Anyone but You Read online

  Nina tilted her head at him. “And what’s your secret?”

  Alex stirred in his chair. “I don’t have any secrets. My life is an open book.”

  “Bull.” Nina got up to rinse out her cup. “You’re so defensive you won’t talk about yourself. You tell all about your family but you won’t say what you want.” She turned back to him. “So what do you want, Alex Moore? If you could have anything you wanted, right now, what would it be?”

  He sat very still on the chair, his eyes on hers, and she stopped breathing for a moment, sure she saw heat in his eyes, but that was so ridiculous she shook her head to clear the thought. Then he relaxed. “I want Oreos,” he said very seriously. “And I want to be able to come back here and talk when I’m not drunk.”

  “Sure,” Nina said and pushed the package toward him. “Help yourself. Anytime.” His eyes met hers again, and she blushed and added, “To the Oreos.”

  “Right,” Alex said. “That’s what I thought you meant.”

  Chapter Three

  “Then what happened?” Charity said the next day when Nina had spilled her guts on the phone.

  “Then Fred threw up everything, and the mood sort of died.” Nina scratched Fred behind the ears as he wallowed himself a place beside her on the couch. “I got a book out of the library today on how to take care of dogs, and it said never to feed them people food. We could have killed the poor baby feeding him all those Oreos. From now on, Fred eats only dog food.”

  Fred lifted his head to give her a dirty look, and she scratched him behind the ears again until he relaxed.

  Charity, as usual, had a one-track mind. “Does Alex still get Oreos?”

  “No.” Nina felt the warm little tingle she’d been getting every time she thought about Alex. That was one tingle she was going to get rid of. “Alex gets nothing. I’m staying away from that man.”

  “Oh, come on, live a little,” Charity said. “I admit the doctor bit is a letdown, but he’s still ten years younger. That qualifies as toy boy. Go for it.”

  “You’re telling me this based on your years of experience,” Nina said.

  “No, if I was basing it on my experience, I’d tell you to run like hell. Kenneth was a doctor, remember?”

  “Just vaguely,” Nina said. “You weren’t married that long.”

  “A year,” Charity said. “Long enough to know marrying a doctor was a bad idea. Don’t get serious about him. Just toy with him for your memory book.”

  The thought was attractive, but Nina shoved it aside. “Speaking of memory books, how is yours coming along?”

  “It’s wonderful,” Charity said. “I wrote all night. It was so exciting. I just love this!”

  “That’s great!” Nina tried to make her voice sound enthusiastic while she prayed that Charity’s book would be publishable. “Tell me about it.”

  “Well, first of all, I guess I should tell you that I’m going to use ‘she’ instead of ‘I.’ I just can’t write it with ‘I.’ It’s too embarrassing.”

  “You’re using third person,” Nina said. “Sure. That’s not a problem.”

  “And instead of using my name, I’m going to use my middle name,” Charity went on. “Charity seems sort of…not very serious, you know?”

  “What’s your middle name?”

  “Jane,” Charity said. “That’s serious, don’t you think?”

  “Yes,” Nina said, beginning to worry that Charity was going to plan forever without ever writing anything. “Did you write any of the book yet?”

  “Of course I wrote part of the book.” Charity sounded indignant. “I finished the first chapter. It’s about Howard.” Her voice grew thoughtful. “You know, I’d forgotten a lot of this stuff before I sat down to write it. This is like therapy only much cheaper.”

  “Howard.” Nina frowned, trying to remember. “Was he the hockey player who wanted you to wear the mask and pads?”

  “Oh, please.” The disdain in Charity’s voice was clear over the phone. “That was Helmut. I could barely do a paragraph on him. He wasn’t that interesting.”

  “I found him interesting,” Nina said, but Charity plowed on through her.

  “Howard was my date to the Riverbend Spring Fling.”

  Nina sat up, displacing an annoyed Fred. “In high school? You’re going that far back?”

  “I’m thinking about regressing to past lives. The faraway stuff isn’t as painful to write about.”

  “All right, all right.” Nina backed down before Charity could. “The Spring Fling is fine.”

  “The chapter’s called ‘Gone With Her Virginity,’” Charity said.

  Nina thought of Jessica. “Great title,” she lied. “What’s next?”

  “Mitchell. The Eagle Scout I hooked up with my senior year. We spent a lot of time working on his woodsman’s badge.”


  “I’m calling that chapter ‘Forest Grope.’”

  Nina winced. “Catchy.”

  “And then I’ll do that senior fraternity guy I dated as a college freshman,” Charity said. “Roger. You knew me by then. Remember Roger, the creep?”

  “Vaguely,” Nina said.

  “I’m going to call that one ‘Animal Louse,’” Charity said. “You know, I’m really getting into this.”

  Nina thought of Jessica and what Jessica would think of Charity’s memoir. “Go for it,” she told Charity. “But I want to see the first chapter as soon as it’s done. Do not come to the office and show it to Jessica without me seeing it first.”

  “No problem,” Charity said. “Now it’s Saturday afternoon, and you deserve a break. Go downstairs and seduce that nice boy. It’ll round off your weekend.”

  “I’m not going near that nice boy,” Nina said. “I don’t care what you say. I’m staying in my apartment and watching movies with my dog.”

  ON MONDAY, Nina came home to find her dog glaring at her.

  She put her briefcase on the couch and dropped to her knees beside him. “I know, I know, I haven’t been here all day. But Fred, there’s more to life than weekends. I have to work all day. That’s how I get the money to keep you in dog biscuits.” She scratched him behind his ears and rolled him over on his back to rub his tummy until he stopped being hostile and went back to morose. “You know what you need, Fred?” she said brightly, and he pricked up his ears, probably hoping to hear the word Oreo.

  “You need to get out,” Nina finished getting to her feet. “Let me change, and we’ll go for a walk. A walk!”

  Since “walk” in no way sounded like “Oreo,” Fred remained morose.

  “You’re going to love it, Fred,” Nina said, but fifteen minutes later, when she’d changed into jeans and her old pink T-shirt and hooked his new leash to his new collar, it was clear that Fred was not going to love it.

  Nina opened the door and tugged him forward, and he tugged back. “Come on, Fred.” Nina tugged harder and Fred lurched a couple of steps closer to the door, still pulling backward. “You’re going to like this. Trust me.” She tugged still harder, and Fred’s feet slid out from under him as his body bumped over the door frame and into the hall.

  “Troubles?” somebody said from behind her and she turned to see a tall, gray-haired woman dressed in olive green cashmere running clothes. She was beautiful in the structure of her bones and the brightness of her eyes, but she was also intimidating. Nina was suddenly conscious of how baggy her own jeans were and how faded her T-shirt was.

  And Fred was no help. Nina looked at him, still splayed on his stomach. “I was just taking my dog for a drag,” she told the woman. “I’m hoping he’ll get the hang of this before we hit the stairs.”

  The woman laughed and held out her hand, and Nina wasn’t intimidated anymore. “I’m Norma Lynn from upstairs.”

  Nina took her hand. “I’m Nina Askew. And this—” she dropped her hand and gazed down at Fred with disgust “—this is Fred.”

  “Hello, Fred,” Norma said, and F