She licked the salt from the corner of her mouth and noticed his eyes follow the movement of her tongue. She smiled and did it again.
“Yeah, that works for me.”
She got to the office the next day, feeling much more wide awake than any woman who’d been on a seven a.m. flight from LAX had any reason to be. But when she had a wake-up call like Drew’s . . . well, that was going to keep her awake all day.
Theo poked his head in her door on his way into the office.
“I don’t need to ask how your weekend was; that look on your face says it all.”
Her cheeks got hot, and she tried to tone down her smile, but when Theo plopped in her chair and handed her a doughnut, it blossomed again.
“I’ll try to pull myself together by staff meeting.”
Theo bit into his own doughnut and took a sip of her coffee. They’d long ago started taking coffee the same way to simplify their lives.
“You going to see him again? Or is that an ‘of course’?”
She tried not to let her smile take over her whole face but probably failed.
“He’s coming up this weekend.”
She switched the conversation to work so she wouldn’t get carried away.
“What do you think the press will say about my program? Who are we targeting to leak about it? Or do you think an interview?”
Theo stood up.
“That reminds me,” he said. “We need to name this thing. It needs a good terrible acronym.”
Just then, the mayor poked his head in Alexa’s office.
“Thought I’d find you both here. Just wanted to let you know Richards is against the delinquent project. He fought me on it at dinner this weekend.”
Shit. Richards was the city councilman from the Berkeley Hills, and a good friend of the mayor’s. She opened her mouth to defend her project, point by point, when the mayor stopped her.
“Alexa. You don’t need to argue with me on this. I’m on your side; this is our program now. I’m just telling you what we’re up against and what work has to be done. Just huddle with Theo and figure out a plan, okay?”
She smiled at him.
Drew had driven straight to the hospital after dropping Alexa off at the airport. Even though that gave him plenty of time to get through his pile of stupid paperwork, he didn’t get much done.
Usually when he got home in the middle of the night after a stressful surgery he felt exhausted and wrung dry. But Saturday night when he’d walked into his bedroom and seen her there in his bed, he’d felt a sense of homecoming that he hadn’t felt in years. And when he’d wrapped his arms around her and she’d curled her body against his, his whole self had felt at peace.
He shook his head in an attempt to pull himself back to earth, or at least to his office. Why was he being such a teenager over this one girl? He was acting like this was the first girl he’d ever slept with.
He was going to have to break up with her soon. If he didn’t, he’d invariably do something to fuck it all up again. How terrible would it be when she looked at him with loathing in her eyes instead of that smile?
He couldn’t end things yet, though. They’d just started back up again. Maybe after this coming weekend.
He’d settled back in with the paperwork when his phone buzzed. He snatched at it, but it was just Carlos asking if he wanted anything from Starbucks.
Large with a shot of espresso.
He’d already had coffee with Alexa this morning, but after not a lot of sleep and getting up early to go to the airport, he’d need more caffeine than usual today.
As Carlos walked into his office, his phone buzzed again. This time, it was her.
Landed, but there were no doughnuts waiting for me at Oakland airport, terrible way to get off a plane.
He laughed down at his phone and looked up to see that smirk on Carlos’s face.
“Good weekend, I take it?”
He picked up his coffee and took a sip.
“You can stop gloating anytime now. Yes, yes, you told me so.”
“As long as you remember that. When’re you seeing her again?”
“This weekend I’m going up there.” Carlos’s grin got bigger. “Don’t give me that look! Don’t make a big deal out of this!”
Carlos rolled his eyes as he left the room.
Alexa and Theo and their deputies huddled and came up with an acronym (Teen Arts Rehabilitation Program, or TARP, a name she and Theo knew they’d be mocked about forever), a deadline (the city council meeting in July), and a schedule of community meetings to hopefully garner support. This all meant Alexa was at work until eight or nine the whole week, and spent a few more hours working at home on her couch every night.
She probably would have worked a few hours less that week if she hadn’t been texting with Drew in between every meeting, but she couldn’t help it. His texts always made her smile, made her relax after tense moments, and sometimes made her blush.
Him being so far away was starting to make her go crazy. Why couldn’t she drive straight to his house from one of her long workdays to get rid of some of her frustration in the best possible way? Why couldn’t she wake up with him in her bed in the mornings, so at least she’d have those five minutes before she pulled herself out of the warm circle of his arms to feel content and at peace?
Text messages were great and all, but . . . well, she was happy he was coming up this weekend.
Drew loved feeling the buzz in his pocket and knowing it was her, that anticipation of reading what she’d said throughout the day, the smile she always put on his face. And he really loved the texts they sent each other late at night . . . and sometimes referred to throughout the day.
He told her about the baby who peed on him, causing both him and the baby’s dad to double over with laughter; the five-year-old twins who both broke their arms when they jumped off the roof “just to see if they could”; the little girl who swallowed a penny during a temper tantrum and giggled uncontrollably when she saw it on her X-ray.
One day she had a meeting that he could tell stressed her out from just the length of her first text.
The good news is that my boss is firmly behind the project, and that is really good news . . . but the bad news is that some other important people aren’t, and this is going to be a fight. I’m thrilled about the first thing but kind of freaking out about the second.
He tucked his files under his arm so he could respond.
That’s awesome about your boss. You were worried, right?
Her response came a few seconds later.
Yeah, I was. Never realized he trusted me this much! But now I feel like I have to fight even harder.
He sat down on the exam room table to think about his response.
He didn’t know anything about city politics in Berkeley other than what she’d told him. It wasn’t like he could give her good or useful advice when she knew everything and he knew virtually nothing. All he could give her was his support, which felt like it didn’t matter. He thought about texting, You can do it! but that felt stupid.
He’s lucky to have you in his corner.
That was all he came up with. It didn’t feel good enough.
Her response took enough time that he wondered if he’d gotten it totally wrong. He walked down the hall to his office. His phone buzzed just as he set his files down at his desk.
That means so much, thank you. I really appreciate it.
At first, he tried to keep himself from grinning at his phone. But Carlos wasn’t around to gloat or make fun of him, so he stopped trying and smiled so hard his cheeks hurt.
“I’m sorry I had to work all weekend,” Alexa said as she drove him to the airport on Sunday night.
“Not all weekend,” he said, his eyebrows dancing. She poked him and laughed.
“You know what I mean! Anyway, I know it was a boring weekend. I wish we could have gone out and done more, but these next few weeks are going to be so . . .” Just thinking about everything riding on her work made her anxious all over again.
He put his hand on her thigh. That got her attention in more than one way. His hand there, so big and strong and firm and gentle, made her think of all of the other places his hands had been that weekend. She blushed as she looked down at it.