Read Full Package Online

Authors: Lauren Blakely

Full Package (18 page)

35

F
rom the pages
of Josie's Recipe Book

Josie's Liquid Courage

I
ngredients

Coffee

Cinnamon

Courage

  1. Brew your best Ethiopian coffee in a coffeemaker.
  2. Pour into your favorite mug. Stir in cinnamon. Add a dollop of cream.
  3. Get ready. You can do anything.
36

T
hat Sunday
, Max and I finish the century. Our team comes in third, and we raise a few thousand dollars for veterans. Not too shabby for two dudes who aren't pro cyclists.

The next morning he leaves for a car show, and on the way to work I finish an audiobook on the role of randomness in our lives (spoiler: chance is everything). At the hospital, I start my shift with a patient who's suffering from an early case of the flu. We treat her and then move on to a boy with a broken arm. They're textbook cases, and we take care of them.

Everything feels as normal as it can possibly be. Amazing, how you can think you won't survive a broken heart, but experience has taught me that you always do. You just keep moving forward. Life goes on, and during my lunch break with David, I grab a turkey sandwich from the cafeteria and get in line to pay. Out of the corner of my eye, I spot an orthopedic surgeon I know as he unfolds a brown lunch bag and takes out a tuna fish sandwich. My first instinct is to text Josie that I've spotted someone in the wild eating our least favorite food.

Briefly, I wonder if I can still do that. If I
should
do that. And the fact that I don't know the right answer gnaws at my gut.

But then it's my turn to pay. As I open my wallet to grab some bills, a business card falls out. I grab it from the counter next to the cashier and flip it over. Kevin's card. Right. He included it when he gave me the cooking class certificate.

Oh shit.

I never thanked him for the class.

When I finish my turkey sandwich, I push away from the table, and tell David I need to go. Out in the corridor, I lob in a call, and Kevin's receptionist puts me through right away when I say who I am.

“Dr. Summers, how the hell are you? I hope you aren't calling to tell me you found something suspicious in an old forehead X-ray of mine?”

I laugh and shake my head. “Nope, and call me Chase. Anyway, I wanted to say thank you for the class. That was nice of you to do. We had a great time.”

“Awesome. Did you get engaged, too?”

I stop in my tracks in front of the MRI room. “What? No. Why? I just went with a friend.”

“Ah, that's cool. I was just messing with you, since Cassidy and I got engaged that night.”

“Because of the class?” I ask, resuming my pace toward the stairwell.

“Yes, and we owe you. That's one of the reasons we wanted to thank you when we came by a few weeks ago. Your suggestion to take that cooking class was exactly what I needed. Something just clicked for me that night at Enticing Appetizers. I knew Cassidy was the one for me forever. And the next night I proposed.”

As an orderly pushes a med cart down the corridor, I back against the wall, giving him room. “Huh,” I say, taking in Kevin's news. “So it all became clear?”

“Like crystal.”

I flash back to the night Josie and I attended the quirky class, and how we made our great escape, fleeing from Ivory and then rumbling uptown on the subway, heading home. How, there on the train, Josie rested her head on my shoulder and threaded her hand in mine.

And it was clear.

Then later at our house, she took care of me when I twisted my ankle.

And it was clear.

A part of me knew then. A part of me was damn sure that she felt the same wild and crazy way I did. And I didn't say enough at the time to hold on to her. I didn't go out on a limb.

I took the safe option, not the risky, daring, hallelujah one.

Something else is clear right now, too. I haven't moved on. I'm not over her. And I definitely don't want to be just friends with Josie.

I want to know I can text her about a goddamn tuna fish sandwich, and I want to send that message as her man. I don't want to fire it off as her favorite guy friend. I want to tell her about the tuna, then take her out to dinner and wander around the city with her, hand in hand. After that I want to go home with her, fall into bed with her, and love her.

That's what I wanted a few weeks ago when I moved out. My heart, for her, hasn't changed.

But what's crystal clear now is that the bigger risk isn't losing her as a friend. The bigger risk is losing the woman I'm pretty damn sure is the love of my life.

“Hey Kevin, can you help me with something?” I ask, remembering the corporate name on his business card. The guy's job might be just the ticket. He's got to know people, right?

“Anything. Name it.”

I tell him what I need, and he says, “Consider it done.”

When we hang up, I send Josie a text.

C
hase
:
Hey! Any chance I can stop by the bakery when my shift ends? I have something for you.

H
er response comes a minute later
.

J
osie
:
Yes. I have something for you, too.

T
here's
someone else I need to talk to first. I text Wyatt and he gives me the address where he's working today.

The second my shift ends, I hop on my bike in my scrubs and ride across town to Wyatt's job site, adrenaline fueling me, turning me back into the speed demon I've always been. He's remodeling a kitchen in a brownstone in the West Eighties, and he comes to the door and lets me into the foyer.

“What's the deal? You said it was mission critical,” he says, a hammer in his hand, his tool belt on.

My breath comes fast and hard from the two-wheeled sprint. “Yes. It's critical.” I cut to the chase. “I need you to know I'm in love with your sister.”

He scoffs and runs his free hand over his chin. “Tell me something I don't know.”

My jaw drops. “What? How did you know?”

He clasps my shoulder and laughs. “Dude, everyone knows that. The question now is: Are you finally going to do something about it?”

I can barely contain a grin. “Yes. I'm going to do something about it. Are you okay with it? If you're not, I'm sorry, but not sorry. I'm going to tell her anyway. Even so, I wanted you to know before I do it.”

He laughs. “Appreciate the heads-up. And when I asked you to look out for her, it was to protect her from jackasses. I'm pretty sure you're not one of them. I'm also pretty sure this isn't the kind of story where the fact that you're in love with your buddy's sister holds you back. The hurdle has always been how much the two of you already care about each other,” he says, and squeezes my shoulder harder. “Besides, I approve of you so much it's ridiculous. Now, stop talking to me, and go see my sister. See if you can become her favorite person in the universe.”

That's exactly what I want to be for her.

“Thanks, man,” I say, then we hug. But, you know, a manly hug.

I leave. But when I reach Sunshine Bakery, take off my helmet and lock up my bike by a meter, I pat the pockets of my scrubs and curse. What the hell is wrong with me? I'm showing up empty-handed. That's not how you win a woman's heart.

I spin around, looking for something.
Anything.

When my eyes land on a sea of white and yellow, I'm struck with the memory of giving her daisies. That seems far too long ago. But this time, the gift has another purpose. I buy a bouquet from her friend's flower shop, and as I reach the door of the bakery, my heart jackhammers.

Excitement trips through me, and a full dose of nervousness races alongside it, too. I don't know how she feels, what she'll say, or what she'll do.

But I know the possibility of an
us
is worth the risk.

This once felt like a hallelujah scenario.

Now it is the only option.

37

T
he closed sign
rests on the door, but I knock twice. Looking up from her post behind the counter, Josie smiles, wipes her hands on her apron, and heads to the door. Unlocking it, she lets me in. Her hair is swept back in a ponytail, and her lips shine with gloss.

I waste no time.

“Yes,” I say emphatically. Loudly. Confidently.

“Yes what?”

“Every time we were together, it felt like making love. Every time. All the time. Every night,” I say, and her green eyes twinkle instantly, as if they've been lit up by my words. “That's because I fell in love with you before we even slept together.”

“You did?” she asks, her voice feather-soft and full of wonder. I recognize the sound because it's how I feel when I look at her.

“I'm crazy about you. I want Swedish Fish with you all the time. I don't want to be on the other side of the wall in an apartment with you.” I wave toward downtown, where Max lives. “And I definitely don't want to be all the way on the other side of the city. Right now, it feels like a million miles separate us, and I can't stand it.”

“I can't stand it, either,” she says, her voice shaking, and she steps closer. I set the flowers on the nearest table and take her hands in mine.

I meet her gaze. Her green eyes are the only ones I want to get lost in. “I want to be the one you come home to and wake up to. I want to buy toilet paper for you, and go to Bed Bath & Beyond to shop for sheets for a bed that we share.” Her lips quiver, and her shoulders tremble as I go on. “I want to come home to find you in an apron that makes you even more impossible to resist, and I don't want to ever resist you again.”

She nods over and over, tears slipping down her cheeks. And everything is right in the world again. Everything is miraculous. Everything is good once more because what I thought she was feeling in the cooking class is true. It's clear. It's real.

“Don't resist me.” She grabs the neck of my shirt. “I love you so much.”

And my heart, it doesn't just pump blood through the body now. It's a rocket, and it soars straight through the atmosphere and keeps going. It's no longer an organ that simply sustains all the vital functions in the body. It's the one that plays the most vital role of all—loving her.

I dip my mouth to hers, tasting her sweetness, savoring the closeness. Her kiss is cupcake and frosting, sex and love. It's everything that turns me on, and everything I need to be happy.

Her.

I've missed it, and I can't get enough. I kiss her deeper, threading my hand in her hair, then at last letting go.

When we break the kiss, I feel as if I'm floating. As if this is my new normal. And I'm so damn glad I told her, because the chance to be with the one you want—the one who wants you the same damn way—is worth the risk.

I run the backs of my fingers along her soft cheek. “The thing is, I think I've been in love with you for a long time, Josie. I think I was falling for you since before I left the country. Now that I'm back, both my brother and your brother laughed at me when I told them I loved you, like it was the most obvious thing in the world.”

Her smile is as wide as the sky. “I've been crazy about you for a long time, too, and I think it took living together for my heart to hit my brain over the head and make me realize it fully.”

“Yeah?” I smile dopily. I don't ever want to come down from this high.

She ropes her arms around my neck, her fingers playing with the ends of my hair, like she did that night on the train. “Last night I was looking back through my recipes—ones I've written out in the last few months. I wrote a bunch about you, and it was kind of obvious when I read them that I've had a big thing for you for a while.”

I grind against her for a second. “I've got a big thing for you,” I say, and she laughs. Then I add more seriously, “I'd love to see those someday. Your recipes.”

“I'd love to show them to you. This morning, I wrote a coffee recipe with cinnamon.”

A new sort of happiness floods my chest because I know why this girl likes cinnamon. I love being privy to all the quirks of Josie. From tuna to cinnamon, from sharing her heart to sharing her home, from sixty-nine to self-love. “Because cinnamon makes you feel like you can do anything?”

She nods. “And today, I wanted the courage to tell you how I felt. Then you showed up and said the same.”

I laugh lightly. “Were we just stupid for not saying a thing before?”

She shakes her head. “No. I think we both loved each other too much as friends to risk losing the other person. But then, I think being apart from you was its own kind of loss. That's why I told you I had something for you. Something new I made.”

She hands me a bakery bag, the kind she's always given me, and I'm floored once more by this woman. Josie's always giving me gifts, and I can't lie—it makes me outrageously happy to be the recipient.

I read the note first. “Josie's All-In Chocolate Peanut Butter Brownies,” I say with a smile.

“Credit given where credit is due. They were your idea.”

Then I read the recipe that's printed on the note.

I
ngredients

2 cups chocolate chips

1 cup butter

1/2 cup peanut butter

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup white sugar

3 eggs, beaten

2 teaspoons baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

 

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a baking dish as you prepare to lay your heart on the line.
  2. Melt the chocolate chips, butter, and peanut butter together, like how everything melted when you fell in love with Chase. Stir frequently to avoid burning. Yes, you were worried about this before, but now there's something bigger at stake.
  3. Stir vanilla, flour, sugar, eggs, baking soda, and salt into the chocolate mixture. Pour batter into baking dish. This is the brand-new blend, and nothing is separated anymore. Time to accept that love and friendship and sex and happiness have all come together.
  4. Bake brownies in the preheated oven until ready. Cool to room temperature before cutting into squares. Serve to the one guy you want—the one you hope wants you the same way.

I
look
up from the paper and at my girl.

She's mine.

“Does this mean I can have the brownie now and eat it, too?”

A naughty glint flickers in her eyes, and lust clambers through me. I half want to kick myself for not telling her I loved her sooner, but I know we came to this on our terms, in the right time, once the friendship alone was no longer enough.

I reach inside the bag, break off a corner of the treat, and eat it. I moan in culinary delight. “This is the second-best thing I've ever tasted.”

“What's first?”

I curl my hand around her head. “You.”

Then I kiss her, and she's everything I missed, everything I want, and everything I love.

She kisses me back with a tenderness and a fierceness that I now know comes from her whole heart. Josie's always given all of herself, even when she tried to hold back. I once thought I could keep everything in separate drawers, but maybe I'm not that different from her after all.

This blend the two of us have going on is pretty damn good. I like life better when we're together.

Right now there's something I'd like even more, and that's all of her.

I break the kiss and glance around the shop. “How many health codes would we break if we got it on at this place?”

She smiles. “Come to my office.”

I wiggle my eyebrows as she locks the front door. “I like the sound of that.”

Taking my hand, she guides me to a cubicle in the back. She perches on the edge of a desk that's covered in papers and envelopes, presumably invoices and bills. She pulls me close, and I slam my mouth to hers, kissing her hard and rough, the kind of kiss that leads to only one thing.

Soon, I lift her skirt, tug down her panties, and slide inside.

Her name is a dirty growl on my lips. “Josie. I fucking love you.”

She draws me impossibly closer and whispers in my ear, “I fucking love you, too. And, yes, it was always that way for me, too.”

We're fast, and we're frenzied, and soon we're both over the edge.

After, I help her close the bakery for the night and we head for the door. “Wait.” I stop at the table. “I have a gift for you, too.”

I hand her the flowers. “You might be thinking, ‘He's not very creative, since he gave me these before.' But last time I gave you flowers, you said they'd make our place cheery. This time I got them for you because I want to live with you again. In a new place. Just for us. One you can make cheery with these flowers.” Her eyes seem to sparkle as she waits for me to say more. “Would you like to live with me again? As my girlfriend?”

She takes my hand. “I would love to.”

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