NOTE TO READERS: A Deal with the the Devil was originally written in dual POV. As I then incorporated Hayes's chapters into Tali's, you may see some exchanges that look familiar :-)

Hayes ch 4

Waking to find Tali crouched beside me with her soft mouth and her concerned eyes...it left me unsettled, uncertain, in a way I haven’t felt in a decade. It was like hearing a song from adolescence, and realizing you once felt things you no longer do, things you’d forgotten exist.

I’ve grown accustomed to a certain image of myself: confident, arrogant, comfortably numb. I took Ella’s parting shot and made it my motto, accepted I was capable of offering very little and embracing the fact. 

But for just a moment today I felt something I hadn’t felt in years, something I’d forgotten I could feel in the first place. I want to shake the feeling off, but it continues to cast a pall over me even hours later. 

“You seem a little out of it tonight,” says Ben, casting a wary glance at my scotch. “You’ve been hitting it kind of hard the past week or two.”

I shake my head. “Shouldn’t have napped this afternoon. I feel like I’m still not entirely awake.”

Although...it’s not really that. It’s more feeling like I’ve been safely keeping my head above treacherous water and have this sudden, dangerous urge to dive back in. 

“Since when do you nap?” he asks.

I shrug. “It was Tali. The assistant. She suggested it. She’s full of idiotic ideas.”

His mouth tips into a half smile. “Such as?” 

I sigh, knowing already Ben would agree with every word out of her mouth. “I suspect she thinks I drink too much and sleep around too much. I know for a fact she thinks I care too much about money.” 

He grins. “I think I like this girl. Cute?”

Cute is hardly the word I’d use for Tali, but I’m not going to sit here playing matchmaker. “I suppose. You are not welcome to date my assistant, however, if that’s where your mind is headed.” 

He shrugs. “Well, she’s not your assistant for long, right?” 

Right. Thank God. I try to keep the areas of my life separate: friends, employees, women I’m with. She’s the first person who defies categorization, who sometimes seems to be all three at once.

I really just want this uncomfortable feeling gone as soon as possible. And I wish there was a solution other than drinking it away.

#

I find Tali the next morning in that same fitted gray dress she wore when she came with me for house calls. Revealing every curve, smoothing over that perfect ass. It’s the kind of dress you can only picture pushed around her waist while she’s bent over the counter. I’d like to request that she stop wearing it, and also request that she wear it daily.

She’s pouring some disgusting concoction—green with flecks of purple—into a glass, which she then sets in front of me. 

“It’s a bit early in the day for frozen drinks, is it not? And this looks like the worst daquiri I’ve ever seen.” 

“They’re called vegetables,” she says, fighting a smile. “I’m surprised you didn’t hear about them in medical school, but I guess that would have taken valuable time away from learning about breast implants.” 

I take a sip and flinch. I was hoping it would taste a bit less like my lawn. “I was actually aware of vegetables before medical school,” I reply. “I was precocious in that way. I’m just wondering why you’re giving them to me.”

“Because you eat like shit, you drink like a fish and you get almost no sunlight. You’re like a vampire, only one who’s ambivalent about his survival. And speaking of bad habits, someone named Angela texted and asked if you’re still on for dinner.”

“Angela?” I stare at her blankly, trying to remember. The name does not ring a bell.  “Go through the texts. Is there a photo of her? I need to know what I’m getting into.”

Her mouth purses in distaste. “Do you actually want me to scroll through your exchange with Angela to find out? Because I’m worried there will be dick pics.” 

“I seriously doubt Angela sent me a dick pic. But if she did you can go ahead and cancel.”

“I meant your dick, Hayes.” 

“Mine? You should be so lucky.” But I reach out and take the phone from her. Because truly, God knows what I sent this woman if I can’t remember conversing with her in the first place.

Tali’s got a hand on her hip, which never bodes well. “You know,” she says, “a great deal of what you need me for could be solved by just not drinking yourself into a stupor.”

 “Please, by all means, keep telling me ways to make your job easier.” I find the photo. Angela is reminiscent of a young Charlize Theron.  Most importantly, she’s not the spitting image of my assistant, like the last few have been.  

I don’t know why the prospect of it feels so tedious, why it’s an effort to follow through. “Get us a reservation at Perch at seven and let her know for me?”

Tali takes the phone and starts to type. “Top o’ the morning, Angela!” she says aloud. Honestly, the hangover is bad, but her British accent is now the most painful thing about my morning. “Bloody good show, getting a free meal out of our exchange of bodily fluids. I normally just buy ladies a drink and wait for the roofies to kick in. Toodles, for now.” 

 “That sounds just like me. It’s truly astonishing, your talent for mimicry.”

“Right?” she asks with a broad grin, and despite my headache, I smile too.

And then I rub at my chest, left of my sternum, wishing the sudden, strange pang Tali has placed there could just be pushed away. 

This would all be so much easier if she didn’t seem to care, if she loathed me the way she should.