“He what?” Heather asked as she stopped in mid run.
“He came over last night.”
“Well, yeah, but I didn’t mind?” Olivia answered, stretching back over the chair she was sitting in.
Shrugging her shoulders, Olivia knew it wouldn’t matter if she asked Heather not to take the other call, so she just waited for her friend.
“He did what?” a male’s voice asked, jolting Olivia upright in her chair.
“I called him,” Heather’s voice chimed in.
“We’re on three way?” Olivia asked.
“Details,” Dean ordered.
“There are no details. I was doing laundry, my phone rings, it’s Gray, and he asks me to come to the door.”
“And he’s standing there,” Heather added.
“Did you invite him?” Dean asked.
“No,” Olivia answered as she stood. “He just showed up.”
“He could be a potential stage five clinger,” Heather said.
“Why don’t you continue on your run and stay quiet,” Olivia said as she started to pace the hallway.
“It’s been a while since you’ve been out in the dating world, we’re just looking out for you.”
“And you’ve been secretly in love with a gay man for years,” Olivia threw in out of sheer spite. Heather knew how to push her buttons and she knew how to push back. “At least I know the guy I’m interested in is interested in me.”
“Ladies,” Dean’s voice boomed. “You two are worse than two drag queens fighting over a diamond tiara.”
“I’m getting off the phone,” Olivia said as she collapsed onto her bed. “I need to get ready for my lunch date.”
“You’re seeing him again today?” Dean asked.
“Is there anything wrong with that?”
“You have seen him each day for the last three days,” Heather said.
“Again, what is wrong with that?” Olivia asked, sitting up on her bed. “It’s not like we’re running off to the courthouse to get hitched.”
“Dean, please talk to her,” Heather said. “I’m out.”
“She hung up,” Olivia answered, “and you should too.”
“I’m not going to crucify you.”
“Really, because it seems like you guys were just doing that.” Taking a deep breath, Olivia composed her thoughts. “Maybe it never occurred to you or Heather that I wanted to see Gray yesterday as well. Maybe we both were still on a first date high. Maybe I just want to go wherever this may lead. Maybe I could care less if it ends in heartache or happiness because right now, I’m just going with the flow and haven’t thought that much about where it might end up.” Sighing, Olivia collapsed back onto her bed.
“I hope you have a great lunch date,” Dean replied. He knew she was right. They didn’t know what Olivia was feeling or going through. “I’d like to hear about it over dinner tonight if you’re free.”
“It’s Susan, Ross, and Simon dinner night, but please join us if you’d like.”
“I’ll see you at six. We’ll ride together.”
“Bye for now.”
Taking a deep breath, Olivia sat up and then walked back to her office. Sitting down at her desk, she grabbed her phone and hit the speed dial for Zane’s number. The phone rang three times before he answered.
“What’s up? You never call me this early in the day?” he asked without a hello.
“Can you talk?”
“Olivia, I own the business. I can talk to whomever I want whenever I want.”
“I know and I know you’ll be completely honest with me.”
“What did Gray do?” Zane asked, feeling his chest puff up.
“Calm down Zane,” she replied, hearing his testosterone kick in through the phone. “I just need your opinion.”
“I’m listening with open ears.”
“And an open mind I hope.”
“It’s as open as book.”
“Good,” Olivia replied and then told Zane everything that had happened the night before with Gray and her conversation with Dean and Heather. “And that’s it,” she said. “I don’t see what the big deal is.” Zane was silent on the other end and that made Olivia nervous.
“There’s nothing wrong with it,” he finally replied. “If you didn’t mind him being there, and had a great time while he was there, then there’s no big deal.”
“But why is Heather and Dean freaking out?”
“They’re you’re friends and you’re interested in someone. That freaks us all out.”
“You personally are freaked out?”
Zane thought a moment. He knew he would want these words to be precise. “We want you to be happy and having you like someone is scary because without knowing this person we have to trust that he will not hurt you but at the same time we don’t trust him because we will automatically assume the worse. We’re judging but not trying not to judge.”
Sighing, Olivia shrugged her shoulders even though he couldn’t see her. “I guess I understand. Can you guys just remain calm and cool until I tell you that I need a reaction other than that?”
“I’ll pass the word along. Probably won’t happen, but we’ll see if we can keep ourselves in check.”
“Have you lost your proverbial mind?” Chris asked, sitting down on the edge of Gray’s desk.
Contemplating his other options, he just shrugged his shoulders. “Maybe I have,” he replied, tossing the stress ball he had in his hands into the air. “I don’t know. I know I shouldn’t have gone over there last night, but my subconscious couldn’t help it.”
“Your subconscious needs to be put into check. You’re either going to scare the shit out of this girl or give her the signals that you are ready for a major relationship. She might not even be major relationship material.”
“I highly doubt that.”
“Then why is she single?”
Gray shrugged his shoulders. It was a good question. “Same question could be asked of me. Why am I single?”
“Because obviously you’ve been chasing this quote unquote you ‘untouchable’ chick.”
“I haven’t been chasing her.”
“Your subconscious has. Have you even noticed another female since you met Olivia?”
“We only met a few days ago.”
“How long have you been pining away for her from afar? And don’t lie to me and say you haven’t been pining away for her. It’s very obvious you have been.”
“Wasn’t obvious to you or Ellie until I told you.”
“Answer my question.”
Sighing, Gray tossed the stress ball into the air again. “I’ve been on a date or two.”
“Who the hell with?” Chris asked, moving to a chair across from Gray’s desk.
“Rosie set me up an a blind date with a friend of a friend.”
“When was that?”
Shrugging his shoulders, Gray wished he hadn’t mentioned to Chris he had gone over to Olivia’s. “Ask Rosie, she’s the keeper of my schedule.”
“And if I asked Rosie about your date with Olivia would she know about it.”
Gray shook his head. “No, but she knew I took the next day off.” Taking a deep breath, he exhaled and threw the stress ball at Chris. “I haven’t lost my proverbial mind. I like Olivia. I want to see where this goes.”
“But you’re moving in light years. Just don’t end up in a relationship you don’t want.”
“Gray, you have a visitor in the lobby,” Rosie’s voice chimed over the phone’s intercom.
“Thanks Rosie. I’ll be up in a minute,” he said. He looked down at the intercom to make sure it was off and then looked at Chris. “If you promise not to make a jackass out of yourself, I’ll let you meet Olivia right now.”
“She’s in the lobby?”
Gray nodded. “We have a lunch date.”
“Did you plan this date last night?”
“No. Like I said, last night wasn’t planned. This was.”
“I’ll wait,” Chris said as he stood.
“You’ll wait? What does that mean?”
Opening the door to Gray’s office, he answered, “It means that I don’t want to waste anyone’s time. And neither should you.”
“I’m not wasting her time.”
“It’s not her time I’m concerned with. I just don’t want you to waste yours.”
“And for you ma’am?”
“I’ll have the grilled avocado and eggplant salad,” Olivia answered, handing her menu to the waiter.
The waiter nodded and smiled at her. “Great choice,” he replied.
“I believe he was trying to flirt with you,” Gray said, leaning forward onto the table.
“I believe he was just being nice so we’ll tip him well,” Olivia said. “Do you want my lemon?”
“Sure.” Gray reached across the table and plucked the lemon that was hanging on the side of her glass. “So did you finish all of your laundry last night?”
“Yes,” she answered, removing the straw from her drink. “It took me forever, but I finally got it all done.”
“Again, apologies for distracting you.”
“A great man once asked, ‘who doesn’t mind a pleasant distraction from work?’ And he was right.”
Gray smiled, remembering that it was the same question he typed to her in their instant messenger conversation. A conversation he had saved and it was something he would not be sharing with either of his friends.
“Can I ask you a question?”
“It’s going to sound a bit odd, so let me explain the back story. Susan is a detail person.”
“Susan is the really loud drunk one isn’t she?”
Olivia nodded, putting the straw she took out into her mouth.
“Okay, Susan is a detail person. Sorry to interrupt.”
“No problem,” she replied as the waiter dropped off their rolls. “In short, she likes facts and figures. She wanted me to ask you if you would fill out a survey for her.”
Laughing out loud, Gray leaned back in his chair. “You’re serious aren’t you?”
Nodding, Olivia leaned forward. “I am afraid so,” she answered. “I told her I didn’t want to ask you, but she made me promise to ask you and she never asks for anything other than for Ross to pay attention to her.”
“What sort of survey is this?”
“It’s more like a list,” Olivia answered, feeling her body shrinking into itself. “She has us all fill one out every three months.”
“I’ll do it,” Gray answered, leaning forward onto the table, “but she also has to fill one out for me.”
“You’ll really do it?”
Gray nodded. “I’ll do it. You said she doesn’t ask for much. “
“You’re the best. Can I have her email you directly?”
“Sure. Want to go ahead and knock it out?”
Olivia smiled. She reached into her handbag and pulled out her phone. She typed something and then handed the phone to Gray. “Just put your email address in there and hit send.”
Gray did as he was told and then handed the phone back to Olivia. “It really killed you to ask me that didn’t it?”
Nodding, Olivia dropped her phone into her handbag. “You have no idea. But a promise is a promise. I would have rather asked you anything other than that.”
“Then ask me,” Gray said. “Ask me what you want to know.”
“Just put me on the spot, why don’t you?” Olivia asked as her mind went blank. Not one single question was going through her head. Taking a deep breath, she let out a small sigh. “I don’t have anything.”
Raising an eyebrow, Gray just looked at her. “Nothing at all?”
“Well, sure there are a lot of questions I had in mind,” she answered, “but then you put me on the spot and my mind went blank.”
Like a beacon, their waiter appeared with their food. “Is there anything else I can get you?” he asked.
“My dignity, if you can find it,” Olivia answered.
The waiter stared at her, not knowing what to say.
Stifling a laugh, Gray shook his head. “We’re good,” he said to the waiter, “but thank you.” He looked at Olivia and added, “Your dignity is just fine.”
“Really?” she asked. “Because I feel about three inches tall right now.
Opening his email, Gray saw an email from Susan sitting in his inbox with the subject line: Things I Need to Know. He clicked on it and read:
Thank you for putting up with Olivia’s OCD friend. That would be me if you haven’t figured that out.
Susan Cash (OCD geek of facts)
Gray shrugged his shoulders at his computer and hit reply and wrote:
You’re welcome in advance. I do have one condition to your query. That is you must submit Olivia’s answers and yours as well back to me. If I answer your list of questions, it doesn’t seem fair that you will more than likely share it with everyone in your group. And how will you know I am not just making answers up to make you happy.
Gray Smith (curious bystander)
Hitting the send button, Gray opened up the attachment and started to read through Susan’s questions. They were legit questions. Questions that anyone would want to know. Sighing, he watched Susan’s name appear in his inbox.
Done. I will give you answers that you seek in exchange for answers that I seek. I don’t think you’ll make anything up. I’m a pretty good judge of character. Besides, the fact that you’re even toying around with my idea to answer questions that have no concern to me, states that you’re willing to put up with Olivia’s friends no matter how far fetched we seem to be. I hope that we can meet again in a more sober exchange.
“You did what?” Olivia asked as her fork plummeted to her plate.
“Don’t worry,” Susan answered, holding out the envelope. “I didn’t read it. I opened the attachment, printed it, and then deleted it.”
Olivia could feel her mouth gaping open but couldn’t do anything to close it. Her mind was still reeling from what Susan had said.
Reaching across the table, Dean took the envelope and set it next to Olivia’s plate.
“Aren’t you going to open it?” Susan asked.
Blinking back her anger, Olivia picked up her fork and shoveled food onto it. She was fighting every nerve in her body to lunge across the table and put Susan in a stranglehold. Reaching for her wine glass, she raised it to her lips and drained it before she put it back on the table.
Dean stared at Olivia. He could feel her anger radiating towards him. It was the first time he had ever seen her as mad as she was now and he hoped to God it was the last time.
“If you’ll excuse me,” Olivia said, grabbing the envelope, her wine glass, and purse. Pushing her chair out from underneath her as she stood, she didn’t look down at her four friends as she left.
“Susan, really,” Ross said, staring at her in disbelief.
“What?” she asked innocently.
“I’ll go talk to her,” Simon said, dropping his napkin on the table.
“Let me,” Dean insisted.
“No. I’ll do it.” Simon stood and followed the heat of Olivia’s anger to the bar.
“Don’t say anything,” she said and drank half of the wine that had been poured into her glass from the bartender.
Simon raised his hands in surrender. “I’m just here to listen,” he said as the bartender placed a napkin in front of him.
“What’ll it be?”
“Scotch on the rocks and another of whatever she’s drinking.”
The bartender nodded and turned away.
Watching her finish the glass of wine, Simon sat down next to her. “You keep drinking like that you’re going to be puking in the bathroom before dessert arrives.”
Olivia let out a small laugh as the bartender returned to them with their drinks. “Thank you,” she said to the bartender and gave him her empty glass.
He nodded, took the glass, and left them again.
Taking a sip of his drink, Simon just looked straight ahead. “Give me the envelope,” he said, holding out his hand.
Simon turned and looked at her. “Hand me the envelope.”
Shaking her head, Olivia reached for her wine glass.
Simon put his hand over her wrist. “Do not reach for that glass until you give me that envelope.”
Olivia looked at Simon’s hand and then at him. “All right,” she said, “but it’s in my purse.”
Letting go of her hand, he slid her wine glass towards him and watched as she reached for her purse. She put the envelope in between them. Sliding the wine glass towards her, he said, “I know you’re mad at Susan. Who wouldn’t be? I can’t believe she asked him all those questions, but I do believe she did have the best intentions although not the best plan.”
Olivia nodded and took a drink of her wine.
“I mean seriously, it’s Susan. If she was good at executing anything, she’d be married to Ross already.”
“She’s crazy and I don’t know why I put up with her.”
“Because she’s a friend. Crazy or not.”
“You know, I’ve learned a lot about our friends in the last few days, and I’m not sure I like it.”
“Stop. Don’t say anything you’ll regret.”
Olivia nodded. “Doesn’t mean that I don’t want to strangler her.”
“Understood. But I see that you have two options.”
“Does one of those include calling Gray and begging him to believe that Susan is a nut case?”
“I don’t think that will be a problem,” Simon answered. “Just look at her actions.”
Dropping her head into her hands, Olivia let out a sigh. “I don’t know if I am more upset with Susan for asking Gray all those questions or more embarrassed that she made an ass out of me to Gray.”
Rubbing her back, Simon signaled to the bartender.
“Can I get a book of matches and a ceramic bowl?”
The bartender looked at him and then looked at the woman with her head in her hands. “Coming right up.”
“Why did you ask for all that?” Olivia asked, looking at him.
“As I was saying, you have two options,” Simon answered as the bartender returned with what he asked for. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome sir.”
“So what are my two options?” Olivia asked looking at the matches and the bowl.
“You can figure out all the answers by opening the envelope,” he answered, picking up the envelope and holding it up in front of her. “It’s a cheap way out. It’s what Susan does. God love her, she’s always looking for the cheap or easy way out. You know as well as I do she had good intentions.”
Simon dropped the letter into the bowl, picked up the matches, and handed them to Olivia. “Or you could strike a match and burn that envelope. Find out about Gray the real way. And of course, you’ll still want to call him and apologize that Susan is a lunatic.”
Leaning over, Olivia kissed Simon on the cheek. “You may be the world’s worst singer, but you are one of the world’s best friends.”
“You haven’t heard me sing lately, so I could be the next Pavarotti.”
Olivia laughed out loud, feeling all her anger finally dissipate. “Will you help me do the honors?” she asked.
Simon raised his glass. “To the real way,” he said.
“To the real way,” Olivia replied, clinking her glass against his. After she took a sip of her wine, she picked up the matches and struck one as Simon held the envelope for her.
As the flame engulfed the envelope, he dropped it into the bowl with a smile. “You were always top notch.”
Olivia smiled as her phone started to ring. “Sorry,” she said and reached into her purse for her phone. Looking at the caller ID, she felt her stomach tighten. “It’s Gray,” she said and looked up at Simon.
“Hi,” Gray’s voiced said from the other end. “I’m sorry to interrupt your dinner, but I just received the weirdest email from Susan on my phone.”
“She emailed you. Just now?”
Olivia watched as Simon put his head in his hand. “Do you mind if I ask you what it said?”
“She said you’re pissed off. Is everything okay?”
Closing her eyes and taking a deep, she put her anger into check. “It’s just been a very long dinner,” she answered. There was no reason to make Gray see her as a bigger fool than she already felt.
“Want to come over afterwards to talk about it?”
“I would love to, but no. I’ve already poured three glasses of wine into my system and we both know what happened the last time.”
“I got to kiss you and that wasn’t bad at all.”
Olivia felt herself redden. “No it wasn’t,” she agreed. “It wasn’t bad at all.”
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