Chapter 6 - Ahead
"What's your opinion on the best sketch software, Ms. Sanderson?"
My boss asked from his place across the table. We'd been at lunch for a total of twenty-three minutes and I felt like he'd asked me a question for every one of them. The gentleman that sat with us listened intently as if he was just as curious of my answers as Mr. Bolthouse was.
"Can I be honest?"
I asked after taking a sip of water.
"I would prefer it."
He smiled and God, it was immaculate. I hadn't painted in years but something about his face begged to be recreated on canvas.
"Nothing beats a sketch pad and a dangerously sharp pencil. I've tried all the new software and while it all serves its purpose I still go back to the old fashion way every time."
I shrugged and both men nodded.
I enjoyed this type of conversation. I was not only included but I felt like my opinions held value to both of them and that was something that I'd struggled to find with jobs in the past.
At the end of the day, I was confident that I was good at the skills that I had, and at that moment I was more than grateful to Mr. Bolthouse for trusting in them as well.
"Parker and I went to high school together."
He told me as he leaned back in his chair. Parker Fitzgerald had excused himself a few seconds before taking a call.
"You two graduated the same year?"
I asked, it didn't really make any difference but it was hard to believe. Parker looked considerably older than my boss so it made me wonder.
"Yep, the same year."
He smirked and I knew then that he knew exactly what I was thinking. I felt my cheeks burn with embarrassment and for what reason, I wasn't sure but ignored it anyway.
Parker came back to the table and the differences between the two men were so apparent to me then but one stood out the most. Mr. Bolthouse had a head full of thick hair and I'd bet my bank account that it felt just as silky as it looked, whereas Mr. Fitzgerald had a bald spot that I could see when he bent his head down far enough.
I suddenly had the urge to run my fingers through my boss's hair. Wow, I really needed to date more.
After we ordered and talked a little more about the things my job entailed the two started in on what I assumed was the reason for this lunch. A contract between the two businesses that the men owned. I sat back and listened and probably could've listened more intently but I couldn't help but wonder what exactly Mr. Bolthouse wanted me there for. He could've easily gone alone.
After our plates were cleared the two started to argue over who would pay the bill. Mr. Fitzgerald ended up pulling his credit card out and assuring my boss that he could get the next one. I smiled politely and shook his hand after we exited the restaurant.
"It was a pleasure to meet you, Eliza."
He held onto my hand a little longer than necessary as I told him the same. I felt my boss's hand squeeze the spot between my shoulder and neck. The bite of each of his fingertips jarred me and also did something else that I couldn't quite pinpoint. He gracefully pulled me backward and closer to him. The front of his body pressed up against my back in a motion so fluid that it felt choreographed. As if I'd been that close to him before. Mr. Fitzgerald was forced to drop my hand and he smiled at my boss behind me.
I felt him tense behind me as his fingers loosed their grip on me.
The man still smiled but there was something else lingering behind it. A challenge perhaps. But I had no desire to be a challenge for anyone. Dating was one thing but being some sort of trophy didn't appeal to me.
I said, looking at my boss first then at the man standing across from us. I wanted him to be aware that I had a brain and common sense and wasn't afraid to use them both.
Mr. Fitzgerald laughed and slapped Mr. Bolthouse on his shoulder, effectively loosening whatever weird tension he'd created.
"Until next time."
He said as he stepped into the waiting car on the curb.
My boss's hand moved from the spot it had been stuck in down to my lower back and he rested it there. I could feel that he was still irritated, the anger was rolling off of him.
"He's kind of a creep."
I said as we watched Fitzgerald's car pull away.
Mr. Bolthouse hung his head and I felt his shoulder shake in laughter.
"I'm sorry, that was inappropriate."
I wasn't exactly sorry, but I felt that it was inappropriate all the same.
"No, not inappropriate at all. I think we should always tell the truth, Eliza."
The way he said my name sent a chill down my spine, and at the same moment, he moved his fingers slightly. Was he rubbing my back? And were we referring to the same things as inappropriate?
I stepped away and he shoved both of his hands into his pockets. I tried to ignore the loss of his touch but it was a little overwhelming.
"How about some ice cream?"
He asked as he tilted his head to the side. The corners of his mouth started to tilt up but I looked away. I didn't think I could take another one of those smiles.
"Sounds good. Lead the way."
He nodded as he stepped in front of me and we walked down the block and into an old-fashioned ice cream shop. I stood at the counter and looked up so that I could read the menu.
"The root beer float is excellent."
He whispered in my ear. He was behind me again and again, I was overwhelmed. I swallowed and tried to reason with myself. It was insane to think that he meant anything by it. But the proximity of his body to mine made it hard to convince myself.
I turned around slightly and lifted my head to meet his eyes.
"Okay, I'll have that then."
I tried to push the words past my lips but came up short. They came out more like a whisper and I watched as his eyes left mine and fell to my parted lips. I closed my mouth and he smirked as he stepped around me to place the order.
Holy HR nightmare.
It had to be against some rule in the company to flirt with my boss. To want my boss to flirt back.
But what if he owned the company? What then?
I didn't have long to think it over. He was back and walking to the nearest table with two root beer floats. I followed him and we sat down in the far corner of the shop.
He asked after I took a sip.
I nodded and bent my head down as I wrapped my lips around the straw again. I looked up at him, lips still secured around the straw, and realized my mistake. His stare was evident. It left no room for me to misinterpret it. I was feeding right into this flirting back and forth dance we were doing without even meaning to.
I sat up straight and cleared my throat.
"Do you have plans this weekend?"
He asked, his eyes still glued to my lips, his voice incredibly even.
I struggled again to force my words out.
He nodded and met my gaze again. This time the darkness in his eyes was gone. They were soft again and I was thankful.
He said as he continued nodding.
I nodded as well.
"Well, I could use your help with nursery furniture. You seem to have some knowledge in the baby department and I apparently have zero. You can tell me no. Don't be afraid to be honest."
I took a few sips as I thought about it. I helped my sister pick out everything in Penelope's nursery so I did know a little. And surely it couldn't be that hard when you had an unlimited budget like my boss did.
But it also reminded me that he was having a baby and here I was flirting with him. This was exactly the type of situation that I needed to stay far away from. Another woman was having his baby and he was my boss. That was a disaster waiting to happen. But still, I felt the need to help him.
"Sure as long as you don't mind a toddler tagging along."
I told him before taking another sip.
He said as he began to drink his float. He hadn't touched it once since we'd sat down.
We chatted about unrelated things as we finished up and once we were through it seemed as if the question I tried to bury deep in my mind was clawing its way out. I needed to know. He said he valued honesty so I was going with it.
"That woman in the lobby that day? Are you two together?"
I sounded so dumb to my own ears.
We walked back out onto the sidewalk and he placed his hand on my lower back again until we securely made it into the flow of pedestrian traffic then he shoved both hands back into his pockets.
"She's having my baby but we aren't together in any other sense. We dated for a while and I planned to marry her but it didn't work out."
He stared at the ground as he spoke the words and something inside me felt off. Something about the way his face twisted as he talked about her made me sad for him.
"You don't think you two could work it out?"
I could hardly believe myself. Honesty was okay but prying? That had to be crossing a line. But with his quick response, I wasn't sure that he cared.
"I've considered it but no. I don't think I could trust her in that way again."
He sighed and that made it pretty clear to me.
She had done something to lose his trust and to me, trust was the foundation of a relationship. Without that you couldn't build on it and expect the walls the be free of cracks.
I remembered exactly what I thought the second that I saw her. She was the most beautiful woman that I'd ever seen in real life. I'm not sure why I opened my mouth after that thought.
"Well, I guess God doesn't give with both hands."
The second the words passed my lips I wanted to disappear. I didn't think I could've been more inappropriate if I tried.
Mr. Bolthouse stopped walking and I did too. He stared at me with a look that I wasn't familiar with and I knew, I just knew he was about to fire me for insulting his ex and the mother of his child.
People were walking around us but we stood still.
He threw his head back and laughed as he rested one large palm on his abdomen. I stared at him in disbelief until he was done. I bit my bottom lip as he grinned down at me.
"I wouldn't be so sure Eliza, I think He just might."