Tell Me Lies
Leigh sat upon a stool at a hipster coffee shop in Brooklyn, waiting. It was early, too early for all of the tables to be occupied, but she ignored them to sit in front of the window, hoping to get a glimpse of her date.
Taking another look at her phone to view the profile picture, Leigh let out a soft sigh. If this woman was one tenth as attractive as her photo, at the very least Leigh would have a pretty face to gaze at over coffee. Not that good looks alone would save the day, of course. She’d learned the hard way that personality was worth a hell of a lot more than looks. But she still hadn’t been able to truly convince herself to focus on the important things. She didn’t want to be shallow. She really didn’t. But dating apps truly did amplify her tendency to be that way.
She’d been using this app for over a year, and hadn’t yet responded to anyone who wasn’t conventionally pretty. But checking that box off hadn’t given her much of a leg up. It wasn’t just that most people didn’t seem to have much self-awareness. A lot of them were stone-cold liars!
She shivered when she thought of the self-described shy introvert who’d been such a blowhard Leigh was sure the clocks had stopped. That had been two of the longest hours of her entire life. But that woman was a ton of fun compared to the one who said family was her top priority—then proceeded to malign each member in ways that would have gotten her sued if any of them had heard her rant. The prettiest woman in the world wouldn’t have been worth that kind of nastiness, but Leigh had, once again, clicked on today’s prospect without even reading her profile.
Brooke Henson hit every attribute that made Leigh’s pulse race. But now that they were about to meet, she was determined to not let that overly influence her. They’d meet, she’d hopefully be knocked off her feet by Brooke’s gorgeousness, then they’d get down to the business of actually seeing if they clicked.
Taking a glance at her watch, she allowed herself to text Brooke, who was now ten minutes late. Timeliness was such an issue for her, she was proud of the fact that she’d waited this long.
“I’m at the coffee shop. Your ETA?” She added a smily face, just to show she wasn’t overly rigid.
The ellipsis flashed on her phone, showing a response was about to arrive.
“I’m right here. At a table.”
Leigh stood and let her gaze travel over the room. One bearded guy wearing a flannel-shirt, a man and a woman trying to soothe a crying infant, a pair of gay guys who looked like they were still out from their Saturday night, and a woman she hadn’t even noticed upon her arrival.
As Leigh moved toward her, the woman looked up and smiled. Her smile was nice, for sure, but the rest of her was not. Wow. If this was Brooke, she’d stolen her profile picture from a much prettier woman.
Instead of dark, wavy, shoulder-length hair, this woman had little wisps sticking out haphazardly from beneath a stocking cap, navy blue with a white “Y” on the front.
Given that it was nine o’clock on a Sunday morning, Leigh had assumed Brooke might not look as polished as she did in the profile picture, but she’d assumed she’d at least be in the same zip code. But the moderate eye makeup and smooth, blemish-free complexion from the photo were nowhere in sight. Instead, blotchy red welts marred pale cheeks, and if she was wearing eye makeup it was obscured by thick glasses which partially hid her tiny, red-rimmed eyes.
“You’re not Brooke, are you?”
The woman stood and extended her hand, with a big smile revealing a great set of teeth. She should have boasted about them. They really were impressive.
“I am,” she said, with a smooth, warm voice that made her sound like she could have been a voice-over artist. “You must be Leigh. Great to meet you.”
There had to be a way to bail without being a total jerk, but Leigh couldn’t think of one. So she decided to take her medicine and do the right thing. They’d have a cup of coffee, then she’d take off and head right back to Manhattan.
Carefully composing her expression, Leigh convinced her mouth to smile. “Good to meet you too. Can I get you a refill?” she asked, gesturing toward the counter.
“I think I’m okay. I’ve been here a while. As I said in my profile, I’m a stickler for being on time.”
“I am too. I’ve been…” She trailed off, unwilling to admit she hadn’t noticed Brooke, even though there were only six people in the shop. “I assumed I’d beaten you here, so I just sat by the window and people watched.”
“Not many people beat me to an appointment,” she said, revealing those gorgeous teeth again. She held up her mug. “Go ahead and get some. I’ll be right here.”
“Will do.” Leigh put her bag down on the table, then fished out her wallet. She opted for a latte, even though it was over four dollars for a small mug, a lot of money for Brooklyn. But when the barista set it on the counter, she had to admit it was a little work of art, with a creamy looking flower lying amid the foam.
She set her mug down on Brooke’s table, then took a seat. “So,” she said, smiling with satisfaction as she took a sip. “I always find these meetings kind of awkward. How about you?”
“I did at first,” Brooke said. “But I’ve had a lot of them, and practice must make…” She smiled again. “They haven’t been perfect, so I’m not sure how to end that sentence. Have you had much luck?”
“Not much. Very little, in fact. But given my schedule, I don’t have many options for meeting people.”
“You’ve already been through all of the available prospects at work?” Brooke said, playfully raising an eyebrow.
“I don’t meet many women professionally,” Leigh said. “Well, I meet them, but I can’t date them. I’m an obstetrician,” she added, laughing when Brooke’s eyes got big.
“Attending a birth would be a really inopportune time to make an overture,” Brooke said, chuckling. “Many years ago, I was a friend’s birth coach.” She slapped her red cheeks with both hands. “I had no idea how common it was for people to just stroll by and stick a hand right up a woman’s…” She shook her head slightly. “That experience reinforced my decision to limit myself to being a good godmother.”
“Giving birth isn’t for wimps,” Leigh agreed. “I take it you do something that doesn’t require an intimate knowledge of a woman’s anatomy.”
“I could get by without knowing women exist. I’m an attorney,” she said. “Not as exciting as bringing little people into the world, but my liability insurance isn’t as high as yours, either.”
“Not many peoples’ are. What kind of law do you practice?”
“I started off in corporate law, but didn’t get much satisfaction from that. Now I work mostly with refugees, and I can’t wait to get into work in the morning.” She smiled. “I work a lot of hours, but my schedule’s probably more predictable than yours.” Brooke lifted her mug and drained it, then regarded it with what looked like longing. “I’d get another, but…” She shrugged. “Five dollars a day for coffee is my max.”
Leigh stared at her for a second, unsure if she was kidding. But when Brooke pushed the mug away, that made it clear she was not. While almost five bucks was a crazy amount of money to pay for a cup of coffee, what attorney couldn’t drop an extra five and not even notice? “Uhm, would you like me to get you another? I’m happy to…”
“No, but thanks. I value special things more when I know they’re limited.” She seemed pensive as she ran her finger around the rim of the mug. “If I could have as many as I wanted, I wouldn’t appreciate each one nearly as much.”
“I guess I can see that,” Leigh said. “I drink more coffee than I should, but when you’re up at three a.m. delivering a baby, you can’t afford to nod off.”
“Don’t talk about nodding off,” Brooke said, looking up with alarm. “I only got a few hours sleep.” She tugged at her stocking cap, letting a few strands of hair tumble from it. “It hasn’t been my day so far. The water heater in the building was on the fritz, and by the time the plumber arrived I literally had to run to be on time.” Plucking at her white, long-sleeved T-shirt with some charitable event advertised, she said, “I probably should have just been late, but I thought it was more important to be on time than to look good.”
“You look fine,” Leigh said, boldly lying. But Brooke wasn’t bad looking, not at all. It was just that she hadn’t tried to look better. Her shirt made her look very washed-out, and it didn’t help that it was oversized, revealing nothing of the body underneath.
“I should have taken a cold shower,” she said soberly. “You obviously put a lot of effort into looking nice.” Her head tilted up and down as she took Leigh in. “You spent some time making that French braid look perfect, and your cheeks have some color. Given we haven’t had any sun in what feels like months, and a good doctor would never go to a tanning booth, you took the time to not look like a ghost.” Rolling her eyes, she pointed at herself. “Like I do.”
“I wasn’t out late like you were,” Leigh said, not about to agree that she looked better—even though there was no question that she did.
“I wasn’t out late either. I used a new detergent and must be allergic to it. I’ve got welts all over my body,” she added, looking a little chagrined. “I was up half the night scratching, then took an antihistamine that knocked me out cold. If I hadn’t set my alarm, I’d still be asleep.”
“You can have your doctor write you a prescription for an ointment that will help. And it won’t make you drowsy.”
“Mmm,” she sighed. “I don’t go to the doctor for things like this. I’ve got a super high deductible, which I never reach. What’s the joke?” she asked, tilting her chin in question. “I’ve got health access, but I don’t have health care.”
“I don’t keep up with dermatology, or I’d write you a prescription.”
“I’ll be fine. If I look around my parents’ house, they’ll probably have something I can use.”
“Not a good idea,” Leigh chided.
“I know, but they have a bulging medicine cabinet full of things they use a few times and let go to waste.”
“They’re simply getting old. It’s one little thing after another. You know how it is.”
She honestly didn’t have first hand experience, having parents who were in their early sixties, but she had some idea. “Uhm, do you spend much time with them?”
“All the time. They can’t afford live-in care, so I have to check in on them constantly. It seems like all I do is work and take care of my parents.”
Leigh took another look at Brooke, amazed that she was revealing all of this. If she admitted to being a workaholic who was overly involved with her family, what was she hiding!
“Tell me about these refugees,” Leigh said, trying to steer the conversation onto brighter topics—not that people fleeing unstable governments was very bright.
The sunny smile that had covered Brooke’s blotchy face disappeared. “For the most part, they’re great people. They simply want safety for their kids and a chance to provide a better future for their families.”
“That sounds pretty universal.”
“Maybe. But if native-born people were as enthusiastic about living in America as these people are, we’d have a much happier country.” She looked down at her hands, pretty ones, with long, elegant fingers. “I hope I’d have the patience and the drive to do the same, but I’m not sure I would. I respect the hell out of most of my clients.”
“It must be rewarding work.”
“It is, and I’d recommend it to any lawyer who wants a fulfilling career. But it doesn’t pay well. Working for a non-profit isn’t going to pay for a new BMW.”
“Maybe a used one?” Leigh teased.
Brooke smiled and shook her head. “I don’t have a car, so I couldn’t say. I just know they’re expensive.”
“No. Never had one. Neither have my parents.” She looked thoughtful, then added, “Neither have my grandparents, for that matter.” She started to laugh. “No wonder the auto makers are having a tough time. We’re not doing our part!”
Her good humor about what were obviously lean times for her family was strangely charming. Generations of lean times, from the sound of it. “Uhm, where did you go to school? I see the “Y” on your hat. Isn’t that the Yale emblem?”
“Uh-huh,” she said, taking it off to give it a look. Her hair was definitely wavy under the hat, but it was stuck to her head like she’d had the thing on for three days. Where was the glossy perfection the profile photo promised? “Yale undergrad, Georgetown law. With luck, I’ll have my consolidation loans paid off before I retire. If I retire, which I probably won’t.”
“I’m a long way from retiring, but I have a dream about packing it in and traveling when I do.”
“Sounds nice,” Brooke said. “But I was asking where you went to school.”
“Oh! All of my schooling is from one place, the University of Iowa. Go Hawkeyes,” she said, grinning.
“One of my roommates went to Iowa,” Brooke said. “She loved it there.”
“One of your roommates?”
“I have three,” she said, acting like that was a perfectly normal number for a woman over forty to have. “I could never pay the bills without them.”
“How big is your apartment?” Leigh asked, hoping it was a rambling four bedroom, four bath.
“It’s a good-sized one bedroom with a dining room. Stunningly bad view to boot,” she added, with her little smile still showing peaceful acceptance of what must have been very dire circumstances. Sure, people had a hard time making it in the city, but if you had three roommates in a one bedroom when you were pushing fifty… No wonder she was sure she’d never be able to retire! “Where do you live?” Brooke asked.
“I got lucky,” Leigh said, even though she was lucky only in that she could afford to live exactly where she wanted. “I found a great one-bedroom two blocks from my office on the Upper East Side.” She was going to give her cross streets, but it was beyond rude to boast about your fantastic neighborhood when the person you were talking to was probably in a cold-water flat with the bathtub in the kitchen.
“Own or rent?”
“Own,” she said quietly, a little ashamed of her good fortune.
“Nice. I can see why you wanted to move to New York. If you can afford to live close to work, it’s a fabulous city, isn’t it?”
“I’ve grown to love it,” Leigh agreed. “How about you? Been here long?”
“I’m fifth generation. Being in Connecticut for college and D.C. for law school had me at the end of my leash.”
“Fifth generation, huh? That’s longer than my family’s been in America.”
“We’ve been here a while, and we like it so much we never go anywhere else. I have no interest in a change of venue.” She playfully placed her hand over her mouth. “Lawyer jargon.”
“I could throw some medical jargon out there, but I’ll refrain. So you’re not much of a traveler?”
“Not so far. But you never know,” she said, with her smile growing brighter, her eyes mere slits behind those Coke-bottle glasses. “I’m pretty easy-going. The right woman could talk me into a lot of things.”
“No right woman so far?”
“Just one,” she said quietly, dropping her gaze. “We were together for over twenty years, but she’d had her fill of the city.” She shrugged, looking like she could easily cry. “She was older than I was, and had retired early. As I said, you can talk me into a lot, but moving to Wyoming was not on that long list.” After removing her glasses, Brooke wiped at her eyes with a napkin. “It’s been five years, but it still hurts.”
“She just left…?”
“She inherited a ranch, and wanted to work it. But I’ve only been on the horses at the carousel in Central Park, and those are wild enough for me.”
“That’s so sad,” Leigh said softly. “You couldn’t work out a compromise?”
“She didn’t really want one,” Brooke said, sniffling again. “She’d never loved New York, and when she got this opportunity she wanted me to give up everything that meant something to me to follow her.” She sighed heavily. “I would have been miserable in Muddy Gap.”
“That’s seriously the name of the town?” Leigh asked, trying not to laugh.
“It’s not a town. As she says, you’ve got to head toward town to hunt.” She looked up, fixing Leigh with a blank gaze. “I have no idea what that means.”
“I think that means she’s way, way out. Farther than the animals want to go.”
“But not so far that she couldn’t find a partner,” Brooke said. “She has to drive to Casper to see her, but they seem happy.” There was a gentle smile on her face when she met Leigh’s eyes. “I’m glad for that. I want what’s best for her, even though it was worse for me.”
“I’m not sure I’d be that magnanimous,” Leigh said, “but I know I should be.”
“How about you? Any cowgirls in your past?”
“No, no cowgirls. I’ve had some pretty good relationships, but none of them have lasted.” She shrugged. “When I was younger, I didn’t make my partner a priority. But I think I’ve learned that you have to work on a relationship just like you do anything that’s meaningful in your life. You can’t afford to take a woman for granted.”
“I learned the same thing,” Brooke said. “I should have known Cheyenne wanted to leave long before she told me she was determined to go.”
Leigh couldn’t stop herself from laughing a little. “Uhm, she was named after one of the cities, Brooke. That should have been a clue.”
It took her a second, then she started to laugh, eventually having to wipe her eyes again after really letting herself go. “Oh, god, I never thought of that! I wonder if I would have noticed if she’d been named Casper?”
“Well, you would have asked questions if she’d been named Muddy Gap. I’m sure of that.”
“Good one,” she said, still chuckling. “I’ll mention that the next time we talk.”
“You still talk?”
“Of course,” she said, looking a little puzzled. “I went out there for Christmas last year. Just because we had different goals doesn’t mean we have to be angry with one another.”
“So you do travel,” Leigh teased.
“Only to see friends. And after I nearly died from that cold wind, my next visit will be in August—at the latest. That was just stupid cold,” she said, clearly shivering just at the memory. “If I’d moved with her, we’d be broken up by now. I am definitely not the kind of person who likes slogging through snow to feed horses before dawn. So I saved myself a lot of money and time by not packing up.”
“You would have had fewer roommates if you’d gone,” Leigh joked.
“True,” she said, nodding as a little grin worked its way onto her face. “But I’d rather have bedbugs than live that far from a big city. And when a New Yorker would prefer bedbugs…”
“I read you loud and clear. I grew up near Ames, which is a good-sized city. But I much prefer New York. It fits me,” she said, realizing that was the proper term. “I love the variety. There’s nothing better than going to a new neighborhood and trying some unique food.”
“I’m with you on that,” Brooke said. “That’s why I don’t feel the urge to travel. I can get on the ‘D’ train, and get some of the best Chinese food this side of Beijing.”
“You can?” Leigh could feel her mouth begin to water. “I love Chinese food, but I don’t know where to get anything authentic. I went on a tour of China a few years ago, and I’ve been lusting for something better than my local takeout place ever since.”
The grin that appeared on Brooke’s face was full of enthusiasm. “Hey, if you’ll give me time to go home and start over, I can take you out for some fantastic dim sum in Sunset Park.”
Leigh stared at her for a second. If she was going to bail, now was her chance. They’d agreed only to have coffee, with both of them claiming some vague plans for the afternoon. But Brooke had clearly either made those up, as Leigh had, or she’d decided to cancel.
Peering through those thick glasses, Leigh forced herself to ignore the beady eyes, the blotchy skin, the poor fashion choices. Then she had to forget about the three roommates, the inability to pay for two cups of coffee, the staggering student debt, the demanding, infirm parents. That was a lot to ignore, but when she let herself focus only on Brooke—her calm, peaceful presence, her ability to love and lose while not becoming bitter, her concern for her fellow man, along with her obviously sharp intelligence, she found herself nodding. “I’d love to,” she said, standing up to shrug into her coat. “But it’s cold out today. Sure you want to explore?”
“It’s not stupid cold,” Brooke said as she helped her into her work coat, a long wool one. Then Brooke put on her own, a bright orange down jacket more appropriate for a teenager than an adult woman.
They stood outside of the shop for a moment, then Brooke decisively took her elbow to lead her down Seventh Avenue. “I’m just a few blocks away,” she said. “I guarantee it’ll only take me twenty minutes to look half as nice as you do.”
“You look fine,” Leigh said. “Really.”
“I can’t bear to wear these glasses another minute. But my eyes were so swollen when I woke up I couldn’t think of putting my contacts in.” She took off the glasses and blinked in the cold sun. “They feel a little better. Do they look normal? The second dose of antihistamines should have helped by now.”
Leigh looked into beautiful, warm brown eyes, not beady in the least, with just a little puffiness around the lids. “They look perfectly normal,” she said, hoping Brooke dumped the glasses post haste. “Your skin isn’t as blotchy as it was, either.”
“Compliments you’d like to never hear,” Brooke said, chuckling. “That’s like ‘You stink less than you used to.’”
“No!” Leigh turned, relieved to see a placid smile on Brooke’s lips. “You’re the one who mentioned your skin. It didn’t look bad.”
“That’s a lie. I’m surprised you didn’t take off the moment you saw me. Blotchy skin, unwashed hair, glasses so thick I could use them to roast bugs on the sidewalk…”
“Oh, don’t be silly,” she said, angry with herself for almost doing just that.
Taking a turn east, they started to walk down a tree-lined street filled with brownstones. Each had a stoop, an iconic detail that Leigh loved. “When I go to Brooklyn, I’m usually either downtown or in Dumbo,” she said. “I’ve never been to a neighborhood that seems so…old New York. You could use this street to film period movies.”
“They do,” Brooke said, giving her a smile. “All of the time.”
“This is all residential?” Leigh asked.
“Uh-huh. The neighborhood is landmarked. You have to get permission to make the slightest change to the exterior of any residence.”
They’d only walked about half a block when Brooke paused in front of a three story brownstone with a basement apartment marked by a door half below grade. “Here’s my rabbit burrow,” she said, chuckling. “At least that’s what my mom calls it.”
“Nice building,” Leigh said, unable to imagine how Brooke and three roommates all fit into what had probably been the servant’s quarters.
Brooke opened the door, a lovely one, with the house number painted in gold on the beveled glass window inset. Leigh walked in, finding herself in a darkish living room. But while it wasn’t flooded with light, it had plenty of charm that grew when Brooke flicked on the lamps. Her decorating style was a little modern, with a few old pieces thrown in, harkening back a hundred years to when the building was new.
It was a warm room, with both earth tones and dark red and orange accents to make pillows and knick-knacks pop.
“Is this all yours?” Leigh asked.
“Mine?” She took her coat off and hung it on a coat tree by the front door. “Whose else…?”
“I thought some of this might be your roommates’.”
“My roommates.” Her head cocked for a second, then she started to laugh. “I call them roommates, but that’s kind of a joke. They’re my tenants.” She pointed up. “I inherited the building from my grandparents almost ten years ago.”
“You did?” She stared at her, dumbstruck. “You own the building?”
“The bank owns it for the foreseeable future. I had to spend a stunning amount of money to rehab the whole place, but I’m able to pay the mortgage with the rent.” She shrugged. “My mom thinks I’m crazy to live in the garden apartment when I could have the top floor, but I like it down here. It suits me,” she said, grinning. “Now let’s see if we’ve got any hot water. If we don’t, I’m going to shower anyway, so wish me luck.”
“Best of luck,” Leigh said, then sat in a modern chair that cradled her in an embrace. “Nice,” she said, speaking louder so Brooke could hear her.
“That’s one of my favorite pieces,” she agreed. “Feel free to look around. I’ll just be a few minutes.”
Not comfortable poking around alone, Leigh satisfied herself by checking out the titles on the built-in bookcases that flanked a small fireplace that might have actually been operable. Brooke read a lot, which was a very positive trait. If you met a fellow reader, you could always while away an afternoon just talking about books.
Since she hadn’t heard any screaming or cursing, Leigh assumed the hot water was back on. After a few minutes, she heard it stop, then a hair dryer began to whine. After it shut off, she heard Brooke again. “I’m getting there,” she promised.
“No rush. I’m getting my taste buds ready for dim sum.”
“Mmm. My favorite. And it’s so much more fun to go with someone. If we order different things, we’ll have twice as many dishes to try.”
“What’s your favorite?” Leigh asked.
“I have no idea,” she said, making a lot of noise as she got dressed. Drawers opened and closed, hangers slid down rods, and fabric rustled. “I go to the same place all of the time, and they know me a little. They bring the things they think I’ll like, and if it looks edible, I take it. I’m sure I’ve eaten some items I wouldn’t try if I knew what they were, so I don’t ask.”
“Interesting tactic,” Leigh said. “I had things in China that I’m sure wouldn’t be on my list in America, but part of the fun of travel is going outside your comfort zone.”
“Too true,” Brooke said. “One more minute so I don’t look so ghost-like.”
“You don’t look like a ghost,” Leigh insisted. “You’re just fair-skinned.”
“That’s why they make things to put color in your cheeks,” Brooke said. “Almost there.” She was putting items down on the bathroom sink, making sharp, metallic sounds, then she let out a resigned sigh. “I’m not at my best, but there’s been a definite improvement,” she decided.
When she entered the room, Leigh stared at her, slack-jawed. Hair wavy and glossy, just ticking the neck of her deep red turtleneck sweater. Eyes brown and lustrous, wide open and warm. Gone was the pasty, blotchy skin. Now her cheeks were smooth and tinted pink, making her look like she’d just come off the ski slope.
Brooke’s legs were encased in snug jeans that showed them off to great effect. Lastly, winter boots made her two inches taller, giving her a long, lean, polished look.
“You look better than your profile picture,” Leigh said, unable to hide her surprise.
“Oh, good.” She checked herself out in the mirror in the hallway. “I just use the photo posted on my firm’s website. I think I look a little stuffy in it.” As she walked back into the living room, she gave Leigh a level look and said, “Might as well get this out of the way right now.” She took a breath. “I lied about a few things this morning.”
“Uh-huh. My parents aren’t infirm.”
Stunned, Leigh said, “What kind of thing is that to lie about?”
“Well, the story about spending all of my time with my parents was true, but it was my grandparents I did that for. The ones who left me the building.”
“Ooo. They’re dead now?”
“Uh-huh. My grandmother held on until she was a hundred and one. She refused to leave the building, so we lived down here and took care of her.” She looked a little crestfallen when she added, “Doing that might have pushed Cheyenne over the edge. She was happier in Manhattan—where we had a view and were close to the park.”
Touched, Leigh said, “You were a good granddaughter to help out.”
She shrugged, looking a little embarrassed. “My parents are nearly eighty, so it’s just a matter of time before they need my help too. When that happens, I’m going to be there for them. So I’m not interested in going out with someone who runs from that kind of commitment.”
“That’s not how I’d put it,” Brooke said, coming closer. “But you didn’t bolt, so yes, technically, you did.”
“Any other lies?”
“Mmm, not lies, but I made it sound like I work for a non-profit, which I don’t.”
“Why lie about that?”
She shrugged. “I’m sick of dating women who like me partially, or wholly because I make a good salary. So if I don’t admit that I do, I don’t have that problem.”
“Who do you work for?”
“A big firm on Madison. I run the pro-bono department, and we really are working on refugee cases nonstop these days, so that was barely a lie.”
Leigh cocked her head and stared at her for a minute, pleased when Brooke fidgeted, knowing she was under the gun. “I like your tactic,” she finally said. “It’s an efficient way of making sure you don’t waste time on someone who doesn’t share your values.” She stopped and gave her a narrow-eyed glance. “Did you intentionally dress like you’d been up all night?”
“No,” Brooke said, laughing. “I really did have an allergic reaction, and I really didn’t have hot water. But I was kind of glad all of that happened,” she said, smiling brightly. “If you didn’t mind that I looked nothing like my profile picture, you’re obviously not overly hung up on looks.”
“I am a little bit,” Leigh said, moving closer. “But I know how silly that is. I’m trying to reform,” she insisted.
Brooke grabbed a different coat, this one more professional, matching Leigh’s in style.
“Do you have a ton of student loans?”
“Wish I didn’t, but I do. My parents earned too much to let me qualify for aid, and they’re strong believers in only going to schools you can afford.” She laughed a little. “It’s been over twenty years now, so I’m a lot less angry than I was then. But that’s why I went to work at a large firm. I needed the dough!”
“Fascinating,” Leigh said, smiling when Brooke helped her with her coat. They started for the door, but she stopped again. “Can you really only afford five dollars a day for coffee?”
“Afford? I’m sure I didn’t say I couldn’t afford it,” she said, looking puzzled. “Maybe I said something about scarcity?”
“You said you appreciated it more when you didn’t have as much.”
“All true,” Brooke said, grasping the knob to open the door. “But that’s not true when it comes to dim sum,” she said, chuckling. “All bets are off when those little silver dishes come by, taunting me. Then I believe that more is best.”
As they walked up the few stairs to street level, Leigh said, “You really have an ex who moved to Wyoming, right?”
“Absolutely right. And I’m still pretty sad about how that went down. But I’m open to finding someone new. Actually, I’m open to a whole lot of things,” she added, smiling with the confidence of a good lawyer. “I think you’re going to be impressed.”
“I already am, counselor.” She looked up at the building, tall and stately, and elegant. “I might date you just for the apartment.”
“Ha! Wait until you see me argue before an immigration judge. That’s when I’m at my best.”
Leigh reached over and placed her hand around Brooke’s arm, with the touch feeling completely natural. “I’ll rearrange my schedule to be there, because if you haven’t been your best yet, I can hardly wait to see it.”