I look at his smooth, youthfully handsome face that has gotten him into trouble more than once and shrug. “Depends on the face. Why?”
He rubs his jaw. “I’m thinking about growing a beard. Might save me from getting hit on by high school girls.”
I laugh at his predicament. “I think you’d wear a beard well.”
Several more minutes pass before the Jefferson Memorial comes into view. I believe that when the monuments were being planned, someone didn’t like Thomas Jefferson—because his is pretty far out there. Isolated. In terms of visitors, Jefferson got royally screwed.
“So . . . about you and Stanton . . .” Brent hedges.
I catch his expression from the corner of my eye and it makes me stop short.
Uncomfortable friendly concern—like he’s working up the nerve to tell me something he really doesn’t want to have to tell me.
“Did he say something to you? About me?”
Another lesson learned from the promiscuous big brothers? Boys talk.
“No—no, he hasn’t said anything. I just . . . you do realize that Stanton is . . . emotionally unavailable?”
“That’s one of the things I like best about him. Who has time for available?”
We’re walking now, side by side, getting our breath back.
“But you get that he’s . . . spoken for?”
“Of course I get it, Brent—he talks about Jenny and Presley all the time. He’s got a picture of them on his desk and a bunch at his apartment.”
There are pictures of Stanton leaning close to Jenny, in a hospital bed, holding a newborn baby in a pink blanket. Stanton and a little blonde in pigtails, standing next to a shiny pink bicycle after her first ride. Stanton, Jenny, and Presley sitting together on a Ferris wheel, smiling brightly. The three of them are fair-haired and perfect—like the southern version of The Dresden Dolls.
Brent gestures with his hand. “Personally, I think you and Stanton would be great together. And, hey, you wouldn’t even have to change your monogram.”
With a laugh I shake my head. “You are the only straight guy I know who knows what a monogram is and would use it in a sentence.”
“That’s how I roll.”
Then he shrugs. “I just . . . I don’t want to see you get hurt, Sofia. However . . . unintentionally it may happen.”
Brent’s a playboy, but he’s not a shit. He’s had casual lovers or girlfriends who were ready to take things to the next level, when he preferred to remain at their current cruising altitude. When those relationships ended, and emotions inevitably bruised, he’s always felt bad about it—guilty, even.
I tug at his sleeve affectionately. “I appreciate that, but it’s all good. That’s the beauty of friends with benefits—no one gets attached.”
Brent returns my smile and we’re back to jogging. “On a purely selfish note, it’d suck if our unit at the office got screwed up.”
He nudges me with his elbow. “Yeah—we’re kicking ass and taking names. We’re like the Avengers. The good ones, anyway.”
“Ooh!” I gasp, playing along. “Can I be Thor? I always liked the hammer.”
He pats my head. “No, you poor, foolish girl—you’re Black Widow, Jake’s the Hulk, Stanton’s Captain America.”
“And who are you?”
The metal of his prosthetic pings as he flicks it with his fingers, grinning. “I’m Iron Man.”
I raise a suggesting finger. “Just a thought—you might have better luck not getting hit on by high school girls if you gave up references to comic book superheroes.”
He purses his lips, considering. “Yeah, that’s not gonna happen.”
With another laugh, I concede, “Facial hair it is then.”
• • •
On Sunday morning, I get up early and make a big batch of pão de queijo—Brazilian cheese rolls. I try to make them every week—with their light flaky outside and warm, gooey middle, they’re perfect for breakfast.
I take a hot cookie sheet out of the oven and put it on the counter to cool, when there’s a knock on the door. I open it to find Stanton—with a brand-new golf club over his shoulder—and Jake standing on my front steps.
“Hey,” I greet them, opening the door wider.
“Ready to school me, hot teacher?” Stanton asks as Sherman rears, trying to lick his face off.
“Ready, willing, and able. Are you coming golfing with us too, Jake?”