Authors: Holly Hood
Sophie opens the door to her apartment, and I almost fall backwards. Luckily Ryker has me by the waist.
“Sophie,” Ryker says. His face is flushed with that yummy I-just-had-sex look smeared all over it.
“Ryker.” She takes in his rumpled clothes and raises her eyebrow. “I see you two had a good time.”
She moves out of the way so we can come inside, and then closes the door.
“We had a great time.” I smile in Ryker’s direction. He smirks playing with one of her fall candles while Sophie and I chat it up.
Sophie takes a spot on her sectional. “So Ryker, can you stay a while?”
“Sure.” He sits down. “This is a nice place.”
“You’ve already told me that.” Sophie draws up her legs and focuses on Ryker and grills him. “I bet your house is even more amazing.”
Ryker touches his baseball hat. “I don’t have a house.”
“What?” Sophie shoots me a look. I shrug. I don’t know anything about his life, other than the sex I just had with him has transformed my normally bland world into something extraordinary and fun. “You
to make enough money to afford a sweet place to live.”
Ryker shakes his head. “It’s not about the money. It’s about the time. I don’t have time to keep up with a house. I sleep in hotels all the time.”
Sophie winces. “That has to be awful. You probably don’t get any home cooked meals either, do you?”
Ryker makes a face. “A lot of beer and chicken wings.”
I smirk. “I couldn’t tell.”
Sophie giggles. “Oh, I love this. Two of my favorite people bumping uglies.”
Ryker rolls his eyes. “I never knew I was your favorite person.”
“You are now that you are bumping uglies with Savy. She needs to get laid.”
I get up; it’s my cue to excuse myself to the kitchen. Sophie’s mouth runs like a leaky faucet and rather than try to get her to shut up I decide on bottled water and some crackers. I need a little sustenance after the sex we just had.
I watch him from the kitchen, as Sophie does her best to make me look like a pathetic girl with no love life. I wonder if he thinks I’m pathetic.
Sophie comes up behind me. “Did Savy tell you that her little nephew loved the skateboard you autographed for him?”
Ryker shakes his head, settling into the cushions. “Nope. In fact, she never mentioned her family before or after the orgasm I gave her.”
Sophie lights up. “That is glorious.”
I sigh, leaning against the counter. “You guys are pathetic. I didn’t think to talk about my family while having sex with Ryker was good conversation. And it’s not like he told me anything about his family either.” There. That was fair.
Ryker turns his hat to the side. “What is it you want to know?”
I shrug. “I don’t need to know anything unless you want to tell me something.”
“Well, I don’t. Do you want to tell me anything about yours?”
I shake my head. “My dad is still an arrogant jerk most days. And my mother is always running behind him cleaning up his mouth and all the bullshit that spills out of it.”
Ryker grows tense, and it starts to feel awkward. Ryker stands up. “I have to go.”
I round the counter. “Are you sure?”
“Yeah. It’s been a long day.” He looks at Sophie. “Sophie, take care of her for me. And if she tries to bail when I come back to town remind her why that’s a bad idea.”
Sophie stands up, sweeping her hair off her shoulders. “I need to know the reason.”
He looks at me. “Because some things are just meant to be.”
He walks over to me. “I’ll call you when I touch down in Chicago.” His arms snake around me, and he kisses me gently on the mouth.
“Okay.” It’s all I can get out. I watch him head out the door.
I look at Sophie. I can still smell him on me--his earthy-scented cologne. I can still feel his hands on me. My heart is still hammering away in my chest, and my legs still feel like mush after the kiss we had in the hallway. “Shit.”
Sophie agrees. “Shit is right.”
I gave myself an extra hour this morning, and I still managed to get lost downtown. I don’t know how I even found my way to the homeless shelter. The traffic was awful; I was stuck behind a bus and a slew of slow drivers. I didn’t get to have my coffee, and I was fighting the urge to quit before I even walked into the place. I don’t like starting anything off on the wrong foot. And that’s the way it feels this morning.
But I push forward. I open the big door to the homeless shelter and step inside. There is a long hallway with bulletin boards with all sorts of papers hanging from every one of them-- various jobs and help wanted ads. The floors are old, and a little dirty, and the place smells a bit dusty and stale.
I keep walking, and look around hoping to find someone who can guide me in the right direction.
Row after row there are tables lined up. There’s a woman setting out napkins and silverware.
So I clear my throat and say, “Hi. I’m Savy. I volunteered to work here.”
She lifts her head and stops what she is doing. “Hi, Savy. I am Lisa, one of the coordinators for meals and planning.”
I give a wave and look around. “This is…promising.”
She shakes her head. “This is a shit hole. But it serves its purpose.”
Now, I just feel weird. She puts me out of my misery before I have to ask. “Jackson is in his office. The first door on the right.”
I touch my hair hoping I am presentable enough in my jeans and t-shirt. I wasn’t told what I should wear, but I figure if I will be serving food, casual attire will work.
I give the door three soft taps and wait.
“Come in,” a strong, slightly agitated voice says.
I was expecting an older man--not the guy sitting at the desk who looks to be around my age. He pulls his eyes away from his laptop when I come in. “I am going to assume that you are Savy…” He looks down at some papers. “Arnold.” And then he looks back up at me.
“Yes. I was the one who called last week about volunteer work. I step forward.
“Yes. You’re the first ivy-league college student I’ve ever met that would rather be here than in school.”
“Yeah, I understand that.” I touch my hair. “I just felt this was a better fit for me at this time.”
“You do know there is no pay, right?” He stands, proving to be taller than I expected him to be. And dressed a hell of a lot nicer than I am. He slips a hand into his steel gray slacks pocket and comes from around the desk.
“I do know that. I am well aware of that, believe me.”
“What’s that mean?” He cocks his head, his blue eyes looking me over.
I drop my gaze and shake my head. “It means nothing.”
“Let me show you around.” He motions to me, and I follow him to the door.
“Sorry, I’m under dressed.” I wish I would have picked the cute sweater I had in mind now.
He looks back at me. “I usually come in jeans and a t-shirt. I was at a meeting today.”
“This isn’t the only thing you do?”
He shakes his head. “No. My family owns a few companies as well. And since I’m part owner, I am forced to look like this on occasion.”
I keep my comments to myself as we reach the kitchen. He pushes open the swinging door and invites me in.
“This is where all the food is prepared.” He looks around. “I’m in the middle of finding people who want to serve it. The last guy quit when one of the homeless guys puked on him.”
I cringe. “One of the hazards of the job.”
“Indeed.” He takes a seat on top of the stainless steel counter. ”So, Savy, tell me about yourself. What could convince someone with such a promising future to come here to work?”
I lick my lips, thinking about the answer he wants to hear versus my actual answer. “I just was tired of doing everything my parents want me to do.”
“Freedom,” he says.
“Sort of.” I look at the giant cans of vegetables. “I guess that makes the most sense. That and I thought this would be more fulfilling than being a lawyer.”
“Well, I commend you for following your heart instead of what will make you the most money.” He scratches his head looking around. “Let’s see what we can get done before breakfast.”
I managed to perform every task that Jackson put on the list without any trouble. I’m proud of myself for being able to do all those things my parents never trusted me to do on my own. My mother was and is a hands-on kind of person, and she would rather do something herself than let someone else take the reins.
And my father—well, being the kind of man that he is--he likes order. He has goals and plans for me that tend to give me a headache. My parents are important people in their professions. My mother is a child psychologist. She believes she understands me. She also believes that the world is a very screwed up place and my entire life was so tightly sealed into what she wanted. I barely had room to enjoy myself.
My father has held the same job since before I was born. He’s a pilot. And he wouldn’t have it any other way. He believes men are meant to work hard. He also believes that his children should have the same view when it comes to work. I don’t deny that my father is a well-rounded man. He’s seen a lot in his life, and he’s been all over the world. He just doesn’t get me.
And our relationship always seems to revolve around him trying to control me, or me being angry because he won’t leave me alone.
I tug my hairnet back down on my forehead and smile at the next person in line for pancakes. “Enjoy.”
I notice the man’s hands are shaking as he takes the plate. And I’m worried he won’t be able to make it to the table with his food.
“Let me help you to the table,” I tell him. He’s old with a long gray wisp of hair peeking out underneath his skull cap. His dirty fingertips poke out of the end of his gloves.
I lead him to the table and set his plate down and pull out his chair. When he sits, I go back to the table and grab two orange juice containers, hoping it will help calm his shaking.
“I grabbed you some juice. I hope you don’t mind.” I set the juices next to his plate.
He grabs my hand. “You remind me of someone.”
I tilt my head so he can get a better look. “Now, who would that be?”
“I would never forget those brown eyes.” He stabs at his pancakes. “My daughter had the same ones.”
I furrow my brow. “I guess we all have that one person we look like.” I force a smile, but he keeps looking at me.
“The same nose. The same brown hair.” He points at me. “Even that same look you’re giving me right now.”
Jackson comes to my rescue. “I see you met my loyal customer, Lee.”
I nod, pasting on a smile. “I did.”
Jackson takes me by the elbow and leads me away from the table. “Lee’s quite the character. He’s an alcoholic with a lot of colorful stories.”
I start rolling more silverware. “Thanks for rescuing me.”
“No problem. You’re doing a great job, by the way.”
I shake my head. “It’s not like I’m performing brain surgery.”
“No, but I usually have a resignation by noon, and you’re still going strong.” He smirks. “So, tell me about yourself.”
“There’s not a whole lot to tell.” I hand over the silverware. ”What would you like to know?”
“What do you like to do for fun?”
I scrunch my nose thinking about the fun in my life. “I used to play tennis; still do, sometimes. Now that I am not in college I have a feeling I will be playing a lot more.”
“Do you have a boyfriend?”
I shake my head. “No boyfriend. What about you?”
“No boyfriend either.”
I smile. He smiles back.
And then I say, “Well, there is…sort of…someone.”
I nod. “It’s complicated. But I don’t want to be dishonest. I don’t like head games, and I hate liars. So I try not to be one myself.”
“That’s a good way to be.” He hands over a plate to one of the women in line. “It’s hard to imagine a girl as beautiful as you having man complications.”
I’m pretty sure he is flirting with me. ”Should I take that as a compliment?”
He slips around me grazing my waist with one hand. “That
, sweetheart.” He turns and walks away to his office.
I drop my bag of laundry next to the washing machine in my parents’ house. I might be twenty-one, but I would much rather do my laundry at home than some laundromat or at Sophie’s apartment. I lift the lid and start tossing my clothes inside. A small surge of excitement hits me down below when my fingers meet up with the dress I was wearing that night with Ryker.
I wish he would call me. I’m in an awkward position—I would really like to call him but I don’t want to come off as desperate.
My mom comes into the laundry room. “Good, you’re here.”
I nod my head and say. “Yeah, I am, if that’s alright with you.” Judging by the look on her face, I’m not so sure.
“Your father and I would like to talk to you about something.” She walks away before I can say anything; I know this can’t be good.
I finish loading my laundry and go into the living room where my father is relaxing in his chair. It’s like being at a job interview. I wait to be seated.
“It’s been almost a week since we saw you,” he says.
I sit down. “I started working.”
“It’s only called work if you get paid for it.”
I wrinkle my nose. “I don’t think that’s the definition.”
He reaches over lifting a magazine off the end table. “You want to fill me in on this?”
He tosses it, and it plops down on the coffee table.
“Page nineteen, twenty, and twenty one.”
I look at him and then down to the gossip magazine. ”What in the world?”
There I am plastered on the pages of this ridiculous magazine for the entire world to see—with Ryker. And we look a lot more intimate than we were at the beginning of the night.
I look up.
“You want to tell me why you’re hanging around with Ryker Sosa?”
“I didn’t know I had to tell you.” I touch my face; the surge of anger forcing its way into my words. “Maybe you should tell me why you forced his family to ship him off after the accident.”
My father shakes his head. “Are you forgetting what happened to you?”
My words don’t stop him from telling me anyways. “You were in a head-on collision with a truck. We thought you were dead. Ryker Sosa put this family through hell.”
“It was an accident.” I stand up.
“Sit down right now, Savy,” he demands. “We are not finished with this conversation.”
I grit my teeth and sit back down on the couch, and my mom comes in the room.
“You having no contact with the guy who almost killed you was the best choice I ever made.”
I roll my eyes. “He did nothing wrong. I could have been in the car with anyone that night.”
“He almost killed you.”
“He almost killed himself,” my mother adds.
I stare at my feet, too angry to look at either one of them. “I’m still here. And so is he. And I still want him in my life.”
My mother throws up her hands. “Savy—
“Mother.” I look at her. She’s ready to tell me what she thinks I should do.
“You know that everything your father and I do is for your well-being. We want the best for you.”
“And, I don’t understand why you guys thought cutting Ryker out of my life was the best for me.”
She looks at my father. For once, she seems at a loss for words.
My father sits up in his chair. “This isn’t up for discussion. If you choose to hang around with this guy and work at this homeless shelter,
cut you off. Is that clear?”
I swallow. “He was always a good friend to me.”
My father doesn’t say anything. And I don’t understand the complete hatred for Ryker. I just want an explanation. “Give me a reason, other than the accident. Why shouldn’t I hang around with him?”
He stands up. “I am done discussing this.”
I stand up. “Have a sit-down with him. I can bring him for dinner. Get to know him.”
“Savy, I said I am not discussing this anymore.” I follow him out of the room.
“Just do this for me.” I watch him open the refrigerator. “I know you will like him. He’s a great person.”
My dad turns around. ”One dinner.”
I run to him and wrap my arms around him. “Thank you.”
“Don’t thank me just yet.” He pulls away.
“When he comes home we’ll set things up.” I’m excited I finally got him to cave. But even so, he still looks bothered by the entire thing.
I sit in the parking lot of the homeless shelter killing time before I have to go inside.
I smile at the text Ryker sent me and reply back with one just as adorable.
He teased me about showing up in the magazine alongside him for the entire world to see. Even though it sparked a conversation about my parents, and the result was good. He agreed to a dinner at their house in order to try and settle the hostility between them.
My phone rings, and it’s Ryker.
“This is the first time you have called me since that night,” I inform him. “It’s nice to hear your voice.”
“This is the first time I’ve had alone time since I left.” He sighs. “I’ve been nothing but busy. If I could leave and come back now, I would.”
A fancy sports car pulls up beside me and parks. And Jackson Luckman gets out. He winks at me and walks across the parking lot. I bite my lip. The last encounter we had, he admitted to flirting with me.
“So what do you think?” Ryker asks, cutting into my thoughts.
“About what?” I shake my head checking the time, so I am not late for work.
“You coming to my next event.”
“I say as long as I’m not busy I can do that.” I gather my things using my shoulder to steady the phone to my ear. “But right now I have to go to work. So, I have to go.”
“Have fun, beautiful.”
I hit end and step out of my car. I feel on top of the world now that he’s called. The day just keeps getting better and better.
I open the door and slip inside throwing my purse over my shoulder. There are already many people waiting for food and others waiting for a bed.
“There she is,” Lee, the man from the other day, says.
I smile and wave. “Lee, nice to see you again.”
“Always nice to see you, my dear.” He takes my hand. His is cold and skinny. ”I have a favor to request from you.”
“Me?” I can’t imagine how I can help.
“I want you to ask that boss of yours to get me a bed.”
Jackson opens the door to his office as if he already knows what Lee is up to.
“Lee, are you bothering Savy?”
Lee’s bushy eyebrows lift. “What an interesting name.”
Jackson takes Lee by the shoulder. “Lunch is going fast, Lee.”
I watch him walk away.
“That guy sure has taken a liking to you.”
I look over at him. “I think so. But I think he just wants me to get in a good word with you. He said he wanted a bed.”
“He has a bed here; he never sleeps here.” He sighs. “Like I said, Lee has a lot of issues.”
“Like what?” Something about the frail old man with gray hair pulls at my heartstrings.
“He lost his daughter.” Jackson motions me to his office. “Let’s sit down; I have some things I want to discuss with you.”
Oh shit. I hope he isn’t already planning on firing me. I take a seat, and Jackson closes the door. When he walks past me, I can smell his cologne, and it smells amazing.
“I wanted to take a few minutes to let you know that you are off to a great start.”
I nod my head, relief settling in my bones. “Thank you.”
He leans back in his chair. “Why do you look like you were just released from death row?”
“I thought you were about to fire me.”
He shakes his head. “No, just the opposite. I want to hire you.”
“On what grounds?”
He laughs. “You really were going to be a lawyer I take it.” He laces his fingers together. “I’m in the business of buying and selling property. I am currently looking for an assistant to help with various task.”
“I don’t know a thing about real estate,” I say as I push my hair behind my ear, “but thank you for considering me.”
“I think you’re more than capable of giving into my demands.” He presses his lips together.
“And this job pays.” He sits forward. “You can still work here one day a week if you want. I could use someone like you.”
“Like me?” I don’t even know what makes me right for the job.
“You’re intelligent and witty. You are extremely efficient and fast. It’s a no-brainer.”
I bite down on my lip studying my fingernails. ”As great as that sounds I feel kind of uncomfortable.”
“No strings attached--I promise.” He swivels his chair. “Did I make you uncomfortable the other day?”
I shake my head. “No, that’s not it. The thing is…there is someone I’m sort of into at the moment, and I don’t…you’re really attractive.” There I laid it out there. Honesty is the best policy.
I don’t think he can smile any bigger. He touches his face and pauses before he says. “So, do you want the job or not?”
“Yes, I still want the job.”
He stands up. “Great. We can start tomorrow.”
“Okay.” I stand up. ”I guess I’ll get back to work.”
“Take the rest of the day off.” He slips a hand in his pocket checking the time. “Or better yet. Let me take you to lunch.”
“Jackson.” Calling him Jackson seems natural. He’s not the typical stick-up-his-ass boss. Besides, he’s a young man with perfect hair, killer teeth, and piercing blue eyes.
“We can call it a celebratory lunch for your new position.” He flashes his pearly whites.
I sigh. “Fine. But nothing more than that.”