I shouldn’t be tired but I am. I’ve been up since four in the morning getting everything done before I take the rest of the week off even if it means I’m really still working, just not showing my face at the office.
Right now, the holiday party is rocking with free drinks flowing from the bar and everyone I know taking their selfies in front of the window that features a view of the Empire State Building all alight in holiday colors. Too bad everyone’s still discussing business. Whose account did they snag before the year’s end? What deal did they manage to close? Did we finish the models?
I glance at my watch. Nine o’clock. Still too early to leave. But even if I went straight home, I’d still be wide up until about two in the morning, probably doing statistical analysis and risk modeling or playing one of my roleplaying games with online friends based around the world.
I finish my drink, something Roxy made for me that’s actually pretty good. Who knew she was dating some bartender and is now tagging along with him learning how to mix drinks herself? She’s Caitlin’s best friend though I never really got to know her well at all, she’s pretty cool for an ICU nurse and wanna-be bartender. Too bad I never got to talk to her at all. The bar was slammed.
“So you really are taking time off, huh? I can’t believe it. You flying off somewhere warm? Bahamas maybe?”
I turn to see Mick, one of the analysts working for me, preparing risk reports and running back-test, quantitative analysis of trading strategies. Only thirty, he’s already balding around the temples.
“Nah, I’m staying in town this time.”
“I would have thought you’d be in the Caribbean somewhere enjoying a Mai Tai or something.”
“I always stay for the holidays, man,” I say. “What about you?”
“I’ve got a few models to finish up before the new year,” he replies, shrugging. “Then it’s two days with family in Delaware. What about you? Any family out here?”
“Extended,” I reply, realizing it’s probably the first time Mitch and I have ever talked about family. But he’s also drunk, the glass in his hand already empty. I don’t want to tell him that my mother is spending the holidays in Florida with my stepdad, where it’s warmer and better for her arthritis. She always spends the winters there and I don’t mind it. The rest of the year, she and Warren live in a renovated flat in Brooklyn.
My thoughts are suddenly interrupted when I see one of the senior analysts walk in with his date and my heart skips a beat. Cait? Here?
I do a double take to make sure it’s her, and it sure is. Flaming red hair, porcelain skin and that dazzling smile. Too bad she’s flashing that smile at the last man I’d expected to see her with, Carter Malcolm, top senior analyst for Ettinger Holdings.
Why didn’t Roxy tell me Cait was coming?
My jaw clenches as Carter’s hand lowers down to the curve of Caitlin’s back. Questions race through my mind: How long have they known each other? How did they meet? Social media? Her brother?
I frown when Carter introduces Caitlin to the guys he hangs out with, the same guys he boasts about every exploit, each ‘win’ lauded with a nickname for each woman, names I can’t even imagine pinned on Caitlin, my best friend’s sister.
I excuse myself from Mitch and walk toward Caitlin and Carter. She sees me approaching before Carter does and within seconds, she’s in my arms, the smell of her shampoo filling my senses. Lilac, reminding me of freshly baked chocolate cookies from her mother’s kitchen that Jordan and I would chow down and then riding our bikes down the street to the park where we’d play ball with the other kids. How long had it been since I last saw her? Eight months? A year?
“Campbell, I can’t believe you’re here!” she exclaims as I let her down. Just a few inches shorter than my 6’2” frame, she’s received offers to model but every time she’s refused, choosing to bury her nose in her research about molecules and disease. “Did you get my texts?”
I stare at her. “Crap. I did but I forgot to reply. Sorry, Cait.”
She shrugs. “That’s okay because this is the best Christmas present ever.”
Behind her, Carter clears his throat. “Small world. How do you two know each other?”
“She’s my best friend’s sister,” I reply. “So you better be nice, man.” There’s an edge in my voice that I hadn’t intended to come out but I can’t help it. He better not give her a nickname like he’s done to every woman he’s dated.
“Yup, he sure is,” Caitlin says, beaming.
“So how do you guys know each other?” I ask.
“Roxy,” they both answer in unison. As they laugh at their timing, it all makes sense. Roxy’s all about matchmaking her friends although her matches have proven themselves faulty at best. She thinks opposites attract but in New York, even if they do, they don’t tend to last too long. After two attempts to pin me on a blind date, she knows better than to match me with anyone. I’m too busy and so I end up dating someone I know through work or who works out at the gym.
“Hey, babe, why don’t we join the party?” Carter says, his hand drifting down the small of her back. “They don’t call this place one of the hottest places to party for nothing.”
Before I can say goodbye, Carter whisks her away and I watch them disappear into the crowd. Great. Now I’m not about to head home early like I’d planned. I’ve always been protective of Caitlin whenever her older brother isn’t around and knowing the guys at my office, I can’t help but feel even more protective than I already do. Besides, if Jordan knew of Carter’s reputation, I’m sure he’d do the same thing.
But as Mitch and the other guys from my department beckon for me to join them by the window, I remind myself that Caitlin’s no longer in junior high. She’s twenty-five, old enough to do whatever she wants, even if it’s being jerk Carter Malcolm’s holiday party date.
Two hours later, I’m pretty much done holiday-ing. Caitlin’s date seems to be going well and I’m happy for her… or I try to be. I’m worried about all the drinks she’s having, but just as I reminded myself ten minutes earlier and ten minutes before that, Cait’s old enough to take care of herself. I’m not here as her chaperone.
Suddenly I see her stumble past me alone. Whoa! Where’s Carter? I get up from the bar and catch up with her at the coat check counter.
“Cait? Is everything okay? Where’s Carter?”
“He’s…” she pauses and rolls her eyes, crossing her arms in front of her chest. “He’s busy.”
“What do you mean, busy?”
“I went to ladies room and when I returned, he was making out with some girl,” she says. “She was dancing with us just an hour ago and…” she pauses, shrugging. “Whatever. It’s just not cool, you know, to dump me like that all because I kept saying no to him.”
I feel my jaw clench. “What did he do?”
“Nothing, though heaven knows he wanted to. He kept pulling me toward that damn mistletoe over there.” She points toward the Christmas tree in the far corner where someone stuck a mistletoe on the wall next to it. “But I shut that shit down right away.”
“Good for you.”
“At least I had sex with the bartender.”
She laughs. “I knew I’d get you, Cam. It’s a drink Roxy made for me. It’s called Sex with the Bartender. Like Sex on the Beach, only it’s with rum. Well, I have no idea what’s in either of them, to be honest, but it was good. So so good.”
I frown. “How many drinks did you have, Cait?”
“I had Sex with the Bartender this much.” She holds up three fingers. Actually she can’t seem to know how many fingers she’s holding up. First, it’s two fingers, then three. Shit. Two or three, that’s still a lot of rum for a girl who doesn’t drink much.
“Wow, Cait, that’s a lot.” I also think she’s drunk.
“Anyway, I’m leaving,” she announces as I follow her to the elevator and she starts punching the buttons until she hits the one for the lobby. “I need to call a cab. Do you have a phone?”
“Where’s yours?” Please don’t tell me you didn’t bring your phone, Cait.
“Oh! It’s in my purse!” She laughs and as she stumbles into the elevator, it hits me. She really is drunk.
“Hey, Cait, why don’t I take you home?”
“Why? I’m fine.”
Because I’ll never forgive myself if I don’t. “Because Jordan would never forgive me if I don’t.”
She thinks for a few moments. “I don’t know. I should be fine. Besides, I don’t want you taking me all the way home and then having to drive back to the city. I mean, you live here.”
The elevator doors open and we step out onto the lobby, stopping only when we get to the front doors.
“Oh wow. It’s raining,” she says matter-of-factly.
“It’s also two in the morning,” I say as I glance at my watch. I can’t believe I stayed late but there was no way I was leaving without making sure Caitlin was okay. Just like there’s no way I’m putting her in a cab alone. “Hey, why don’t you stay over my place for the night? I’ll drive you home in the morning.”
She peers at me, her green eyes sparkling. “You sure it’s okay? Aren’t you with anyone?”
“Of course, I’m sure. And no, I didn’t come with anyone tonight. Come on.” I take her hand and lead her out the front doors just as a cab stops in front of us. “That’s service for you.”
“Small world, isn’t it? I’m so glad you’re here, Cam,” Caitlin says as she slides into the back seat and follow right after her. I give the driver my address and we sit in silence, gazing out the window as rain starts to fall harder. “We just missed that, didn’t we? So much for my idea to go home in this rain.”
It’s actually no big deal but at two in the morning, I’d rather she stay at my apartment and sober up. “Yeah, me, too, Cait.”
Ten minutes later, we arrive at my apartment building, walking past the sleepy doorman toward the elevator. It’s an older building but just as expensive as every other building around it simply because it’s Manhattan for you. And Midtown.
I unlock the door to my one-bedroom high-rise apartment and we step inside. As Caitlin shrugs off her coat, her jaw drops at the sight beyond the full-length window at the other end of the apartment. “Wow! You have a view of the Empire State Building! Jory wasn’t kidding when he said you did.”
“He and your dad helped renovate this place. Come to think of it, I think you’re the only O’Halloran who hasn’t seen it in person.” As Caitlin slips off her boots and heads for the window, I remember how the view was the only saving grace about the apartment when I first bought it four years ago. Fresh out of Harvard, I was young, bright-eyed, and deep in student loan debt. So why not incur more debt by living in the city? At least, the renovation didn’t cost me anything other than my enthusiastic referrals of O’Halloran Builders to colleagues and friends.
But no matter the cost associated with living in the city, this apartment was also been one of the best decisions I’ve made. It had me living close to the financial heart of the city where I was determined to make my mark and never find myself at the mercy of someone else.
Sitting on the couch, Caitlin pulls out her phone from her purse and dials a number. “I’m letting Mom and Dad know where I am before they freak out. They’re at a party in New Jersey but they should be home by now.”
I join Caitlin on the couch and listen to her leave a message to her parents telling them she’s with me and that she’ll be home the next day. After she hangs up the phone and sets it on the coffee table, we watch the lights at the top of the Empire State Building change colors for a few minutes before I see her yawn.
“Wow. Sorry about that,” she says. “It sure is a beautiful sight, though. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the city like this before. You could totally fall asleep to the view, right?”
“Yep, you sure can,” I say, getting up from the couch. “You sure you gonna be okay?”
“Yeah, I’ll be fine. I think I may have had two of those drinks, so it’s not so bad.”
“I’ll set out an extra toothbrush and a towel for you in the bathroom,” I say. “And you can use my shirt for bed if you want.”
“Thanks, Cam.” She follows me to the bedroom. “I’m sorry for crashing here tonight.”
“Oh, don’t be. I’m glad you’re here, to be honest.” I pull down the covers on the bed. “You take the bed and I’ll take the couch.”
“Cam, I can’t do that–”
“No arguing,” I say, a fake stern look on my face. “I’ll see you in the morning.”
I grab a shirt and a pair of sweatpants from my dresser and step outside. I can’t help but feel relieved knowing Caitlin’s with me instead of Carter, glad that he couldn’t help being what he was, a jerk who made a move on another woman while on a date with another. Oh well, too bad for him.
I’m only keeping a protective eye on her as her brother’s best friend, that’s all.