He sat his cup down and pressed his lips together in a hard line. She didn’t know if his expression was due to the bitterness of the brew or what she’d just said.
“I’m sorry!” she spat out. “I shouldn’t have said anything,” she tried to press the burn of embarrassment from her cheeks with her trembling hands that had grown surprisingly cold despite the heat of the cup she’d been gripping as if it were a lifeline.
She’d clearly not gripped tight enough. She felt as if she were on the verge of death, dying of utter humiliation. Worse, it was her own doing. Why had she never learned to keep her mouth shut? At least she had already put in her resignation.
Hazel eyes, that normally shown with flecks of gold, green, and brown simmered like deep emeralds. He stared at her, seeming to not blink, his lips slowly drawing from stiffness to softness, but his eyes continued to blaze.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Gold,” she apologized again. “You see? This is why … this is why I need to quit,”
She clumsily began to rise only to be startled by the strength of his hand drawing her back down to her seat. He held her fingers between his, this time, his eyes pressing closed.
Sick. Her confession had obviously made him sick.
“I’m not sick, Jericka,” an unfamiliar chuckle danced around his words. In truth, it wasn’t so unfamiliar, he’d just never laughed with her. It would have been the most pleasant thing, sitting there, holding her boss’s hand, him chuckling with mirth had his laughter not been induced by a statement she thought she’d said in her mind but had unfortunately voiced.
She was going to be sick.
“I’m stunned, more so relieved, actually.” He rushed to finish his statement, positioning his hand around hers in a way that was more an embrace and less capture by force.
Jericka stared down at their union and then back up at Mr. Gold, Preston, she always referred to him as Preston in her thoughts.
Clearing his throat brought her eyes back to his face. His eyes still simmered that vibrant emerald but his lips were smiling.
Closing his other hand around hers, he said, “I am glad you said something, even if I am a bit ashamed that you were the one to go first.”
“You-you were going to say something to me?”
He nodded and suddenly looked very boyish.
“I was going to fire you? No,”
She wanted to say that wasn’t what she was thinking at all.
“I certainly wasn’t going to ask you to resign.” He pulled his hands away from hers and looked as if he regretted the break in connection.
Jericka knew she did.
“To be honest,” he continued, “I didn’t know what was going to happen once I said something. I still don’t. I do know I don’t want you to quit. I’ve tried to distance myself as much as possible to keep things from being awkward. I tried. Failed. But I’m not complaining.”
“Especially now that I have accepted a different job, it won’t be awkward anymore.” She couldn’t keep staring at him. He’d known how she felt all along, tried not to encourage her, and had even invited her to coffee to address it.
She flinched as if struck.
“I mean, it would be inappropriate to ask you to come to dinner with me otherwise. I mean, no, I hate that you’ve already decided to leave the company, but at least we are here … now, having coffee and I think that is a good start.” He gave her a smile that almost made her melt.
It was only then that his words registered. Clearly, they had been coming at her like a jumbled text message sent out of order. First message, ‘I was going to say something before you.‘ Second text, ‘I agree with you.‘ Third text, and definitely her favorite, ‘I like you. Would you like to have dinner with me?‘
“Yes, Mr. Gold,” she managed to say, her demeanor shifting from cloudy to blue skies.
Preston smiled so widely that crinkle lines spread from the corners of his eyes. “Excellent,” he took a sip of his coffee before leaning forward. “And how about just calling me Preston.”
*Written May 19, 2017