Carnival Lights: Chapter Nine
Christina frowned. Tossing the bag of candy back onto Jackie’s desk, she turned and paced, her hands repeatedly twisting and untwisting the wrapper on the chocolate bar she still held in her hands. She frowned.
“Mr. Gordman me asked over for Easter dinner,” she said quietly. She couldn’t see Jackie’s eyebrows rise incredulously when she added quietly: “And things got a little, uh…”
“Oh my God,” Jackie whispered, her hands coming up to either side of her face. Her eyes widened nervously. “Oh my God,” she repeated, stunned. “Tell me you didn’t?”
“Huh?” At her pleading tone of voice, Christina turned to look at her friend.
Jackie gulped, forcing the words past stunned lips. “Jesus. He’s married….”
“Whoa. Wait,” Christina held up a hand impatiently, cutting Jackie off midstream. She laughed. “Do you think—me and Mr. Gordman?” Christina’s face tautened self-righteously. “As if!” She threw her head back and laughed, but she was clearly not the least amused by Jackie’s assumption.
Jackie squirmed at the look on Christina’s face. Shrugging defensively, she mumbled: “Well, you two have always been close.”
“We’re friends,” Christina spat, her face flaming hot. “He’s my immediate supervisor. And just so we’re clear, I’m also quite close to his wife.” Curling the chocolate piece in her hands, she glared across the large architects table at her friend. “And I don’t appreciate the insinuation that I would break up a home.” The skin across her cheekbones was blotchy with slashes of angry red coloring.
Jackie had the grace to blush. Tucking her chin up to her chest, she mumbled: “Sorry.”
“I’m not that kind of person,” Christina continued doggedly, forcefully.
“No,” Jackie agreed, smiling apologetically. “Of course you aren’t.” She made a comforting gesture. “I shouldn’t have said that. Only, it’s the way you said it…”
“I wasn’t talking about Mr. Gordman.”
“Okay,” Jackie agreed softly. “Then who?”
Christina made a great huffing sound. “His son!”
And the smile was instantly back on Jackie’s face. “I see.”
Christina’s glare only darkened, but this time Jackie wasn’t the least put off by it. “No. I seriously doubt it.”
“Jason Gordman’s hot,” Jackie said with a slick grin.
“I thought you were supposed to be too besotted with Max to notice things like that?”
Jackie laughed. “True. But I’d met Jason long before Max.”
Jackie wiggled her eyebrows. “So, something’s going on with you and the boss’s son?”
Christina’s left eye twitched ever-so-slightly. “What? No. No.”
“No?” Now Jackie looked thoroughly confused. “But you just said—”
Christina sighed. “Right.”
Christina pressed her lips tightly together before nodding her head once, sharply. “Me too.” Her voice had that faraway sound.
Jackie raised her eyebrows expectantly. “Well, whatever it was must’ve been a real doozy to get the usually so unflappable Christina, well, flapped.”
Pushing the now rather mauled piece of candy into her jacket pocket, Christina folded her arms tightly across her chest. Her eyes wouldn’t look right at Jackie, instead focusing somewhere above her forehead. “He kissed me.”
Jackie’s eyebrows shot up. “I thought you said it was nothing.”
“It was. I, it—he was just teasing.”
“O-kay,” Jackie sounded out slowly. “You two kid this way often?”
“Knock it off already,” Christina pleaded, sparing Jackie an irritated look. “Of course we don’t.”
“So that’s why you’re so flustered,” Jackie said, smiling gamely. “You like him.”
“Oh, don’t be childish,” Christina snapped, her high-heeled shoes picking up pace to march pointedly from Jackie desk to the door and back again. “No, of course I don’t. You’ve met Jason.”
Jackie tilted her head to one side in concentration. “Okay. And he made the first move?”
Christina gave her a dry look. “Yes!”
“Then what do you have to feel stupid about?”
Christina stilled, her hands flitting around her person again—smoothing down her jacket, gesturing emptily. “I just, I told him I didn’t find it funny…”
The brunette held up her hands. “I’m just checking in.”
“Because he offends you?”
Christina’s eyes narrowed. “I’m not sure…”
“He’s repulsive to you?”
Christina glared harder. “You know that’s not—”
“Because you’ve secretly been dating someone else on the sly?” Jackie smacked the tips of her fingers against the edge of her desk. “You minx.”
“No. I’m not dating anyone.” Christina’s voice was a mastery of frustration.
Jackie nodded. “Then you do like him.”
Christina growled low in her throat.
“Oh just admit it.” Jackie gave her a level look. “Because you’re not hiding it very well anyway.”
And just like that, Christina’s shoulders sagged, her bravado petering out. “You can’t tell anyone.”
“Who would I tell?”
“I mean it, Jackie.”
Jackie lost her wry amusement immediately, her face taking on a more somber expression. “Okay. I won’t say anything.”
“Nothing can come of it.”
“It would be inappropriate.”
Jackie cocked her head to the side. “Would it, though?
“I’m Mr. Gordman’s personal assistant.”
“How would it look, me chasing after his son?”
“Sounds like he was the one doing most of the chasing.”
“Dammit.” Pinching the bridge of her nose between her fingers, Christina inhaled deeply. “You’re not helping me here.”
“What do you want me to say?”
“I don’t know!” Throwing her hands up in the air, Christina’s face flashed a mesmerizing display of outrage, despair, and desperation.
Jackie whistled. Leaning back in her chair, ankles crossed over the top of her desk, she smiled wolfishly. “You really like him.”
Uncrossing her arms, Christina pointed a finger at Jackie, her hand stabbing at the air aggressively. “You suck.”
“Oh come on,” Jackie said, laughing merrily when Christina turned on the words, her legs taking her smartly out of Jackie’s office. “You’d say the same to me!”
Stubbornly silent, Christina didn’t respond, instead taking herself quickly and sharply back up the stairs, across the crowded bullpen, and to her desk once more. Jackie was right. In her shoes, Christina would have said the same thing. Cut out the bullshit and get straight to the point: the problem was, she did like Jason.
“But that’s just too damn bad,” she muttered darkly to herself as she plopped herself back down in her chair. With a concentration she was far from feeling, she opened up her appointment log for the day, and though her finger shook slightly when she pressed the phone’s intercom button, her voice rang out professionally:
“Mr. Gordman, don’t forget your one o’clock lunch appointment with…”
And just like that, everything went back to normal. Or at least, normal enough. The next couple of days saw Christina staring down the barrel of her usual routine: whatever awkwardness she’d felt with Mr. Gordman that Monday morning seemed to have melted into nothingness. And if her hands shook every time the phone rang—if her fingers hovered over the receiver as she tried to catch her breath, wondering if he was on the other end, and if she felt her heart kick hard against her chest every time someone walked through the threshold into the outer office were her desk was situated, her hands clattering against the keyboard, eyes flying with breathtaking anxiety toward the doorway, well, she tried not to notice.
Only. By Friday, Christina found with every customer on the other end of the phone, with every employee and client that walked past Christina intent on seeing Mr. Gordman, her irritation rose. Her embarrassment swelled. Really, he hadn’t needed to pretend the kiss was so shattering just to spare her feelings. He hadn’t needed to make such a show of wanting to kiss her again if, if…
Not a word. Not a drop-in. Nothing.
Christina frowned. Leaning back in her chair, she stared out the tall windows that covered the top half of the wall directly behind her desk. Spring in Minnesota could be absolutely beautiful. The smell of hot, wet pavement after a rain shower, the glow of yellow and orange flowers popping up all over the city…. Unfortunately, it could also be a washout of bluish grey overcast days. This was one of those days. Across the street, tall buildings stood glumly in the foggy haze of a downcast April morning.
Not a word. Not a drop-in. Nothing.
Letting her head fall against the high back of the chair, Christina allowed herself to miss her mother, if only for a few seconds, as she watched from her twelfth story view the busy walkers bustling in the fine mist below.
It would have been nice to talk to her about everything.
They used to have the best conversations.
To think, Christina had once taken for granted how special those were—how limited they could turn out to be.
Feeling her chest restrict a little on the thought, Christina pushed her chair back from the window with a rough kick. Spinning around sharply, she was just reaching out to steady herself against the desk, when she spotted Jason.
Standing on the other side of her desk.
Smiling wryly at her blank expression—she hadn’t even heard him approach, she’d been so deep in her thoughts—Jason nodded in greeting. “Hard at work, I see?”
Her teeth snapped together. “Spare me.”
“Here to see your father?” She asked pointedly, her finger already going to find the intercom button.
He gave her a funny look. “Who else would I be here to see?”