Sixteen Years Ago
At the top of the landing, a long corridor stretched. Voices filtered through a few of the closed doors, but no one was in sight. Kate Owens tugged her suitcase behind her, silently counting off the room numbers.
Her therapist had insisted college would be the perfect fresh start—new city, new friends, new beginning—and all she had to do was pretend she hadn’t spent the summer in treatment. She stopped in front of room 341 and stared at the door for a long minute. If she turned around now, her mom’s “I told you so’s” would go on for months. But maybe that would be better than failing all over again.
The door popped open and Kate took a step back.
A cute Asian girl smiled at her. “Were you about to come in? Obviously you were—what am I saying?” She held up a bright pink Hello Kitty sign with Welcome written in at least twenty different languages. “The RA said we each needed to decorate our door. I know it’s dorky but I was going to put this up. What do you think?”
“I like dorky.”
“Good answer. Bienvenue, shalom, and aloha.” The girl grinned and turned to tape up the sign.
Kate eyed the room. Three beds, three desks, three dressers, and an assortment of suitcases crowded the space, leaving only a narrow strip of worn carpet uncovered. Nothing like home—but maybe that was a good thing.
“By the way, I’m Julia. Are you Katelyn? Or Monique?”
Before Kate could answer, she felt a hand on her elbow. Her mom had caught up. “I thought there had to be a fire with how fast you were going,” Eileen said. She smiled at Julia. “Well, aren’t you a peach. Julia, did you say? I’m Eileen. And this,” Eileen squeezed Kate’s shoulders, “is my baby, Katelyn Owens. Isn’t she beautiful? Just like you. The pair of you will drive the boys crazy.”
It was too late to wish her mom had waited in the car.
“My mom still calls me her baby too,” Julia said, subtly winking at Kate. She turned to Eileen. “That’s a lovely necklace.”
“Oh, aren’t you sweet,” Eileen cooed.
Kate doubted Julia truly liked her mom’s ostentatious diamonds, but the swift compliment had instantly won Eileen over. Julia was sharply dressed in a short black skirt and patterned maroon knit top, her black hair up in a haphazard bun with loose strands framing her face. She pulled off the look of city fashionista while still seeming comfortably relaxed. Definitely cool.
Kate glanced down at her own outfit. The sundress and sandals belonged at a barbeque in Sand Bluff. Not chic San Francisco. On top of that, she knew she should have styled her hair or at least left it down. She’d been too nervous that morning to do anything but pull it back in a ponytail. With her blond hair and baby face, she probably looked young enough to order a kids’ meal. But even if she looked cool, she’d be the same mess on the inside.
Eileen pushed past them to walk around the room. She opened the door to the bathroom and then poked her head inside for a closer look. The upside of sharing with two roommates instead of one was that this “suite” had a private bathroom. Judging from Eileen’s frown, however, the bathroom wasn’t much of a positive. She turned back to survey the bedroom again, her disapproval obvious as she took in the scratched desks and the mismatched dressers that clearly had weathered years of spilt drinks and hard use.
“Well, I guess this is what you get if you leave Texas.” Eileen sniffed. “You’ll be living on top of each other.”
“I think it’s perfect.” Kate pulled her suitcase into the room, officially determined to make the best of it. She’d had to share a room at the treatment center too. That suite was posh compared to this, but at least she was used to roommates.
“I found a man just fine without bothering about college.” Eileen squinted at the smudged window between the two beds. “But Katelyn wants a city slicker, I guess.”
“I’m definitely not here to find a husband,” Kate interrupted. “And it’s just Kate. Not Katelyn.”
“Well, it wouldn’t be the worse thing that happened,” Eileen returned.
“Kate suits you.” Julia smiled. “And I’m not looking for a husband either. As weird as it sounds, I decided to go to college to learn something.”
Kate grinned. “What were you thinking?”
Kate felt her hopes rise as Julia laughed. They were going to be friends—she was certain of it.
Kate spun around at the rich alto voice. A tall, lanky, black girl with a short haircut and a disarming smile gave her a once-over. She managed, “Hi,” before she felt the heat rise up her neck and settle on her cheeks. Her pale complexion could never conceal a blush, but at the moment she wanted to pull a bag over her head.
“You must be Monique,” Julia said, stepping forward. “I’m Julia.”
“Everyone calls me Mo.” She clasped Julia’s hand, her smile widening.
As Mo chatted with Julia about city traffic, Kate reminded herself to breathe. For once she wanted to be cool. She tried to concentrate on the conversation, laughing when Julia did, but found herself taking in Mo more than listening. Blue gym shorts hung low on her hips, exposing the waistband of a pair of boxers, white socks were pulled up past her calves, and a white sports bra peeked out from under the edges of an oversized yellow tank top. Her skin was a smooth dark brown and her black hair was clipped short against her head. She was beautiful. Or maybe handsome?
“So you’re Kate?”
“Or is it Katelyn?”
“Oh, yeah. Just Kate.” She smiled and then realized Mo was waiting to shake her hand. As soon as she clasped Mo’s hand, a warmth swept through her. She looked up and Mo’s brown eyes caught her gaze. Her pulse thumped in her ears. It was the right moment to either say something or let go, but she didn’t do either. Mo grinned, her expression half surprised and half amused.
Before Kate think of some joke to smooth over the awkwardness, Mo let go of her hand and turned back to Julia. They laughed about having an icebreaker game of Truth or Dare later and Kate felt her mother’s eyes bore into her. She needed to act like nothing was wrong, but her heart was racing and a sweat had started at her armpits.
“I’m Eileen. Katelyn’s mom,” Eileen said, her hawkish gaze now on Mo. “You’re so tall—you must be a basketball player. Are you here on a scholarship?”
The words landed like a dull thud. Kate pointedly glared, but her mom ignored the look.
“I am here on a scholarship but not for sports,” Mo said. “Computer science. I’m a big math nerd.”
“Computer science?” Eileen didn’t hide her surprise.
“I’m crazy about numbers. And programming.”
The way Mo straightened up, facing off to Eileen, and the way her voice said don’t-fuck-with-me without saying it at all, made Kate want to gawk like all those tourists admiring the Golden Gate.
“I guess that’s better than being crazy about boys.” Eileen laughed. “When I was you girls’ age, the only numbers I was thinking about were boys’ phone numbers. But I hope none of you will be bringing boys up here after curfew. They were telling all the parents at orientation that they’ve gotten very strict about that rule.”
“As long as there’s no rules about bringing girls up,” Mo said. Without missing a beat, she added, “Did they mention that at the parents’ orientation?”
Eileen’s mouth dropped straight open. Kate tried not to show her own surprise. Even without looking her direction, she knew Mo was studying her reaction.
So Mo was gay. What did it matter to her? Kate answered the question a moment later even as she argued it couldn’t be true.
“You’re avoiding her.”
“I’m not avoiding anyone,” Kate said. But Julia was right. She was most definitely avoiding Mo. “How are you? How are the kids? How’s Reed?”
“Everyone’s good. Carly and Bryn are testing the spaghetti to see if it’s done. Apparently Reed taught them to throw the noodles against the refrigerator to see if they stick, but I told them to aim for Reed instead. I just cleaned the fridge.” Julia laughed. “There’s a noodle stuck on Reed’s glasses. I guess dinner is ready.”
“I miss your little family.”
“You should come over Sunday. Reed wants to have a barbeque. She seems to think that you can barbeque crab. But she thinks you can barbeque anything. Did I tell you about that broccoli incident?”
Kate smiled. “I’ll see what I can do.” She walked over to the window and eyed the street below. A heavy fog had settled, and in the gathering darkness, lights from the passing cars cast a pulsing glow. She’d missed the city. The day had been one of those February gems where all of San Francisco was bathed in sunshine, but the fog mirrored her mood now.
“Oh, that reminds me. The girls want to know if you’re coming to Mexico.”
Kate leaned against the window, feeling the chill seep through her blouse. “Tell them I haven’t decided.”
“Because of Mo?”
When Kate didn’t answer, Julia made a clicking sound with her tongue the way she did when she was disappointed. “Kate, the trip is in six weeks. You need to decide. By the way, I told her you were back in town.”
“When did you tell her that?” Kate didn’t want to make a big deal about it, but the timing mattered. She pushed away from the window and walked back to her desk. If Mo had known that she was in town for the past two weeks and hadn’t reached out to her… She stared at the business journal open to Mo’s interview.
“I just sent her a text. Don’t hate me.” Julia’s voice was muffled for a moment as she told someone to wash their hands.
“I wish you hadn’t.”
“She still thinks she’s your friend. Waiting two weeks to tell her that you’re back in town—”
“She is my friend,” Kate interrupted. They’d once been best friends but now she wasn’t certain where things stood. And it was her fault.
“Look, she was complaining about being lonely with her girlfriend gone this week. I thought you two could meet for dinner.” Julia paused. “You two need to talk.”
Where would they even start? Kate reached for the business magazine and flipped to the cover. Mo’s face smiled up at her. “Did you know her picture’s on the front of SF Bay Business?”
“She mentioned getting interviewed for something. Is it a good shot?” Dishes clattered in the background.
“She looks great.” Nothing had changed there. Mo was wearing a black blazer with a white button-down shirt. The top two buttons were undone, revealing a triangle of smooth brown skin and enough of Mo’s collarbones to make it hard not to stare. What was worse, the photographer had caught her laughing. Kate couldn’t resist tracing the tiny lines at the corner of Mo’s eyes. “She topped their Forty Under Forty professionals list. I can’t believe she didn’t say anything—it’s a big deal.”
“You know Mo doesn’t brag.”
Add it to the list of her charms. Kate tossed the magazine on her desk. “I don’t know about dinner. Maybe I could swing coffee later this week.”
“You take people to dinner all the time. This time you won’t even need to try and raise a million dollars before dessert. We’re talking about Mo, remember?”
Raising a million dollars was easy. Dinner with Mo was much more complicated.
“Six months might have changed things. Maybe you won’t even want to kiss her.”
“I don’t want to kiss her.” Kate glanced at Mo’s picture again and her chest ached with the mutinous thought of wrapping her arms around her.
“So we’re still pretending you don’t have a crush on her?”
“Seriously, Jules? A crush?”
“You’re the one who’s acting like we’re back in college.”
Kate sighed. When the Denver position came up at work, she’d jumped at the opportunity. It was true that she’d wanted to be involved in getting the state-of-the-art cancer treatment center built, but that was also a good excuse. She needed a break from sharing an apartment with Mo—and a break from the constant questioning of their friendship.
Unfortunately six months apart didn’t help. As soon as she’d stepped off the plane in San Francisco, her first thought had been of seeing Mo again. But she’d resisted calling her. For her own sake, she didn’t want to see Mo until she was ready to be friends.
She looked over at Peeves, his fawn-colored head nestled on the edge of his pink cushy bed. Lately she was careful not to say Mo’s name aloud. Peeves would jump up and bark, then run in circles around the room, hoping to see her.
Her phone buzzed with a text and she held it away from her ear to read the screen. As soon as she saw Mo’s name, her stomach clenched.
Mo: You’re back?! Can you meet me at Mario’s tonight?
Julia’s voice came through the line at the same time. Something about Reed and the twins throwing pasta at each other. Laughing followed. Kate stared at Mo’s text, feeling a rush of excitement promptly followed by a recrimination.
“Mo texted me,” Kate said, holding the phone against her ear again. “She wants to meet at Mario’s.”
Not perfect. “It’s already late. I’ve got Peeves in the office with me today and I’ve still got a mountain of work to do.”
“And you’ll be busy tomorrow,” Julia said. “And the day after. Sweetie, this isn’t going to get easier. Go home and drop off Peeves. You can walk to Mario’s from your apartment.”
Kate’s stomach rumbled in response. She’d skipped lunch in lieu of taking Peeves for a walk in the park—at least that was her excuse. In only two weeks, her clothes were getting loose again. As much as she told herself that she had control of her eating issues, stress brought back old habits.
“Mo thinks she did something to piss you off… Something to make you leave.”
“I got transferred to Denver—she knew that. I left for work.”
“Right. Why tell her the truth? Why talk about the elephant in the room?”
Kate exhaled. An elephant was one way to describe her attraction to Mo. “She was spending most nights at her girlfriend’s house then. Talking about it wouldn’t have helped.”
“It may seem like a foreign concept to you, but sometimes it’s good to talk about things.” Julia’s parenting tone had kicked in.
“Thanks for the advice, Mom.”
“You’re such a pain in the ass. It’s a good thing I love you.” Julia hollered for the kids to stop running through the kitchen. When she came back on the line, she said, “Do you want me to text her about Mario’s, or are you going to put on your big girl panties and text her yourself?”
Every day that she’d resisted contacting Mo had become a sort of badge of honor. But what good had resisting done? If anything, she was only more desperate to see her.
Kate eyed the magazine again. Mo looked every bit the part of a savvy CEO of a successful startup. Funny, adventurous, sometimes nerdy, Mo had made it big. Kate had known it would happen eventually. “I’ll text her.”
“Good. And in case you can’t hear them, the twins are yelling that they want both of their aunties to come to Cozumel.”
“I can hear them.” Kate couldn’t help smiling. “Give your little family hugs and kisses from me.” Without committing on the trip, she said a quick goodbye and hung up the line.
Kate clicked back to Mo’s text. Keep it simple, she thought, staring at the screen.
Mo’s answer was immediate: I’ll be there!
Kate swallowed. “Okay. We’re doing this.” At least they were going to Mario’s and she knew what she wanted to order. Her old trainer had made her keep a diary of her meals and she’d gotten good at guessing calories. The less thinking she had to do tonight, the better.
She pulled on her coat and jingled her keys. Peeves’s ears twitched but he didn’t move otherwise. One of the perks of being the director of development meant she was in charge of her floor and could decide things like a pet policy. Peeves had no idea how lucky he was.
“Peeves, wake up.”
Without opening his eyes, Peeves nestled his head deeper in the curve of his bed. For a Chihuahua-terrier mix, he was decidedly lazy. His bed was under her desk and unless she had meetings with a donor, he came to work with her every day. Now he was clearly hoping that she’d leave him in the office for the night.
“Come on, I don’t want to be late. I’ve got a date with Mo.”
At Mo’s name, Peeves sprang up. He gave a full body shake and then trotted expectantly to the door. When Mo didn’t instantly appear, he turned his big doe-like eyes up at Kate, whining softly.
“I know you miss her, but do you have to rub it in?”
Peeves’s tail waved as he whined again. He raised his paw and scratched once at the door. When Kate shook her head, he danced in a circle on his hind legs. Part of her shared the sentiment and she couldn’t help smiling at his antics.
“This isn’t a real date,” Kate reminded herself. Peeves looked up at her, cocking his head as if he didn’t understand why it couldn’t be. “Because she’s got a girlfriend and I’ve got issues.”
Peeves did another spin, adding a yip for emphasis.
“And I hate to break it to you, but you’re not coming to dinner.” She leaned down to pat his head and he tried his best winning grin. “If I brought you along, I’d only be jealous when you hopped into Mo’s lap and licked her chin. There are some things humans can’t get away with.”
Mario’s was open late, but it mostly catered to a lunch crowd. By eight, the place had only a handful of diners. Kate had arrived early, planning on scoping out a table and settling in before Mo got there, but there was no hope of relaxing. Her nerves were eased some when the waitress gave her a familiar smile. “Haven’t seen you in here in a while. What can I get you?”
“I’m waiting for a friend.”
“No problem. Can I get you a drink in the meantime?”
Kate wanted to order the house wine, but her stomach was empty. The last thing she needed was to get tipsy. “I’ll take water for now.”
As the waitress stepped away, Kate looked up and saw Mo in the doorway. She was holding the door for a couple who were just leaving and not looking in Kate’s direction. When she turned to scan the room, their gazes met and Kate straightened up.
The business journal’s photographer had gotten a good shot, but Mo Calloway was even better in real life. So tall and handsome… Kate felt light-headed taking in the sight of her. But it wasn’t simply Mo’s good looks. She’d missed her. Too much.
Mo slipped off her black leather jacket and folded it over her arm. She was wearing a light gray collared shirt, which she’d paired with trim black slacks. No doubt about it—she looked like a million bucks. Kate wondered if she’d gotten dressed up for dinner. Dressed up to see her? She clenched her jaw, hoping not to give away the emotions that rippled through her.
After college, Mo’s body had filled out in all the best places. She was a regular at a kickboxing gym and lifted weights, which meant she still had an athletic build. But she was less the skinny tomboy now and more the strapping woman. Strapping? Seriously? Did her mind have to go there?
As Mo neared the table, Kate stood up. In her heels, the height difference between them wasn’t as noticeable, but she still had to look up to meet Mo’s brown eyes.
“Hey, stranger.” Mo smiled.
“Hey yourself.” Kate smiled back. Her pulse quickened when Mo held out her arms. She stepped into the hug, begging her body not to respond. Mo radiated warmth and her embrace was as strong as ever. God, she felt good to hug. Kate quickly let go and took a step back, her heart hammering away in her chest.
“It’s good to see you,” Mo said, hanging her jacket over her chair. “You look great. Is that a new dress?”
Kate nodded, hoping to keep the blush off her cheeks by sheer willpower. She’d changed out of the suit she’d worn to work and, after much deliberation, decided on a silk dress she’d bought on a business trip to Tokyo.
“You look great too.” Strapping, in fact. Kate wanted to say those words aloud, knowing Mo would laugh, but she was still unsteady from the hug. She dropped into her seat, trying to push the image of a strap-on out of her mind.
She knew Mo packed. Although Mo hadn’t brought it up directly, Julia had guessed it one night when all three of them had had too much wine. Instead of denying, Mo had elaborated. It wasn’t an everyday thing, she’d said, but for special occasions she had a dildo that could be bent down and worn in public with little notice. Kate had found the whole concept entirely too arousing. As much as she’d wanted to know more, she’d only hid behind her wineglass as Julia teased Mo about it not being fair that she oozed sex appeal and could pull off packing.
Mo settled into her seat. “I was going to wear my sexy dress too, but then I couldn’t find my little black heels.”
“Little black dress and sexy heels.”
“Not the other way around?” Mo tapped her chin. “Huh. Good thing I don’t have to try and be sexy.”
“For you it comes natural.”
Mo laughed and Kate felt the tension ease some when she joined in. Flirting was something they’d always done and she’d missed their easy banter. Plus it felt good to laugh. But their old ways had gotten her into trouble before. This time she had to be careful.
“By the way, you totally made my night. I think the neighbors may have heard me squeal when Jules texted saying you were in town. How long have you been back?”
Kate opened her mouth to answer, debating telling her the truth, when the waitress appeared. She set two water glasses down and gave Mo a wide smile.
“Should I give you a minute to look over the menu?”
“I think we’re ready.” Mo glanced at Kate. “Do you want to go first?”
“You go ahead.” Kate hoped she sounded more relaxed than she felt. Her stomach had knotted up again. Getting through the meal was going to be a small miracle.
“I’ll take the chicken artichoke panini with a side salad. Extra parmesan, please.”
Kate bit her lip. That was what she’d been planning on as well—right down to the extra parmesan—but she didn’t want to order the same thing now. The waitress looked her way and she quickly decided on the veggie pesto panini.
As soon as the waitress walked away, Mo said, “You always order the chicken.”
“I wanted something different.”
“Different can be good.” Mo clinked her water glass against Kate’s. “Cheers. If different isn’t good, I’ll share mine with you.”
“You don’t need to do that.”
“Afraid of my germs?”
Kate rolled her eyes. “You’re gonna be jealous of my pesto.”
“’Want to place a bet on who gets the better panini?”
“You’re a goofball.”
“That’s why you love me.” Mo grinned. She looked around the restaurant. “I missed this place.”
Kate’s heart raced. Mo had no clue. “I couldn’t find any place in Denver with decent paninis. Although good Thai food was even harder to find.”
“At least there was some reason for you to come back.”
“I had a few reasons.” Kate knew she couldn’t analyze every sentence or even the way Mo looked at her. This was simply dinner with a friend. But the butterflies in her stomach started chasing each other every time Mo’s eyes met hers. She cleared her throat. “Guess what I found on my assistant’s desk this morning?”
“You and bananas.” Kate laughed. “Why is that always your answer?”
“Consistency. After sixteen years, it still makes you laugh.” Mo’s eyes sparkled.
“For that I shouldn’t tell you.”
But Kate couldn’t help laughing again when Mo asked, “You sure it wasn’t a banana?”
“If I had a banana, I’d throw it at you right now.”
“I’ve seen your aim. I’m not scared.”
Kate pretended to be dismayed, but Mo only laughed. “Okay, now I’m curious. What was on her desk?”
“Last month’s business journal. That was a great interview.”
“You saw that?” Mo scrunched up her face.
“Why are you embarrassed? It’s a huge accomplishment.”
“I didn’t know they were going to put me on the cover. You should have heard all the teasing in my office.”
“They’re just jealous. You should be proud. Not only are you the CEO of a successful start-up, that app you designed put your company in the big leagues. HeroToday is awesome.”
“You’ve checked it out?”
“I donated to two different groups after the fires—because of your app. It made the whole process easy. And I loved the map that you can click on to show where you can drop off donations or where volunteers are needed.”
Mo beamed. “We’re working on improving that. The more local charities and groups we can connect, the faster we can help people.”
“I love it. That interviewer did too. Although by the end of the article, I wasn’t sure if it was the app she was gushing about or you.” Kate winked.
Mo looked down at her napkin. “When I got the call about doing that interview, I almost said no.”
“They made it sound like it was all me. I couldn’t have gotten HeroToday off the ground by myself.”
“A year ago you were working Internet security for someone else. Think about what you’ve done this past year—you deserved that top spot. You’ve worked hard.”
“A lot of people worked hard,” Mo argued.
“But it was your idea. And you did it to help people—not just to make money.” When Mo sighed, she added, “Anyway, it was a good article. And you need a class in taking compliments.”
“Maybe.” Mo took a sip of water and shifted back in her seat. “Enough about me. How have you been?”
“Busy.” Busy was true—although the first word that came to mind was “lonely.”
“I know the feeling,” Mo said. “But I haven’t been so busy that I didn’t miss you.”
That was all Mo—sweet and honest. No pretenses. Kate hoped her face wouldn’t betray how the words touched her. “I missed you too.”
“Did you fly in this weekend? I heard a bunch of flights were cancelled with that storm in the Midwest.”
“Luckily I missed that.” Guilt tightened Kate’s chest. “I came back two weeks ago.”
“Oh, I thought…” Mo’s brow furrowed.
Kate wished then that she’d called Mo from the airport like she’d wanted. “I’ve been slammed with this new project and haven’t had time to meet up with anyone—”
“You don’t need to explain,” Mo interrupted. “I’m happy you made time to hang out with me tonight.”
A silence stretched between them. Kate crossed her ankles and then uncrossed them a moment later. Even if they weren’t as close as they once were, Mo was still her friend. She deserved the truth—or as much of it as Kate could tell her.
“I almost texted you the moment I stepped off the plane. I wanted to ask you to meet me at the dog park. Peeves missed you. But then I thought about your girlfriend…”
Kate looked at Mo’s folded hands, longing to reach across the table to caress the stretch of smooth skin on the back of her hand. But a friend wouldn’t do that. She looked up and met Mo’s gaze.
“I did a lot of thinking in Denver. I know it’s my fault we aren’t as close as we used to be, but I don’t want another one of your girlfriends blaming me for problems in your relationship.”
“That’s fair. But what happened with me and Tanya wasn’t your fault. I screwed up with her all on my own.”
Although Tanya had been the most outspoken, more than one of Mo’s girlfriends had complained about the closeness of their friendship. And Kate couldn’t in good conscience say that nothing was going on—at least on her end. For her part, Mo never crossed any lines.
“Anyway Chantal’s different. She’s used to doing her own thing and having her own friends. I know she’d want me to see you. And Peeves. I miss that little booger. How is my little man?”
“Ornery as ever. He got all excited when I mentioned I was meeting you and then refused to eat his dinner when I dropped him off at the apartment.”
“You should have brought him here. I can get him to do anything, you know.”
Kate knew Mo was right. Peeves might be her dog, but he loved Mo more. “Next time.”
“So…is work the only reason you didn’t tell me you were in town? I get the feeling something else is bothering you.”
Mo’s tone was gentle and Kate felt a fresh pang of guilt. “I’m just being weird. Like always.”
Mo studied her for a minute. Finally she said, “Okay, good. I was worried that six months in Denver would make you normal.”
Kate wanted to tell her everything then—how nothing was right in her life without her, how their old apartment smelled like patchouli and that she’d lit a whole pack of matches trying to kill the scent of the hippies they’d sublet the place to, how she’d wanted so much more than a hello hug, and how she didn’t want to walk out of this restaurant alone. She was so tired of being alone. But she couldn’t say any of that.
Kate unrolled her napkin and pretended to be interested in setting out her utensils. “Are you excited about Cozumel? Chantal’s coming, right?”
“She can’t make it. Her boss scheduled some big meeting in London that same week and he’s insisting she go with him. I think she should learn how to say no, but she’s trying to move up in the company. Anyway, I don’t think she wanted to go to Cozumel.”
“I don’t know… She doesn’t really do sand.”
Mo nodded and laughed. “She’s totally high maintenance.”
Kate squelched the hope that Mo and her girlfriend weren’t on solid footing. Even if they broke up, Mo wasn’t going to turn around and suddenly notice her.
“Well, I’m sorry she can’t go.” It wasn’t a lie. Now her decision on the trip was suddenly more complicated. If she went, she’d have more time with Mo. But how much time could she handle when she was stuck pretending their friendship was platonic?
“She said she’ll find a way to make it up to me.” Mo shrugged. “Julia mentioned that you still hadn’t decided if you’re going. Anything I can say to convince you?”
Kate felt her cheeks get hot. There was plenty Mo could say. “It’s not great timing for my work either. I’ve had a lot of things pile up while I was focused on the Denver project.”
“I heard vacations make you more productive. Don’t make me cite the source, but I’m sure it’s true.” Before Kate could argue that she didn’t have time to be more productive, Mo continued, “I was up in Davis last weekend, and Carly and Bryn said I had to find a way to get you to say yes cause they wanted both of their aunties in Mexico. Julia told me she was planning on guilting you into it by bringing up the fact that you missed Thanksgiving and Christmas with them.”
“She’s such a mom.” Kate needed a minute to think. Could she say yes to Cozumel and not cross any lines?
“How’s your mom by the way? Eileen still complaining about how San Francisco made you bi?”
“She wasn’t exactly upset that I moved to Denver. I think she hoped I’d suddenly fall for a cowboy. When I told her I was taking a break from dating men she got all upset and sent me tickets to Vegas to go see ‘Thunder from Down Under’ with her.”
Mo chuckled. “Tell me you have pictures of that.”
“I didn’t go. I told her if she wanted to see a bunch of naked men dancing she should come to a Pride parade with me.”
“Oh, man, can you imagine? Eileen’s mind would be blown.”
“I keep telling her that she’d love a drag show.” Kate knew she’d never get her mom to a gay hairdresser let alone a drag show but that didn’t stop her. “What good is it being gay if you can’t mess with your conservative parents?”
“You’re calling yourself gay now?”
“You know I hate labels.”
“I love labels. I even bought myself one of those label makers for work. I label the shit out of everything.” Mo winked. “You didn’t exactly answer the question about Cozumel.”
“You’re right.” And she still wasn’t ready. “How’s your mom?”
“I told her we were having dinner tonight and she said I had to give you a hug.”
Mo had lucked out in the mom department. Not only was Shirley okay with Mo being gay, she was supportive and loving to nearly everyone who crossed her path. Early on, Kate had talked to her about her eating issues. She’d never been brave enough to talk to Mo about it and Shirley had promised not to say anything. She’d kept her word all these years.
“She also wanted me to tell you that her offer still stands for a Spades rematch,” Mo added.
“She kicked my butt last time. Both of you did.” Kate laughed, remembering the last game that they’d played. Having to learn the three-person variation on the usual game had been her excuse for why she’d lost miserably. “So was that hug that you gave me when you came in from your mom or from you?”
Mo seemed momentarily taken aback. She stumbled for an answer. “Both?”
“I don’t know if you can count that hug as one of Shirley’s hugs…they’re pretty amazing. She makes you feel like you’re loved all the way down to your pinky toes.”
“You saying my hug was wussy in comparison?”
Kate rocked her head side to side. “A little.”
Mo laughed. “For that, you get another hug before we leave.”
“Maybe you should call your mom for pointers first.” At least she’d be prepared for the second hug. Hopefully her body would behave.
“Don’t think I haven’t already sent Mom a text.”
Kate wanted a picture of Mo’s smile in that moment. The mischievous look was so reminiscent of old times that it was almost as if the past year hadn’t happened. Maybe they could get back to where they’d been before she’d started thinking there was a chance for something more. As long as she kept her head screwed on right and didn’t pay any attention to how sexy Mo was when her tongue slipped across her lips…
Mo reached for her water glass again. “Why are we drinking water when they have your favorite Cabernet here?”
Because I didn’t want to need wine to face you. Kate wondered what Mo’s reaction would be if she voiced her thought aloud. Not willing to find out, she said, “It’s a new health fad I’m trying. Don’t worry. It won’t last.”
Mo chuckled. “Now tell me how Denver was—really.”
Kate could admit that she’d been lonely and miserable. Or she could go with a partial truth. “Exhausting. Thank God the work was rewarding.”
“Most of us just want to make a difference in this world. But you actually do it.”
“Look who’s talking. That’s what HeroToday is all about.”
“I’m only a computer nerd.”
Kate raised an eyebrow. “Like I said, we seriously need to work on you accepting compliments.” Instead of arguing that all she did was convince rich people to part with their money so others could do the real work, she said, “People want to make a difference. Some days I feel like humanity has hope.”
“There’s a chance for us,” Mo said, nodding.
Kate reached for her water glass, hoping Mo wouldn’t see her reaction. A chance for humanity—not for the two of them sitting at a small cafe with her aching to reach across the table—was what she’d clearly meant. “I like to think so.”
She thought then of all the questions she’d stopped herself from asking Mo over the past several months. Mostly she wanted to know if Mo was happy, but the question sounded ridiculous even in her own mind. Mo had that rare ability to make the best of any situation and always claimed to be happy. Besides, if she wasn’t happy that didn’t mean that she needed Kate.
“So are you dating anyone?”
That was one question Kate had hoped Mo wouldn’t ask. “No one serious since Ethan. I mean, I’ve tried going on dates but…there’s a learning curve when you switch from men to women. It’s been a heck of a year.” She took another sip of water and tried to laugh away the tension, but the water caught in her throat and she half choked. When she could breath again, she cleared her throat. “And I sound like a frog. Maybe that’s the problem.”
“Maybe you’re kissing too many frogs.”
“I don’t think that’s it.” She coughed again and tears welled. Dammit. At least Mo would think her eyes were only watering. She looked up at the fan, hoping the emotion would pass quickly.
“Yeah, I’m fine. Should have ordered wine.”
Kate rubbed her eyes and cleared her throat again. In the few texts they’d exchanged, she’d avoided telling her about any dates mostly because there wasn’t much to say. She worried now what Mo would think of her paltry dating history. “The truth is there hasn’t been much kissing. I haven’t let anyone get past the first coffee date.”
“Want to talk about why?”
Kate met Mo’s gaze, the answer nearly slipping from her lips.
“Chicken with extra parmesan?”
Mo smiled up at the waitress. “That’s me.”
Mo’s panini smelled like heaven. Kate tried not to feel let down as the waitress set a veggie panini in front of her. Even with the pesto sauce, grilled veggies weren’t as appealing as chicken layered with parmesan and artichokes. Picking up her fork, she started in on her salad, hoping Mo would forget her earlier question.
“Ty says hi, by the way,” Mo said. “He texted me when I was in traffic and I told him you were back.”
Kate hadn’t seen Mo’s brother Tyrone in over a year, but she kept up with him and his family on Facebook. She doubted that Mo knew this, however. For all of her computer savvy, she wasn’t much on social media. “I miss those Sunday night dinners we used to have at his house. If I could cook like Claire…”
“I told Ty he’s getting chubby. Claire’s a little too good of a cook. And you should see the boys. They’re so big.” Mo reached for her phone. “Do you remember that time we took Michael to Fairyland? I think he was three or four. He’s six now… He asked me the other day if we can go back. I couldn’t believe he even remembered.”
Mo held up her phone. “As for Jamal…” A plump-faced toddler grinned at the camera as his older brother gave him a hug. Neon blue frosting was smeared on both of their lips. “This was at his birthday. He turned two last week.”
“I know,” Kate admitted. “I sent him a little present.”
Mo looked up from the screen. “You remembered his birthday?”
“It’s on my calendar.” Kate tried not to take offense at the surprise in Mo’s voice. “I hope it was okay for me to send him something.”
“Yeah, of course…” Mo’s voice trailed.
“I mean, I’m his godmother. And I’m friends with Ty and Claire on Facebook. You should see some of their posts about the kids. They’re hilarious.” Kate stopped talking when she saw the expression on Mo’s face. Was she jealous that she’d kept up contact with her brother? “Are you mad?”
“No. It’s fine. Why wouldn’t you be friends with them? I just feel like we’ve lost touch, but you’re keeping up with my brother, which is a little weird.”
Mo was definitely upset. Kate shifted in her seat. “I temporarily moved. I didn’t drop off the face of the planet—”
“It just felt that way.” Mo looked down at her plate and then added, “I didn’t realize how much I’d miss you.”
Mo’s tone stopped Kate. It was no declaration of love. Mo had missed her, like any friend would. Still her words brought a mix of guilt and satisfaction. Kate had wanted Mo to miss her, but she felt worse acknowledging that.
“When you left, my mom asked me what I did. She likes you better than anyone I’ve ever dated. She and Chantal don’t exactly get along.”
“I’ll call her and tell her you didn’t do anything wrong. I went to Denver for work.”
“If it was only work, why didn’t you tell me when you got back two weeks ago?”
And there it was. Kate wanted to answer, but she couldn’t. Holding back the truth had started that first day in college. She couldn’t tell Mo what she was thinking then, and nothing had changed since.
“Whatever I did, I’m sorry.”
“You didn’t do anything, Mo. It was all me.” Kate hoped Mo wouldn’t press her to say more.
“In that case, I think you should come to Cozumel. It won’t be any fun without you. And you owe me.”
“I owe you?”
“Yes. After all, I had to go almost six months wondering what I did to make my best friend leave town.”
Kate didn’t answer. She didn’t trust herself not to burst out with some stupid truth that she’d held in for way too long. What was worse—spending a week in Cozumel and still not telling Mo how she felt or missing the chance to be with her?
Mo picked up her knife and cut her sandwich in half. “We both know you wanted to order this. I’ll share it if you say yes.”
“To going to Cozumel? Really? You’re trying to bribe me with half a sandwich?”
“I know you pretty well.” Mo held the plate in front of Kate. “What do you say?”
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