Professional Boundaries(9)

By: Jennifer Peel

Alicia’s parking lot was almost full; that was a good sight for me. They deserved the continued success. I had never met harder working or kinder people, and their food was to die for, especially their smothered burritos. My mouth was watering just thinking about it.

Ian found a space next to my car and parked, and then we met each other on the sidewalk. He looked up at the place. I forgot, this probably wasn’t his style; he was more of the quiet café type, or at least he used to be. Oh well, if he wanted to talk to me, he was going to have to do it on my turf.

“I hope you like Mexican.” I knew he did, but I was treating him as if I didn’t know him it all. I could tell it bothered him, but I wasn’t sure why.

He looked at me oddly. “Of course,” he replied.

So I led the way to the entrance. There was a bit of awkwardness when we got to the door; we both reached for the door at the same time and our hands touched. Naturally, I backed off and let him open it. I had no problem with men opening my door, and normally I just assumed they would, but I was making no assumptions with Ian, now or ever.

“Um … Thank you.”

He smiled. “You’re welcome.”

As soon as we walked in, we were hit with the sound of their live salsa band. I had forgotten Fridays were their salsa night. I looked at Ian, and I could tell it made him a little uncomfortable. Perfect, I thought.

We didn’t even make it to the seating hostess before Alicia accosted me. “Kelli!” she said as she squeezed me to death. She looked me over like a fine Mexican momma. “Eres Hermosa.”

Another reason to love this place, it was a great self-esteem booster. “Gracias. Y tu.”

She kissed my cheek and then she noticed I brought company. “Ahh, who is this, Hermosa?”

I wanted to say, “Don’t get your hopes up.” She was constantly trying to set me up.

“Alicia, this is Ian. He’s the new Marketing Director at Chandler.”

She looked at me with sadness in her eyes. I probably shouldn’t have told anyone I was hoping to fill that position; I could have done without the pity stares.

Thankfully, Ian took his cue and shook her hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

She eyed him carefully. “You should know Kelli is muy talented.” She grinned at me. I shook my head at her and smiled back.

Ian also looked at me. “I’ve heard that a lot today.” He sounded sincere, but there seemed to be a hint of annoyance mixed in.

On that note, Alicia showed us to a booth toward the back. It was the furthest away from the band. I could tell that pleased Ian. She took our drink order and then kissed my cheek before she left to fill it.

Ian kept staring my way.

“Do you want to know what’s good here?” I asked.

He grinned. “Sure, but I was also wondering, does everyone in this town know you and love you?”

I laughed. “I think you’ve met most of my inner circle today.”

“Yes, and it’s been painful. I may be the most hated man in Nashville at the moment,” he responded ruefully.

I couldn’t help but grin and be delighted about that, but I kept my sarcastic comments to myself. It sounded like he’d had enough for the day. I may not have liked him, but I wasn’t one to pour vinegar in open wounds, at least not all at once.

He leaned forward ever so slightly. “So, Kelli, I think we may have gotten off on the wrong foot today. I’d like to start over if we could.”

“You think?” I responded.

He smiled at me and sat back. “How about this, let’s not discuss business for now.”

“Then whatever do we have to talk about?”

“Well, we haven’t seen each other in almost thirteen years.”

I took a chip from the bowl and dipped it in their homemade salsa all while wickedly grinning. “Really? Has it been that long? I guess time flies when you’re having fun.”

Yeah, he didn’t know what to do with me by the concerted look on his handsome face. Of course I knew how long it had been since I had last seen him. Unfortunately, that memory was forever etched on my heart and time-stamped in my brain, but he didn’t need to know that.

“I barely recognized you today when I first saw you.”

I raised my eyebrow at him and practically choked on my chip. “Well, ok. Most men would lie and say, ‘The years have been good to you, Kelli. You look great.’ But I guess honesty is the best policy.”

His face turned red.

I just picked up my menu and began to read it even though I had it memorized and knew what I would order. I had never had anyone point blank tell me I was unattractive and unrecognizable. And I’ll admit it stung coming from someone that used to call me beautiful on a regular basis.