”
Lauren shook her head. “Nope, sorry. I saw the scrunchy face, and now you have to confess all.”
He shrugged. “It’s nothing.”
Lauren rolled her eyes and boosted herself onto his desk. “Yeah, that’s why you looked like you were about to rip somebody’s head off. You know, nobody on the squad wanted to come talk to you. ‘Eaton’s in a mood’ is all I’ve heard since I got back. They only thing I can think of that could put you into Mr. Broody mode is a girl.” She kicked the arm of his chair. “So, tell Auntie Lauren all about it.”
Tobias hesitated. He and Lauren had dated, briefly, when they were at new agent school in Quantico, but they’d broken up amicably before they graduated. They’d both been assigned to Chicago field office and stayed friends; it felt more natural than lovers.
Lauren guessed the reason for Tobias’s hesitation. “Oh. Tell me you aren’t holding back just because we had naked fun times back in the day. Listen, Eaton, I have a perfect record of staying friends with guys I’ve been with, including being able to talk to them about new relationships. You are not going to ruin my record.”
He chuckled a little. “Okay, okay. You remember the child advocate I told you about, Tris?”
“We had dinner. It was….great,” he said, wistfully.
Lauren tilted her head to the side. “Waiting to hear the bad side.”
“She’s got a boyfriend.”
“Ah. Okay, yeah, that’s definitely a bad side.” She raised an eyebrow at the vaguely guilty expression on his face. “Did anything happen?”
“We kissed, but that’s it.”
She frowned at him. “What’s up with that? You don’t poach. It’s like your number one rule.”
Tobias nodded. “That’s the problem. I don’t think she’s happy with him, but she’s still there. And I have no idea what she thinks about me or where I stand.” He’d spent the better part of the last two days fluctuating between wanting her to call and say she’d dumped Peter, and calling her himself and asking her to dump Peter.
“How was the kiss?”
He hesitated again; not so much because he didn’t want to tell Lauren, but because he had a hard time putting something so perfect into words. “Incredible.”
“Did you tell her you wanted her?”
“Not in so many words.”
“Have you called her since the date?”
“It wasn’t a date. The boyfriend stood her up and then we just went to dinner.”
Lauren rolled her eyes again and sighed. “Okay, fine, have you talked to her since the dinner?”
He shifted in his seat. “No.”
“Jesus, Eaton, don’t be a chicken-shit. Call the girl. Tell her you want her. You like her. Anything.” She stared at the miserable expression on his face and felt sorry for him. Tobias was a good man with a strict ethical code: if he’d kissed a girl who was with someone else, he must have pretty deep feelings for her. She softened her voice. “Listen, Tobias. If she went out with you, if she kissed you, then things can’t be that great with the boyfriend. She probably just needs time to end things formally with the guy.”
“Maybe,” he mumbled.
“There’s no maybe to it. You said he stood her up, right?” He nodded. “So how serious could things be? Either that or he’s taking her for granted.”
Tobias leaned back in his chair. “I get the sense he takes her for granted. They’ve been together a few years.” He paused then said, “Her best friend hates him.”
Lauren laughed. “Oh, well, then it’s just a matter of time! No girl stays with a guy her friends hate. It's destined for doomsville.”
Tobias’s phone rang and he reached for it. “Tobias Eaton.” The smile that broke across his face was so wide, Lauren knew it just had to be Tris. “Yeah,” he said. “Sure. How about that place over on West Ogden? Um, maybe 20 minutes? Okay, see you then.” He hung up and turned to Lauren with a huge smile.
She slid off the desk and stood when he did, reaching out to straighten his tie. Lauren patted his cheek affectionately and said, “Go get her, tiger.”
He grabbed his coat jacket off the chair, flashed her another grin complete with dimples, and hurried out of his cubicle.
Lauren smiled after him, a little nostalgic. There was a part of her that was sorry they couldn’t have made it work out; Tobias was a gorgeous, sweet, intelligent man –exactly what every woman wanted– but it just hadn’t been in the cards for them. They weren’t bad together, they just hadn’t been good. She sighed and sauntered out of Tobias cubicle. “Hey, Pedrad!” she yelled out, “It was a girl. You owe me ten bucks!”
Tris nervously picked at the cardboard around her coffee cup. She had called Tobias on impulse, and now she had no idea what to say to him. She was going to break up with Peter, that much was certain. Even if she and Tobias didn’t work out, Tris had decided that she was done with Peter. Tobias’s kiss had proved to her that she was ready to move on.
She looked out of the window just as he walked around the corner, and her breath caught in her throat. She admired the way his charcoal gray suit fit him precisely, his dark sunglasses covering the eyes she knew were the most unique color she’d ever seen. He walked purposefully, gracefully. As she watched him, Tris hoped he liked her as much as she liked him.
He entered the shop and took off his sunglasses, scanning the room until he saw her. He gave her a soft smile, his full lips curving slightly at the ends, and sat across from her. “Hey, Tris.”
She smiled, suddenly feeling shy. “Hi. Thanks for meeting me.”
He shrugged. “Of course.” He sounded much more nonchalant than he felt. Tobias didn't know whether he should kiss her or touch her, so he just rested his hands on the table. “I’m glad you called.”
She looked down into her latte. “I’m sorry I left you hanging like that the other night. I just…” She stopped, unsure what else to say.
Tobias took a deep breath, remembering Lauren telling him not to be a chicken-shit. “No, I get it, Tris. You’ve got a thing with Peter. But I need you to know that I like you. If you want to take some time to think, I understand. But you deserve to know how I feel. Tris, I want you.”
Tris was pretty sure she’d stopped breathing when he said he liked her. She cleared her throat and calmly said, “I’m breaking up with Peter.”
Tobias smiled. “Good. He doesn’t deserve you.”
She reached out tentatively and laid her hand on his. “I like you,” she said softly, looking up at him through her lashes, “And I want you, too.”
His smiled widened and he turned their hands over, pulling hers to his lips and kissing it. “That’s even better. I haven’t stopped thinking about you since we kissed.”
She laughed and grabbed his other hand so she was holding both. “Me either. I’m pretty sure I’ve never thought about anyone as much as you.”
“Nobody at the office wanted to talk to me. Called me Mr. Broody, even.” Tris laughed at his statement, the easy feeling from their walk back to her apartment settling between them. Tobias drew small figures on her hand with his thumb as he held it. “When are you talking to Peter?”
“What are you going to tell him?”
“The truth.” She looked into Tobias’ eyes. “I’m going to tell him I met someone who makes me feel special and beautiful, in ways he never did.”
Tobias looked down at their joined hands. “Will you be safe? I mean, he won’t hurt you will he?”
She squeezed his hands. “Yeah, I’ll be okay. Besides, I started taking self-defense when I began working in the juvenile justice system. My mom insisted. You can’t be too safe, she used to say.”
Tobias nodded. He was relieved to hear that she could defend herself if necessary. “Call me when you’re done?”
“Okay,” she said, handing him her phone. He programmed his personal number into it; she slid out of her chair as soon as he gave it back to her. “I’ve got to go. I have a home visit with one of the kids this afternoon.”
Tobias stood and pulled her into his arms. He brushed his lips gently across hers, catching and nibbling on her bottom lip. She pressed herself against him and swept her tongue across his. Tris pulled away, suddenly conscious that they were in a public place, and smiled at him one last time before walking out.
Tobias watched her leave, a dopey grin on his face.
Tris punched the elevator button to Peter’s floor, shifting her weight from one foot to the other nervously. As the elevator rose, she tried to inventory the things she might have at his place. She didn’t keep much there as she normally only stayed over on Friday nights. Peter wasn’t keen on spending a lot of nights together, and her staying on Fridays was a concession he’d made; he preferred going to her apartment, having sex then heading back home. Even when she went to his place, he was happier when she went home to sleep.
She brought a big tote bag instead of her purse so she could easily dump everything in it. It took her a minute to fish his key out as she walked down the hallway; she’d taken it off her keyring so it would be easy to give it back. She unlocked the door and dropped the tote bag on the floor.
“Oh, hey, there you are,” Peter said as he sauntered out of the kitchen, beer in hand. He walked over to her and bent his head to kiss her; he didn’t even notice when she turned her head so that he kissed her on the cheek instead of the lips. “You can order the pizza,” he said, as he plopped down on the couch, his attention on the baseball game.
Tris stared at the back of his head. She could not believe she had wasted so much time on him. He wasn’t happy to see her, and he couldn't care less about her day. He just wanted her to order a pizza. Tris knew after the game, he’d expect her to clean up the leftovers and then head into the bedroom for sex. She picked up her tote bag, shaking her head; there was no doubt in her mind that this was the best decision she’d ever made.
She went into the bedroom and pulled open the drawer. There were only a couple of pairs of underwear, a pair of jeans, and a couple of t-shirts mixed among Peter’s things; he’d never even bothered to clean out a drawer for her. She grabbed his keys off the top of the dresser and pulled her apartment key off, dropping it into the small zippered compartment in the tote bag. In the bathroom, there was only a toothbrush and deodorant. When she realized how little she kept there, it occurred to her that maybe she’d been prepping for this even longer than she thought and Tobias just gave her the push to go through with it.
She went back out into the living room, placing the tote bag by the door. Peter didn’t look up as she sat on the couch next to him. “You order the pizza?” he asked.
“No. Peter, we need to talk.”
He still didn’t look at her. “Yeah, sure.”
She sighed. “I’m serious, Peter.”
“Okay. In a minute.”
Tris had run out of patience. “I think we should see other people.”
He glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. “Uh-huh, sure you do.” His voice was disbelieving.
Tris shook her head. She reached into the pocket of her sweater and pulled out his key, placing it on the coffee table. Peter rolled his eyes, leaned forward, and put his beer on the coffee table next to the key. He turned to her, his eyes wide in a look of sarcastic interest.
“Okay, Beatrice, you have my attention now,” he said, speaking slowly as though she were a child, adding in an exaggerated sweetness, “What do you want to talk about?”
Tris felt her temper flare. “I’m leaving you,” she said bluntly, her anger making her indifferent to his feelings.
Peter blinked. “What?”
“I’m leaving you,” she said, enunciating her words like he did. “I’ve met someone else.”
“Someone else?” He stared at her, evaluating, then he burst out laughing. “Who in the world could you have met?”
She crossed her arms. “Someone who’s actually interested in me. Unlike you.”
He rolled his eyes again. Tris never realized how completely infuriating that habit of his was. “Yeah okay, sure he is. Look, Tris, if this is some kind of ploy to get me to spend more time with you–”
“God, you really don’t get it, do you?” She stared at him incredulously. “I don’t want you anymore. You treat me like crap and I deserve better. I’ve had it, I’m…I’m done. Just done.”
Peter’s eyes flashed. “You seriously think anybody else would want you?”
She smirked. “I don’t think, I know.”
Peter jumped up, standing over her. “You cheated on me?” he asked, his fists balled at his side.
Tris stood as well, planting her feet and standing her ground, ready to knock him down if he touched her. “No. I’m leaving before I do.”
He started to take a step towards her but stopped himself; there was no fear in her eyes, only anger and disgust, so Peter decided to take a different approach. He relaxed his shoulders and softened his voice. “Tris, baby, you can’t throw away everything we’ve got. We’ve been together for years. How can you just walk away from that?”
Tris wasn’t fooled. She’d seen this manipulation from him one too many times. “Pretty easily actually.”
Peter took a step back. “Okay, fine then. Go. Get your stuff and–”
“Already done.” Tris walked to the door and picked up her tote bag.
“Tris.” She turned around at the sound of his voice. He stared at her for a moment then smirked. “You’ll be back.”
She laughed. “Don’t count on it.” She opened the door, letting it close behind her. As she turned to walk down the hall, she heard a loud thump and knew he threw something at it; it only helped solidify her decision.
As soon as she got in the car, she pulled out her phone and scrolled through her contacts until she got to Tobias’s number. It rang once before he answered.
“How’d it go?”
Tris put on her Bluetooth earpiece. “He’s a complete jerk,” she said. “But fine. He actually told me I’d be back. He doesn’t believe I met someone else.” She put the car into drive and began heading towards her apartment.
Tobias laughed. “I don’t know why you wasted your time on that asshole.”
They were silent for a moment. “Where are you heading?”
“Why don’t you come over here instead?” Tobias asked, his voice dropping a little.
Tris took a deep breath. “You sure?”
He laughed. “Positive.”
“You know what’s probably going to happen, right?”
He laughed again. “I know what I want to happen,” he said, his voice suddenly husky. “But we don’t have to if you don’t want to.”
“What’s your address?” He gave it to her as she pulled into a gas station, programming it into her GPS. Once the directions came up, she turned her car in the direction of his place. “I’m on my way.”
“I’ll be waiting.” His voice was full of promise. Tris felt her lips curve into an anticipatory smile as she drove away from Peter and towards Tobias.