Barry Allen. Iris wrinkled her nose in disgust at the very sound of his name as it bounced around in her mind. The singer. The popstar. The guy that had bailed on his first date with her best friend.
“Something came up,” Linda had said with a woeful sigh.
Given that it was three days later and he hadn’t so much as deigned to call and apologize, Iris had taken matters into her own annoyed hands. She stomped over to the karaoke bar he sometimes frequented – the height of his singing career at the time – and grilled the bartender for the location of his likely humble abode.
The bartender that night looked fifteen, not twenty-one, but Iris was not one to focus on the legalities of that situation in the moment, even if her dad was a cop. Still, on that note, she was glad a pretty brunette had intervened, quickly informing her she knew this Barry Allen – he was a friend of hers – and asking what exactly the problem was.
“I’ll tell you what the problem is,” Iris barked. “Your ‘friend’ bailed on my best friend two seconds after picking her up for a date three days ago. He hasn’t so much as called her to apologize, or – or sent her flowers, which is what he should be doing. She was excited for that date.”
A slightly shorter guy with dark flowing locks approached from behind the woman, looking concerned, but Iris only spared him a single glance before returning her fiery gaze to the brunette in front of her.
“Are…” She looked over to the new arrival before looking back at Iris. “Are you talking about Linda?”
Well, that took her off guard.
Iris’ shoulders slumped slightly, a myriad of questions racing through her mind.
“You…you guys know Linda?”
“Yeah, she’s great—”
“We don’t know her know her,” the woman clarified, cutting off her friend. “She’s the first person that got Barry to do a repeat performance up onstage after praising him the first time.” She lowered her voice slightly, suddenly unable to maintain eye contact. “It wasn’t one of my brightest moments. I don’t remember much, but apparently I was incredibly drunk and he took pity on me when I declared I was doing karaoke.” She cleared her throat.
“Which is why she’s great,” the man beside her said amidst her brief embarrassment.
Iris glanced between the two, sifting through the information she’d been given and wondering why Linda hadn’t told her this particular story.
“I have a date tonight!” she’d declared the night of said date.
Iris’ jaw had dropped. “With who?” she demanded, though she couldn’t help but smile.
“Just…a guy…at a bar…that I casually gave my phone number to via an app,” she said nonchalantly, but she was clearly gushing.
“That’s sooo not like you, Lin.” She lowered her voice. “Picking up a guy at a bar?”
“I know, I know, but I have a really good feeling about him, Iris. I think he’s one of the good ones.”
Iris had been happy for her, truly, but all that had gone up in smoke when moments after he met her at their workplace, and Linda had dashed off to her desk to get her jacket, Barry had quite lamely – and obviously – made up an excuse to leave on her return.
“Good to meet you, Iris,” he’d said by way of goodbye.
She’d glared and not said a single word, her best friend fighting not to look disappointed beside her.
“I really have to go,” he said regrettably, then turned to Linda. “I’m so sorry.”
“It’s all right,” her best friend said far too brightly. “Things come up. I understand.”
“Maybe another time,” Linda had started to say, but he’d turned to leave before she could get all the words out, and he’d never contacted her again.
“If she’s so great,” Iris said, the memory of what drove her fury coursing through her veins as she crossed her arms tightly beneath her breasts. “Why did he ditch her two minutes after he picked her up for their date?” she seethed.
“I…” the man began.
“She didn’t tell you?” the woman asked, confused.
“No!” Iris threw her hands up in the air. “How could she have told me what she didn’t know herself? She hasn’t heard from him since he stormed out of CCPN three days ago saying something came up! The lying ass,” she muttered under her breath.
“Storming seems a little…un-Barry-like,” the man said in response.
“Yeah, I don’t think—”
“Okay, fine, he didn’t storm,” Iris allowed in a huff. “He walked normally.” Her brows furrowed, remembering. “He actually…stumbled a little, I think.”
“Now that sounds like Barry,” the man said, smiling brightly as he took a bite of a piece of red licorice he’d either pulled from his pocket or been holding in his hand the whole time.
“Definitely,” the woman muttered, laughing slightly under her breath.
“Forget the stumbling,” Iris brushed that aside, realizing she was getting nowhere with these two. She ignored their frowns when she said so. “Tell me where he is. I need to talk to him. He is going to be apologizing to my best friend, and at the very least he is going to take her on one date. She deserves that much. Or at least flowers. He can afford flowers, right? He can’t be that broke. Or-” A possibility dawned on her, and she felt guilty for the first time. “He’s not…he’s not broke, is he?” she lowered her voice. “Is that why he bailed on her? And why he never called her after that? He was too embarrassed to admit it?”
The two in front of her shared another look, which she was already tiring of.
“No, that’s not why…”
Her feeling of guilt evaporated.
“Then tell me where he is. I demand an explanation. Linda does too, because she deserve—”
The woman suddenly grasped her wrist in her hand. Iris fought the urge to pull away.
“Hey, I know you’re upset, but-”
This time Iris did pull away.
The woman sighed. “I just don’t think he can tell you anything that he didn’t already tell her.”
Iris’ brows furrowed in confusion. “Huh?”
“It’s true,” the man piped up, bouncing up on his toes as he took another bite of his snack. “Barry called her up two days ago and told her what happened. He said she understood but was disappointed. He wanted to make it up to her somehow, but we pointed out to him that pursuing her would be unfair to both him and her, so he settled for sending her a bouquet of flowers. We never found out if she accepted them or not, and he never heard from her again.”
Iris was more confused than ever. She couldn’t remember seeing flowers on Linda’s desk ever in the past three days. She hadn’t noticed any when she stopped by her apartment one night for a detox after work either. Was it possible Barry Allen had sent flowers and her best friend had just been so upset by the whole ordeal that she threw them out immediately and didn’t even bother telling her?
Why wouldn’t she tell her? She pouted, feeling slightly betrayed now.
“So, I…I don’t…”
“Maybe you should ask Linda what he said?”
“No.” She shook her head. “If you guys are telling the truth-”
“We are!” They both declared simultaneously.
She blinked, briefly silenced.
“Then your friend must’ve really broken her heart if she didn’t feel like she could tell me, her best friend.” She sighed and shook her head, tugging her purse strap higher up over her shoulder. “I don’t want to know anymore.” She took a breath and looked at them before turning to leave. “But Barry Allen is no friend of mine.”
She filtered out their protests as she left the bar. She didn’t even know them, and she didn’t know Barry Allen, but she did know that his excuse must’ve been really shitty if Linda couldn’t tell her what was up. That was all she needed to know. Barry Allen was a scumbag, a real asshole. She wished him nothing but misery and failure in his life. And whatever happened, he better not fall in love.
Three years later, looking over a set-in-stone assignment on her desk, she knew the universe had heard her bitter wish and immediately thrown it in the trash. Barry Allen might not be in love – as far as was public knowledge – but he was no longer just occasionally singing karaoke in halfway decent bars. He was rising to stardom, and her boss had made it clear that an exclusive with him would spruce up the entertainment page of Central City Picture News, maybe draw in younger readers.
“We’re not a gossip rag,” she’d shot back two seconds after she asked to speak with him privately and shut the door behind her. He didn’t bother to offer her the vacant chair on the opposite side of his desk. She never took it. She was only ever in his office when his assignments irritated her, which was often.
“This could be your big break, Iris,” he said with a sigh, circling his desk to sit in his chair.
“I don’t care!”
He raised an eyebrow, and with some effort she reined herself in.
“There will be other stories,” she said. “And I’m sure there are several reporters here that would love to do a piece on him.”
“But I don’t want anyone else to write it. I want you.”
“Why?” she demanded.
“You’re not biased.”
“You’re not biased in the way a lot of young people are. You don’t think he’s the best thing since sliced bread.”
Her boss waited.
“That’s bias, right?” she pointed out.
“Do this for me, and I’ll consider letting you branch out with your stories.”
“What do you mean ‘branch out’?”
“I mean, you choose the next five stories you want to write. If I like the outcome, I’ll promote you to investigative reporter.”
She wished she’d been near the chair to sit down in it. Her mind was racing. She’d been writing puny little stories, small-time crimes or large-scale crimes that she wasn’t allowed to look into. She wanted to make a mark in the world, and she wanted to do it as a reporter. She’d been at CCPN four years and never achieved the level of success she wanted. Who knew when an opportunity like this might come again?
Finally, she looked up at her boss, taking a couple steps towards where he sat.
“All I have to do is interview the scumbag?”
He smiled serenely.
“All you have to do is interview the scumbag.”
Hesitantly, she smiled and then nodded.
“Do try to be somewhat objective though, Miss West,” he said before she reached the door.
“I’m sorry?” she asked, her brows furrowing as her hand came to rest on the door handle.
“This can’t be a revenge piece to get back at him for whatever he supposedly did to you.”
“It’s not me he did-”
He held up his hand to silence her, and she stopped.
“I want an honest piece. Can you do that?”
Gradually, she allowed the tiniest of smiles to slip through.
“I can certainly try.”
A week later, a date and time finally arranged, Iris sat in a nearly empty studio, nothing but white walls and light wood floor, and some stereo equipment that she guessed belonged in the soundproof room down the hall.
There was not a sound in the place. The security guy for the building happened to be walking by when she arrived and let her in once she told him who she was and why she was there.
He smiled genuinely.
“I heard you were coming. Just head on up. Fifth floor. He should be here soon.”
She forced a smile, quietly said her thanks and headed for the elevator.
The large floor-to-ceiling windows mesmerized her when she’d first walked in, but now she wanted to throw a rock through them and scuff the floor from one side to the next with her pretty new heels.
Linda was so, so lucky she never got so far as one date with him. She would’ve been nothing but disappointed and probably would’ve dumped him within a week of knowing him.
No girl could wait this long for a date to arrive. No call, no text, no doubt in her mind now that he had no one special in his life.
Barry Allen was two hours late. And counting.
When the setting sun started to dip into the floor-to-ceiling windows enough to blind her, Iris decided it was time to go home. What a wasted trip, she thought, her mounting annoyance causing her to stomp out of the room and repeatedly press the elevator button until the doors opened.
Everything inside her wanted to throw in the towel. She didn’t have the time or the patience for this, and she had a grudge. The last thing she wanted to do was give Barry Allen the time of day when he clearly had no interest in giving her his. But that little voice in the back of her head was screaming that if she let her emotions rule how she went about this particular story, she could kiss her dreams of a promising career goodbye. Sure, there might be other possibilities in the future, but none so bright as this one.
And if her boss found out she dropped the story instead of simply rescheduling – what if he got locked out of his house? Or his car? Or an emergency came up? Or his phone died so he couldn’t call her? She could hear all the options pouring out of her boss’s mouth in her head. And if he knew she’d dropped it because she’d simply been annoyed? Well, he would probably relegate her to the engagement announcements and obituaries page at the back of the newspaper.
No, she had to handle this with finesse. Unfortunately.
All the frustration inside her nearly burst forth when her stomach growled as she stepped out of the elevator on the first floor. The granola bar she’d stuck in her purse had been inhaled hours ago. That had been at two pm, too much for her to resist back when he was three hours late. Now it was six, and she was badly in need of substantial food.
She’d call Linda as soon as she got in her car. They could get take out Chinese or go grab some Big Belly Burger and inhale all the calories greedily. They’d buy wine from the next-door liquor store and pour into those large engraved wine glasses they’d gotten each other last Christmas. They’d make it a girl’s night. Tomorrow was Saturday. They could stay up and trash talk Barry Allen until they couldn’t keep their eyes open anymore.
It would be great.
But just as she rounded the corner and headed for the entrance, she stopped suddenly in her high heel shoes. Because there, standing right outside the door, was none other than Barry Allen with a paper pressed against the glass and the words ‘I’m sorry’ written in what looked to be a chunky black crayon.
Her brows narrowed as she resumed walking. She stopped a foot before the door and glared at him.
“You’re late,” she said, loud enough for him to hear without opening the door.
“My phone died,” he said, moving his sign down a little lower, in case she hadn’t seen it.
She held her tongue until the urge to call him every insulting name in the book receded to a manageable proportion.
“You do remember that our appointment was at eleven, right?”
He couldn’t meet her eyes.
“In the morning?”
He winced, then lifted his palm up to her where the smudged pen ink read: Iris interview @ 11am. Don’t miss. Studio.
She shook her head and scoffed; disgusted, unimpressed, and far from forgiving.
“Let me take you out to dinner,” he said before she could interrogate him further.
Her jaw dropped, and her mind went blank. It took her a while before she could find her voice.
“I…beg your pardon?”
He sighed. “I messed up. Let me buy you dinner. You can interview me, and I promise the place will be nice. You won’t be eating a burger and fries.”
‘I happen to like burgers and fries’ was on the tip of her tongue, but she decided not to give him the advantage of knowing she was a cheap date.
“You think treating me to your version of a nice dinner is going to make up for the seven hours I wasted waiting for you today?” she fumed, but she knew she was weakening.
“No...” he hedged, “but I bet you’re hungry, and you would rather not reschedule our interview for another day, right?”
She stifled her sigh and glared up at him.
“You’re right. I am hungry.”
He relaxed some.
“Which is why there is no way in hell I’m going to a sit-down restaurant where I have to wait twenty minutes to get my food,” she spat.
His lips parted, and to her satisfaction he looked at a loss for words, but he quickly recovered.
“Appetizers come in five?” he offered.
Her eyes narrowed. “Is that a question?”
“I haven’t been there in years,” he confessed. She almost snorted. “But I can’t imagine the place has changed all that much. The original owner is still there, and the place is always crowded.”
“I thought you haven’t been there in years.” He opened his mouth to speak, but she cut him off. “And if it’s so busy, what makes you think you can get us in? Wouldn’t you have to have made a reservation like…a week ago?”
He avoided her gaze briefly, but inevitably his eyes flickered back to hers where she was looking at him in shock and reluctantly, awe.
“You made a reservation?”
“Yeah...actually.” He nervously pulled at the collar of his jacket.
“For me?” She shook her head and blinked several times, telling herself she should not be so starstruck just because this up-and-coming pop star who she hated had planned to take her out for a fancy dinner after their interview. She cleared her throat and gathered her receding anger. “You have some nerve.”
His eyes widened in a panic.
“You think you can just whisk me off my feet? Because your singing career is taking off? I don’t know if this works on all the other girls you proposition, but I am not an idiot, Barry Allen. And I have not forgotten what you did three years ago.”
That’s right, Barry Allen! She thought to herself, the feeling of righteous anger rising up in her as she said the words aloud. Take that!
“Are you…talking about Linda?” he asked.
She couldn’t tell if he was hesitant, confused, or curious.
“You remember her name. Amazing.”
“Of course, I remember.” His eyes went wide, eager to reassure her. “Iris, what did she tell you about what happened?”
She scoffed. “She didn’t tell me anything! Ever! How can that mean anything except that you never bothered to talk to her after ditching her two seconds after arriving for your date! She was heartbroken!”
She decided not to mention the little run-in with his friends she’d had three days after the incident.
Barry frowned. “But Caitlin and Cisco said-”
“Who the hell are Caitlin and Cisco?”
“My friends,” he said. “They said they ran into Linda’s best friend a few days after our date-”
“Failed date,” she spat. He ignored that.
“I assumed it was you,” he continued.
She could only maintain her huffing for so long. This was already getting so ridiculous with them carrying on this heated conversation on opposite sides of a closed door.
“So what if it was?” She rolled her eyes. “They never told me their names or what you said to Linda.”
He pressed his forehead to the glass, and when she finally looked up at him, the look of adoration nearly stole her breath.
“Let me take you to dinner,” he requested softly. “I promise I’ll explain everything.” He lifted his head. “And I’ll answer any question you want honestly, on or off the record.”
She squinted suspiciously. “Why?”
A heart-stopping smile started to spread across his face.
“I’m an open book for you, Iris West.”
Pacing back and forth in a dimly lit corridor where Barry couldn’t see her, Iris listened to what her friend had to say. It was becoming increasingly difficult to not believe this was a dream.
“You should go out with him, Iris.”
She stopped walking. The silence was deafening, and it lingered for a full minute.
“Iris?” Linda asked, concerned.
“I’m sorry, I thought I just heard my best friend tell me to go out with the guy that broke her heart.”
On the other end, Linda rolled her eyes.
“He didn’t break my heart.”
Iris said nothing.
“Okay, so it took me a little while to get over it, I admit it.”
“He was cute and an amazing singer, and I thought he was into me. So sue me for being a little excited.”
“No one’s blaming you, Lin.” Iris softened. “That’s entirely my point. Why would you want me to go out with a guy who got you all worked up and then had commitment issues before the date even started?”
Linda laughed. “He didn’t have commitment issues. In his own way, he was doing me a favor. I just couldn’t appreciate it in the moment, because…well, you know.”
“What are you talking about? How could he not have had commitment issues if he ditched you before you even left CCPN? What did he say to you later that he and his two friends keep reminding me of that you never did?” She was getting louder, but she didn’t care. Being out of the loop, especially from your best friend, totally sucked.
“I didn’t want you to feel bad.”
“About what?” she demanded.
Linda took a breath. “He met someone else.”
“When did he have the time to meet someone else? It was less than twenty-four hours between when you gave him your number and when he showed up for your date. I saw him when he came through the door, Lin. He was so excited for that date. Or at least he looked like it, the jackass,” she muttered under her breath.
“It was after I left to get my jacket,” Linda said calmly.
Iris was fuming. She wished she’d just spit it out already.
“Lin,” she said slowly, trying her best to be patient. “It couldn’t have been then either. No one came up to meet him or even walked into the room. The few people that were there were busy at their desks. I didn’t see a single one of them look up. I was the only one who he-”
She stopped, realization dawning.
“But…I didn’t-… I never… God, Linda, I didn’t flirt with him. I swear I didn’t. I never led him on. I was just being nice. I-”
“Hey, hey, I know. That’s why I never told you. I didn’t want you to feel bad. None of it was your fault.”
Iris ran a hand through her hair and started to pace again.
“It was definitely his fault, though.”
“What was he gonna do, Iris? Pretend to be into me, so he wouldn’t hurt my feelings, when what he really wanted was to be on a date with my best friend?”
“He could’ve given you a chance, Linda. He might not have been into me after a few minutes, anyway.”
“Maybe.” She shrugged. “But I think I’d rather be on a date with someone who was completely infatuated with me, not the idea of someone else.”
“You’re a better catch.”
“Don’t sell yourself short,” Iris scolded.
“I’m not.” She paused. “Look, it’s been three years. I was hurt, but I got over it within a week. I never expected you to hold a grudge this long, though. I’m honored, truly.”
Iris sighed and dragged a hand down over her face.
“You’re my best friend, and he hurt you. How could I possibly let that go? Plus, he was super late today, Lin. It took him six hours to show up. Six hours.”
Laughter rippled through the phone from the other end.
“That’s a long time to wait for an interview.”
“Hell yeah, it is!”
“But you did it.”
“My shining career was on the line.”
“No ulterior motive then?”
“I was looking forward to thoroughly insulting him on your behalf, so what?”
“It’s been three years. And truth be told, about a month after the incident, I tracked him down and tried to persuade him to ask you out.”
“What?” she shrieked.
“You guys are perfect for each other, honestly. He’s a catch, but so are you. I think you should give him a chance. I 100% guarantee that I won’t begrudge you for that. Especially since I just started dating your brother.”
Iris came to a halt again. She tried to wrap her head around that little factoid, but it was proving even more difficult than the first revelation.
“You want to run that by me again?”
“You heard me.”
“How long have you been dating?”
“I wanted to tell you sooner, but he said you’d freak.”
“I am freaking. I can’t believe you didn’t tell me sooner. I can’t believe he didn’t. I can’t believe-”
“I said your dad would be harder, and he agreed with that. He doesn’t know I told you, so maybe don’t attack him when you see him because he wanted to tell you first.”
Iris focused on breathing.
“He’s twenty-four,” she finally said.
“And you and I are twenty-eight. It’s not like he’s a minor, Iris, and he’s very mature for his age. Don’t worry. I’ll take care of him.”
Iris sighed. “Yeah, I don’t doubt that…”
“Look, we can talk about how he and I met and how you’re not going to tell your dad until we have a real game plan later. I know I’ve got your approval, just like you know you’ve got mine about Barry.”
“Uh huh,” she said numbly, still struggling to comprehend.
“Great,” Linda said cheerfully. “You know what you’re going to do now, right?”
“What?” she asked, at a loss.
“You’re going to hang up the phone, go back to wherever you left Barry Allen hanging, and go on that date with him.”
“It’s an interview.”
Linda smiled tenderly, imagining her quietly spazzed best friend on the other end.
“Make it more than that,” she said, and hung up the phone.
Slowly Iris lowered the phone from her ear, saw it had ended, and dropped into her purse. She took a deep breath and returned to the locked glass doors where Barry was still standing. He immediately straightened when he saw her coming, a look of hope and anticipation in his gaze.
“Well? Did you talk to her?” he asked, far too eagerly.
“I did,” she allowed.
“it was really shitty of you to ditch her on your first date. You could’ve at least given her a chance.”
His face fell, heartbreak written all over it.
But then her face softened.
He looked up at her hesitantly.
“I just found out she’s dating my kid brother, and she’s of the opinion you and I would be great together, so if you want to buy me a free meal at some ritzy fine dining restaurant and are willing to answer any question I have for the interview, well then…”
He watched her with baited breath. Her hand slowly moved to the door handle and she yanked the door open. She took one step outside, very aware of their height difference even in her heels when she came to a stop.
“You better pick me up on time, because this opportunity won’t present itself again.”
He blinked, and she smiled slyly. She pushed her purse up higher and moved past him to walk down the street to her car.
“One hour, Allen,” she said from a distance. “I’ll text you my address.”
Barry stood dumbfounded even after she’d driven away. Then, miraculously, he snapped out of it and ran the five blocks to the parking garage.
It took him twenty minutes to get home, another twenty to get ready, but luck was on his side because he arrived at Iris West’s apartment five minutes early, fidgeting about as he stood waiting.
When the door opened and the whoosh of air blew past him, he was taken aback. But the sight of Iris West in a little black dress with simple earrings and her hair tied back with a small jewel-encrusted barrette stole his breath.
“Wow,” he let out, the sound of his pounding heart beat loud and resounding in his ears.
“You clean up nice too, Mr. Allen,” she said, but he couldn’t tell if she was being polite or not. “Shall we?” She offered her arm, and immediately he took it as she locked up behind her and closed the door.
The warmth of her body beside his was a drug he’d longed to indulge in for years.
“So, where are we going?” she asked after he’d held the door open for her and she’d settled into her seat.
He turned the key in the ignition and turned to her before driving onto the road.
“It’s a surprise.”
Iris looked around the five-star establishment Barry Allen had brought her to and tried very hard not to be impressed.
Barry, for his part, was torn between amusement at witnessing her inner struggle and panic that she might not approve of the place after all.
“What do you think?” he asked casually, dwelling briefly on how he’d opened the car and restaurant doors for her and pulled back her chair at the table, wondering if he’d overdone it.
“It’s…acceptable,” she said demurely, but when she turned to look back at him and saw the worry on his face, she shook her head. “It’s amazing, Barry Allen.” She picked up her menu and focused on it. “I don’t know what kind of money you make or how far in advance you had to book this place, but consider me impressed.” She paused and glanced up at him. “I’ve never been to a place this nice in my entire life. I feel underdressed.”
“You look incredible,” he said quickly, clear shock on his face that she could think anything else.
“Says the guy who came in a tuxedo,” she dead-panned.
He laughed. “It’s a blazer.”
She tried to fight a smile and failed.
“You really do look amazing, Iris.”
Her smile turned all-knowing as she set her menu down. “I know.”
His brows furrowed.
“I said I feel underdressed.” She folded her hands in front of her on the table. “I know I’m a ten regardless.”
He laughed and directed his attention to his menu, hoping it would lessen the blush spreading across his cheeks.
“You’re very cute, Barry Allen,” she commented, running her fingers along the rim of her wine glass.
He looked up at that. “You think I’m cute?”
She rolled her eyes, but couldn’t manage to lessen her smile. His quirky behavior was getting to her.
And it wasn’t just that. His good humor, charming persona, and gentlemanly ways aside, she’d felt a warmth and a slight nervousness around him ever since he’d more or less admitted he’d planned to take her out at least a week in advance. As the night went on, she started to let herself think that maybe he wasn’t that bad after all. And the more she let herself do that, the more she became aware of him on a physical level.
She was attracted to him. She had to catch her breath when he was in close proximity, and the first thing she thought when he took off his outer coat was what a shame it was he’d been wearing that blazer underneath. Despite herself, she started to envision what he looked like underneath that formal clothing, at least on top. That thought caused heat to spread south from her face, and she knew she was in trouble.
Stop that, she scolded herself, plastering a shining smile on her face.
“Don’t let it go to your head,” she advised. “All I’m doing is agreeing with the many fangirls crowding your concerts and screaming your name.”
He shook his head.
“Some concerts. I don’t know how they find me honestly. I’ve never been any place that big, and my publicity is terrible.”
She frowned. “Who’s your agent?”
“My agent?” He laughed. “Who do you think?”
She raised her eyebrows.
“My friends,” he said.
“Your frie- …Cisco and Caitlin?” Her jaw dropped, and he nodded.
“I love them, and they’re certainly creative, but they’re not very good at spreading the word. They could have the cure to cancer tucked away in a notebook, and no one would ever know about it.”
Iris bit her bottom lip and sank back in her chair.
“Have you considered getting a real agent?”
“You know what I mean.”
He sighed. “I do. And I think it might be smart. I just don’t want to break their hearts in the process.”
“I get it,” she said. “But if they really care about you, they’ll understand. Heck, they might even be relieved to have the responsibility of making you a star lifted off their shoulders.”
“Making me a star?” he asked in mock-offense. “I think I do pretty well for myself.”
“And yet, hardly anyone knows about you…” she said, taking a sip of her wine.
“What about all those fangirls you just mentioned?”
She opened her mouth and then closed it, a smirk quickly spreading. “Touché.”
“Besides, your boss must think I’m a big deal if he asked you to interview me.”
She sighed, resigned. “He does think you could spruce up our entertainment page.”
“What do you think?”
She thought back to what she’d retorted with in her boss’s office, and abandoned that particular consensus.
Barry didn’t quite know how to take that, but before he could begin to formulate a response, the waiter arrived. Their meal had arrived much sooner than either of them had anticipated and by default, they focused on that.
“This is incredible,” Iris commented, momentarily forgetting her manners by digging into her meal with zest.
“Told you,” he responded. “My memory doesn’t fail me.”
“Not this time at least.”
“Not three years ago either.”
Iris’ hands stilled on her knife and fork, her opinion of him prior to this evening fluttering back to the surface.
“I felt terrible for what I did to Linda. I wanted so bad to make it up to her, and I knew she was hurting. My attraction to her was genuine. She’s a beautiful woman with a fun personality. I was looking forward to that date.”
“Then what?” she asked, frowning. “You saw me and all that disappeared?”
“Yeah,” he said simply. “I saw you, and I couldn’t look away. I kept thinking, ‘who is this girl and how do I get to know her? How can I compliment her without coming on too strong? How do I make her feel like the most important person in the universe?’”
Iris’ heart skipped a beat and her breath caught in her throat.
“Then Linda said she had to go get her jacket, and I knew it wasn’t going to work. I hadn’t even noticed her until she left. I came in looking for her, but I saw you and everything changed. If I’d gone on that date, and maybe other dates after that…I would’ve regretted it. I wouldn’t have been able to stop thinking about you, wanting to spend time with you, wanting to do things to make you happy. I would’ve been emotionally unfaithful to Linda, and she deserves better than that.”
Iris set down her utensils.
“But how do you know that, Barry?” she asked gently. “You could’ve gone on that date and realized Linda really was what you wanted, that you were just briefly distracted by someone you thought was more attractive, but that my best friend had all the qualities you were looking for.”
“She does,” he said. “I’m sure she does.”
Her brows furrowed in confusion. “I don’t understand.”
“Linda is smart and sexy and fun. Any guy would be lucky to have her. I’m happy she found someone in your brother.”
Iris laughed, despite the seriousness of the conversation. “Yeah…”
He reached across the table and covered her hand in his, smoothing his thumb over her knuckles.
“I know this isn’t a date, and I know you’re still skeptical of my character given what happened three years ago, but Iris…” He met her eyes. “I haven’t been in a real relationship for a very long time. Since before I set up that date with Linda, even. But for the past three years there’s only one girl that’s been on my mind, that I can’t get out of my head, that I’ve been dreaming of getting a chance with since the second I laid eyes on her. And that’s you.”
“Whether you decide to put the past in the past and give me a chance after tonight is up to you, but I think you’re it for me.”
“You don’t even know me.”
“I feel like I do.”
She scoffed. “Barry-”
“Iris.” He moved his hand over hers again. “Look me in the eye and tell me you don’t want to see where this goes.”
She licked her lips, tried to slow her racing heartbeat, and forced herself to look into the all-consuming green-eyed gaze directed solely on her.
Then she pulled her hand away to reach into her purse.
He was asking so much of her, practically telling her he wanted to marry her, and this wasn’t even a real date. She’d spent the last three years being pissed as hell at him. The dramatic shift, and the fact that a part of her was even considering that tantalizing future – or at the very least a second date, made her uneasy.
She needed a distraction.
“I, uh…need to ask you some questions for the article I’m writing. I know I asked you a couple before, but I wasn’t recording or taking notes, so I’ll need to ask them again. And then, you know, basic things: where you grew up, where you went to school, what you originally wanted to do before you decided to sing, that sort of thing.”
“Sure, yeah,” he said, trying to hide the resignation and hurt in his voice. “A CSI, by the way.”
She paused halfway through pulling out her things to look at him.
“Mhmm. I’ve always found CSI work fascinating. Cisco, Caitlin, and I are all really into the science field. I think I would’ve been just as happy doing that as I am singing. I even stuck with that major all through college.”
“You would’ve probably worked with my dad,” she commented. “He’s a detective at CCPD.”
“Mm,” he responded noncommittally.
“So why the change?”
He gazed at her longingly for a while, awestruck, admiring her beauty and everything she was.
“You can’t express falling in love through testing DNA samples now, can you?”
She swallowed hard. “Have you ever been in love?” she asked quietly, remembering how she had meant to get the exclusive scoop on his clearly private dating life.
She didn’t ask him to elaborate. She couldn’t. He was looking at her like she was the one he had fallen in love with. And that…that was a little too much like love at first sight.
A war waged inside her the whole way back from the restaurant. The walk to her door from Barry’s car felt like an eternity, though they weren’t moving any slower than she normally would. She was torn between wanting to get inside and write her article as soon as possible so she’d never have to see him again and wanting to ask for a do-over, a real date with him. Because as much as it frightened her, she was attracted to him, and she did want to give them a chance.
In a few light moments over dinner (and then dessert), she had laughed with him. She’d felt heat rush to her face. Her heart had raced in a way it hadn’t in years. Yet she still felt guilty, but the part of her that kept saying get over it already was becoming increasingly louder and more dominant.
She just worried it might already be too late.
“Thanks for the interview,” she said when they got to her door, dragging out the words as much as she could.
“Of course,” he replied, his hands sinking into his pockets.
Guess he’s not gonna kiss me popped into her head before she could stop it, almost causing her to gasp aloud.
“If you have any follow-up questions, don’t hesitate to call,” he was saying.
“I probably won’t,” she said too quickly to get out of her own head. His face fell when she did though, and she regretted it instantly.
“Right. Well, if you do…”
“I’ll let you know.” She smiled tightly.
He nodded, unsure of what to say. Then he leaned forward, halting just briefly before lowering his lips to her cheek and pressing a gentle kiss there before pulling away.
“Goodnight, Iris. It was good seeing you again.”
Goodnight got caught in her throat, only half of the word coming out and too quietly for him to hear before he turned to walk away.
She watched him as he backed away and headed down the stairs towards the exit on the first floor. Her mind was spinning, her heart racing. The urgency and the struggle warring so fiercely inside her all evening forced her to make a choice now, and one she had to stick with.
Go into your little apartment, Iris, or go after him before you convince yourself to delete his number from your phone forever.
She swallowed hard, debating the two very life-changing options. Linda’s advice and assurance flitted through her mind, as did Barry’s gut-wrenchingly honest responses to every question she’d dished out to him.
The beep sounding from outside told her he’d unlocked his car door and was maybe a minute away from leaving.
Now or never, Iris. It’s now or never.
Barely sucking in a breath, she sped down the steps – which proved quite treacherous in her high heels – and then dashed out the door, running across the lawn as she saw his car start to move away from the curb. She started waving her arms and ran as fast as she thought she could without falling over.
“Barry, wait! Barryyyy!!”
His car stopped. Right there in the middle of the street, he parked the car, got out, and looked over the roof of it.
She placed her hands on her knees and leaned over slightly, out of breath.
He shut his car door and jogged over to her.
“Iris, are you alright? Is everything okay?” he asked worriedly.
“Oh yeah,” she assured, still trying to catch her breath. “I’m fine. It’s just that I, um…” She cleared her throat.
“Did you forget something?” he asked, still oblivious as to why she might have run after him following their somewhat strained goodbye.
She straightened, and so did he, but not all the way, and she thanked her lucky stars for that.
“Yeah,” she said, and pulled his head straight down to hers, so she could press her lips to his in a searing kiss.
He didn’t respond at first, and she thought she’d made a horrible mistake. But then she felt him soften, and she felt his arms circle her waist as he pulled her just a tiny bit closer. She felt one hand cup her face as the other dipped into the small of her back. And when he deepened the kiss – feeling bolder, she gathered – she moaned quietly and goosebumps spread across every inch of skin on her uncovered body.
When he pulled back a full minute later, they were both out of breath. It took a moment before they could lift their heads up to look at each other.
“Does this mean I get a second date?” he asked, the hint of a smile teased at the corner of his lips.
“How about a proper first date,” she suggested, her pearly whites shining through. “No recorder, no notepad, no thinking about what happened three years ago. Just you and me and the possibility of what could happen.”
His smile spread till he could hardly contain his happiness; he could hardly speak he was smiling so wide.
“I think that sounds like an excellent idea,” he said, and she giggled.
She actually giggled.
She’d worry about that later.
“Okay,” she said, biting down on her lower lip. “But maybe before you go, maybe if you could just—if we could-”
He cut her off with his lips on hers again, this time both hands on her face, his fingers sinking into her hair. He lost himself in that moment, and if her soft moans were any indication – or the way her arms hung around his neck, ducking under his coat collar – she was lost in it too, overwhelmed by the electricity sparking between them.
“God, I should have done this earlier,” she said, refusing to pull her face away from his even when their lips detached so they could gather some air to breathe.
“Plenty of time for this on our next date,” he assured her, his thumb brushing her jaw line as his finger softly tucked behind her ear lobe.
“Our first date,” she corrected him.
He smiled. “Right. Our first date.”
She lifted her head and moved back just enough to look him in the eye.
“I’m so excited,” she said, bouncing up onto her toes as her emotions bubbled over. Like they’d been begging to all evening, and she just hadn’t let them.
“Me too.” He grinned wider. “How does breakfast sound?”
It’s Saturday tomorrow. Of course. She’d forgotten.
She jumped up enough to capture his lips again and thrilled in the feel of his arms wrapped around her, holding her to him.
“Sounds perfect,” she murmured, and slowly lowered herself to her feet.
She looked up into his eyes and traced the sides of his face, letting her fingers float over the tips of his locks, and getting absolutely lost in those green irises of his.
“Sounds absolutely perfect.”