Nine

"Tell me again how you managed to escape the treadmill?" Dodge requested for what felt like the seven millionth time, despite the fact that I had been diligently avoiding the subject ever since he returned to his desk after lunch to find me actually doing the work I was paid to do, rather than watching paper spit out of a machine. I knew that if I started the story of my escape I would be forced to give him every single humiliating detail. It was practically impossible for me to keep anything from him.

"A magician never reveals her tricks," I replied enigmatically over my shoulder.

Dodge sat cross legged on my bed, warding off the encroaching mess with a stern yet fleeting glare as I continued to toss possible dress options out of the closet I stood before. I tore a sparkly, strappy, lavender number from its coat hanger and flung it in his direction.

"Why won't you tell me," he whined, tearing it off his face and dumping it on the pile that surrounded him. "I'm your best friend. You're obligated to divulge all your secrets to me."

"Not when it involves how I got out of your death trap," I countered, bending to snatch up a pair of shoes that caught my eye as I pushed coat hangers aside. Silently, I added, And especially not when it involves kissing my arch nemesis.

"What was that about a nemesis?"

Okay, so maybe it was a little less than silent.

"Nothing," I said quickly, hoping the word nemesis was the only part of that sentence he'd heard. I don't think I could survive a ribbing from Dodge for making out with the very man I'd declared office warfare against four days ago. "Just help me pick a dress and get out of my room."

He hurumphed at the lack of information I was providing him with and picked his way through the clothing scattered across the floor. He sifted through the items hanging on the rail purposefully for a mere second before pulling out a slimline, black dress that would probably hug every single bulge and curve I owned. It had a modest neckline to show off just a hint of my modest cleavage, and thin straps that lead to a deep scoop at the back.

It was elegant. Sort of conservative. Definitely not something I would have chosen.

Handing me the dress, he took the shoes – silver, strappy and impossibly high – from my hands and dumped them back in the bottom of the closet as he plucked out a pair of low heels that, believe it or not, matched the dress perfectly.

"He's your boss," Dodge explained. "You don't want to throw the wrong light on the dinner by dressing like it's a date. It's best to assume he wants to discuss business in a relaxed setting. The dress is classy enough if he takes you to an expensive restaurant. The heels add a touch of casual if it's a lesser dining venue. The overall look, provided you allow your hair to be free and style it so that it looks like you just washed and dried it, says you weren't really making an effort. Light make up. Gloss, not lipstick. Mascara, no eyeliner."

I nodded my understanding, thankful for his expertise in dating attire.

"Now tell me how you escaped or I'll run the tap in the kitchen while you're in the shower and make you squeal like a little girl," he threatened. At least I hoped it was just a threat, and not a promise.

"I had help," I said. I knew he wouldn't drop the subject with that measly piece of information, so I grabbed underwear from my drawer quick as I could and sprinted down the hall to the bathroom, slamming the door shut in his face.

"Don't take too long," Dodge called through the door as I turned the shower on and adjusted the water temperature. "I start playing with the taps in five minutes."

Lucky for me, five minutes later, I was finished and pointing my hairdryer at the fogged up mirror in an attempt to see myself in it. I'd already sprayed my hair with a heat protector and massaged some mousse through in the hopes that once dry, it would perhaps not frizz out of control so that I could leave it out for a change.

Once it was dry, I fiddled with it and the hairspray so that I had maximised my violet highlights and made sure it was sitting okay. I don't know why I bothered, though, since Dodge was on it like white on rice the moment I stepped out of the bathroom. He ran his fingers through my spiralling tresses, fluffing it up and adjusting my part so that it was a little higher on top than I was used to. Then he turned to my body, fixing and adjusting to his own liking.

Finished with my attire, he held up three small items; mineral foundation that could also be used as eye shadow, blush and contouring, my best mascara and the pale pink lip gloss that tasted like strawberries.

"That's all you're allowed to use," he informed me. "I've picked out a perfume, but you can only use it if you tell me who helped you."

I took the makeup back to the bathroom and made short work of applying it. They were, after all, the items I would hand to a woman who had never used makeup in her life.

Dodge followed me like a lost puppy as I made my way to my bedroom in order to put my shoes on. I ignored his presence with little effort, since I'd had years of practice at it, but it was harder to do when he actually started speaking.

"Well?" he prompted.

"I don't need perfume," I told him. "It's dinner with the boss. You said so yourself. There's no point in assuming it's a date-date."

"Dammit, Bea," he cursed. "Tell me how you got out of the treadmill cage!"

Rather than answer, I glanced around the room, looking for my handbag. The bed was clear. I could see the floor. My makeup was in neat little rows on the dresser. My necklaces hung on the hooks beside the door. Nothing was where I'd left it.

My glare moved instinctively to Dodge, standing with arms crossed over his head in the doorway. "You cleaned my room," I accused.

It sounded like a petty thing to be mad about, but the fact was, I knew exactly where everything was before he intervened. Now I didn't even know where to start. Apart from the items that were in full view I had no idea where anything was. What made it worse, way back in university, when we'd moved into an off campus apartment together, he had promised never to clean my room. That's right. We had to be that specific, because if I wasn't, this would have happened within three days. And then every three days subsequent to that.

"It was a mess," he tried to defend. "I couldn't find anything."

"I knew exactly where everything was!" I exclaimed. "My hand bag was on top of the half dirt clothes in front of the bedside table. My clean socks were in the ring of shoes beside the closet. That cute, flirty, purple skirt with the little ribbons on the side that you got me for my birthday last year was at the bottom of the pile of laundry in the corner behind the door."

He held up his hands in defence, taking to steps into the room. "Okay, okay," he said. "I get it. You're crazy ass remembers where things are on the floor, but can't remember which drawer they're supposed to live in. The handbag is in the cupboard section at the bottom of the bedside table."

I held out my hand toward him wordlessly, and he immediately placed the perfume bottle in it. Sometimes, knowing someone really well means you don't have to yell at them when they mess up your room. Like right now, he handed over the perfume because he understood that what he'd done was wrong and he could no longer hold the item over my head as blackmail for information. I spritzed it on and retrieved my poor handbag from its new prison just as there was a knock on the front door.

When I reached the door, I wasn't surprised to find Dodge right behind me. I did a quick check to make sure I was all covered before opening the door to greet the unicyclist who had run me over twice, appeared randomly in the line at drug trial initiation, turned out to be my boss and was apparently part lizard, if his chameleon attributes were anything to go by.

"You're early," I informed him before he managed to get a word out.

"But you're ready anyway," he countered with a smile. He glanced passed my shoulder to meet Dodge's gaze and said, "I won't have her back too late, he promised. Thanks for letting me take her out."

"Not a problem," Dodge replied, and I didn't have to look at him to know he'd said it through clenched teeth.

"Shall we?" Riley suggested, offering me his arm.

I made a show of kissing Dodge on the cheek before stepping over the threshold and taking Riley's arm. Just as Dodge was closing the door, I said, "It was Derek, by the way" and urged Riley down the hall as the door slammed shut.

"What was Derek?" he asked curiously as I hit the button for the elevator.

"It's a long story," I said on a sigh.

"How drunk do you have to be before you tell me?"

Shrugging, I remembered that the elevator didn't work after seven in the evening and lead him to the stairs at the other end of the hall. "Three should do it," I said.

"Cheap drunk?"

"No, I just don't require a lot of alcohol to tell the story."

"So he pushes me into the locker room and proceeds to make racist comments about my weight," I slurred an hour and a half later as I scraped the last skerrick of whipped cream from my dessert plate. As it turned out, it had only taken three glasses of wine before I started the story, but in order for it to continue, more and more of the intoxicating liquid was required. I'd lost count of how many times he'd motioned for the waiter to refill my glass after about the seventh, and at one point I'm pretty sure he told the waiter to just refill automatically if my glass got below half full.

"And when I got angry," I continued, managing to put the plate back on the table without either dropping it from an inch away or slamming it down due to my impaired depth perception. "You know what he did?"

"What?" Riley prompted, his elbows leaning on the pristine white table cloth as he watched me carefully across the table. He'd been like that all night. Staring at me. Tracking my every movement. It was like he was studying me, trying to figure something out. I half expected him to pull out a notebook and start taking notes on my behaviour.

"He kissed me!"I said none too softly.

"No!" he uttered, sounding suitably shocked by my revelation.

I nodded vehemently, my brain going fuzzy from the movement and causing me to grip the sides of the table so I didn't fall off my chair. "Yes," I assured him. "Right here." I pointed to my mouth as I pursed my lips. "He just pulled me to him and planted one right on me."

In the blink of an eye – which were admittedly, getting a bit sluggish recently – Riley was beside me, holding my hands and pulling me up to my feet. He leaned in and pressed a soft kiss to my lips, lingering only a moment before meeting my rippling gaze. "Like that?" he asked.

"Mmm, no," I murmured, shaking my head as I tried to stare at his mouth. "It was longer. And he pressed harder."

Riley tried again, slanting his lips across mine once, twice, three times before leaning back for my opinion. "How was that?"

I waved my hands in the almost foot of air between our chests, searching for the appropriate words for what I was trying to tell him. None came, though, and I ended up just waving harder.

Riley's brow furrowed. "Too much space?" he guessed.

"Waaaay too much," I confirmed, taking a step toward him. "I can still breathe unham-... um... I can still breathe."

This time, he made no move to correct his kissing style. He just stood there, his hands resting at my waist loosely, staring into my eyes with his peculiar hazel ones. Gently, he reached one hand up and tucked a lock of hair behind my ear. Out of habit, I reached up and put the hair back.

"Dodge likes it better left loose," I explained when he frowned at my actions. "Aren't you going to kiss me again?"

He shook his head solemnly. "I should get you back home to Dodge," he said.

"You have to kiss me first," I told him, wrapping my arms around his neck and leaning my upper body against his.

"I think I've kissed you enough for one night."

"Nooooo," I moaned. "One more and then you can take me home." Apparently, a little begging was all it took, because he quickly claimed my mouth, running his tongue along the seam of my lips. I parted them to allow him access and he swept inside just once before stepping back and prising my hands from his neck.

"Come on," he said, easily urging me toward the doors. "I'm taking you home, before I can no longer be held responsible for my actions."


NaNoWriMo Word Count: 31 840