Until We're More(9)

By: Cindi Madsen

I frowned, and Liam asked, “What?”

“I was just thinking about how I want to move up the ladder at my company.” Not that it wasn’t a valid goal, but I sometimes had to work on marketing campaigns I didn’t totally agree with, for people who weren’t very nice, to say the least. “Maybe I am a corporate monkey.”

“I’ll make sure to buy some bananas tomorrow.”

My frown got aimed at him.

“Cutest corporate monkey I’ve ever seen,” he said, which somehow made me feel better, even though there were prettier girls than me at work by a long shot. Ones who didn’t have to hold back their awkwardness and didn’t trip over their heels or their words. Hell, they gave their ideas out loud in meetings, too, instead of holding them in their heads and swearing to voice them next time. “As for the tour…kitchen, living room”—he pointed at each sparsely decorated area—“and the bedrooms are down the hall on the right; bathroom’s on the left. I’m starving, though, so we can finish settling you in after we eat.”

The scent of the Chinese food hit me, making my stomach rumble. During the two-day drive from Colorado, I’d eaten a lot of fast food, and I’d promised myself I was going to eat healthier and maybe even learn how to cook better to help with that, but for now, Chinese on the couch was definitely in order.

After I let George out, that was—Liam had picked up the food while I’d swung by my mom and Jesse’s house to retrieve my cat carrier and litter box. Big surprise, no one helped me carry anything there, and in addition to being heavy, the litter box needed to be held just so, the handle a mere trap to make you think you could carry it without dumping it down yourself. My mom and stepdad had seemed all put out about me staying with them, but when I’d told them about my change of venue, Mom asked if I’d still be coming by to take care of the laundry every week, the way I’d promised to do in exchange for room and board.

Sure, Mom, I missed you, too. And I am doing well, thanks for asking. While I appreciated Liam’s restraint on a subject about which he often had too much to say, I’d caught the tick in his jaw when he’d mentioned my family. Worse, he was right. Staying with them was a sure way to add extra stress in my life, as well as meant doing my best Cinderella impression—the one before the fairy godmother comes into play, where she spends her waking hours cleaning and doing stuff for everyone else. It was one of those damned-either-way situations. Living too close, I felt overworked and unappreciated, but far away I felt like a slacker who wasn’t showing enough appreciation for everything they’d done for me.

If I get the promotion, it won’t be such a big deal when I get suckered into sending money. Then Mom will be happier, and I’ll feel better, too, especially since it won’t mean I’m eating ramen, brewing cheap coffee at home, and wondering if I’ll have quite enough for utilities and gas at the end of the month.

Barely scraping by added plenty of stress, but it was better than living here, turning into their overworked maid, and constantly ending up hurt that the only time Mom was interested in me was when she needed something.

I squatted by the cat carrier and opened it. “Come look at your new home, baby.”

George stuck out his fuzzy gray face, slowly testing the waters. No matter how much grooming I did, bedhead was his signature style.

“Your cat looks like he ran face-first into a wall,” Liam said.

“His adorable squishy face is because he’s a Persian. Or part, anyway, which was why his first owners decided they didn’t want him. They wanted a purebred, and he wasn’t as mellow as they expected.” I scratched my fingers over his back, giving him attention and luring him the rest of the way out at the same time. “But it’s their loss, isn’t it, George?”

My kitty glanced at Liam, then at me, and there was definitely betrayal in his features.

“He looks tough and scary, but he’s super nice, and he’s going to let you run around more than the people at that other place.” I picked him up and twisted him toward Liam. “Are you gonna say hi?”

“I think you covered it. Exaggerated the nice, but he’ll figure that out soon enough.”

I clucked my tongue, letting George go and straightening so I could shoot Liam a look. Occasionally he’d made comments about how I should find some nicer friends and how he was too rough for me. Part of me—the delusional part—had translated that into why he’d never been interested in a relationship beyond friendship. A great friendship at that, and I never wanted to do anything that would jeopardize it. Especially since I knew that besides me, Liam didn’t let anyone take care of him ever, and he let me only the tiniest bit. He also grumbled about how I didn’t need to the entire time. One time he’d had the flu, and he kept demanding I stay away so that I didn’t get sick, but his whole family was traveling, and hello, I wasn’t going to let him go from sick to needing hospitalization because he was too damn stubborn to ask for help.