Category Archives: Chapter 05

Chapter Five

CHAPTER FIVE

“I know a girl
She puts the color inside of my world
But, she’s just like a maze
Where all of the walls all continually change
And I’ve done all I can
To stand on her steps with my heart in my hand
Now I’m starting to see
Maybe It’s got nothing to do with me.”
“Daughters” –John Mayer

“You look like shit,” Macrae announced from his doorway, giving a cursory knock as she entered.

Denny looked up from the documents in front of him, ran a hand over his face, and gave a loud, manly growl as he lifted his arms back over his head in a stretch. “Yeah, well you would too if you put in as much time as I do,” he glibbed, before looking back down at his work.

Macrae smirked as she settled into the chair across from him. Denny knew that look. “What?” he asked.

“You’ve been working out, too,” she smirked, noticing not for the first time how attractive he was. “I just wonder what’s the cause for not only a resurgence in such long hours, but also fitting in work outs? And from the look of it, you’ve been working out a lot,” she teased, raising her eyebrows up and down in a mock-leering fashion.

Denny wanted to pinch her. “Why, whatever could you be implying?”

“I think we both know exactly why you’re working late again and why you’ve gotten into such great shape. Don’t get me wrong, this Mingo client will be another feather in your cap, and I don’t mind risking a little sexual harassment to say you look hot enough for me to eat, so kudos to you. But don’t try to bullshit me as to your real motives.”

For a time, the two just stared each other down until Denny finally gave up trying to convince her his reasons were nothing more than his job. “What do you want, Macrae?” he asked returning to his work.

“Just curious how it was going?”

“Clearly, my exercise regime is going very well if you’re hitting on me. Or did you mean my motivation?” he asked with a snotty smirk.

“I don’t know why you’re being so nasty. Oh,” she drawled, a slow, knowing smile dawning, “unless, your motivation isn’t as motivated as you had hoped. Is that it? Poor Denny boy striking out?”

“Shut up, Macrae,” he growled, continuing to attempt focus on his work.

“Oh, you really are in a sour mood. But I guess not getting any would do that to a guy. Maybe it’s possible you were wrong all along, and I would have better luck with her,” she suggested.

“In your dreams. Trust me, she’s very much interested in me, she’s only…” but Denny wasn’t quite certain yet what the holdup was. It was definitely a pattern of stand-offish behavior, for as long as he’d known her. It made him more and more curious what her past relationships were like, if any of them had ended in disaster and that was the cause of her reluctance.

“What? Already taken? Uninterested in office trysts? A virgin?” she laughed scornfully.

Denny’s brow knitted. Now that he thought about it, it wasn’t an unreasonable guess. But why would she still be a virgin? She didn’t behave as though she were merely holding out for marriage. What would she be afraid of?

“Macrae, as entertaining as you always are, I really do have work I need to get done, so unless you’ve something constructive to say, save it for the next time we have drinks.”

Macrae pursed her lips in disappointment. “No, I was simply filling idle time. But drinks sound good. Soon. This week,” she was up and heading out the door before she turned back. “And Denny, if this case is proving tougher than you originally thought, remember my warning when it all started: don’t get yourself into trouble.” She gave him a pointed look and left.

Denny stared after her, knowing she wasn’t far from the truth, that opening Alessa up and getting inside was proving to be more difficult than he had originally considered. He felt like his whole undertaking was as delicate as an egg shell, and he was trying desperately to not crush it. He admitted that simply feeling the attraction between the two of them wasn’t enough to draw Alessa in. He still needed more. More information, more understanding, a more potent plan of attack.

Thus far, the formula to gather information during late night work sessions was working, despite any resistance Alessa cunningly displayed. Denny would keep at it until it didn’t work, deciding she was too skittish at the moment to rock the boat by trying a new tactic. He wondered if she wouldn’t have her guard up even more, now that, like a fool, he’d tried to kiss her. Only one way to find out.

Alessa finished writing the sentence she was in the middle of before turning to her computer to find the notification that had just chimed at her. It was another instant message from Denny.

How did you enjoy your first deposition?

Aside from the company I was forced to endure?

Perhaps another apology is in order?

Perhaps you should abstain from behaviors that require a following apology

Touché. Unpleasant company aside, interested in being assigned to the case?

You’re giving me the choice?

Considering my behavior, I thought I would allow you the option, yes

So whatever follows is at my own risk as it was my choice. My culpability

Something like that

Alessa didn’t have to consider whether or not the case interested her because it did, enormously. However, she wasn’t certain she wanted to willingly enter into another project that would require further contact with Denny than was absolutely necessary. But she felt the tug, which she mistakenly put down as motivation to succeed, advance, and the desire to prove to him her worth, and so reasoned that if she couldn’t indefinitely put off working with Denny, she might as well take every opportunity he provided to work for her promotion.

I should throw in a few stipulations, but considering I am interested, I’ll agree. First assignment?

Denny couldn’t contain his smile when he read her agreement.

Stay late tonight. We have tons of files to go thru

Denny waited, staring at the screen, tapping his pen impatiently against his desk. Just as he looked away, he heard the computer chime.

Ok. Your office or conference room?

My office is more comfortable. Plus all the files are in here already.

Alessa sat back from her desk, waiting for the panicked feeling to arise. But it never came. Not as before when she was trapped into working with him. Maybe because this was her choice? She wondered, but didn’t quite know for certain. She turned back to her work, the need to go for a run abated by an unexplainable contentment.

The remainder of her day was of no consequence, and at six, she left for her run. Alessa was reaching the thirty-minute marker on her treadmill when she realized she had spent the last half hour trying to negotiate with herself to only go that long, an unrecognized impatience to get back to the office for her evening with Denny drawing her away from the one constant in her life. Realizing that was what she had been doing, Alessa pushed herself another forty-five minutes. When she finally did step off, her legs were wobbly with the punishment she had just put them through.

She arrived back at the office, pink cheeked and sleepy. She sat down only a moment at her desk, her forehead resting on her hand.

“You okay?”

She looked up to see Denny propped on the corner of her workstation. She hadn’t even heard his approach. “You look flushed.” Because of her sluggish mind, Denny was able to reach a hand to her cheek and lay the back of it gently across her red skin without a protest from her. At least, that’s what she tried to tell herself.

“No, I’m fine. I’m just…just tired.”

Denny looked at her squarely. “What have you been doing to make you so red?” He knew exactly where she had been, but wondered if she would open up. He was surprised to see the struggle in her eyes as she stalled. He decided to twist her arm. “If you don’t tell me, I’m going to make a reasonable assumption that you look sick and send you home.”

Alessa sighed. “I’m not sick. I’ve been to the gym, that’s all. And besides, I can work if I’m sick. This isn’t elementary school, and you aren’t the principal.”

Denny held his triumphant smile in check. “So that’s where you go every evening. And I have every right to send you home, principal or not. Sick people make mistakes, costing us money. Sick people infect others, costing us more money.”

She ignored his rebuttal, focusing on his comment about her running habit. “You noticed?” she asked, looking concerned.

“It’s hard to not notice what you do,” he replied, and then added warmly, “especially when your habits are like the ticking of the Greenwich clock.”

She wanted to correct him in the assumption that the clock wasn’t as accurate as an atomic clock, but she couldn’t move past the gut-warming detail that Denton Ashbury noticed her.

“So you haven’t eaten, then, I take it?” he pried when she had nothing to say, making an opening.

She looked up at him, her mind scrambling to capture a reply. “I have my dinner in the break room.”

“Did you want to eat it now?” he asked banally.

His question no longer seemed like a trap. “Actually, I am getting hungry, so yeah. Why not?”

“Good. Then you can grab it and bring it to my office,” he instructed and got up to leave.

“Your office?”

“Yeah. Lots of files to get through,” he called out, not bothering to turn back, but continuing on his way. Alessa frowned. There was something about the sharing of mealtime that broke down the walls that defined simple relationships, blurring the borders until one was no longer merely a classmate, but now an acquaintance, or a colleague now a friend. Throughout her life, she had strived hard to keep all those people in their correct categories, but Denny had a knack for pushing himself into areas she did not want him, coming to her in thoughts she did not invite. Eating in his office was becoming a habit that was taking on a new meaning inside of her head, and she wasn’t certain she liked it.

Grabbing her bag from the fridge, she made her way to his office. She stopped abruptly at his door. There he sat on his designer couch with a leg crossed, an arm across the back, a file in his lap, and of course, his sleeves rolled up. Manila folders were scattered about him on the floor, with three filing boxes sitting in front of the couch to his side.

He looked up at her. “Alessa, sit,” he instructed, moving a file from the far edge of the sofa, indicating she was to sit there with him. She was trying to formulate a protest, but it died on her tongue. Reluctantly, she did as bid, and slowly made herself comfortable as far from him as possible. She was eating a black bean and chicken salad on a bed of fresh spinach with a spicy dressing. As soon as she had her bowl open and a bite taken, Denny picked up a file and tossed it to her, silently encouraging her to work while eating. She looked up at him and saw the smile in his eyes and did her best to ignore her natural response to it.

“What are you eating?” he asked with his mouth full.

When she told him, he questioned, “Do you always eat healthy?”

She frowned in thought. “I certainly care about what I put into my body, if that answers your question.”

He only smiled as he chewed. “And what are you eating?” she returned the interest.

“A wrap. With sliced beef, cheddar, horseradish mayo and green lettuce. Wanna bite?” he casually offered, holding his hand out for her to take a bite.

Her eyes widened a second. “No, thank you.”

“Don’t like sharing food?”

“Not with men I hardly know,” she returned with a mock-chastising tone to her voice.

“Then who do you share with?”

That intimacy of the question caught her off guard and she fumbled a moment for an answer. “Well, my sister, I suppose. And my mom.”

“So no men at all. Whether you know them well or otherwise,” he concluded, an almost swagger to his expression as he took another bite. Her eyes were caught watching his lips as he chewed, before her mouth tightened and she narrowed her eyes. She didn’t want to have that conversation with anyone, least of all him, so she ventured no comment.

Denny, watching her watch him eat, extended his arm to again offer her a taste. “I insist, take a bite,” he commanded, a smile on his lips. “I don’t have cooties, I promise.”

“No, really, I-“

But he wouldn’t let her refuse. “I insist. You need to expand your experiences, remember? Wasn’t that your excuse for not working immediately after college? You wanted new experiences,” he argued. “Well, here it is; sharing food with a man.”

Alessa’s expression was one of trapped, mild discomfort, before Denny saw her relent and lean forward. She placed her hand on his, guiding the food to her mouth before taking a slow, cautious bite. He watched with amusement as she chewed, at first warily, before he saw the break in her countenance and a nod of her head suggesting she liked it.

He took another bite himself. “It’s good, isn’t it?”

“It’s got bite,” she conceded, her hand covering her mouth as it wasn’t quite empty yet.

“Horseradish. Gotta love it.”

Alessa shrugged in general agreement before looking back down at the file on her lap. For a time, they were content to sit silently while eating and reading. After her fifth file, he spoke. “So you run?” She glanced up at him, noted his casualness as he had posed the question, not even looking at her. When she answered, he kept talking.

“How long have you done that? Did I read in your file you ran in college?”

“Yeah, that’s right,” she answered, looking up again, this time unwilling to turn back to her work until he looked at her.

“And how did you get into that?” he asked, finally lifting his eyes from his document to look at her.

“Started running track in high school,” she supplied, and then smiling, replayed in her mind one of her favorite races.

Denny noticed her expression. “You must love it quite a lot,” he observed, beginning to realize how much he appreciated her expressions when her walls were down.

Her smile showed her straight, white teeth. “Yeah, I love it a lot. My dad and I were walking around the Palace of Fine Arts-”

“Go there a lot?” he interjected.

“Yeah, he and Shelly, that’s my stepmom, they live across from there.” Denny raised his eyebrows at that, but didn’t interrupt. “Anyway, it was the day of the marathon and there was an endless tidal wave of bodies bobbing by, and I made some sort of glib about what a waste of time it was. My dad lectured me pretty sternly. He loved track and field, you see. Then he made me a promise: if I made it on the high school track team and consistently placed in the top three, he would take time off and come watch my meets.”

“The top three?”

“Well, yeah,” she shrugged, “I mean, you wouldn’t want to waste your time if the kid wasn’t going to win,” she argued, switching over into hypothetical speech, instead of answering directly for her father. Denny didn’t miss it.

“If it were my kid, it wouldn’t matter if they came in dead last. I’d be happy to support them in whatever they did.”

“Yes, well, that’s nice for you to espouse now, but in reality, when you work for the bureau-”

“Bureau?”

“Yeah, the feds, my dad’s an agent. Any-way, in the Bay Area traffic to watch your kid suck it up? Yeah, that’d be a waste of time if you’re very busy. Besides, it motivated me. I did two-a-days for the longest time. Had to watch what I ate, realized that if I wanted to excel, I had to focus, to become a disciplined athlete. To take my running seriously.”

She was turning thoughtful as she spoke, her words slower, pulled from deep, as though they had been stored in the recesses of her mind for an age, only now coming out in her explanation. “And once I started running, it just fit, you know? I found the greatest peace when my legs were burning and numb with fatigue, my lungs ached. I found, despite the pain and discomfort, that I was stronger than any of it, that it couldn’t stop me. Every run I completed, I felt invincible. So I was grateful for it, I suppose. And because of it, I got to spend time with my dad. And I guess after he left…it was nice to see him.”

Neither of them spoke, Denny had no more questions he felt comfortable asking, and Alessa was raw from introspection and Denny’s opinion of it. They transitioned into their work, reading through the files again until Denny’s eyes ached.

“Anything?” he asked with a yawn, stretching his long arms overhead and arching his back.

Alessa grimaced, not certain if she had anything of weight. “Well, the only thing I’ve noticed is that only three companies have been paid from the trust. From what I can tell, they’re contractor companies, and over the last eighteen months they’ve received a total of nearly twenty million. That seems like a lot.”

“It also means the trust has had enough money to cover what Philip was supposed to be paid.”

“Yes, except at every pay out, it nearly wipes the account, before a substantial deposit is recorded. But then it’s not long before nearly all that sum is paid to one of the other two companies.”

Denny was thoughtful a minute before scooting closer to her to look at the notes she had jotted down. There appeared to be a patterned rotation as to which company received payment, the changing quantities. He also saw that all companies were based in the Bay Area with the same exact area code and prefix number, which struck him as highly suspect.

“Well, first, let’s run the business licenses of these companies and see what we can learn about who owns and manages them. Also, why don’t we look into some of the project addresses each company was contracted to complete. Maybe the choice of paying these companies is about the project and not the company themselves.”

Alessa nodded, and then offered to look into the properties. Denny agreed and stated he would check into the companies. She was smiling as she continued to peruse the documents.

“What?” Denny asked, grinning at her amusement.

She shrugged and was thoughtful a moment. “It feels good to make headway,” she concluded.

Denny gave a short chuckle. “Yeah, I suppose it does. Though, we really haven’t done anything yet,” he countered.

She turned to look at him. “The first step onto the right path is always making progress,” she returned.

“Yes, but sometimes you don’t know if you’re on the right path until you reach your destination. This may turn out to be a red herring.”

“But sometimes you do know. And I happen to believe we’re on to something,” she confessed with growing confidence.

Denny smiled gently at her optimistic outlook. “You might be right,” he conceded at last.

“Thank you,” she said softly, content to have his agreement. Together, with a direction to follow, the rest of the evening, they scouted through the rest of the files, pulling out relevant information related to the three companies and the various properties attached to them. It was nearly midnight before they finished the last box of files, both preferring to push through and have the information gathering out of the way so they could then delve into their leads.

As they were gathering their things to leave the office, Denny was swinging on his jacket when Alessa commented on his habit of wearing suspenders. “What’s with the suspenders?”

“What? You don’t like them?” he asked chuckling, looking down at himself, assessing them.

“They’re just…unusual, you know, for someone your age and with your…physique,” she finished quietly.

Denny continued smiling, but said nothing about her inadvertent compliment to his body. “What can I say? They look sharp. I’m not really too flashy in the way of fashion, but I think it’ good to have something signature about me.”

Alessa smiled unconvinced. “Looks are important to you?”

“Aesthetics are important,” he corrected, “whether clothing, cars, buildings,” he indicated nodding to the art on his walls. “We all like something pretty to look at. Nothing wrong with that,” he stated ushering her out of his office and toward her desk so she could grab her things.

“But when beauty is all a person thinks about…” she semi-argued, grabbing her bag.

“Did you know you can die from drinking too much water?” he commented obtusely.

She frowned, not seeing the connection. “Yes.”

“But you need water. You would die without it, so it would be safe to call it a good thing. So like water, beauty, or rather the focus on it, is the important factor, not beauty itself. So, a little appreciation is hardly a vice.”

“Point taken,” she conceded, punching the down button. When they stepped on the elevator in silence, Alessa suddenly became very aware of how close he was, his cologne at the forefront of all her senses. She closed her eyes as the elevator started down.

“You okay?” Denny asked, his warm voice slipping around and inside her.

She nodded and opened her eyes, only to find him exceptionally close, looking down at her. Denny’s eyes dropped to her mouth when her lips parted and her breathing increased. His gaze was heated and undisguised. She felt scorched.

Alessa stood more erect and looked forward. She cleared her throat and tugged her raincoat more securely around her.

“Alessa, maybe we should discuss this,” he suggested, his rough voice adding to her frustrating attraction.

“Discuss what?” she asked, hoping ignorance would discourage him.

“We almost kissed the other day,” he reminded her. “I want to kiss you now,” his voice dropped gently.

The elevator stopped. She shook her head dismissively. “You’re imaging things. Besides, it would be a mistake,” and then quickly stepped off as soon as she could squeeze through the slow-opening doors.

Staying on the elevator to go down to underground parking, Denny watched her flee through the lobby, uncertain about his next move, regretting not simply grabbing her and kissing her as he had wanted. Damn her refusal.

The following days kept both busy as they went about their other various tasks. Alessa was thankful she had successfully avoided him, but on Thursday, she had news she knew he needed to know.

“The lot’s empty,” she informed him, standing before his desk. Clare hadn’t been at her post, so Alessa simply knocked on the door, hoping what had been there would have been settled and forgotten. Of course, the moment he looked up and saw her, Alessa could feel the residual tension and knew nothing would be forgotten so easily. But, stiffening her spine, she walked to him to share with him what she had discovered.

“I was looking over some of those properties last night, and I realized that one was quite close to where I live, so I stopped by this morning on my way in. Denny, the lot is vacant. Whatever was there previously has been completely removed. There’s no historic building there at all. The only thing on it was a real estate sign.”

“So it’s for sale,” he mused. “Do you know what was supposed to be there?”

“According to the file, a house. Renovations to return it to a one family home. Specs on it valued the home around two-and-a-half million.”

“Price of the lot on the sign?”

She slowly smiled and shook her head. “No, but the number of the agent was. So I just called her. She wouldn’t give me the name of the seller, but said the lot’s asking price was one-point-five million.”

Denny whistled. “That’s a little pricy for just the land. In a good location?”

“It’s not bad. Residential. So, what do we do now?”

Denny was silent a moment as he stared at his desk. “Well, I’m still waiting to hear back on the ownership of those three companies. I’m kind of under the gun right now for this other case, but what if tomorrow we clear our schedules and go do a little investigating?”

She raised an eyebrow at him and cocked her head. “Doesn’t the firm hire investigators for that sort of footwork?”

He gave a half smile. “Not afraid of a little hard work, are you? Besides, sometimes it’s just nice to have an excuse to get out of the office,” he confessed.

Her expression was contained for a moment, but a twinkling in her eyes gave her away before her answer did. Alessa smiled. “I did always want to be Perry Mason,” she relented.

“MacGyver,” Denny admitted with a shrug.

Alessa laughed at that and then the amusement faded, the unresolved emotions of their almost kiss surfacing again. Denny sat waiting for her to speak, those intense eyes making her stomach burn, but Alessa was unwilling to face it. “Okay. Well, then why don’t we get a lot cleared in the morning, and we can go after lunch tomorrow.”

Denny nodded in agreement.

“Alright, then. Sounds good,” she nodded also, and after standing before him for a few awkward seconds turned and left.

****

“And do you know what the strangest thing was that should have been a big, red flag?”

Alessa shook her head and took another bite of her salad. Lou was sitting at her desk munching her salsa-flavored chips and sharing stories of her past boyfriends. “He said he wanted to go camping,” she said incredulously.

“Why should that have been a warning?” Alessa asked.

“I told you. He was into the whole Goth scene. He wore more make-up than me, wore so much metal he could set off a metal-detector a mile away, and he was frightened of spiders. Anyway, his camping was just a cover story. He was boffing some trashy girl in a punk band.”

“Spiders?” Alessa chuckled. “I thought you said he was a Goth.”

“Yeah, well, he might have said he liked the whole dark side, but in reality he was a wimp. Screamed like a six-year-old girl,” she laughed.

“What did you see in him to start with?” Alessa asked, stabbing the last of her veggies with her fork.

“You know, there was just something about him. Of course, when I found out what he was doing, I realized he was just a creepy, cruddy boy. Nothing special.”

“I’m sorry,” Alessa offered.

“Don’t be. I am definitely better off without him.”

“Definitely,” Alessa agreed with a nod.

Lou crumpled up her chip bag and took a drink of her soda. “So, what are you wearing to the auction?”

“The what?”

“You know, the fundraiser? One of our more prestigious clients is Omniliance.”

“The charity?”

“Right. Every year, Wiles, Mayer, and Schecter holds a fundraiser for them, partly to cover our expenses in representing them, but primarily as a public relations event, for both the firm and them. We invite a gaggle of our best clients and most of our staff is highly encouraged to attend. The fundraiser is an auction of the best things the rich can buy. And at the end of it, several of the firm’s elite are asked to participate.”

“How do you mean ‘participate’?”

“It’s a date auction. Our staff, usually I think they choose about ten, five men, five women, go up on stage one at a time, the attendees bid on them, and whoever wins gets a date that evening with the staff person.”

“That’s a little barbarous and tacky, isn’t it?” Alessa said, her face a picture of mild disgust.

“Not at all. You are such a prude,” Lou admonished. “It’s just fun. It’s not as if it is illegal, no dirty or scandalous expectations. It’s just a way of raising money and finding avenues for everyone to network, basically. Nothing has ever happened,” Lou informed her. “So, I therefore assume you haven’t picked out a dress.”

Alessa shook her head. “When is it?”

“Not for another three weeks. But you’d better get on it. Especially if you’re going to have your hair done.” Then Lou’s face brightened and her excitement grew exponentially. “Oh! Please let me do your hair! You have such gorgeous hair! Oh, and I could do your make-up!” she squealed and wiggled excitedly in her chair as she clapped quickly. “Yes, yes, please say you’ll let me. It will be such fun!”

Alessa was momentarily stunned, but she couldn’t think of a reason why Lou shouldn’t and so gave an acquiescing shrug, which produced yet another high-pitched squeal.

There was talk of Lou videoing the session and putting it up on her blog. Alessa was slightly concerned, and said she would think about it.

“Who are you going to take?”

“Take?” Alessa asked confused.

“You know, as in a date. For the party.”

“Oh,” Alessa was stuck on an answer. “No one, probably. Go stag.”

“What?” Lou asked aghast, as though such an idea were impossible. Then her expression turned to one of mischief. “Why not ask Denny?” she suggested with innuendo.

“What?” Alessa asked in a hush voice of surprise. “Why would I do that?” she whispered and looked around quickly.

“Because you have a thing for him,” Lou answered, whispering, too.

Alessa was stunned, words failing her. “That’s ridiculous! I most certainly do not. And I don’t date. Especially colleagues. I think he’s a good lawyer, and sure he’s attractive and smart with incredibly intense eyes…” she realized she was rambling away all the reasons she had been fighting against. “I don’t like him. And that’s that,” she ended firmly.

“Me thinks the lady doth protest too much,” Lou quipped. “If you don’t like him, then why are you blushing? Admit it! You think Denton-sexy-pants-Ashbury is dreamy.”

“Oh, good grief,” Alessa groaned, slouching back in her chair and lifting her eyes to the ceiling in great exasperation.

“And what secret are you two sharing?” Denny asked, stopping in front of Alessa’s desk.

She gave a surprised yip. Lou was barely containing her laughter, but she refused to answer Denny. He watched as Alessa’s already pink cheeks turned positively red. She wouldn’t even make eye contact with him. He could only smile at her strange behavior. “Well, I’m sorry to interrupt whatever it is, but Alessa, I have a video conference with the Mingo team in Seoul. I may need a translator. Would you mind sitting in with me? It’s set for four this afternoon.”

Alessa’s mouth was a tight line and she still wasn’t looking up at him, but she managed to vigorously nod her head, hoping the sooner she agreed, the sooner he would leave. He smiled, still baffled by her embarrassed behavior, and thanked her and left.

“I could slug you,” she glowered at Lou who finally let out a loud laugh. She sat giggling hysterically in her chair, leaning back and holding her stomach.

“I wouldn’t have thought it possible, but you got even redder!”

“This isn’t funny!” Alessa hissed, whispering again. “Keep your voice down. We’re not in sixth grade.”

When Lou’s laughter finally tapered off, she answered. “Maybe not. But males and females never change, no matter how old you get. Attraction slays all lies. You can’t hide it.” The smile on Lou’s face was bittersweet. Though Alessa shared very little about herself, she revealed so much without ever knowing it. Lou understood Alessa’s hidden feelings, and wondered if Alessa knew Denny felt the same way. “Good luck tomorrow, if I don’t see you before then,” she offered before leaving, taking her empty bag of chips and astute, uncomfortable observations with her.

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