Despite their mutual attraction, Marques Williams and Armin Jahani agreed a long time ago that they were better off as friends. They don’t want to risk their friendship, and they definitely don’t want things getting awkward at the art gallery where they both work. But even as they’ve moved on with their lives, they’ve both quietly regretted that decision.
When Armin’s father scores the gallery a collection of sculptures from a renowned and reclusive artist, he sends Armin and Marques on the road to pick them up.
As the two friends embark on a multi-state trip, they each assume the other is still with his longtime partner. Armin doesn’t know that Marques’s now-ex-boyfriend is moving out. Marques doesn’t know that the last fraying threads of Armin’s relationship have snapped. Secretly, they pine for each other from across the console of their rental car, each wishing they hadn’t missed the chance to be together years ago.
But maybe they haven’t missed that chance after all.
I Think We Missed Our Turn is a short and fun ~39,000-word novella with a happy ending and no cheating.
As I followed Virginia Beach Boulevard through the driving rain, my mood was fouler than the weather outside. One day without fighting. One day. That was all I asked.
But no, Tanya and I were fighting again because it was a day ending in Y. Or more to the point, I thought as I slowed to a stop at yet another red light, a day ending in Why are we still doing this to ourselves?
Sighing, I pressed my elbow beneath the window and rubbed my throbbing head. I wasn’t being fair. It was a rough patch. Every couple had them. Right? My parents had been through plenty, and they were still together. Then again, even their worst fights had never resulted in flashing blue lights outside. Meanwhile Tanya and I had leveled up to, “If I have to come back out here, someone’s going to jail,” with Virginia Beach PD.
I swore, my voice mostly swallowed by the rain hammering the roof and windshield. Something had to give. Either we found a way to get on the same wavelength instead of fighting over everything, or we called time and moved on.
I really didn’t want to leave, but days like this, I wondered what exactly I was sticking around for. I loved her, and I wanted her to be happy. Clearly she wasn’t happy right now. If staying was making both of us miserable, then…why?
The light turned green and I continued up the Boulevard. We’d figure it out one way or the other. This fight. The next one. Whether we were in it for the long haul or needed to get the hell out.
Sometimes I wondered if I only stuck around because our relationship was familiar. It was stressful as all hell and couldn’t be any more fun for her than it was for me, but it was known stress. The next person could be worse. It could take me years to even find the next person.
Though with my teeth still grinding after spending half an hour arguing on the phone, it was getting harder and harder to believe that being alone for a while would really be such a bad thing.
Ah, well. I’d deal with this later. Right now, I had work to do.
I pulled into the parking lot of my dad’s fine art gallery. Then I got out, took the boxes from my trunk, and hurried inside out of the rain. Fortunately, the boxes were wrapped in plastic, so while I was soaked to the skin by the time I stepped into the gallery, everything I’d brought with me stayed dry.
“Little humid out there?” Cass, the pony-tailed blonde receptionist, asked as I put the boxes down on a chair beside her desk.
“Ugh.” I shrugged off my jacket, trying my level best not to fling water onto her or her desk. “The weatherman lied.”
She snorted. “He always lies.” Gesturing at the boxes, she asked, “Are those the flyers for the show?”
“Yep!” I hung my coat on the rack, and despite my sour mood, I conjured up some enthusiasm. “They were a bit close to the wire because I had to have a bunch of them reprinted, but they look great now.”
“Ooh, can I see?” She grinned and rubbed her hands together.
I laughed and pulled one of the boxes out of the bag. After I’d cut the tape, I lifted the lid and took out one of the flyers.
She took it from me. “These look amazing! Your dad is going to love them.”
“Hopefully the artists will, too.” I grimaced. “They weren’t thrilled about the first few drafts.”
“Pfft.” Cass handed back the flyer. “They’re picky about everything. I swear to God, Lillian’s been on the phone with me twice a day for the last three weeks about every single detail.” She rolled her eyes. “Like, lady, we do this all the time. Have a little faith.”
I chuckled as I took the other box out of its bag. “You know how it is. How many horror stories have we heard about galleries borking shows and openings? And screwing artists?”
She made a face. “Ugh. Yeah. But still—your dad’s reputation didn’t exactly fall out of the sky, you know?”
“True.” Dad’s gallery was well-known up and down the East Coast (and internationally, for that matter) for a reason. He’d showcased a number of up-and-coming artists and put their names on the map, and he’d displayed and sold the work of numerous seriously high-profile artists as well. One critic had reviewed a show a couple of years ago and, after raving about the featured artist’s work, added that if any of the masters were alive today, they’d be falling all over themselves to have their work on the walls of Jahani Fine Arts. That was probably hyperbole, but no one was going to turn down an endorsement like that.
The Employees Only door squeaked open, and I turned, expecting my dad, who’d been eager to see everything I’d designed for this show.
But it wasn’t him, and my heart did a little flip as all my earlier frustration vanished.
Closing the door behind him, Marques smiled that ridiculously cute smile as he gestured at the box. “Is that the stuff for the next show?”
Box? Stuff for the next show? Oh. Right.
I nodded and handed him the flyer I’d been holding. “Yep. Hot off the presses.”
“Sweet.” He took the flyer and looked it over, and I did not let myself look him over. I didn’t really need to. I’d long ago memorized him, from his beautiful dark skin and darker eyes to the way every piece of clothing he wore seemed to be tailor made for his sculpted arms and flawless ass.
Even if I didn’t have all five-eight of him committed to memory, I didn’t need to be staring. He was, after all, one of my dad’s employees. And more to the point, I wasn’t exactly single.
Tanya and I were both pretty open about not only checking people out, but pointing them out to each other. Hell, maybe that was why I was so reluctant to leave. Where was I going to find someone who didn’t get jealous or possessive if I so much as looked in someone else’s direction? Tanya believed wholeheartedly in the idea that just because you were on a diet didn’t mean you couldn’t read the menu, and some of my better memories of us had involved surreptitiously comparing notes on some hot stranger who’d walked by.
But Tanya did have a jealous bone when it came to Marques, and only when it came to Marques. Didn’t matter that he had a boyfriend. Didn’t matter that he and I had agreed years ago—long before I’d even met her—that we were better off as friends. I could whisper fantasies about any other man while she and I were fooling around and she’d be turned on as all hell, but just mention in passing that I’d been in the same room as Marques? Watch out.
God. I’m so tired.
“These look great.” Marques met my gaze, snapping me out of my thoughts as he handed back the flyers. With a wry look, he added, “Ten bucks says your dad’s going to have me hand-addressing all of these for the next day or two.”
I laughed despite the fluttery thing my stomach did whenever I saw him. “Well, that’s what you get for having legible handwriting.”
“He’s right,” Cass said. “You’d be amazed how much you get let off the hook in this job just by having crappy handwriting.”
Marques tsked and rolled his eyes. “See, this is the kind of shit y’all are supposed to tell me when I get hired. I could’ve written with my other hand or something for a while.”
“Yeah,” I said, “but then Dad might’ve pawned all that stuff off on us. So we just let you take one for the team without even realizing it.”
“That’s cold, Armin. Real cold.” But he was grinning, and I was anything but cold.
And your girlfriend would be upset if she knew you were getting all stupid over him.
She was upset with me anyway, and it went both ways, but that was no excuse for ogling the man who made her that insecure.
So I tore my gaze away from Marques, and I was about to say something when a shout from the back startled all three of us. At first I thought it was a cry of pain or alarm, but it was quickly followed by what I could only describe as a whoop of triumph. What the hell?
Cass straightened. “Was that…Omar?”
“He’s the only one back there,” Marques said. “I wonder what that was all about.”
Furrowing my brow, I eyed the Employees Only door, wondering the same thing. My dad was usually pretty mellow and wasn’t at all the type for loud outbursts. “Maybe he won the lottery or something.”
A second later, the door swung open, and my father burst through it, waving his cell phone around so wildly I thought he was going to throw it. It had an indestructible case on it, but there were several expensive pieces on the walls and pedestals of the lobby. I was absolutely not explaining to one of these artists that their painting was ruined or their sculpture destroyed because my dad had excitedly lobbed his Android through it.
“We did it!” he cried. “We finally did it! We’re getting a Zoe Neelan collection!”
My jaw fell open, and I nearly forgot about the phone’s potential to turn into an art-destroying missile. “Zoe Neelan? Seriously?”
“Yes!” He laughed and put his hand to his chest. “I just got off the phone with her. I didn’t think she’d ever agree to it.”
“That’s amazing!” I said. Cass and Marques were grinning too. Zoe Neelan was an incredible sculptor, and while she made her living as an artist, she detested the commercialization of art. In her eyes, art galleries were nothing more than used car showrooms for art. Dad had been trying for five years to persuade her to put a few pieces into the gallery. Today, his persistence had paid off.
“Where do you want to put it?” Marques gestured past the lobby. “Depending on the dimensions, we might have to do some serious shuffling around, so the—”
“We’ll worry about that when it gets here,” Dad said. “First things first?” He gestured at me, then Marques with his phone. “I need you boys to go pick up the collection.”
“Pick it up?” I asked. “So we’re taking the pieces from another gallery?” Oh, that would create some awkwardness. The other gallery had probably been as thrilled as we were about acquiring some of her work, and to have it yanked by a competitor? That had to sting.
“No, not another gallery.” Dad shook his head. “These are brand new, never before seen pieces. I’ll need you boys to drive up to her studio and get them.”
Marques and I glanced at each other, eyes wide.
“Drive up—” I blinked. “Isn’t her studio in middle-of-nowhere Maine?”
Dad nodded, and he grimaced apologetically. “I wouldn’t ask either of you to do this, but she refuses to trust any of the shipping companies. And she said some of the pieces require two people to move them.” He looked at both of us, his excitement dipping in favor of pleading. “You know I would never ask something like this, but…it’s Zoe Neelan.”
Aw, fuck me. I couldn’t say no to my dad for much of anything, but this? No way. There were some other employees I could suggest, but it was pointless. Garrett was such a terrible driver, no one even sent him on lunch runs anymore. Deion was a minor, so it probably wasn’t even legal to send him on a multi-day, multi-state road trip, and his parents definitely wouldn’t go for it. Katie was still on probation, so I was pretty sure she couldn’t leave the state.
Dad couldn’t go on the road himself because of some health issues, and my mom wouldn’t leave him for days on end for the same reason. Cass kept all the administrative plates spinning, so losing her for a few days while the gallery was getting ready for a big show would be a disaster.
That left Marques. And me.
What was I going to do? Say no?