Imagine Me, page 4
“So, Juliana, do you have any plans this week?” Laney asked, returning to our conversation.
My eyes flicked to Shane who still wasn’t looking at me. Coward. “Actually, I do. I’ve got a date on Friday.” I made sure to say it loud enough so he couldn’t even pretend not to hear.
“Oooh, good for you, girl. Where did you meet? Where is he taking you? Give me some details.”
Again, I looked to Shane. This time he stared back at me from beneath his lashes. “I’m not sure where we’re going. He’s surprising me. But I met him at work. He works on the floor above me in the physics department.”
Shane let out a loud scoff. “Sounds boring.” Reese laughed and elbowed his partner.
I sent a withering glare in Shane’s direction. He had no right to comment on my dates. What a dick.
“He sounds smart.” Laney leaned past Reese and glared at Shane, before sitting back and waiting for more details. “What’s he look like?”
“He’s very sexy in that smart, nerdy kind of way. Very buff, but wears glasses. Think Clark Kent.” I made myself sound more excited than I really felt. I wanted to make sure Shane knew I was fine without him. “And he’s very smart. He’s new at the university, just like me, so, we have that in common.”
“I’m sure he’s just as young and cute as you,” Shane said, interrupting the excited oohs and ahs from Laney. “There’s another thing you have in common with him. A little girl and a little boy on a sweet little date.” One side of his mouth tipped up and leveled a challenging stare at me.
I wanted to slap him each time he said the word “little.” And I didn’t miss the way he reminded me of how “cute” he thought I was.
“Don’t be mean to our new girl, Shane.” Laney waved her hand in his direction. “Just because you have a cold heart doesn’t mean we all have to be miserable.”
“Burn.” Reese laughed and Shane smacked the back of his head. Reese shook it off and turned to Laney with a smooth smile. “Hey, Laney, you know I have a heart of gold and would love to share it with you any time.”
“Please.” Laney chucked at Reese’s come-on. “I know what you want to share with me and it isn’t your heart. And what you do want to share with me . . .” Her eyes dropped to below his waist. “I’m gonna need more than that.”
The table erupted in laughter and I thought I even saw Shane’s lips twitch, but as soon as he caught me staring, they flattened again. Lunch moved quickly after that until we were all getting up to go back to work.
Before I could walk away, Shane gave me one last parting shot.
“Have fun on your cute, little date, Mini MacCabe.”
“There she is.” My brother strode toward me from the bar as I entered an empty King’s. Every Sunday everyone tried to meet up for brunch at Jameson’s bar to catch up on each other’s lives. It had started between Luella and her brother Jameson, then Evie started coming because I guess she was like a sister to Lu and is now dating Jameson, and then finally Jack came in once he started dating Lu. Because of Jack, I was invited to attend these weekly meet-ups. I didn’t mind them, they were actually a lot of fun. They just weren’t a priority.
The first month after I moved, I came religiously, my stupid heart pumping harder at the thoughts I’d conjured in my head with my stupid imagination. I would picture myself walking into the bar one day and finding Shane sitting there, waiting for me with a smile. He was part of the group, being so close to Jack, but behaved more like an outsider.
Of course, he never showed, and I was too much of a coward to ask if he ever came. Eventually, the brunches became less important and I spent my Sundays in my pajamas. Today though, Jo had a friend coming over and I promised I’d make myself scarce.
“I’m glad you decided to grace us with your presence this week,” Jack said sarcastically.
Luella came up behind him and smacked his arm. “Ignore him.”
“He’s just lonely because he doesn’t have another MacCabe to stick up for him.” Evie chimed in from the table.
Luella rolled her eyes with a laugh. “Anyways. I hope you like pizza. We made enough for an army.”
“I would never turn down pizza. Especially free pizza.”
Before I could sit, Jack held me back by the door. “You have to call Mom and Dad more. They worry.”
Translation? He was tired of getting phone calls asking for updates.
“I call them plenty. They don’t need me to call every five seconds.”
“Jules, you’re the baby of the family. They worry.”
“They let you go off to war and didn’t give you shit when you moved here. So, what’s the difference?”
“Because you were the unexpected surprise they always wanted. Mom and Dad would give you the world, but you know they’re a little old fashioned about men’s and women’s roles.”
I scoffed. “Oh yeah. I know. Like how they want me to stay close so they can take care of me until I find a strong suitable husband to step in. Maybe they can find a goat as a dowry.”
“You’re being dramatic.”
“I’m not. I’m doing my best on my own, and it’s frustrating when it feels like everyone around me is hoping I fail.”
Jack’s lips pinched. He tried to be neutral, but he always took on the big brother role. He was the only reason my parents hadn’t had me kidnapped and taken back to Texas. They trusted him to keep an eye on me.
“We’re not pushing you to fail. It’s just hard for them to feel good about you so far away when you don’t even keep in touch and drive a shitty car.”
I dug my finger into his chest. “Betsy is wonderful and I won’t have you talking about her like that.”
“Betsy is a junker waiting to break down.”
“She’s mine and I paid for her. I earned her all on my own. Most parents would be proud of their child’s independence.”
“Most parents can’t afford to buy both of their kids five cars each.”
“Most parents wouldn’t expect their daughter to stay home and be nothing more than a trophy wife.” I took a deep breath to calm the anger rising up inside me. “Besides, I only need one car, and I choose Betsy.”
He heaved a sigh and wrapped an arm around my shoulder. “Come on, let’s drop it and go sit down.”
“How’s work going in the lab?” Lu asked once we all settled down.
“It’s good. I had a pretty successful gel and we were able to collect some new data from that. Now it’s just on to the western blot test.” I explained my research knowing that she understood all the lingo since she worked in medical research. I ignored the way Evie rolled her eyes as we slipped into ‘nerd-zone’ as she called it.
“Oh, that’s so exciting when something goes right. I swear it takes a thousand tries to move an inch,” Lu said.
“We’ve talked about various ways of extracting the strand of DNA and putting it through individual tests. That is, if the professor leading the lab lets us.”
“Why wouldn’t he?”
“He’s a misogynistic pig. He’s one of those guys who looks down on women and questions everything we do. It takes ten times longer to do things because he wants us to report back to him on the most intermediate tasks.”
“Ugh. What a douche.”
The door to the bar opened, halting our conversation, and in walked the man I’d given up hope on ever showing up to a Sunday brunch. Too bad it was too late. I was no longer filled with excitement, but with disgust and frustration. Maybe anger. Too bad my body hadn’t gotten the message. My pulse raced and my heart beat harder just seeing Shane’s tall, broad frame fill the door.
“Oh, thank god!” Evie shouted, throwing her hands up in the air. “You saved us from our minds exploding listening to these two geek out. Thank you, Shane. You’re my hero.” She pressed her hands together under her chin and batted her eyelashes.
“Hey, now,” Jameson said.
Evie laughed and
“Ah, the elusive Shane finally shows. How many years have we been trying to get you to come?” Jack asked.
“Two, asshole. And I’ve showed up a few times.” He took off his jacket and walked toward the table, doing his best to not look at me, but I caught his eyes flick in my direction at least twice before he finally sat. Right across from me. My lips twitched at how miserable he probably was at the seating arrangement.
“Shane, you remember Juliana.” Jack introduced me, thinking we’d only seen each other twice.
“Vaguely,” Shane said.
Asshole. Such an asshole. “You’re so full of shit,” I said, rolling my eyes. “I saw Shane earlier this week and will continue to see him about twice a week now that I have that position at the station.”
I’d told Jack about the work I’d be doing in the forensic lab when I’d first learned about it. He was happy for me, but it was Luella who sat me down after dinner and asked me all kinds of questions. God, I loved having a sister who understood my love of science.
“Oh, hey, I didn’t realize that you’d be at Shane’s station,” Jack said.
Shane nodded his thanks to Jameson for the beer he brought him, and muttered, “Neither did I,” before taking a long pull.
“Sounds like you’re both thrilled to be so close to each other.” Evie laughed at her own sarcastic comment.
“Well, this is great,” Jack said. “Shane make sure you take care of her. I know how those assholes can be at the station. Bunch of perverts.”
“Speaking of perverts.” Evie clapped her hands and gave me a wink. “How is dating all the men in Cincinnati going?”
“I don’t want to hear about my sister’s love life,” Jack whined.
“Hush. Let the girl talk,” Evie said. “It’s Sunday brunch. Everyone shares.”
Jack leveled a stare at Jameson, probably some guy code to control your woman, but Jameson just wrapped an arm around Evie and drank from his beer. Evie was not one to be controlled.
“Meh. It’s okay.” I shrugged and reached for my glass of wine, spinning it on the table. “I had a date Friday, but it just wasn’t going well.” I took a drink and looked across the table at Shane to find him smirking at me. “But after he left, I stayed for another drink and ended up meeting someone. We have a date tonight.” I held his icy gaze the whole time, his smirk falling to a flat line.
Luella catcalled and Evie said, “You go girl.”
“Jules, do you think it’s smart to be dating so much?”
I turned to my brother and gave him a blank stare. “I’m going to pretend you didn’t just say that. Or I’ll have to start bringing up your earlier years, and I’d hate to do that in front of your wife.”
He stared at me, irritated, and drank from his beer rather than respond. But when Shane let a choked laugh slip out, Jack leveled his glare on him. “Don’t even get me started on you, man-whore.”
Luella spoke up—loudly. “Anyhoo . . . Anyone else have anything fascinating to share?”
Evie had a new overseas fashion project that could make her a bigger designer than she already was. Jameson was set to open his new bar next month, expanding King’s to a new area. Jack regaled us with stories about the types of clients that came in and tried to hire his security services. And Luella and I lost ourselves in conversation when she started talking about her project at work.
“So, what about you Shane? Anything new in your life?” Lu asked.
“Any new ladies?” Evie taunted.
Jealousy set fire to my blood. He may not have wanted me, but I didn’t want to sit there and listen to him talk about women he thought were more worthy than me. I stared at him, waiting for his answer. He leaned back in his chair, his long legs stretched out in front of him, ankles crossed as one hand casually turned his beer. He looked like he didn’t have a care in the world, while I sat there, each second tightening my muscles a little more.
Finally, he put me out of my misery.
“Not really. No one to bring home to mom.”
Jack laughed. “You don’t have a mom.”
They both laughed like it was an inside joke, but my chest pinched at the possible reasons why he didn’t have a mom. Had she died? Were they estranged? I had to bite my tongue to keep from asking.
“Even if I did have one.”
“Well, maybe we can keep you roped into coming to these get-togethers, and one day you’ll walk through the door with some lucky lady on your arm.”
I swallowed hard when Shane leveled me with a stare across the table. He lifted his beer for a drink and before it touched his lips, he muttered, “Maybe.”
That one word seemed to have more weight than what it seemed. At least, it weighed on me. I thought about it the rest of brunch and on my drive home, completely distracted. The idea of him walking into the bar with his hand wrapped in someone else’s taunted me.
It wasn’t until I was getting out of my car that I checked my phone and saw a text from Hudson that made me want to throw my phone.
Hudson: You know I still love you right. If you’re worried about being alone here, I just want to reassure you that you were always the one for me. Call me later.
Still loved me? It had been so long and I’d already changed so much. What would he think of me if I told him about my night with Shane, about the things I now craved from a man? Things Hudson had never given me. Would he be so eager to have me then?
I jogged down the hall to our lab at school. Today was a day I was supposed to be at the department, but first I needed to grab an updated book on some of the equipment. The technicians were quick to pick up the protocols and this book was a great tool. I turned the corner and bumped into a wall. Well, maybe not exactly a wall, I realized as I stumbled back and stared up into a pair of smiling brown eyes.
“Whoa. Careful there.” Dr. Voet gripped my upper arms to help keep me on my feet. “Where’s the fire?”
I laughed. “No fire, just trying to run in for a book.” I swallowed, always nervous around him, and brushed my hair back from my face. “Sorry about that.”
“No worries.” His grip loosened and his hands dragged down to my elbows before letting go. That was normal. A harmless, normal gesture. “I’m glad I ran into you—or actually you into me. I wanted to ask you how things were going at the police department.”
“Great. They have all new equipment and, not that I would admit to anyone, I may have Googled how to turn on the HPLC. Turns out they moved the on switch to the other side.”
“It’s always the smallest things that trip us up. And how are the technicians? Are they picking up on it okay?”
“Yeah, they’re doing great. Really fast learners and they ask all the right questions. Thank goodness.”
“Good. One of them used to do research in my lab a few years ago. Frank, I think.”
“Oh, yeah. Frank is really funny and very smart.” Frank was probably too advanced to be a technician, but said he didn’t have the time to devote to going to grad school.
“Well, I won’t keep you. I just wanted to check in to see how it was going, and I always seem to miss you on the days you’re here. Keep up the good work.” I almost choked on my tongue when his hand patted my shoulder and then dragged down my arm before he walked away. I tried to decide if the giggle bubbling up my throat was from nerves or excitement at the overly familiar touch.
“Lingering in the hallway is unacceptable and a waste of time,” Jolene said in a deep voice behind me. I turned and rolled my eyes. “Don’t let Dr. Stahl see you. You know how much he hates when you waste time instead of slaving away over his notes.”
I walked alongside her to our room. “I’m just swinging by to grab a book and then I’m heading out.”
“Well, you can take five minutes to give me the DL. I feel like we’re ships passing in the night and never have time to catch up at work.”
“Not my faul
She bit her lip and smiled. “I know, I know. But he makes my late nights at his place worth it.”
I smirked. “I bet he does.”
“Okay. Tell me. How is the station with Shane, and how was your date Sunday night?”
“Honestly, other than that one time, I haven’t really seen Shane at the station. They keep me locked away with all the pretty new equipment.”
“Ugh, bitch. I’m so jealous of all your cool toys.”
“Don’t be too jealous. My date Sunday was a bust. He was a total creeper. I think he applied four thousand coats of Chapstick throughout the night. And would only drink half a cup of water before demanding a fresh, new one. Also, his hand tapped against the table the entire meal. So annoying.”
“Wow. Sounds . . .Awesome. Were his lips at least soft at the end of the night?” she asked, sounding hopeful.
“Er. I wouldn’t know because I was not going to even try.”
“Are you giving up? I know this weekend was a bust.”
“Hell, no. I met another guy at the supermarket on Tuesday, and he’s taking me out Saturday.”
“Yes, girl.” She lifted her hand for a high-five.
“Okay, I have to get going. Let’s make a date for ice cream, pizza, and movies soon.”
“You had me at ice cream.”
Mercifully, I made it out of the building without running into Dr. Stahl. Last time I saw him, he gave me a disapproving speech about falling behind in my research, and informed me that he knew it was hard for a woman to multitask effectively, but to at least try. I thought I was going to need to make an appointment with the dentist after grinding my teeth through that talk. He was such a dick.
When I strolled into the lab, Laney greeted me with a smile. “Before you get settled can you take this up to the Chief? They’re the results he’s waiting on for a case.”
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