Lead
is it you want me to say?”
    I shrugged, surprised by his response. “Goodbye, I guess. And if you wouldn’t mind, a letter of recommendation would be nice.”
    For a moment he said nothing, just let his head fall back so he could stare at the ceiling. The muscles in his neck were thick, veins stark beneath the skin. “What’s the real issue here? You want more money?”
    “No. To be honest, you’re probably paying me too much as it is. Not that I’m volunteering for a decrease.”
    “Then what?” His gaze bored into me, eyes a lighter shade than his brothers. Jimmy’s eyes were like a cloudless sky, the perfect blue. They were beautiful, but rarely serene. And God help me for even noticing, let alone getting poetic.
    “Why do you want me to stay so badly?” I threw up my hands. “Most days you barely tolerate me. Last week you stopped speaking entirely and just grunted at me for three days.” Suddenly you can’t bear for us to be apart? Come on.”
    Ben chuckled. “She’s got a point.”
    “Later, Benny,” Jimmy said without taking his eyes off me.
    “Right. Have fun, guys.” The big man ambled on out, not particularly bothering to hide his smile.
    “I just … I got a bit moody last week.” He crossed his arms and said in a rush, “But it wasn’t nothing to do with you.”
    “No, of course not. But I have to live with you. So when you get into these moods, it affects me. ”
    Further scowling.
    “Not that this is about us.” I shook my head. “I mean, there is no
us
. I don’t know why I even used the word. This decision is just about me. It’s time for me to move on.”
    Jimmy’s jaw clenched. “I don’t like change.”
    “We’ll make the handover as smooth as possible.”
    “I’m used to you being around. We get on okay. Why the fuck should I have to go through all the trouble of breaking-in someone new just because you’ve got your panties in a twist over something that probably doesn’t even matter?”
    My mouth opened, but nothing came out. I was officially stupefied. Over the breaking-in or panties comments I couldn’t quite say, though really, neither should have surprised me. This was Jimmy in all his glory, rude as fuck and not a single social nicety to him. At least I was willing to pretend to get along with people the bulk of the time.
    “Well?” he barked. When I took too long to answer he tugged his red sweatshirt off over his head, using it to wipe down his face.
    “My reasons, which are personal, do matter. Maybe not to you, but they matter to me.”
    He looked off to the side, his lips drawn wide in a truly aggrieved expression. Had any man ever been quite so badly treated? No, I think not, according to that face.
    “I’ve made up my mind,” I said.
    “I’ll pay you twenty percent more.”
    “Were you even listening? This is not about money.”
    “Fuck’s sake. Fifty.”
    I screwed up my nose. “Jimmy—”
    His hand sliced through the air. “Enough. I’ll double it. You cut the shit and we don’t talk about it again, understood? Now I got stuff to do.”
    “Stop!” I yelled.
    He stared at me, unblinking. Hostility seemed to ooze from his very pores.
    “I’m leaving.”
    “Why?” he asked, through gritted teeth. “C’mon, you at least owe me an explanation, Lena.”
    Outside, it started to rain, the heavy grey clouds finally giving it up. And still Jimmy waited. I squeezed my eyes shut against the sight of him. Oh god, I couldn’t. I just couldn’t. This wasn’t going at all like I had planned.
    “I know we’re not best friends, but I thought we got along okay,” he said.
    “We do, basically.”
    “Well, then?”
    “I’m not right for this job.”
    “Look at me.”
    I opened one eye, he actually looked reasonably calm. His big arms were crossed, sweaty shirt plastered to his buff chest, but otherwise, he didn’t seem too angry. So I opened the other eye, too. Brave of me, I know.
    “Unlike the other sobriety companions, you don’t

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