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Authors: Jo Richardson

Cookie Cutter (8 page)

BOOK: Cookie Cutter
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“Okay th--”

“Bye.”

I hang up and stare at the note I wrote to myself a year ago, reminding me about the tags. I don’t understand how I missed that but then, I’ve been missing a lot of things lately. I check the time. I’m so late. But I need to take care of this, so I get behind my laptop and log in to the DMV website to pay the bill and get it over with. When I get my license out to verify who I am, I notice, it’s going to expire in three days.

“For the love of . . .”

I breathe and ignore the fact that there is no way I got my renewal form and forgot about it. No. Way.

“It’s okay, Iris,” And now I’m talking to myself. Maybe I am losing it. “Just pay to renew that too, like you always do, and it’ll all be over.”

I finish the tag renewal and put it on the credit card because my bank account has paid the price of this divorce like no other bank account ever has, and then I begin the process of renewing my license, only, I get an error message.

Please bring proof of residence, along with your original social security card, original birth certificate, and original marriage and or divorce agreement to your local DMV for assistance.

As I read the instructions, the blood rushes through my veins faster and faster because this is just another errand I have to run in a world where I just don’t have time. For the third time today, I find myself begging the question, what. the. fuck? I have to deal with this one later. For now, I have a meeting to get to. Of course, as I scrape the store bought potato salad into a bowl for the committee, I can’t help but think about Carter Blackwood and his smug face when he asked me about those damned fingerlings. Who screws up the word
fingerlings?
Me, that’s who, but only if I’m standing face to face with adorable looking, half-charming, half-infuriating temporary neighbor who flips houses to make a quick buck for a living. Apparently. And he had some nerve acting all nice and neighborly
after avoiding me yesterday.

I push his distracting smile right out of my mind and get going before I have to call someone to delay the meeting, which would not
go over very well seeing as I’m the one who called for it. Without another thought, I’m out the door. Everything is tucked away safely in the back seat when I text Ally to make sure she’s safe and sound somewhere. I let her know I’ll be home by nine. I make a special effort not to speed and get another ticket on the way. Because of this, I’m definitely late to the meeting, which is roughly, fifteen minutes early for me, which isn’t technically late but for me, it is.

The situation wouldn’t be that
bad, honestly, except for the fact that as Candice Morgan calls the meeting to order a few minutes early, and introduces the bidders for working our carnival next weekend, which we don’t need, I see none other than Carter Blackwood staring at me from the back of the room. When he struts up to the table and stops right in front of me, handing over the bid I had no idea he even knew about, I admit I’m speechless. Tack on the fact that everyone in this room, even the other bidders, seem to be caught up in this guy’s charm and gracious attitude front, and I’m officially having the worst day ever.

“Candice,” I start, after much ado about Carter’s helpfulness over at the fairgrounds the other day. “We still have the children’s playground to think about later on this year.”

She gives me a blank stare accompanied by her fake smile, telling me she doesn’t even look
at the reports I turn in every other month.

“In December? We were going to surprise the Lakewood community with a playground because they can’t seem to raise the funds on their own?”

“Oh.” She laughs. “Right, right, right.” Then she shrugs and waves her hand at the air. “Well, they didn’t know about it anyway, we can always do that next year.”

And I am at a loss for words. No, scratch that. I am not at a loss for words, I’m at a loss for respect. “You’re serious?”

“Really, Iris, don’t make this such a big deal.”

I scan all three bids we received tonight, including Carter’s.

“He’s a hundred and fifty dollars over the other two bids.”

“He’s got great references,” she says but I know what’s going on here. We all
know what’s going on here.

“He’s got a great ass you mean,” I tell her before I can think about what I’m saying. My intention was to call her out but now that it’s out there, I’m thinking I just called myself out. Which wouldn’t be so bad, except, he’s standing there with his great ass, in the back of the room, watching me as I go all ape-shit on Candice.

I want to reel the words back in like they’re a fish at sea, unable to escape my hook and line. I want to hit the rewind button on everyone’s brain right now. I want to die.

Really, really badly.

But I can’t. And now everyone in this room knows I think Carter Blackwood’s rear end is divine. Including Carter Blackwood.

Crap.

Laughter emerges, Candice begins her rebuttal and the entire board gets fidgety about what say next when out of nowhere, Carter’s hand goes up.

“Actually,” he says. “She’s got a point.”

I won’t lie. I’m stunned. Is he saying I have a point about the money, or his ass?

I narrow my eyes at him. If he is talking about the money, there’s got to be a catch here.

“I’m sorry, Carter, did you say something?”

I’m concentrating hard as I glare over at Candice; trying to ensure she gets the telepathic message I’m sending her.

Screw.

You.

Then I notice Carter, watching me.

He taps the bottom of his chin with the back of his hand and it takes me a minute to realize he’s telling me to close my mouth. I do. Then he continues his conversation with Candice.

“You don’t really need a professional at the carnival,” he says, confirming he’s referring to our money situation. “Now, would I like the extra cash? Sure, who wouldn’t? But I don’t think I could sleep too good if I knew I was taking money away from kids who can’t afford their own playground.”

I can’t believe I’m hearing what I think I’m hearing coming out of his mouth.

“I’m withdrawing my bid,” he says, then steps past the few people standing next to him and out into the lobby area. I watch him the whole way out.

“I’ll take the bid,” a man next to him shouts out. But now that Carter’s put that out there, there’s no way Candice will go forward with her plan for extra, extremely un-needed, help this year.

She calls the room to order but I can’t sit here anymore. I have to know why he did that.  Why he would pass up on money when he’s all about the money. I make my way to the back of the room while Candice requests a vote on this year’s Halloween committee. Once I’m in the lobby, I see him pushing his way out the doors.

“Carter, wait.”

He stops, but his hand is still on the door.

“I don’t understand,” I say. “Why did you just give up the easiest five hundred dollars for three hours’ worth of work that you’ll probably ever make?”

He lets the door go and when his eyes look down at me, he’s not just looking at me. He’s looking
into
me. He shrugs and that boyish grin is back. “You were right.”

This man is unbelievable. Three simple words. Not even close to what you’d think would take someone’s breath away but that’s exactly what he does. I smile and mentally note this as the best what the fuck moment. Ever.

Carter’s brow dips a tad. “What?”

“Nothing.” My face flushes but I try desperately to hide it by shaking my head.

He crosses his arms and studies me for a moment.  “Why do I get the impression you don’t hear that very often?”

Right into me.

“Lately?” I have no idea why I feel the need to confess my frustrations with him. “Let’s just say you’re my first in quite some time.”

Tears make their attempt to be seen. I try to swallow them down but I can’t seem to hold them back. I can blink them away though. He could say something completely insensitive right now. Tell me how silly I’m being. Maybe a sarcastic, “you’re welcome” but he doesn’t. Carter just smirks and lifts one perfectly shaped eyebrow.

“Your first huh? That’s some privilege.”

A giggle escapes me unexpectedly and I let it out. It’s like a release of some sort.

“Wow.”

His eyebrows lift and his smirk blossoms into a full on smile.

“What?” I’m only a tiny bit embarrassed.

“I dare say, that’s the best laugh I’ve heard in a long time.”  Carter’s easy explanation and sincere tone makes me feel like everything that’s gone wrong today was leading up to this one, single right.

“Thanks.” I push some hair behind my ear to keep my hands busy and the focus off of the heat in my cheeks.

He nods. “You’re welcome, Iris.”

What feels like a millennium passes. I swing my arms from front to back and clap my hands in between the action.

“Well.”

Swing, clap. Swing clap.

“I guess I’ll . . . let you go,” I say in an awkward attempt to keep this moment from turning ugly.

Swing. Clap.

But when I go to head back inside and get my things, he stops me by wrapping his hand around my wrist, gently. I look down at our hands then up at him and I hold my breath. Why am I holding my breath?

“Can I walk you to your car?” he asks.

“Um.”

There, I can breathe again.

“It’s only four away from yours,” he insists.

I know this isn’t a date. This is the furthest thing from a date that anything could be, but I feel like he’s asking me on a date.

“I guess that would be okay,” I finally agree and he lets go of me so I can run and gather up my things.

I forget all about the potato salad. It’s only deli brand anyway. I hope Candice chokes on it. And when I catch up with Carter, it’s quiet between us for a few strides. I’m not used to us being on “friendly” terms like this so I have no idea what to say. Luckily, Carter does.

“I didn’t mean to get you all riled up tonight, Iris. It’s just that, when I saw Meg this morning and realized you hadn’t told me about the meeting, I assumed –“
Meg?

I stop short. “What? No, I came by,” I promise.

His head tilts, confused. “You did?”

I nod before the words come. “Yesterday. Twice. I knocked and knocked but you didn’t answer and I saw your truck out front so I knew you were there; I just figured you were avoiding me after Saturday and how awkward things got.”

His stare is blank, like he doesn’t understand what I’m saying.

“I left you a note,” I assure him.

He runs his fingers through his hair and when he’s done, I’m tempted to fix it although it looks fine the way it is if I’m being honest. Better than fine really. Sexy.

“Iris, I’m sorry, I was up all night Saturday working and then I fell asleep and then next thing I knew, it was Monday.”

The realization that this was all just a misunderstanding wakes me up and I stop fantasizing about his hair long enough to engage in adult conversation again.

“So you weren’t avoiding me?”

“No, hell no. Why would I do that? I like it when we hang out.”

“You . . .” I trail off because not only do I feel like an idiot for assuming, but he likes
it when we
hang out
?

“Really?”

He gives his head a small shake and lets a humorous huff out through his nose and walks away. “And what do you mean,
awkward
?”

“What?” I catch up to him after a few half jogs.

“You thought Saturday was
awkward
?”

“Well, yeah.”
Didn’t he?

“I didn’t think that was awkward. Did you really think that was awkward?”

“Oh no, I guess not. I just thought . . .  I mean . . .” I try to play it off but in the end, I confess, “Yeah maybe a little.”

Carter laughs and gives an animated nod of his head. “The grocery store? Now that was awkward.”

“Hmmm?”

He stops to give me his full attention. “Fingering potatoes? Really?”

And now we’re both laughing. It feels so easy with him. The way he smiles and pokes fun but not in a mean way, and how he just totally stood up for me when I’ve been nothing but rude to him. We get to my car and he lets out a happy sounding sigh.

“I guess this is you.”

“I guess it is.” I take my keys out of my purse.

“Friends?” He offers a hand to shake.

How am I supposed to ever even consider saying no to that grin? I take his hand in mine. “Friends.”

“I’ll see ya ‘round, Iris.” He gives me an approving nod.

“Okay.”

He heads over to his truck but stops as he opens the door.

“Hey Iris?”

I tilt my head at him and that grin of his, I love that grin.

“I do have a nice ass, don’t I?” He winks and slides behind the steering wheel before the blood finishes rising to my cheeks.

BOOK: Cookie Cutter
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