Since You Happened by Holly Hall

Chapter 7

I gave Arielle my blessing to pass along my number to Paul, so when I receive a text from an unknown number within a couple days of our conversation, I’m only a little surprised.

Unknown: Hi, Blake, it’s Paul. Arielle gave me your number. Unfortunately, I’m about to leave on a business trip, so I’m afraid I’ll have to delay meeting you just a little longer, but I’m already looking forward to it. Are you free sometime next week?

I’m already struck by how articulate he is compared to some of the other men I’ve received messages from. Online dating and modern day courtship standards really bring out the worst in humanity. I save his number in my contacts before answering.

Me: Hello, Paul. Yes, I’m free from Thursday onward

Paul: Excellent. If you don’t mind a weekday-date, Thursday night would be ideal

Me: Thursday it is!

Paul: In that case, I’m looking forward to it. Did I already say that?

Me: Me too 

I remember that Doctor Jake also seemed intelligent and kind through text message, so I send up a prayer that I don’t relive that disaster with Paul. I’m not nervous, so I’m not sure why my stomach turns over in anticipation. This is good. I’ll be meeting someone new and getting my mind off Landon, all while appeasing my meddlesome friends. In any case, I have over a week to get used to the idea.

In the meantime, Landon and I continue our non-relationship. Sometimes he texts or calls before coming over, sometimes he just shows up, so nothing is out of the ordinary. However, when he arrives at my apartment on Friday night with a laptop bag slung over his shoulder, I can’t hide my surprise. He’s never brought anything resembling personal belongings over to my place. And it’s a Friday night.

When he sees me eyeing the bag, he runs his hand along the strap. “I have some work to get done tonight. I hope you don’t mind.”

“Of course not,” I answer, waving him inside. His stubble has grown closer to a short beard now, but I kind of like it. It leaves beard burn on my skin that lingers long after he’s gone, but I kind of like that, too.

Landon crosses over into the living room and takes a seat on the couch, pulling out his computer and placing it on his lap. I didn’t anticipate him getting right to work, but the sight of him looking so at ease doing something ordinary in my apartment is pretty pleasing. I never noticed the way his skin creases to form a little V between his eyebrows when he’s concentrating.

“In that case, I’m going to make dinner. Do you mind if I put some music on?” He shakes his head, glancing up from the screen.

“Do whatever you need to do,” he says with a nod and an easy smile. I think briefly about my upcoming date with Paul and decide to bring that up later. But when would be the best time to bring up my date with the guy I’m currently sleeping with? And why am I even worried about it being the best time? What’s happening between us isn’t anything serious—it doesn’t even have a title. Therefore, I shouldn’t worry about getting his approval.

I select a station on my phone and the speaker in the kitchen comes to life, a song by James Bay floating through the apartment. I set the volume to where it’s just enough to add background noise and pour a glass of wine. Cooking is something that has always relaxed me, so I’ve never been one to settle for preparing a meal from a box every night. There’s something about the methodical way of adding and mixing ingredients to produce a mouthwatering result that soothes my soul. I always thought that if nursing didn’t work out, I would want to attend culinary school.

I pour another glass of cabernet and carry it over to Landon. I’ve never asked if he likes wine, but I figure he appreciates alcohol enough not to turn it down. He accepts it and voices his thanks, and I return to the kitchen. I preheat the oven and rip a couple sheets of foil from the roll. Using the foil to make little pouches, I place portions of salmon, along with some asparagus and slices of lemon inside, before closing them up and setting them on a cooking sheet. On the stove, I begin to boil some water.

Once I’ve got some sliced potatoes boiling in the pot, I place the salmon pockets inside the oven and set the timer for them to bake. The salmon is finished before the potatoes, so I take them out of the oven and go to switch on the TV while the potatoes finish cooking. Landon is focused beside me, only pausing in his typing to take a few gulps of wine before resuming. He’s cute while he works. I mentally warn myself not to get used to it.

Meanwhile, Parks and Rec plays in the background, but I don’t pay much attention. I think of how good it will feel to be the one to say “I told you so” to Arielle if my date goes wrong, but mostly I worry about what happens next if it goes right. If Paul turns out to be the man Arielle has raved about, I’ll ultimately have to choose between him or Landon. I’m aware that whatever is happening between Landon and I can’t last forever, but the prospect of it ending makes me a little sad. It’s too early, and pointless, to overthink those things, but it’s what my over-active brain is an expert at doing.

Once the timer goes off on the potatoes, I return to the kitchen to mash them, adding some rosemary, garlic, and butter, and combining it all together. The smells entice Landon to come wandering into the kitchen, and he braces his hands on the countertop beside me, leaning over the food.

“Mmm, what smells like heaven?”

“Mostly me, but I guess it could be the salmon and potatoes, too,” I say, transferring the salmon and asparagus to plates.

“What if I told you I don’t like salmon?” he asks, settling back against the counter with a teasing grin.

“I’d say you haven’t had my salmon,” I retort.

“Well, I do like salmon. And I’m sure it’s delicious. I didn’t even come over expecting dinner.”

“It’s about time you learned that I have skills even with my clothes on,” I say, pointing the potato-covered spoon at him.

He leans his head toward the spoon, taking it into his mouth and licking the surface clean. I look back down to the bowl of mashed potatoes before I’m tempted by the smoldering look in his eyes. Maybe it will be better to bring up the Paul subject before this night progresses to where it’s going.

We take our plates into the living room and eat on the couch, finishing the episode and beginning a new one. Once I’ve finished my meal, I sit back with my glass of wine and appraise him for a few moments. I guess now is as good a time as any.

“My friend Arielle brought up something interesting at spin class.”

“What’s that?” he asks, his fork pausing on its way up from scooping up the last of his second helping of rosemary-garlic potatoes.

“Spin class? It’s thirty minutes of socially acceptable torture,” I tease, and he rolls his eyes. “She wants me to meet someone.” I take a long sip from my glass. His gaze, which was focused on me, returns to his plate as he nods. After he chews thoroughly, he sets his plate aside but he doesn’t speak. “I know I don’t need to ask for your permission, but I thought it would only be fair to tell you. I want to keep my conscience as crystal-clear as it is already.”

He smirks at me. “You want to go on a date.” He says it with no judgement or jealousy; so casually that he might’ve just made a comment about the weather.

“I don’t, really, but she promised to get off my case if I agreed to go out with this guy. She says he’s a catch.” I imitate the enthusiastic tone Arielle adopts when she’s trying to sell me on her latest bachelor.

“Then by all means, Little Blake, catch away,” Landon says, picking up both of our plates. He stands, and I watch as he walks into the kitchen. I’m not sure what I expected him to say, or what I hoped he would say. Maybe that he would try to talk me out of it. At least then I’d have an excuse to skip the date with Paul. And maybe some validation of some sort of feelings for me. I sigh and drain my glass, trying in vain to rein in my wayward thoughts. This will go nowhere, Blake. I repeat the words he spoke to me that first night we had sex, so they will sink in.

In the kitchen, I hear him turn on the water, the plates clattering together as he washes them. They’re strangely comforting sounds, accompanied by the pleasant vision of a man in my kitchen washing the dishes. I groan out loud. Why did he have to bring his computer bag over and frown adorably over his work and wash my dishes? He’s definitely making it hard not to fall for him. Landon returns to the couch, pulling his laptop toward him again. By all outward appearances, nothing is amiss.

“You mean that, right? You’re not going to go all ice queen on me afterward while pretending nothing is wrong?” I prod him.

He chuckles, running a hand through his hair in a way that makes his arm flex. “I promise not to go all ice queen on you,” he says, replacing his laptop back on the coffee table. “What I can’t promise is not to tire you out beforehand.” Before I can attempt an escape, he grabs my wrist and pulls me back to where I fall onto his lap with a squeal.