Chapter Two

I only caught rare glimpses of Sal for the rest of that first week. She seemed busy shipping out the new line to the various retailers who ordered merchandise from our company. But she did find the time to smile or wink at me once in a while, causing my stomach to flip again. It was amazing how something so seemingly innocuous could do that to you.

I'd broken up with Steve by that time. Hell, I told him to fuck off that night after I'd talked to Sal outside the building. He'd called to tell me he wasn't going to take me to his brother's party that weekend after all, as I was too moody to be around since I graduated. I told him I hoped he found a suitable replacement, other than his blow up doll, because my "moodiness" was a direct result of his rude behavior. He didn't seem too put out by it at first, telling me I would get over whatever it was I had up my ass this time and come crawling back to him. I told him he was the one that did the crawling back in the past but that this time I finally had enough of the bullshit. Whatever was about to spew up from his mouth was cut off when I slammed the phone down. There. Mission accomplished. I spent the rest of the night doing girly things, like polishing my nails and watching an Oprah rerun. Nothing says I don't need that man like a night like that!

Anyway, when the next week began, it seemed like the shipping department finally experienced a well-deserved lull. I could hear Sal and her crew laughing and joking around in the warehouse. It sounded like they were relieved it was over for the time-being. I say the time-being because we all knew the designing team was gearing up for a bunch of fashion shows that would undoubtedly require lots of shipping and re-shipping of materials. Most of the designers kept changing their minds on what they wanted to show and which materials to use all the way up to the last minute. It's the fashion world! What can you expect?

On Tuesday, I took lunch at my usual time and settled into a small table in the cafeteria with my salad and a book. This wasn't high school anymore, so I didn't care if people caught me eating at a table alone. I was finally past the opening part of the story, after the long, drawn-out set up that almost had me giving up on it, when I became vaguely aware that someone had dropped into the chair across from me. I finished the sentence with a small frown and put the book down before looking up to see Sal giving me an amused smirk from her chair as she slouched down into it … sexily, of course! Damn! There goes my stomach again!

"Not liking that book, huh?"

"I'm hoping it picks up soon," I sighed. "After all of that buildup, there'd better be a decent climax …" I suddenly stopped talking and gave her a horrified look before I felt my face heat up.

"One always hopes for a good climax after a long buildup," Sal grinned.

"I … uh …"

"I'm kidding, Al," she chuckled, and the nickname sent a pleasant shock through me. "I know what you meant." She slouched a bit lower, I guess trying to get comfortable in the flimsy plastic seat, before she continued. "So, how's that problem we were discussing last week?"

It took me a few seconds to remember what that problem was … and I wasn't at all helped by the fact that my fingers were itching with the urge to brush a lock of dark brown hair out of her bright blue eyes. I sucked in a breath and hoped she didn't notice how flustered she was making me.

"The problem's … um, gone," I shrugged. "It practically took care of itself, though I'm sure it will probably try to crawl back out from under that rock it resides under." I punctuated that with a smirk of my own, trying for an air of coolness, though I was feeling anything but. Why the hell does she affect me this way? I asked myself. Of course, I didn't have an answer for that.

"It did, huh?" She pulled one leg up onto the chair next to her, bent it and rested an arm on her knee casually. Holy fuck, that's an awesome pose! "And how'd he take it?"

"Oh, the usual," I said, struggling to keep my voice even. "He blamed it on my 'mood swings' and said I'd come crawling back to him eventually."

"And will you?"

She asked the question so off-handedly but somehow I could hear the serious note underlying the words. I'm not sure why she wanted to know this, but it suddenly dawned on me that I wasn't the only one feeling the chemistry here. The thought thrilled me … even as it scared the shit out of me. No matter how long I was going out with Steve, or how many other boyfriends I had before him, I could admit freely that I'd never been in love with any of them. I didn't care what they thought of me, for the most part. Up until college, the only ones whose opinions mattered were my friends. But now even they mattered little to me. This feeling I was getting here with Sal … this was a new frontier for me, and one I wasn't at all sure I was equipped to handle. I realized I'd been silent a while because her look turned a bit worried.

"No, not me," I smiled shyly at her. "He was always the one to crawl back, and even then I could take it or leave it."

"What's making you leave it now?" she asked softly, her tone almost hypnotic in its sexy timber.

"I just feel like we were going through the motions," I said with another sigh. "And while I was in college, it was easy to overlook that. Now that I'm out, I feel like there's no more room in my life for pretense." I paused, hoping she heard the truth in my own tone. "I knew he wasn't right for me from the start."

"Just him?" she asked, but the teasing light came back into her amazing eyes.

"All of them," I shrugged. "Most of them I only dated because my friends wanted me to."

"Ah, the storied clique." She said it with a wealth of understanding in her voice, like she knew it all too well. And I had a sense that she did, but she knew it from the outside. "You know what happens to those girls that never fit in?" she asked, looking directly into my eyes. I feigned innocence but I had a feeling she saw right through me. "They develop into their own person," she went on, though not unkindly. Yeah, she pegged me for the cowardly follower that I'd been, but she didn't seem to hold it against me. "They learn earlier on not to care what other people think of them and follow their own interests and dreams." Then her eyes took on a slightly pitying glint. "It's a shame those others wasted so much time."

I nodded and looked down guiltily at my empty salad bowl. I heard her drop her leg and push her chair back from the table. How could I expect her to like me now? I hadn't even known her long and yet the disappointment was devastating to me inside. And who knows what would have come from this … whatever it was we were feeling between us. If I was her, I'd walk away from me too. But suddenly a hand reached out and gently pushed my chin up so that our gazes could meet again.

"How much more time are you willing to waste, Alex?" she whispered seriously, her eyes searching mine for something I couldn't begin to name.

"None."

I guess my expression matched my word because she smirked in satisfaction when I said that.

"Good girl," she said as she stood up. "I've got to get back to the warehouse." She looked down at me with an intense gaze as she added. "I hope we get to talk more later."

I nodded as I stared up at her in wonder. She smiled again before she walked out of the cafeteria. When I could no longer see her I let out the breath I'd been holding. My face still tingled where she'd touched it and I could still feel the intensity of her gaze. If there hadn't been a few others in the room, I could swear she would have kissed me – and shit did I want her to! Whatever had transpired between us just now, I knew deep down in my bones that there would be no going back to acquaintances now. I still wasn't sure if my fear outweighed my anticipation. But soon I would learn that it didn't matter. Chemistry, when left to its own devices, can overwhelm you. Whether you see it coming or not.