Thought I Knew You(8)

By: Kate Moretti

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” I repeated as people shifted their chairs back to let me clean. I realized then that the class was largely male, and I caught a few exchanged smirks and eyebrow raises. My face burning, I walked stiffly to throw away the soaked towels.

Greg touched my shoulder, his smile warm and inviting. “Thank you, Claire, for the ice-breaker.” He held my gaze with an expression that was reassuring and unsettling at the same time.

The class laughed, not unkindly. I smiled, attempting to show I was a good sport, but would have gladly welcomed the proverbial swallowing of the earth.

I went back to my seat, kept my head down, and pretended to take notes. When I felt bolder, I snuck glances at Greg. He was tall and broad-shouldered with slightly thinning sandy-blond hair, black square glasses, and a trimmed goatee. He exuded confidence and had an easy manner in front of the group. He caught my eye once and surreptitiously winked. The move was so quick, I wasn’t even certain the gesture was aimed at me. Still, my heartbeat quickened, and I ducked my head.

Greg was funny, compelling, and given the rather tedious subject, able to command attention in an impressive way. As the lecture continued, I watched him with interest, and when our eyes would meet, I felt the heat in my face. I learned a great deal more than I’d intended, and the day progressed quicker than I expected.

After class, I walked across the street, humming under my breath, almost forgetting about the coffee incident. Almost.

Sarah had planned to shop in downtown Rochester while I was away, and I couldn’t wait to see her resulting cache. I let myself into the room, heard the soft whoosh of the shower, and flopped back onto the bed, mentally reconstructing the day. My mind skipped over the spilled coffee and instead settled on Greg’s smile, his laugh, the little turn of his head as he may or may not have winked.

“Earth to Claire.” Sarah stood in the bathroom doorway, towel drying her hair.

I grinned. “I’m here. I’m here. What’d you get today?”

After she showed me all her goods, we dressed for dinner. Sarah was infinitely trendy, while I always seemed to “look nice,” but together, we didn’t fail to attract attention.

We decided to stay at the hotel to eat. The restaurant downstairs had a gastro-pub feel to it, and the air was thick with the smell of corporate cologne. Men mingled in suits and loosened ties. Deep laughter echoed off the wooden walls.

“Well, now. These are no slim pickings.” Sarah grinned wickedly. We were halfway through our strong post-dinner martinis when a voice behind me said, “I hope you’re more careful with your cocktails than you are with your morning coffee.”

I turned to see Greg standing behind me, a Sam Adams in his hand. He had ditched the business casual in favor of jeans and a black polo shirt. His attire felt intimate, as though we weren’t colleagues but friends, and heat flushed my face.

With a smile, he pulled a chair up to our table, while simultaneously extending his hand to Sarah. “I’m Greg.”

With a wide smile, Sarah shook his hand. “I’m Sarah.” Naturally, she commandeered the conversation. “Why are you here at the hotel? Don’t you live in Rochester?”

I averted my eyes, intently studying the scarred oak table. My heart hammered in my chest. I felt uncharacteristically nervous and tongue-tied. Not that I was normally a flirt, but I could put together sentences. My mind was blank, and for the second time that day, I tried to remember my name.

“No,” he replied with an easy smile. “Right now, I live in Pennsylvania. But I’ve been posted here temporarily while they get the New Jersey site training program back on track. Apparently, they’re doing all East Coast training in Rochester, and all West Coast training in San Diego. Somehow, I feel cheated by my post, but I get a free efficiency apartment for six months, complete with kitchenette.”

“Wow,” Sarah cooed. “Big man on campus, then, eh?”

Greg reddened slightly and cast a look sideways at me. “Can I buy you ladies another drink?” He stood up, gesturing toward the bar.

We nodded, and when he walked away, Sarah said, “Claire, you should really go for it with him. He’s so cute, in such a nerdy you kind of way.”

“What? He could be married with three kids for all I know. I know nothing about him.” I threw back the remainder of my martini, feeling the vodka heat bloom from my center. I felt nervous and giddy at once, despite my protests. I recalled his wink during class.

“Well, I feel a headache coming on.” She put her hand up to her forehead for mock emphasis. “I really think I’m going to head back to our room and try to sleep off some of these martinis.” She gathered her purse.

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