“Even hot naked girls? Why? ” Javier is aghast.

“Because photos of naked fifteen-year-olds are not something you want to keep, even if they say they’re eighteen.”

“Yeah, I guess not.” He grimaces, but doesn’t look convinced.

“Hi, Reid.” Speak of the underage devil.

“Hey, Gabriel e. This is Javier.”

Javier’s eyes widen slightly, taking her in. She smiles and chirps, “Hi.” While he checks her out, she turns back to me. “So, Dori’s boyfriend showed up again. God, he’s so boring.”

Boyfriend? “What?”

She blinks innocently. “Her boyfriend, Nick—he was here like a week or so ago? I’m going to kil myself if I have to work with the two of them all freaking afternoon.” She glances towards the back door. “God, there they are.” I’m staring when Dori locks eyes with me. Nick is the guy Dori sat next to at lunch during the first week. The one with the poor conversation skil s. She breaks eye contact with me and turns to direct him to the line, her hand on his arm as he drones on about something. This guy is her boyfriend? You’ve got to be shitting me. He looks like he just stepped out of a nerd sitcom, where he plays the character who constantly manages to destroy his chances to hook up with anyone.

And then I wonder if nerds are what floats Dori’s boat, because I’ve heard that some girls are like that.

Javier invites another frat guy to join us. We al sit on the edge of the patio to eat, and Gabriel e is flushed and talkative, relishing the male-to-female ratio. Javier and his friend Kyle are more than happy to accommodate her, and while I appear to do the same, I’m watching Dori and Nick.

Her smiles seem real and her body language is relaxed; when their knees brush or he leans forward to say something, she doesn’t pul back or shy away. He’s not hot, but not repulsive. But there’s no observable chemistry between them, not even guarded touches… and she’s sneaking looks in my direction every few minutes while I appear to be engrossed in whatever Gabriel e is babbling about.


Lunch is almost over when Dori glances over once more, and this time I stare back. Her eyes widen almost imperceptibly, and while she returns my gaze, I count five long seconds. As a slow smile steals across my face, she snaps her attention back to her boyfriend—if that’s what he is—and doesn’t look my way again.


Minutes after Reid left the room this morning, Nick showed up, determined to make up for canceling our plans Saturday and spoiling my night. When I assured him again that he did no such thing, he ducked his head shyly and admitted that he just wanted an excuse to see me, and if a little manual labor was al it took, he was up for it. He’s so sincere and sweet that I wish for the hundredth time that I felt more for him than an intense admiration of his character and a mild attraction to his person.

Gabriel e was her usual crabby self al morning, but with Nick helping out I found her tormented sighs humorous. I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing out loud during the first interaction between the two of them.

While I attached outlet covers, Nick was on the ladder, connecting the heating and A/C vent. “Hey, Gabby—can you hand me that set of driver bits please?”

“The. Name. Is. Gabrielle.” She glared at him, her hands clenched into fists at her sides.

Nick blinked at her vehement tone, then smiled. “Oh, sorry. Gabrielle, please hand me that set of driver bits?” She spun around, grabbing the package from the floor and slapping it into his open hand. “God,” she said under her breath.

“Thanks, Gabriel e.” He smiled again, which seemed to infuriate her further.

Nick’s presence helps keep me focused on work, but doesn’t inhibit the scenes from Reid’s movie that have been on a constant loop in my head since yesterday been on a constant loop in my head since yesterday afternoon. I didn’t know anything about School Pride before we went, while Aimee and Kayla had parts of it memorized.

The premise was a bit sil y—a present day adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, set in a high school—but casting Reid as an arrogant Wil Darcy was genius. His natural self-assurance was easy to see in the heated scenes between Reid and his costar, Emma Pierce. And when he kissed her, I swear I felt it. Ugh.

When we went outside for lunch, my attention was drawn to him repeatedly, sitting with Gabriel e and two of our fraternity volunteers from UCLA.

Nick was talking about a mission trip he did earlier this summer to Honduras. “…because fifty percent of the population is under the poverty line—can you imagine?”

“Uh, wow, that’s appal ing.” My eyes drifted to the other side of the patio. The first half dozen times I looked, Reid didn’t notice. That last time, though, his dark blue eyes locked with mine. My pulse gal oped. And then his mouth kicked up on one side and I had no choice but to rip my gaze from his.

I stared into Nick’s eyes, thankful for his comforting voice, his gentle smile. And I fought the magnetic pul of the boy sitting across the yard who is everything I do not need and should not want.

I’m up late, compiling a list of stuff to pack for my mission trip when Deb cal s. As soon as I say hel o, she says, “Dori, he kissed me,” sounding like the giddy girl she never was, rather than the capable, independent woman who earned the title of doctor two months ago.

“Who—old doc Bradford?” I can’t help teasing her.

“He’s thirty-one!”

“Hmm, thirty-one is reasonable, I suppose.” I know she can hear the smile in my voice. “So when did this romantic encounter occur? I thought you were working twenty-four seven.”

“He picked me up last night for my dinner break, around ten-thirty. We only had about twenty minutes, so he brought burgers and we parked at the back of the hospital lot and talked.”

“Talked, eh?” I leave the list on my desk and lie back on my bed. My ceiling fish are al stationary, waiting for the A/C

to cycle on.

“He told me he wants to make sure I know how he feels about me, since we can’t show it in front of anyone in the hospital. Any gossip could get ugly, even though he’s not directly supervising me.”

“And how does doc Bradford feel about you?” My logical, analytical sister giggles, and I cover my mouth and wait for her answer. It’s been so long since she’s been this interested in anyone. “He likes me. A lot, he said.”

“What if someone finds out? Or if it gets serious? I mean you can’t pretend like you don’t know each other for your whole residency…”

“I asked him about someone finding out. He said it’s happened before. As long as there’s no supervisory relationship, the worst that could happen is we’d get a stern talking to.” She doesn’t answer the second question.

“My big sister, skulking around kissing boys in parking lots. I’m shocked! Details, please.”

“I had to get back inside, so I said I could just walk back up, and he said no way, he didn’t want to waste his last two minutes with me. And then he reached over and touched the side of my face, and we moved towards each other like magnets, and, wel …”

“Don’t leave me hanging! How was it? Hasn’t it been like ten years since you’ve kissed a boy?”

“Ha. Ha. Very funny. I guess it has been a while, but kissing Brad was just… perfect.”

The air comes on overhead and my fish begin to sway.

“Please tel me you were a little late getting back in.”

“A little.” She sighs, and I know she’s reliving the whole thing. “I have to get back on the floor. I just had to tel you.”

“I love that you did. And I’l say a prayer that you don’t get caught.” We laugh and say goodnight, and I lie there, smiling, for another few minutes. Until my thoughts cycle back to Reid, and the blocked kiss. Maybe I should have let him do it, before pushing him away.

But if I’d have let him kiss me, I might not have been able to push him away at al .

Chapter 20


Just before I left yesterday, Darlene told me that I’ve been assigned to Dori for the next couple of days to help finish out the closets and pantry.

“I assume that means Gabriel e is off Tuesday and Wednesday?”

Her answer was her best squinty stare, while Frank, sauntering up behind us to wash his hands, wasn’t as restrained. “Son, you should take some lessons in when to keep your thoughts to yourself. See, women are always saying that they want honesty and communication, but that’s just because they don’t know al the jackass stuff we guys think about on a regular basis. A more intel igent fel a, like myself, knows to keep the mystery alive by knowing when to shut up.”

“Humph,” Darlene said, smirking.

Dori is removing six-foot-long boards from the supply storage unit when I arrive with her latte. Though less surprised than she was yesterday, she’s stil guarded. I drag the tips of my fingers over hers as I hand it to her. She glances at me as I feign interest in the trel is Frank is instal ing on the opposite side of the yard.

“So…these boards need to be painted before we put in the shelving, right?” When I look at her, she sets her cup on a stack of jagged shale stones and turns back to unloading the boards.

“Um, yeah.”

This morning, she’s wearing a white t-shirt that would fit a linebacker, the back of which is emblazoned with what I assume is the name of her church and the VBS theme: In His Hands. On the front is a child’s drawing of the globe covered in blue and green splotches. On the il ogical y green Arctic Circle are stick-figure kids of every color (including purple). The earth levitates just above two huge hands.

I hand her my coffee. “Hold this, and let me do that.” I grab a stack of boards. “Where are we going with these?”

“First, we have to trim them down to size. I already did the measurements.” She pul s a slip of paper from her back pocket, grabs her latte and leads me to the circular saw.

As I carry the remainder of the boards over, she measures and marks them, flips the switch on the saw and begins cutting. The process looks simple enough, and after a few minutes, I’m not content to stand and watch, so I ask her to show me how to do it.

We cut the first two boards together. The sensation of her palms on the back of my hands, guiding them firmly, is like a pulsing current. I feel almost high, standing close enough to inhale her subtle, familiar scent, coupled with running boards through a whirring saw that could lop off my hand in a split second of inattention. The adrenaline junkie in me is fired up.

While I cut the last few boards alone, my ears adjusting to the shril whine as the blade chews through the wood, she sands the rough edges on the finished products. A portion of the ground and the fence has been tarped where we’re doing the painting. She takes several of the smal er boards and I fol ow with the larger ones. “Lean them there; we’re spray-painting them.”

“Sounds fun.” She glances at me, unsure if I’m being sarcastic. I turn back to get the rest, letting her guess.

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