As the doorbell echoed through Gray’s apartment, he glanced over everything one last time to make sure it all looked presentable. Taking a deep breath, he opened the door and smiled at Olivia. When she beamed a smile back at him, his nerves immediately calmed. “Did you find it okay,” he asked, reaching for the bags in her hand.
“Sure did,” she answered, releasing the bags into his hands.
“Come on in,” he said, stepping aside. “Please make yourself at home.”
“Thank you,” Olivia said as she stepped into his place. She didn’t give it a quick glance but closed the door for Gray. She was still feeling embarrassed from Susan’s actions but didn’t want him to know. “This is a great place you have here,” she said following him into the kitchen.
“Thanks,” he replied, putting the three bags onto the counter. Looking up, he saw that Olivia still had her jacket on. “Can I take your jacket and purse?” he asked, moving towards her.
Nodding, Olivia shrugged off her jacket and held it out for Gray. “I want to deeply apologize for Susan,” she said as he took the jacket. Rocking on her feet, she swallowed her embarrassment for the sake of her sanity. “I knew I shouldn’t have asked you to go along with her insane behavior.”
“It’s quite all right,” Gray replied, tucking a loose strand of hair behind her ears. She smiled, but he knew it was half-heartedly. “I promise.”
“It’s not all right,” Olivia said, following Gray down the hall. “She had no right to ask you those questions. I thought she was doing her daily survey. It’s what she does. It’s the first thing she does everyday. She’s such an OCD about it, she’s lost when she doesn’t do it.”
Gray draped her jacket on a bed and placed her purse next to it. Turning, he smiled at Olivia. “Seriously, it’s okay. I’m more than happy to play along in Susan’s game.”
Sighing, Olivia shook her head. “But you shouldn’t have to. She shouldn’t have done what she did and I put you in the position to play along with her insanity when you shouldn’t have had to. I’m sorry for doing that and for having a quack of a friend.”
Moving to her, Gray put his hands on her waist and pulled her towards him. “You’re forgiven. You probably would have done the same thing if the tables had been turned.”
Smoothing out his shirt with her hands, Olivia just stared at his chest. “No, because you wouldn’t have put me into a position like that.”
Tucking his index finger under her chin, he lifted her face so he could see her eyes. “If I had as many close friends as you do, then I probably would have. Luckily or unluckily, however you look at it, I only have Chris and Ellie and they would have just bugged me incessantly until I had the answers.”
“Just shut up and kiss me please.”
“What do you need me to do?” Gray asked, watching Olivia lay out everything that was in the grocery bags.
“Nothing,” she answered and looked at him. “Actually, strike that. You can keep me company and navigate me around your kitchen.”
“Are you sure?”
Olivia nodded. “I know you love to cook.”
“And you said yourself that you weren’t the world’s best cook.”
“True,” she said, pointing a finger at him, “but you gave me an amazing first date and I want to give you an amazing home cooked meal in return.”
“But you don’t have to repay me for anything.”
Looking up at him, she smiled. She liked how he was standing close enough to touch but not so close he was in her personal space. “I didn’t mean repay,” she replied. “I just want to do something nice for you. Is that okay?”
Gray nodded. “That’s perfectly okay. If you need my assistance, I am here.”
“But until then, park your butt somewhere.”
“I’ll open a bottle of wine and be sitting at the kitchen table. Would you like a quick run down of the kitchen?”
“Tableware is in the cabinet to the fridge and silverware is in the drawer underneath the cabinet. All cookware and utensils are on the left side of the stove. If you have any questions or can’t find anything, I’ll of course be watching you from the table.”
Smiling, Olivia nudged him with her hip. “How do you like your steak?”
“Steak?” he asked and she nodded, “but you’re a vegetarian.”
“And you are not, so how do you like your steak?”
“Medium to medium well.”
“Got it,” Olivia replied with a nod. “You are now relieved of kitchen duty.”
“Yes ma’am,” Gray saluted, pushing himself from the counter. “So what am I suppose to do after I open this wine? Just sit at the table and watch you?”
Shrugging her shoulders, Olivia started searching the cabinets for the cookware she would need. “We can talk, you can do work, watch your favorite sport, whatever.”
“I know you don’t want to talk about Susan, but I have one question.”
“She gave you my answers didn’t she?”
Closing the doors to the cabinet, Olivia put the grill plate she had in her hands down. “She did,” she answered. “Simon helped me burn the envelope.”
“You didn’t read any of it?” Gray asked, pulling a bottle out of the wine rack. He watched as she moved to the stove and turned it on.
“No,” she answered without looking at him. “As curious as I was, I don’t want to find those things about you on a piece of paper. I want to find out about those things in person. I want to get to know you through you. Not some nosey survey a friend of mine did.”
“Did she tell you that she sent me your answers?” he asked, putting two glasses on the counter next to Olivia.
Olivia felt anger and embarrassment bombarding her system. She was glad she was empty handed because she would have either shattered whatever was in her hand or dropped it to the floor. “No, she didn’t,” she answered, turning her back towards Gray. The anger in her was seeping out of her eyes. She hated that she cried when she was angry. Closing her eyes tightly, she took a deep breath to compose herself. “If she had told me, I wouldn’t be here cooking for you.”
“Why not?” Gray asked, staring at her back. He could see her shoulders trembling with anger.
“Because I would have been in jail for murder,” she answered so matter of fact that she scared herself.
Putting his hands on Olivia’s shoulders, he turned her to face him. “I’m glad she didn’t tell you then,” he said as she stared at his chest, “because I’m glad you’re here instead.”
“Me too,” Olivia said, forcing her anger out with each breath.
“Will you look at me?”
Olivia shook her head. “I’m still trying to let the anger I have towards her leave my body.”
Gray nodded, moving his hands from her shoulders down her arms and to her hands. Holding them in his, he squeezed them to let her know he understood and that he was there for her. “I didn’t read her email either.”
Looking up at him, Olivia sighed. “You didn’t?”
“No. It’s none of my business. Anything you would want me to know, I assume you would tell me.”
Stepping closer to him, Olivia kissed him. She was falling for him minute by minute and that scared her more than her anger towards Susan.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” Gray asked.
“Not at all,” Olivia said as she shredded vegetables, “but let’s do it anyway.”
“All right,” he answered, opening the email Susan had originally sent him. They both had come to the conclusion they wanted to know each other better but since they had not read the answers Susan had given them, they would just ask each other in person. “You said she emails everyone the same questions every day. Why?”
“Because she’s crazy,” Olivia answered. She stopped what she was doing and stared at the shredded vegetables. Turning, she looked at Gray. “I honestly don’t know. She’s been doing it as long as I can remember. Everyday, it’s the same five questions. How are you feeling this morning? Did you sleep well last night? What did you eat for breakfast? Is your day going to be busy? What was the last thing you thought of before you went to sleep?” Turning back to the task at hand, she continued. “If she doesn’t get a response within an hour or at least a response saying you’re doing something else than answering her survey, she sends the same email every twenty-five minutes until you answer it.”
“Have you ever not answered her email?”
“Once. I lost track at the number of times she had sent it. She finally called me and bugged me until I answered it.”
“What does she do for a living again?”
“School teacher. High school math. I believe she teaches calculus.”
“Maybe she’s using the information for some class project,” Gray suggested.
“I guess,” Olivia replied. “What kind of questions did she send you?”
“The standard ‘things you don’t know about me’ via a million forwarded emails,” he answered as she brought him a jar.
“Really?” she asked. “Can you open this?”
“Yeah,” he answered, opening the jar and handing back to her.
“You’re welcome. You seemed surprised she would send something like that.”
“Susan’s not a forward email person. I mean the only useless email she sends is the morning survey as she calls it. I don’t get one bad joke, funny picture, random news article or anything.”
“I received fifty random questions so I figured I’d play along.”
“Can we skip over the obvious ones like what are you wearing now and stuff?”
“And the ones we already know the answers to.”
“How about we just pick five questions?” Olivia asked, sitting down in front of Gray. “It will be less painful for the both of us.”
“I agree,” Gray answered, “but you know I would love to know your answer to boxers or briefs.”
Smiling, Olivia felt her pulse increase. “Boxers.”
“Mental note,” Gray replied, tapping his finger on the side of his head. He looked down at his laptop and at the questions. “We’ll skip that one, and that one. Definitely that one.”
“What is that one a definitely?” Olivia asked.
“I’m assuming we both already know the answer or we wouldn’t be sitting here with each other.”
“What’s the question?”
“Are you straight, bi, or gay?”
“We can definitely skip that one,” Olivia answered.
Smiling at her, Gray continued reading the questions. “Here we go. What is the first thing you notice about people? You first.”
“Eyes. It was the first thing I noticed about you. What about you?”
“Is that what you noticed about me first?”
“Yes,” he answered, looking at her. “You always seem to be smiling.”
“Next question,” Olivia said, covering her face with her hands.
Reaching across the table, Gray pulled her hands away from her face. “Don’t be embarrassed, you have a great smile.”
“Next question,” she begged, trying to pull her hands away from Gray but failing to do so.
“Do you like the person who sent you this?”
“I go first. When she’s not being a crazy person, I like her.”
Gray laughed. “I don’t know her well enough to judge.”
Gray kissed the top of Olivia’s head and sighed. “That was a great meal,” he said as they both were stretched out on the couch.
Rolling over onto her stomach, she stared at him. “Are you just saying that?” she asked, resting her hand and chin on his chest.
Shaking his head, he ran a hand through her hair. “Nope. For a vegetarian and a self proclaimed bad cook, that was one hell of a meal.” When Olivia smiled, Gray felt his heart do a little dance. “Where did you get your sudden cooking skills?”
“Ross,” she answered. “He’s a head chef. I asked him to give me the easiest recipes that he knew I could cook.”
Putting his hands on her waist, Gray pulled her up and closer towards him. “Well compliments to my chef,” he said and then kissed her.
Smiling, Olivia said, “You’re welcome.”
“So if Ross is a chef and Susan is a teacher, what does everyone else do?”
“Dean is an interior designer. Mostly homes, but he’s being doing more and more businesses. Thom is a manager at a wine store and is working on becoming a certified sommelier. He also works with Ross to pair wines for the restaurant he works at. Heather is in the banking field but I couldn’t tell you exactly what she does. Zane owns his own catering business that employs Ross and Thom at times, and Simon is a jack-of-all-trades and trust fund baby. He is currently in the throws of a coffeehouse slash art house venture that opens soon.”
Gray nodded. “Impressive. You guys are all over the place but work together.”
“What about Ellie and Chris?”
“Chris works with me and Ellie is a buyer for a department store.”
“Well, don’t let any of them get an email from Susan,” she said with a smile.
“Stay the night,” Gray said.
Putting her head on his chest, she closed her eyes and said, “I can’t. I want to but I can’t.” She knew she wasn’t mentally ready to make that move even though her body wanted him more than anything.
“Not like that,” Gray replied, stroking her hair. “I’ll be a perfect gentleman. I just don’t want you to leave.”
Smiling, Olivia kissed his chest. “I don’t want to leave either.”
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All rights reserved | This is a rough draft and not the final version