The Hating Game Page 43

On the next shelf down is a single framed photograph of Josh and Patrick posed in between a couple who I assume are his parents. His father is big and handsome, with a grim edge to his smile, but his mother almost glows out of the picture. She’s clearly bursting at the seams to have two such big handsome sons.

“I like your mother,” I tell him as he approaches. He looks at the photograph, and his lips press together. I take the hint and move on.

He’s got a lot of medical textbooks on the bottom shelf, which look pretty dated. There’s also an articulated anatomy statue of a hand, showing all of the bones. I fold the fingers down until only the middle one remains raised, and smirk at my cleverness.

“Why do you have these?”

“They’re from my other life.” He disappears into the kitchen again.

I hit Mute on the TV remote and the silence drenches us. I creep past him into his kitchen. It’s sparkling clean and the dishwasher is humming. The orange scent is his antibacterial counter spray. I notice my Post-it note with the kiss on it stuck to the fridge and point at it.

He shrugs. “You put so much hard work into it. Seemed a shame to waste it.”

I stand there in the lightbulb glow of his refrigerator and stare at everything. There’s a rainbow of color in here. Stalks. Leaves. Whiskery roots. Tofu and organic pasta sauce.

“My fridge is nothing but cheese and condiments.”

“I know.” I close the fridge and lean against it, magnets digging into my spine. I put my face up for a kiss but he shakes his head.

A little crestfallen, I look in his cutlery drawer and stroke the arm of the jacket hanging by the door. In the pocket I find a gas station receipt. Forty-six dollars paid in cash.

Everything is neat, everything in its place. No wonder my apartment broke him out in stress hives.

“My place is like a Calcutta slum in comparison to this. I need a basket for my gym gear too. Where’s all your junk? Where’s your too-hard pile?”

“You’ve confirmed your worst fears. I’m a neat freak.”

I’m the freak as I spend at least twenty minutes looking at practically everything he owns. I violate his privacy so badly I make myself feel a bit ill, but he stands there and lets me.

It’s a two-bedroom place and I stand in the middle of what is set up as a study, hands on hips. Huge computer monitor, some huge dumbbells. A closet filled with heavy winter sportswear and a sleeping bag. More books. I look lustfully at his filing cabinet. If he wasn’t here I’d read his electricity bills.

“Are you done?”

I look down at my hand. I’m holding an old matchbox car I found in one of the narrow drawers of a bureau. I’m clutching it in my hands like a crazy old pickpocket.

“Not yet.” I’m so scared I can barely say it.

Josh points, and I walk over to the remaining darkened doorway. He snaps on the light switch near my ear and I make a strangled gasp of delight.

His room is painted the blue of my favorite shirt of his. Robin’s-egg blue. Pale turquoise mixed with milk. I feel a strange unfurling in my chest, like a sense of deep déjà vu. Like I’ve been here before, and I will be again. I hug the doorframe.

“Is this your favorite color?”

“Yes.” There’s tension in his tone. Maybe he’s been teased before.

“I love it.” I sound reverent. It’s such an unexpected pop of bright against the dark chocolates and taupes, and I think how Josh it is. Something unexpected. Pale pretty blue. The dark brown headboard, plushly upholstered in leather, saves the room from femininity. He’s behind me, close enough to lean against, but I resist. The scent of his skin is fogging my brain. His bed is made and the linen is white, and I seem to find that little detail pretty sexy. His bathroom is polished to a high shine. Red towels and a red toothbrush. It looks like an Ikea catalog.

“I would never have picked you as someone who owns a fern. I had one but it went brown and crunchy.”

I go back to Joshua Templeman’s bed. I touch my finger to the edge of his pillowcase.

“Okay, you’re getting beyond weird now.”

I try to rattle the headboard but it’s solid.

“Stop it. Sit on the couch. I made you tea.”

I scuttle sideways like a crab into the living room. “How could you stand there and watch me snoop?”

I take the fancy cushion and stuff it in the small of my back. He gives me a mug and I hold it like a weapon.

“I snooped through your apartment. It’s your turn.”

I’m flustered, but try to hide it with a joke. “Did you find all the pictures I have of you with your eyes scratched out?”

“No, I never did find your scrapbook. I do know you’ve got twenty-six Papa Smurfs, and you don’t fold your bed sheets properly.”

He’s at the other end of the couch, head rolled gently to the side, lounging comfortably. He lolls in his office chair a lot but I’ve never seen his body make such stretched-out, loose shapes. I can’t stop looking at him.

“Sheets are too hard. My arms aren’t long enough.”

He sighs and shakes his head. “It’s no excuse.”

“Did you look in my underwear drawer?”

“Of course not. I’ve got to save something for next time.”

“Can I look in yours now?” I’m losing my wits. The threshold to his apartment is where I left my sanity. I sip the tea. It is like nectar.

“Now, Shortcake. We’re going to do something a bit unusual.”

He unmutes the TV and takes a sip from his mug and starts watching an old rerun of ER like we do this every night. I sit with a pounding heart and try to concentrate. Hey, this is no big deal. I’m sitting on Joshua Templeman’s couch.

I roll my head to the side and stare at him for the entire episode, watching the tense surgery scenes and ward conflicts reflected in his eyes.

“Am I bothering you?”

“No,” he replies absently. “I’m used to it.”

We are not normal. The minutes tick past and he drinks his coffee and I continue to stare. He’s got a shading of stubble I don’t see during working hours. My chest is tight with anxiety. My body and brain are conditioned for combat whenever I’m in his immediate radius. When he looks over, I jerk back. He puts his hand between us on the couch, palm up, and then looks back at the TV.

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