I thought he was meeting me at the restaurant, but okay.
The horn beeps on my car when I hit the Unlock button, and Ryle spins around. He grins when he sees me. “Yes, I agree,” he says into the phone. He wraps an arm around my shoulder and pulls me against him, pressing a kiss to the top of my head. “We’ll talk about it tomorrow,” he says. “Something really important just came up.”
He hangs up the phone and slides it into his pocket, then he kisses me. It’s not a hello kiss. It’s an I’ve-been-thinking-about-you-nonstop kiss. He wraps both arms around me and spins me until I’m backed up against my car, where he continues to kiss me until I start to feel dizzy again. When he pulls back, he’s looking down at me appreciatively.
“You know which part of you drives me the craziest?” He brings his fingers to my mouth and traces my smile. “These,” he says. “Your lips. I love how they’re as red as your hair and you don’t even have to wear lipstick.”
I grin and kiss his fingers. “I better watch you around my mom, then, because everyone says we have the same mouth.”
He pauses his fingers against my lips and he stops smiling. “Lily. Just . . . no.”
I laugh and open my door. “Are we taking separate cars?”
He pulls the door open for me the rest of the way and says, “I took an Uber here from work. We’ll ride together.”
• • •
My mother is already seated at a table when we arrive. Her back is to the door as I lead the way.
I’m instantly impressed by the restaurant. My eyes are drawn to the warm, neutral colors painted on the walls and the almost full-sized tree in the middle of the restaurant. It looks like it’s growing straight out of the floor, almost as if the entire restaurant was designed around the tree. Ryle follows closely behind me with his hand on my lower back. Once we reach the table, I begin to pull off my jacket. “Hey, Mom.”
She looks up from her phone and says, “Oh, hey, honey.” She drops her phone in her purse and waves her hand around the restaurant. “I already love it. Look at the lighting,” she says, pointing up. “The fixtures look like something you’d grow in one of your gardens.” That’s when she notices Ryle, who is standing patiently next to me as I slide into the booth. My mother smiles at him and says, “We’ll take two waters for now, please.”
My eyes dart to Ryle and then back to my mother. “Mom. He’s with me. He’s not the waiter.”
She looks up at Ryle again with confusion. He just smiles and reaches out his hand. “Honest mistake, ma’am. I’m Ryle Kincaid.”
She returns the handshake, looking back and forth between us. He releases her hand and slides into the booth. She looks a little flustered when she finally says, “Jenny Bloom. Nice to meet you.” She places her attention back on me and raises an eyebrow. “A friend of yours, Lily?”
I can’t believe I’m not better prepared for this moment. What in the heck do I introduce him as? My trial run? I can’t say boyfriend, but I can’t very well say friend. Prospect seems a little dated.
Ryle notices my pause, so he puts his hand on my knee and squeezes reassuringly. “My sister works for Lily,” he says.“Have you met her? Allysa?”
My mother leans forward in her booth and says, “Oh! Yes! Of course. You two look so much alike now that you mention it,” she says. “It’s the eyes, I think. And the mouth.”
He nods. “We both favor our mother.”
My mother smiles at me. “People always say they think Lily favors me.”
“Yes,” he says. “Identical mouths. Uncanny.” Ryle squeezes my knee under the table again while I try and suppress my laughter. “Ladies, if you’ll excuse me, I need to head to the gentlemen’s room.” He leans in and kisses me on the side of the head before standing. “If the waiter comes, I’ll just take water.”
My mother’s eyes follow Ryle as he walks away, and then she slowly turns back to me. She points at me and then to his empty seat. “How come I haven’t heard about this guy?”
I smile a little. “Things are kind of . . . it’s not really . . .” I have no idea how to explain our situation to my mother. “He works a lot, so we haven’t really spent that much time together. At all. This is actually the first time we’ve been to dinner together.”
My mother raises an eyebrow. “Really?” she says, leaning back in her seat. “He sure doesn’t treat it like that. I mean—he seems comfortably affectionate with you. Not normal behavior with someone you’ve just met.”
“We didn’t just meet,” I say. “It’s been almost a year since the first time I met him. And we’ve spent time together, just not on a date. He works a lot.”
“Where does he work?”
“Massachusetts General Hospital.”
My mother leans forward and her eyes practically bulge from her head. “Lily!” she hisses. “He’s a doctor?”
I nod, suppressing my grin. “A neurosurgeon.”
“Can I get you ladies something to drink?” a waiter asks.
“Yeah,” I say. “We’ll take three . . .”
And then I clamp my mouth shut.
I stare at the waiter and the waiter stares back at me. My heart is in my throat. I can’t remember how to speak.
“Lily?” my mother says. She flicks her hand toward the waiter. “He’s waiting for your drink order.”