The Other Five Percent

The Other Five Percent by Quinn Anderson
eBook ISBN: 
978-1-62649-598-2
eBook release: 
Jul 10, 2017
eBook Formats: 
pdf, mobi, html, epub
Print release: 
Jul 10, 2017
Word count: 
42,000
Page count: 
158
Type: 
Cover by: 
Ebook $2.99

Logan Vanderveer has a joke he’s been telling since college: he’s ninety-five percent straight. He did some experimenting in school, but none of the men he fooled around with inspired him to abandon “the plan”: meet a nice girl, get married, and settle down, just like his parents always said.

None of them except Ellis Floyd, who aroused desires and feelings that scared Logan. So much so that he abandoned their burgeoning relationship just as it might have become something. But four years later, Ellis is back, and Logan finds himself questioning his sexuality in a big way.

Ellis doesn’t fit into Logan’s plan. He’s happy being a starving artist, whereas Logan has sold his soul to corporate America. Ellis is ripped jeans, and Logan is tailored suits. And, most notably, Ellis is out. But seeing him again is dredging up memories—like how it feels to kiss Ellis, and that time they almost went all the way. With chemistry like theirs, Logan isn’t sure he can—or should—keep ignoring the other five percent.

This title comes with no special warnings.

Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish.

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Chapter One

Logan shoved his hands into his silk-lined pockets and tried not to vibrate with impatience. Tilting his left wrist up, he craned his neck until he could see the face of his watch: 8:19 a.m. Shit. At this rate, it’d be ten till by the time he got to the office. If he wasn’t fifteen minutes early, he might as well be late.

He swallowed the groan bubbling up in the back of his throat and jiggled a trouser-clad leg just to have something to do. There were only three people in line ahead of him, but in Starbucks time, that could mean anywhere from five minutes to twenty-five. There was also a hoard of people standing on the other end of the counter, waiting for their drinks. Three baristas flitted between the various machines, snatching up cups and jugs and syrup bottles, but no matter how quickly they spat drinks into outstretched hands, they never seemed to make a dent in the throng.

Forget traffic. This was the true early-morning rush hour. The things Logan did for sweet, sweet caffeine.

The line shuffled forward, and he shuffled with it, his polished brown brogues making a soft noise on the tile floor. He looked down and wiggled his toes, watching the calfskin bulge. They’d cost almost as much as his suit, but his boss was always telling him, “The shoes make the man.”

I guess that makes me a baby cow.

Mr. Cooper had a whole arsenal of pseudo-wise sayings that he liked to trot out whenever anyone asked him a question. Things like, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained!” and “He who hesitates is lost!” It was decent-enough advice, Logan supposed, but once, when he’d attempted to ask Mr. Cooper about the quarterly sales figures, he’d been met with, “All’s well that ends well!” It wasn’t exactly helpful.

He shook his head to himself, and a strand of blond hair fell across his eyes. It caught the early-morning light and blazed white. Surreptitiously, he glanced at his reflection in the polished surface of a nearby espresso machine. Dents in his impromptu mirror turned his brown eyes into lopsided smudges sitting atop his cheekbones. His suit—which had cost most of his last paycheck—was transformed into a gray, amorphous blob. He swept a hand over the rest of his combed hair, fixing the errant strand. Or at least, he was pretty sure he fixed it.

“Line’s moving, pretty boy,” said a gruff voice behind him. Logan peeked over his shoulder just in time to watch a guy fold large arms over a Day-Glo construction worker’s vest. “Gonna stare at yourself all day?”

Logan squeaked out an apology and closed the gap. Now there were only two people ahead of him. Just as he was starting to feel optimistic, the customer at the register pulled a checkbook out of her bag. Who the hell even carried checks anymore?

He was tempted to play with his phone, but if he got distracted and let the line move ahead again, he had a feeling Mr. Day-Glo wouldn’t hesitate to cut in front of him. Instead, he fiddled with his cornflower-blue tie, which he’d accidentally knotted too tightly. It would strangle him if he moved his neck the wrong way. His job didn’t require him to wear suits to work—most of the guys in his department walked the razor’s edge between “business” and “casual”—but suiting up made Logan feel mature. Sophisticated. Like a real adult.

At twenty-three, he was one of the youngest hires Harrison & Cooper had ever made. He spent most of his time feeling like he was tricking the older employees into accepting him as one of their own. Looking the part helped, in his experience. He even had a monogrammed briefcase that he’d spent an exorbitant amount of money on. He took it to work with him every day, even though all it held was a few empty file folders and the occasional banana.

The check lady finished paying—finally—and joined the pool of waiting customers. He consulted his watch again: 8:23. It was weird how time could crawl and yet still make him wish it would slow down.

Logan eyed the guy in front of him. Middle-aged. Sunburned. Wearing khaki cargo shorts and a shirt with a print they could hear a state over. A tourist? Probably. Maybe he was stopping through town on his way to Atlantic City. There weren’t a whole lot of other reasons to come to Brigantine, tiny island that it was. Logan would know. He’d lived here for a year now and could say with certainty that there was jack all to do.

He leaned forward, eavesdropping with what he hoped was masterful subtly.

“Can I get a cup of coffee?” the man said.

A simple enough request. Logan looked at the barista.

“What kind would you like?” The smile on her face looked like it had been plastered there for so long, it was now a permanent fixture.

The man responded in the unhurried tone of someone who has nothing better to do. “Just a regular cup of coffee.”

“We have a few different kinds, sir. Which would you prefer?” The barista waved behind her to a row of hand-written signs above three coffee pots.

The man leaned over the counter and squinted at them. “What’s the difference? I just want a cup of coffee.” Each slowly formed word flayed Logan’s skin from his bones.

“Well, Pike Place is our biggest seller, but our dark roast, Sumatra, is popular as well.”

“You’ve already lost me. Which one is regular coffee?”

“Oh my god,” Logan blurted out. “Guy, it’s not that hard. They have three different roasts, and you can have them decaf or regular. That’s a total of six choices. Think you can manage that? If not, I recommend you go for caffeinated.”

The man and the barista both glared at him. Logan instantly regretted opening his mouth.

“Rude,” said the man.

“Sir, please wait your turn.” The barista’s chastising tone still somehow managed to be polite.

Logan muttered an apology and ducked his head down. Guilt washed through him. Since when was he one of those dicks who acted like they were the only people with places to be? Morning Douches, as he called them. The kind of people who treated every minor inconvenience like a world-ending calamity. Next he knew, he’d be asking to speak with a manager over getting a dash of nutmeg instead of cinnamon. He did not want to be one of them.

He knew what part of his problem was. Three long months had passed since he’d had his last cigarette. They were supposed to be out of his system by now, but the need for nicotine still niggled at him. Whoever had said the first twenty-four hours were the hardest was full of shit. The hard part had come months later, when random cravings popped up out of nowhere. He was stuck in this horrible limbo where it had been too long for him to relapse with dignity but not long enough for the habit to have died hard.

He’d already announced his success to everyone at his office. If he fell off the wagon now, he’d be the boy who cried nicotine. He shoved his hands deeper into his pockets to keep his fingers from twitching.

Jonesing or not, he should have kept his mouth shut. If Abby and Rachel knew he’d mouthed off to a stranger, they’d skin him alive at their next Sibling Night. They’d want to pore over every aspect of his life and figure out the “source of his discontentment” or whatever new self-help crap they were peddling this week. But they weren’t here, so unless they had one of their weird sister-ESP moments, he was off the hook.

Mercifully, the man got his coffee and shuffled off, leaving Logan to approach the barista in the manner of a prodigal son anticipating a scolding.

She eyed him neutrally. “What can I get for you, sir?”

Logan stumbled through his order: a venti coffee, a cappuccino with three shots of espresso, and a dirty chai. His fumbling was compounded by the fact that the barista was exceptionally pretty. Like, so pretty he almost apologized just for looking at her.

Making a move never crossed his mind, however, both because of his earlier faux pas and because he never hit on women while they were working. It was poor form to hit on someone who couldn’t tell you to fuck off without risking their livelihood. And with the way his love life had been going lately, he’d probably get hot coffee thrown in his face.

When he finished ordering, he gave her his name. He watched as she spelled it wrong on the cup—in what universe was Logan spelled with a y?—and then with a zip of a debit card, he went to join the under-caffeinated rabble on the other end of the store.

He took up a spot near a CD rack that had somehow survived the ravages of time and, now that he was free of the line, slid his phone out of his pocket. There were no new emails in his inbox and no frantic texts from his supervisor. He might have a peaceful morning after all.

Within minutes, another barista—a guy, this time—called his name and handed him a loaded drinks holder. He caught Logan’s eye and flashed a smile. “Your turn to get coffee for the office?”

Logan considered him. Hand tattoos. Gauges in his ears the size of silver dollars. Inappropriate, white-guy dreadlocks. And his name tag read, G-Dawg. He probably wouldn’t judge him.

“These are all for me, actually. I have a system. I start my day by pounding back the cappuccino to get a nice buzz going. When I feel myself flagging at around the ten-thirty mark, I go in for the coffee. And then the chai is for the after-lunch crash. Genius, right?”

Logan waited for the applause to roll in.

G-Dawg stared at him. “It can’t possibly be healthy to drink that much caffeine in a day.”

“Oh, this is nothing. I average eight cups a day. Once, I chugged a latte with six shots in it, and for an hour afterward, I swear I could hear colors.”

G-Dawg’s mouth popped open. “You were probably having a stroke.”

Logan frowned. So much for no judgment. “Maybe, but at least I quit smoking, right?”

“Uh, right. Have a, um, nice day.”

Logan took the drinks holder and had the cappuccino in his hand before he’d even turned away. Okay, so maybe quadrupling his caffeine intake wasn’t the best way to take the edge off his nicotine cravings. But it was still a much healthier alternative.

Or, at least, he was pretty sure it was.

He was just heading for the exit—ready to jump into his car and commit some minor traffic infractions in the hopes of getting to work sooner—when a voice stopped him dead in his tracks.

“I’m sorry, I need another minute. I never come here.”

The deep laughter that followed crackled up Logan’s spine. He knew that voice. He knew it from . . . somewhere. He jerked his head toward the register, but his view was blocked by a family ogling the baked goods display. He stood on the tips of his toes, his shoes creaking pleasantly, but all he could see was a spiky brown head.

Was it a celebrity? Logan was usually the first to say, Oh hey, it’s that guy, during movie night. Perhaps in his advanced age, his aptitude for faces was crossing over into voices.

He took a few more steps and craned his neck over the crowd, but he still couldn’t get a clear view. He consulted his watch again and cursed: 8:29. While he was busy playing detective, time was marching on. Drinks in hand, he half jogged toward the door on the other side of the store. Just as he passed the register, curiosity caught up with him. He couldn’t help sneaking one more glance, and he was rewarded with the mystery man’s profile.

Logan skidded to a stop so suddenly, his drinks nearly toppled out of the cardboard holder. Not a celebrity. Ellis Floyd. The name catapulted to the forefront of his mind and flashed like a neon sign. Holy shit. It had been . . . three, four years since they’d last seen each other? But there was no question that was Ellis.

Logan tried not to stare, but damn, Ellis looked good. Back in college, he’d had a waifish, starving-artist look going on, but adulthood had filled him out, piling muscle onto where there had previously been twiggy limbs and a slight frame. He even seemed taller than he had when they’d been at Rutgers together. A number of tattoos that were definitely new additions graced his exposed arms.

Some things hadn’t changed a bit, however. His hair still stuck up in all directions like it’d never seen a brush in its life. His mouth was scrunched to the side in thought as he consulted the menu. Logan had watched it take that exact form a hundred times, when Ellis had been mulling over a problem or a question on an exam. Seeing it again after so long sent a shock through Logan as powerful as if he’d touched a live wire.

He tried to tear his gaze away, but it was too late. Ellis must’ve sensed something, because he turned his head and looked unerringly at him. His brown eyes were bright behind his thick-rimmed glasses. And, oh God, his eyelashes. He’d always had beautiful eyelashes, long and inky. Logan used to call them unfair, and the term was as applicable now as ever.

For two immeasurable seconds, Ellis’s face was blank. Then recognition stamped onto it in big, bold letters. “Logan.”

It was as if Ellis’s voice opened some sort of channel in Logan’s brain. A memory flashed in front of his eyes.

Empty beer cans scattered around a cramped dorm room. A warm body sitting shoulder to shoulder next to his. Brown eyes that looked like chocolate drizzled with honey.

“Logan, why do you want to be my friend?”

“Because I like you. And I think we’re a little more than just friends now.”

Oh God. He’d forgotten all about that. Back in the day, he and Ellis had been inseparable. And, more than that, they’d—

“Logan? Is that you?”

The question startled him back to the present. Ellis had turned to face him, looking as surprised as Logan felt. Ellis took a hesitant step toward him, and the spell Logan had fallen under shattered. He about-faced and walked briskly toward the exit. It was rude as hell to walk away, of course, but for once he didn’t care. He couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

It was because he was late, he assured himself. A tearful reunion would cost time he didn’t have. He wasn’t freaked out, and he definitely wasn’t running away.

Why then did the mere sight of Ellis make him feel like all the oxygen just got sucked out of the room?

Everyone experiments in college, he reminded himself. The majority of them grow up, realize they were just hormonal and confused, and move on with their lives, just like you did. Seeing him again is bringing up all those old teenaged emotions, nothing more. It doesn’t mean anything.

It wasn’t until he made it out the door and plunged into the brisk morning air that he realized his hands were shaking. Coffee froth spat up from the mouths of the drink lids.

On autopilot, he weaved through the parking lot to his car. He fumbled for his keys and promptly dropped them. Setting the drinks down on the trunk, he took a deep breath and focused on the reflective specks in his black paint job. Then he exhaled as slowly as he could without depriving his brain of much-needed oxygen.

“Get it together, Vanderveer,” he muttered to himself. “You’re acting like you saw a ghost.”

Hate to break it to you, buddy, but you kind of did.

Now that the danger had passed, he couldn’t believe he’d walked out like that. And after Ellis had clearly recognized him too. His sisters’ spidey senses were probably tingling all the way across town. They always seemed to know when he’d behaved poorly.

Still, he was glad he had. If seeing Ellis could unsettle him this much, he couldn’t imagine what talking to him would be like. Though Ellis must think he was the rudest person in the world.

It didn’t matter. He repeated that to himself until he almost started to believe it. They’d had their once-in-a-lifetime chance encounter. Now they’d never see each other again. That was how lightning strikes worked.

Logan took another breath, and this time, when he went to unlock his door, his hand was steady. His briefcase was waiting for him in the passenger seat. He opened the back door first and nestled the drink holder into the seat, as per usual. Although, if he were planning on a speedy getaway, that might not be the best idea. He considered buckling it in for half a second before discarding that idea as too ridiculous even for him.

He shut the door with a sharp click and was just about to climb into the driver’s seat when a shadow fell across the window.

“Hey.” Ellis appeared at his side like a portent of doom. “Long time no see, lover.”

 

Chapter Two

If asked later, Logan would swear up and down that he had not, in fact, jumped out of his skin. He also hadn’t whirled around with all the grace of an unhinged ballerina. And he certainly, certainly had not made a shrill squeaking noise that’d made all the dogs within a five-mile radius sniff the air.

“Ellis,” he yelped when he’d regained control of his vocal chords. “Uh . . . uh.”

“So you do recognize me.” A wry smile slid onto Ellis’s face. “I wasn’t sure.”

For a bewildering moment, Logan honestly considered just getting into his car and gunning it. His watch was ticking in his head, and his desire to avoid this particular conversation hadn’t lessened. It was only the thought of hot coffee spraying across his leather seats that checked him. And Ellis’s eyes, admittedly; they were beautiful from a distance but downright captivating up close . . .

Logan tore his gaze away and swallowed. Uh-oh.

Ellis gave him a quizzical look. “You okay?”

“Um, yeah,” Logan answered with all the majesty of a cow giving birth. Seriously, man, get it together. Is this your first time talking to another person? He tried again. “Sorry, I ran off like that. I didn’t see you.”

“Really?” Ellis’s smile sharpened. “You sure left in a hurry for someone who didn’t see me.”

Well, fuck. It seemed Ellis still wasn’t the sort to mince words.

“Uh, sorry, man. I just realized I’m late for work.” It wasn’t a total lie, but his voice took on the high-pitched, whiny quality it got when he was being dishonest. “I gotta get going.”

He reached for his door handle slowly, as if a sudden movement might make Ellis strike.

He hesitated, however, when Ellis’s expression turned mournful. “Dude, seriously? It’s been four years since we’ve seen each other. You can’t spare a minute for an old friend?”

Logan’s heart did a strange lurching somersault in his chest. His sisters’ voices rang in his ears: “Logan Allen Vanderveer, where are your manners? You’re acting like the guy is going to bite you.”

Well, if memory serves, he very well might.

That thought threatened to give him another flashback. He shook it off. Maybe he should lay off the caffeine after all.

“Right, sorry.” He gave himself another mental shake. “How have you been since I last saw you? That was what, sophomore year? Where are you working these days?”

Logan’s eyes slid down to assess Ellis’s garb. A paint-splattered black shirt—not stylistically splattered either. Accidentally splattered. Logan could tell the difference—ripped jeans, and red high-top sneakers. If this was how Ellis dressed on a Monday morning, he probably hadn’t gone the corporate route like Logan had. Logan had to admit, though: it was a good look for him. Especially now that he’d gotten all . . . muscle-y. Muscular. Whatever.

Ellis caught his eye, which was lingering somewhere around the sliver of underwear visible just above Ellis’s jeans, and raised an eyebrow challengingly. “Did you just give me a once-over?”

Heat crept up Logan’s neck. “No.”

Ellis’s other eyebrow joined the first.

“Well, yeah, I did. Sorry. Um, that’s really embarrassing.”

Ellis grinned. “Can’t be more embarrassing than that stuffy suit you’re wearing.”

That broke Logan from his self-consciousness. “Excuse me? I’ll have you know this suit is designer.”

“Yeah, I’m sure it’s some real special thread with the name of someone super impressive on the label.” Ellis looked him up and down, not bothering to hide it. Logan couldn’t even protest, considering he’d just done the same thing. “All teasing aside, you look good. For a suit.”

Logan willed himself not to fidget. “Yeah, same to you.”

“I guess a lot has changed since college.” Ellis opened his mouth only to close it again. It looked like he was on the verge of saying something else but couldn’t quite articulate it.

Logan got the distinct impression that he didn’t want to find out what that was. Every minute around Ellis was threatening to launch him down an offshoot of Memory Lane he’d just as soon cordon off. He was tempted to mention how late he was again, but if that hadn’t been a good enough excuse before, it probably wasn’t now. He needed to come up with something else.

“Uh, listen, Ellis . . .” An idea flitted into his head, courtesy of G-Dawg. He gestured to the cups in the backseat. “It’s been great running into you, but you caught me in the middle of a coffee run. The guys in my office get really cranky if they don’t have their caffeine. If I’m late, it’s my ass.”

Ellis’s lips twitched up at the corners, and Logan immediately regretted his word choice. “I understand. I should have guessed from your clothes that you’d ended up in an office job.”

“Yup. Good ol’ capitalism. My company is pretty strict about tardiness, so . . .”

“Right. I’d hate for anything to happen to your ass.”

Logan almost wished he had one of his coffees in hand just so he could take a sip and then spit it out. He had no idea how to respond to that. It must have been evident on his face, because Ellis snorted and looked down at his high-tops. Then he glanced up at Logan with his head still lowered and flashed an impish smile.

The gesture, which was probably second nature to Ellis, hit Logan square in the chest. It was so familiar to him that it sent him hurtling back in time. Another memory played in front of his eyes as vividly as if he were there again.

Logan brushed a strand of unruly brown hair away from Ellis’s face. “You have, like, the longest eyelashes ever.”

“Dude, I know I’m gay, but you don’t have to be so gay about it.” Ellis’s smile belied his pleasure at the comment.

Logan leaned in. Ellis met him halfway, and moments before their lips touched, Ellis whispered, “I could stay like this forever.”

Logan actually felt his blood pressure skyrocket. He needed to get out of here. “So yeah, I’ve gotta go. It was nice running into you.” The platitudes sounded empty even to him.

Ellis’s mirth dropped off his face and was replaced with disappointment. It didn’t take an expert to figure out why. There was an unspoken invitation hovering in the air. The one all old friends proffered up when they encountered each other: We should hang out some time. Catch up. If Logan had any decency, he’d extend the courtesy, whether he meant it or not.

His lips remained firmly sealed together.

Silence fell between them. When Logan gave no indication that he was going to say more, Ellis sighed. “It was good seeing you again, Logan.” He turned around like he intended to head back into Starbucks. “I mean it. I’ve missed you.”

Shit. Was he really going to let him walk away? Guilt seized Logan’s chest and squeezed. He called after him before he could think it through: “We should get coffee some time. If you want. We could, um, talk.”

Ellis stopped short and looked over his shoulder at him. “Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

Logan felt both instant relief and anxiety. Hopefully Ellis spoke Adult. A coffee invitation actually meant something akin to, Let’s say we’re going to meet up and then never call each other. Logan made fake coffee plans once a month at his job. Hollow gesture or not, extending the invitation made him feel better about what a jerk he was being.

Ellis spun around. “That sounds great.” There was nothing in his tone or his face to indicate whether he understood Logan’s real intentions.

“Awesome. I’ll catch you later.”

With that, Logan got into his car, slammed the door shut, and drove off with a Fast and Furious-style tire squeal. He didn’t realize he was holding his breath until he hit a red light, and it all whooshed out of him at once. He deflated against his steering wheel like a flat tire.

Jesus. He hadn’t felt that awkward since his junior prom. And he’d showed up to that wearing a powder blue-tux. With ruffles. Talk about bad memories.

He turned in his seat and craned his neck back the way he’d come. His drinks—which he’d admittedly forgotten about in his haste—had slid across the bench seat to the other side of the car, but miraculously hadn’t spilled. Should have buckled them in after all. The Starbucks was a few turns away, safely out of sight. As was Ellis and the heaping pile of unwanted feelings he engendered in Logan.

Contrition seeped into him, settling like ice water in his gut. Surprised or not, he really shouldn’t have treated Ellis like that. They’d been friends once, and he deserved better. Then again, Logan really was late . . .

And that was the most pathetic excuse ever, he scolded himself. If he were being honest, he knew why he’d reacted the way he had, and it had nothing to do with work. He was running away so he wouldn’t have to face the living embodiment of his one foray into gaydom.

It wasn’t like he was ashamed of what he’d done with Ellis. He just wanted to leave that part of his life behind him. Was that so bad?

If his heart had known Morse code, it would have pounded out a steady Y-E-S against his ribs.

Well, it was over now. Neither of them had each other’s number. And with the way Logan had jetted out of there—twice—there was no way Ellis didn’t know he was being blown off. That thought made Logan queasy.

The light turned green. Logan hit the gas as if he could outrace the unpleasant encounter if he just drove fast enough. By the time he pulled into the parking lot behind his office building, he’d promised himself a dozen times that he wasn’t going to think about Ellis. With a final sigh, he grabbed his briefcase and the drinks holder, locked his car, and trotted up to the nondescript gray building.

The glass front doors parted as he strode toward them as if pulled by invisible strings. Inside, Logan was swept into the steady stream of people bustling around. As he walked, he luxuriated in it: the cacophony of voices, ringing phones, and heels clicking on polished tile. He loved walking into this buzzing hive every morning. It made him feel like he was a part of something. And today it had the added bonus of drowning out his disobedient thoughts.

He hurried past the reception desk, behind which two harried men were snatching up phones like their lives depended on it, and flashed his ID badge to Rhonda, the perpetually cheerful security guard. She smiled brightly at him and waved him through to the elevators. He dodged a sea of people egressing from one and rode another up to the fourth floor.

The doors whooshed open, revealing a wall of cubicles bleached dishwater gray beneath fluorescent lights. Logan whistled tunelessly as he made his way to the corner cubicle on the far left, which he jokingly referred to as a stand-in for the corner office he’d have someday.

He’d just plopped into his desk chair and was about to down his cappuccino when a blonde head popped over the barrier to the right.

“Morning!”

Logan nearly dropped his drink in his lap. “What the hell, Jennifer?”

“Nice to see you too, sunshine.” Jennifer flashed a smile, and twin dimples folded her plump cheeks. “You’re late.”

Logan tapped a key on his keyboard. His company computer flashed to life, revealing the time. “I am not. It’s eight minutes to nine.”

“Which for you is late.” She pointed a polished fingernail at him. The movement made her curls float over her shoulder like in a shampoo commercial. “What do you have to say for yourself?”

“I, um . . . overslept.”

“I can tell you’re lyiiing,” she sang in a flawless soprano.

“I am not.”

“Uh-huh. That was really convincing.”

Logan sighed and rubbed his temple. “Can you please turn off your mommy senses just this once?”

“Sorry, kiddo. Can’t help it. I’ve been changing diapers for ten years now, and I can smell shit from a mile away.”

“I bet your kids love that.”

“Oh yeah.” She batted her eyelashes. “And my husband too.”

“Moving on,” he said in a tone that brooked no argument. “Did you send the updated Murtagh proofs to their marketing director? We’re launching their new ad campaign in three weeks—”

“As you’re so fond of reminding me.”

Logan continued undeterred. “—and we need the final proposal well before then.”

“As it just so happens, I have the updated proofs right here. The clients loved ’em.” She held up a manila folder that was so bloated with papers, it could have been a small novel.

He took it gingerly, squeezing it shut at both ends in the hopes of keeping its contents from spewing onto the carpet. “Um, I take it they had some corrections?”

“Just a few,” she chirped. “Better get started.”

With that, she ducked out of sight.

Logan stuck his tongue out after her but dutifully opened the file. Inside, he found printouts of the ads he’d spent the last six weeks of his life designing, only now they were covered in scribbled notes, arrows, and highlighter.

“And so it begins.” He licked his thumb and leafed through the pages. Most of it was pretty standard: layout and verbiage changes. Nothing he couldn’t handle. There were a couple of bigger changes he was going to have to think about, but if they liked what he’d done so far, that was a great sign. He fired up Adobe on his computer, chugged half of his cappuccino, and got to work.

He managed to get a lot done. Really. For about an hour. Then someone with thick-rimmed glasses walked past, and Ellis slammed back into his thoughts. No matter how hard Logan tried to turn his focus on work, he kept getting hit with little snippets of memories: hanging out with Ellis in his dorm room, walking across campus at a snail’s pace to prolong the time they had together, holding hands when no one else was around, and the one time Ellis had cornered him behind the music building and kissed him so hard, he—

Logan shook his head until he saw spots. That memory came with a can of worms the size of the Chrysler Building. He rested his elbows on his desk and covered his face with his hands. It was time to face facts. Seeing Ellis again had stirred up some residual feelings in him. If he wanted to get anything done, he was going to have to figure out what those feelings were, exactly.

If he were honest with himself, he knew it wasn’t Ellis that spooked him. It was what he represented.