I still have work. How do I say this without hurting him?
“I can see you’re about to reject me,” he stated before I could formulate a proper response. “Then let’s compromise.”
“How do you know that’s what I was going to say?” I asked, feeling a bit offended to be read like an open book. He was right though, but I’m not making it easy for him – yet.
“You’ve been ignoring me for most of the afternoon since I came back with Julian and Albert.” He said.
He had a point there. And I was being obvious.
“Fine,” I said and sighed in defeat. “I’m not going anywhere, so how do you propose to compromise on that?”
“I’ll get us take-outs at a nearby burger joint… unless you prefer something else,” he said. His eyebrow arched as he waited from my answer.
“Burger’s fine.” I nodded. “So you’re fine having dinner here in the office,” I stated rather than ask.
He smiled. “I’m fine as long as I got to spend more time with you.”
I snorted at his sly response. “You’re stubborn, Dean…” I paused and peered down on his ID. To my benefit, his name was printed boldly. “…Garcia,” I read.
He glanced down at his ID and hastily flipped it around. “That’s an unhanded move… considering that I don’t know your surname.”
“It’s Nolan.” I willingly replied. To be fair.
“Amy Nolan,” he said my name like he was testing how it’ll sound with his voice. “That’s a cute name.”
I rolled my eyes and grabbed my purse to give him money. Somehow he realized what I was doing and quickly reacted.
“Don’t bother. It’s my treat tonight.” He got up from his seat and walked around the reception counter. “I’ll be back, so don’t ghost me.” He teasingly warned.
I grinned sweetly. “I’ll be here.”
Dean chuckled at my sarcasm and hastily made his way towards the elevator. He kept on glancing in my direction multiple times. Though I tried to be oblivious of his presence, even with a good distance apart, there was a tension in the air I couldn’t shake off. And I was all too aware of him being in the room.
By the time he was gone, I breathe a little. It was then Rhea exited and joined me by the reception area. Like she had been waiting patiently for Dean to leave. And the teasing glint in her eyes and sly smirk told me she overheard our conversation.
“So you’d prefer to spend your first date since turning thirty at the office? I thought you were a changed woman, Amy,” Rhea said.
I shook my head and tried not to smile. “I was never a changed woman, Rhea. You know that.”
“So who’s the new guy? I never actually asked you after the hectic morning,” Rhea said.
“You don’t recognize him.”
“I’m sorry, no. Have I met him somewhere?”
“Greg or Albert haven’t told you?”
“No.” She replied. “Who is he, Amy?”
“The bartender from my birthday last weekend. The one who took me home. That’s him.”
Looking at her expression change from confusion to disbelief was comical. It was close to how Greg looked when I told him.
“No.” She gasped. “It’s him. It’s the same guy?”
A smiled and nodded. “It’s him, Rhea. Believe me.”
“What a twist of fate… and he’s here, now.”
“It’s insane. And yesterday, I saw him as a store clerk, so I thought that might have been his real job. But it turns out he was never a bartender or store clerk. He’s a bodyguard.”
“At least now he’s no longer a stranger as you put it before,” Rhea said. She wiggling her eyebrow suggestively. “And he’s quite something.”
“It’s just dinner, for now, Rhea. I’m not hoping for anything else right now.”
“But you’re hoping at least.”
I laughed. I couldn’t argue with that.
Once we finished catching up with office gossip, Rhea excused herself. She got a call from her boyfriend that he’s by the lobby. But I wasn’t alone for long.
Dean returned as promised with our dinner.
“I hope you like a cheeseburger, because I honestly don’t know what you’d like,” He shyly said.
“It was the safest choice you could have made. And thank you for the meal.” I smiled and gestured to the empty seat he previously sat.
I peered at my wristwatch and decided to give myself a few minutes break to eat.
“So, did you also buy fries?” I asked with a sly grin.
Dean snorted. “Of course, I’m not an idiot.”
There was a brief silence as Dean unpacked everything. He handed me my share of burger, fries, and a drink. He even bothered to get me something for dessert.
“Where did you find the cake? Because I’m sure they don’t sell these at a fast-food chain.” I asked.
After setting up everything on the desk, he crushed the brown paper bag and threw it to the closest bin. It was then he replied. “I took a detour.”
“A detour?” I arched my eyebrow.
“I thought you might like something sweet to cleanse your palette.” He shrugged.
“Thank you for the extra effort,” I said.
“Don’t think much of it. I also bought myself a slice as well,” he pointed out. And nodded towards the other box of cake.
“You should just admit you wanted to eat some cake and took the trip for your sake. You don’t have to pretend you’re doing it for my sake to get favors from me.” I stared at him knowingly it might have been his aim from the start.
He laughed. “I should’ve learned not to flatter you with anything.”
I rolled my eyes and opened one of the boxes of cake. “Well, I’m grateful either way. But at least, let me pick which one.”
He chuckled. “Of course. I had no intentions of not letting you choose.”
That made me roll my eyes again.
“Well, let’s eat.” He gestured towards our food.
We ate for a few minutes before Dean started asking his questions, which I expected.
“If you don’t mind me asking, why are Greg and Albert kept on teasing you and me?” He didn’t hesitate and choose the obvious one first.
“Well, that’s because they saw us on my birthday last weekend.” I unwilling replied.
“But that’s no reason for them to keep on teasing you. Unless you said something about me?”
I saw his point. He sure was confident of himself on that regard. But I had led him on.
“That’s not the whole story. And I haven’t told them anything about you. They’ve only insinuated it based on what they saw.”
“Then what’s the story?”
“In gist, I’m the kind of person who doesn’t share about my romantic relationships.”
“And are you in any romantic relationship?” He looked weary for a moment.
His response kept amusing me. “If I were, I wouldn’t have led you on like this.”
I saw him visibly sigh in relief. I grinned. “Of course. I just want to make sure I’m not stealing you from someone.” He said.
“Don’t worry about it. I’ve never been someone’s.” I stressed the word with slight indifference. “But to tell you the truth, I haven’t been with someone for quite a while now,” I added in disdain. Like before, I felt comfortable telling him.
“For how long?” He asked lightly.
“A couple of years, I think…” I muttered softly. “But I had gone through a couple of dates set up by my friends and family. However, I gave up on that gig as well nearly half a year ago.”
His silence made me worried for a moment. I tried to remember one of my sister’s tips on dating whenever I go through a blind date.
Should I not have overshared? Was that a big no?
“Amy, I want to ask you something. You can choose not to answer it. I just want to know…” He paused for a moment, waiting until I nodded before he continued. “Were you once in a horrible break-up?”
Somehow his words made caught me off guard. No one had asked me that question for a long time. Even Greg and Albert only piece my life through the year we’ve been working closely together. Sean might have gotten word of it from Rhea, who heard it from Zoey. But not once had they’ve personally asked me about it. And I stopped discussing the incident a month after it happened.
I put down my burger and took a sip on my drink. “You might be the first to personally asked me that question for the past five years.”
He looked confused. “Why?”
I sighed and smiled sadly. “Though I’m someone who always gets my information from the source, I’m not the type who talks about my past. They get that information from other people in my life.”
I thought it through again and suspected my sister contributed largely on gossip about me. She does visit the office a lot since Zoey got hired. And then, Zoey might have shared it on passing to my close co-worker. But she was never a chatter.
“Have you ever given them the chance to ask?” Dean pressed further.
“I have… maybe.” I wasn’t certain about my reply. “Maybe they knew enough not to ask me since I'm always focused on my work.”
“That’s a roundabout way of saying you shut people out, Amy.”
“I don’t…” I was about to contradict his verdict, but he quickly cut me off.
“But it’s not wrong if you chose never to tell anyone your past. That’s your choice. And if you’re trying to stall me so you won’t have to tell me as well, you should just say it than in a roundabout way.” He said.
I couldn’t find the words to reply. In the silence, I grabbed my burger and took another bite. My heart was raising as I felt Dean’s heavy gaze. Maybe he was right. Maybe I’m stalling.
That split moment, my mind was at war. Should I tell this stranger? Then I felt an inkling. What better way to tell a story and get perspective than to a stranger? Because they weren’t there. They weren’t attached to the people of your past.
I finished my burger, crumpled the wrapper, and then dusted my hands of the crumbs. “I’m not. I’ll tell you.”
Dean gestured me to continue.
I held my hand up, and then took one last sip of my drink.
“You’re right. I had a terrible break-up five years ago. And people told me that I should’ve moved on. I tried. But I couldn’t, for a time. He was…” I paused again as my emotions got the best of me. I turned away as I felt a tear escape my guarded eyes. “He was everything.”
“If you still felt that way about him, why did you break up in the first place?” His voice was soft and sweet. It’s as though he had given me a choice whether to answer his question again.
“Because we could no longer agree on the same things in life,” I said. “You see. Love isn’t the only thing that holds two people together. It needed understanding, respect, and trust in order for it to last. I know that now…” I wiped away my tear strain cheeks and turned back to him. “And I believe that to be true.”
His piercing gaze was calculative. “Who told you that lie?” He asked sadly.
“No one. I just connected the dots myself.” I said in contempt.
“Maybe you're connecting the wrong dots, Amy. Because I know love can hold two people together. And my parents are one of the many peoples I know who might defy those odds.”
I scoffed. “Of course, you’ll say that about your parents. I could say the same thing with mine.”
“Then your judgment was wrong.” He said. “You were only saying those things because you were hurt by someone you trusted the most.”
I scoffed and shook my head. How can he say it so plainly the words that kept on hunting me for years?
“What’s so funny? I thought this was a serious conversation.” He said.
“I’m sorry. I laughed because you’ve said it so plainly. Like it’s that easy.” I replied. “It just makes everything I’ve been through invalid.”
“I didn’t say that. And your feelings are valid, Amy. All I’m saying is try and see it differently for once.”
“And how do you propose I should do that?”
His gaze was heavy. I couldn’t look away from it.
The tension in the air thickens.
To my luck, the last group of staff who took overtime exited the office. Their welcoming interruption broke our trail of thoughts. One of them stopped by my desk while the rest made a quick retreat to the elevator.
“Amy, are you done? Do you want to go?” Sadie asked. She was the head of Sale’s secretary. She one of the staff who usually stays for overtime like me.
It took her a second to notice I wasn’t alone, which surprised her. “Sorry. I didn’t know you had a company with you tonight.” She said bashfully.
From her calculated look and glances in our direction, I could already imagine the gossip tomorrow about Dean and me. I should have thought it through before making this compromise.
But I kept myself composed. “It’s okay, Sadie. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
She peered one last time at Dean before replying. “Yes. I’ll see you tomorrow as well.”
With that, she made her way to the elevator.
Dean waited until we were completely alone to speak again. When I thought he might continue our previous conversation, he started clearing out the remains of our take-out dinner.
“I think we should go as well… unless you want to stay a bit longer and work.” He said.
“You say that like you’ll stay with me until I’m done,” I replied.
“I can’t leave you here in this big office alone, Amy. Of course, I’ll stay.”
I glanced down at my wristwatch. It was past eight. My usual time to leave the office. But I had some more work to finish. However, after the conversation with Dean, I wasn’t sure I wanted to continue. So I started clearing out my desk of paperwork’s and noted my progress on my desk computer. Beside me, Dean waited patiently in silence until I finished.
Once I was done, I turned to Dean and smile. “Done. Let’s go.”
He smirked and got up. “If I remember correctly, you live around 79th street on South Englewood, right?”
“I don’t know whether to be alarmed you remembered that or not,” I remarked dryly.
He laughed. “I swear. I haven’t been there since I took you home, drunk, and with supervision. Jeffrey drove us. Don’t you remember?”
“If you’re still doubtful whether I remembered anything that night, I’ll assure you I forgot everything,” I said.
“Well, you couldn’t have forgotten everything since you recognized me when we met again?” He arched his eyebrow.
I felt my face flush. “I wasn’t that drunk when we met.”
“Really? You had half a dozen drinks before you decided to join me by the bar and get more wasted.” He winked flirtatiously.
I scoffed, trying to hide more of my embarrassment. He hadn’t forgotten anything at all. “Let’s go before I decided to coerce you to forget about tonight as well.”
“Don’t worry. I won’t forget, Amy.” He avowed.
His words made my heart, hypothetically, skip a beat.
Thank you so much for patiently waiting for an updating on the book. I'm back from writing hiatus and updates will be weekly.