Shut Out (Just This Once #2) (2 page)

BOOK: Shut Out (Just This Once #2)
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Chapter Two

 

Like any other day, I went by Starbucks to pick up the usual. With how our conversation ended the day before, I was sure that Kerri wasn’t expecting me to bring her her morning java, but nothing says “I’m over it” like coffee, right? And I wanted her to know that, while I wasn’t over it, I had absolved her of any involvement leading to
my
mistake. Coffee was also the currency I used to pay for her silence. I didn’t even want Piper to know. The less people knew about our involvement the better, and seeing as how Kerri was the one with his business card, I was sure Piper wasn’t aware of who I left with that night.

The Law Offices of Henderson & Fitz were
located a couple blocks northeast of my home in
Summerlin
. It was close enough to walk, but I always drove. Vegas didn’t really have mild days where you could just walk to work and still be as fresh as the first step through the front door. All of the elements were harsh. Summers were hot enough to fry an egg. Literally. I’d seen it. And winters were cold enough to freeze air on the worst days. Aside from the obvious, I liked Vegas. Sure, I didn’t gamble, but there were lakes nearby, and Red Rock Canyon was nice to hike on the days when I didn’t mind a little sweat.

It was a drastic change from growing up in Indiana where temperatures rarely peaked above 100 on the hottest days, and after six months, I was beginning to grow accustomed to the drastic weather and oftentimes-drastic people.

Pulling up to our offices, I sat in my car taking inventory of the damage the sandstorm had done.
Aside from a smashed window on the first floor and the parking lot looking like a Zen garden full of white and peach rocks, the complex didn’t befall too much damage that one day’s work couldn’t fix.

With both hands filled with our workday fuel, I entered the building juggling both cups.
The lobby was large and sterile with marble floors and abstract art that had to have been picked out by a man. I imagined it was Fitz who decided to go with the oversized canvases showcasing inanimate objects. After all, he did have random metal tchotchkes cluttering his own office.

Just inside the double doors was a large, curved desk where Piper sat, propped up like one of those Victorian dolls. Her long, brown hair hung in soft waves framing her perfectly dimpled cheeks and large, brown eyes. Piper was probably the sweetest, most innocent-looking person in the entire building, hell maybe even in all of Vegas.

“Still alive, I see?”
I asked just as I set both cups on the edge of her desk. Piper swiped a few loose strands behind her ear and replied in that soft whisper of hers.

“I was a little nervous. You know, now that it’s just me at the house, but I managed.” She smiled shyly, and I wondered if it was getting any easier for her to talk about her divorce. I thought her going out to the club with Kerri and me was her announcement to the world that she was turning over a new leaf and she was finally free, but maybe that was just the alcohol talking, and now that she was sobered up, reality had set back in. She wasn’t Kerri—who was naturally vivacious. A personality trait she shared with a certain someone I was trying to push from my thoughts.

“And how did your house hold up? My neighborhood was a mess, but my house just needs a bit of re-patching.”

“Same here. Thankfully, the front held up. There’re just a few spots in the back that I’ll have to have someone come fix.”

“Well that’s good. Let me know who you end up using.”

“Will do.”

“Hey, is Kerri in yet?”

“Yes. Shocking, right? I think she’s still in the kitchen, if you’re looking for her.”

“Great. Thanks. Hey, call me later and let me know what your plans are for lunch.”

“Sure thing. See you.”

I entered the kitchen, finding Kerri bent over at the waist, looking through the cupboards, scavenging for the stash of snacks.

“Now that’s an eyeful.”

Kerri jumped, startled by the sound of my voice.

“What? Not used to being the first one here?”

“Are you trying to give me a heart attack?” she said, clutching her chest with a laugh.


Here.
I brought you a peace offering.” I held out the coffee and her hands wrapped around the white paper cup, drawing extra emphasis to her newly painted nails—a magenta color that matched her fuchsia blouse.

“I see someone kept themselves busy during the storm.”

She held her nails up to her face, inspecting the job she’d done.

“Not too shabby, eh? I had to keep myself busy somehow.” Her eyes twinkled with unspoken words, and I knew just what she meant.
She wasn’t the one to wind up riding out the storm with a one-night stand.

“Hey, look, about yesterday—”

Kerri lifted the hand not holding her cup, stopping me from continuing my
mea culpa
.

“No need. I would have acted the same. Have you talked to him? You know, since the other day?” Her usually loud voice dropped to a whisper so anyone else who decided to pop in wouldn’t be able to hear our conversation. I was thankful for her discretion.

“No. What more is there to say? It’s not like we’re friends. This doesn’t need to be any messier than it already is.”

“I don’t know the details of what happened between you two this week, but I saw the way he looked at you at the club. I wouldn’t be so sure that you’ve burned that bridge. You don’t think he did it, do you?”

One thing in our line of business, especially in cases such as these, was it didn’t really matter what we thought. We weren’t being paid to decide whether or not what was being claimed to have happened actually happened—that was the police’s job. Ours was just to represent whoever paid us. Some days it was harder to ignore the facts than others, and Kerri’s question was making it that much harder to see past the truth. I didn’t know what happened between Lara and Joel, but the man I knew, the man I’d spent the last week in bed with—he couldn’t have done that. Maybe physically he was capable of making her face look like pummeled meat, but there was no way he could go through with something like that.
At least I don’t think he could.

“I don’t know what happened between them, and aside from her being our client, I don’t want to involve myself in any more of the details. As far as I’m concerned, we’re done on my end. I couldn’t care less if he had other ideas as to how this was
going to turn out.”

Just then, Henderson walked in, whistling as if he hadn’t a care in the world. Maybe the week off was a bit of a vacation for the partners. Although, I assumed if I was busy working on a case that wasn’t even mine, then they were working just as hard to keep up with their caseloads.

“Oh, hello ladies. How are you this morning?” Kerri and I mumbled our responses, killing the conversation with a simple meeting of eyes. By the time Henderson responded,
we were already by the door, readying our escape. I caught my breath out in the hallway and widened my eyes at Kerri. She stopped for a moment too, brushing off her own anxiousness before continuing her way down the hall toward her desk.

The day passed by in a flurry of ruffling papers and people scurrying about. Every time Henderson or Fitz would even walk in the direction of my desk, my spine would stiffen and my breathing would accelerate. I felt like there was a target on my desk, steering everyone to drift my way so I would be on edge for the entirety of the day. It made getting any work done almost impossible. When the workday was finally over, without so much as a look of disappointment directed at me, I knew I was in the clear—at least for the day.

Driving home, I thought over what Kerri had said that morning.
Is Joel just waiting for the right time to reach out to me, or is he moving on as if the last week meant nothing to him?
I shouldn’t have cared. I wasn’t supposed to care, but lying in bed that morning with Joel being the first thing on my mind, I wondered if he felt alone in his bed that morning, too.
Probably not.
I’d never been to his place. It was only my house that was now littered with memories, like glitter sticking to every surface, and no matter how much I tried to wash him from my sheets and all surrounding surfaces, he still clung to me.

I turned onto my street and noticed a van parked just outside my house. It was white with dark blue writing on the side, looking like some kind of carpet cleaning service. There was plenty of parking on the street, leaving me slightly annoyed that they just so happened to park directly in front of my home, but as I drove closer, I noticed men stomping across my yard. I pulled into the driveway, deciding not to drive into the garage like usual.

The men continued walking around my yard as I got out of my car. They carried items
back and forth between the
van
, undeterred by my appearance.

“Are you Blaire? Sorry I don’t have a last name,” the man in acid-washed jeans and a sweat-soaked shirt asked while looking down at his clipboard, somehow confused by the absence of my name.

“Yes. I’m sorry. I didn’t order…” I spun around, looking at the work they were doing. Some men were vacuuming up the fallen bits of stucco from my front yard, while another pair
were
slabbing
spatulas filled with putty against the side of my house—repairing the damage my house incurred by the storm.

“Looks like you got an admirer. Anyway, I just need a signature. The boys should be done in about a half an hour, and we’ll be out of your hair.”

“Oh, OK.”

Still stunned by what he said, I absently took the
offered pen from his hand, signed, and handed it back to the man before
continuing my way to the front door.
The path curved around the edge of my house, and I stopped at the vision before me.
A tall rectangular vase sat on my stoop with a couple hundred yellow roses covering the bottom of my door.
I didn't need to read the card to know
who
they were from, but that didn't stop me from curiously looking for the card while unlocking the door.

“Do you need help with those?” the man with the clipboard asked as I stared at the mass of flowers that would have to be carried in sideways just to fit them through the door.

“Would you mind?”

“No.
Of course not.
Here, let me get—” He didn't finish his sentence before he was hunched over, lifting the vase from the ground. I pushed the door open, stepping in first to hold the door open for him. He stepped inside, his eyes moving about the room as he looked for a place to set the flowers down.

“Oh, I'm sorry. Can you just set them over there?” I pointed at the dining room table and watched the flowers bob and sway as he lugged them through the living room before setting them down on the table.

When the door closed behind him, I made my way over to the vase of flowers. Setting my purse down, I plucked the card I'd spotted while I was admiring the flowers when I was outside.

Thank you for your hospitality.

Please call me—

Joel

The same business card I was sure was stuffed inside Kerri's bin was inserted into the envelope. I didn't know what to make of his words. It looked like something he'd have his assistant send me—one more thing to take care of in addition to his dry cleaning and takeout, I presumed. I was offended by the winter-cold language and lack of personality, especially after everything that had happened.

Crumpling the card, I tossed it in the trash just inside the kitchen doorway. Thirsty, I grabbed a water bottle from the fridge and ignored the groan of the fridge as it rattled from my enthusiastic close. I grabbed a bag of Chex mix from the pantry and returned to the living room to unwind after a long day. I ripped open the bag and the assortment scattered across the sofa. The more I tried to pick up the mess, the more they crumbled beneath my hands. When I felt the need to take a break from sweeping up crumbs, I finally acknowledged my anger. Except, I wasn’t sure if it was from the fact that I was still mad about his lie or that he didn’t put much effort into a sincere apology.
The gifts were nice and unexpected, but just like that card
,
they lacked personalization
.

I didn't know why it bothered me, especially since I didn't expect to ever speak to or hear from him again. The truth I tried so desperately to drown out, but what kept resurfacing with a vengeance, was I didn't want there to be an end to us. I was having a hard time getting my heart on the same page as my head because continuing any kind of communication with him was a sure-fire way to ruin my life and all the hard work I'd put in to make it that far.

I calmed down enough to finish picking up the crumbs still dotting my couch while I convinced myself I was making the right decision. Even if I was completely over the fact that he lied to me,
I wasn’t about to risk my job for him. I’d sacrificed a lot for this job—
my life back home, nights out with friends. Who knows how many friends I could've made or relationships I could’ve had instead of spending my nights researching cases?

All of my routines felt foreign without Joel around. I couldn't explain it, but in the week I'd spent with him, I'd seen a side of myself I had all but forgotten. Wasn't that what my ex, Chase, complained about? Where I considered myself focused and driven, he considered me boring and methodical. Clearly, I had the capability to have fun and live life outside of my job; maybe I just hadn't found the one person who would make me want to do that. Of course, it just so happened to be that the one person who could bring out the fun, carefree side of me would be the one person who, above all else, I shouldn't have any contact with outside of my job. Hell, seeing as how I wasn't assigned to that specific case, I wasn't so sure that I should have had any contact with him at all.

BOOK: Shut Out (Just This Once #2)
13.95Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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