Chapter One

The nightmares followed me everywhere and never faded in intensity. Thirteen years going strong and still a surprise. I would go months without a single dream and the minute anything in my routine changed, bam. A visit from my past. Last night’s was horrific. I was back onstage at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts in front of a sold-out crowd of thousands dressed in their finery. I wore a black velvet dress that brushed past my knees and clung to my thin waist with a white sash that tied in back. My hair was styled up and made me seem older than fourteen. My velvet flats matched my dress and were soundless when I walked out to welcoming applause. For most musicians, that was the sound of success. For me, it was my ultimate terror. I knew I would fail before I placed a single finger on the perfectly weighted keys. I couldn’t move. I felt a resounding shift take place in my brain as my whole life changed. I shattered inside. Every single part of me broke that day.

My ill-timed nightmare pushed me out of sleep I desperately needed. I looked at the clock. Three fifteen. I stared up at the ceiling and knew my shot at falling back to sleep was gone. I should just get the day started. Clio jumped up on the bed and meowed at me. I knew he felt my anxiety. For an alley cat with a chewed-up ear and a limp, he was great at reading my moods. When he found me two years ago, he looked like I felt most days—beat up and dragging through life. I couldn’t help but bond with him. We were soul mates. We understood each other. I stroked his soft fur and felt his sweet purrs rumble against my chest. It calmed me.

“What do you think, buddy? Too early to get going? Will I look like a freak if I show up two hours early?” I nodded. I swore he nodded back. “Let’s at least get up and eat something. I’ll have coffee and you can have milk.”

Clio had a stomach of steel after a life out on the streets. He could and would eat anything. Milk did not bother him. He preferred Baileys, but I figured that danced on the borderline of animal abuse, so he was only allowed a lick of it on holidays. I poured him a saucer of two percent and placed it next to his untouched kibble. He liked it when I added wet food to the dry. I grabbed a can and scraped the contents into his bowl.

“My turn.” I decided on oatmeal and a cup of coffee. Today was a big day. I’d been assigned a two-month project with a sister company of ours on the other side of town. I normally worked from home four days a week. The fifth day was in the office of Banks Corporation, and it was always a struggle for me to be social. Starting today, though, I was to analyze data for the next eight weeks with people I didn’t know. The extra incentive pay was fantastic, but I communicated better with plants and animals. That was why my job was perfect. Plus, I got to watch Jeopardyin my pajamas and do math problems during commercials. I was living my ideal life. Or at least the life I chose for myself.

“Should I wear the gray or the black suit?” My eyes traveled over both, back and forth, until they landed and stayed on the black. Clio yawned at my choice. I looked at him. “I’ll wear the blue blouse with it.” The blue was a good choice because it was the same color as my eyes. Dark, sapphire blue. I jumped in the shower, washed my hair, and carefully styled it. Even procrastinating as much as I had, I was still going to be early. I figured I could at least check out the area and find the best places for lunch and coffee. An insurance company with the entire loft of a building in Lincoln Park was going to have a lot of options. And a lot of people.

I piled on the antiperspirant and prayed I wouldn’t sweat through my blouse, or worse, my suit jacket. Five forty-five. I could catch the early train in and be there by seven. That would give me time to get my bearings, figure out where I needed to be, and find Darren Hoyt, my point of contact for the project. I pictured a sixty-year-old man with wisps of graying hair poking out of a shiny balding head, and a mustache that hung too far over his lip. Glasses, too. Readers that he constantly searched for before finding them tucked in his shirt pocket or perched on his forehead. My imagination was getting the best of me. Submerging myself in people again was probably the best thing for me. It had been a while. “Behave, Clio. Don’t tell me the final Jeopardyanswer.” I kissed his nose and left my apartment.

The L station was two blocks away. I had to slow my steps because I felt I was nearly jogging. The sun was just peeking through the buildings. I had high hopes for today. A long time ago, my therapist gave me a list of ten things to do when life got too overwhelming. I’d reached number seven by the time I found a seat on the train. It was going to be okay, I repeated internally. I tucked my legs under the bench and pretended to read on my phone while avoiding all polite good morning nods and blatant stares. Most of the commuters kept to themselves, for which I was thankful. I closed my eyes and listened to the sounds around me. The city waking up was musical. The repetition of the clicking of the train on the rail joints was the percussion. Outside, the crescendo of the traffic punctuated by horns and honks invigorated me as we chugged by. The high and low voices in the train created a rumbling that made me smile. It was the melody of the commuter morning.

Since my route was different, the sounds were new and washed over me like a concert I was hearing for the first time. The announcer’s reveille snapped me out of my trance. I stood up and grabbed the bar until the train swayed to a stop and the doors opened. I waited for the mad dash of people to push past me before I exited the car. I walked down the platform and dove into the throngs of people on the sidewalk scurrying to work. There was plenty of time to cover the three blocks to my destination, so I scouted the area and found a coffee shop across the street, a bakery down the block, two sandwich places, and a pizza joint. I still had a block to go. I already knew I would have to step up my workout routine just to keep the calories off. Deep-dish cheese pizza and chocolate chip cookies were my downfall. Thankfully, there weren’t any doughnut shops nearby.

Thirty minutes early, I pushed through the doors and checked in. One of the security guards escorted me up to Banks & Tyler. He tipped his hat at me after he deposited me at their door. I wasn’t sure if I should be flattered or insulted. Was the escort normal? I opened the glass door to an empty reception area. Nobody was at the front desk, so I found a chair and a week-old magazine and waited.

“You must be Lily Croft. Hi, I’m Amanda.” A woman a few years younger than me slipped into the receptionist area quickly, quietly put her purse in her drawer, and booted up her computer. “I will be with you as soon as I send out a quick email.”

I nodded when she looked at me for confirmation.

She was attractive with short black hair, dark eyes, and a curvy body. I wished I had some of her curves. Being a size six was nice, but at five foot eight, that meant my curves were almost nonexistent. Any weight I gained went straight to my thighs and not where I wanted it to go. I was destined to look like a string bean the rest of my life. Amanda’s lipstick was bright red and I wondered how she kept it from sticking to her teeth. I was constantly playing with my lips, especially when concentrating on a problem. If I wore lipstick, it would be smeared all over my face by the end of the day.

“Come on. I’ll show you to your office and around the place so you know where to find everything.”

I nodded at her and looked down at the floor when I followed her. It was hard to miss her shapely calves and thin ankles. Her legs were attractive and she wasn’t afraid to show them off. Her tight skirt sat about two inches above her knee. Still fashionable and professional, but it flirted dangerously with impropriety. We headed to the other side of the office, stopping briefly here and there to introduce me to the people who were already working at their desks. I started my anxiety list over. I knew that I would remember everybody’s name; I just didn’t want to meet them. After eight introductions, suffering through a tour of a small kitchen with two coffee counters, and Amanda’s fine Vanna White arm swooping reveal of three vending machines tucked in the corner of the kitchen, we finally reached my office. “Mr. Hoyt gets in about eight thirty, so I’ll just let you read about our company. Our home page is up on the computer.” She jotted down my password to get into my email and smiled at me on her way out the door.

“Thanks for your hospitality, Amanda.” My voice was soft, so she cocked her ear toward me to hear better. When she realized I wasn’t going to say anything else, she nodded and left. I exhaled deeply. That wasn’t so bad. I cleared my throat a few times in case anybody else decided to make a guest appearance. I wanted my voice to be firm and audible. I looked at the sparsely decorated office and decided it would do. Nothing distracting. The view out of the windows wasn’t going to be a problem either. They were blocked by other buildings. Unfortunately, that just meant the people in those buildings could see in.

I casually scrolled through the website even though I already knew everything about the company. After I was done sulking when my boss gave me this assignment, I studied the company. Its 2009 inception was slow and steady, but recently the company had boomed and they were experiencing growing pains. Too much, too fast. My job as an actuary was to solve their business problems and evaluate risks to the company. My specialty was corporate finance, but I was good at risk management. Math was a sure thing. It never lied or cared. It just told the truth, regardless of emotions. With my head down, my brain on overdrive, and zero breaks, I received my mathematics degree from Princeton in three and a half years. As long as I kept my mind working, I didn’t think about my life before college. I had the same passion as before, only with a different outlet. A safer one.

An older man let himself into my office. “Good morning, Ms. Croft. I’m Darren Hoyt. I’m so glad you are here.”

I smiled because he looked exactly how I pictured he would. I stood and shook his hand. “Thank you. I’m excited to get started.” I was. I wanted to be done with this project so I could get back to my own job in my own house on my own time.

“Did Amanda give you the tour? Do you have any questions for me?”

“She did a great job. Just show me where I can collect the data and get started,” I said. He gave me a list of files that were password protected on the server and gave me full access. “I’m just down the hall near the kitchen. Can I take you to lunch today?” he asked.

I knew he was only being kind. “It’s okay. I’m sure since it’s my first day I’ll dive into all this and forget about eating. I like to stay focused, but thank you for the invitation.” I knew it was rude to say no, but I at least had manners about it. He shrugged his shoulders and awkwardly left my office. My phone rang thirty seconds later.

“Lily Croft.” I wasn’t going to say Banks & Tyler because even though our companies shared board members, I didn’t work there.

“It’s Darren Hoyt. I didn’t mention that if you need anything, please just give Amanda a call. She’s very helpful and knows where hard copies of things are.”

“Thank you, Mr. Hoyt.” I hung up and submerged myself in the information. At ten I stopped to buy a bottle of water from the vending machine. I kept my head down to avoid interaction. When I returned to my office, I shut the door, closed the world out, and surrounded myself with numbers.

 

v

 

I felt the music in my chest at the exact moment I heard it. It was just after six and I had finished my first day on a high. Nobody bothered me. Amanda knocked on my door at five to let me know it was quitting time and gave me all my credentials to allow me access into the building and the office whenever I wanted. I stayed another hour but decided I didn’t want to walk the neighborhood after dark. I turned off my light and headed out. The sandwich shop at the corner had meatball subs on special and I grabbed one. That would be my dinner. I was going to take it home and share it with Clio, but when I heard the music, I decided to stay and eat it outside the shop at a rickety bistro table with a matching wrought iron chair. For the first time in years, I didn’t tense up or want to run away. It was a captivating composition that I remembered learning when I was nine and had played with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. I listened. The pianist interpreted “Clair de Lune” beautifully, building the momentum throughout the first section. My heart raced as I willed them to nail it. When they caught up and corrected the hesitation, I fist pumped. It was the first time I was excited about music in over a decade. My palms were sweaty and my sandwich all but forgotten as I smiled up at the unknown musician who included me in their journey. I waited a few minutes, but no other sounds wafted from the open second-story window. I checked the time. Six thirty. I needed to get home to Clio. I saved him a meatball in a to-go bag and threw the rest of my trash away.

The train ride was not as frenzied as it had been that morning. The clacking and shifting of the train was more subdued, so I stopped counting clicks and thought about my day. The people in the office were nice enough and left me alone. The data was well managed, so pulling together the information I needed was going to be easy, just time consuming. And I couldn’t forget the music on my way to the station. When was the last time I wanted to listen and count to a piece? Whoever was playing was very talented. For a flash of a moment, I wanted to play again. I wanted to move my fingers across the keys and bring out the passion that was from my different life, but the feeling left as quickly as it came.

 

Chapter Two

“There’s cake if you want some.” Amanda poked her head into my office without knocking.

I was annoyed at her lack of respect for my privacy. I needed quiet. I wasn’t interested in balloons, or a piece of fancy cake, or in gathering around to sing “Happy Birthday” along with people I barely knew. I just wanted to do my job quietly, privately, and get out of there each day until the project was finished.

She backed away slowly. “I’m sorry. I should’ve knocked.”

“No, Amanda, wait. I’m sorry. It’s just hard to stay focused sometimes when there are a lot of distractions. Thank you for letting me know. I appreciate it.”

Her return smile didn’t reach her eyes. I was a jerk. “Okay. Well, just thought you might want to know.” She closed the door with a little bit more force than necessary.

I sighed and looked at my watch. It was almost two. I’d missed lunch. I needed to stretch my legs and get something to eat. My energy was waning, and my irritability was off the chart. I probably could’ve used the sugar rush in the form of cake, but for me to go into the break room now would just be awkward. I grabbed my purse, left my suit jacket, and headed out. A week had passed and I hadn’t heard any music from the second floor. To say I was intrigued by the place was an understatement. I walked by the building slowly, hoping to hear something. There were no identifying marks on the outside of it other than the number carved into the stone archway, so I wasn’t sure if it was residential, or commercial, or both.

“Excuse me.”

I turned to find an older woman trying to get around me, carrying far too many bags in her hands.

I jumped out of the way and offered to get the door for her, hoping to catch a glimpse of the place inside in the process. I trotted up the stairs and pulled the large brass handle toward me.

“Thank you so much,” she said as she walked in. As luck would have it, she dropped several bags that I automatically swooped down and picked up.

“I’ll carry these for you,” I said. I gave her a sweet, trustworthy smile and followed her down the hall to a large, wooden antique desk directly in the middle of the foyer. Faded brown leather couches and threadbare wingback upholstered chairs flanked the desk. It was furniture that probably looked great in a library forty years ago, but age and wear had faded its luster a long time ago. “What is this place?” The marble floors and stairs were polished to a high shine, and I couldn’t help but reach out to touch the dark cherrywood railing that twirled up the stairs. This place was gorgeous even if the furnishings were dull.

“This is the Leading Note Music Center. We introduce children to music who otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity. With so many cutbacks in music and arts in the public school system, most children will never know if they have an aptitude for playing instruments or understanding music.” The lady took her bags from me and placed them on the desk.

“How do they even get here? Is it open to the public?” I was so intrigued by this idea. It was the exact opposite of how I grew up, where instruments were handed to me first thing in the morning to play, and practice was required every night before bed.

“It certainly is. Would you like a tour?” She was sincere and so nice that I nodded even though I knew I should leave. Panic hadn’t set in yet, but my hands were starting to sweat and I knew I was only a few minutes away from bolting. “Great. Down here we have a few general music rooms on the left.” She opened up one room that housed a studio piano and several other instruments including trumpets, clarinets, and flutes. They were more than gently used, but she was proud of them, so I kept my thoughts to myself. “And on the right we have three music therapy rooms.”

The rooms were all decorated differently. One room was painted in bold primary colors and had toys and bean bags scattered across the room. The other two were more subdued with pastel colors and furniture that was symmetrically placed. I instantly relaxed.

“Do you do a lot with music therapy?” It was always a subject I was interested in, but never pursued.

“We work mainly with Lurie Children’s Hospital, but we have several young clients who obtain therapy here privately. Musical therapy has shown to be so helpful in healing and communicating with children who cannot speak or have difficulty speaking.”

“Are you a therapist here or an instructor?” I asked when she guided me to the second floor.

“I’m Agnes Barnes, a therapist here, but if time allows, I do instruct. I teach some of the local kids.” She turned when she introduced herself to me and I stumbled over my own name.

“Hi, Agnes. I’m Lily Croft.” Croft was an old family name, but not the one I was born with. After my meltdown, one of my therapists recommended I take a giant step away from music to get out of the limelight. I went so far as to change my name. Jillian Crest was a child prodigy, but Lily Croft preferred the simplicity of numbers. “I work over at B and T just down the street. I heard somebody playing a sonata here the other evening and had to stop and listen to it.”

“The second floor has our concert hall. Every month, the children put on a concert for the public. Well, it’s more of a talent show to raise money for the program. You should come. It’s next Friday night. The music you heard was probably Hope. She stays late some nights and gives private lessons.” Agnes opened the door to a room that had five rows of red, cushioned chairs that faced a beautiful baby grand piano. I rubbed my palms together to stop from shaking and started the list in my head. “Are you okay? You turned very pale.”

“I just haven’t eaten yet today. I should probably go and grab some lunch.” I turned on my heel and headed down the stairs. Drops of sweat gathered on my back just above the waistline of my suit skirt. I needed to get out of the building.

Agnes followed me down the stairs. “Thank you for your help. Here, take one of the flyers in case you are interested. You are more than welcome to visit anytime.”

I all but snatched the flyer out of her hand and thanked her as I pushed through the door. I stumbled down the block and quickly walked across the street to get away. I crossed against the light and several drivers honked out their frustrations as I dodged their cars. I didn’t even look back at Agnes, afraid that she would see the crazy in me. I slipped into the pizza shop and dropped into an empty booth. How could something so beautiful still make me lose control? I was going to have to call Dr. Monroe. We had focused so hard on socialization and letting go of the angst associated with performing music that we forgot to focus on the instruments themselves. I always told her I was fine being around them, but after seeing a Steinway Model S baby grand tucked in the corner of their concert hall, I felt like I was back onstage and all of the breathing exercises she taught me went out the window.

“Dr. Monroe? Hi, it’s Lily Croft. Do you have time for a session tonight?” I knew I was overreacting, but I was clawing for stability and I knew she would help me find solid ground. Again.

“Let me check my schedule.” She paused for a few seconds. I squeezed my eyes shut and prayed she did. “Yes. Can you be here at six?”

I agreed and hung up, feeling relieved. I fanned out my blouse to offer some relief to my perspiring body. A waitress stopped by and I looked at her several seconds before I realized I was in the pizza place. I quickly ordered water, a salad, and breadsticks. Today was a carb day. I deserved it.

 

v

 

“Leaving with the rest of us, huh?” Amanda held the elevator as I struggled to get there from the office door. Both of my bags knocked against my thighs as I desperately tried to not look awkward to her and the three other people waiting for me.

I had to rethink bringing everything to work with me. “Thanks. Yes, I have to be somewhere at six.” I don’t know why I felt the need to tell her. I wanted to fill the void and avoid judgmental eye contact from the people who were anxious to leave the building but had to wait for me.

“I’m glad to see you’re leaving at a decent time. Big plans tonight?” She was only being friendly. I told myself to answer her like a normal person would.

“I wish. Just meeting an old friend. For dinner,” I quickly added in case she thought I was bar hopping. I couldn’t remember the last time I had a drop of alcohol. Maybe it was my college graduation. No, it was the one time I tried online dating. That whole event was a disaster. It was amazing at how inexperienced I was at everything normal in life. Put me in front of a computer and I was a whiz, but in front of people, I was a hot mess.

“That sounds like fun. I hope you have a great time,” she said.

I was going to have to be nicer to her. She waved good-bye to me and headed to the garage. I checked my watch and headed in the opposite direction. I had twelve minutes to catch the train. It would take me an additional thirty minutes to get to Dr. Monroe’s office, and I would still have time to spare. I hit the corner and stopped. The music. I heard it even over the beginning of rush hour honks and traffic congestion. It was beautiful. And frightening. I slowed my pace and listened. It was the same pianist as before. Hope. I heard the exact slight hesitation on the same key. Maybe that was her way of interpreting the note. I was a sonata snob. I used to strive for perfection. I played every song I knew with every possible pause, and found perfection with everything I played. That was my goal. That was why people paid a lot of money to see me perform. I’d forgotten what it was like to be imperfect.

I wondered if the woman sat at the piano because she loved the music or because she wanted to conquer it. There was a difference. I closed my eyes and leaned up against the building. I pictured her fingers fluttering over the keys and wondered if she played from memory or read the music. She was good, really good. I smiled when she was done. She was pleased with it because she quickly played a ditty that made me smile harder. I looked down at my watch. Crap. I’d missed the train. With regret, I headed down the block to catch the next one. As much as I enjoyed listening, I still had to figure out a way to be around a piano without losing my cool like I had earlier today.

 

Chapter Three

“You never heard me play.” I was flat on my back on the couch with Clio resting heavily on my chest. I absently rubbed his torn ear and thought about my session with Dr. Monroe. It felt good coming clean with her, admitting what happened today. “I used to be good. It was a lifetime ago. Doc thinks I should hang out near a piano or maybe even go to a concert or two.” I reached over and slowly, so I wouldn’t disturb Clio, plucked the flyer Agnes gave me off the coffee table and read it out loud. “Join us in celebrating music as it was meant to be heard and appreciated.” I’d showed it to Dr. Monroe, and she thought it might be a step in the right direction if I attended. I didn’t have to stay if I felt stifled. “It sounds like it might be an okay event.”

I liked how the organization was all about choice, not about force. Agnes said the children were there of their own accord and were excited to learn and perform in front of others. It wasn’t the same as my story. Dr. Monroe encouraged me to go somewhere and hang around a piano. She wanted me to touch it but not play it. Just face my fears. I knew my fear was irrational, but that didn’t stop my body from sweating profusely from every pore whenever I thought about sitting down and playing again.

During our session, she convinced me to download a keyboard app on my phone. We downloaded it together, but she left it up to me to open it. I looked at the square on my screen, but swiped past it. I’d get to it eventually. The power it already had over me was insane. I was angry at my own weakness. I tossed the flyer back on the table and promised myself I would at least show up. I owed it to myself. I grabbed Clio and padded off to the bedroom. I wanted to get in early tomorrow because crunching numbers helped me forget about everything else. I also wanted to leave at five, not because I was done working for the day, but because maybe I would hear the music again.

 

v

 

“You’re making great progress, Lily.” Mr. Hoyt popped into my office with a big smile. He, too, didn’t knock, and the look I shot him told him he should have. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to interrupt you.”

I waved him in because he was technically my boss. I just wished he would have scheduled a time to meet and review rather than just barge in. “It’s fine. Come on in. I take it you saw the report I emailed you?” I was surprised because I’d just sent it ten minutes ago, and it required a lot more time to review. I’d either underestimated him or he’d overestimated me.

“I sent it to the team for review. I’m just here to delegate. And play golf on nice days.” He winked at me.

I still couldn’t read him, but he did have a certain charm that warmed me. I decided he was smarter than he led people to believe. He was the Senior Actuary, Annuities Director. One didn’t achieve that status by joking around and playing sports on workdays. He had to have put in some serious time and effort. I just hadn’t seen it. I’d only been working three weeks and always beat him in and left after he did. I was almost halfway through the project and on target to finish two weeks early. My real boss, Gene, told me to double-check everything and take the full eight weeks. I’m sure that had more to do with billable hours and less with my own health and sanity.

“If you have any questions, I’ll be more than happy to answer them.” I didn’t know how to be social with him. Numbers were safe. Small talk wasn’t.

“You should take more breaks, walk around, get to know the people here. This is a great company to work for. And it looks like we’ll be here a while.” He was proud, and rightfully so. Their growing pains were the good kind to have.

I had a few financial ideas for them besides the obvious hiring more employees. Teaching employees how to forecast catastrophic events and how to distribute the money in advance for them was like herding cats. It was all projections based on what-ifs, and people got nervous around money. A lot of money. But there was repetition in numbers and history, and that’s what made my job easy. I was there to review the data and design a training program that allowed the adjusters to do their job without bankrupting the company. People trusted the assuredness in my reports.

“Oh, I’m sure the employees are great. I just wanted to get started right away. There’s so much information to process that it’s hard to get away from it once you dig in. You know what that’s like. I suppose I could get up and take more breaks.” I kept talking until I saw his shoulders relax. My last suggestion seemed to appease him.

“Pick a day next week. We’ll do lunch. That gives you plenty of time.” He winked at me and left my office. It was hard not to like him. It was as if he knew my struggles. Then again, it wasn’t as if our field was full of social people.

“Okay. I’ll check my calendar and get back to you,” I said even though he was already gone. I figured he heard me down the hall since he left my door wide open. I really hadn’t spoken to a lot of people here. Amanda, Mr. Hoyt, Josh the intern who was bound and determined to wear me down and be my friend, and Hannah the mail distributor who never had mail for me but was always nice and said hello when she wheeled her cart past my office. I needed to try harder. At least the people here seemed friendlier than the people I saw every Friday at my permanent job. Those people resented that I worked from home and only had to make an appearance one day a week. The employees here didn’t know me well enough yet.

I sat back in my chair and closed my eyes for a minute. I had been hunched over the computer for hours, and my shoulders and neck were sore. My feet hated the heels I’d picked out that morning. The shoes gave me height but also pinched my toes. I’d forgotten how hellish they were to wear until I got halfway to the train.

I kicked the shoes off, curled my feet underneath me, and decided to check my email on my phone. I refused to use the computer at work for anything other than the project I was assigned. I didn’t want to leave a digital trail. As I was just about to hit the mail app, my emotions hijacked my brain and hit the piano app instead. I clutched my phone as I watched it spool open. There in front of me were black and white keys. I took a deep breath and emotionally pushed myself to touch a key. Nothing happened. I was both relieved and confused. I hit it again. Still nothing. My glorious comeback to piano-land was a dud.

I groaned when I noticed I had my phone on silent. I turned the volume on, took another deep breath, and hit the D key. The quality of the sound was horrific, but I didn’t panic right away. No, the freak-out happened about ten notes later when I realized I had played a scale. I closed out of the app and quickly stood. I told myself to relax. I was in charge of this. Nobody else. I stared down at my phone and saw only my reflection in the black screen. Perfect time for a break. I got up, slipped my angry shoes back on, left my phone behind, and headed for the kitchen. I had a raspberry yogurt with my name on it in the communal refrigerator. I walked into the break room and froze when six people turned to stare at me.

“Hi, Lily.” Josh’s smile was friendly as he ushered me into the room.

I wanted to ninja slink out, but instead I pasted on a smile and continued my trek to grab my snack. “Hi, Josh. How are you?”

“Good. Glad to see you out and about. Got plans tonight?” Dear God, I hoped he wasn’t asking me out. “We’re going to shoot pool down at Bleachers tonight. You in?”

“I’m not good at pool, and as inviting as it sounds, I really can’t. I have another project at home that I need to finish.” He looked disappointed but not dejected. I was actually great at pool. Even though there was a tiny part of me that wanted to go, I wasn’t dressed for anything but work.

“Well, we might be in a tournament on Friday night as well, so keep that night open if you want.”

I smiled and nodded on my way out of the kitchen. I planned on attending the concert at the Leading Note and needed the rest of the week to work up the courage to actually go.