A blizzard and a death make adversaries, Brock and Lex, realize feelings they buried a long time ago.
Outside the bar window, blurred streetlamps glow through the squall. I’d enjoy the whiteout view if I wasn’t terrified of driving in it later tonight.
I wipe the spotless counter out of habit. The Pint’s been empty all day. “I can’t believe Brock’s making me work in this,” I mumble as I put an empty saltshaker on a tray. The bar’s new owner, Brock, is my arch nemesis. He’s Ed’s son, and Ed was The Pint’s beloved founder who passed away a week ago.
I haven’t stopped crying. Ed was like a father to me and the reason I loved this job. He worked around my grueling MCAT study schedule.
I will find a cure for it when I’m a doctor someday.
Maybe Brock’s being an ass because he’s devastated? His dad just died. I’m sure he’s angry. I know I am.
But Brock was always insufferable, the hot lacrosse player in high school who could date any girl he wanted. Well, any girl but me.
I refused to stroke his fragile ego. Our worst fight was when he, like always, sweet-talked everyone into something he wanted: a last-minute lacrosse pep assembly. He was furious when, as Student Body President, I added a tribute to the women’s soccer team.
Brock’s been away living in Chicago for the past five years, but I doubt he’s changed. Case in point: he’s making me work during Georgia’s historic blizzard.
“Brock the Cock,” I say, louder than intended. Yes, it’s a childish old nickname, but it fits.
“Hey, Lex.” Brock’s voice echoes behind me. I swing around to meet his glare as he continues. “I’m here. You may want to stop talking shit about me.” He smirks. “To yourself.”
“Please.” I fling a hand on my hip. “Why can’t we just close? No one’s here. The road’s going to be a sheet of ice.”
“God, what’s wrong with you?” My lip curls. I’d love to say ‘I quit’ as I toss the saltshaker at him, but I need this job. Blizzards notwithstanding, the tips are amazing, and med school isn’t going to be cheap.
“Just…” he mumbles, glancing upstairs. “Give me a few minutes, okay?” His voice is almost caring, but that can’t be.
He’s been upstairs two minutes when the power goes out. “Great.” I exhale before grabbing the Zippo to light the table candles.
I’ve lit one when the heat and lights come back on. Thank God. But glancing out the window, everything else is still dark.
Brock reemerges from the stairwell. “Got the generator going.”
I blink. “Generator?”
“Yeah, my dad thought of everything.”
I can’t help but smile. “Yes, he did.” And just like that, my eyes mist.
A long silence hangs in the air before Brock finally says, “I miss him like hell, Lex.” When I meet his gaze, I’m shocked to see a tear rolling down his cheek. I’ve never seen Brock cry. Ever.
“Me too.” Without thinking, I approach him. He’s trembling when he wraps his strong arms around me and pulls me into a hug.
I can’t believe it, but it’s nice. Really nice. I detest Brock, but there’s no denying that his body is, well...perfect. And right now, I feel every cut muscle as it’s pressed against me.
“It got bad out there, fast. No one should be driving in this.” His words are shaky as he pulls away. “And the way it’s coming down, I knew the power wouldn’t last. You’d have no heat at home.”
He’s being so odd. Maybe Chicago did change him? “I don’t understand,” I squeak.
“I didn’t close so you’d stay here. Where I knew you’d be safe.”
My brows furrow. “Why didn’t you just tell me that?”
“Because I know you.” He purses his lips. “You’d leave.”
“I have that effect on you.” He smiles, a twinkle in his eyes. “I’ve got an idea. Just give me a half hour, okay?” He jabs his thumb over his shoulder.
“Sure.” I shake my head. My brain can’t catch up.
I’m folding napkins when Brock returns. He’s holding a tray with two plates of my favorite dish Ed used to serve: steaming butternut squash lasagna.
“Dad told me you were the one who convinced him to add this to the menu.” Brock smiles. “I’m so glad he taught me how to make it before…” he trails off. “Anyway, I had some pre-prepped. This is for you.”
“Oh my God.”
He flashes a shy smile. “Have dinner with me?”
I return the smile. “I’d like that.” I nod to the bar. “How about wine?”
After we sit to eat, I realize, for the first time in my life, I don’t know what to say to Brock when I’m not insulting him. Finally, I ask, “So, how was Chicago?”
“It was fine, but I missed Dad.” He pauses before continuing. “I missed you.”
My heart skips a beat. “But you hate me.”
“No, I don’t.” Brock blows out a breath. “I’m just gonna say it. I’m crazy about you, Lex, always have been.” He meets my gaze, and his crystal eyes sparkle. “But I was too big of a douche in high school to admit it.”
My skin tingles and my tongue feels thick in my mouth. “Why me?”
“Where do I start? You’re beautiful and beyond brilliant. Hell, you’ll probably cure cancer someday.” The corner of his mouth ticks up. “And you never put up with my shit. Which I hope I’ve grown out of, by the way.”
"Oh.” My pulse races. Is it possible I’ve always cared about him, too? That deep down, I knew he’d inherited his dad’s kind heart?
“I understand if you don’t feel the same.” He looks down. “I just had to get that off my chest.”
I stand and flip the sign to ‘closed’ before turning off the lights, leaving the lone tea candle to illuminate our table. I wink. “Who needs electricity?”
* * *
A heartfelt thanks to Shelby Van Pelt for being all around amazing help.