Juliana Ryan sat in her office on the 34th-floor staring out over the Manhattan skyline. The midday sun was reflecting off the glass of the surrounding buildings, providing a prism effect that kept her captivated. Her Vermont vacation had ended two weeks ago, and while her body was firmly ensconced in the city, her mind was still at the cabin. Damon, her boss, and best friend was still on vacation so at least he wasn’t in the office to overload her schedule. But then again, maybe a busy work schedule would keep her from reminiscing about her time with Chris.
She had thrown a fit when she realized that she was not in the cabin alone. There was no way she was going to share her vacation with a complete stranger; even if he was stunning to look at! Damon had sent her there to relax, but evidently, he had sent Chris there as well. Juliana was ready to make a grand exit and leave the cabin behind, but an overnight snow storm made sure that couldn’t happen. It was almost as if the planets were aligning to keep the two of them holed up in that house. Because to add insult to injury, a transformer blew, and the power went out. She was stranded with no escape! Juliana quickly found that Chris had a way of melting away her resolve and she came to realize he wasn’t so bad after all. In fact, she found him to be dashing and charming; she was starting to fall for him. Which was good, because he was making no secret about the fact that he liked her, too.
Juliana never anticipated being intimate with him, especially after the confrontational first night. But they gave into their shared desires and found a perfect rhythm with one another. They found they were like two puzzle pieces that fit together perfectly. Chris found the perfect way to keep Juliana warm while the power was out. The power came back on within a day, but they were having so much fun they elected to pretend it was still out. They spent the rest of the week in bed, in front of the fire, getting to know one another. Although they kept their conversation away from their career, politics, and religion; not wanting to discuss anything that could lead to arguments or hard feelings. Instead, they elected to focus on their families, their experiences growing up, their friends, and their interests. While they knew they were compatible physically, it was more important to find out if they had compatibility and common ground on other levels.
It was no surprise that they were a perfect match. Although they came to that conclusion individually and elected not to share it or verbalize it for fear of jinxing it. They also realized that neither of them wanted to say goodbye at the end of the week. Chris was going to head back to Boston for Christmas with his family. Juliana was going to head back to her empty apartment in Manhattan. Chris invited her to join him, not wanting to think of her being alone for the holiday. She thanked him for the invitation but politely declined. She didn’t believe that it was a good idea to bring home the stray he’d been sleeping with for the past week as his holiday date. While Chris chastised her for her characterization of the situation, he relented and agreed that she might have a valid point. It certainly didn’t mean that she didn’t kick herself in the ass for letting him go home without her.
As Chris and Juliana prepared to leave, most of the snow had either melted away or had been plowed from the main roads. They did have to do a little digging to get Juliana’s car completely free. While Chris was shoveling, she couldn’t help but throw a snowball at him. It was childish, but she just couldn’t help herself. Of course, when she turned to walk away, he snuck up behind her and put snow down the back of her sweater and then tackled her into a snowdrift. She screamed and then they both dissolved into fits of laughter that were followed by passionate kisses. There was enough heat from their kisses that they could have melted the rest of the snow in the yard if the temperature wasn’t below freezing.
As they departed, Chris made Juliana promise to call him when she got home. She held it together and didn’t cry until they were on the highway and he took that final exit that would take him towards Boston. In the two weeks, since she had returned home, she spoke with Chris daily. While they never talked about Vermont or indicated they were officially dating, they never said they weren’t either. But Juliana noticed the calls became more friendly. Now that they were back in the ‘real world’ and there was an off chance they could be seen in public, he had to play it cool. So, she had expected that Chris placed her in the friend-zone. She figured she wouldn’t be the type of girl he would usually date; he probably went for some statuesque trophy girlfriend. Which was not what she looked like. Plus, he was a businessman and friend of Damon’s; therefore, dating Damon’s CFO was most likely a conflict of interest. That was the story she would tell herself.
It was better to live in an alternate reality because she knew it would be easy to just come out and ask him. But she was afraid of the answer and didn’t want to hear him actually say it. So, not knowing meant it didn’t hurt. She would rather relive those passionate nights in the cabin; the way he touched her, the way his hands and lips felt on her skin. She had never had a man pleasure her in the way Chris had. Suddenly she felt her body begin to flush and felt the familiar tingle between her legs; she was going to have wet panties if she didn’t change her thoughts and fast! She wondered if he had any idea about the effect he had on her.
“Let me guess, you’re off in la-la-land daydreaming about your vacation?” Damon’s voice boomed through the otherwise quiet office, making her jump. He was leaning against the doorframe, his arms crossed and a big grin on his face.
“You scared the shit out of me,” she bellowed as she turned her chair to face him. “I thought you weren’t due back for a couple more days? Did you miss me that much?”
Damon pushed himself away from the door frame, moving to take the seat directly across from Juliana. He got comfortable, propping his feet up on her desk and folding his hands in his lap. “You know it, babe. Six weeks on the beach with my beautiful wife, I couldn’t stand it any longer. I just had to hurry back to work so you could bust my balls.” His voice was laden with sarcasm, but it was a witty repartee that was common between the two of them. This is what their friendship was all about and why they had been friends for so many years.
“Bastard! I guess by that tan you spend lots of time in the sun while I was stuck in the snow,” Juliana was giving him grief about it, but Damon knew that she wouldn’t be caught dead in a bathing suit or at the beach. She burned at the mere mention of the sun! Plus, as a curvy girl, she never had enough confidence to strut her stuff in a bathing suit on the beach.
“I don’t want to talk about my vacation, tell me all about yours. Did you have a good time?” There was a glint in his eye, almost like he knew the answer before he asked the question.
“It was wonderful, Damon. Tell me, was it your idea?”
“Was what my idea?” Damon was confused, not quite sure what she was referring to.
“My cabin mate. And don’t play dumb, it is not becoming.” He gave her a questioning look like he wasn’t quite sure what she was referring to. “Oh, stop it, you know who I’m talking about. Your buddy from Boston. You told him he could use the cabin to get off the grid.”
Damon continued to stare at her with confusion. He acted as if he was trying to think about what friend she could be referring to. “Oh, Evans! Crap, I forgot I told him that he could go out there and stay whenever he wanted to. So, he picked that week, eh?”
“You are a really shitty liar; you know that?” Juliana laughed at him, sitting back in her chair and propping her own feet up on the desk. “All I wanted was to go out and have a week to myself, a little time to relax and unwind. But no, I get there, get down to my underwear and get surprised when he walks out of the bathroom!” Damon lets out a belly laugh, finding the visual quite comical.
“Oh yeah, you laugh all you want, but it was horrifying! Let’s just say we didn’t get off to a good start. I was relegated to the tiny bedroom and went straight to bed. I had every intention of leaving the next morning, but Mother Nature thought it would be funny to drop a foot of snow overnight. So, thanks a lot,” she scoffed.
“Why are you thanking me? I didn’t have anything to do with the snow?”
“No, but you knew the weather forecast when you sent me up there. And you knew I would be stuck with someone else when I was pretty sure I was going to be all alone,” she ran her fingers through her hair, a nervous habit that she couldn’t shake. “If you had trouble understanding it, the thank you was sarcastic, you jackass.”
Damon put his feet down, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees. “Juliana, are you suggesting that I set you and Evans up? And that I purposely sent you to a remote Vermont cabin when a snow storm was coming so you would be stranded with him?”
Juliana put her feet down, mirroring his stance, “Your damn right I am!”
Damon sat back in the chair, crossing his legs, “Wow, you sure do think highly of me. Did you two get along? I mean, you’re back here in New York, so he didn’t kill you. Please tell me you didn’t kill him?”
Juliana let out a laugh, and her face broke into a wide grin. Her face also began to flush; she could feel her cheeks starting to heat. “We didn’t get along at first. Did you know he thought that you and I were having an affair?” Damon began to laugh so hard he started to cough. “Yeah, said you talk about me so much that he was fairly sure we were sleeping together. I told him he was an idiot. You’re happily married, we’re just friends, and besides, I’m not your type.”
“I wouldn’t say that you’re not my type, Juliana. But we’ve been friends for so long,” his voice trailed off when she put her hand up to get him to stop talking.
“But to answer your question, we ended up getting along. And no, I didn’t kill him.”
“Thank God, because I’d hate to get the cleaning bill for that mess. So, in all seriousness, did you enjoy the cabin?”
“It was fantastic, but honestly, after the power went out, the only room I saw was the master bedroom. We stayed in there because of the fireplace and being able to shut the door to keep the heat in.” Once again Damon had a look of confusion spread across his face. “Oh, what? You’re going to act like you didn’t know the power was going to go out? I figured you paid for that to happen and it was part of your diabolical plan to get Evans and me together.”
“My diabolical plan? Do you know how deranged you sound?”
“You’re a fucking billionaire, Damon. You could have easily done something to cut the power to your cabin for a period of time to push Chris and me together?”
“Chris? Two minutes ago, he was Evans, and now he is Chris?” Damon was enjoying this banter with her. The vacation had done Juliana some good, she was relaxed, and it was clearly evident that Chris was right for her. He stood up from the chair and put his hands in his pants pockets, “I’m glad you think so highly of me, but I had nothing to do with the power going out. I wish I had thought of it because it would have been genius.”
Damon turned and started walking toward the door, “So, if you spent most of the time in the master bedroom, I guess you had everything you needed?” He wiggled his eyebrows as he waited for her to answer. The flush returned to Juliana’s cheeks, and she couldn’t respond. Damon began to laugh again, “I knew it! Once you met him, it would be all over for you!”
“So, you did plan it?!”
He began to answer somewhat sheepishly, “Yeah, Veronica thought you two would be a perfect match.” Damon walked back to Juliana and pulled her into an embrace, “Sweetie, we both love you and want you to be happy. We love Chris, too and want him to be happy. The two of you have both needed the right partner, Veronica was positive that you were right for one another. But we knew you wouldn’t go on a blind date, so we had to think of some way to get you together. He had no idea he was going to meet you, by the way.”
He stepped back and put his hands on her shoulders, looking her in the eyes. She was angry but trying to hide it. He knew she would get over it, but she needed to let it fester for a little bit. “Look, don’t be mad at her, or me for that matter. Our hearts were in the right place and from the look on your face when you talked about him, I think you like him.”
“I do like him. Damn it, I didn’t want to. But he was so sweet and such a good guy; let’s not even talk about how gorgeous he is,” she hung her head and placed it on Damon’s shoulder.
“What? What else aren’t you saying?”
“He never said a thing about my weight or how I look, he just told me I was beautiful,” she looked up at Damon, her eyes glassy with unshed tears. “Nobody has ever been that way with me. Well, nobody but you, so that means something to me.”
Damon gave her another hug, “Why would he say anything about your weight? There’s nothing wrong with it. Besides, I’d kick his ass if he said anything rude to you. This just proves we made the right decision to introduce the two of you. So, are you two getting together when he’s in town this weekend?”
Her head snapped up, and she stepped back, “I didn’t know he was coming to town this weekend. I talked to him last night, and he never mentioned it,” all of the sweetness in her voice ebbed away, leaving behind bitter disappointment.
“Shit, I didn’t know he didn’t tell you. Fuck, I bet it was supposed to be a surprise. Pretend I didn’t say anything, okay?”
“Yeah, no worries,” she replied. Knowing it wouldn’t be a problem. This just seemed like more evidence that she was definitely in the friend zone.
~ * ~
The next morning Juliana’s head was throbbing, and she could barely move. In hindsight, coming home from work and drinking two bottles of wine with dinner was not the smartest idea she’d ever had. But she was upset about Chris’ omission that he was coming to New York. The fact that Damon knew and she didn’t drove home the fact that the two of them had been speaking to one another since the Vermont excursion had ended. Meaning Damon had known the details of the trip before he asked her about them yesterday. Although, she wanted to know what Chris had actually told Damon.
She was an idiot because none of that even registered in her head until she was home and the wine had been uncorked. Actually, she was halfway through the first bottle when it dawned on her. Juliana always thought that when you drank your mind got cloudy. Evidently, it was opposite for her because she replayed her conversations and everything became crystal clear. Well, everything was clear except the part of her brain screaming that the wine was the enemy and she needed to stop drinking.
As she lay in bed and stared at the ceiling, she tried to concentrate on her breathing to keep herself from throwing up. So far, so good. She could force herself out of bed and into the shower so that she could prepare for work. Or, she could tell work to fuck off for the day, stay in bed and wallow in self-pity. She reached for her phone, calling Damon’s voicemail, letting him know she was sick and not going to make it into the office. She then dialed the voicemail for her secretary, Kelly, to leave the same message.
She then propped herself up in bed, turning on the TV. Juliana’s work schedule was not conducive to watching TV, or movies for that matter. She was the butt of many jokes for her lack of understanding basic pop culture references; she didn’t really care. Today would be her day to make up for it, though. She would binge watch movies on TV and eat her feelings. And pray that Chris would not invade her mind.
~ * ~
Damon didn’t knock, he just walked into Juliana’s office with two cups of coffee in hand. Placing one of the large cups in front of her, he took his regular seat across from her, “Feeling better this morning?”
Juliana took her glasses off, placing them on top of her head. Picking up the coffee cup, she carefully took a sip, then settled back into her chair. “Yeah, the pounding headache is gone, and I’ve lost the sudden urge to throw up every few minutes.”
“You were fine the night before. Was your illness caused by my mention of Evans coming to town and the fact you didn’t know about it?” She took another sip of her coffee, then shook her head to indicate he was barking up the wrong tree.
“Hmmm, are you sure?” Damon leaned forward, placing his coffee cup on her desk. “I could see the surprise in your eyes when I mentioned it. Admittedly, I think I blew his surprise, and he’ll kick my ass for it. But since you’re avoiding him, and he’s calling me to see if you’re okay, it’s making me think. I mean, I realize you’re the CFO and all, but one and one is looking like it equals two.”
Juliana sat her coffee down on her desk, she was resigned at this point. “Fine, I’ll tell you this because you know I’m a horrible liar. I was upset when you said he was coming to town and I didn’t know about it. So, I had two bottles of wine with dinner, and I had a killer hangover yesterday.”
“So, did you lay in bed all day, eating your feelings and watching old movies?” Her eyes went wide at his comment. “What? That’s what you’ve always done since you were a kid. You are so predictable, Jules.”
“Uh, yeah. But there was only one Cary Grant movie that I could find, so I had to watch newer movies. You’re going to think I’m nuts but I was thinking of Chris so much, ever movie I watched I kept thinking the male actor looked just like him!”
Damon gave Juliana a quizzical smile, but let that statement go, for now. “Ok, what am I missing, Jules? You told me you had a great time in the cabin with him and gave me the impression the two of you spent the entire week in bed together. I even told Veronica that you’re eyes danced when you talked about it and I could swear you were in deep already,” he took another sip from his coffee cup and then looked back at her. “Now you’re upset about him, drinking wine, getting hungover, watching movies, and eating your feelings. So, what happened?”
Juliana stood from her desk and walked over to the wet bar, pulling a bottle of water out of the small refrigerator. She began walking back towards Damon when she jumped into her theory, “I think I’ve been friend-zoned,” as the words came out of her mouth she noticed the look of confusion on Damon’s face. “Chris and I have talked on the phone since Vermont, but it’s all just general conversation. He’s been in Boston, and there has been no reference to what happened between us at the cabin. I mean absolutely no mention of it, Damon. It’s like he regrets it but its okay for us to be friends, but he has no interest outside of that. So, I’m in the friend-zone. And when you mentioned he’s coming to town, but he never told me, well it sealed my belief.”
“Never in my life did I think I would utter this phrase. OMG are you nuts? Chris has not friend-zoned you, far from it,” Damon stood up and walked over to his best friend, putting his hands on her shoulder, forcing her to look into his eyes. “I swear, if you weren’t a girl, I’d slap you stupid right now.”
“How can you be so certain?”
“Because Evans has told me, he’s crazy about you, that’s why! He’s said so much about the trip to Vermont, I had to tell him to stop because you’re my best friend and it was getting weird for me to hear it. I swear you let your insecurities get to you; you’re your own worst enemy. Get it into your head that the guy likes you. Just stop thinking and go with it.”
“I think you’re making it up to make me feel better,” she scoffed at him.
“Shit, Juliana I’d never lie to you about something like this. Matter of fact, when it’s come to men and your relationships, have I ever lied to you?” She looked down at the floor, thinking of what he was asking. “Let me answer that for you. No, I’ve always told you the truth, even when it was hard to hear.”
“I just can’t help but think he might be too good to be true. You know that saying if it seems to good to be true then it probably is? I can’t help but feel this feels too much like a fairytale, Damon. That shit is not real, Walt Disney lied.”
“Jesus, you think Disney lied because he isn’t galloping into town on a white horse. But I’m telling you that you won’t find anyone more Disney than Evans, he is practically a walking Prince Charming. The dude has an unhealthy relationship with Disney,” he was starting to laugh at his own joke. “Look, not all guys are assholes like your ex. Besides, if memory serves, I told you he was an ass and not to go out with him, but you did it anyway. So, for once, listen to me and realize Evans is the right guy for you. Give him a chance.”
“Fine, I’ll quit overthinking it and just go with it. Just promise me you won’t do that whole ‘I told you so’ bit?”
Damon got up from his chair, walking toward her door to leave, “I’m making no such promises, my dear. But I’ll take it under advisement,” he put his hand on the door and pulled it open. He started to walk through the threshold and suddenly turned back around, “By the way, what movies were you watching that made you think of Evans?”
“Oh, some teen movie. The guy looked just like Chris but younger, no beard and black hair. And then there was this movie about a girl and the number of men she’s slept with, that guy looked like him, too. There there was this actor in some movie, and he was skateboarding. I’m telling you, everywhere I looked I saw him on the screen.”
Damon began laughing hysterically, and Juliana stared at him with a look of extreme confusion on her face. “You really are precious. Sweetie, did Evans ever tell you what he does for a living?”
“No, but I figured he was some sort of businessman like you. Why?”
“No reason, but you need to ask him about his career, though. Make sure if he takes you out to dinner this weekend that you ask him,” and with that, Damon closed the door as he walked out. She could hear him cackle all the way down the hall.