Chapter 16, North of Happenstance

North of Happenstance: Chapter Sixteen

“Kate, can I see you in my office for a moment?”

The words, as unexpected as they were forceful, caused Kate to still, her hand suspended over a stack of outdated periodicals placed on a wire holder near the check-out counter of LitLiber. Luckily her back was turned when the command was issued, so the speaker wasn’t able to witness the sudden tightening of her facial muscles, her knee-jerk hesitation.

Because the voice which delivered that question belonged to none other than Jake.

 

It had been weeks since the Halloween party; if M.T. could see Kate now, she’d be so disappointed. She and Penny had worked hard that ill-fated dinner, running through every possible scenario of just how Kate should present herself toward her boss. It hadn’t worked. The first time she got within one hundred yards of him, staring down the sight of his tall, dark complexion, Kate had bailed, avoiding him just as surely as ever.

Instead, she’d spent all her time, when she wasn’t actively helping customers, re-categorizing each section of the store and when she’d completed that, reorganizing each shelf, as well. Every nook and cranny had been dusted, polished, and otherwise put-to-rights. Her next project: peeling gum off the bottom of the seats in the café.

…desperate times and all that.

With a start, Kate called herself back to the present. Her eyes cautiously moved, raking over the building until they landed with a thud on the exterior wall of Jake’s office. He wanted to see her for a moment. In there. All alone. Without any distractions.

“Sure,” she piped up anxiously, aware now that she’d been a long time in answering.

With a lingering touch, Kate abandoned the magazines. No doubt about it, she felt tongue-tied, uncomfortable at the thought of talking privately with him, even if only for a few minutes. Besides a mumbled hello or goodbye, she’d hardly spoken to Jake since ‘the thing.’ She wasn’t very subtle. Kate knew that. She could see his confusion out of her peripheral vision as she’d scuttle past, she’d been privy to the inner-office chatter—had she and Jake gotten into an argument? Still, she couldn’t help herself. She got weird when he was around.

(But hey, at least the Halloween Party remained a source of anonymity. Kate would rather the staff believe some made-up fight between them then know the truth of that make-out session.)

These thoughts took Kate to Jake’s office door. Standing outside, frantic, she tried to remind herself of what M.T. had said: walk in with your head held high; smile charmingly; don’t be nervous or awkward; nothing happened at that party; nothing is different; he’s still Jake—your boss. Sure, he’s cute but in a safe, distant sort of way. He’s still the same guy and you’re still Kate—a quiet, reserved employee of good standing.

Knocking hard once, Kate turned the doorknob in her hand. Poking her head around the opening, she tried to smile convincingly. In reality, her lips stretched grotesquely around her teeth.  “You wanted to see me?” She asked, staring pointedly at his eyebrows. That was as close she’d get to eye-contact.

“Yeah, take a seat Kate,” he offered, waving her all the way inside, toward one of two chairs placed opposite of him.

Kate did as asked, shutting the door behind her like a hunted animal. She’d always considered Jake’s office rather cramped. It was filled to overflowing with its desk, printer, three chairs, and a small filing cabinet. It hadn’t bothered her before now, but suddenly an attack of claustrophobia seemed like a real threat and Kate wondered if the beads of sweat she could feel pooling around the sides of her forehead were noticeable.

“Thank you,” she muttered, crossing one leg over the other. Her hands she left clenched on her lap. She felt fidgety.

All M.T.’s prompting hadn’t helped. She was acting anything but cool and unaffected.

Jake frowned. “Sure. I—Kate, is everything all right?”

Surprised into looking up, dead into those green eyes, Kate’s body jerked. “What?”

“It’s just, you’ve seemed, I don’t know, upset maybe?” Jake said questioningly. He shook his head, mouth pulled tight. “I just want to make sure that everything’s, well, that you’re good.”

“Uh,” Kate clucked, her tongue bouncing off the roof of her mouth with the sound. Spinning, her brain tried to register what he’d just said—or had he asked her something?

It was no use. Kate couldn’t focus. It had been a mistake, allowing her eyes to travel lower than his brow line…Now she couldn’t stop staring at his lips—the same lips she’d struggled so hard to forget; memorized she remained, her consciousness flooded, her retina’s burned: thin, a dusky shade of coral, with a sexy and well-defined bow marking out the bottom set. She remembered the feel of them pressed up against her and, suddenly a phantom pressure built there, against her mouth.

Cripes! The mere sight of Jake’s lips had turned dangerous.

Was everything okay? Absolutely not!

“Everything-uh, everything’s fine,” Kate heard herself say at last. “I’ve just been under a lot of pressure…”

Bad word choice: Kate was certainly feeling a lot of pressure. Her body ached, her breath felt pitchy, and she desperately wanted to get the hell out of there. It was too intimate.

“Everything’s fine,” she reasserted, more firmly this time. What else could she say?

Jake nodded. “All right. I’m glad to hear that.” Then, as though he couldn’t help himself, Jake added: “You know you can always talk to me, right? If school is getting hectic, any potential scheduling concerns, if you just need a vent-fest—” Jake fumbled, getting momentarily lost in his point: “I’m not just talking about at the bookstore, either. I’m here Kate.”

Kate smiled. It felt fake, toothy.

“Thank you. But really, I’m fine.”

“Okay. Good,” Jake repeated, leaning back in his chair, satisfied with her answer this time.

Was that all he wanted—just a little check-in? God she hoped so. Scooting forward on her chair, the better to rise to her feet and beat a hasty exit, Kate politely waited to be excused, her hands gripping the sides of it anxiously.

At the implication of her movements, Jake frowned. “Now that’s cleared up, the reason I called you in here today—”

“Oh?” Kate asked, trying to cover her disappointment.

“Yeah,” Jake said slowly, “Kate, I’m sure you’ve noticed—,” he paused here, changing tact’s. “I’ve been a little preoccupied lately. What I mean to say is: Kate, I want you….”

Startled eyes flew upward, clashing with Jake’s; a crooked smile played out at the edges of his mouth, the slightest of creases carved across the corners there:

I want you. I want you. I want you.

The reverberation was deafening, drowning out everything else. Jake was still speaking, Kate could see his mouth sounding out words, but they were overpowered now, muted by her overwhelmed senses.

I want you. I want you. I want you.

And suddenly, impossible images transposed themselves across her eyes: Jake standing up and reaching across the distance separating them, his hands rough as they hauled Kate to her feet. Breathless, she felt those hands cup against her elbows, caressing softly as he brought her steadily closer. And closer. Until their noses were mere inches away from contact, until she could feel the slight rhythm of his heartbeat were it pulsed against his neck.

Her nostrils flared, taking in the scent of him as she waited for his head to descend, as she waited for those lips to brush up against her own. In those seconds, she wondered how it would be: to make love on an office desk. It was so clichéd. So trite, but damned if she didn’t want to find out personally.

One knee rising slightly, until it rested against the edge of the particle-board furniture, followed quickly by the other. Jake’s hands dipping down, grabbing hold of her hips. With a hard tug, she was brought across the surface of the desk, her body pressed tightly up against his. The vantage point was different. Kneeling, she stood at equal height to him.

 

“…our first book signing at the Litliber. So this is a pretty big deal,” Jake said, his voice cutting across her fantasy abruptly. His informative tone a rude awakening, an unwanted return back to reality.

Kate was still sitting down in the chair she’d taken upon walking into Jake’s office. He remained across the desk, his posture comfortable where he lounged back against the swivel chair.

“Uh, yeah,” she said absently. What had he been talking about?

“Okay, let’s take a look at possible times, shall we?” he asked then, and this time he did stand up. Pushing a loose-leaf calendar forward, he came over to her side of the desk—the one she’d just been fantasying about. Leaning forward, beside her, his right hand braced on the edge of the hard surface, Jake’s attention seemed entirely bent on the task at hand.

Kate only wished for the same ease of concentration.

Reaching forward, Jake pulled a notepad and pen toward Kate. When she looked at it questioningly, he said: “In case you want to take notes.”

“Right,” Kate said stupidly. Notes? Nevertheless, she took the pad and paper in her stiff fingers.

“Besides just social media outlets, I want to take out radio ads, throw some announcements in the newspaper. But when and how many?” he asked.

Kate’s skin sizzled at his proximity. It didn’t take much imagination to wonder what would happen if he let his left hand, the one hanging loosely at his side, slide against Kate’s thigh.

“…the event is on the 27th, so that leaves us a lot of time still…”

The pads of his fingers would just barely brush against the fine layer of her skirt, tickling her overly sensitized skin there. Sucking in her breath, Kate felt her body tingle at the anticipated impact of that touch.

Jake’s eyes skimmed sideways, catching Kate’s: “…two announcements in the newspaper, you think? Sunday the 14th and the 21st? Yeah,” Jake circled those dates on the calendar with a red pen, something Kate would be thankful for later. “And we’ll really want to highlight the timing of the event, from one o’clock until two-thirty…” Jake chewed on the corner of his lower lip, his eyes an intense leafy green.

Those eyes were even darker in passion, a smokiness which lent them an almost midnight color. She wondered how deep that color would get if he was allowed to give seduction his undivided attention. She wondered how they’d transform if she were to slowly undo the buttons of her shirt, if she were to allow her skirt to glide off the swell of her hips. She wondered how dark those eyes would get if she—

“I can always talk to Bobby about adding more slots if needed, but I think four ads should do. And Anita at the print shop is working on posters, as well.”

Jake’s words floated vaguely over Kate’s consciousness, her mind a whirl of sexual desire, her eyes unfocused in her state of forbidden temptation. All she felt was the whisper of his breath against the tendrils of hair falling against her ear, the hum of his masculinity where he stood beside her, the scent of his aftershave when it wafted against her nose.

“You’re quiet over there. Any thoughts?”

Kate jumped at the question. Shit. She’d done it again. Peeking up through her lashes, she encountered Jake’s stare. Chest shaking, she thrust her prohibitive thoughts to the background. Straightening her shoulders, frantically recalling the snippets she’d managed to hear, Kate fought for composure, for something to say.

“Uh, yeah. I agree. What with marketing on the website, I think those should be enough to get the town’s interest,” she said, fingers crossed down at her sides. She had no idea if that even made sense.

Jake’s smile reassured her that at least she was on the right track.

“It’s settled then.” Rapping his knuckles against the calendar, Jake stood up straight.

Letting out a silent sigh, Kate felt her muscles relax when he returned to his side of the desk once more, the movement offering her some much needed space. “I really want this to be well-attended. Book signings are so necessary for small establishments like this. The first one has to be perfect.”

Kate nodded dumbly, still unsure what it was she was supposed to be doing with this information.

“So, you’ll arrange for those spots today? It shouldn’t take long, write up a quick press release outlining the event and any pertinent details, call the appropriate people… Cool?”

Kate nodded again, feeling like a parrot. At least she knew what she was doing with the information. Now she just needed to find out who in the hell she was doing it with? The newspaper, the radio station? Both? Surreptitiously, her eyes wandered down to the notepad still clutched in her hands. Scratch marks and doodled circles stared back at her. Jerkily, she placed the pad face down on her lap, so Jake wouldn’t see. She was so screwed.

“And who specifically am I contacting?” she asked out loud, striving for poise…and failing miserably.

Just as she’d feared, Jake looked nonplussed at the question, a pucker forming over the bridge of his nose.  He’d probably gone over this already. “Ed Murray from the Whestleigh Gazette.”

That was the newspaper.

“And Bobby Tomkins at Constitutive Flavor Radio.”

Both. She’d be contacting both.

“Listen, I know this is a big favor to ask—if you’d rather not do it, I completely understand. I can miss a Chamber of Commerce meeting.”

“No,” Kate said sharply, her embarrassment at an all-time high. From the sounds of it, Jake was fast losing faith in her credibility. That was not acceptable.  “No,” she repeated, softer this time. “I just, I’m not good at remembering names that’s all,” she fibbed.

When he didn’t respond, Kate rushed to add: “Please, I want to do this. Let me help you out.” I’d rather not do this! I have no idea what I’m doing. I should not be left in charge.

Jake’s lip pulled upward a little at her words. “I know you can.”

“Go to your meeting,” Kate said, fighting an internal war with herself. She was in way over her head. Jake had given her an out and, idiot that she was, she’d declined it.

Pride was a tough character flaw to shoulder.

“Thanks Kate,” he said and, checking his wristwatch: “Shoot. I’ve got to get going or I’m going to be late.” Jake gained his feet.

Kate also rose from her chair, feeling at a disadvantage.

“Any last minute questions?” he asked, shrugging on a sports coat.

“No.” Kate tried to sound confident. “Oh, wait,” she said, when his hand reached for the door. It just occurred to her—she couldn’t remember him saying…

“Yeah?”
Kate pretended to look down at her notes, her brow furrowed, trying, at least, to look adept at her job. “I want to double-check that I’ve got the author’s name written down correct. Will you spell it out for me?”

Kate figured that sounded plausible. Better then admitting she plum couldn’t recall which novelist they were showcasing at the event.

But Jake just looked confused. “What?”

“The author—”

“Her book is on the desk Kate. Right there,” he said, pointing at the large hardcover novel beside his computer. “I put it there for you to reference—along with an excerpt of what she’ll be talking about. I told you that.” The last words were said emphatically.

“Oh,” Kate said. “Right. That’s probably why I skimmed over it in my notes,” she added, tapping her pen against the pad for dramatic effect.

“Kate—”

Before Jake was allowed to get any further, she interrupted him: “That’s all I needed,” she insisted. “Enjoy your meeting.”

“Yeah.” Jake looked at his watch once again then back at Kate, weighing the options.

“You’re going to be late,” she prodded softly.

He sighed, conceding. “Yeah. All right—I’ll keep my phone on me at the meeting. Call if you come across problems,” Jake said uncertainly.

“There won’t be any,” Kate assured him. When Jake still didn’t move, she persisted: “Go. I’ve got this under control.”

“All right,” he said slowly, “Then I guess I’ll leave you to it.” Kate hadn’t thought it was possible, but he sounded even less convinced than before.

Finally though, he left. Kate was alone at last.

Sitting down, her body pressed snug against the desk, she opened a word-processing document. Her fingers trembled. It was fine, she assured herself. It wasn’t a big deal. Kate felt her fingers fix themselves over the keyboard. She could do this. She remembered most of what Jake had said (at least, she thought so), it was just scattered around in bits and pieces; she just had to fit the puzzle together.

It took a long time, and some undoubted back-tracking, with multiple phone calls to both Ed and Bobby’s office, but finally Kate finished the piece:

Upcoming Book Signing at LitLiber

The LitLiber Bookstore is hosting their first ever book signing event, honoring author Lindsay McBride’s recently released novel, “A Life Uncharted,” which follows the journey of a twelve year old girl embarking on the life of a professional gymnast. Join us, from 1-2:30pm on Sunday, December 28th as she shares her experiences writing this gripping story of dedication, obsession, lust, and loss.

 

 

 

Pulling the office door shut behind her, Kate took a moment to congratulate herself: it was done, put to bed, over. She only had a couple hours left of her shift, and then she could begin putting this day behind her. She couldn’t wait. Walking up to the cash register, Kate went to relieve one of the other girls at the check-out counter. She relished the thought of mind-numbing transactions….

At ten minutes to 5:00 p.m., (ten minutes to shift-change) Kate watched Madame Penny breeze through the front door of LitLiber. No sooner had the psychic walked inside then her eyes latched on to Kate. Scurrying over to where she was standing, behind the Customer Service Counter, Penny motioned her over.

“Are you almost done?” Penny asked bluntly—without even a ‘hello’ in welcome. “Otherwise we’re going to be late.”

Shit. Kate had almost forgotten: she and Penny had signed up for a writing class. It was being held that evening, in one of the spare conference rooms located at the back of LitLiber. The class was free to the community and when Penny asked, Kate had agreed to attend with her. Kate figured it would be something to file the time away. Plus, it was the first time in Penny had shown any interest in a subject that wasn’t a little kooky. If Kate was going to pick a time to decline her friend’s invitation, it wasn’t going to be now.

Except…Kate really didn’t feel up to it tonight. Her confrontation with Jake had been a real doozy and that stupid press release had almost cost her sanity. She’d never worked so hard to remember a conversation in her life (particularly, a conversation that had happened within a half an hour of the fact).

“Yeah, but listen—” Kate started.

“I’m so excited for this,” Penny said at the same moment. Her eyes sparkled with it. “Imagine the stories I could tell with the information I know!”

Kate smiled tightly. Penny did look eager. That sealed the deal; choking back a sigh, Kate managed to nod in agreement. She didn’t have the heart to cancel on her friend—especially this late in the day. Whatever, maybe it would be good to go to the class. It might prove a worthwhile distraction from her current x-rated condition.

“Let me clock-out,” Kate said, trying to invoke a little enthusiasm into her voice.

 

 

 

At least a dozen other women were already seated, pens and notebooks out on the table before them, by the time Kate and Penny walked into the classroom. Long rectangular tables spanned the length of the room, lined up, side-by-side, in four rows. The front of the room remained open, with a small podium standing center-stage and a whiteboard at its back.

Scooting down one aisle, Kate and Penny grabbed the last available seats. The large attendance size had Kate wondering who was running the course. Must be one hell of a teacher.  She’d seen the flyers circulating around the building, but before Penny had tossed the idea her way, Kate hadn’t given it much thought. She was learning more enough without it.

Kate’s thoughts were cut short when the door to the room opened once more. Following the crowd, she turned in head in its direction, trying to spy who was walking through it. When a tall, broad-shouldered man with a distinct sandy head of hair came into view, Kate wanted to die.

“Good afternoon! So sorry I’m late,” he announced to the room at large, making his way further inside. He mumbled something about student conferences holding him up and, judging by the sympathetic murmurs in response to this, it appeared all was forgiven. Dropping a shoulder-bag on the floor underneath the whiteboard, he sauntered up to the podium.

Good Christ, he’s teaching this thing? Didn’t Jackson Fischer get enough of that at the high school?

Without wanting to admit it, Kate felt her heartbeat kick up a notch or two. Without wanting to admit it, she felt her excitement for the night’s seminar grow. Without wanting to admit it, she felt herself respond to his presence. Down girl, she reprimanded herself. What the hell had gotten into her? First Jake now Jackson? Her hormones were definitely in overdrive.

“Shall we get started?” Jackson asked rhetorically. Heads bobbed up and down excitedly. Focusing on her breathing, Kate tried to pull herself together. The day had gone from awkward to weird.

Jackson was addressing to the class: “…last week we did an exercise in imagery, consisting of a five hundred word essay describing one memory by using all five senses,” Jackson carried on, the undulation of his voice steady and sure. “I’ll pass those back now, with my comments and feedback. To those joining us for the first time: welcome! Don’t worry if you’ve missed any of the previous discussions—each class is structured fairly independent of those preceding and following it.

“While we will continue employing the use of imagery, it will not be the primary objective in this week’s lesson. Instead, we are going to learn how to properly express (and harness) our writing by applying it to a very specific literary genre—to get a better acquainted with the individual rules and formulas which govern these fields of study. As an adult writing class, some of the content we’ll explore will be of a mature nature. On that note, there is one particular style of writing which has just recently blossomed in popularity. Its genus was once thought to be taboo…a guilty pleasure,” Jackson insinuated.

“Today we’re going to review—and you are going to write–erotica!”

The giggling gasp that followed his words effectively disguised the paling of Kate’s face.

Welp, so much for distracting her libido.

 

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