Before I get to the short story, I have to shout out the big news that Leaning Into the Fall is officially out and available on all platforms! Here are the links for Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and iTunes (also available on Scrib’d). Since today was supposed to be the release day, the party begins now! Woohoo! The Leaning Into the Fall blog tour starts at the following sites:
Be sure to stop by for exclusive content, including interviews and excerpts from Nick and Wes’s story. And yes, there’s a Rafflecopter opportunity too!
This week was a little backward. I was hoping to post part 9 on the 14th and LITF on the 15th, but they’ve done a switcheroo. Sorry for the delay on BTE. Part 10 with an epilogue will be posted next week. In the meantime, I have to get back to work on Book 3 of Leaning Into. I’ll leave you with Matt and Aaron now…
Happy Reading! Lane xo
Better Than Engagement- Part 9
Our engagement probably wasn’t a huge surprise to our friends but they still went crazy. I could hear Jay screaming on the phone when Aaron called him later that night. And then crying. I wanted to roll my eyes but the moisture in them made it difficult to do so with any finesse. This was big. No, it was enormous. Getting married was a major decision. The idea of committing myself to building a life with another person used to make me sweat. Now, it made me smile. So yeah, perhaps I was a little emotional too.
The outpouring of love and support was humbling. Joy, tears and heartfelt well wishes rained on us all week. We answered the same questions a million times. Have you set a date? Where will it be? When are you having children?
“Did you really just ask me that?”
“Well hey. Inquiring minds want to know,” Colleen said with an unapologetic smirk.
I sat back in my office chair and scowled at my secretary. “Yeah I bet. We need to plan and pay for a wedding before we start thinking about kids.”
“Good plan. What’s the date? And don’t tell me this is a small affair you won’t be inviting work associates to because I will plant my ass in front of that church with binoculars if I have to.”
“Something tells me you would do that, but don’t worry, you’re invited. Mark October off in your calendar. Aaron wants a fall wedding. He’s been talking about a couple venues but we’ll have to wait another week to start looking around. My parents are coming to visit this weekend.”
“They must be thrilled. Your Aaron is a beautiful man. Inside and out. You got lucky with that one.”
“I know, but…my mother may not be as excited. We’ll see.”
“Why not? Don’t tell me she doesn’t like him,” she said in a fierce tone that made it clear she’d willingly kick ass if anyone dared to insult my man.
“She likes him fine.”
“But she doesn’t like that he’s a guy, is that it?”
I nodded and then gestured to the file in her hand. “Is that the info on the defense contract?”
Colleen dropped the manila folder on my desk then headed for the door. “No offense to your mother, but she better get her head out of her asses. It doesn’t matter what someone’s got between their legs. Good people are hard to find and you got yourself one of the best. Oh and one more thing…that contract is due tomorrow at noon.”
“What? Tomorrow is Saturday.” I knit my brow in confusion as I opened the folder.
Inside was a handwritten, personal request from my boss to work for the next twenty hours straight in order to complete something one of the other junior partners had failed to do. That wasn’t exactly what it said, but that was what it would take to sift through someone else’s work and finish it properly. I had no idea how much research was still needed. This was a fucking nightmare. Or maybe it was a test to see if I had what it takes to become a full-fledged partner.
“Yeah, I don’t think they care about that. I’ll help with whatever you need today and Jana will be in tomorrow all morning to assist with the rest.”
“Why don’t you get her started today on—”
“She’s not here. She hasn’t been in most of the week ’cause she’s been studying for her exams. Poor thing doesn’t know you’re officially off the market. She’s going to be heartbroken,” Colleen snarked.
“She knows. I told her myself and I was very clear.”
“Hmph. Hope springs eternal. Let me know what you need me to do, boss,” she said, closing the door behind her.
I turned to my computer to get started just as my cell buzzed.
“Hi Curtster. What’s up?”
“Question of the day. To hyphenate or not? Mendez-Sullivan or Sullivan-Mendez?”
“You’re hilarious. What do you want? I’m a busy lawyer, Mr. Townsend. I don’t have time for nonsense,” I said in a paternal voice I knew would bug him.
“Gee, and I thought lawyers who wrote government contracts were experts at nonsense.”
I chuckled in spite of my growing anxiety as I scanned through the document on my screen. This thing was a fucking mess. “I can’t defend myself. And if you saw the piece of crap I’m supposed to magically fix in less than twenty-four hours, you’d actually feel sorry me.”
“Does that mean you’re working tonight?”
“Shoot. I just got off the phone with Aaron to invite you guys over tonight for a little engagement celebration.”
“I wish I could, but there’s no way I can manage it and get this contract done in time. Can we do it next weekend instead?”
“Of course. I’ll call Aar and—”
“That’s okay. I’ll tell him myself. I have to let him know I’m working late anyway.”
“All righty. See ya later, Mr. Mendez-Sullivan,” Curt singsonged.
I let out a bemused huff before disconnecting the call and scrolling to Aaron’s number.
“I have five minutes before Marsha gets back. What time will you be home tonight? Curt and Jack invited us over,” he said in a hurried tone.
“Curt just called me too, but I can’t make it tonight. I have to work.” I gave him a rundown about the case I’d been handed and finished with a theatric sigh. “I’ll be here until ten and chance are good I’ll have to be back by five in the morning to complete this in time. I’m sorry. I’ll call the jeweler and see if we can swing by to get the other ring at lunch on Monday or after work.”
“That’s okay. I’ll have quiet night with a bottle of vino and a stack of wedding magazines instead. Monday works better for the rings anyway. I told Marsha I’d supervise the photo shoot by the bridge in the morning. I should be done around the same time as you. But what are we going to do about your parents? Should I hide the magazines? And if they arrive before you get home, do you want me to take my ring off?”
“No, of course not.”
“I’m not telling your mother we’re getting married by myself. She’ll kill me, throw my body in the river and then introduce you to some cute girl she thinks would make you a lovely wife. Don’t let her do it, Matty!”
I snickered at his faux-panicked tone. “She wouldn’t dare.”
“Hmph. You think I’m joking, but I’m not. I don’t want to hide anything but I also don’t want to get stuck answering probing questions.”
“I get it. I’ll ask them to meet me at my office and then I’ll take them to lunch. Better?”
“Much. I have to go. I’ll see you tonight. I love you, fiancé.”
“I love you too, baby.”
My parents were more than happy to meet me at my office. They’d never seen me “in action” and while a Saturday at the law firm was hardly buzzing with excitement, I couldn’t deny I felt a burst of pride I felt showing them the physical proof that the time, money and effort of law school had paid off. I was a full-blown adult with a prestigious big boy job. And in large part, it was thanks to their unwavering support.
“It’s never this quiet during the week. This is like getting a backstage pass to a concert hours before the audience arrives,” I explained as I led them down a long hallway toward my section of the executive floor.
They oohed and ahhed over the traditional meets modern décor and stopped occasionally to gaze at a painting or peek into an empty office.
“This is just lovely, honey,” my mom commented, obviously impressed. “Is Colleen here? I’ve talked to her so many times on the phone. I’d love to meet your secretary in person.”
“She’s not in today. Come this way. I want to show you my office, then we can head out for lunch.” I gestured toward the opposite end of the space just as Jana stepped through the door.
“Oh sorry Matt. I just wanted to let you know I’m leaving now. The files were delivered with plenty of time to spare. You did it!” Jana gushed.
I held out my hand to give her a high five. “Thank you for your help. I couldn’t have done it without you.”
Jana grinned then turned to greet my folks. “Hi, I’m Jana. You must be Matt’s mom. He looks just like you. You’re so pretty and he’s so—oh.” She flushed a bright shade of pink before biting her lips nervously and take a step backward.
“He is indeed,” my dad joked, throwing his arm over my shoulders. “Are you a lawyer too?”
“No, I’m just a lowly intern,” she answered in a self-deprecating tone.
“Not so lowly,” I said politely. “You’ve been terrific.”
Jana preened at the compliment. “Thank you. I’ve been assisting Matt on a few projects. It’s such an honor. Your son is brilliant. Everyone thinks so.”
I caught the funny look my parents shared and figured it was time to move on. “Um, thanks again, Jana.”
“You’re welcome. By the way, I’m so excited for you and Aa—”
“Oh hey!” I grabbed her elbow to keep her from spilling the beans and then motioned for her to follow me into my office. “Can I talk to you for a sec? I have a quick question before you go.”
“What is it, Matt?”
She cocked her head curiously so her blonde hair fell over her eyes flirtatiously. I cast a surreptitious glance at my parents who were busy checking out the photos on Colleen’s desk before whispering, “They don’t know Aaron and I are engaged yet. We’re telling them together later.”
“Oh! Oh, I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay. You didn’t tell them. No harm, no foul.” I assured her, shoving my hands in my pockets.
Jana grinned and then launched herself at me, throwing her arms around my neck and squeezing tight. I gently untangled myself just as she moved in to kiss my cheek. Of course, she ended up planting one on my lips instead.
She gave me a bashful smile and ran her hand down my arm before heading toward the door. “Bye Matt. I’ll see you Monday,” she purred in a low throaty voice.
I swiped my hand over my mouth and then waved at my parents to invite them inside my office. They said their good-byes to Jana first. Mom spent a little extra time chatting with her while I gave my father a brief rundown of my daily life behind my desk. My mother squeezed my arm affectionately when she joined us a couple minutes later. I noted the dreamy expression on her face. It confused me at first, but it didn’t take a genius to realize she’d seen the unintentional lip lock and got the wrong idea.
I opened my mouth to set her straight but stopped myself. I didn’t want to talk about Jana or my sexuality in my office. It felt weirdly out of place and there was no point. Mom would soon find out how wrong she was after lunch.
In retrospect, I should have handled things differently. In the back of my head, I knew my mother wasn’t going to jump for joy at our news. But I was blinded by hope by everyone else’s reaction. Hell, even Aaron’s dad’s voice cracked on the phone when he welcomed me into the Mendez family. Surely, my mother would see that we were happy and admit Aar and I were good together.
If all else failed, I figured a bottle of expensive sauvignon blanc and nice lunch at an upscale downtown bistro would set a pleasant tone. Then I’d take them home where I’d ply them with more alcohol before Aaron and I told them about our engagement.
Aaron and I had talked about how we’d tell them. He wanted a script. Something along the lines of “we want your approval but it doesn’t really matter what you think because we’re doing this thing either way”. I’d laughingly assured him it wouldn’t come to that. My parents loved me. They might be surprised, but they’d certainly come around. However, my mom’s overly bright grin and expectant glances during lunch made me feel slightly nauseous. Something was off. She seemed more excited than an excellent vintage of wine and a delicious lunch warranted.
“Tell us about the sweet girl we met at your office, dear,” she said, setting her napkin beside her empty plate when the server came to clear away our dishes.
“Jana’s an intern. She’s nice and she’s a hard worker. She’ll be working in my department for another two months.”
“Hmm. And then what?” she prodded, pushing her hair behind her ear before reaching for her wine glass.
I shrugged. “Then she’ll study for the bar exam, I guess. I don’t know.”
“You should ask her out. Or have you already? Are you secretly dating?”
“What? No!” My forehead creased in irritation. “Geez Mom, Jana is an employee. That’s unethical,” I huffed angrily. “We have a working relationship only. And Aaron would—”
“She has a crush on you,” my mother singsonged before gazing up my dad with a knowing smirk. “You noticed it too, didn’t you, honey?”
My dad grunted then shook his head at my mom. “Sure, but that doesn’t mean Matt’s interested.”
“Why wouldn’t he be? That girl is beautiful!”
I rolled my eyes and tuned out their chatter while I observed my folks. They were a striking couple. Dad was tall and ruggedly good-looking with short brown hair that was flecked liberally with strands of gray and Mom was a pretty, petite blonde who wore minimal cosmetics. They were both fit and easily looked a decade younger than two people pushing sixty. They complemented each other well. Dad was laid-back and slow to anger while Mom was a fireball of energy. Kind of like Aaron and me, I thought with a grin.
I tipped back the last of my wine and pushed my glass aside to reach for the bill when the waiter se the leather folder near my dad’s elbow. Then I handed over my credit card without looking and checked the time on my cell before glancing across the table.
“Ready to—why are you guys staring at me? Do I have broccoli in my teeth?” I joked.
“No reason. Except…you look happy, sweetheart,” Mom said with a soft grin.
I returned the gesture. Times ten. My smile was no ordinary upturn of the lips. It took over my face and seemed to burst out of me, like sunlight shooting from my eyes and every part of me that might somehow transmit how extraordinarily overjoyed I felt. I was in love with my best friend. And I couldn’t wait to let them in on our news. I wanted everyone to know I was head over heels for Aaron Mendez.
“I am, Mom.”
“Does Aaron know about Jana?”
“Huh? Yeah, he knows.” I narrowed my gaze as I pushed back my chair. “Speaking of Aar… we should get going. He’s probably wondering where we are.”
“I’m glad you’ve told him. You need to get on with your life. I can’t tell you how thrilled we are for you. Will we get to see her again this weekend? Invite her for dinner!”
I froze in mid-air then slowly stood. “Mom. Why would I do that? There’s nothing between Jana and me.”
She patted my cheek like I was a five year old making up some wacky story for her entertainment. “I get it. Mum’s the word. But you really should be honest with Aaron. He’s a nice young man. He simply isn’t what you need.”
I stared after her with my mouth wide open.
Holy crap. I had a very bad feeling I was walking into a shit storm.
To be continued…