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“Ugh, I’m going to have to run every day this week.” Georgia tossed her chopsticks into a box.

My phone buzzed on the shelf beside my bed. I reached for it, my heart speeding up, already suspecting who it might be. Okay, hoping.

I hadn’t heard from Shaw since he left, which could mean two things. He got what he wanted and was done with me. Or he wanted to give me time to be with Georgia. Somehow I knew he wasn’t capable of the first. He wasn’t a user. And he sure as hell wasn’t anything less than honest. If he’d been looking for a fling, he would have been up front about it. My gaze landed on the screen.

And I was right. I smiled like an idiot.

Shaw: I miss you

I was still grinning over his words when he texted again, before I even had a chance to reply and tell him I missed him, too.

Shaw: How’s Georgia?

Me: Good

Shaw: Good enough to be left alone yet? I have this bed that’s too big. It needs you in it. I need you in it.

“Oh my God, you’re blushing. I think that’s a first. What’s lover boy saying?” Pepper teased in a singsong voice.

My face flamed. “Shut it.”

“I never thought it would happen. You’re in love.” Georgia smiled almost sadly. I knew she was happy for me, but it must be a bitter thing to watch something grow between me and Shaw while her love life crumbled. I couldn’t help feeling a little guilty even though I knew she wouldn’t want me feeling that way.

My thumbs moved over the keys.

Me: Can’t tonight.

Shaw: Understand. You’re a good friend

I smiled, my chest swelling. He understood. He didn’t try to guilt me. He really was unselfish that way. Or he wasn’t nearly as anxious to see me again. Not as anxious as I was anyway. My smile slipped. Ugh. This relationship business really messed with your head.

Shaw: Let’s go out this week

Me: Are u asking me out

Shaw: Assbackwards, but yeah. I am. We’re overdue a real date

Me: Ok. But I have big test Thur that I need to study for

Considering I hadn’t studied all weekend, I was really going to have to cram over the next few days.

Shaw: You’re killing me, but I guess I can wait that long. As long as I get to see you. Thur night then?

Me: Ok

Shaw: Bring an overnight bag minus pjs. You won’t need those

I set my phone back down on the shelf and curled my legs up to my chest, hugging my knees. Pepper and Georgia both stared at me with funny expressions on their faces.

“What?”

Pepper grinned. “Guess you don’t mind my interference now, do you?”

I rolled my eyes. “Whatever. Don’t sound so smug. It’s not like he’s my boyfriend.” I didn’t know what he was.

“Not yet.” Pepper arched her brows. “Give it one more week and you’ll be saying ‘I love you.’ ”

I snorted and reached for another crab rangoon. “That’s a reach.”

“We’ll see.”

I settled back on the bed and turned my attention to the cop chasing down a bad guy on the screen. I bit into my crab rangoon and resisted the idea that her suggestion could possibly be true. That it wasn’t crazy. Not feeling the way I did.

WE MADE ARRANGEMENTS TO meet at seven at Mulvaney’s. Reece owned the place, but they also had great burgers. From there, who knew what we would do. Or where we would go. Okay. I had a few ideas of what we would do. I’d packed an overnight bag like he’d suggested, so I knew where the night was going to end. Leading up to that point I wasn’t sure.

Friday night felt like a long time ago. All I could think about was being alone with him again. Just the idea sent all my girl parts dancing. I might not know what we were, exactly, to each other. More than friends? More than a passing hookup? But I was glad it was him. I was glad I’d waited all these years. I couldn’t imagine my first time being with anyone else.

I cleaned up my station around four P.M. I wanted to shower before heading to Mulvaney’s. I’d started a new project this week. I wasn’t sure where I was going with it yet. Right now it was just a lot of blue on the canvas.

“Emerson.” Professor Martinelli came up behind me. “I wanted to talk to you about the showcase.”

I cringed, hoping she wasn’t going to fuss at me for leaving so early last Friday.

“Your work received much praise.”

“Oh.” I flushed, delighted and embarrassed at the same time.

“My friend, the gallery owner from Boston, was very interested in your work. Especially A Winter’s Morning. In fact, she would like to display it in her gallery.”

“Are you serious?” I hopped anxiously in place, feeling like a kid at Christmas.

Professor Martinelli reached inside her pocket and pulled out a small business card. “She would like you to contact her.”

I took the card with shaking fingers. “Thank you. I will.”

She smiled and squeezed my shoulder. “I’m proud of you, Emerson.”

Her words warmed me all over. From the inside out. I wasn’t accustomed to praise. Maybe I was even starved for it. It wasn’t something I ever got from my parents, after all.

“Thank you.”

“Keep it up. You’ll go far, Emerson.” Nodding, she turned away.

I took a step after her. “Professor Martinelli.” She stopped and looked back at me. I moistened my lips. “Would you know anything about airbrushing?” I didn’t even know I was going to ask the question until the words came out.

“Airbrushing?”

“Yes. I was interested in trying a new medium.”

She cocked her head, considering it. “Interesting. Tell you what, you get me a list of the materials you’ll need, and I’ll order everything for you, okay? I’m fascinated to see where you go with this, Emerson.” She scanned me. “You never cease to intrigue me.”

My heart swelled. “Oh, thank you, thank you!”

After she left, I hurriedly finished cleaning my station and left. My boots crunched across the snow-coated sidewalk. The suite was empty and I shot Georgia a text to check on her before jumping into the shower, where I shampooed, lathered, exfoliated, and shaved.

Georgia’s reply was waiting for me when I got back to the room. She’d gone to see a movie with Suzanne. I sighed with relief, glad she wasn’t alone. She seemed to be doing okay, but I knew she wasn’t sleeping well. Even if I didn’t hear her tossing and turning at night, the shadowy smudges under her eyes served as evidence.