“You want to come to Ma’s for dinner? You know you’re always invited.”
“Not this time, but tell her I said thanks. I’m going to grab a quick bite around the corner, then head back to work.”
“I’ll tell her, but it’s no good eating alone. Neither is human avoidance.”
“It’s called dedication, so you can also tell her I work harder than her son.”
Simon huffed, then raised his hand in a wave and moved on to his own car.
JT was just climbing into his SUV when Simon stopped and turned back. “You know, I think I’ll come with you. It’s early. I can always eat twice, right?”
JT felt the slightest hesitation. Maybe he did prefer eating alone, but he gave Simon the simple directions, and pulled out of the lot.
He made a left at the corner as the West Coast sun slid down into an orange ball of fire, backlighting the tall palms. A medium-sized city, Corrino was twenty miles southeast of Los Angeles. A good place for their company base and conveniently close to Simon’s family, even if it was about as far as he could get from his own and still live in the continental U.S.
Twenty minutes later he and Simon were seated at the counter with drinks and burgers. Simon was giving a detailed account of his future brother-in-law’s latest faux pas—overflowing the toilet at Simon’s parents’ house—but JT’s attention was on their waitress walking away.
You could learn a lot by watching a person work. Watching a person do anything when they didn’t know you were looking. He’d seen her pick up a pacifier from the floor and offer to wash it off. Seen her reassure a lone mother with four kids when one of them spilled their milk for the second time. Her name was Paige and even now she stood at the other end of the counter, helping an older gentleman struggling to read the menu.
He’d seen her five times, she’d waited on him three of those, and they’d still only exchanged a handful of words. It was just looks and smiles and for some reason that was a lot. What did it say about him that just seeing a woman he had no intention of ever making a move on was the highlight of his week?
“When are you going to make a move?”
At Simon’s question, JT jerked his gaze from the waitress and picked up his cheeseburger. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Simon mimicked. “Don’t be a pussy.”
“Fuck you,” he said, taking in his friend’s amused gaze. “I’m looking. I’m a guy. She’s pretty.”
“She’s pretty. You sound like freakin’ Mr. Rogers.”
JT laughed softly and shook his head. His longtime friend and business partner wasn’t known for holding back. “How’s your burger?”
“It’s good. I can see why you come here, though I’m beginning to see the food’s not the only reason.”
Simon was still chuckling when their waitress returned and stopped in front of them. Pretty didn’t cover it and JT’s pulse jumped in his throat. She was long and slim with wispy blond hair pulled back at the nape of her neck. A tiny green four-leaf clover hung on a gold chain against skin almost as white as her blouse.
“Can I get you anything?”
“No, thanks,” he said, catching her shy smile and feeling something silent and invisible pass between them.
“Actually,” Simon began, lowering his drink down. “My friend here—”
He kicked Simon’s titanium leg hard enough to knock his foot off the rung he’d propped it on. “Everything’s good. Thanks.”
Her blue-green eyes met his. “Okay.”
Probably a good thing she didn’t hang around for whatever asinine thing was about to come out of Simon’s mouth.
“God, you’re mooning over her like an eight-year-old with a crush on his teacher. It’s painful.”
“Whatever.” But he felt like he was eight years old when he looked at her. Way out of his league and just a little lost.
“So ask her out.”
JT raised his glass to his lips. “I don’t think so.”
Maybe because she looked too sweet, too easily disappointed. Not the kind of girl he dated, though Simon had a point. He didn’t really date. He met women when he wanted to, and if they were willing, had sex when he wanted to. Sporadic and meaningless acts that did nothing but relieve tension and leave both parties mutually satisfied.
“I don’t know what you have against taking a woman out on a date,” Simon said. “A little one-on-one time. Some candlelight and conversation.”