Chapter Twenty-Seven

Project Evac was wrapping up and I was doing everything I could to make it last. I couldn't—wouldn't think about anything but work to not think about anything else. And when I couldn't work overtime in the office, I was at a bar or at a liquor store and drinking my mind numb and my body to sleep.

But there was only so much I could do to avoid the problem. Especially when that problem was not just someone I worked with, but my boss. If Carson were still talking to me, he would have said he told me so.

The beginning of the fall – the poetic phrasing of everything going to shit – was that Sunday night. I knew there was something wrong. Something off. And when I looked back, it started even before. Little actions, words. He was so obvious.

Those pet names, the off-tone teasing, the 'slow and gentle' bullshit. The goddamn look in his eyes. The stupid warmth that replaced the initial heat.

I was so blind. Or just willfully, stupidly ignorant. But I couldn't ignore it anymore.

What we had was perfect. We fucked. Carnal and to the point. And he had to fuck it all up by bringing his stupid little emotions into it.

My phone buzzed for what had to have been the millionth time that day. It had gotten to the point where I stopped checking it because it would have been Cole who had noticed I was, not avoiding him per say, but just not being around him if I could help it.

Jade side-eyed me when I snapped the lead of my pencil for the fourth time. "Maybe you should go home early, Jack."

"I'm fine," I said. My phone buzzed again and I finally turned it off and threw it in my desk drawer.

"Right," Jade said. "I know it's crunch time but you're going to overwork yourself and pencils won't be the only thing snapping."

"I'm fine, Jade, mind your own damn business." As soon as the sharp words left my mouth I winced. I pinched the bridge of my nose and sighed. "Sorry. I just have other things on my mind and work is the only thing keeping me sane."

Jade sat at the edge of my desk. "''Other things' have to do with whoever's been texting you all day?"

"Somewhat." I grimaced. "But it's—"

"Fine?" Jade finished.

I cast her a mock-glare. "Yes, fine." The expression fell to a tired, beseeching smile. "Just, please. I'll handle it."

Jade pursed her mouth, staring me down, for a moment before she rolled her eyes and reached over to pat my cheek. "If you want help with the handling, let me know. Delegating is the best part about being a leader, you know."

I batted her hand away with a laugh. "What leader?"

She cut me an unimpressed stare. "Even you would have heard the promotion rumors. You're basically already our new boss."

I didn't deny hearing the rumors. "You are the last person I would have thought paid attention to office gossip. Samantha's still our boss." For now. as I already had confirmation about that part of the rumors. "Martin could be up for the supposed promotion."

Jade laughed. "He wishes. Heard you guys got coffee together."

"Is this your way of asking to get coffee together, Jade?" I teased, trying to divert the the course of the conversation.

Jade gave me a look that said I wasn't fooling anyone, but she let me have it, tabling the conversation, for now at least. "Yeah, and you're paying."

"Of course," I said wryly.

Jade hopped off my desk and ruffled my hair. "Take a break at some point. We'll do coffee tomorrow morning before the team meeting.

"Yes, ma'am." I gave her a two-fingered salute.


Contrary to Jade's suggestions, I didn't take any breaks and was set to work right through lunch. Unfortunately, being at the office when everyone else was out, meant I had no cover.

My office phone rang and without thinking, I picked it up and cradled it between my cheek and shoulder as I continued typing. "Jack Gallagher."

"Shouldn't you be on your lunch break?" Cole's voice rang through and I fumbled a string of letters I had to backspace.

I held back a curse and replied, "Wanted to get some work done. Did you need something?"

"So if I want to get a hold of you I should do it through your office phone, is it?"

"Cole," I warmed, lowering my voice. This was not office talk.

"You need to take a break. I can't have an employee being over-worked, not taking breaks, and working overtime with no overtime pay almost daily. It's a bad look for the company." I could hear his stupid grin.

I leaned back in my seat with a put upon sigh. "Okay, I'll take a break."

"Thank you. Now come on up, I ordered a little too much Thai."

"Why not ask Carson to help you?"

"Carson, unlike a certain somebody, takes his lunch breaks."

I pulled the phone away to groan. How was I going to get out of this one? Cole was speaking again and I pulled the phone back to catch, "…something wrong?"

"No, nothing," I said hurriedly. "I'll come up, give me a minute to finish up what I was working on."

"Good, you can come right in. See you in a bit."

I hung up and ran my hands through my hair. I was tempted to stall but I didn't want to run the chance of coming back down late when everyone else had returned from their lunches. Saving what I was working on, I put my computer to sleep and, at the last second, grabbed a few random files and made my way to the elevators. When a lift came to the floor, the doors opened and revealed Martin. He didn't get out and I had no choice but to join him.

"Jackie!" he greeted. "Where are you off to?"

"Oh, uh, Cole wanted some files." I held up said files in hand, grateful for the extra precaution as I pressed the button for Cole's floor. No other button was lit.

"Have you taken lunch yet?"

"Ah, no," I said truthfully. "Not hungry but I'll probably grab a snack or something later. Where were you headed?"

"Our floor, but I can just head back down once you get off," he said. I nodded slowly, wondering why he skipped his stop to make small talk with me. His gaze went to the files in my hands and I shifted them into my arms in case he could see exactly what they were. I didn't check what I had grabbed and improving some excuse to why they were relevant was not something I wanted on my to-do list.

Thankfully, we reached Cole's floor without incident and I gave Martin a short wave. "I'll see you later then." I stepped out of the elevator and hurried to Cole's office, past Carson's empty desk. I briefly wondered if he had gone to our usual place, somewhere I hadn't been in a while, much less with my best friend. Former best friend, now, it looked like.

Shaking my head I pushed those thoughts down and gathered my frayed nerves as I pushed open the door to Cole's office.

I caught him in the middle of laying out his lunch. Cole didn't just order a bit extra, he ordered for two and then some. Along with Cole's usuals, I spied my usual order in the cartons laid out on the coffee table. He'd ordered a full spread from pandan leaf and papaya salad appetizers to a sticky rice dessert. I narrowed my eyes, crossing my arms over my chest. "That's not just ordering a little too much."

Cole raised his hands in surrender. "You got me. But are you going to waste this?"

"I will not be wasting anything. This is all on you." But I still drifted closer to the couch at the smell of peanut sauce and chicken. My stomach decided to wake up and I was a weak, weak man.

I had a satay in hand before I was sat, dunking it in the provided peanut sauce. Cole chuckled and finished unpacking lunch before joining me on the couch and going for the pandan chicken, tossing the sticky leaf into the take-out bag-turned garbage bag. I tossed in my licked clean skewer and grabbed two more and my pad see ew.

Once I started eating, I realized how hungry I actually was. I demolished my noodles and hogged the satay, allowing Cole one, reluctantly. He had his shredded papaya.

We got through everything, including splitting dessert. I took one last bite of mango and sank back into the couch, eyes closed. "I ate too much. I'm going to be sick."

Fingers combed through my hair and I opened my eyes to Cole watching me with a look I couldn't kid myself was anything other than an affection he shouldn't have. Cole wiped the expression from his face immediately, shifting it into something more playful, but I still saw it. I turned my head to dislodge his hand but Cole moved it down my cheek, brought his other hand up and held my face in his palms before leaning in for a kiss. I should have turned away, knew I needed to stop it, end it. Before I hurt him too.

But I closed my eyes and kissed him back.

a/n: so i had an idea of how to start wrapping this up but then did not do that... also i had to rewrite like 80% of this because I forgot this was in first person past and not third limited present

happy holidays. hopefully 2020 will be when i finally finish these stories

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i also have a ko-fi if you're feeling generous at ngraves