East Coast, West Coast – Part Seven

I had been staring at the text on my phone for almost ten minutes and I still couldn’t believe what I was reading.

Looking forward to this weekend.

It was from Scott. And on the weekend was my parents’ annual Christmas party. He’d never been invited before. Usually it was family and friends, people who lived close. Not Scott Banks. He wasn’t invited. He couldn’t be invited. I hadn’t heard from him since I’d left his hotel room after the vow renewal. No texts, no calls. I’d slowly begun to accept that we were, for want of a better phrase, friends with benefits. Less than that actually, since we were hardly even friends. He was – just – my dad’s friend who I occasionally fucked. Very unromantic, very unfriendly.

But if it was so meaningless, then why did five goddamn words make my heart beat faster? And not just that. They made me feel guilty, made me furtively glance around the office as if someone was watching me and knew what I was doing. Not that I had anything to feel guilty about. We were two adults. We could do what we wanted. Well, so long as my parents didn’t find out.

This weekend. It was Monday – just over a week since I’d left him asleep in his hotel room. The weekend suddenly seemed very far away. I looked at my schedule; all the things I had to do before I’d see him again. So much. So much time. The party was on Saturday night. I hadn’t even decided what to wear yet.

***

All week, he sent me video clips. Porn. People moaning. Men restraining women. Fucking them. Using them. God, porn is such a nasty thing. You know how wrong it is and yet you simply can’t stop watching it. I’d play the videos over and over, trying to stop myself from enjoying them. It was so much harder than I’d thought. And what made it even more so, was the knowledge that soon enough Scott would show up in person. No videos, no texts, just him. His voice. His body.

By the time the night of the party arrived, my stomach was in knots. I got home and took a long hot shower before slipping into a short, black party dress. I did my makeup and spent half an hour debating over which shoes to wear. Did it matter? Of course it mattered. Even though it was a regular party at my parents’ house, everything would be changed by the mere presence of Scott. I tried not to think of him but it was impossible.

Half of me felt like staying home. Maybe he wouldn’t want me anymore. Maybe he wasn’t going to show up. After all, he’d been to New York two times already in the last month. Surely it’d be weird for him to show up again for a low-key Christmas party. I got into the back of a cab and made small talk with the driver. I don’t remember what I said. I was so preoccupied, it could have been anything.

I was late. I scanned the crowds of people dispersed around the house. No. No. No. I didn’t see him. Was I relieved? Or disappointed? I checked my phone. Nothing. My brother came up and handed me a drink, told me about his overpriced babysitter and his fear that his hair was falling out. I told him it looked great, which it did. He took my coat and went to hang it up.

Then I saw Scott. He was with someone. A woman. I leaned against the wall, desperately hoping I would somehow sink into it. Maybe there was the door to a secret passage behind me and I could end up in a bar in Manhattan with lots and lots of alcohol. Scott was coming over. I couldn’t pretend I hadn’t seen him. The wall refused to give way. I straightened up.

“Hey,” I said casually, as though I was a girl whose senses hadn’t gone away for the holidays.

“Hey, Ally,”

He smiled at me. Our eyes met. It made my knees weak. I tore my eyes away from his to look at the woman next to him. She looked to be in her mid-thirties and was wearing a white, lacy dress. On anyone else, it would’ve looked too summery, too wedding-y but she looked perfect. I wanted to hate her but her smile was way too nice.

“This is Amber Lake,” Scott said.

“Oh,” I tried for a smile. “Hey. I’m Ally.”

“Lovely to meet you, Ally,” Her voice was warm.

She leaned in for an awkward hug. Strangers don’t hug. Jeez. She smelled incredible. I found myself praying she was his sister or cousin or that she was into women or something, anything that could stop the two of them being an item.

“We work together back home,” Scott explained.

I nodded. I still wasn’t satisfied.

“Right,” Amber laughed. “Only he doesn’t actually work. He just walks around looking important.”

She tucked a loose strand of honey-blonde hair behind her ear. She looked so goddamn Californian. Tanned and thin and healthy and chilled-out and beautiful.

“I’m a swimming teacher,” she clarified.

“That’s – nice,” I smiled.

Fuck. Weren’t swimmers meant to be fat? Or at least have bad hair?

“You never said you were bringing anyone,” I said to Scott. “Not that it matters. The more the merrier, right?”

“Right,” Scott said, frowning at me.

“That’s probably my fault,” Amber cut in. She looked vaguely worried. “I only came over here to visit a relative and I wasn’t doing anything tonight so Scott invited me over here.”

“Your dad knows her,” Scott said to me. “In fact, he’ll probably be made up when he realises you’re here, Amber.”

“I’ll go tell him,” I said brightly, and hurried away to avoid further awkward conversation.

Amber Lake. Co-workers. Why did I care so much? He was allowed to have friends. We weren’t a couple. He could do whatever the hell he wanted. I downed my drink and put the glass down hard in the kitchen. I found my father regaling guests with the story of how he and my mother had met. Everybody knew the story. The whole goddamn world knew how my parents had met. I caught his elbow, made some excuses and steered him away.

“Scott’s here,” I said breezily. “And some woman called Amber. Apparently you know her.”

Dad looked at me expectantly.

“They’re here together? Do you think they’re together together?” He literally rubbed his hands with excitement. “Those two sure would make a great couple.”

I gulped. “What?!”

He frowned at me. “Don’t you agree?”

“I hardly know either of them,” I said, a little too defensively.

“Well, take my word for it. Where the hell are they anyway?”

I pointed them out across the room and watched as he went over. A couple? What the hell did Dad know? Amber looked way too nice for Scott. And yet, the more I watched them, the edgier I became. They did seem to get on very well. And Scott behaved differently around her than he did around other women. He was more careful, like he was trying too hard.

It was surreal to watch. I couldn’t watch. I went back into the kitchen and fixed myself another drink, heavy on the rum, light on the coke. I sipped at it and tried to concentrate on what someone was telling me about their child’s carol-singing talent. I was eventually saved by none other than Amber Lake who apparently had a very pressing question to ask me.

“What is it?” I asked, a little anxiously.

“Oh, nothing,” she said, guiding me away. “You just looked like you were losing the will to live,”

I laughed. “Well, thanks.”

I noticed that her eyes were green. People with green eyes are always prettier than regular people.

“So, you managed to escape Scott?” I asked lightly.

She smiled. “Yeah. How long have you known him?”

“Oh. Well, not long,” I said, quite honestly, “He’s friends with my dad. We only met a month ago.”

She nodded.

“So is it serious?” she asked, her eyes on mine.

I blinked.

“Is what serious?”

“You and him,” she said, like it was obvious. “It’s kinda hard for me to get my head around it, to be honest.”

I drank some more coke-tinted rum.

“Did he tell you?” I asked hollowly.

She laughed. “No. No. Look, Ally, I won’t tell anyone, okay? And it’s probably none of my business. In fact, it definitely isn’t my business.” She shook her head. “Forget I said anything.”

“But how do you even know?”

She smiled.

“Just the way you looked at each other.” Her hand touched my arm. “It’s fine. Why don’t we change the subject? Where’d you work?”

It didn’t take long for her to spin a conversation. We talked. We drank. We laughed. We even exchanged phone numbers. For a while, I forgot all about Scott. Amber told me about growing up in California, going to dance school, then studying law at university. She’d worked in business for years. She’d never been married, but had been stood up at the altar once.

“It was my wake-up call,” she said, brushing off my shocked sympathies. “I was so embarrassed and angry that I ran away and went on my honeymoon alone. Then I quit my job and started teaching kids to swim. Honestly, Ally, it was the best thing that could’ve happened to me at that point in my life. Now I’m happy, you know? I feel like I’m helping people and I’m having fun, I’m not stressed out all the time and I’m surrounded by wonderful people. Everything works out in the end.” She shrugged. “Besides, being single is the best, isn’t it? No-one to report back to. You can go on dates, flirt as much as you like. It’s pure freedom.”

“But wouldn’t you ever want to – I don’t know – settle down? If you met someone ideal?”

She smiled. “Ally, I meet ideal men all the time. But men are crazy. The older they get, the crazier they get. Chasing things that don’t ever materialise. Some of them really need to wake up. But it’s not my job to push the alarm. You can’t control another person, what they think, what they do. You just have to live with it, right?” She shrugged. “Anyway. I need to go call my aunt. Or else she’ll have a heart attack when I show up at her front door tomorrow.”

I watched her head through the party. I’d only met her an hour ago but I already loved her. I knew without a shadow of doubt, that she’d find a way into Scott. Women are smart. Women like Amber were really smart. Scott was already falling and he didn’t even know it but she did. And she’d find a way to make him realise. And maybe they’d live happily ever after.

I wanted to hold onto him but it was selfish. If you can’t give someone what they need, you can’t keep taking up their time. Of course, we had a good time. We had a fantastic time. I’d never met anyone who made me feel the way he did. But what was it? Hotel rooms, text messages, a string of fantasies.

When we were together, it was as though no one else existed. But people did exist. And the age gap existed. And our separate lives existed. And all of that added up to more than sex. Because life is more than sex, even if it doesn’t always feel that way. I knew this and yet just the thought of his name lighting up my phone made my heart beat a little faster. I loved the physicality of our relationship. The push-pull, the violent romance, the secret intensity of it. Closed doors and sweaty skin and words that didn’t come out as words but as moans and gasps.

I didn’t want to let go of him. I wanted to keep doing what we were doing. But then there was the sensible section of my brain, the part that seemed to go mute whenever Scott walked into the room. He was a quarter century older than me. We were never going to be in an official relationship. And of course, I wanted somebody to spend the rest of my life with. He lived on the other side of the country.

My phone made a sound and I fumbled through my bag to find it.

I’m in the study.

I stared at the words. Jesus Christ. Of course, I could ignore him. I could drink some more and talk and pretend it was a regular Christmas party and that I hadn’t been dreaming of him. He didn’t make sense. If I had half a brain, I should stay away from him. He needed someone like Amber. Not even ‘someone like’. He needed Amber Lake. Not me. But what about what I needed? Did I need him? No. But I wanted him. I wanted the feel of his body, the low sound of his voice when he was deep inside me. Fuck.

I was walking quickly, hurrying out into the hall and heading for the study. This would be the last time, I told myself. The last time. And then I’d tell him it wasn’t right and we had to stop. But I needed something to remember. A high to end it on. God, I had zero self-control!

I pushed open the heavy door and slipped inside. Scott was sipping whiskey and looking out of the window. I locked the door.

“You took your time,” he said, not turning around.

“I was talking to Amber,” I said. It wasn’t entirely true, but I wanted to see his reaction. He turned and put his glass down on the desk.

“Why don’t you come over here?” he asked.

I remembered, with a flush, that the last time the two of us had been in the study, I’d been crawling around on my hands and knees. I walked towards him hurriedly, in case he got the idea back in his head.

“I like your dress,” he said.

“Thank you.”

He caught my chin between his thumb and forefinger and tilted it up so we were looking at each other.

“Did you miss me?” he asked, a smile lifting his mouth.

I shrugged.

“Not really.”

His smiled widened. His grip on my chin tightened and he brought his mouth down on mine hard. Instinctively, my hands went up around his neck, fingers dragging into his hair. It was a hungry, desperate kiss. Of course I’d missed him. How could anyone not miss the taste of his mouth, his sweeping tongue, the feeling of losing all control? His hands moved down to my ass and squeezed it hard, making me gasp into his mouth. He moved forward, forcing me to step back until I was bumped up against the desk and then he was pushing me down onto it, his hands moving to pull up my dress, until it was around my waist.

His eyes travelled slowly down my legs.

“I’ve missed this,” he breathed. “And I know you have too.”

He was standing between my legs and his hand moved to tug my panties to the side. He moved fast, freeing his cock from his pants and before I knew what was happening, he was pushing inside me. My eyes closed instinctively and he pushed in hard, forcing me to open them again.

“Oh, god!”

I wanted to touch him, feel his body pressing against mine but we were both still almost fully clothed and besides, he was standing up, too far away. He slammed into me hard, and I was pushed up the desk a little. His hands gripped my waist and he pulled me back down so his cock was buried deep inside me. Then he held me tightly, not giving me an inch to move as he drove into me over and over. It felt so smooth, so natural, and so goddamn good.

“You’ve been waiting for this, haven’t you?” he breathed. “Did you watch all those videos, princess? Did they make you wet?”

I didn’t speak and he pulled out of me suddenly, making me gasp.

“You really need to learn to answer when I ask you a question,” he growled. “Get on your knees.”

I felt a little dazed, confused, even. All I wanted was for him to be inside me again. I hurriedly moved onto my hands and knees and he pushed my dress up, sliding down my panties and untangling them from one leg and then the other. The scrap of black lace ended up on the carpet a few feet away from me. I felt his hand caress my bare ass almost thoughtfully. I knew what was coming but no amount of foreboding could have stopped me gasping when his palm cracked down.

Fuck!”

He sighed. “C’mon, now. How many times have I told you about watching your mouth, kitten?”

Every part of me clenched as he spanked me again, his palm warming and stinging my ass. There was something so pure about the heat of each strike. I tried to concentrate on that feeling of pounding warmth, rather than the pain. He pushed my legs wider apart but didn’t let up. I lost count. My eyes watered. I tried to move away but he got a hold of my ponytail, making me stay in place. Every so often his fingers would move between my legs, feeling how wet I was.

“You fucking love this,” he hissed. “God, you are so – so bad, Ally. You want more?”

“No. Don’t.” I squirmed as he pressed his hand against my burning flesh.

“But you’re dripping for this,” His voice was low and almost tuneful. “You love it when I leave my mark. Every time you sit down you’ll think of me, won’t you? You’ll think of all the things we do together.”

I bit my lip hard as his fingers slicked back and forth between my legs, before he pushed them inside me. Slowly, he moved them in and out of my grasping snatch.

“You like that?” he breathed.

“Uh-huh,” I was sweating, strands of my hair sticking to my flushed face. He moved behind me and his hands took a firm hold of my hips as he pushed inside me again.

“You’re so fucking tight, princess. So, so, tight.”

He fucked me hard, making me fully take each long stroke of his cock. When he finally seemed close to finishing, he pulled out again, making me gasp.

“Turn over,” he growled.

I moved to sit on the carpet, my ass smarting and he pushed me down so I was lying on it. Then he was inside me again, grinding slowly into me so I could feel every last inch going in. It felt incredible. Every time he bottomed out, he would push me hard against the floor, pressing my burning ass against the carpet. He’d never moved so slowly before. It was torturous. I wanted more, I wanted speed, wanted him to fuck me hard until I was pushed over the edge but he didn’t give it to me.

It was so frustrating and yet, there was nothing I could do. When I tried to push back against him, he’d pull away, making me terrified that he might pull out completely. I had to endure him sinking deliberately inside me as my snatch throbbed with need. He was watching me the whole time, watching the silent pleas travel across my face. I would’ve hated him if it wasn’t for the shot of pleasure that each measured stroke sent through my body. I couldn’t even look at him.

“You got something to say?” he asked. “You look awful angry, kitten.”

Our eyes met for a second and his face broke into a smile.

“You’re so goddamn – perfect,” he breathed. “What is it? Say it. What d’you want?”

I swallowed hard, my mouth dry. I couldn’t hold his gaze. He moved forward suddenly, his body pressing down against mine as he kissed me again, his mouth moving as slowly as his cock. It was drawn out, romantic almost, his teeth catching my lip and dragging on it.

“Please,” I breathed against his mouth. “Please, Scott.”

“Please what?” His cock was deep inside me and he was barely moving but it was enough to keep me on the edge of despair.

“Go faster,” I couldn’t meet his eyes. He caught my chin again and tried to make me look at him. I couldn’t. I knew he was smiling.

“Okay. If that’s what you want.”

He pulled back suddenly, his hands moving to push my legs wider apart. For the first few thrusts, I found myself wishing I hadn’t spoken. But as he settled into a hard, packing rhythm, I couldn’t help but moan. He pushed in fast and purposefully, driving his hips forward as he pressed my down against the carpeted floor. Being on the floor made me absorb every thrust – there was no give beneath me like there would’ve been on a bed and there was nowhere for me to go. I had to take each stroke of pounding aggression and feel it reverberate through my body.
Scott came hard, forcing himself deep inside me as his fingers moved urgently between my legs, making me cry out and clench around his jerking cock.

I felt his weight on top of me and for a few seconds, it was like we’d hit rewind as we ground against each other desperately. It took a while for the pleasure to stop. I could have quite happily stayed there all night. I pushed at him a little and he drew back.

“I don’t think I could ever get enough of you,” he said. “Seriously. It’s – addictive, isn’t it?”

I found my panties and pulled them on. My ass still hurt. Addictive. It was the right word. I didn’t want to stop what we were doing, not for him, not for me, not for Amber, not for anything.

I watched as he smoothed out his clothing and dropped down into the chair behind the desk. How could I do it? How? When he was sitting there, his eyes watching me and his shirt unbuttoned at the collar, his skin and his veins and muscle and words and attractiveness. I wanted to crawl into his lap. I didn’t want to tell him it was over.
He was smiling a little, maybe picking up on my nerves.

“What’s wrong, princess?” he asked.

“Nothing. Whatcha doing for Christmas?”

He leaned forward, elbows resting on the desk. I examined the books on the bookshelf, wondering if it’d hurt to sit down. There was a short, comfortable silence and then he spoke.

“Jesus.”

I turned to look at him. He’d gone white.

I frowned. “What’s wrong?”

He grabbed one of the photo frames on Dad’s desk.

“Oh, shit!”

I walked behind the desk and looked over his shoulder at the photo. It was of Charlie and my dad standing with their arms around each other at the vow renewal.

“I don’t get it,” I frowned. “What’s wrong?”

He looked at me.

“Don’t you see it? Us?”

Us?”

I stared at the photo and then I was seeing what he was seeing and I had to hold onto the back of his chair. In the background of the photo were Scott and I, his hand quite clearly grabbing my ass. Once I’d seen it, I couldn’t see anything else. For god’s sake! That one inappropriate moment. Looking at it made it feel like it was happening all over again. His head bent so he could speak in my ear. The laughing smile on his face, the involuntary one on mine.

How could we have been so goddamn unlucky? The photo could ruin everything. It was only a matter of time before someone noticed. It would ruin everything. I swallowed hard and then ran through the words again. It would ruin everything. The perfect goddamn excuse. I didn’t want to use it but it was right there, in my face, and I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t capitalise. A get out of jail free card, even though this version of jail was like staying a week at the Plaza. But that was just the thing. A week. Not a lifetime.

I shut my eyes and took a breath.

“Scott, this is very bad.”

I straightened up and let go of the chair, walking around the desk.

“I realise that,” he said drily.

I’d never been a very good actress. In my second grade Nativity play, I was cast as a minor angel. In my sixth grade one, I’d been goddamn Joseph. Yes. Joseph. The man. I took a breath. Scott was smiling, half-bemused.
“It’s not funny,” I snapped. It didn’t sound strong enough.

Scott looked up at me, his smile widening.

“It’s not goddamn funny,” I said, a little louder. “Stop laughing.”

He narrowed his eyes.

“Ally, relax. This isn’t a big issue.”

“No.” I said resolutely. “We have to stop this. We can’t do this anymore.”

His smile disappeared. He stared at me.

“Ally, I can get rid of the photo. I can make a copy, edit it, no one will know. It’s the twenty-first century, for god’s sake!”

I looked at him.

“But it’s not just the photo is it? Here we are, doing all this behind everyone’s back and how long before Dad finds out, one way or another? I mean, Mandy knows! Look what she’s done! You think this picture was accidental?” I turned away from him. “I can’t do this anymore!”

There was a long, silent pause. I could hear the sound of the clock ticking.

“So you’re ducking out?” Scott said, finally. His voice was tight, a little condescending. “Running?”

I sighed.

“We have to be practical, “I said firmly. “If you were twenty years younger, everything would be different. You know that, right?”

I turned to look at him and he stood up.

“I don’t care about that! All of a sudden, you’re on a guilt trip? Conrad won’t care about us! Sure he’ll be mad for a couple of weeks but so what? He’ll get over it!”

I shook my head.

“I shouldn’t have done this,” I said. “I just got – greedy. Carried away. Look at me! I’m a mess! I have to stop, I have to – grow the fuck up!”

Scott was watching me a little disbelievingly.

“Ally, if anyone needs to grow up it’s me. And who cares? It’s goddamn life. This is it. We’re not hurting anybody!”

“But how long is it going to last?” I looked him in the eye. “Realistically? How long before I want to get married? Before you realise you want something more than sex. How long, Scott? Why are we wasting our lives on each other?”

“It doesn’t have to have an expiration date.”

“Really?” I scoffed. “Because it’s not long-term. We’d be crazy to believe that. You’re my father’s age. We can’t change that. And you’re not in love with me. And don’t say it to protect me. I’m not a child. This isn’t love. This isn’t the basis for anything that’s going to last. This is sex, nothing else.”

“Nothing else?” he repeated. He reached across the table and grasped my hand. “Why are you trying to be so cold? For fuck’s sake, Ally! What d’you want me to do? Just forget this ever happened? Move on? What the hell do you want from me?”

“I want you to go.”

I tried to tug my hand away but he held fast.

“Scott.”

He was looking at me, but he didn’t speak.

“It was fun,” I said, a little desperately. “But it has to stop. And I’m not delaying it. I can’t do this anymore. I don’t want this. I don’t want you.”

Scott scoffed. He still didn’t look at me.

“So it’s over?” he finally asked. “Because of a goddamn photo?”

“No. Not the photo. The photo’s like a… wake up call. Because sooner or later this is going to end and right now, neither of us are too invested in it. I’m not going to become dependent on you and then have my heart broken.”
Scott’s grip on my hand tightened.

“But what if it works out?” he demanded. “What if there literally is no expiration date?”

“Was that your original plan? Honestly?” I looked at him, eyes narrowed. “You wanted me to be the love of your life? No. You wanted sex.”

He looked at me, wounded.

“I care about you, Ally. I’m not some pervert.”

“I never said you were. I’m the same, okay? I didn’t look at you and fall madly in love. I looked at you and thought, ‘My god, he’s handsome as fuck.’ It’s just attraction. We were both single, unattached, so we took advantage of it. But now, well, maybe the sparkle is wearing off. It’s not worth it anymore.”

He dropped my hand suddenly.

“Fine. I’ll go. But don’t fucking change your mind, okay? Have your goddamn life.”

“Scott, please don’t be -”

“No, Ally!” He inhaled slowly. “Don’t apologise, okay?”

“I wasn’t going to.”

He looked at me, his chin tilted up defensively.

“What?”

“I’m not sorry. You know this never made sense. Stop acting like I’m hurting you.”

He stared at me a second and then laughed shortly. He nodded.

“Okay. Fine. Game – fucking – over.”

He opened the door and went out, closing it firmly behind him. I let out a long breath. I looked at the photo again and placed it carefully back in position on the desk.

I didn’t try to hold back the tears because I knew my nose would run and I didn’t have a tissue. I sucked in a long breath through my mouth, felt the drops trickle down my face.

Hold it together. Hold it to-fucking-gether.

I shut my eyes and more tears spilled out.

You’re gonna make your eyes red and then everyone’ll know something’s wrong. Stop. Stop.
I sucked in another long breath, opened my eyes and stared at the ceiling.

Your nose’ll get red too. It’s not too late. Just fucking stop.

I stopped. I thought about how all of it was a first world problem, how I was crying over a man who enjoyed telling me what to do. It was nothing. He was nothing. I was nothing. We were selfish. I stood up and used the hem of my dress to dry my face. I looked in the mirror on the wall. I could just about tell I’d been crying. No-one else would see.

I swallowed hard, gulped down the rest of Scott’s whisky and wiped my mouth with the back of my hand. I applied a little more eyeliner. It had been less than a month since I’d met him. Or thereabouts. A tiny amount of time. A twelfth of a year. What was that – like eight point two-five percent? Nothing. He was too old for me anyway. What was this; Rebecca? Jane fucking Eyre?

I had an entire life to live. I had to go to Paris, London, Dublin, St Petersburg, the Khyber fucking Pass. I had to have children, a husband, own my own home, get a promotion. Scott was just a – distraction. I opened the door and slipped through the party and out onto the street. I shivered in the cold air, looking at all the festively decorated houses. It could have been worse. Things can always be worse. But I didn’t want him to hate me. Though why did it matter, if my plan was to never see him again?

***
It was two days before Christmas and I’d come home to find an unexpected envelope in my mailbox.

Ally,
Sorry for acting like an ass the last time we spoke. What you said made sense. No hard feelings?
Scott

I read the Christmas card with mixed feelings. Relief, maybe, that he wasn’t angry. And a little self-pity too. It made sense. Sensible things made sense. Sensible things sucked. I swallowed hard and propped the card up on the windowsill along with all the others. Glitter, reindeers, snowmen, Christmas trees, tinsel. So pretty. I sighed.

In my bag, I found a plastic wrapped candy-cane that’d been handed to me by a rather fetching Santa Claus in the street. I sucked on it hard and was halfway through a made-for-TV movie about handsome-young-executive meets poor-beautiful-worker when my phone rang. I muted the TV. Amber’s name looked prettily out at met from the screen. I frowned and picked up.

“Hello?”

“Hey, Ally. How’re you doing?” Her voice was little too bright.

“Uh… not bad.” I said tentatively. “What’s up?”

“I know what you did,” she said.

I raised an eyebrow. “I’m sorry?”

“I know why you did it and I wanted to thank you. Men can be – deluded sometimes.”

I frowned.

“We’re talking about Scott, aren’t we?”

She laughed. “Yes. I’m not trying to hurt you. I just think you’re a very smart girl. Incredibly. I wanted to thank you for being selfless. I appreciate that, Ally.”

I stared at the Christmas card.

“You made more sense,” I said simply. “And besides, he was way too arrogant around me.”

“I have a friend in Brooklyn,” Amber said unexpectedly. “Young. A few years older than you. He’s a chef.”

I frowned. “Is he fat?”

She laughed. “No! Can I pass on your number? I really think the two of you’d hit it off.”

“Amber, just because I-”

“I’m doing this because you’d make sense,” she said quickly. “You and him. It’s not because I feel bad or guilty. It’s because usually when I set two people up, they wind up thanking me. And I love being proved right.”

I sighed. “Okay.”

“I’ll text you his name. Feel free to cyber stalk him.”

“Okay,” I laughed.

“Okay,” Her voice was soft. “Thanks again, Ally. And happy Christmas.”

“You too.”

The END

Dedication: Thank you to YOU – the person who made it to the end of this story.

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