“Blindsided,” Chapter 36

Stinky spends yet another night sleeping between us, but I only succeed in resting fitfully at best despite all of us hitting the hay well before 10 p.m.

Being overly exhausted tends to have that effect, as does my boss’ perplexing roundabout talk from yesterday that did nothing but keep me awake overthinking it.

What else is new?

I suspect Dickhead has been awake for quite some time now, completing his daily workout regimen and then showering while I lay here tossing and turning in dire hopes of catching a few more winks of sleep before calling it quitsville and getting my ass up to face the day ahead of the alarm set to go off at 5 a.m.

He exits the bathroom with only a towel covering his bottom half and smirks at my frank appreciation as he saunters into the closet to grab his everyday penguin suit.

“You need to add some color to that awful work wardrobe of yours,” I remark not for the first time as I join him in the roomy walk-in closet, morning breath be damned.

Brushing my teeth can take a backseat to this higher priority for once.

“And what would you suggest?” he asks, inching closer to me after I move past him to sift through his clothes.

“How about this?” I suggest, picking out a light blue dress shirt, red power tie and navy blue slacks to hold up for his inspection.

“I don’t know, Piccolo,” he says, his hot breath on the back of my neck sending shivers of pleasure down my spine. “What would everyone think of me coming to work dressed so daringly different? They might believe I’m getting soft and take advantage of my jolly good nature.”

Fat chance of that ever happening, mister!

“I hardly think … ” I whirl around, preparing to do battle with him and freeze.

Why, he’s joking.

Yet another layer of this endless onion of a man peeled back.

I silently hand him the clothes, delighting in his mirth.

He sets them aside momentarily to enfold me in his arms for a long, slow, steamy kiss despite my protests over not having brushed my teeth, but he doesn’t seem to mind at all. And after a while, neither do I.

“We’re going to be late for work if we keep this up,” he says against my lips.

“You’re the one who insisted on it,” I sass him.

“So I did,” he muses, letting me go with a smile.

I seize the opportunity to slide past him and make a run for the bathroom, his deep, sexy laughter following me as I shut the door.

A short time later, I emerge to select a royal blue sleeveless ruched faux wrap dress that falls just below my knees on one side and shows a little more leg than I prefer on the other. I pair it with the sandals Dickhead picked out for me in Tenne-damn-ssee and make my way to the kitchen for a quick breakfast before we leave for work.

Stinky is rapturously finishing the can of tuna he has taken to giving her but stops long enough for me to kneel down and give her a quick pet. She resumes her meal as I accept a bowl of fruit and toasted bagel slathered with cream cheese from Dickhead to take to the table. His food is already there.

I could easily get used to this routine — even the breakfast part, which seems to be agreeing with me more and more — if it means waking up to HIM every day. So could he, by the looks of it. Dickhead is perusing me as if he could swallow me whole.

“That dress enhances your beauty, Piccolo,” he says with admiration as he joins me at the table with two cups of coffee in hand.

I blush, unused to genuine flattery of any kind. Unless you count men goggling my chest, which is NOT the same thing AT ALL. He’s one of the few men who hasn’t done that, along with Josh, Alex and Jackson. Even Coach Smith, come to think of it, although it doesn’t take a genius to guess why NOW, even though I’ll never know for sure. Which is fine and dandy with me.

“Th … th … thank you,” I mumble as I take a generous bite out of my bagel.

Not knowing what else to say, I make fast work of the bagel before taking a tentative sip of the coffee he took the liberty of doctoring with milk and sugar for me.

Not bad. Not bad at all.

“This is actually pretty good,” I approve, moving on to the bowl of fruit. “Thank you.”

He inclines his head in response to my praise.

“I wish … I wish we didn’t have to go in to work today, Piccolo,” he says wistfully.

“You and me both,” I heartily agree.

But we do as we must anyway, again escorted by the same patrol unit from the sheriff’s department as yesterday. We wave our thanks as we enter the Daily Herald building.

“I promise not to stray from the sports office,” I tell him before the dictator in him gives me my orders for the day, “but if you’re not in there by 10:31, I’m going to be in YOURS dragging you outside for a, uh, cigarette in the loading zone.”

That’s my code word for kiss, although I WILL be having that smoke at some point, too.

“Good girl,” he gives me an insolent pat on the head as we split up to go to our respective offices. “I will collect you no later than 10:31 sharp.”

Ohhh, is he ever maddening at times!

But I put the thought aside once I’m at my desk and commence laying out the laborious agate page in hopes of having it nearly done by the time Jackson comes bounding in the door at 7ish.

We only have a six-page section today, so that’s not too bad. As the week progresses, the sports section tends to get bigger, with the whopper coming like clockwork every Sunday. The smallest section we’ve ever had on a Sunday during my five-year tenure is 12 pages, but there’s always plenty of copy to fill it.

Jackson comes waltzing in at 7 on the nose, scrutinizing me as if I’ve suddenly sprouted horns.

“You look nice today, Piccolo,” he says, a question in his voice.

“Thank you,” I reply, ignoring it because I’m still miffed at the yellow-bellied fucker for flying the coop on me yesterday. “We have six pages today. I just sent the agate page for Alex to look over before he passes it on to production to get ready for print, so we’re in good shape right now.”

We spend the remainder of our deadline working in silence, but I can feel Jackson’s eyes on me intermittently. I really can’t blame him because I never dress this nice, not even for work. I always wear proper attire, mind you, just not of this quality that Dickhead picked out himself.

Truth be told, it sort of makes me feel like a kept woman with him buying me all of those new clothes, even though I know I’m simply a woman in SAFE keeping who needed duds because most of mine were destroyed as a result of the break-in to my apartment.

Just then, the ever-punctual Dickhead comes marching into our office to suspend my wayward thoughts.

And does he ever look spiffy in the outfit I chose for him!

He looks good in anything, really, even those damn penguin getups he fancies. I’m just ecstatic he was in the mood to humor me by wearing something other than the norm for him, just as I’m in clothing he picked out that reveals so much more than my own comfort zone generally allows.

“Piccolo, Jackson,” he greets us, “I need to see you both in my office after the Page A1 deadline at 11:30. Also, well done on your sports deadline today. Jackson, excellent piece on Shane Hardy being named acting head coach at Bluegrass High School. You went above and beyond a simple news conference to give the story meat AND heart.”

To know Dickhead is to comprehend that he NEVER, EVER goes around the newsroom doling out praise for ANYTHING, not even if we were to win every award in our Daily 3 classification — which is based on our certified circulation of 20,000 or more, thus making it the highest and toughest of the three categories for dailies in our state — of the prestigious annual Kentucky Press Association Excellence in Newspapers Contest.

Simply put, Jackson is flabbergasted. So, for that matter, am I, even knowing everything I do about our dear boss now.

“Piccolo, I need to speak to you privately,” he says, signaling for me to follow him out of our office via the back way to the loading zone.

Once we’re outside, he smooches me into oblivion before abruptly releasing me to light up a smoke with a smirk as if he hasn’t a care in the world, the lout. But his shaking hands tell another story entirely.

I take a calming drag of my cigarette with a trembling hand of my own.

“Are my lips swollen again?” I have to ask. “Because if they are, I’m going to sic Amy and Allyson on you.”

All I get in response is another of those agitating smirks he’s just begging me to wipe off of his infuriating face one of these days.

“Let them try,” he dares. “And you had better get used to those lips of yours being swollen. Kissing you senseless seems to be the only way for me to keep you in line.”

He follows that up with another smug grin as he propels me back inside to my office and then leaves for his own until our scheduled 11:30 meeting.

Jackson wisely doesn’t offer any sardonic commentary, but I have a pretty good idea what he’s thinking all the same.

Fuck it. Who am I kidding, anyway? Why bother hiding it when everybody already knows?

As long as we don’t go around slobbering all over each other and get carried away in —ahem– other overly graphic public displays of affection, the powers that be at the paper won’t have a problem with our relationship. Our managing editor before Dickhead dated and later married one of our former copy editors, so it’s not like this is an unprecedented occurrence.

“Oh yeah, I meant to tell you that I scheduled interviews with the new coaches at Ruffian and Man o’ War counties,” I advise Jackson just in case he happens to start calling all 13 schools to get a jump on the pending football tab. “I felt really bad about you getting saddled with everything over the past few days, so I wanted to try to make it up to you somehow.”

I feel guilty as fuck for misleading him like this, but that asshole left me high and dry yesterday when Dickhead was ready to spit bullets at me so I consider us even now.

“Thanks, Piccolo. I really appreciate that. While we’re waiting to meet with your, ah, boyfriend, we can divvy up the remaining teams, if you want.”

I flip him the bird before we get down to the nitty-gritty of selecting from the 11 schools left and then picking one player from each of the 13 teams to highlight on the sports front via feature stories every day starting two weeks prior to publishing the football tab. The players and their parents eat that shit up, but we have an endless supply of incredibly talented athletes in our coverage area who most definitely are worthy of the spotlight.

Before we know it, it’s time for us to have our meeting with Dickhead. After closing his door and taking our seats in those shitty, un-fucking-comfortable plastic chairs of his, he gets right to the point.

“Jackson, I’m promoting you to sports editor if you still desire the position,” he says, not bothering to mince words because it’s not his style. “Piccolo, you will be his assistant sports editor. And do NOT bother arguing until you hear me out first. You will, of course, each be given a raise in salary. However, I cannot discuss specifics at this time.”

In other words, each of us is not supposed to know how much money the other makes. We already know, but whatever.

Jackson, who applied for the position shortly after Bob left, quickly recovers from his initial shock to accept Dickhead’s offer while I sit here stewing because I don’t want the responsibility that comes with being an editor, even if it IS only as an assistant.

“After much consideration and lobbying, we’ve decided to expand our sports staff from three to four people,” he drops another bombshell on us. “This is why it has taken Alex and I so long to move forward with hiring someone to fill Bob’s vacancy. We wish to keep our circulation up, so offering more local coverage will help us not only maintain it but strive to increase it. We also recognize that the workload is too great for three people to handle in a seven-county coverage area that continues to boom in population due to increasing job opportunities, hence the extra position.”

Halle-fucking-lujah!

I’m so damn giddy, I feel like doing a happy dance right this second!

“I have a list of potential candidates and their resumes for you to peruse to help you get started, but I trust your judgment should you already have anyone in mind for the two positions,” he tells us. “I will sit in on all of the interviews you conduct, of course, and once we find suitable candidates, we will discuss pros and cons before making any final decisions. Does that sound agreeable to both of you?”

We enthusiastically nod our heads, still too stunned for words.

Dickhead hands Jackson the resumes and sends us on our way to start making calls.

“I don’t know what the hell you’ve done to him, but whatever it is, keep it up,” Jackson commends me once we’re back in our own office. “I can’t believe our good fortune! We are going to kick some serious ass with four people on staff!”

We work through lunch, ordering pizza as we set up interviews with job candidates and wait for callbacks from others who aren’t home or simply not answering their cells right away because they don’t recognize our phone numbers.

I start getting antsy when 3 p.m. rolls around because it’s time for Deputy Alexis Roberts’ first interview of the day at Ruffian County High School. She’ll be talking to the new head coach, Wayne Thomas, who played his college football at — UGH — Auburn. He’s a year younger than me — 32 — and he graduated from Tideville High School the same year I did from Holy Mother of Jesus Catholic School.

I hate not knowing what’s going on, but I have to trust the authorities to do their jobs and nail those two bloodthirsty assholes.

But the time is creeping by MUCH too slow for me, so I get up to make my way back to Dickhead’s office just as he comes rushing into ours at 4 p.m. on the dot, scaring the fuck out of Jackson and I.

“They have him in custody, Piccolo!” he shouts with joy, scooping me up in a bruising bear hug and whirling me around in circles until we’re both so dizzy, he’s forced to set me down again.

“It’s over?!” I ask, the question rhetorical. “It’s really over?!”

His beautiful, blinding smile is all the reassurance I need.

“I need you to stay here, where I know you will be safe just in case Abigail Smith decides to take matters into her own hands,” he tells me, an unspoken plea in his eyes. “Jackson is coming with Mandy Jo, Josh and I to the county jail, where the authorities are holding Bob right now. Jackson, I will fill you in on the way.”

A temporarily stupefied Jackson rapidly snaps out of his trance to snag a notebook en route to meeting the others in the newsroom as Dickhead envelops me in a gentle — no, loving — hug this time.

“Please do this for me, Piccolo,” he whispers for my ears only. “Not Dickhead the boss. ME. Richard Headrick. The man you love.

“The man who loves YOU.

And just like that, he’s gone.

I don’t know how long I stand there basking in his blindsiding declaration of love, but it doesn’t matter.

Nothing is standing in our way anymore. Nothing is holding us back. Nothing is keeping us from exploring this newfound love of ours.

“Well, hello there, Miss Granger.”

Nothing except Abigail Wellington-Smith, who’s holding a small gun aimed straight for my heart.

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