If Only..., page 8
“No,” she says, her lip trembling. “It’s just a weird feeling. Not a bad one, a really good one. I’m just being an emotional, silly girl,” she says with a shaky laugh. She leans forward and kisses me. “That was everything I dreamed it would be.”
I pull out of her, peel the condom off and throw it into the bin in the corner of my room. I wrap myself around her body and snuggle under the covers with her as we both fall asleep in each other’s arms.
“You’re everything I’ve ever dreamed of,” I whisper.
Lorna raises her eyebrows at me as I walk past her. I plonk myself down at my desk, noticing a new desk opposite mine that’s completely empty.
“That’s quite an outfit you’re wearing,” Lorna says as she towers over me.
I ignore her and nod towards the empty desk. “Do you think Gerard is getting another PA?”
She looks over her shoulder and then shrugs as she sits down on the corner of my desk. “Fuck the new desk. What’s going on with that dress?”
I glance down at my white Karen Miller fitted dress with a zip in the back that falls from the neck to the hem. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” I smile and bat my lashes at her.
“You wouldn’t be able to pull that off if you’d got crappy pale skin like mine.”
“I knew my father being Italian would come in useful one day,” I reply.
She laughs. “Your hair looks amazing, by the way. Did Georgia do it?”
I nod. “I love it,” I confess. “I would never have dreamed of using bleach on hair as dark as mine, but I think it works like this.”
“It does,” she says. “It looks all silky and smooth too. Makes me just want to touch it.”
I giggle and lean forward so she can ruffle her fingers through my hair.
“I feel like I’m at Crufts and I’ve been allowed to pet the best dog in show,” she says, patting my head.
“Oi.” I laugh and sit back down.
“So, how was the party last night?”
“It was good, but I drank too much.”
“You drank?” she asks, sounding confused. “But I thought you were sedated yesterday?”
“I was.” I massage my temples and sigh. “I shouldn’t have touched a drop, which probably explains why I feel like shit today.”
She laughs and squeezes my shoulder. “Go and get some sausage down ya neck.” She clicks her tongue when I raise my eyebrow at her. “Not that kind of sausage. Dirty mare.”
“Lorna,” someone calls from her desk. He holds her phone up and shakes it. “Call for you.”
She rolls her eyes and slides off my desk. “I’ve got to go. But don’t think I didn’t notice how you stared at the fit new guy on Monday,” she says.
I log on to my computer and check my e-mails, groaning when I see that Gerard has asked me to organise a team bonding day in two weekends’ time. I flag the message to come back to later and print off two copies of his calendar for today.
“Morning, Evie, luv,” says Gerard cheerily.
I look up to see Cole standing in front of me with Gerard right behind him. I blink, wondering how long he’s been standing there, and smile at Gerard.
“Good morning, sir,” I say. “I’ve just printed off your calendar. Shall we meet to discuss your day?”
“Yes, that sounds good,” he says. “Would you mind getting me a coffee first? I’ve had a shit of a morning on that bloody bike and I’ve got a hangover from hell. Why the fuck did you let me organise a pissing party on a weeknight?”
I’ve been wondering that myself. “Erm,” I say, standing up from my seat, “because you asked me to?”
“Don’t get smart, Evie. It’s beneath you,” he says, grinning at me. “Next time I ask you to do something, just completely fucking ignore me.” He huffs and starts to undo his jacket over his big belly.
“I’m assuming you don’t want me to ignore your request for coffee?”
Gerard looks me up and down and then shakes his head. “Get one for yourself too.”
“I can go,” Cole offers. “I was just about to head that way.”
“Evie needs to go.” Gerard walks into his office only to come back out a second later with a pile of envelopes. “She needs to go that way to ship these,” he says, handing them over to me. “Same day and signature, please.”
I nod and tuck them under my arm.
“I’ll walk with you then,” says Cole.
We don’t speak as we walk across the trading floor. When we reach the corridor, Cole falls into step behind me and my skin suddenly prickles as if it can feel his eyes raking all over it. We have to wait for the lift, which feels awkward as hell as we stand side-by-side, not speaking.
When the lift finally arrives, it’s too full for us to get in. I huff as the doors slide shut, then I turn to head for the stairwell. I push open the door, and I’m just about to start down the steps when I feel strong fingers wrap around my arm. Cole tugs me back and pushes me up against the wall, flattening me to it with his whole body.
“That’s a pretty fucking dangerous dress to be wearing,” he growls.
I forget about hating him as the warmth of his body spreads throughout mine. His smell wraps around me, encasing me in a shell of familiarity that transports me back to a time when I would have gladly unzipped my dress to show him exactly how dangerous it was and then offered myself to him, letting him have whatever he wanted.
I look down at his suit to see he’s wearing a dark navy one today with an expensive-looking pale blue shirt underneath it. His dark brown hair is styled messily on the top of his head, and he has just a tiny spattering of stubble along his jaw.
“I missed you, you know,” he says.
I hate myself for noticing the past tense, and I hate even more how much it stings.
He lowers his head and looks into my eyes. He’s close—too close. I shut my eyes, imagining how easy it would be for him to brush his soft lips against mine and for me to kiss him back. I have no doubt that kiss would be perfect and just like it used to be, that I’d forget it’s his fault I’m broken beyond repair. He’d just be Cole. The only boy I’ve ever loved. The boy I trusted with my life. The boy who I loved more than life itself.
“I want you,” he breathes against my ear, causing me to shiver.
I want you too, but it’s wrong . . . so wrong that I should stop this.
I feel his forehead against mine, and then I hear him whisper three words that make me hate him again.
“But I can’t.”
My eyes snap open and I push him away from me. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” I spit. I feel stupid and embarrassed, causing heat to creep up my neck and burst out onto my cheeks.
“I’m engaged to be married,” he says.
The world starts to shake all around me. My vision goes blurry, and I place my hand over my chest . . . over my aching heart. He’s engaged? To whom? Why?
“When?” I breathe.
“Four months,” he answers. “Just after this transition.”
“Winter?” I say, but I don’t know why I say it.
“Summer reminds me too much of you.”
I’m in shock. That’s why I’m shaking. That’s why I feel like I’m going to be sick. “I wasn’t expecting that,” I say. “I mean . . . it’s so soon.”
He frowns. “What do you mean?”
“I just didn’t think you’d have had time to find someone already, that’s all.”
“I got out two years ago, Evie.”
“I see,” I say, my voice trembling.
“I looked for you,” he tells me. “I had no idea you’d moved to London. I couldn’t find your mum either.”
“She went back to her maiden name afterwards,” I whisper. He rolls his eyes as if he’s annoyed that he didn’t think of that.
Cole is getting married. He loves someone enough to marry her and spend the rest of his
“We’d better go and get that coffee,” he finally says, stepping away from me. He turns and walks down the stairs before stopping and turning to look at me over his shoulder.
My heart screams at him for doing this to us all those years ago. We’d have been happy; I know we would have. We might have been young, but that love I felt for him was real. And he wanted me. Only me. We loved each other with everything we had.
“You’re looking really good, Evie,” he says. “Beautiful, actually.” He smiles, but it’s not a happy smile. “It’s really good to see you again.”
My knees start to shake as I hold the envelopes up for him to see “Would you mind getting a coffee for Gerard? I have to get these shipped before the courier gets here.”
I turn and barge through the door without waiting for his answer, then run down the corridor with tears streaming down my face. When I’m safely locked in the toilets, I cry my heart out.
“Why does it have to be me?” I ask, staring at the two of them.
Nico smiles and nudges Evie. “You’re the foster kid. You’re expected to do bad shit.”
“That’s not fair.”
“He’s joking,” Evie says, frowning at Nico.
Nico gives me a thumbs up and grins. Jerk. “Where is it?” I ask.
“In the globe thing,” Nico tells me. “The little drinks cabinet that used to get cracked open at Christmas.”
I nod, knowing which one he means, and walk away from them.
We’re outside on possibly one of the coldest nights of the year. There are tons of fairy lights and lanterns strung all around the garden. People are laughing and dancing, but there’s an unspoken sadness that hovers over us like the cold mist because this is the first time we’re starting a new year without Evie and Nico’s dad.
I slip in through the open patio doors and walk through the kitchen and into the hallway. When I push open the door to the living room, I freeze, finding Mrs Romano sat on the sofa with her face buried in her hands.
“Mrs Romano,” I whisper, closing the door behind me. “Are you okay?”
She sniffs and looks up. Her eyes are red raw and her face is soaking wet. “Oh, Cole,” she sobs. “I’m just having a moment.”
I sit down besides her not quite knowing what to say or do. “Should I get Nico and Evie?”
“No,” she says, shaking her head. “They don’t need to see me like this.”
“I think it’s okay to be upset,” I tell her.
She smiles sadly and blows her nose into a tissue. She touches my cheek and looks up at me. “You love my daughter?”
“You’re a good boy,” she says. “I love you as if you were my own. Roberto did too.”
I think I already knew that. “You’ve both been really good to me,” I say. “I’m very grateful.”
“Will you promise me something, Cole?”
I nod. “Anything.”
“Don’t break her heart,” she says. “People can fall out of love, I understand that, but please don’t do anything to break her.”
“I promise,” I whisper.
She quickly pulls me into a hug, and then she starts to really cry against me. I’m not good at physical contact, unless it’s with Evie, so I just pat her back gently and let her cry on my shoulder.
Five minutes later, she pulls away from me and wipes her face dry. “There,” she says with a fake smile. “That feels better. Sometimes you just need to have a good ol’ cry, you know?”
“Now what did you come in here for?” she asks.
I take a deep breath. “They bullied me into coming to steal some vodka.”
She laughs. “Those two are naughty and they’re only sixteen.”
“I know,” I say.
She stands up, walks over to the decanter and pulls the top off. “I’ll make you a deal,” she says. “I’ll gladly let you have this,” she says, waving an almost empty bottle at me, “if you promise me that this is all you’ll have between the three of you. I’m sure you can’t get alcohol poisoning from two little sips each.”
I grin at her. “Okay.”
She hands the bottle over to me and I shove it up my coat, which makes her frown. “I have to make it look like I actually stole it,” I say.
“Ah, good plan.”
“There you are!” says Evie, running up to me. “We thought you’d gotten caught.”
“I nearly did,” I tell her, pulling the bottle from my coat. “This is all I could get.”
Nico takes the bottle from my hand and pulls a face. “It’ll have to do,” he says. “I found some shot glasses.”
We sit down on the chairs under the patio heater and pour ourselves a shot each. “Ready?” Nico asks, holding up his glass up.
“Yup,” I say.
“To us three,” he says.
I laugh—Nico’s never been known for his eloquence—and raise my glass to clink it against his. “To us three,” I repeat.
Evie is so excited that she raises hers too quickly and ends up spilling some of the liquid down her arm.
“What a berk,” Nico says, laughing.
“To us three!” she squeals.
We all throw the vodka down our throats in one go and then end up coughing for the next two minutes.
“It’s burning,” Evie complains.
I laugh at her wide eyes and how she fans her open mouth.
“I can’t believe you’re seventeen next week,” Nico says to me. “It sucks that our birthday isn’t until August.”
I shrug. “There’s not much difference from being sixteen,” I say. “It’s not like I can legally drink or vote.”
“You can drive,” he says. “Just think of all the places we can go when you’ve passed your test.”
I glance at Evie and the way her eyes sparkle at the thought. Is she thinking what I’m thinking?
It’s Friday morning and I’ve somehow managed to avoid Cole for the past two days. Sitting down at my desk, I notice a new computer on the new desk opposite mine. I frown, wondering why Gerard hasn’t mentioned the new PA, but start to shift through the pile of receipts by my screen.
Cole’s staying at the Guoman hotel located near Tower Bridge. I run past there a lot when I do longer runs with Aiden. Thinking about Aiden reminds me that I need to catch up with him. We’re training for next year’s London marathon, and we’re supposed to be doing a long run this weekend. I hope he hasn’t forgotten.
I put the hotel receipt to one side because I need to make a more permanent booking arrangement for Cole, preferably somewhere that’s cheaper and closer so he doesn’t have to keep taking taxis to work. When I get to the food receipts, I find myself looking at each one to see what sort of food he’s been eating. He seems to like steak and fish, and he always orders an extra serving of vegetables. He also frequently has a bottle of red wine with his meals, and they’re not cheap. I make a note to check our policy regarding expenses to see what the limit is for meals.
The time he eats varies wildly too. Some of these receipts are time-stamped at around ten at night, and I can’t help wondering what he’s been doing with himself until that time. How can anyone hold out for their tea so long?
I total up his receipts and realise that he’s already spent nearly a thousand pounds. How on earth does he have that kind of money?
I pick up the phone and call our HR department. I know I shouldn’t be sneaking about, but I’m sure I could think of a perfectly acceptable excuse if I needed to.
“HR, David speaking.”
“Hi, David, it’s Evie Romano from the trading floor.”
“Can you do me a favour and email me over a copy of the contract that Cole Bennett has signed?”
“I guess so.”
“You guess so?”
“Okay, yeah,” he says, sighing. “I’ll send it in a minute.”
He puts the phone down without saying goodbye, and I find myself smiling at his typical student-like behaviour.
I gather the receipts and staple the printout from my electronic calculator, then paper clip them to the expenses form. I start to fill it out when I realise I don’t have his account details. Perfect excuse as to why I asked for a copy of his contract.
My email pings, and I quickly open the email and download the PDF. I feel my eyes widening as I scan through the list of references that we’ve apparently confirmed and details of previous employment and education. There’s a complete record for the past eight years, including four years spent at a university. How has he managed to get away with lying about his qualifications and his whereabouts?
I take a sip of my coffee and then almost spit it back out when I get to the confirmation of his salary. He’s paid pro-rata, but he earns three times as much as I do. What the hell? Even if he’s faked the references and the degree, he clearly still has enough knowledge to do the job he’s been employed for, so where has he learned it all?
I feel pissed off with him for a completely different reason now. He doesn’t deserve a nice job that pays well. He doesn’t deserve anything more than a cell for the rest of his life.
I’m shaking my head when he sits down at the desk opposite me. Speak of the devil.
“Hi,” he says.
I flick my eyes up to him but ignore him. Why is he sitting at that desk?
“Great,” he mumbles. “Back to acting like a child again.”
“Fuck you,” I whisper.
“I heard that,” he says.
I pull up a new email and type out the confirmation of his expenses.
I don’t look up, but I hear him typing away. My email pings a second later.
Ugh. Transitions manager? Who gave him that title? I ignore him for the rest of the time he’s sat at the desk. I email a few companies about the team “bonding” session and finally decide on whitewater rafting. The location isn’t too far away, but Gerard wants everyone to have the option to stay in a hotel to make a proper weekend out of it. I tried to remind him that people have lives outside of work, but he wasn’t having any of it.