* Please note – this is written with the strong assumption that you’ve read the Christmas with Gia short, as well as “The Truth” and “The Lies”. If not, this probably won’t make sense. Also, this is probably it for Gia and Manny, meaning I have no intention as of now of writing anything further for them. Anything more would be forcing it, which I don’t do. If they start speaking again, i’ll listen, but until then… enjoy 🙂
Two years and six days ago, Manny Hill kissed me.
I wasn’t expecting it, hadn’t asked for it, and had wondered more than once since then if it even actually happened.
Did it actually happen?
Of course it happened.
Of course it happened.
My sister, Lina, had seen my smudged lipstick – had seen it on Manny’s face. She’d teased me about it, endlessly, had gotten Nia in on the act, and because they couldn’t be bothered to mind their business or at least keep mine to themselves, my mother found out.
For six months, the question from the women in my family had been, “When are you and Manny going to get together?”.
Then Manny got married – to someone else, obviously – and they left me alone.
It morphed to, why did you let that man get away from you, but none of it really mattered. What mattered was that his quickie, semi-secret marriage to “Kincaid” from “Kincaid Hill Law Firm” was exactly the wakeup call I needed, to stop obsessing about what our unaddressed kiss meant, and start obsessing with passing the bar.
So I did.
The obsessing, and the passing.
But still… there was him.
Manny didn’t even make sense for me, not really. For one, he was my best friend’s brother, which meant I’d heard all the complaints about his lack of help over the years with their mother and her extensive medical needs. Financially, he’d been great, but that wasn’t what was needed, and no amount of begging really moved him.
It was a complicated situation.
Manny had a different relationship with his mother – a totally different view of her, compared to Iris. I understood how that had driven him to be impersonal, but when it came down to it, it hurt his family.
That was a strike.
Then, there was the fact that he was my boss – and a decade older than me. Both things that pushed a potential relationship firmly into “inappropriate”. The age thing didn’t bother me too much – the whole salt and pepper thing he had going was something like a sexual preference for me.
The boss thing, though?
I’d worked way too hard to secure my place at the firm to have people whispering that I’d earned my position on my back.
Blah, blah, blah, that shouldn’t matter, blah blah.
It was a strike.
And thennn… there was the little detail that Manny was a hoe.
Not really my business, sure, but it wasn’t entirely uncommon for someone to key “fuck you” into the pristine side of one of his luxury cars, or slip past security to come storming to his office in tears. He’d calmed, considerably – I actually couldn’t remember the last time something like that happened. Unfortunately, time hadn’t lessened the impact of the memory.
I’d been that girl.
I’d keyed cars.
I’d made a scene at jobs.
I’d begged and cried a man who wasn’t ready, willing, or interested in doing right, to do right.
I was not that girl anymore.
And I didn’t care about any of that.
I’d wanted Manny Hill for too long to let a little thing like common sense get in the way. Oh, and lest I seem like a homewrecker, the intimate merger of Kincaid Hill only lasted a month.
Shit… that’s actually another red flag…
I still didn’t care though.
I wanted him.
“I want him bad.”
“Do you really, or is your period just starting soon?” Iris asked, fixing her mirror in the vanity as Brandi pinned up another section of my hair. It was a testament to our friendship that she hadn’t tripped about it when I finally confessed my crush on her brother.
Probably because it hadn’t been a surprise.
“Everybody likes Manny,” she’d said back then, giving me the distinct impression that the “bomb” I’d been so stressed about dropping wasn’t even remotely newsworthy for her. She was surprised that he’d kissed me, and even more surprised that he’d never brought it up again, but according to her… “Yeah… he probably got in his head about it.”
Those words were supposed to be reassuring, I knew, but what actually happened was that it freaked me out. I hadn’t said anything because of those strikes against him bouncing around in my head, so if he was in his head about it… did that mean there were strikes against me?!
Against perfect Georgia Aldridge, Esq?!
“It’s not hormones,” I told her, pouting, as Brandi wrapped another section of hair around the curling wand. Both of them were already finished getting ready – as usual, I was the holdup, because I hadn’t been able to figure out my hair.
Brandi to the rescue.
“Oh it’s definitely hormones,” Brandi teased, grinning at me in the mirror. “I can tell by this little hot ass dress you’ve got on. This is your office New Year’s Eve party, G – not the club.”
My gaze drifted to the sequined champagne-toned dressed I’d practically poured myself into. “You think it’s too much?”
“No bitch I think it’s exactly enough… if the goal is to get his head up your dress for a midnight kiss.”
“Too far for me,” Iris groaned, her face crumpling into a frown in the mirror. “I got no issues with you lusting after my brother if you could just…”
“Not talk about it in front of you. I get you,” I told her. “But for the record… it’s not like anything is going to happen. I mean, if he was interested, it would already be a done deal, right? He wouldn’t have let two years go by without bringing it up.”
Iris shook her head. “I wouldn’t be so sure about that – Manny has been on one lately, and there’s no way you haven’t noticed.”
My eyebrows went up. “On one… how?”
I had to ask because… I definitely hadn’t noticed.
“Marrying Val Kincaid for starters,” Iris said. “That was some drunk shit that they tried to make work, but you saw what happened there. They don’t even like each other like that, and you see where Val is now – booed up with her childhood sweetheart, pregnant.”
That wasn’t like Manny. The Vegas trip hadn’t even been for pleasure – it had been business, one where I hadn’t gone along, it was quick, and I had other work to do. When they came back married, it never occurred to me that liquor may have been involved, because it wasn’t Manny’s style. Sure, he indulged, but never to the point of excess, never to the point of… a legally binding contract.
Iris nodded. “Yes girl – sloppy. I don’t know if it was a midlife crisis or what, but I was glad when they took care of that little problem. Still though… he’s just been different. More… mellow. It’s odd.”
I wouldn’t know.
I wasn’t his assistant anymore, so I didn’t interact with him as frequently as before. He delegated plenty of work to me, but I was no longer at the desk right across from his office, ready to swoop in and play the architect for his days.
Things just weren’t the same.
“It could be because of our father – the early release,” Iris mused further. “Last time we visited him together, Dad was talking about all the time he’d wasted, everything he was going to have to catch up on…”
“Oh that’s right,” Brandi added. “He’ll be out just in time for Math Baby!”
Laughing, Iris pressed a hand to her stomach, where she was just now starting to show. Her little bump looked adorable in her sparkly mini-dress. “Yep. Depending on how it goes, maybe even in time to be there at the hospital. He could be there for at least one grandchild.”
“You say that like you and Rob aren’t gonna make a whole damn classroom of freckled babies with bad eyesight,” I teased.
“Keep that foolishness to yourself please,” she countered. “I have to see how this one works out first – we’ll play it by ear. It might just be one for us, and we all know Manny isn’t having any.”
I frowned. “Hey, don’t count him out like that.”
Brandi snickered. “What she means is, she might wanna have Manny’s freckled babies. So don’t count her out.”
“That is not what I mean!”
Iris was still giggling as she stood. “Seriously though… you’re right, I shouldn’t count him out. He seemed a little sad when this conversation came up with me, him, and Ivy. He’s the only one of us who isn’t in a committed relationship, no kids… I mean, I always thought he was just happy being a bachelor, which is fine. But like I said… he’s been different. So maybe he does want something more.”
“Hint, hint,” Brandi whispered, loudly, right in my ear, making all of us laugh. I understood that they were pushing this whole Gia and Manny thing for my sake since I’d fessed up to my crush, but… I couldn’t put too much stock into that.
Couldn’t put my feelings on the line that way.
Manny Hill kissed me, two weeks and six days ago.
If he wanted me… he was going to have to say so.
Gia was bad as fuck.
Sure, there were prettier ways to put it, but that particular phrasing was the one that really captured the fullness of it. Whenever she came off that elevator, hair bone straight and swinging down to her – perfect – ass, or with her natural curls bouncing around her shoulders. When she sat in my office, spouting off an abundance of knowledge – more than damn near any lawyer I knew – with the light pouring through the big windows making that deep mahogany skin glow. When she smiled… goddamn.
Shit that rivaled the sun.
In more ways than one.
Just like the sun, Gia Aldridge was a celestial body outside of my reach – a hard conclusion to come to, especially since I’d already overstepped my boundaries once.
That one little kiss had been burning in my mind ever since, helping fuel the self-loathing I’d managed to hold off all my life, in favor of arrogance. Why accept that something was too good for me when I could focus on the fact that I was too good for everything?
Unfortunately, as with most men, age had brought along the bleak reality that I was simply spoiled. Only in my professional life had anyone ever really held me to task, and I credited that as a major reason I hadn’t failed.
As a brother, as a son, as a partner, I left much to be desired, but as a lawyer?
I was the motherfucker you wanted on your side.
But – and there was always one of those – my accolades weren’t going to keep me warm at night. Yes, of course, the HVAC at my condo could take care of that for me, but it wouldn’t – couldn’t – take the place of the family I hadn’t cultivated or nourished.
(All of this self-reflection and flagellation brought to you by my aging father’s impending release from prison.)
He would have people waiting for him with open arms when he got out.
If I went away and came back… would I?
That was the kinda shit that had driven me to wake up in bed in Vegas with Val. Not that we hadn’t messed around before, but that marriage shit was… a whole other level. I’d known her a long time though – we were honestly friends, we got along well as business partners… for a few short months, since we were both workaholics anyway, and didn’t even really have time to get sick of each other… we kinda wondered if it might work.
But we wondered.
And now, she’d moved on to grown-up, forever type things – a man from her past, and a baby. Instead of inspiring hopefulness, making me feel like maybe I could have the same thing, it all just made me feel worse because when it really, really came down to it, there was only one person I wanted.
So why not just go for it, Manny. You already kissed her.
Better to stop there, and blame it on the mistletoe than drag her into my shit and throw a wrench into her life. The chances that I’d completely fuck her up, just like the ones before her, were… high.
I was not only her boss but her best friend’s brother – if I went there with her and the shit went south, both of those things were going to be awkward as hell. It would strain her friendship, put unnecessary anxiety around a job she’d worked hard as fuck to achieve.
I cared about her too much for that.
I didn’t want the whispers about fucking the boss going on behind her back, and I definitely didn’t want to be the creepy old man with the hot young lawyer. I mean, this face and body were immaculate for a forty-something, but the graying head and beard gave me away.
It was bullshit neither of us needed.
Then, going back to the fact that I just flat out wasn’t good at being… anything but a lawyer, honestly. If Gia wanted to be encouraged or pushed, if she needed to talk or vent, if she needed legal advice, if she needed to be fucked thoroughly and well, I had all that shit in the bag.
But… being there when I was needed? Being trustworthy, being faithful, being a partner?
I’d never successfully done it before.
What the hell would be different now?
It wasn’t even like I could put the shit behind him – as my assistant, Gia had seen too much, the good, bad, and hideous. And what she hadn’t seen for herself, I was pretty sure Iris had filled in those blanks, rightfully complaining about me being a shitty son and brother.
I couldn’t escape it if I wanted to.
I didn’t want to.
I was a grown ass man, and it was time – past time – to atone for that shit, as much as I could. But in the meantime… I couldn’t dump my shit on Gia’s shoulders.
Not when she was on the brink like this.
Finally got past the bar to become the brilliant lawyer I knew she would be, and other people were seeing it too. She was young, bright, beautiful – there was always somebody sniffing behind her, ready to stake his claim.
God knows I’d give a lot just get my nose between her thighs.
I’d resigned myself to just making sure she was okay. A mentor and nothing more, guiding her toward building a legacy, priming her to have her name on that wall someday.
It fucking sucked.
More than once, I’d talked myself into believing I was a changed man – that it wasn’t too late for me to swoop in, put a ring on her finger, knock her up so I could have my own family.
Selfish as fuck.
But I was trying not to be that guy, ruled by selfishness.
I was determined not to be that guy.
I wouldn’t do that shit.
I wouldn’t cross that line.
Gia was bad as fuck, though.
She walked into the Kincaid Hill New Year’s Eve party looking fresh off the runway, wearing a dress I wanted to peel off of her, to finally see what was underneath.
I was cool though.
I finished my champagne and finished another, greeted my pregnant little sister and her husband, and their friends that they’d brought along, and then finally Gia.
She looked and smelled good enough to eat.
“You look beautiful Ms. Aldridge,” I told her, keeping my hand in the safe zone at the top of her back. “Don’t let any of these young cats sniffing around you change your last name to anything crazy – it needs to be something worth putting up on the wall in a few years.”
She put that mega-watt smile on, laughed. “Now come on, Manny – what about me makes you think I’d change my name?”
“You know what… you’re right,” I chuckled. “Accomplished too much with that name to give it up.”
She leaned into me to let someone pass in the crowded room, making my heart – and some other shit – skip a little beat.
“Damn right,” she told me, as she stepped back into her own space. “If something like that were to ever happen anyway. It’s not looking so good.”
I scoffed. “Please – look around you,” I urged. “Damn near any man – or woman – in here would fall over themselves to have you.”
She stared at me for a second, then gave me a smile that didn’t reach her eyes. “Yeah. Damn near. Happy New Year, Manny,” she told me as she stepped in again. Her heels were high enough that she was right in line to press her lips to my cheek before she walked off.
And left my whole fucking world spinning.
A server passed with a tray of champagne, and I took one before I headed to get away. This party shit hadn’t even been my idea, and I didn’t want to be here.
Just before I turned the corner for the elevator, I looked back, and there she was. Somebody was in her face, but she was looking my way.
Until she wasn’t.
She turned, leaning in to offer her ear and a smile, and all that vivacious energy I wanted to experience, but couldn’t.
That was my cue to leave.
At first, I thought he was just stepping out for a moment – it was necessary sometimes, with events like this. All the people, the drinking, the loud music… it was stifling. Sometimes you needed a second.
But Manny never did come back.
That talk with Iris had me a little concerned about him, and feeling bad that I hadn’t picked up that he was… different. Between my irrationally hurt feelings that he’d gotten married, my subtle avoidance of any topic that wasn’t work-related, and my own general awkwardness, he and I had been disconnected, which didn’t use to be a thing.
He was my mentor.
He was my friend.
And until two years and almost a week ago, that had been enough, really. I’d been content to pine after him, knowing he didn’t see me beyond the platonic.
But then he kissed me.
And changed everything.
It was almost midnight, but I didn’t care about the ball drop or any of that. I spotted Rob and Iris hugged up together, and Kyle and Brandi had found a quiet corner too. The lovebirds were occupied, and unlikely to notice if I was there anyway.
I just wanted to make sure Manny was okay.
When I didn’t spot him anywhere on the floor where the party was being held, I got onto the elevator. Once it arrived on the executive floor, I headed straight for Manny’s office, knowing I was on the right track when I saw that he’d turned the frosted effect on the smartglass wall of his office.
I hesitated at the door though.
What if he has someone in here?
It certainly wouldn’t be the first time I’d walked in on Manny fucking someone in his office, but as far as I knew… that hadn’t happened in a while. Mostly, everyone knew that if this wall was opaque, he wanted privacy, and they respected it, so he didn’t even bother locking the door.
I walked in anyway.
Only rarely had I ever not been allowed to simply walk into this office, and as far as I was concerned, this wasn’t one of those moments.
Manny was seated on his desk, looking out the window. He had to know I was there, but he didn’t move.
So I made my way to him.
Only when I touched his shoulder did he look up, staring in my face with this… wistful sort of desire I’d never seen before. That… kinda made it hard to breathe.
“Why aren’t you enjoying the party?” he asked, not taking his eyes away from mine.
I shrugged. “Kinda boring, honestly. Same people I see every day, just drunk and dressed up, you know?”
Manny chuckled. “Yeah… I guess so.”
“Why aren’t you enjoying the party?” I countered. “What are you doing cooped up in your office alone?”
“Same reason as you, I guess. Didn’t feel like dealing with the traffic yet, so I figured coming down here was about the same as ringing the new year in at home.”
I raised an eyebrow. “So you were gonna be all alone?” When he shrugged, I hefted myself on the desk beside him, trying and failing to pull down my tiny dress after it hiked up. I rolled my eyes and gave up, bringing my gaze back to Manny’s with a smile. “I’m going to fix that. We’ll ring it in together.”
“You should go back to the party.”
I swallowed, hard.
Tried not to let the finality in his tone hurt.
Painting on another smile, I looped my arm through his and shook my head. “Nope. We’re in this together, Mr. Hill. Five minutes til midnight.”
“Gia,” he said, pulling away from me, and standing up. “Seriously… just go back to the party.”
I blinked a few times.
“What, so… you’re pushing me away now? Really, Manny?”
“You kissed me,” I blurted. Finally. “You kissed me, and then we came back to work, and you acted like it never happened. So… I acted like it never happened too, because… maybe it was an accident. Maybe you didn’t mean to. Maybe it… didn’t mean anything to you, but for me… everything shifted. And I just kept it to myself, because I didn’t want to be the one, you know… the one who fucked us completely. But this? You putting me out of your office, pushing me away… okay. Fine. Fuck you too, Manny. But if this is what we’re doing… you are going to explain.”
He ran a hand over his head, pushing his fingers through his sandy salt-and-pepper waves. He’d taken off his blazer and tie, he’d unbuttoned, and rolled up his sleeves. Gotten comfortable and disheveled.
I hated that it was so, so appealing.
“What do you want me to say to you, Gia?”
“I want to know why you kissed me two years ago!” I demanded. “And I want to know why you’re pushing me away, today.”
He laughed, shaking his head. “I… fuck,” he whispered. “Listen… just go back—”
“Answer the questions.”
Manny went completely still. All the false bravado melted away, and his shoulders dropped. “I… kissed you because I wanted to. Wanted… you. I’m pushing you away because I can’t have you.”
My eyes narrowed. “What?”
“I’m not repeating that shit,” he growled. “You wanted an answer, there it is. Now take your ass back to the party.”
Instead of doing that, I pushed myself down from the desk, stalking right up to his face. “No. Because your answer is bullshit.”
He scoffed. “Maybe so, but it is what it is.”
“And what if I don’t accept that?” I stepped closer… close enough that we were touching. “Who says you can’t have me?”
“Fuck you,” I countered, and he laughed.
But I didn’t.
“Manny… we both know there’s… a whole list of reasons why this could be a really bad idea. But what if I told you I don’t care?”
Suddenly, my face was in his hands and he was looking me right in the eyes like it was the only way I’d know he was serious. “I care.”
Again, he laughed. “Gia…”
“Manny,” I groaned. “What happened to the hyper-confident, arrogant, impossibly sexy litigator I’ve been crushing on for years? He wouldn’t hesitate. What happened?”
He shook his head, letting out a deep sigh. “He had a wakeup call. He grew up. He sees every single way he fucked up before and doesn’t want to do it again. He sees a confident, brilliant, sexy young lawyer that he doesn’t want to ruin. He doesn’t want to break her heart.”
I brought my hands to his face, pushing toward him but stopping just short of his lips touching mine. “Then… don’t.”
He stared at me.
And then stared a little more.
And then… he kissed me.
No hesitation, no softness, just pure, pent-up passion and fire. Immediately, I gave in to the insistent probing of his tongue, moaning into him as he lifted me to the edge of the desk, wedging himself between my legs as he devoured my mouth.
And fireworks went off.
Not just the metaphorical kind, but literal ones, lighting up the dark sky. Light spilled into the office in colorful bursts as he plied me with the champagne-flavored kisses I’d been fantasizing about for two years and one week now.
And then, when we finally came up for air, I looked him right in the eyes.
“What the hell took you so long?”