It Starts With Us (It Ends with Us #2) (5 page)

BOOK: It Starts With Us (It Ends with Us #2)
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“When you say ‘call,’ do you mean video chat? I want to be prepared this time.”

“You couldn’t be unprepared if you tried,” he says. “And yes, it’ll be a FaceTime. Why would I waste time with a phone call when I can look at you?”

I like this flirty side of Atlas. I have to bite my bottom lip
for two seconds in order to hold back my grin. “Goodnight, Atlas.”

“ ’Night, Lily.”

Even the way he makes such intense eye contact while saying goodbye makes my stomach flip. I end the call and press my face into my pillow. I squeal like I’m sixteen again.

Chapter Nine
Atlas

“Let me see a picture,” Theo says. He’s sitting on the back steps watching me pick up shattered glass and several bags of trash from the third incident, which occurred last night. Brad called this morning to let me know Bib’s was hit again. He and Theo met me here to clean it up, even though I told him not to worry about coming. I hate when my employees have to show up for anything on the only day of the week we’re closed.

“I don’t have a picture of her,” I say to Theo.

“So she’s ugly?”

I toss the box of glass into the dumpster. “She’s gorgeous and way out of my league.”

“Ugly would still be out of your league,” he deadpans. “She doesn’t have social media?”

“She does, but it’s set to private.”

“You aren’t her friend on anything? Facebook? Instagram? Do you even have a Snapchat?”

“What do you know about Snapchat? You don’t even have a phone.”

“I have my ways,” he says.

His dad comes back outside with a trash bag. He holds it open, and we start throwing some of the scattered garbage in
it while Theo remains on the steps. “I would help, but I just took a shower,” he says.

“You showered yesterday,” Brad says.

“Yeah, and I’m still clean.” Theo focuses on me again. “Do you have social media?”

“No, I don’t have time for that.”

“Then how do you know her stuff is set to private?”

I’ve occasionally attempted to look her up online, and as much as I don’t want to admit that, I’m not sure there’s a person on this planet who hasn’t done a few Google searches on people from their past. “I’ve looked her up before. You have to have a profile and follow her to see her stuff.”

“So make a profile and follow her,” Theo says. “I swear, sometimes you make things harder than they need to be.”

“It’s complicated. She has an ex-husband who doesn’t like me, and if he saw that we were friends online it might become an issue for her.”

“Why doesn’t he like you?” Theo asks.

“We got into a fight. Here at the restaurant, actually,” I say, nudging my head toward the building.

Theo’s eyebrows lift slightly. “Seriously? Like a real fight?”

Brad straightens up. “Wait. That guy was Lily’s
husband
?”

“I thought you knew that,” I say.

“None of us knew who he was, or why you were fighting him. That was the only time we’ve ever seen you kick someone out of the restaurant, though. Makes so much sense now.”

I guess this is the first time I’ve talked about it since it happened. I remember I left for the night right after that
fight with Ryle, so no one had a chance to ask me about it. When I came back to work the following Monday, people could probably read my mood and see that I still didn’t want to talk about it.

“What did you get into a fight about?” Theo asks.

I glance at Brad, because he’s aware of what Lily went through. Lily told him and Darin at my house. But Brad looks like he’s leaving it up to me whether or not I’m honest with Theo. I usually am about almost anything, but it’s not my place to share Lily’s business.

“I don’t even remember,” I mutter.

I do think this could be a good teaching moment with Theo about how never to treat a partner, but it’s a part of Lily’s life I don’t feel comfortable talking about without her present. It’s also a part of her life I shouldn’t have interfered with, even though I wouldn’t take it back if given the chance. As immature as my reaction might have been that night when I hit Ryle, I was holding back. I wanted to do more than just punch him. I had never been that angry at another human—not even my mother or stepfather. Not even Lily’s father.

It’s one thing to dislike someone for how they treat me, but it’s an entirely different kind of anger when the person I admire the most in this world is mistreated.

My phone begins to buzz in my pocket. I quickly pull it out and see that Lily is attempting to return my FaceTime from an hour ago. She was driving and said she would call me when she got home.

We’ve exchanged several texts since our chat on Friday, but I’ve been anxious to talk to her face-to-face again.

“Is that her?” Theo asks, perking up.

I nod and try to pass him on the steps, but he stands up and follows me into the restaurant.

“Seriously?” I ask, facing him.

“I want to see what she looks like.”

I have to answer it before I miss the call, so I slide my finger across the screen while trying to shut Theo outside. “I’ll screenshot it for you. Go help your dad.” The video connects, and Theo is still trying to push his way inside. “Hey,” I say, smiling at Lily on the screen.

“Hey,” Lily says.

“Let me see,” Theo whispers, snaking his arm around the door in an attempt to snatch my phone.

“Give me a second, Lily.” I hold the phone to my chest so that she can’t see anything, and then I open the back door far enough to press my palm against Theo’s face. I guide him back down the top step. “Brad, get your child.”

“Theo, come here,” Brad says. “Help me with this.”

Theo’s shoulders slump, but he finally relents and turns toward his father. “But I’m
clean
,” he mumbles.

I close the door and pull the phone away from my chest. Lily is laughing. “What was that?”

“Nothing.” I walk to my office and close and lock the door for privacy. “How’s your day?” I take a seat on the couch.

“Good. We just got back from lunch with my mother and her boyfriend. Went to a little sandwich shop on Borden; it was cute.”

“How is your mother?” We haven’t talked about her parents at all, other than her mentioning her father passed away.

“She’s really good,” Lily says. “She’s been dating a guy
named Rob. He makes her happy, although it’s a little weird seeing her giddy over a man. I like him, though.”

“She lives in Boston now?”

“Yeah, she moved here after my father died to be closer to me.”

“That’s good. I’m glad you have family here.”

“What about you? Does your uncle still live in Boston?”

My uncle?

Oh. I did tell her that. I squeeze the back of my neck and wince. “My uncle.” I can’t remember the exact lie I told her back then—it’s been so long. “My uncle died when I was nine, Lily.”

Her eyebrows wrinkle in confusion. “No, you moved in with an uncle when you were eighteen. It’s why you left.”

I sigh, wishing I could go back and redo most of our time together back then, and the things I told her or failed to tell her in order to spare her feelings. But wouldn’t we all go back if we could redo our teenage years? “I lied to you. I didn’t have an uncle in Boston at that point.”

“What?” She’s still shaking her head, trying to make it make sense. She doesn’t seem angry, though. More confused than anything. “Then who did you go live with?”

“No one. I couldn’t keep sneaking into your bedroom forever. I knew it wouldn’t end well, and other than you, there was nothing in that town that could help me better my situation. Boston had shelters and resources. I told you my uncle was still alive so you wouldn’t worry about me.”

Lily’s head falls back against her headboard and she closes her eyes for a bit. “Atlas.” She says my name with sympathy. When she opens her eyes again, it looks like she’s attempting
not to tear up. “I don’t know what to say. I thought you had family.”

“I’m sorry I lied. I wasn’t trying to be malicious, I just wanted to spare—”

“Don’t apologize,” she says, interrupting me. “You did the right thing. Winter was about to hit, and you might not have survived it in that house.” She wipes at a tear. “I can’t imagine how hard that was. Moving to Boston at that age with nothing. No one.”

“It worked out,” I say, flashing a grin. “It all worked out.” I’m attempting to pull her out of the mood I just sunk her in. “Don’t think about where we used to be; just think about where we are.”

She smiles. “Where are you right now? Is that your office?”

“It is.” I spin the phone around so she can get a glimpse of it. “It’s small. Just a couch and a computer, but I’m rarely in here. I spend most of my time in the kitchen.”

“Are you at Bib’s?”

“Yeah. Both restaurants are closed on Sundays—I’m just here cleaning up.”

“I can’t wait to visit Corrigan’s. Is that where we’re going on our date next Saturday?”

I laugh. “No way am I bringing you to either of my restaurants on a date. The people I work with are too curious about my personal life.”

She grins. “Funny, because I’m curious about your personal life, too.”

“I’m an open book for you. What do you want to know?”

She contemplates that for several seconds, and then
comes back with, “I want to know who the people in your life are. You didn’t really have anyone when we were teenagers, but you’re an adult now, with businesses and friends and a whole life I know very little about. Who are your people, Atlas Corrigan?”

I don’t know how to respond to that with anything but laughter.

She doesn’t smile in return, though, which makes me think she’s asking the question more out of concern for me than curiosity. I look at her gently, hoping to ease some of that worry. “I have friends,” I say. “Some of them you met a while back at my house. I don’t have family, but it’s not a void I feel. I like my career, and my life.” I pause, and then say something completely honest. “I’m happy, if that’s what you’re wondering.”

I see the corner of her mouth lift. “Good. I was always curious about where you ended up. I tried to find you on social media, but I didn’t have any luck.”

That makes me laugh, considering Theo and I just had this conversation. “I don’t use social media much.” If I told her I’d use it every day if her pages weren’t private, Theo might say that confession would scare her off. “I have profiles for the restaurants, but two of my employees manage them.” I let my head fall back against the couch. “I’m too busy for it. I downloaded TikTok a few months ago, but that was a mistake. Sucked me in for hours one night, and I missed a meeting the next morning. I deleted the app later that day.”

Lily laughs. “I would do just about anything to watch you make TikTok videos.”

“Never gonna happen.”

Lily’s attention is stolen away for a moment, and then she starts to lift up on her bed, but pauses. “Hold on a second. I need to set my phone down.” She drops the phone, but I don’t think she realizes it catches on something and flips so that it’s at an angle. The camera is on her, and I see her adjust Emerson from one breast to another. It’s only a few seconds, almost too quick for me to realize what’s happening before it’s over. I don’t think she meant for the camera to be pointed at her.

When she notices the phone, her eyes go wide for a second, and then the screen goes black as soon as her hand meets it. When it’s pointed at her face again, she’s covering her eyes with splayed fingers. “I am so sorry.”

“For what?”

“I think I just flashed you.”

“You did, but it’s not something you should apologize for. I should thank you.”

She laughs, appearing to appreciate that comment. “Nothing you haven’t seen before,” she says with an adorably embarrassed shrug. She adjusts a pillow under the arm she’s using to hold Emerson while she breastfeeds. “I’m trying to wean her, since she’s about to turn one. We were down to once a day, but Sundays are hard because I’m with her all day.” She scrunches up her nose. “I’m sorry. I doubt you want to know breastfeeding details.”

“I can’t think of a single subject you could discuss that would bore me.”

“Oh, I bet I can think of one before our date,” she says, treating my comment like it’s a challenge. She glances away from her phone screen. I can’t see Emerson, but I can tell
Lily’s looking down at her because she gets this smile on her face that I only see when she’s talking about or looking at her daughter. It’s a smile born from pride, and one of my favorite expressions to see flash across Lily’s face.

“She’s falling asleep,” Lily whispers. “I should go.”

“Yeah, I should probably go, too.” I don’t want to leave Brad and Theo to clean up the majority of the damage outside without me.

“I might call you later tonight, if that’s okay,” Lily says.

“Of course it is.” I remember what Theo said about wanting to see a picture of Lily, so before she ends the call, I take a quick screenshot. It makes an obvious screenshot noise, and Lily tilts her head curiously.

“Did you just take a—”

“I wanted a picture of you,” I say quickly. “Bye, Lily.” I end the call before I let myself be too embarrassed by that. I had no idea it would make that noise and that she would be able to hear it. Theo better appreciate this.

I open my office door and find Brad sweeping the kitchen. I’m confused, because the kitchen is cleaned after closing, and the damage done to the restaurant overnight was contained to the outside. “Did they not clean the floors last night?”

“Kitchen’s fine—I’m just pretending to sweep,” he says. Brad clocks the confusion on my face, so he elaborates. “I wanted Theo to have to clean up most of the mess outside since he hates doing it so much. It’s a dad thing.”

“Oh. Makes sense.” It makes
no
sense, but I leave Brad to fake-sweep and head back outside.

Theo is grimacing as he uses his thumb and index finger
to barely lift a piece of trash. “This is so gross,” he mutters, dropping it into the bag. “You need to hire a private security guard or something; this is getting out of hand.”

That’s not a bad idea.

I hold my phone in front of Theo’s face so he can see the picture of Lily I just screenshotted.

He pulls his neck back, surprised. “That’s Lily?”

“That’s Lily.” I slide my phone into my pocket and take the trash bag from Theo.

“That explains it.” He drops down onto the top step.

“Explains what?”

“Why you get so tongue-tied around her and say the stupid stuff you say.”

I disagree with his belief that the things I say to her are stupid, but he’s right about one thing. She’s so beautiful, I do sometimes feel tongue-tied around her. “I can’t wait until you start dating,” I say. “I’m going to give you so much shit.”

BOOK: It Starts With Us (It Ends with Us #2)
6.47Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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