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.He said, “So, you know, maybe Dombruso cancelling on you is a sign.Maybe the universe is trying to intervene and keep you from making a big mistake.”“Since when does the universe care about me making mistakes?”Speaking of which, here came my ex, looking adorably tousled and a little flushed.God.“Hi guys,” he said to Cole and me as he crossed the room to unlock the front door and flip on the neon sign that declared the bar and grill open.“Hey,” I mumbled, turning my back to him as I got really interested in the pepper shakers.I felt a light touch on my arm and glanced at Jamie.Concern was evident in his sky blue eyes as he asked, “How are you, Charlie?”Depressed.Lonely.Missing you like crazy.“Fine,” I said, looking away again and screwing the lid back on a pepper shaker.He hadn’t removed his hand from my arm.“How are you really?” he asked gently.I hated this, I hated the be-nice-to poor-fucked-up-Charlie routine.It made me feel even more pathetic than I already did.I met his gaze and said steadily, “I’m fine, thanks.”Instead of removing his hand, he rubbed my upper arm.His touch was so sweet and tender that he might as well have just gone ahead and punched me in the face – it was that painful a reminder of all I’d lost.“You know you can talk to me, right?” he said.“You’re going through a lot right now, and I want you to know I’m here for you.”He didn’t mean our break-up.Last week, I’d finally come out to my parents.And as a result, I’d gotten kicked out of the house I grew up in.I was now subletting a kind of depressing empty apartment Jamie had recently vacated.“I know.And I appreciate it, Jamie.” I broke eye contact again.He was so close to me that I breathed in his scent.Jamie always smelled a little like the ocean and like clean cotton.And now he also smelled faintly of his new husband’s expensive cologne, which made me feel like whacking my head against a wall.“I’ve got to finish setting up my station.I’ll talk to you later, ok?” I turned my back to him and pulled a dish towel from my apron, wiping up some of the pepper that I’d spilled.“Ok, Charlie.” He paused a moment before finally going back to his office.As soon as he was out of sight, I bent over and thunked my head against the table in front of me.And I just stayed there for a while, wrapping my arms around my head.Working here was such a stupid idea.Jamie, in his ongoing effort to save me from myself, had offered me the job so I could end the nightmare of working for my uncle’s exterminator business.But taking this job had been a mistake.It was a great bar, but God, the Jamie factor was just so hard to take.Being here was somewhat bearable when the place was busy and I had less time to wallow.But Jamie was trying out something new, opening the bar for lunch, and these daytime shifts had been so quiet you could hear crickets chirping.It would probably pick up when word got out that we were open this time of day, but that hadn’t happened yet.Besides this not entirely successful lunchtime experiment, the bar and grill biz was going great for my ex and his husband – nights and weekends were hopping.They’d started running this place just a few weeks ago, and the change in ownership had made it more popular than ever.I wouldn’t have predicted that.Even a city as famously liberal as San Francisco still had a conservative element, and I hadn’t expected the patrons of an Irish sports bar to stick around when the place was taken over by a gay ex-cop and his ex-mafia husband.But not only had the blue collars stayed, they’d slid over and made room for the influx of young urban hipsters that suddenly found something appealing about this place – ever since locally famous former gangster and former nightclub owner Dmitri Teplov became associated with it.But apparently, neither the hipsters nor the blue collars had gotten the come-and-get-drunk-on-your-lunch-break memo.I was still bent over the table, face down and trying to find the motivation to actually get up, when a deep voice behind me said, “Well, that right there made the trip across town totally worth it.” I raised my head and peered over my shoulder, and there was Dante Dombruso, arms crossed over his chest, a big grin on his face as he studied my upturned ass.I stood up quickly, and in the process I knocked over the large carton of pepper that I’d left on the table.I actually caught it as it fell, but on the upswing I managed to fling some directly into my face.Did you know pepper actually makes you sneeze? A lot.And here I’d thought that was only in cartoons.I sneezed about five times in as many seconds, and Dante held something out to me.A-choo! “Seriously?” I asked, both hands over my nose and mouth as I squinted at the pristine, monogrammed square of fabric he was holding out to me.A-choo!“Yes.Take the handkerchief.”A-choo! “Do you honestly expect me—” A-choo! “—to blow my nose in that and then hand it back to you?” A-choo! “Because that’s super weird and gross.”He grinned at that and said, “Keep it.”A-choo! “Ok.Thanks,” I managed between sneezes, then grabbed the handkerchief and blew my nose loudly and inelegantly.It actually helped tremendously, and I sighed with relief as the sneezing ceased.Then I said, “I’ve never understood cloth handkerchiefs.The only logical thing to do once you’ve covered something with snot is throw it away.”“So your argument against cloth handkerchiefs is that they’re illogical?” Dante looked highly amused by all of this.“No, my argument against cloth handkerchiefs is that the moment you use them, they become a totally repulsive snot vault that you’re supposed to keep in your pocket.I don’t even know what to do with this now.” I held the article in question away from me with two fingers.“I would offer to take it back, but you’ve made such a compelling argument about its total repulsiveness that I now want nothing to do with it.”“See? I’m going to go wash it out in the restroom.It’s the only thing I can think of to do with this,” I said, and crossed the empty dining room [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]