There was no one to kiss at midnight. I was okay with this. So I didn’t have a boyfriend? I was never one to insist on having one even if it meant a lonesome New Year’s. I’d done Christmas alone and I weathered that like a champ regardless of my Aunt Sarah’s pouty laments about my dying an old maid if I “didn’t figure myself out soon.” Sigh. I could do alone. I was happy with myself and since I didn’t care to kiss random strangers, either, I knew for a fact that I wasn’t going to kiss anyone at midnight.
I was okay with this.
Well, I was ninety-two percent okay with this.
Loud music thumped through the crowded party I was at. I looked around me and noticed two of my workmate girlfriends sidled up to their gentlemen dates. A tiny pang of sadness filtered across my skin.
Fine, I was seventy-seven percent okay with not kissing anyone at midnight.
I glanced at the time on my phone. It read nine p.m. Three more hours, I chanted in my head. No, I amended, two hours forty-five minutes. In a flash second, I decided it was best to be in a cab headed for home ten til. No sense standing around like an idiot, smiling like one as well, at all the happy people around me, locking lips, feeling exhilarated, feeling enchanted.
I was sixty-four percent okay with the whole not sharing a kiss at midnight thing.
I crossed my arms across my stomach, balancing my empty martini glass at my hip, trying for casual. I kept fidgeting, which probably meant I looked anything but casual. Sigh. It was just as well. No one was looking at me anyway.
I was forty-three percent okay with the lack of kissing potential.
“Refresh your drink for you, Adeline?” Jack said. Jack was a work frenemy. He and I were always neck and neck, occasionally elbowing the other out of the way if it meant we could get the attention of one of the partners. Half the reason I did well as a first year associate at our New York law firm was because of him. I couldn’t be lazy around Jack.
I stood up straight. He was always angling for a way to tease me and I didn’t want to supply the fuel. “No, I’m fine, thanks.”
He took my empty glass from me and set it on the kitchen counter next to his phone.
“Whose loft do you think we’re in?” he asked me.
“I heard someone say it belonged to Justin Chekov.” Justin was one of the firm’s clients.
Jack looked surprised. “This is Justin’s apartment?” He studied his surroundings. “We should have charged him more.”
I laughed and nodded. “Did you come with the rest of us?” I asked him.
He shook his head at me. “Remind me not to ever send you with an investigator, will you? I was sitting one away from you.”
He was subtly reminding me with that comment that he was put in charge that day of overseeing the other first years.
I stared at him. “Not fair. It’s so easy to overlook you.”
“Is it, though?” he asked, throwing his chin the direction of two girls ogling him.
I rolled my eyes and pretended to study them. “Let me rephrase. It’s easy if your name isn’t Cinnamon or possibly Chandelier.”
He smiled an easy grin. “Touché.”
I inclined my head toward him.
“How about Helluva Bottom Carter?”
I burst out laughing. “Yes or Eileen Dover.”
He nodded in approval . “How about Amanda Hugginkiss?”
He barked out a laugh and I knew I’d won. Jack never laughed out loud if he could help it.
He cleared his throat. “Uh, anyway, I read that brief you drafted.”
I perked up a little bit. “Oh yeah?”
“It was good.”
I snorted. “Just good, huh?”
“It was brilliant, Adeline, okay? What more do you want from me?”
“Ha! I knew it. Proof you think I’m brilliant.” I slapped my hands back and forth as if to clear them of imaginary dirt.
“I said the brief was brilliant. I never said you were.”
My mouth hung open. “So you don’t think I’m brilliant?”
“What I think is irrelevant.”
I shook my head. “No, Counselor, it is extremely relevant,” I teased.
The expression on his face flickered a moment. “What would it matter to you what I did or did not think?”
I stood a little taller. “It- it doesn’t,” I stuttered.
His teasing grin came full force. “It-It-It It doesn’t sound like it,” he needled.
I felt my cheeks heat up a bit. “Okay, Jack, whatever.”
“Okay, Jack,” he mocked in falsetto.
“Oh, real mature, Jack.”
“Real mature, Jack,” he parroted.
I shook my head at him just as Justin came over. Jack abandoned high school and put on his big boy suit. “Justin,” he said as they shook hands.
Justin turned toward me and offered his hand. “Adeline, nice to see you again,” he said after I took it.
“Of course, Mister Chekov. Thank you for having us.”
“Please, call me Justin.”
I smiled at him. “Thank you for having us, Justin.”
“It’s a pleasure,” he said. “Listen,” he continued, placing his other hand on top of mine when I tried to pull away, “I was wondering if I could interest you in dinner sometime?”
“Um, of course, did you want to go over the results of your case?” I asked.
He laughed and winked at Jack in that, girls, aren’t they precious? kind of way. It grossed me out. From the look on Jack’s face, he concurred. He looked my way and must have read the deer-in-the-headlights vibe I hope I was giving out.
“Actually, Justin,” Jack explained, taking my hand and surprising the crap out of me. It was warm and fit perfectly over mine. Butterflies filled my stomach and my skin flushed all over. “Adeline and I are together.”
Justin looked a little taken aback but he rallied well. “Oh, excuse me, the way you two bickered at one another, I assumed- well, never mind what I assumed. Excuse me, I hope I didn’t offend.”
I shook off the honeyed effect Jack’s hand had caused and smiled at Justin. “Of course not, I’m flattered all the same. Good for a girl’s complexion, so thank you,” I tried to appease.
Justin smiled back, peered down at our joined hands briefly, before offering a smile and retreating back into the party.
Jack let go of my hand. Neither of us said anything to one another for at least ten seconds before we both spoke at once.
“Go on,” he said.
“Thank you for that,” I said, unconsciously rubbing at the palm he’d just held. “I, uh, I didn’t want to offend him but-“
“But didn’t want to go out with him?”
I smiled and nodded. “No!” I shivered a little. “I know a few things about him and, uh, let’s just say I wouldn’t date him for all the money in the world.”
“So it was cool for me to, uh, you know, hold your hand?”
“Of course! I mean, yeah, it was perfect. I mean, it worked perfectly. He doesn’t get offended and I get to keep my standards.”
Jack smiled at me. “And your job.”
I bit back my own smile. “You’re going to lord your new position over me every single chance you get, aren’t you?”
He laughed. “Who? Me?”
“Come on, you two!” Peter, another associate, yelled our direction. “There’s fireworks going off over Times Square and Justin says we can see them from the roof.”
We followed the crowd to the roof after grabbing our coats and stood near the railing as fireworks burst above us. The sound was almost deafening but the sights were unbelievable, full of whites, reds, and greens. The sky lit up beautifully.
Forty-one. Forty-one percent okay in that moment.
I glanced toward Jack and felt my throat close up a little at the memory of what his hand felt like in mine. His eyes found me and I quickly forced mine back toward the sky. Being as careful as possible, I glanced his way again with what I hoped was a skillful side eye.
Jack was certainly good looking. I’d always known that. He was tall. He was built but lean. At least, I thought he was. His Mad Men style suits always hung so well on him. Half Jack’s attraction was his ability to carry himself well and the boy had swagger. He had a Forties throwback haircut, always perfectly parted. I dug it, I won’t lie, but I also itched to ruin his part just so I could see what his reaction would be. He wasn’t classically handsome but he had a jawline and a pair of baby blues that could send any woman to her knees, but what drove me personally up the wall, in a good way, though I wouldn’t have admitted it to anyone, let alone myself, was his Adam’s apple. The man’s neck was beautiful. I imagined dragging my thumb down the line of his throat and inwardly shivered. Where did that come from?
I took a deep, shaky breath and tried to focus on the fireworks. I shoved my hands out of my gloves and set them on the ledge near me. My fingers found my neck and dragged down, unbuttoning the top button of my coat. I was gulping in air.
“You all right?” Jack asked from beside me. The warmth of his breath puffed in the air around us.
I jumped a little then laughed. “Yeah, I’m cool or whatever.”
“Amazing, right?” he asked, gesturing at the sky.
“It’s magical,” I admitted.
We stood in silence until the finale faded into the sky and the world turned quiet, save for the typical city noise I was accustomed to.
Jack smiled politely at me and I felt my heart rate increase. Uh oh. We followed the funneling crowd toward the roof’s door and ended up being dead last. Jack opened the door for me and I began to walk through when I suddenly remembered my gloves on the railing’s ledge.
“My gloves!” I protested.
Jack looked around. “Where are they?” he asked.
“Just there,” I said, pointing. “I”ll get them,” I said, just as he said the same.
We let the door shut behind us and started toward the railing. He beat me to them and picked them up for me, handing them over, as we headed for the door again. He grabbed the handle and yanked but it didn’t budge. My pulse picked up again but this time in a bit of a panic. He pulled as hard as he could but it wouldn’t open.
“Shit,” he whispered. He reached into pant’s pockets, looking for his phone, I assumed. The expression on his face went from collected to frantic as he checked his jacket pocket and his coat pockets, turning up with nothing. “Oh shit,” he said again. “My phone’s on the island downstairs.”
I gulped. “Mine’s in my purse.”
“Let me guess, also downstairs?”
I nodded, afraid to speak.
“Well, we’ve got ourselves a little situation,” he commented.
“Surely they’ll notice we’re not there.”
He nodded but didn’t look convinced.
“Carmen will definitely wonder where I’m at,” I said, feeling a little better.
“Carmen left,” Jack told me.
“Yeah, I was standing with Peter earlier and she said she had to go back to the office. One of the partners needed her. She said she’d text you.”
“Oh my God,” I said, feeling a little sick.
It was probably twenty degrees out.
“It’s fine,” he said, using his litigator voice, which made me nervous. “It’s all going to be fine.”
He walked to the roof’s edge and peered down. He followed it all the way around.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“Checking for the fire escape.”
“Oh my God, yes! The fire escape!”
He looked at me then shook his head. “It’s broken, Adeline.”
I scoffed. “No way. They wouldn’t let something as important as the fire escape in a posh building like this go to disrepair.”
“They would and they did,” he said, pointing over the edge.
I stomped over beside him and peered over. “Oh my God, I’m going to report them immediately!”
Jack’s hands went to the back of his neck. “Okay, okay, let’s think about this.”
I glanced around the edge. It was too high to call down and the nearest window was too far to safely descend. We were truly stuck.
He began kicking at the big metal door and I helped him.
“Maybe,” he grunted, “we. can. get them to. hear us.”
We pounded and pounded until both our hands and feet were raw but no one came. We both fell back, tired and defeated.
“We’ll just have to wait then,” he said.
With that, fear filled me entirely. My eyes started to glass and Jack noticed.
“No,” he whispered, “don’t worry. I promise we won’t be up here much longer. Let’s just find a way to stay as warm as possible for the time being.”
I swallowed and nodded. We both stood and glanced around us. There was only a bunch of covered patio furniture nearby so we decided to search the other parts of the roof to see if there was anything else. We rounded the roof’s door only to find more furniture but about fifteen feet further from that, tucked in the far corner, was something that could have been a gas fireplace. It, too, was covered but I didn’t think it could be anything else. Together we lifted the canvas cover and saw that it was, indeed, one of those gas fireplaces.
“Oh thank God!”
Jack searched its perimeter. “It needs a key to work,” he told me. I met his side and tried not to get hysterical. “I think I might be able to rig it.” He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out something similar to a pocket knife but even crazier looking.
“What the hell is that?” I asked.
He laughed. “It’s some sort of multi-purpose tool Ned gave me for Christmas. I thought nothing of it at the time but now I could kiss him.” Ned was the firm’s investigator. Jack started rummaging through the knife’s options and found something he liked. He bent and attempted to pick the gas lock, eventually getting it to turn. He flipped the pilot light’s switch but it wouldn’t turn so instead he had me stand back as he bit at the flint attached to his new Christmas gift. The flame burst to life and I squealed like a little girl, jumping up and down.
“I can’t believe you did that!” I told him.
We held our hands over the fire and warmed up for a few minutes before deciding to pull up a few chairs. Jack gathered a bunch of furniture covers, tying them to the corners of our chairs and the stone surrounding the fire, encompassing us completely and keeping the warmth of the fire close. We sat and reveled in the heat.
“That was pretty ingenious,” I told him.
He shook his head. “Nah, it was all Ned.
I didn’t say anything because I knew he would have denied it anyway, but I knew for a fact that had he not been there, I’d have frozen to death on that roof.
“Thanks for helping me,” I told him. “I’m sorry I got you caught up here.”
“It wasn’t your fault,” he offered.
“Yes, it was. This is just my awkward way of thanking you for getting caught out here with me and not letting me die.”
He smiled at me then turned his gaze toward the fire.
“I wonder what time it is,” he said absently.
A thought occurred to me. “I hope I didn’t screw with any plans you had.”
“What do you mean?”
“If you had someone waiting for you at midnight, I mean.”
He looked at me, his eyes furrowed in confusion. “Who would be waiting for me, Adeline?”
I swallowed. “A girlfriend or whatever.”
He laughed. “Have I ever talked about someone at work?”
“Well, no, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t have someone or whatever.”
“I suppose it could mean that but that would also mean I was an asshole, don’t you think? Never talking about some girl I was with?”
“Not really. Some people are just really private.”
“Oh, I see, does that mean you’ve got some guy chasing your skirt?”
“Excuse me? Any one who chases me better be up for climbing ladders, let my skirt alone.”
“Are you wearing a skirt while on this ladder?” he asked.
I bit my lip to keep from laughing. “Oh, shut up, Jack, you know what I meant.”
His chest and shoulders shook with laughter. “You’re so easy.”
“I am not easy!”
“No!” he laughed, “I meant it’s so easy to bug you. You make it too easy for me.”
“I know what you meant, jack ass. You get a lot of joy out of flustering me,” I told him.
He sobered. “Do I fluster you?”
I felt my skin flush. “Not as much as you’d like,” I told him.
“Tell me then how much you think I’d like to fluster you?”
This is dangerously close to flirting.
“It’s unquantifiable. What might be much to me might not be much to you.”
“What is much to you then so I can gauge it.”
“How could I measure that?” I countered, not wanting to make myself any more vulnerable to him than necessary.
“Easily,” he teased.
“Set the value then.”
“On a scale of one to ten, one being you’re complete indifference to me and ten being that I totally agitate you,” he goaded.
“What’s the median?” I asked.
“Provoked but it’s not necessarily unwanted.”
I twisted my lips. “I say just above the median,” I said. A mischievous grin grew across his mouth, “With the occasional outlier,” I amended.
“What is the outlier?” he asked.
“Fantasies of lopping off a certain reproductive organ.”
He made a show of crossing his legs and I fought a grin. “That day Smith overlooked you for me when you were obviously just as qualified for the case and I was already overloaded?”
It fascinated me that he went right to it. “To name a few.”
“Smith is an antiquated, sexist fool, you know that, right?”
“He’s still a partner, Jack.”
“He’s pushing eighty-five, Adeline. He can barely try a case anymore. They’re constantly loading him with busy work. He’s there for show only and they’ll push him out soon.”
“Maybe,” I agreed.
“And then I can, well-“ he didn’t finish.
“You can what? Tell me. Find a position for me? Help me out?”
His eyes serious, he shook his head back and forth slowly. “You don’t need help from anyone, Adeline.”
I swallowed. Thirty-nine percent okay with not having someone to kiss when that clock struck twelve.
“So what did you mean then?” I asked.
“Well, it’s just, if they promote from within then we can vie for any open associate position. It’d be between us.”
“Yeah, so? You’d get it, Jack.”
“And why do you think that?”
“Because they gave you that promotion today.”
Jack laughed. “You want to know why you didn’t get the promotion?”
“I overheard the associates’ secretaries talking. They chose me over you because they needed you free and available for the Martinelli case next month.” I started breathing heavier. “They felt you’re the most capable.”
Jack had been campaigning to be put on the case as the junior for weeks. It was one of the biggest cases our firm had gotten in years and had even garnered national attention. Whoever the junior was on that case was going to have the biggest card in their pocket if we won. I couldn’t believe they were looking to place me.
“Wow,” I whispered.
Jack smiled at me. “They’re right, you know. You are the most capable so when we both vie for that open position and you get it? Then I can relax.”
“Yes, damn it. Do you know how ragged you run me? I can barely keep up with you.”
I laughed out loud. “I get four hours a sleep a night on average, I eat out of containers at my table surrounded by files, I’ve got Ned on speed dial, and I haven’t gone on a date in over a year and it’s all because of you.”
Jack’s jaw went slack. “You haven’t dated because of me?”
My face flamed. “I, uh, just meant I don’t have time for anything else anymore. I’m always trying to figure out ways to beat you.”
He smiled at me. “So you don’t have anyone to kiss at midnight either then.”
I shook my head. “You know I don’t.”
“Interesting,” he said.
I lifted one brow. “Why is that interesting?”
He drew the backs of his fingers down his jaw and tried not to smile. “It just is.”
“Have you been drinking?” I asked him.
He threw his head back and laughed. “Maybe a little,” he answered.
“How much?” I asked.
“Enough that I’m letting down my guard but not so much that I don’t know what I’m doing.”
I leaned forward. “What are you doing?” I asked.
He opened his mouth to answer but stopped short when he noticed it had started to snow.
“Uh oh,” I whispered.
Jack grabbed the leg of my chair and pulled me closer to the fire. It was bold and it was sexy and I felt my stomach flip on itself. My whole body swung toward him when the chair stopped and he leaned toward me. “We’ll have to stay close like this to stay warm,” he explained.
Feeling a little out of breath, I said, “Will we?”
“When you walked into the office to meet everyone tonight?”
“Yeah, I was a little late.”
“We were all standing near the elevators, getting ready to head downstairs, and the doors opened and you were standing there in that peach dress, your shoulders exposed. I opened my mouth to quip something at you but I was stunned silent.”
“You were?” I quieted.
“You’re a beautiful woman, Adeline.”
I swallowed. “There are lots of beautiful women at our firm.”
He smiled but shook his head. “Not like you, though.”
I sucked in a breath. “What are you saying?”
He shook his head and let out a deep breath. “I’m just admitting I find you handsome is all.” He sat back in his chair, resting the back of his neck on the top of the chair and exposing his magnificent throat. “I’m not telling you something you don’t already know, though.”
“Do you want in on a secret?” I asked him.
“A girl can suspect she’s beautiful. Unless it’s confirmed, though, it’s merely a suspicion.”
“But it’s the truth all the same.”
He sat up. “Has no one ever told you that?” he asked me.
“A few boys in high school, but they always looked raring to go at the time, so it lost its value immediately.” Jack grinned. “A drunk boy in college but it was at a party where he also told one of our three hundred pound linemen the same thing.” Jack laughed, giving me butterflies. “And all the time on the streets here but it’s usually quickly followed up by the word bitch because I won’t give them the time of day.”
Jack shook his head. “It sounds like you’ve been tossed about by idiots. You don’t trust when someone says it and they’re genuine.”
“It’s hard to trust anyone anymore.”
“Men aren’t who they used to be,” he told me, “but I’m not a product of that school, Adeline. I mean what I say.”
I took two deep breaths. “I believe you.”
He smiled at me, his brilliant teeth startling white against his warm face. “Good.”
I didn’t have anything else to say so I decided to keep quiet, a trick the juniors learned the second we hit the firm’s floor for the first time.
He cleared his throat then leaned back again. “I’m not the best looking guy out there, I know this,” he began.
I laughed, interrupting him. “You’re foolish, Jack. You’re really attractive.”
He sat up. “Girls, like the ones earlier, think I have money so they pay attention but as just some guy off the street? They don’t even bother looking.”
“That you know of.”
“I know. Trust me, I know.”
“Then they’re gosh damn fools who can’t see what’s right in front of them. You don’t want the stupid ones anyway, so no skin off your back.”
His smile spread wide. “You’re good, you know that?” He studied me a second. “You’re an excellent attorney.”
This was always a secret insecurity on my part. I’d only been practicing law for a year and anytime I got in front of a judge, my stomach would be in knots for days. I hadn’t yet mastered that part of myself yet and I thought everyone knew it.
“I still get really nervous at even the simplest hearing.”
He nodded. “You could never tell. You’re a pro.”
“Thank you,” I told him.
The snow started falling harder and was gathering in steeper and steeper piles against the roof’s ledges.
“How long do you think it’s been?” I asked.
“Not sure, to be honest. I think the longer we’re up here, the less likely someone will find us anytime soon,” he said.
“My purse is still down there, though. Eventually they’ll wonder who it belongs to?”
“Possible,” he said, not sounding confident at all.
“Do you think the gas source is from the pipes?” I asked.
“Most definitely. We won’t be running out of fire anytime soon.”
We were quiet for a little bit. I studied his hands, the way the fabric of his pants stretched across his thighs, the way his jacket strained against his shoulders. His swept bangs swung forward a little bit. He swallowed when he noticed me staring, pronouncing his Adam’s apple even more and sending me spiraling.
“What are you staring at?”
I found his eyes. “Nothing,” I whispered.
I was thirty percent okay. Getting lower all the time.
“Want to play a game?” he asked.
“Have a deck of cards in that knife of yours?”
He shook his head and smiled at me then held his palms out. I scooted forward and when I placed my hands on top of his, a tiny spark of static electricity sparked between us and we both pulled our hands back. When I remembered to breathe again, I shook my head and laughed a little.
He swallowed. “Let’s try this again,” he said quietly, setting his hands out once more.
I placed mine on top of his and a syrupy warmth traveled up my fingers, hands, and arms and settled in my chest. It was a long time before we both noticed we were just staring at our connected hands. Jack cleared his throat and scooted forward a little bit, our knees barely brushing. He shook his right hand a bit to fake me out but I didn’t fall for it. He tried time and time again to slap my hands but he failed every time. By the seventh attempt, he had me rolling he was so frustrated.
“Why can’t I get you?” he asked.
“Because I know you. I’ve spent eighteen hours a day with you for the past year. I know when you’re bluffing and when you’re not.”
He looked at me. “I bet you don’t know everything about me, though,” he said, making my stomach drop to the floor, and bringing his left hand out and slapping it on top of mine. “Gotcha,” he whispered.
I tossed my hair behind me and sat upright, desperate to ignore my racing heart. I laid my palms out and he placed his hands on mine. Our eyes found one another and we stared at each other. Every attempt I made at besting him, he thwarted.
“I won’t give up,” I told him with a smile.
He smiled back. “I already know this,” he said, as my hand found his with a light crack.
Just then someone turned a light on from the floor just above the roof in the building next door and we both launched up trying to get their attention. No one came to the window, though, and eventually we got too cold to keep trying and returned to our chairs.
“You live anywhere near here?” he asked.
“No,” I laughed, “I’ve got a little studio in Chelsea.”
“I’m in Chelsea too.”
“Needed to be close to work, huh?” I asked him.
“More like needed to be ready for whatever you have up your sleeve.”
“Don’t you like the competition?” I asked.
“You know I love it.”
I nodded. “So do I,” I admitted.
“Do,” he began, then cleared his throat, “do you think that, uh, it might be too much sometimes, though?”
I sat up a bit. “Why? Because neither of us seem to have any kind of life other than work?”
“Yes,” he answered.
Do I be honest? “Maybe.”
“I like the drive, the fun of the chase, but I want more, Adeline.” He pulled at his hair a little. “I don’t want my life limited to the rungs I ascended, by the cash in my pockets. I want a real, full life.”
My throat went dry. “What do you think a real, full life is, Jack?”
“I don’t know yet, but I know it’s more than five a.m. alarms, than sleepless, brief-filled nights, than demanding grunt work.” He leaned back, his long legs extended before him, his hands gripped at the arm of his chair. “I don’t know. “ He looked at me. “Are your parents still together?”
“Yeah, they are.”
“Are they happy?”
“I think so.”
He nodded. “Mine are too. I didn’t go home over Christmas because of work, of course, but I called them up and spent the morning sitting at my laptop in my sad studio watching my family open gifts together. As I sat there, I wondered at what the hell I was playing at. I saw my brother and his wife and kids. He looked exhausted but fulfilled. I saw my mom and dad happy and full of something I’ve never once felt in any relationship I’ve ever been in. I know it exists because I’ve seen it.”
Twenty-three percent okay with the whole not kissing at midnight thing.
“I know exactly what you’re talking about. My parents aren’t impressed with my job, with my paycheck. They don’t care for anything but to see me happy. About six months ago they just up and asked me what I wanted in life. Without thinking, I blurted out that I wanted someone. All my life, growing up and working myself to death toward this idea of success, I would have thought my immediate answer would be to crest that mountain, looking down below, my foot mounted on the top of the hill.” Jack studied me. “Don’t get me wrong, I still want those things, I still have drive, I still have the endurance, but I figured out, maybe a little later than some, that it’s not what I actually want to define me.”
“Right. What do you think people say to those surrounding them on their death beds? Nobody speaks of financial regrets or a missed opportunity at a power grab.” He shook his head. “They talk of love not finished, of a time of love cut too short, or the flip of that, the happiness in a love they shared. That’s what I want. Love should always be at the center of this life, no matter who you are, no matter where you’re from.”
I drew deep breaths over and over, my pulse quickened in my veins. Jack turned toward me.
One side of his mouth lifted in what I’d come to learn as “the worried Jack face.” “You’re not, um, you’re not going to use this against me, are you?”
“Only if you don’t use what I said against me,” I quieted.
“It’s off the record, Counselor.”
Twenty percent okay.
I smiled at him. “Let’s make a pact then.”
“What’s that?” he asked.
“Whenever either of us seems to be getting ready to abandon focus, the other reins them back in.”
I extended my pinky and he wrapped his with mine, sending warm, anxious blood all throughout my body. We stared at our connected fingers but neither of us pulled away. Slowly he flattened his hand out and slid it into my palm. My breaths came in pants and our eyes met briefly.
“Jack,” I whispered over the hush of falling snow.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m checking something.”
Seventeen percent okay.
“What are you checking for?” I asked, swallowing hard.
His long fingers slid further and wrapped around my wrist. Not able to help myself, I wrapped my own around his. He closed his eyes then lazily opened them. I felt his pulse quicken.
“I wasn’t imagining it then.”
“What do you mean?”
“Earlier tonight, when I took your hand, I felt something in your skin. Like something familiar to me even though I know I’ve never touched you, like I’ve known your skin for years.”
Down to ten percent.
My chest constricted. “It does.”
“What did mine feel like?” he asked.
“Like my whole body was on fire, Jack.”
He smiled so wide I could tell it embarrassed him and he hung his head low to hide it. “Is that a good thing?” he asked the rooftop.
“A scary thing, but a great thing nevertheless.”
He picked his head up, the line of his throat exposed. With my free hand I ran the backs of my fingers down the side of his neck. He visibly shivered and that did something to my insides. He stood up and dragged me with him, took a deep breath and peeled the shoulder of one side of my jacket back a little. The tip of his index finger followed the line of my neck near my ear all the way down the top of my shoulder, making me sink into him.
“I’ve wanted to do that since the elevator, Adeline.”
“How was it?” I asked.
His eyes met mine. “Addicting,” he admitted.
I closed my eyes, afraid to look at him. “Don’t say things like that.”
“I lied. I’ve wanted to do that since the first day we were introduced.”
“Stop,” I told him, “we can’t go back to how we were if you don’t stop.”
“I don’t want to stop, though, Adeline.” He swallowed. “Do you?”
I opened my eyes and looked up at him. I hesitated but knew I couldn’t lie. “No,” I spoke low.
He laid a soft kiss at my shoulder, making my heart beat into my throat, then pushed my coat back over the skin but it looked like he regretted it and that washed a drugging, satisfied feeling over me.
“I’ve liked you for a long time,” he told me.
“Have you?” I asked.
He nodded, his hands finding the sides of my neck. I reached up and did the same, letting my thumb brush the line of his Adam’s apple, reveling in the fact that I made him swallow at my touch.
Yeah, I was definitely not okay with having no one to kiss at midnight. Or didn’t I have someone?
He brought his cheek to mine and smelled my hair.
“Jack,” I stated in his ear as the nearby clock chimed once, twice.
Three, four, five times.
“Have you no one to kiss at midnight?” I asked.
Six, seven, eight.
“I’ve got someone,” he answered.
Nine, ten, eleven.
“So do I.”
“Happy New Year, Adeline.”
“Happy New Year, Jack.”
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