Look the Part (Page 8)
“Pfft … less boring? You always look stylish. I envy how easily you make simple look trendy.”
“Boy, I have you fooled. But … thanks.”
The glass wall between Amanda’s desk and Flint’s office reveals an empty desk chair, lights off.
“Where’s your boss man?”
“Court. You just missed him.”
“Lucky me.” I wink.
“He’s out for the day, so Harrison won’t be coming by either.”
“Well, that is a true bummer.”
“Harrison likes you.” Amanda taps the end of her pen against her chin. “You should cultivate that relationship. I don’t think Flint will evict you as long as Harrison is so enamored with you.”
My nose wrinkles. “I’m not so sure. Did he mention the rat incident?”
Lines form on her forehead. “No.”
“I see.” I glance at my watch. “It’s a long story. I’ll share it with you later. I have an appointment soon, but let’s just say my two-weeks’ notice officially started again yesterday.”
I grin just as Amanda answers the phone, giving me a wave back. A tiny part of me is not only disappointed I won’t see Harrison but Flint too. Over the past weeks, I’ve enjoyed our banter and flirting. Maybe just flirting on my part, but he hasn’t exactly asked me to stop. I think he likes it, but it pisses him off that he does.
Dr. Hamilton lives in an older neighborhood filled with trees and enchanting houses that have been restored over time. It doesn’t feel pretentious, but I have no doubt that these homes nestled off the main road are worth more than my salary could afford.
“Elle! I’m so glad you made it.” Dr. Hamilton—Abigail—answers the door with a wine glass in one hand, dangly bracelets hanging from her wrist. Her blond hair flows at least fifteen inches down her back. I’ve never seen it down. She always wears it in a tight bun. I think she’s around fifty, but with her hair down, it takes a good ten years off her age.
“Thank you. I love your home.” I step inside and slip off my coat.
“It’s almost a century old. Martin has been itching to sell it for years. He’s sick of raking the leaves and mowing the lawn, but I can’t sell it. This is my happy place.”
“I can see why. Is Martin here or did you kick him out?”
“Yes. He’s out back with the rest of the men. I’ll introduce you in a bit.”
A group of three ladies walk up the porch steps behind me.
Abigail gestures with her hand. “Nothing’s off limits. Feel free to look around. We’ll get started in the great room in about a half hour. Food is in the kitchen. Help yourself.”
I wander around, falling in love with this house one room at a time. Every bedroom has a large window seat overlooking lush grass beneath full trees raining down autumn leaves. I can imagine curling up with a good book, a fluffy robe, hot drink, and Chopin playing from my vintage turntable.
After loading a plate full of finger food, I make my way to the terrace.
“Ellen … Ellen … Ellen …” Dr. Pearce raises his glass of sparkling water and gives me a nod of approval. The old guy has been sober for two decades. He’s by far the most popular pediatrician on staff at the hospital. I’ve consulted more with his patients than any other doctor’s.
“Sparkling water at a wine tasting. How drab.” I pop a red grape into my mouth and grin around it.
He’s very open about his past and pokes fun at himself more than anyone else. I like that there are no eggshells on the ground when he’s around.
“So drab, as you say.” He winks. “I used to be the life of the party, but now I fear, being the oldest one here, I could be the death of it. However, Miller and Gibson are on call, so they’re enjoying the kiddie drinks as well. I think Martin mixed them up Shirley Temples.”
“Nothing wrong with a good Shirley Temple. Extra cherries of course.”
Dr. Pearce steals a cheese cube from my plate. “Girl after my own heart.”
“I love this house.” I sigh, looking toward the bird feeders near the white fence.
“Indeed. It’s arguably the best neighborhood in the city. I used to live right over there.” He points toward the slate blue house on the other side of the picket fence.
“You were neighbors?”
“Yes, until my wife died. Then it became too much upkeep. Sold it in less than a day. The guy offered to buy it before he even looked at the inside.”
“Really? That’s crazy.”
“I thought so too. He saw my wife’s garden—rows and rows of rich black soil—and the greenhouse at the far end of the property. That’s all he needed to see.”
“A gardener’s dream.” I pop another grape into my mouth.
“There he is now.”
I lean to see past the row of bird feeders.
“Martin says he spends hours out there every night. My wife did too. She thought it was therapeutic. Digging in the dirt seemed to clear her mind. In her words, it grounded her.”
“I can see that. Music does that for me.” I squint at the backside of the man in dark jeans and a gray long-sleeved shirt rolled up to his elbows, and green gardening gloves.
He bends down and pulls a few weeds.
I can’t hide my grin as the man with inky hair turns and tosses the weeds in a white bucket, giving me a partial view of his face. “Mr. Hopkins,” I whisper.
“Pardon?” Dr. Pearce says.
I slowly shake my head. “Nothing. I’m going to walk the grounds. I’ll be back.”
“They’ll be starting soon.”
I nod. “If I’m not back, tell Abigail to start without me. I’m not really a wine connoisseur anyway.” Setting my plate on a high top table, I make my way to the white fence gate by the bird feeders.
Flint continues to pull weeds with his back to me. These are amazing gardens. A lot of rows are empty, probably from summer crops, but there are still rows of things like pumpkins, squash, and fall greens.
“Do you ever stop humming?”
I freeze. He still doesn’t turn, hands busy yanking weeds.
“I didn’t realize I was.”
“Why doesn’t that surprise me?” He grunts a laugh.
“Why are you not surprised that I’m standing in your garden?”
“You work at the same hospital as Abigail Hamilton. You probably drink wine. They’re having a wine tasting tonight.”
“You weren’t invited?”
“I don’t drink wine.”
“Not everyone there is drinking wine. It’s really more of a social event.”
He still doesn’t turn to acknowledge me. “I’m not that social.”
Now I grunt a laugh. “Why doesn’t that surprise me?” It doesn’t. However, Flint Hopkins not wearing a suit is quite the surprise. “I don’t know what to do with this image of you in jeans and a tee. In my mind I imagined you wearing a suit to bed.”
He sits back on his heels and turns toward me, dark eyes making a full-length inspection. “I don’t know what to do with the image of you imagining me in bed.”
I shiver. It’s cold … and surprisingly hot at the same time.
We share an intense look for a few seconds. I lose the stare off, letting my gaze follow the gravel path between the rows of plants. “What’s Harrison doing?”
“He’s at a movie with a friend.”
“I missed seeing him today.”
I can’t wrap my head around this. Flint is a gardener. It takes a lot to really surprise me, but this knocks me back a few paces. Beneath the suit lies a well-defined body that’s more visible in his jeans and tee. And beneath the suit lies a softer man, a glimpse of who he really is. There’s something extraordinary about seeing the familiar in a new light. I’ve always thought that about music too. There are twenty-four tonally unique keys, and I’m certain they have the power to bestow enlightenment beyond the twenty-six letter alphabet.
“You’re humming again.”
My attention snaps back to him.
“Sorry. Are you anti-humming?”
He stands, tossing more weeds into the bucket. “They’re going to be looking for you.”
I smile at his attempt to dismiss me. With slow steps, I move toward him. He stiffens like I’ve come to expect. His nostrils flare a bit and his breaths deepen, but he doesn’t move away.
“I told them to start without me.”
His eyes follow my hands. I roll up his right sleeve that hangs down lower than his left sleeve. My fingertips brush his warm skin.
“What are you doing?” he whispers as if it pains him.
“Rolling up your sleeve.”
“If I were you, I’d keep my distance.”
I peer up at him. “Do you bite?”
His jaw clenches a few times before he relaxes, easing his tongue across his bottom lip. “Your shirt is white.”
I grin, taking a step back. “Harrison is gifted with music. Did you know that?”
He nods once.
“Yet he said he’s not taking any sort of music lessons.”
“He took piano and …” His words die off mid-sentence as if his mind skips a track.