A shadow cast over worn oak. The floorboards were silent, but Nora felt the grooves and indentations of the years as she made her way.
“I brought wine,” he said.
She glanced at the bottle. The descending sun silhouetted it. His shadow was weighty as it darkened her.
It was rude to turn away a guest, even an uninvited one, so she stepped aside. Offer a drink, it’s only proper, her mother’s voice whispered in her mind.
“Would you care for something to drink?”
He smiled and lifted the wine bottle and Nora grudgingly found the corkscrew.
As she poured his wine, she asked, “So what brings you to my door?”
“I thought we could pick up where we left off.” His smile widened, revealing perfectly aligned, glistening teeth.
Nora frowned. “I have no interest in listening to you belittle my project.”
“Oh, come on, Nora. You know I was just trying to help.”
“There was nothing constructive or useful about your comments.” Her stomach tightened as memories of his scathing remarks drifted through her mind.
His lip turned up and he shook his head. “It’s easy to see that you have talent. Maybe everyone else gets blindsided by that, but I saw room for improvement and so I dug into it. It’s unfortunate that you couldn’t see that.”
“Your comments were out of line. I have a hard time believing you didn’t intend to get a rise out of me.” The sharp edges of Nora’s fingernails dug into her palm as she clenched her fists.
Anger roughened his face. “You just don’t have what it takes to really make it. Believe it or not, I want to help you. That’s why I keep reaching out to you.”
“I think you should go.”
“Don’t be like this. You know there is something between us. Don’t let your pride spoil the night.”
Nora’s mouth fell open for a moment. “What exactly do you think is between us?”
“You’ve been flirting with me since the day we met.” Nora shook her head to refute his claim, but he ignored her and pressed on. “I know you want me. That night we all got together and you had too many shots of whiskey, I took you home, remember. The way you leaned into me as I helped you to your door.”
“You need to leave.”
“You can lie to all of the people at work and to yourself, but I know better. I know you want me.”
“Get out. Now,” she said through clenched teeth.
Something in her voice must have alarmed him because he turned and started for the door. Over his shoulder, he growled, “You’re a real bitch, you know that?”
Yeah, she knew that. Her mother had made sure she knew. Nora didn’t care, though. She followed close behind him and slammed the door in his face just as he turned to yell something else at her. The shadow of the door was cooling. The wood was smooth against her forehead. She leaned into it, sagging under the weight of social expectations. Better to be a bitch than a doormat.