I will not fall for my best friend’s twin…
I will not fall for my best friend’s twin…
I will not–Oh, who am I kidding? I feel for him YEARS ago.
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There are a million and one reasons why I shouldn’t fall for my BFF’s twin…
Too bad love isn’t reasonable.
Zane is my total opposite. He dates a steady string of women who are nothing like me.
And there’s no way I would risk Zoey’s friendship over my teensy, tiny crush on her brother.
But when Zane hires me to help fix a glitch with his startup’s software, I run into two problems:
1. Someone on the inside seems to be sabotaging it.
2. Working with Zane every day sends my feelings into overdrive.
My master plan is to sniff out the rat, help Zane save the company, and get out while my heart is still intact. No biggie.
But somehow, I get roped into an investors’ spa trip. Which means spending a whole weekend with Zane and sharing a room with his date.
Kill. Me. Now.
This might serve to destroy my crush once and for all.
If it doesn’t destroy me first …
FALLING FOR YOUR BEST FRIEND’S TWIN
When I finally make it to the restaurant, I’m only ten minutes late. Three of my friends don’t even blink as I slide into the last empty seat, panting slightly, but Zoey gives me the patented Abramson death glare. My best friend and her twin brother, Zane, probably came out of the womb throwing this look at the nurses in the hospital.
I’ve learned to ignore it, but Zoey used to put the fear into me when we met our freshman year of college. The few times I’ve seen Zane do it, my body has an entirely different reaction. One I would never admit to Zoey, what with the whole twin thing and all.
I’m less bothered by her dirty look than the fact that my friends have decimated the contents of the bread basket. There’s one lone breadstick, which I wave. “Hey, ladies! Sorry I’m late. Did I miss anything? Besides the bread, obviously.”
And the butter. The little silver butter dish has been totally cleaned out too, I realize as Sam, Harper, and Delilah say their hellos. The waitress stops by and I scramble to choose a sandwich with ingredients I can recognize and pronounce.
“Could I also get a coffee?” I ask, handing over my menu. “And more breadsticks and butter?”
“You wouldn’t need to ask for more butter if you’d been on time.” Zoey raises one perfectly manicured blonde eyebrow.
“Save your speech, Mom. I got caught up at work. Well. My extracurricular work.”
“Lateness forgiven. Oh! That reminds me. I’ve got a potential job for you. I’ll tell you after lunch,” Zoey says.
For the past six months I’ve been trying to build up a client base so I can quit my day job. I want to be a systems analyst or working in cyber-security, but I’m stuck doing basic IT work in a soul-sucking office. Tech geeks like me are almost as common in Austin as singers trying to catch a big break. There are lots of jobs, but even more people trying to fill them.
Today I was helping my brother, Jason, who founded a company that has been massively successful designing video games. Every time I talk to him, he offers me a full-time job. One that would be a dream compared to my current situation. So tempting.
But I was never into gaming the way Jason always has been. Sure, it would beat this stupid IT position, but I’d have to move back to Katy, just outside of Houston, because Jason wants me on site. As much as I miss my parents and love Jason, Jessa, and my nephews, no way am I leaving Austin unless I’m being dragged.
Sam lightly taps on her water glass to get our attention. When we are finally quiet, she clears her throat, then smiles in a way that makes me nervous. “The reason I called you all here today—”
A collective groan rises from the table, drowning Sam out. We all know what a Sam lunch means. Usually something to do with her alter ego, Dr. Love, needing us to do her a favor.
Zoey pokes me in the shoulder. “Abby, I thought you planned this lunch!”
“Me?” I shake my head. “I mean, I told you about it, but—”
Harper cuts me off, glaring in my direction. “Abby invited me too.”
Zoey’s evil eye might not work on me anymore, but Harper, with her dark hair, intense eyes, and muscular physique, still terrifies me. She looks like a beautiful but evil queen from a fairy tale. One who does CrossFit and could toss a giant tire at your face one-handed.
“Same,” Delilah says, her honey-sweet Alabama accent somehow extending that one syllable into four. She pats my hand and gives me a bless-your-heart look.
I narrow my eyes at Sam. “You tricked me into inviting everyone for you?”
She has the audacity to wink. I remember now—Sam made it sound like I was reminding everyone of a lunch that had already been planned. Normally, I would have seen right through her. But Sam took advantage of the fact that I’ve been distracted lately with all the extra freelance work. I’m pretty much running on fumes and caffeine.
Sam grins, looking purely Machiavellian. “What do they call it in computer-speak … I used a back door?”
Everyone is still directing their dark looks toward me. I hold up my hands. “Hey, I’m a victim too!”
“You should know better,” Harper says.
I should. After all, the five of us have been roommates in various configurations for the past five years, since we all met freshman year at the University of Texas. I know Sam is tricksy, as Gollum would say. Tricksy hobbit. And now, thanks to my unwitting help, she suckered us into a lunch with an agenda. Fantastic.
Sam raises her voice and continues. “As I was saying, I called you all here today because I’ve got a big opportunity and—”
“You need our help,” Delilah, Harper, and I all chorus. We know this script by heart.
“Guys, if you’d just listen!” Sam starts speaking faster now, as though she knows we’re about to mutiny. “I got a book deal. Which means lunch is on me!”
The table erupts into cheers and hugs and basically chaos. For now, the irritation with Sam is forgotten. We give each other a hard time, but the five of us will always have each other’s backs. This book deal has been Sam’s dream for as long as I’ve known her.
Our waitress appears, waving her hands as though wanting to shush us. Zoey, who’s standing at her full Amazonian height to hug Sam, glares. The waitress scurries back to the kitchen like she’s being chased by a pack of Dementors from Harry Potter. I hope she’s not too scared to bring back my butter.
When we’re finally all seated and somewhat quiet again, Harper pins Sam with a look. “We’re all super happy for you. But the question is: what do you need from us?”
Sam fidgets with her silverware. “I need to bolster my online presence leading up to the launch. Longer blog posts with relationship advice. Plus, stories I can use when writing the actual book.”
“So, you need us to write more fake advice emails for you-know-who?” Zoey asks.
Sam gets tons of emails as Dr. Love, but they don’t all make for good entertainment, which is what sets her column apart: solid advice in a snarky package. For years now, she’s asked us to send in emails under anonymous usernames with fake relationship issues. She doesn’t know which ones are real and which ones are from us—though if she guesses correctly, we owe her dinner.
“Keep it down,” Sam says, glancing around the restaurant.
Abby started Dear Dr. Love as a local column on an Austin news site but grew so wildly popular that it’s syndicated in big cities all over the United States. The more successful she becomes, the more scared Sam is of her identity being revealed. She says that Dr. Love gets as much hate mail as requests for advice, probably because of all the breakups she’s instigated.
“Definitely keep the emails coming, though some of you are getting sloppy at hiding your identities.” Sam gives me a pointed look.
I shrug. “The DC-versus-Marvel rivalry is a potentially real issue in a relationship.”
That earns me eye rolls around the table.
“For the book, I’ll need bigger, more substantial stories, not just questions. Preferably real love stories.” Sam plays with the end of her dark braid.
Harper raises an eyebrow. “And you’re asking us?”
Sam is the only one in a relationship, so I totally understand Harper’s skepticism. Overall, we seem pretty unsuccessful as far as love goes. Cursed, if I’m being honest. Especially considering the fact that we’re all attractive in our own ways and no one has a mustache, a tail, or some kind of weird habit like collecting dryer lint.
Zoey is totally career driven and swears she doesn’t have time to date. Harper is beautiful but terrifying. I haven’t made it past the second date with a guy in years. And I’m not sure about Delilah. The former beauty queen has no lack of guys chasing her down. I’ve seen two trying to get her attention just at this lunch. But other than one long-distance relationship while we were in college, she hasn’t dated seriously.
If Sam is counting on us, she might be in trouble.
The waitress arrives with our food, careful to avoid eye contact with Zoey. She wins bonus points from me by bringing out two containers of butter and coffee that smells amazing.
“What’s the angle?” Zoey says, as we start eating. I half expect her to pull out her phone and start taking detailed notes. “Is there a theme to the book?”
“Love clichés. You know, like common tropes.”
I raise my hand. “You lost me at tropes.”
I can speak fluent computer code, but the only way I passed my English classes in college was with Sam’s intense tutoring. Which involved late nights and chocolate truffles as rewards for correct answers, like I’m a dog. I didn’t even care, because: chocolate. And I passed with a flying C.
“Tropes are like the core story in a rom-com or a Hallmark movie.”
“Like the Christmas one y’all forced me to watch?” I ask. “The one where the girl doesn’t know the guy she meets online is actually also the Santa at the mall where she works?”
“And a billionaire,” Delilah points out. “Handsome to boot. Who knew Santa could be hot?”
“Yes!” When Sam laughs, I feel like I’ve earned a chocolate truffle. “That movie had a secret identity trope. Mixed with the online dating trope and the billionaire trope, which can be a lot like a rags-to-riches story.”
“Those plots are all so fake,” Zoey says. “You expect us to date secret Santas or find billionaires?”
Sam holds up a finger. “The tropes are exaggerated, sure. But there’s a reason they’re popular. They’re common. Almost universal. Think about it. How many of you know someone who’s fallen for their best friend?”
We all look at Harper. Her olive skin flushes, but she pretends not to notice us all staring. We’ve been trying to tell her for years that her best friend, Chase, is in love with her, but she won’t hear of it. I think she’s in love with him too, but she most definitely isn’t ready to face that truth.
“Or their boss?” Sam asks.
We all try not to look at Zoey, who for sure will strike us all dead with her laser eyes if we even bring up her hot but much older and very off-limits boss, Gavin.
“There are tons of these things.” Sam begins counting them off on one hand. “Fake relationship, second chance romance, cowboy, enemies to lovers—you get the picture.”
Harper rolls her eyes. “Yeah, but how about a fake relationship? That’s ridiculous. Just like most of those storylines. They’re predictable and totally not real.”
“I had a fake relationship,” Delilah says, biting her lip to hold back a smile.
“You would,” Harper says with a laugh.
“Actually,” I say. “So did I.”
Now everyone’s laughing. If they weren’t my friends, they’d all be dead to me. Dead.
“You did? We need details,” Zoey says.
“It was at coding camp the summer before seventh grade. There was major beef between the two teams about our source code, and so to distract the other team’s best programmer—”
Zoey holds up a hand. “Enough said. I should have known it would have to do with computers.”
“Most of my life has to do with computers. Don’t forget who fixed your laptop when you got a virus from opening that attachment with—”
“Anyway! Back to Sam’s big book news!” Zoey shouts.
I smile, loving this tiny bit of leverage over Zoey. No one would think less of her for trying to open an attachment showing secret photos of a certain Hemsworth brother in a Speedo at a private beach. If I had a nickel for every person who got that virus, I’d retire and buy my own island.
It’s nothing to be ashamed of, but Zoey doesn’t want to admit that underneath her all-business front, she’s got another side. She’s like a mullet, business up front but a lot of fun hidden out back. Wayyyyy out back, behind a chain-link fence with razor wire. I’ve seen the out-back side of Zoey only a handful of times, and it’s like a unicorn sighting. I’ve often wondered if Zane, equally as uptight and all-business, has the same fun side hidden somewhere. I’d pay good money to see it.
“Why don’t you use your own relationship,” Harper suggests.
“That would be perfect!” Delilah says. “Y’all are adorable.”
“They’re too perfect,” Zoey grumbles.
She isn’t wrong. Matt, Sam’s boyfriend, is about three seconds from being her fiancé, and they do have one of those perfect relationships. While we’re all happy for her inevitable proposal, the first one of us to get married will be like the first domino to fall. It’s going to disrupt the delicate roommate and friend balance we’ve kept up for years.
More importantly, because of the cutthroat Austin housing market, without all five of us, we can’t afford the rent for the house we’ve lived in for the two years since graduation. It’s an amazing location in the trendy South Congress area. The historic craftsman-style home has been updated and renovated, so we each have our own room, even if they’re tiny. Until our circumstances change, or unless the older woman who owns it dies and her kids hike up the rent, it’s the perfect home.
“I know I’m asking for a lot,” Sam says, leaning back in her chair. “I’m not trying to force you guys into something. Just do what you’re already doing, and if you happen to run into one of these love clichés or tropes, let me write about it. Your names will be changed, obviously. I won’t share things that make you uncomfortable.”
“What’s in it for us?” Zoey asks.
I nudge her shoulder. “Besides helping our good friend, you mean.”
Zoey nods. “Right.”
Sam leans over the table and lowers her voice. “My advance was pretty high. Like, six-figures high.”
This takes a minute to sink in. Aside from Delilah, who has tried everything from dog walking to modeling, we’re all doing pretty well. But not six-figure-advance well.
“I need this to work,” Sam says. “I need my book to sell to earn back the advance and secure me another deal. So, I have an idea for a thank-you to my amazing roommates who helped me get here. If Matt proposes—”
“When Matt proposes,” Harper interrupts.
Sam grins and crosses her fingers. “When Matt proposes, I’ll keep contributing to rent for the first year after our wedding.”
We’re all stunned into silence. That’s a huge gift. Shocking, especially coming from Sam. Not that she’s selfish, exactly, but she’s not the first of my friends I’d go to for help. This is a bad deal for her, but it’s great for us. I, for one, am not about to say no.
“Sold,” I say. “Do we need to shake or sign something in blood?”
Zoey touches my hand. “This is a big deal. Maybe we should slow down and think about it.”
Sam shakes her head. “I’ve thought about it. I wouldn’t have been as successful without your support. I want to do this.”
“Sam wants to,” I say.
Harper smirks at me. “Are you sure about this? It might mean you have to go on more than one date with a guy, Abs.”
I try to stuff down the hurt. Because it does bother me. I simply haven’t been interested in any of the guys I’ve dated. Still, what I call my first-date curse (really, a first-and-second date curse) feels like my fault somehow. I’m like the girl who gets sent home the first night on the Bachelor, who doesn’t even get a write-up on a recap blog.
Under the table, Zoey grabs my hand. She knows how much it secretly bothers me. And how, ever since my older brother started having kids, I’ve dreamed of having a family of my own. Somehow, people get the idea that because I’m sarcastic, a total computer geek, and dye my hair (it’s currently blonde with the bottom half pink), that I don’t hear my biological clock ticking like a time bomb. Even in a city like Austin, which has a much more artsy vibe, people carry a subconscious idea of what a mom should look or act like. And that idea is definitely not me.
Delilah wrinkles her perfect button nose. “This feels like a much bigger deal than writing fake emails for advice.”
Zoey takes her hand back and nods. “I’m hesitant too. Letting you share our personal stories? I’m not sure. Not that I don’t love our house or your offer. It’s very generous.”
Sam steeples her fingers on the table, meeting each of our eyes in turn. “Ladies, are you in or are you out? I need you. I really do. This is big time. Ride or die. I can’t mess this book up. And you all know I couldn’t have done any of the Dr. Love stuff without you.”
“Oh, we’re well aware,” Harper says. “I doubt you’ll be getting a story from me, but I’ll agree to it.”
“You already know I’m in,” I say.
“Me too. Assuming I can find a man,” Delilah says.
“Finding men isn’t your problem,” I tell her. “There are two of them eyeing you at the bar right now.”
I point, and Delilah giggles when two guys in suits lift their drinks her way. Her cheeks turn a rosy pink, making her look even more like a Disney princess. Any minute now, a bird is going to land on her shoulder and start tying ribbons in her hair.
“Okay, fine,” Delilah says.
Zoey is the only one still silent. “Fine,” she finally says. “But I’m only doing it because I like our house. And you guys. I won’t make anything up, though.”
Sam waves a hand. “No made-up stories for the book.”
“But what if none of us can help? What if we stay single?” And cursed, I think.
Sam smiles. “Even if I don’t get any material for the book, the deal stands. But I have hope for you all.”
At least one of us does.
On the way out, Zoey and I fall into step on the sidewalk since our buildings are near each other. Zoey is quiet and keeps smoothing back her ponytail, which is already perfect and totally sprayed into submission. This is how I know she’s still uncomfortable with Sam’s love cliché idea.
“It’s going to be fine,” I tell her. “If we find a guy and happen to fall into one of those tropes, great. You don’t have to go chasing after a relationship. I mean, Sam pretty much promised that our lives can go on as normal, and then she’ll keep paying rent after she gets married.”
“It’s not just that,” Zoey says. “I hate change. It’s getting real, you know? The idea of us all moving on at some point. It starts with one person getting engaged. Then all our friendships will change. It’s the beginning of the end.”
“Wow,” I say. “You’re totally doom and gloom about this. Stop worrying so much.”
We reach her building and she lets out a long sigh. “Sorry. I’ll work on it.”
“Maybe something good will come out of it. Besides rent.”
Zoey smiles. “Maybe you’ll end up meeting someone amazing!”
“Doubtful. You see all this?” I wave my hands over my ripped skinny jeans and Hawkins Middle School AV Club graphic T-shirt. “Very few can handle it.”
Her brow furrows. “What’s the AV Club?”
I smile, making a mental note to force Zoey to watch Stranger Things. “Don’t worry about it.”
Zoey and I are like the odd couple. She has on a skirt and blazer, with her crisp white shirt buttoned all the way to the top. She even has on pantyhose, which I personally think is a crime in Texas.
“Oh, before I forget,” Zoey says, “I gave Zane your number.”
“Zane?! You’re setting me up with Zane?!”
Though Zane is gorgeous with his dark blond hair and blue eyes I could drown in, he is exactly like Zoey. Except with the dial turned up to twenty.
I’m shocked, though I don’t hate the idea. I might have a teensy crush on her brother, but there is no way he feels the same. Plus, it’s a total party foul to harbor a secret crush on your best friend’s twin. Which is why I’ve never mentioned it.
Crush? What crush. I have no crush.
Zoey looks at me like I’ve lost it, then starts to laugh so hard that she snorts. “No. Oh my gosh, no. I’m not setting you up with Zane. He’s got some kind of bug with his Eck0 app. You know, his startup. I recommended you.” She laughs again. “You and Zane going out? Wow. No.”
I refuse to be offended, since I agree completely. Zane and I would be even more of an odd couple than me and Zoey. Still, a tiny part of me is hurt. Why couldn’t Zane and I work? They say opposites attract, and we’re basically from different continents. I stuff the hurt feelings down into the deep, dark hole where I hide my crush.
“I love bugs,” I say. “The computer kind. Not the flying-cockroach-as-big-as-your-face kind.”
“Ew. One thing we can agree on. He’ll probably text you today. Be nice.”
“I’m always nice,” I say, itching to bust out my phone and check to see if he’s sent me a message yet.
Still laughing, Zoey walks inside her building, and I head to the job I hate more than flying cockroaches. Today, I’m mostly removing viruses from people opening attachments and doing other mundane work that has me wanting to stick a flash drive in my eye. When my phone finally buzzes with a text from Zane, I practically fall out of my chair.
Unknown number: Abby, this is Zane, Zoey’s brother. We’ve met a few times. She mentioned that you are someone we could hire on a freelance basis to help solve some tech issues we’re finding in our app. Please advise if you’re free and would be able to help. Thanks, Zane.
I’m already chuckling. I’ve never read a text that sounded like a formal letter before. Who texts like this? Zane actually makes Zoey look like a completely unbuttoned wild woman.
This is going to be too much fun. Because there is no way I can not mess with him.
Abby: Hey, Z. Whattup. I do tech like Kanye does bad tweets. Happy to help for a fee or your firstborn child.
While I’m waiting for a response, I plug his number into my phone. It vibrates in my palm a moment later.
Zane: Am I to understand that you would be available? Thanks, Zane.
Abby: I’m available. In all senses of the word.
Oh my gosh. I slap my hand over my mouth as soon as I hit send. Why did I type that? Sometimes my fingers move faster than my brain. I wanted to be funny, but it sounds like I’m flirting instead.
Zane: Wonderful. My assistant will be emailing with the details. It’s somewhat urgent, so we’d like to get started as soon as possible. Tonight, if you are able. I understand you might need to work nights and weekends, due to your current job. We’re at the office late most nights as well. Thanks, Zane.
I can’t decide if Zane missed the flirtation in my previous text, or chose to ignore it and stick to business. I grin, unable to help myself as I start typing again. Zane is like a couch in a furniture showroom, perfectly pristine with throw pillows placed at exact right angles. I just want to jump up and down on it, or maybe kick off my shoes and take a nap.
Abby: Thanks! Can’t wait to see you.
I finish with a kissy face emoji. It makes me laugh so hard that Micah, the other poor, unfortunate IT soul who works with me, swivels in his seat.
“What’s so funny?”
Micah is basically the only person I can stand in my office. Probably because we’re equally overqualified and equally miserable. We’re also both secretly trying to find other jobs and working side gigs, which I’m pretty sure is frowned upon.
“Oh, nothing. Just messing with my friend’s brother.”
“Which friend?” he asks, a little too eagerly. I made the mistake of inviting my friends to my office Christmas party once. Micah has been referring to them as the Hot Squad ever since.
I give him a look. “Reminder: never gonna happen,” I tell him. His ears turn pink. “Not that you’re not a nice guy. Just, no. I’m talking to Zoey’s brother, Zane. Twins, hence the Z names.”
I totally get it, because my brother, Jason, married a Jessa, then had two boys, Jace and Joey. Jessa is due with their third any day now. I’m waiting on a call from my mama so I can drive home. I can’t wait to meet my new niece, and not just because her name is Addie. I don’t know why they departed from their preferred naming convention, but I like that it’s close to mine. I have big plans to spoil her rotten.
“So, why are you messing with him?”
“I’m doing some work for his startup, Eck0.”
Micah shifts closer, trying to look at my computer screen. “Eck0? I think I’ve heard of them. So, Zane hired you to help them with an issue.”
“Yep. And he’s got a stick so far up his backside that he’s got antlers,” I say.
As if to prove my point, an email from Zane’s assistant is already waiting in my inbox with an NDA to sign and a few other forms. We often have to fill out something, but the sheer amount of paperwork is overkill.
Micah snorts. “Have fun working with him. If he fires you, send him my way.”
“Fired? Me? Yeah, right.”
“I know, I know. We all know you’re the best.” Micah rolls his eyes and gets back to work. “Just don’t forget about me if you hear of any potential jobs.”
“I always remember the little people who make this possible,” I tell him.
His phone rings, and as Micah answers, I go about adding my electronic signature to a few dozen forms. When I’ve sent them back, I shoot Zane a text.
Abby: Tag! Finished my paperwork. I’m not sure I read all the fine print, though. Hopefully I didn’t sign away the deed to my car.
Zane: You should never sign contracts you haven’t read. Please be advised to read them carefully, sign, and return.
Abby: Kidding. Of course, I read them.
I didn’t. Somewhere in the second paragraph, I zoned out.
Zane: Just to be safe, I’ve had my assistant send fresh copies.
Micah shushes me, pointing to the phone he’s still got up to his ear. When I check my inbox again, there’s another email with the same forms. Okay, so that backfired.
I can’t handle doing that again, so I close out my email and start working on my actual job. If Zane wants to make sure I’ve read them, I’ll give him plenty of time to know that I have. I put my phone on silent and stuff it in my bag.
Almost an hour later when I finally check, there are no less than five texts from Zane, asking about the paperwork. Each one sounds more irritated than the last. A final text comes through as I’m reading.
Zane: Abby, have you had a chance to read the forms? My assistant says she hasn’t gotten them. Sincerely, Zane.
We’ve moved from “Thanks, Zane” to “Sincerely, Zane.” My guess is that his irritation level has risen. I can imagine him pacing through the office, running his hand through his hair the way Zoey does when she’s mad. I like the mental image of him flustered, with perfectly mussed hair. I bite my lip, trying to shake that thought.
He’s Zoey’s brother. Off-limits. No matter how hot he might look with ruffled hair and a scowl. Why is it that scowly guys are so hot? But I know why: Mr. Darcy. That Jane Austen created generations of women who want growly, grumpy men who are hiding a gooey, romantic center.
Instead of searching up Mr. Darcy gifs (which is where my brain wants to go), I send him a meme of the kitten clinging to a branch with the words “hang in there” emblazoned on it.
His response comes just seconds later.
Zane: Do you know when you might have them done? Appreciatively, Zane.
Abby: My lawyer should be done looking at them within the hour.
We both must have the same kind of phone because I can see the dots as he types, then they disappear. As I watch them reappear and disappear, I zip through the forms, adding my signature and sending it back to his assistant.
Zane: Abby, this is a serious matter. If you’re unable to complete simple forms, please recommend someone else. I’m only using you as a favor to Zoey.
As usual, I pushed things a little too far. I enjoy messing with him. I guess he doesn’t feel the same way. Apparently, I’m just annoying. I’m more hurt than I should be.
“You okay?” Micah is suddenly standing over my desk, frowning at me. “You look upset.”
“Fine,” I say.
“If this is about that job, I’m really happy to take it off your hands.”
“I’ve got it,” I say. “Thanks.”
Micah wanders off, probably in search of the coffee that is the only decent part of this office. And it’s not even good coffee.
I type out a plain, boring text to Zane with stiff fingers. Then I delete it and tap out a message somewhere between boring and over the top.
Abby: Your assistant should have received it a few minutes ago. Signed, sealed, delivered.
I considered typing “I’m yours” at the end to complete the song lines. But I can’t bring myself to do it. And I hate that I’m censoring myself for Zane. For anyone else, I would have written it.
I’m about to put away my phone when it buzzes in my hand.
Zane: Guess that means you’re mine? 😉 We’re working through dinner over here. Want to come by when you’re done at your office? Ordering from The Wall. Text me your order. Gratefully, Zane.
I can’t help the huge grin that takes over my face. Zane responded to my message with a joke! As for the idea of being his … I have to fan my face with one of the folders on my desk.
I almost text Zoey to ask if she knew her brother actually had a sense of humor underneath his impenetrable shell. And if she told him the name of my favorite Asian takeout. In the end, it feels weird to talk to her about Zane.
Instead, I send Zane a gif of Tom Cruise from Top Gun giving a thumbs-up, along with a request for orange chicken, extra spicy, and fried rice.
The rest of my day, I find myself humming the Temptations under my breath. Five o’clock can’t come fast enough.
“Is Abby good at her job?” I demand when my sister finally answers her phone.
“The best,” Zoey says without pause. “Why? I already told you this when I recommended her.”
“I know, it’s just—is she always so …”
I fight for and don’t find the right word for how distracted I’ve been by Abby this afternoon. I don’t want to admit to my sister that the distraction is two-fold. Abby has made me nervous about her professionalism and qualifications with her silly texts, and then by ignoring me for a few hours.
But also? I’ve always been distracted by Abby. My sister’s best friend is unapologetically herself—quirky and outspoken. She’s also gorgeous yet doesn’t flaunt the fact with heavy makeup or skintight clothing. There’s a sense that she finds or creates joy wherever she goes, like she’s wringing out the most she can from her life. It’s a quality that has always reminded me of my mom.
Abby’s texts have kept my mind from work all afternoon. And it’s been the highlight of the year. Not an exaggeration, which is definitely a sign I’m working too much.
Zoey laughs. “Is she messing with you already? Abby’s amazing at her job. She also likes to push buttons. I love her. But she can be … infuriating.”
She definitely is that. But if I’m being honest, Abby is also a lot of things I would never admit to my twin.
Intriguing. Captivating. Surprising. Oddly addictive.
All afternoon I sat through meetings about venture capitalists with my phone in hand, checking for texts. I barely registered whatever Jack was saying about the potential new VCs. Thankfully, that’s mostly his arena. I show up for the dinners, but he’s the one with all the charm to win them over.
“What’s she doing?” Zoey asks. “I’ll help you decode Abby if you need me to.”
“I’ve been waiting a few hours for her to sign the NDA and other paperwork I sent over.”
“That doesn’t sound like Abby. She’s incredibly serious when it comes down to work. Are you sure she got the forms? Maybe you should double-check. When my firm used her, she had everything back to us in twenty minutes.”
I run a hand through my hair, feeling strangely guilty for my response to Abby earlier.
“Zane?” Zoey says. “What did you do?”
Maybe with her twinsense, Zoey seems to suspect I’ve done something stupid. Which I have.
I roll a pen back and forth across my desk. “She did send back the forms, actually. Rather quickly. Too quickly.” I pause. “So, we sent them again.”
“Zane! Stop being an idiot. That’s completely your fault. She’s probably busy working now. Let me guess. Have you been bothering her all afternoon?”
“Not all afternoon.”
“I swear to you, Zane. Don’t make me regret sending her your way. She’s the best. And she’s my best friend. I don’t want you mucking things up.”
“I have no intention of—”
“And another thing.” Zoey’s really on a roll now. I love it when she gets like this, even if it’s directed at me, because she looks just like Mom used to when she got passionate about something. It makes me feel like a piece of her is still around, living on through Zoey.
“Make sure you keep it professional, Zane.”
“As opposed to …” I just want to make her say it. My dating life is a constant point of contention between Zoey and me.
We may be alike in many ways, but not in our love lives. Ever the ice queen, Zoey doesn’t date. Period. At least she hasn’t since we graduated college two years ago. Like me, she’s professionally driven. Unlike me, she doesn’t see casual dating as a fun way of forgetting about work. I also suspect she’s in love with her boss.
“As opposed to getting up close and personal with Abby, then dumping her. Your usual MO.”
“You make it sound like I’m some kind of heart-breaking Casanova. I’m not sleeping around or leaving a trail of broken hearts behind.”
“Riiiiight. You’ve probably dated every girl in the city at least once.”
“Maybe twice,” I deadpan. “But just dated.”
“Uh-huh. Anyway,” Zoey says, and I can imagine her waving a dismissive hand, just like Mom used to. I swear I feel my heart constrict just a little bit. I don’t know why Mom’s on my mind so much today. Loss is like that though. Even all these years later, sometimes the pain of it is like a sudden slap in the face.
“This is all a moot point. Abby wouldn’t want to date you anyway.”
It really does hurt, though I’m sure Zoey wouldn’t believe me. I’m not sure why she has such a low opinion of me. Sure, I go on a lot of dates. But what I said was true: I’m not sleeping around. Not even close.
Being part of a startup means that I don’t have time for a relationship. For the past two years, I’ve hardly had time to eat. Dating casually is legitimately a way to enjoy someone else’s company, to blow off steam. I’m a perfect gentleman, opening doors, paying the bill, being open with my expectations. It keeps things light.
And yeah, maybe it’s also a way to keep my heart guarded. After losing Mom, I’m really not sure I can think about getting close to someone again. So, I don’t.
“Sorry, little brother. Not every woman falls for your unique brand of charm.”
“Haven’t met one yet who doesn’t.” I smirk, knowing she’ll hear it in my voice.
“You’re gross. I’m going to go. Just remember what I said—be good to Abby. Even if she’s not into you, I’m sure you could make her miserable in other ways. Don’t.”
“Anything for you, Zoey.”
She makes another disgusted sound. “Oh, and I took the liberty of sending over the menu from The Wall. It’s her favorite. The way to Abby’s heart is through food.”
The Wall is my favorite Asian fusion place. Abby’s got good taste.
“I thought you didn’t want me going anywhere near her heart.”
“I don’t. A well-fed Abby is a better-working Abby. Trust me. Keep her in coffee and food and she’ll make all your tech problems go away. Oh! And chocolate. Or Twizzlers. If you could install a steady drip of caffeine and sugar, she’ll be good to go. I’ve got to run, baby bro.”
“You only have two minutes on me!” I yell, but she’s already hung up.
Meanwhile, the only thing running through my mind right now is what she said about Abby not being interested in me. It bugs me. Not that I think I’m all that, no matter what I said to Zoey. I just don’t like the idea that my sister can be Abby’s best friend but doesn’t think that I’m a good enough guy to deserve her.
DEAR DOCTOR LOVE
Dear Dr. Love,
I’ve been crushing on a guy in my workplace for the past year, and we’ve been secretly seeing each other for a month. Our policy says that dating is allowed, but I think he’s nervous about starting anything because he’s up for a promotion.
I’m tired of watching the office floozies flirting with him and am ready to steak my claim! I’m not sure how much longer I can take the waiting.
Sincerely, Misery Loves Company
Real talk: your guy isn’t nervous. He’s not interested.
And, because you’re writing to me, I know you’re a smart woman who deserves better. Much better.
He’s hiding behind the excuse of the workplace, and if you don’t believe me, push the issue. I’m not normally into ultimatums, but in cases like this, sometimes you need to set a hard line to find out where you both stand.
I’m sorry. You deserve better. Solidarity, sister.
Miserable on your behalf, Dr. Love
PS- Just for future reference, it’s stake your claim, unless we’re talking about prime rib.
PPS- As women, let’s stop calling each other floozies. It only makes it okay for guys to think that they can call us floozies. Respond with the movie I stole that quote from and I’ll give you a gift card to the coffee shop of your choice.
Dear Dr. Love,
Mean Girls. Duh.
Also, you were so right. He was apparently seeing several other of the office … women. Dating in the workplace is okay. Two- and three-timing isn’t.
Guess who got the promotion?
Sincerely, Single and Promoted