As soon as I walked into the Willow Creek Journal, I could tell something was different. People were looking at me. I mean, it’s not like I was usually a walking potted plant or anything, but today felt different somehow.
And, when I reached my desk, I knew why.
There next to my computer was a beautiful vase of roses. Vibrant red roses. The kind you sent your wife for your anniversary. Not something I’d ever receive.
Desirae, my new desk mate, grinned at me. “You’ve been holding out on me, Nora. Who’s the guy?”
I shook my head. “There isn’t one. This has to be a mistake.”
I sat down at the desk and plucked the card from the vase.
May today be one where you love what you do. – Parker
Nothing I could’ve done could possibly have prevented the smile that came over my face. Parker sent me flowers? Then I noticed the numbers under his name. My first reaction was elation. He gave me his number?
A sick feeling washed the giddiness away. You know what he wants. Don’t fall for it, Nora.
I forced myself to take a deep, calming breath. That excitement right there was what had gotten me into trouble before. I couldn’t lie; for the first time in a long time, I felt that tug towards another person. I wanted to talk to Parker, spend time with him, get to know him.
I looked at my reflection in the computer screen. He doesn’t really want you. He just knows how easy it would be with you. From the front, I supposed I looked okay, but if I tilted my head and looked at my profile…
I squeezed my eyes shut. No, I wouldn’t let myself go there with a man again.
I booted up my computer and opened the article I’d been working on. Over lunch, I’d call Parker – just to tell him not to talk to me ever again. It would be better that way.
Just after noon, I stepped outside. It was early May, but already I could feel the humid heaviness in the air. Let’s make this quick so I can go back inside. I took out my phone and dialed Parker’s number.
After a few rings, his buttery smooth voice said, “Hello?”
“Hello, Parker. This is Nora.” I tried to sound professional, as if this were a work call. I wasn’t confident that worked, though.
“Nora! I was hoping you would call.”
“You shouldn’t have sent those flowers,” I scolded him.
“I’m sorry,” he said, a smile evident in his voice. “Next time, I’ll just come by personally.”
“No!” When a passersby looked at me, I lowered my voice. “I mean, you shouldn’t do that. Look, Parker, I don’t know if I gave you the wrong idea, but I’m not interested.” When it rang false to my ears, I asserted, “I’m not.”
God, maybe I should look Kurt up and remind myself why I’ve sworn off men.
A couple of days later, I stepped out of the building a few minutes after noon. Okay, I need to pay the water bill and then –
I came to a stop as I took in the figure standing by the stairs. Parker. My heart leapt in my chest at the sight of him. “Parker? What on earth are you doing here?”
He smiled and walked over to me. “There’s a great sandwich shop just down the road. Have you been there before?”
“Yes – I mean, what are you doing here?” I tried to find some semblance of outrage at him. I’d expressly told him I didn’t want to see him, so I should not be happy that he was here right now. “Are you stalking me?”
He laughed and shook his head. “No, I’m asking you to lunch. As a friend. I promise.”
I narrowed my eyes at him. My stomach growled audibly. I am hungry…I can pay the water bill after work. And I can discourage Parker over a sandwich. “Alright, I guess. Just as friends.”
We walked together down the road to the sandwich place. Inside, the woman behind the counter greeted me by name. Several of the employees here knew me well by now; this had become my favorite spot to have lunch, equal parts for the food and for the close proximity to the Journal.
“You’re really wasting your time with me,” I told Parker after we’d gotten our sandwiches and sat down. “I’m flattered – really, really flattered – but it’s just not going to happen.”
Parker looked over at me and his expression became serious. “Are you telling me you don’t feel any kind of connection here?” He gestured between us. “It’s been a long time since I’ve felt the kind of spark that I do when I’m around you.”
“You don’t even know me,” I said quietly. I wanted to brush off what he said, but how could I? I did feel a connection – and that terrified me. I’d imagined a connection with Kurt, and just look at how that had gone.
“I’d really like to.” He reached across the table and rested his fingers on top of mine. Just the lightest touch, but it was enough to send tingles up my arm. “If you really want me to leave you alone, I will. I just couldn’t give up until I got the chance to talk to you.”
I looked over at him. He looked so earnest, so sincere. Could I trust him? I looked down at our hands, his fingers over mine. He sounded like Carter whenever he talked about what had made him pursue Mom. I’d always wanted a love like theirs. But I’d already proven I was no good at reading people.
My eyes returned to his. “I’m afraid,” I admitted in a voice barely above a whisper.
His hand fully enveloped mine. “Whatever you’re afraid of, you don’t have to be. I won’t ever hurt you, Nora.”
Despite everything I’d told myself for years – despite all the pain I still carried inside me – I…believed him.