Read Bittersweet Online

Authors: Noelle Adams

Bittersweet

Bittersweet

 

Noelle
Adams

 

This book is a
work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of
the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual
events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

 

Copyright © 2013
by Noelle Adams. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce,
distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means.

 

The author acknowledges the trademarked status and
trademark owners of the following wordmarks referenced in this work of fiction:
Wheely Bug, Frisbee, Cheerios, and The Peabody.

Contents

One

Two

Three

Four

Five

Six

Seven

Eight

Nine

Ten

Eleven

Twelve

Thirteen

Fourteen

Fifteen

Sixteen

Seventeen

Eighteen

Epilogue

 

One

Five
years earlier

 

“What British
novelist also invented the mailbox?”

Zoe
had been eating her salad, but at this question she set down her fork. “Wait, I
know this one. My professor talked about it in lit class last year.”

She’d
been trying for cool indifference—as if knowing the answer to Adam’s trivia
question was second-nature to her—but her voice reflected obvious excitement.

She
couldn’t help it. Adam had been asking her random trivia questions for two
months, and this was the first one she actually might know.

Adam
wasn’t smiling, but his eyes—so dark a brown they were almost black—warmed in
amusement. “I’ll clarify that we’re talking about the red pillar mailboxes in
England.”

“Yeah.
I
know
this.”

“So
who is it?”

“It’s
Thackeray. No, wait, that’s wrong. That wasn’t my answer.” She racked her mind,
searching for the name she remembered hearing in class last year.

Zoe
always did fine in school—getting B’s without straining too much—but she’d
never been academically inclined and certainly didn’t collect various snippets
of knowledge for the sole purpose of knowing them the way Adam did.

“I’m
waiting,” he said, an irresistible edge of teasing in his voice.

“I
know this.” She stared down at the strawberries and pecans on her salad. “We
didn’t actually read this guy’s books—my professor just mentioned it in
passing. When he was talking about Dickens, I think. I
know
it.”

“If
you know, then you better tell me.”

She
curled her lip to show she wasn’t pleased with being rushed, but was soon
distracted by searching her memory. “Wait, I know. Tramp…trollop…Trollope!”

Adam
laughed uninhibitedly—the sound washing over her and giving her a distinct kind
of pleasure. “Right. It was a strange way to get there, but you got there.”

Zoe
threw her hands in the air. “Ha. Victory!”

The
other diners in the café turned around at her outburst, but Zoe didn’t care
about the attention she’d drawn. Getting one of Adam’s trivia questions correct
was worthy of a celebratory gesture.

Zoe
was an assistant department manager at the upscale department store next door,
and she always came to the café for her lunch break when she was scheduled to
work midday hours.

A
couple of months ago, she’d noticed a brown-haired guy had started to show up
to eat lunch at the same time. He was always reading or working on a laptop,
and he was just slightly geeky with his impressive array of camp shirts and his
intent focus on his thick books—just geeky enough to be adorable.

One
day, he’d come over to ask if he could have the salt from her table.

The
next day, he came over to ask her for the salt again.

The
third day, she asked him why he didn’t grab the salt before he sat down.

They’d
started having lunch together after that.

At
first, Zoe assumed he was interested in her and would be asking her out. He
wasn’t really her type. She’d always dated athletes in high school and college.

But,
from the first time she’d talked to him, she was awed by how smart he was.
Plus, he was funny and very attractive with his amazing dark eyes, lighter
brown hair, and very fine shoulders. He also seemed genuinely interested in
what she had to say, which wasn’t always her experience with guys.

She
didn’t think he was her destined soul mate or anything, but if he’d asked her
out, she definitely would have said yes.

He
never did, so more than a month ago he’d moved in her mind from “potential
date” to “casual lunch buddy.”

Still
reveling in her trivia victory, Zoe picked up her fork to finish her salad.

“How
did your history midterm go?” Adam asked, after finishing off the last of his
sandwich.

She
nodded until she swallowed her bite. “It was fine, I think. I didn’t do great,
but I’m pretty sure I passed.”

She’d
been working at the department store since she was a freshman in college in
order to make some extra money to buy the clothes and shoes she wanted. A few
months ago, the store had wanted to promote her. She hadn’t yet graduated,
but—after long conversations with her parents and her friends—she’d decided to
take the job with its longer hours and finish college part-time.

She
actually liked working retail. She loved designer clothes—
loved
them—and
she was really good at working with customers and keeping her department
running smoothly.

It
was a good job, and there was a lot of potential for her to advance in the
store chain. She hadn’t lived on campus since her freshman year, so her social
life wasn’t affected by the transition. She didn’t mind taking classes in the
evening, but she didn’t always study as much as she should.

“If
you’d told me the exam was coming up earlier,” Adam said, “I could have helped
you study over lunch.”

She
laughed. “You just want any excuse to show off.”

His
dark eyes warmed again in that way he had—which made it seem like he was
smiling even when he wasn’t. “Now what could I possibly want to show off?”

“Oh,
I don’t know. Maybe your freakish knowledge of all areas of history. I thought
you were working on your MBA. How do you know so much history anyway?”

He
glanced away, looking slightly diffident. “I read a lot. Plus, I got a Master’s
in history before I started the MBA.”

Zoe’s
eyes widened. Adam didn’t share much personal information with her, but she’d
put together the facts she knew into a rough timeline to estimate his age.
She’d been thinking he was around twenty-four, three years older than her. But
she now bumped it up to twenty-six.

“If
you’re such a history buff, why are you doing the MBA?” It was a personal
question—more personal than anything she’d asked him before.

For
a moment, she was nervous, wondering if their casual relationship would allow
it.

He
didn’t hesitate before he answered. “History was for me. The MBA is for my
family.”

“Oh.
That’s a pretty big thing to do, just because your family wants you to.”

“Yeah,
I guess. My dad always wanted me to do it. He died a couple of years ago, so I
thought…”

He
trailed off, but Zoe understood anyway. He’d gone against his family’s wishes
by going into history, and the MBA was a gesture of loyalty now that his father
was dead.

For
some reason, it touched her. That Adam loved his family so much. For the first
time, she looked at him with something more than amusement and interest—with
something deeper.

“What
does your mom think?” she asked, hoping she wasn’t intruding on his privacy but
wanting to know more.

“She
died too. Same time as my dad.” When she gasped, he added in explanation, “It
was a boating accident.”

Details
clicked in Zoe’s mind then. A boating accident. Two years ago. “Is your…is your
last name Peterson?”

Adam
let out a texture sigh and leaned back in his chair. He didn’t look upset by
her discovery. Just slightly rueful. “Guilty.”

Zoe
had heard about the Petersons. Everyone who spent any time in the area had
heard about the Petersons. They were a kind of first-family for the city, with
a long history in business development and local politics. Harold Peterson, who
must be Adam’s grandfather, had spent decades as the mayor.

“Wow,”
she breathed. “I had no idea.”

“Yeah.
I know you didn’t.”

When
she just looked at him, trying to reconcile her lunch buddy with this local
dynasty, he gave a half-shrug. “It’s really not that big a deal.”

She
realized she was making him uncomfortable, so she pulled it together. “I’m
sorry about your parents.”

His
expression changed, softened. “Thanks. They were great. I still miss them.”

Both
of Zoe’s parents were still alive, and she was really close with both of them, so
her heart went out to him. “Your grandfather is still alive, right?”

“Yeah.
He’s thrilled about the MBA. I’m sure he has visions of my becoming a pillar of
society and maybe going into local politics.”

“Is
that what you want?”

“I
don’t know. Not the politics thing, no. But the MBA has actually been rather
helpful. My cousin and I have started a company.”

“Really?
What’s that?”

He
looked a little sheepish—like he was really proud of something and slightly self-conscious
because of it. But he pulled something up on his laptop and moved it over so
she could see.

She
looked at the screen and saw what appeared to be a video game.

Adam
explained, “Josh, my cousin, is a tech guy, so he did all the coding. We’ve
already started to launch it, and so far it’s going pretty well. It’s called
Light Switch.”

Zoe
clicked a few times, just to see what happened. Her eyebrows arched as a
question popped up on the screen.

“It’s
a trivia-based game,” he added.

She
started to laugh. “It looks great. Very cool.”

“I
can send it to you, so you can try it out, if you want.”

Her
eyes rested on him, and she felt a strange surge of fondness, kinship. He
looked so pleased with himself but was trying to play it cool—just the way
she’d felt when the store had wanted to promote her.

“Yeah.
I’d like that.”

“I’ll
need your email address.”

She
gave it to him. “It’s nice you could partner with your cousin.”

“Yeah.”
Adam finished typing her email address and put the laptop away. “He’s actually
supposed to come by in a few minutes so we can do some work on Light Switch plans.”

“I’ve
got dozens of cousins, but I only talk to them maybe once a year. How great
that you two are friends.”

“I
don’t know if we’re really friends yet. I don’t know him as well as I’d like.
His mom cut ties with us—the rest of the family, I mean—so I didn’t know him at
all growing up. He’s been kind of hard to get to know. I think maybe he resents
that he had a harder time growing up—since she wouldn’t accept any help from
the family. He always says he’s not a ‘real’ Peterson. But it’s getting better
now. He likes the idea of the game, and he did a really good job with it.”

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