Page 41 of Conceal

Jaxson

Last night, I went out to the club again, two nights in a row, but yesterday while Trent was becoming obliterated, I was nursing a glass of water.

Sure, I had a tequila first but only enough to take the edge off, not enough to get me drunk. Knowing I made plans with Willow had me going to bed early because typically after a heavy night of drinking, I’m feeling it the next morning.

But today is different. Because today I am not hung over. One of the many things I have tried to change in my life. In the past, even if I had plans, I’d show up half drunk. But since I’m keeping to the straight and narrow for work, it’s filtered its way into all aspects of my life. Including the weekend.

The sad part is I shouldn’t have to prove myself. I really shouldn’t, but since I do, I probably should compile a list.

The list that will get Grayson Price off my back one day when he bitches about something he deems I have done wrong. No longer getting drunk and missing work would be on that list.

Instead of all that, though, I’m up on Saturday morning at a reasonable hour.

Reasonable hour, my ass. I’m up at eight a.m. No. Normally—well, before Grayson’s rules—I wouldn’t wake up until ten a.m. Then Grayson started micromanaging me.

Today, I have a plan, or at least, I have to come up with a plan, and it starts at nine. That will be when we meet. The first place I intend to take her is to get a bagel.

Then pizza, donuts, and after that, we’ll work our way to Chinatown for some dumplings. By the time we’re done for the day, she will know all the best joints in the city.

I could call her and tell her I’ll pick her up, but she’s still standoffish, so I don’t want to rattle her. Stick with the original plan and don’t change it. Nine a.m. at H&H.

When I arrive, she’s standing outside with her coat pulled tightly around her body and a scarf wrapped around her neck. Her hands entwined in front of her, and I’m surprised to see her wearing gloves. It’s not that cold yet, so why the gloves?

The weather is hit or miss in the city, but I warned her we would do a lot of walking, so she took my advice. As I take a step closer, she finally sees me. Her hand lifts with a small wave.

“You’re here,” she says.

“I said I would come.”

“That you did.”

“And did you doubt me?” I smirk.

“Maybe a little.” She smiles. She pretends to pinch her finger in measurements. “This much.”

“Well, it could be worse. I’ll take it.”

“Good.”

“Now that we have that settled . . . bagels,” I say, opening the door and letting her pass before I join her.

“Bagels.” She steps farther into the shop, and once I’m in, I close the door behind me. It’s relatively busy, and I don’t see many empty seats. None actually.

“Let’s grab bagels and walk,” she says.

“We could. If you don’t think you’ll be too cold.”

“Nope, I’m good.”

“I imagine if you were an icicle, you still wouldn’t admit you were cold, anyway.”

She’s playful this morning, a lot more so than any previous time we’ve met. I’m not sure what that’s about, but I’ll take it.

When we get to the counter to order, I turn to her, and she shrugs. “I don’t know what to order,” she says.

I often forget that she’s not from here. I’m not sure where she’s from and what type of bagels they eat there, but here in the city, we don’t do fancy-ass bagels. It’s just cream cheese. Maybe we get fancy and do sesame or everything, but after that, I draw the line at asiago.

“You like everything bagels? They have the best here.”

“Sure,” she answers, and I turn back to the woman behind the counter.

“Two everything bagels toasted with cream cheese.”

“Anything else?”

I turn back to Willow. “Coffee?” I ask.

“I’m good,” she replies.

“Nothing else, thank you.”

Together, we wait, and while we wait, I pay. Seeing as we only got cream cheese, it doesn’t take long. Only a mere minute or two later, we are walking out the door and heading downtown.

“It’s a long walk to our next location, but I figured we’ll work up an appetite for it.”

Her mouth is full of a bite of bagel as we continue to walk.

“Jeez,” she says after swallowing. “That’s the best bagel ever.”

“Told you.” My voice is proud as if I had something to do with the greatness of the bagel.

She takes another bite. “How is it so good?”

“We have better water.”

“What does that even mean?”

“Oh, come on, everyone knows New York has the best water, hence the pizza and bagels are better than anywhere else on earth.”

“I didn’t know that.”

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