Chapter no 3

It Ends with us

Six months later


That’s all she says.

My mother turns and assesses the building, running a finger over the windowsill next to her. She picks up a layer of dust and wipes it between her fingers. “It’s . . .”

“It needs a lot of work, I know,” I interrupt. I point at the windows behind her. “But look at the storefront. It has potential.”

She scrolls over the windows, nodding. There’s this sound she makes in the back of her throat sometimes, where she agrees with a little hum but her lips remain tight. It means she doesn’t actually agree. And she makes that sound. Twice.

I drop my arms in defeat. “You think this was stupid?”

She gives her head a slight shake. “That all depends on how it turns out, Lily,” she says. The building used to house a restaurant and it’s still full of old tables and chairs. My mother walks over to a nearby table and pulls out one of the chairs, taking a seat. “If things work out, and your floral shop is successful, then people will say it was a brave, bold, smart business decision. But if it fails and you lose your entire inheritance . . .”

“Then people will say it was a stupid business decision.”

She shrugs. “That’s just how it works. You majored in business, you know that.” She glances around the room, slowly, as if she’s seeing it the way it will look a month from now. “Just make sure it’s brave and bold, Lily.”

I smile. I can accept that. “I can’t believe I bought it without asking you first,” I say, taking a seat at the table.

“You’re an adult. It’s your right,” she says, but I can hear a trace of disappointment. I think she feels even lonelier now that I need her less and less. It’s been six months since my father died, and

even though he wasn’t good company, it has to be weird for her, being alone. She got a job at one of the elementary schools, so she did end up moving here. She chose a small suburb on the outskirts of Boston. She bought a cute two-bedroom house on a cul-de-sac, with a huge backyard. I dream of planting a garden there, but that would require daily care. My limit is once-a-week visits. Sometimes twice.

“What are you going to do with all this junk?” she asks.

She’s right. There’s so much junk. It’ll take forever to clear this place out. “I have no idea. I guess I’ll be busting my ass for a while before I can even think about decorating.”

“When’s your last day at the marketing firm?” I smile. “Yesterday.”

She releases a sigh, and then shakes her head. “Oh, Lily. I certainly hope this works out in your favor.”

We both begin to stand when the front door opens. There are shelves in the way of the door, so I careen my head around them and see a woman walk in. Her eyes briefly scan the room until she sees me.

“Hi,” she says with a wave. She’s cute. She’s dressed well, but she’s wearing white capris. A disaster waiting to happen in this dust bowl.

“Can I help you?”

She tucks her purse beneath her arm and walks toward me, holding out her hand. “I’m Allysa,” she says. I shake her hand.


She tosses a thumb over her shoulder. “There’s a help wanted sign out front?”

I look over her shoulder and raise an eyebrow. “There is?” I didn’t put up a help wanted sign.

She nods, and then shrugs. “It looks old, though,” she says. “It’s

probably been there a while. I was just out for a walk and saw the sign. Was curious, is all.”

I like her almost immediately. Her voice is pleasant and her smile seems genuine.

My mother’s hand falls down on my shoulder and she leans in and kisses me on the cheek. “I have to go,” she says. “Open house

tonight.” I tell her goodbye and watch her walk outside, then turn my attention back to Allysa.

“I’m not really hiring yet,” I say. I wave my hand around the room. “I’m opening up a floral shop, but it’ll be a couple of months, at least.” I should know better than to hold preconceived judgments, but she doesn’t look like she’d be satisfied with a minimum wage job. Her purse probably cost more than this building.

Her eyes light up. “Really? I love flowers!” She spins around in a circle and says, “This place has a ton of potential. What color are you painting it?”

I cross my arm over my chest and grab my elbow. Rocking back on my heels, I say, “I’m not sure. I just got the keys to the building an hour ago, so I haven’t really come up with a design plan yet.”

“Lily, right?” I nod.

“I’m not going to pretend I have a degree in design, but it’s my absolute favorite thing. If you need any help, I’d do it for free.”

I tilt my head. “You’d work for free?”

She nods. “I don’t really need a job, I just saw the sign and thought, ‘What the heck?’ But I do get bored sometimes. I’d be happy to help you with whatever you need. Cleaning, decorating, picking out paint colors. I’m a Pinterest whore.” Something behind me catches her eye and she points. “I could take that broken door and make it magnificent. All this stuff, really. There’s a use for almost everything, you know.”

I look around at the room, knowing full well I’m not going to be able to tackle this by myself. I probably can’t even lift half this stuff alone. I’ll eventually have to hire someone anyway. “I’m not going to let you work for free. But I could do $10 an hour if you’re really serious.”

She starts clapping, and if she weren’t in heels, she might have jumped up and down. “When can I start?”

I glance down at her white capris. “Will tomorrow work? You’ll probably want to show up in disposable clothes.”

She waves me off and drops her Hermès bag on a dusty table next to her. “Nonsense,” she says. “My husband is watching the

Bruins play at a bar down the street. If it’s okay, I’ll just hang with you and get started right now.”

• • •

Two hours later, I’m convinced I’ve met my new best friend. And she really is a Pinterest whore.

We write “Keep” and “Toss” on sticky notes, and slap them on everything in the room. She’s a fellow believer in upcycling, so we come up with ideas for at least 75 percent of the stuff left in the building. The rest she says her husband can throw out when he has free time. Once we know what we’re going to do with all the stuff, I grab a notebook and a pen and we sit at one of the tables to write down design ideas.

“Okay,” she says, leaning back in her chair. I want to laugh, because her white capris are covered in dirt now, but she doesn’t seem to care. “Do you have a goal for this place?” she asks, glancing around.

“I have one,” I say. “Succeed.”

She laughs. “I have no doubt you’ll succeed. But you do need a vision.”

I think about what my mother said. “Just make sure it’s brave and bold, Lily.” I smile and sit up straighter in my chair. “Brave and bold,” I say. “I want this place to be different. I want to take risks.”

She narrows her eyes as she chews on the tip of the pen. “But you’re just selling flowers,” she says. “How can you be brave and bold with flowers?”

I look around the room and try to envision what I’m thinking. I’m not even sure what I’m thinking. I’m just getting itchy and restless, like I’m on the verge of a brilliant idea. “What are some words that come to mind when you think of flowers?” I ask her.

She shrugs. “I don’t know. They’re sweet, I guess? They’re alive, so they make me think of life. And maybe the color pink. And spring.”

“Sweet, life, pink, spring,” I repeat. And then, “Allysa, you’re brilliant!” I stand up and begin pacing the floor. “We’ll take everything everyone loves about flowers, and we’ll do the complete opposite!”

She makes a face to let me know she isn’t following.

“Okay,” I say. “What if, instead of showcasing the sweet side of flowers, we showcased the villainous side? Instead of pink accents, we use darker colors, like a deep purple or even black. And instead of just spring and life, we also celebrate winter and death.”

Allysa’s eyes are wide. “But . . . what if someone wants pink flowers, though?”

“Well, we’ll still give them what they want, of course. But we’ll also give them what they don’t know they want.”

She scratches her cheek. “So you’re thinking black flowers?” She looks concerned, and I don’t blame her. She’s only seeing the darkest side of my vision. I take a seat at the table again and try to

get her on board.

“Someone once told me that there is no such thing as bad people. We’re all just people who sometimes do bad things. That stuck with me, because it’s so true. We’ve all got a little bit of good and evil in us. I want to make that our theme. Instead of painting the walls a putrid sweet color, we paint them dark purple with black accents. And instead of only putting out the usual pastel displays of flowers in boring crystal vases that make people think of life, we go edgy. Brave and bold. We put out displays of darker flowers wrapped in things like leather or silver chains. And rather than put them in crystal vases, we’ll stick them in black onyx or . . . I don’t know . . . purple velvet vases lined with silver studs. The ideas are endless.” I stand up again. “There are floral shops on every corner for people who love flowers. But what floral shop caters to all the people who hate flowers?”

Allysa shakes her head. “None of them,” she whispers.

“Exactly. None of them.”

We stare at each other for a moment, and then I can’t take it another second. I’m bursting with excitement and I just start laughing like a giddy child. Allysa starts laughing, too, and she jumps up and hugs me. “Lily, it’s so twisted, it’s brilliant!”

“I know!” I’m full of renewed energy. “I need a desk so I can sit down and make a business plan! But my future office is full of old vegetable crates!”

She walks toward the back of the store. “Well, let’s get them out of there and go buy you a desk!”

We squeeze into the office and begin moving crates out one by one and into a back room. I stand on the chair to make the piles taller so we’ll have more room to move around.

“These are perfect for the window displays I have in mind.” She hands me two more crates and walks away, and as I’m reaching on my tiptoes to stack them at the very top, the pile begins to tumble. I try to find something to grab hold of for balance, but the crates knock me off the chair. When I land on the floor, I can feel my foot bend in the wrong direction. It’s followed by a rush of pain straight up my leg and down to my toes.

Allysa comes rushing back into the room and has to move two of the crates from on top of me. “Lily!” she says. “Oh my God, are you okay?”

I pull myself up to a sitting position, but don’t even try to put weight on my ankle. I shake my head. “My ankle.”

She immediately removes my shoe and then pulls her phone out of her pocket. She begins dialing a number and then looks up at me. “I know this is a stupid question, but do you happen to have a refrigerator here with ice in it?”

I shake my head.

“I figured,” she says. She puts the phone on speaker and sets it on the floor as she begins to roll up my pant leg. I wince, but not so much from the pain. I just can’t believe I did something so stupid. If I broke it, I’m screwed. I just spent my entire inheritance on a building that I won’t even be able to renovate for months.

Heeey, Issa,” a voice croons through her phone. “Where you at?

The game’s over.”

Allysa picks up her phone and brings it closer to her mouth. “At work. Listen, I need . . .”

The guy cuts her off and says, “At work? Babe, you don’t even have a job.”

Allysa shakes her head and says, “Marshall, listen. It’s an emergency. I think my boss broke her ankle. I need you to bring some ice to . . .”

He cuts her off with a laugh. “Your boss? Babe, you don’t even have a job,” he repeats.

Allysa rolls her eyes. “Marshall, are you drunk?”

“It’s onesie day,” he slurs into the phone. “You knew that when you dropped us off, Issa. Free beer until . . .”

She groans. “Put my brother on the phone.”

“Fine, fine,” Marshall mumbles. There’s a rustling sound that comes from the phone, and then, “Yeah?”

Allysa spits out our location into the phone. “Get here right now.

Please. And bring a bag of ice.”

“Yes ma’am,” he says. The brother sounds like he may be a little drunk, too. There’s laughter, and then one of the guys says, “She’s in a bad mood,” and then the line goes dead.

Allysa puts her phone back in her pocket. “I’ll go wait outside for them, they’re just down the street. Will you be okay here?”

I nod and reach for the chair. “Maybe I should just try to walk on it.”

Allysa pushes my shoulders back until I’m leaning against the wall again. “No, don’t move. Wait until they get here, okay?”

I have no idea what two drunken guys are going to be able to do for me, but I nod. My new employee feels more like my boss right now and I’m kind of scared of her at the moment.

I wait in the back for about ten minutes when I finally hear the front door to the building open. “What in the world?” a man’s voice says. “Why are you all alone in this creepy building?”

I hear Allysa say, “She’s back here.” She walks in, followed by a guy wearing a onesie. He’s tall, a little bit on the thin side, but boyishly handsome with big, honest eyes and a head full of dark, messy, way-past-due-for-a-haircut hair. He’s holding a bag of ice.

Did I mention he was wearing a onesie?

I’m talking a legit, full-grown man in a SpongeBob onesie. “This is your husband?” I ask her, cocking an eyebrow.

Allysa rolls her eyes. “Unfortunately,” she says, glancing back at him. Another guy (also in a onesie) walks in behind them, but my attention is on Allysa as she explains why they’re wearing pajamas on a random Wednesday afternoon. “There’s a bar down the street that gives out free beer to anyone who shows up in a onesie during a Bruins game.” She makes her way over to me and motions for the guys to follow her. “She fell off the chair and hurt her ankle,” she says to the other guy. He steps around Marshall and the first thing I notice are his arms.

Holy shit. I know those arms.

Those are the arms of a neurosurgeon.

Allysa is his sister? The sister that owns the entire top floor, with the husband who works in pajamas and brings in seven figures a year?

As soon as my eyes lock with Ryle’s, his whole face morphs into a smile. I haven’t seen him in—God, how long ago was that—six months? I can’t say I haven’t thought about him during the past six months, because I’ve thought about him quite a few times. But I never actually thought I’d see him again.

“Ryle, this is Lily. Lily, my brother, Ryle,” she says, motioning toward him. “And that’s my husband, Marshall.”

Ryle walks over to me and kneels down. “Lily,” he says, regarding me with a smile. “Nice to meet you.”

It’s obvious he remembers me—I can see it in his knowing smile. But like me, he’s pretending this is the first time we’ve met. I’m not sure I’m in the mood to explain how we already know each other.

Ryle touches my ankle and inspects it. “Can you move it?”

I try to move it, but a sharp pain shoots all the way up my leg. I suck in air through my teeth and shake my head. “Not yet. It hurts.”

Ryle motions to Marshall. “Find something to put the ice in.”

Allysa follows Marshall out of the room. When they’re both gone, Ryle looks at me and his mouth turns up into a grin. “I won’t charge you for this, but only because I’m slightly inebriated,” he says with a wink.

I tilt my head. “The first time I met you, you were high. Now you’re drunk. I’m beginning to worry you aren’t going to make a very qualified neurosurgeon.”

He laughs. “It would appear that way,” he says. “But I promise you, I rarely ever get high and this is my first day off in over a month, so I really needed a beer. Or five.”

Marshall comes back with an old rag wrapped around some ice. He hands it to Ryle, who presses it against my ankle. “I’ll need that first aid kit out of your trunk,” Ryle says to Allysa. She nods and grabs Marshall’s hand, pulling him out of the room again.

Ryle presses his palm against the bottom of my foot. “Push against my hand,” he says.

I push down with my ankle. It hurts, but I’m able to move his hand. “Is it broken?”

He moves my foot from side to side, and then says, “I don’t think so. Let’s give it a couple of minutes and I’ll see if you can put any weight on it.”

I nod and watch as he adjusts himself across from me. He sits cross-legged and pulls my foot onto his lap. He looks around the room and then directs his attention back at me. “So what is this place?”

I smile a little too big. “Lily Bloom’s. It’ll be a floral shop in about two months’ time.”

I swear, his whole face lights up with pride. “No way,” he says. “You did it? You’re actually opening up your own business?”

I nod. “Yep. I figured I might as well try it while I’m still young enough to bounce back from failure.”

One of his hands is holding the ice against my ankle, but the other one is wrapped around my bare foot. He’s brushing his thumb back and forth, like it’s no big deal that he’s touching me. But his hand on my foot is way more noticeable than the pain in my ankle.

“I look ridiculous, huh?” he asks, staring down at his solid red onesie.

I shrug. “At least you went with a non-character choice. It gives it a bit more maturity than the SpongeBob option.”

He laughs, and then his smile disappears as he leans his head into the door beside him. He stares at me appreciatively. “You’re even prettier in the daytime.”

Moments like these are why I absolutely hate having red hair and fair skin. The embarrassment doesn’t only show up in my cheeks—my whole face, arms, and neck grow flushed.

I rest my head against the wall behind me and stare at him just like he’s staring at me. “You want to hear a naked truth?”

He nods.

“I’ve wanted to go back to your roof on more than one occasion since that night. But I was too scared you’d be there. You make me kind of nervous.”

His fingers pause their strokes against my foot. “My turn?” I nod.

His eyes narrow as his hand moves to the underneath of my foot. He slowly traces his fingers from the tops of my toes, down to my heel. “I still very much want to fuck you.”

Someone gasps, and it isn’t me.

Ryle and I both look at the doorway and Allysa is standing there, wide-eyed. Her mouth is open as she points down at Ryle. “Did you just . . .” She looks at me and says, “I am so sorry about him, Lily.” And then she looks back at Ryle with venom in her eyes. “Did you just tell my boss you want to fuck her?”

Oh, dear.

Ryle pulls his bottom lip in and chews on it for a second.

Marshall walks in behind Allysa and says, “What’s going on?”

Allysa looks at Marshall and points at Ryle again. “He just told Lily he wants to fuck her!”

Marshall looks from Ryle to me. I don’t know whether to laugh

or crawl under the table and hide. “You did?” he says, looking back at Ryle.

Ryle shrugs. “It appears that way,” he says.

Allysa puts her head in her hands, “Jesus Christ,” she says, looking at me. “He’s drunk. They’re both drunk. Please don’t judge me because my brother is an asshole.”

I smile at her and wave it off. “It’s fine, Allysa. Lots of people want to fuck me.” I glance back at Ryle and he’s still casually stroking my foot. “At least your brother speaks his mind. Not a lot of people have the courage to say what they’re actually thinking.”

Ryle winks at me and then carefully moves my ankle off his lap. “Let’s see if you can put any weight on it,” he says.

He and Marshall help me to my feet. Ryle points to a table a few feet away that’s pushed up against a wall. “Let’s try to make it to the table so I can wrap it.”

His arm is secured around my waist, and he’s gripping my arm tightly to make sure I don’t fall. Marshall is more or less just standing next to me for support. I put a little weight on my ankle and it hurts, but it’s not excruciating. I’m able to hop all the way to the table with a lot of assistance from Ryle. He helps me pull myself up until I’m seated on top of it, leaning against the wall with my leg stretched out in front of me.

“Well, the good news is that it isn’t broken.”

“What’s the bad news?” I ask him.

He opens the first aid kit and says, “You’ll need to stay off of it for a few days. Maybe even a week or more, depending on how it heals.”

I close my eyes and lean my head against the wall behind me. “But I have so much to do,” I whine.

He carefully begins to wrap my ankle. Allysa is standing behind him, watching him wrap it.

“I’m thirsty,” Marshall says. “Anybody want something to drink?

There’s a CVS across the street.” “I’m good,” Ryle says.

“I’ll take a water,” I say. “Sprite,” Allysa says.

Marshall grabs her hand. “You’re coming with.”

Allysa pulls her hand from his and crosses her arms over her chest. “I’m not going anywhere,” she says. “My brother can’t be trusted.”

“Allysa, it’s fine,” I tell her. “He was making a joke.”

She stares at me silently for a moment, and then says, “Okay. But you can’t fire me if he pulls more stupid shit.”

“I promise I won’t fire you.”

With that, she grabs Marshall’s hand again and leaves the room. Ryle is still wrapping my foot when he says, “My sister works for you?”

“Yep. Hired her a couple of hours ago.”

He reaches into the first aid kit and pulls out tape. “You do realize she’s never had a job in her entire life?”

“She already warned me,” I say. His jaw is tight and he doesn’t look as relaxed as he did earlier. Then it hits me that he might think I hired her as a way to get closer to him. “I had no idea she was your sister until you walked in. I swear.”

He glances at me, and then back down at my foot. “I wasn’t suggesting you knew.” He begins to tape over the ACE bandage.

“I know you weren’t. I just didn’t want you to think I was trying to trap you somehow. We want two different things from life, remember?”

He nods, and carefully sets my foot back on the table. “That is correct,” he says. “I specialize in one-night stands and you’re on the

quest for your Holy Grail.”

I laugh. “You have a good memory.”

“I do,” he says. A languid smile stretches across his mouth. “But you’re also hard to forget.”

Jesus. He has to stop saying things like that. I press my palms into the table and pull my leg down. “Naked truth coming.”

He leans against the table next to me and says, “All ears.”

I hold nothing back. “I’m very attracted to you,” I say. “There’s not much about you I don’t like. And being as though you and I both want different things, if we’re ever around each other again, I’d appreciate it if you could stop saying things that make me dizzy. It’s not really fair to me.”

He nods once, and then says, “My turn.” He places his hand on the table next to me and leans in a little. “I’m very attracted to you, too. There’s not much about you I don’t like. But I kind of hope we’re never around each other again, because I don’t like how much I think about you. Which isn’t all that much—but it’s more than I’d like. So if you still aren’t going to agree to a one-night stand, then I think it’s best if we do what we can to avoid each other. Because it won’t do either of us any favors.”

I don’t know how he ended up this close to me, but he’s only about a foot away. His proximity makes it hard to pay attention to words that come out of his mouth. His gaze drops briefly to my mouth, but as soon as we hear the front door open, he’s halfway across the room. By the time Allysa and Marshall make it to us, Ryle is busy restacking all the crates that fell. Allysa looks down at my ankle.

“What’s the verdict?” she asks.

I push my bottom lip out. “Your doctor brother says I have to stay off of it for a few days.”

She hands me my water. “Good thing you have me. I can work and do what I can to clean up while you rest.”

I take a drink of the water and then wipe my mouth. “Allysa, I’m declaring you employee of the month.”

She grins and then turns to Marshall. “Did you hear that? I’m the best employee she has!”

He puts his arm around her and kisses the top of her head. “I’m proud of you, Issa.”

I like that he calls her Issa, which I’m assuming is short for Allysa. I think about my own name and if I’ll ever find a guy who could shorten it into a sickeningly cute nickname. Illy.

Nope. Not the same.

“Do you need help getting home?” she asks.

I hop down and test my foot. “Maybe just to my car. It’s my left foot, so I can probably drive just fine.”

She walks over and puts her arm around me. “If you want to leave the keys with me, I’ll lock up and come back tomorrow and start cleaning.”

The three of them walk me to my car, but Ryle allows Allysa to do most of the work. He seems almost scared to touch me now for some reason. When I’m in the driver’s seat, Allysa puts my purse and other things in the floorboard and sits in the passenger seat. She takes my phone out and begins programming her number into it.

Ryle leans into the window. “Make sure to keep ice on it as much as you can for the next few days. Baths help, too.”

I nod. “Thanks for your help.”

Allysa leans over and says, “Ryle? Maybe you should drive her home and take a cab back to the apartment, just to be safe.”

Ryle looks down at me and then shakes his head. “I don’t think that’s a good idea,” he says. “She’ll be fine. I’ve had a few beers, probably shouldn’t be driving.”

“You could at least help her home,” Allysa suggests.

Ryle shakes his head and then pats the roof of the car as he turns and walks away.

I’m still watching him when Allysa hands me back my phone and says, “Seriously. I’m really sorry about him. First he hits on you, then he’s a selfish asshole.” She climbs out of the car and closes the door, then leans through the window. “That’s why he’ll be single for the rest of his life.” She points to my phone. “Text me when you get home. And call me if you need anything. I won’t count favors as work-time.”

“Thank you, Allysa.”

She smiles. “No, thank you. I haven’t been this excited about my life since that Paolo Nutini concert I went to last year.” She waves goodbye and walks toward where Marshall and Ryle are standing.

They begin walking down the street and I watch them in my rearview mirror. As they turn the corner, I see Ryle glance over his shoulder and look back in my direction.

I close my eyes and exhale.

The two times I’ve spent with Ryle were on days I’d probably rather forget. My father’s funeral and spraining my ankle. But somehow, him being present made them feel like less of the disasters they were.

I hate that he’s Allysa’s brother. I have a feeling this isn’t the last time I’ll be seeing him.

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