By the time I’m adding the chrome handle, I’ve got a slow, steady beat going and I’m singing a soft song cal ed

“Gravity” by Alison Krauss. It’s about a girl who leaves home and kind of never looks back, because once she’s gone, she realizes that life isn’t as straightforward as she’d once thought.

When I stand up to grab another hinge and set of screws for the next door, Reid is standing in the doorway, his hands shoved into his pockets. My voice falters, but I finish the last line before going silent. I don’t know how long he’s been there. For a moment he doesn’t say anything, and then his eyes shift to the cabinet doors stacked against the wal . “Roberta sent me to help with the cabinets.” I grab a door without replying and position it as I did the last one. Since the hinges wil be placed on the opposite side from the last one, it won’t be as easy to attach, but I know what I’m doing, and it’s not an impossible job to do alone. Aside from the fact that I’d rather do it without him standing there staring at me.

When he doesn’t take the unspoken hint, I say, “I don’t need help.”

I expect him to turn and go, but he doesn’t. Bracing his shoulder against the doorjamb, he crosses his arms over his chest and watches me. I ignore him, balance the door, line up the hinge with the predril ed holes, and attempt to twist the screws in partway by hand.

The first screw doesn’t catch, pops out of the hinge and flies across the ceramic tile floor, stopping when it bumps against his boot. Without missing a beat I grab another screw and repeat the process, with an identical result. “Holy Moses,” I mutter, which earns a rude laugh from Reid as he leans to pick up the screws at his feet. He jingles them in his hand like Dad does with loose change.

“Any time you want me to hold something, or screw something, just let me know.”

Wonderful. A patented Reid Alexander double entendre.

Final y, the screws catch, and I offer up a silent prayer of thanks while wondering how much trouble I’d be in if I stood up and kicked him in the shin with my steel-toed boot.


Chapter 12



I think she seriously wants to strangle me right now. I haven’t decided if that’s how I want her to feel or not.

I watch her attach the third cabinet door—the one with the hinges on the right. She’s left-handed, so it’s easy enough for her. The last thing she wants is my assistance.

I’m weighing the desire to keep her irritation level as high as possible against the suspicion that the longer I loiter in the doorway, the higher the likelihood she’l refuse to sign my timesheet at 3:00.

She sighs before lining up the hinges with the last door, and I imagine the words threading through her head as she pleads with the hardware to cooperate. The first time it begins to angle off course, I step up and take it from her, our fingers brushing. She jumps like my hand is fire, recovers quickly and begins twisting the screws in by hand.

When they’re in as far as they can go without the screwdriver’s assistance, she picks up the tool and drives them in the rest of the way as I brace the door. She doesn’t speak, and neither do I.

I hate that watching her handle that screwdriver is turning me on.

I hate that I’m waiting for an excuse to touch her again.

I hate that I narrowly resisted begging her to continue singing.

Fol owing her to the next bathroom, I’m staring at the curved lines of her calves and the not-quite imperceptible sway of her hips (hidden under another oversized t-shirt—

this one says D.A.R.E.). I get this sudden impression that she’s psychic because I swear to God—her ears are darkening like she can read my mind. So I concentrate harder.

When she sets the tool on the counter, I pick it up. “I’l do the next one,” I say when she turns and sees me holding it.

“You’re supposed to be teaching me, right?” Her mouth snaps closed and she spins back around to select the door. There are only two doors to instal in this microscopic bathroom that al three Diego kids wil share. The entire room would fit inside my shower.

Two minutes later: I admit that I thought this whole working-with-tools thing would be easier than it is. Getting the damned screw to stay connected with the driver bit is a bitch. One interesting note, though—despite some of my more colorful curses, it’s obvious Dori is enjoying the fact that I don’t have the innate ability to wield a ratchet screwdriver with ease. Her smile is a little too smug for my liking.

“I guess I’m not a natural at this type of screwing,” I say, and my God, her face. I’ve just discovered the secret to spreading the blush everywhere.

“Okay, I don’t get it. So… she’s hot, or not?” John asks.

We’re hanging out on the terrace of his 22nd floor apartment on Olympic, lounging on Adirondack chairs, a cold six-pack on the glazed concrete between us.

Downtown is alive and beckoning, but I’ve persuaded him, for the time being, to take a break for one night.

“It’s hard to say,” I answer, and he shoots me a confused look, tipping back the bottle in his hand as I stare out over the cityscape. For some reason, I mentioned something about Dori, and now, I’d rather drop it.

“Tel me more about the apartment,” I say. For the past couple of weeks, John’s been trying to convince me to rent the penthouse suite that’s opening up a few floors above him. I told him I’d think about it, though I’m not sure I want to be that near John 24/7. He starts rattling off square footage and view and party possibilities while I’m trying not to answer his question in my head.

Dori Cantrel : hot or not?

She’s nothing like my usual fare. Nothing at al .

But that doesn’t exactly answer the question, does it?


“I miss you.” I try not to sound like I’m pouting, but I feel Deb’s absence more than I ever have. “You’re so far away now.” Technical y, she’s been gone for eight years, but she did her pre-med undergrad and med school close to home.

Now she’s in a different time zone, and the hours she Now she’s in a different time zone, and the hours she keeps are impossible to figure out. Working a mind-numbing eighty hours a week at the hospital, she has no consistent schedule. Texting or cal ing me whenever she has five minutes has become the norm, if she isn’t spending that five minutes eating or sleeping.

“I know, baby girl.” She sounds exhausted and I feel contrite for sulking. “I miss you, too.”

“How’s, um, Bradford?”

She’s quiet for a moment, and I read the silence between us. “Dori, can you keep a secret?”

“Psshh,” I say. “You know I’m the ultimate secret-keeper.” I savor the sound of her warm chuckle in my ear. “True.

Wel …we had sort of a date Sunday night. I mean, it wasn’t a date, real y… he just shared his take-out with me when I had ten minutes for dinner.”

“Isn’t he sort of one of your bosses?”

“He’s not evaluating me—the one time we interacted was because he was stepping in for someone else…” The way her words trail off, she’s either fal ing asleep on me, or she’s thinking about what she isn’t tel ing me. “So, um, how’s the Habitat place going?”

“I’m counting the days until I’m gone.” I’m thinking to myself Deb and Bradford, sittin’ in a tree… but I resolve to let her tel me about him at her own pace. We’ve never hidden anything from each other indefinitely.

“Reid Alexander stil being a jackhole?”

“Yeah, you could say that.”

“You’l be in Ecuador soon. By the time you return, his community service wil be over, and you’l never have to see or work with him again.”

“Yeah.” I’m not disappointed at the thought of his absence. I’m not. He does nothing, says nothing unless it’s calculated to make me uncomfortable.

“Hmm,” Deb says, a subtle chal enge before I change the subject to col ege concerns like dorm life and how to dodge the freshmen fifteen.

Chapter 13


I was wondering when an uninvited film crew was going to show up. I’m actual y surprised it took them this long.

Paparazzi, as careless as they appear, know better than to trespass on personal property. But the Habitat property is tiny, and telescopic lenses are standard for these guys.

Camped out in adjacent yards, the shrewd ones undoubtedly paid the neighbors off to get closer. This is the sort of thing George would term “free positive PR”—an occurrence that I, apparently, can’t get too much of. The only hitch is the fact that I have to be here the rest of this week plus two more; this situation could morph into insanity central if it isn’t managed.

Stripping the heavy work gloves off as I go, I wander inside to find Roberta. She’s talking to the general contractor about what grade of insulation to use in the attic.

I could fal asleep from extreme disinterest any minute.

Luckily, they finish up in a minute or so and she turns to me warily. “Yes, um, Reid?”

“I just wanted to let you know that there are photogs out there—paparazzi—not on the property, but as close as they there—paparazzi—not on the property, but as close as they can legal y get. With me outside, it’s gonna be a zoo.

Thought I should warn you.”

“Oh.” She’s immediately flustered; obviously this is something new for her. She moves to a rear window.

“They’re out there now?”


Peering out, she narrows her eyes, scanning, and then gasps softly. “What in the world? There’s someone balancing on top of a swing set… and on the roof next door!”

I shrug.

“What should we do? I guess I should have considered this probability…”

“They’re not going anywhere, now that they know where I am. I already cal ed my manager. He’s sending bodyguards to make sure they keep their distance from me, and he’s alerting the police to make sure they respect property boundaries.”

“The police? Oh, dear.”

Roberta continues to stare at the guy on the roof next door while I push off from the counter and head back outside, pul ing the work gloves on. Frank says we’re demolishing an old fence at the back of the property—so termite-ridden that one good kick could turn it into a cloud of splinters. Painting wal s was tedious. Tearing shit down?


Predictably, the photogs wake up when I exit the back door. Some of them try cal ing to me, like I’m walking the red carpet or something, which pisses me off.

I’m working. Can’t they see that?


As I fel asleep last night, I considered tel ing Roberta to finish this job without me. I miss my VBS kids and their joyful, artless voices practicing the choral arrangements. I miss singing along with them. I miss babysitting people who are immature because they’re five, not because they’re arrogant buttheads. Most of al , I miss being unacquainted with Reid Alexander.

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