Ryan McGraw[12:49 AM]: I do - Master of the universe, huh? 3


Hows Jamie? I asked. Good, good. Hes Jamie.

Anna and I both giggled and Dexter rolled his eyes, though talking about Jamie still made his eyes twinkle.

He filled us in on what he called the longest remodeling project ever. About a year ago, Dexter and Jamie purchased their first home, a total fixer upper in need of a major makeover. Theyve been working on fixing it up since then and Dexter regaled us with their latest home remodeling disasters; mainly Jamies inability to make progress while Dexter worked. Dexter did business development for a major international hotel chain and he found it difficult to find the time to do both a remodel and work full time. Dexter had always been such a great storyteller and conversationalist, and tonight he didnt disappoint as he elaborated on the trials and tribulations of home remodeling. We all laughed and joked good-naturedly at Jamies expense.

While Dexter was ambitious, intelligent, and meticulous about managing both his personal and professional life, Jamie never lived by a clock. He was an artist and only wanted to create, design and write. They were a classic example of opposites attracting. Asking Jamie to manage a remodel was like asking a comedian not to tell jokes. Knowing full well that Jamie was incapable of doing something so structured, it always made me scratch my head that Dexter continued to trust Jamie with the responsibility. I think it was love. Like a parent loves their child; no matter how many times they might fail at something, they always continued to encourage and support them. Dexter and Jamie bickered like an old couple, but were loyal and dedicated to one other. It was obvious they were deeply in love and would do anything for each other.

So finally, I made the arrangements to get the plumber into the house and the electrical wiring completely redone, but since then, there has been very little progress on anything else. Its driving me up the wall. I think Im just going to have to do it all myself! Dexter huffed in frustration.

Isnt that what you always do? I asked dryly, smiling empathetically.

Dexter put his head down on the table. Yes, yes. But I never stop trying. He lifted his head back up. So enough about me, how is the wedding planning going? And by the way, Im so sorry Im going to miss it, he said, bowing his head to Anna and Ethan with regret.

Ryan took this opportunity to congratulate Anna and Ethan. When is the big day? he asked. Two weeks! I cant believe it. We have final dress fittings tomorrow, and then it will be here

before we know it! Anna said with nervous excitement, sharing a sentimental and knowing look with Ethan.

Where is it being held? Ryan asked.

The ceremony is at Parsons Garden in Queen Anne, but the reception will be at the Edgewater Hotel. Theres this amazing ballroom there that overlooks the water. Ethans only criteria for the reception was that it be someplace with a waterfront view.

I really hope the weather cooperates, I added and crossed my fingers. Everyone nodded in agreement.

I live right next to Parsons Garden. Beautiful location, Ryan commented. Parsons Garden was located on the end of one of the most exclusive blocks in Seattle. If he lived next to the park, then that meant MS was paying him very well.

Anna looked at Ryan and her eyes were wide and bright. Well, I have a brilliant idea. You should come with Julia to our wedding. She doesnt have a date yet and it sounds like it couldnt get any more convenient, literally.

I tried to kick her under the table, but she saw it coming and dodged it. I was totally mortified. I didnt want to discuss it further in case Ryan declined and I didnt want to put him on the spot, either. I gave her a warning look, but she just shrugged and I could tell she thought I was overreacting.

Anna, Ethan said in a warning tone.

God, I loved Ethan. Im so glad he was going to become my brother-in-law. He was an architect working for one of those big fancy firms downtown and the perfect balance for my sister. Where Anna could sometimes be overly dramatic and idealistic, Ethan was laid back and level headed. He quelled her fears and anxieties and provided the calm and balance she needed to be her best self. Like Anna, Ethan was beautiful, artistic, and creative. Theyd been together for over five years and were that cool, hip, contemporary couple that everyone envied and wanted to be around. I mostly cared that Ethan absolutely adored Anna and she crazily loved him back.

Nonetheless, I glared at my sister. There was a brief, awkward silence.

Ethan, knowing me well enough to read my non-verbal cues, redirected the conversation. So Ryan, he started, how did you and Julia meet? Anna gave me the short version, but Im sure she exaggerated some details.

Anna gave Ethan the evil eye. Ryan didnt bat a lash. By now our server had brought our food and instead of addressing Annas brilliant idea, we ordered another bottle of wine.

Well played, Ethan. I was curious to hear this story from Ryans point of view. Well, I basically hit her with my car.

This got a reaction out of Dexter, who almost spit out his wine.

I actually guffawed and thought it best I chime in. It was just a bump. I was walking into the street to pick up a soccer ball from a nearby game. We were on the MS campus.

I totally didnt see her step out into the road. I wasnt going fast, and it was so sudden, but I apparently bumped her hard enough for her to fall. She left a huge dent in my bumper, though.

I looked at him and my mouth dropped open, even though I knew he was totally kidding. I pulled a Mia and jabbed him in the side with my elbow.

He feigned pain. Just kidding! he said defensively, holding up his hands and laughing. He did a hit and run, I deadpanned. Hes lucky I didnt press charges.

No I didnt! She told me she was running late for an interview and basically shoved me away and didnt want any help.

I was fine, really. There was no harm done. Except for your laptop.

Yes, except for my laptop, I agreed.

I noticed hed put his arm casually around my chair while we told our joint story. Maybe it was the wine getting to me, but I leaned comfortably back into the nook of his arm. I had removed my sweater earlier and his fingertips were lightly brushing my bare shoulder, giving me goosebumps even though it was a warm evening. I glanced at Anna, who was staring pointedly at his fingers lingering lightly on my shoulder and then back to my eyes, like I didnt notice.

Anyways, she was in such a hurry, she just took off. We didnt exchange names or any other information. She just kept babbling about not wanting to be late. She didnt seem at all distraught about the fact that she had just been hit by a car.

And just when I thought I would never see him again

The stars aligned and we bumped into each other at Bettys, Ryan put in. For Dexters benefit, he added, Its a restaurant up on top of the hill.

We continued to tell the rest of the story, exchanging back and forth commentary like an old couple. It was almost funny how easy our banter was building off the others comments. Annas eyes kept looking back and forth from Ryan to me as if she was watching a tennis match. She was as aware of this fluid and comfortable exchange as I was. Maybe thats one of those twin things. She seemed to sense how odd this was, considering that Ryan and I barely knew each other. It also didnt get past me that she had a smug grin on her face.

Why did everything seem so effortless with Ryan? We seemed to feed off of each others energy. I remembered how easy it was to talk to him that night at Bettys, too. It was clear something was happening between us. In the course of twenty-four hours, I could feel my heart changing and shifting, slowly but tentatively opening up again. It was like the sun trying to come out on a cloudy, constantly weather-shifting Seattle day. Could Ryan finally be the one Ive been waiting for? Between Dexter and Jamie and Anna and Ethan, I had two examples that love did exist and that happiness could be found. I was an optimistic person by nature and I could finally feel the sun peeking through.

Thats awesome. What a great story, Dexter declared with a wide grin.

Well, isnt there more to the story, Julia? Anna asked innocently. I knew she was fishing for the additional details I hadnt been able to share with her earlier. You guys never exchanged contact information that night after Bettys, did you?

Ryan jumped in to rescue me and gave me a look that said he had this one covered. No, we never did. That was one of my bigger regrets. He looked over at me coyly.

I was befuddled by his candor.

It was totally unexpected, he continued, but we saw each other again yesterday at a work function. I volunteered to help her with some work stuff today. When she found out I had no other plans tonight, she took pity on me and invited me out.

Third times a charm then, right? Anna asked cheerfully.

So what do you do at Megasoft? Ethan butted in. I looked at Ethan with gratitude and he winked at me, cutting Anna off from asking any further questions.

Im in marketing.

This was the same thing Ryan had initially told me when we first met. He was so humble about it. He left out the part about being the Vice President of Marketing for North America for Megasoft, one of the largest and most successful software companies in the world.

The group discussion switched again and this time it was about my new job. I summarized my whirlwind first week and Ryan was quiet. I couldnt help feeling a little self-conscious as I described my work, my manager, and my crazy teammates. Did he perceive Catherines team the same way? Probably not. How well did he know the people I was talking about? I made a mental note to be more cautious about work-related topics in the future. Not because I couldnt trust Ryan to keep them confidential, but I felt a little like I was betraying the confidence of my teammates and Catherine in front of a very influential executive that they have no idea that I had any sort of relationship with.

Eventually, our conversation split into two. Ryan and Ethan started talking about the Sounders season while Anna, Dexter, and I discussed the wedding. I noticed that Ethan and Ryan seemed to be getting along well. They both had a passion for soccer and Husky football and I had visions of the four of us tailgating and going to football games together. The fact that our SOs got along was always important to Anna and me, especially because it made it easier for us to see each other. We used to discuss how great life would be when we were both married with kids. Anna and I would hang out as usual, our husbands would watch sports in the basement or barbeque outside, and our beautiful and perfect children would not only be cousins, but the best of friends.

And just like that, I was shamelessly letting my mind wander into the realm of Ryan as a potential spouse. Next thing I knew, Id be practicing writing Julia McGraw in my journal. I did like the sound of that. I really needed to stop. I was so going to get myself in trouble if I started thinking that stuff already.

As if Anna could read my mind, she waved her hand in my face. Earth calling Julia.I refocused and looked at her.

She chuckled at me and shook her head. I was asking if you wanted me to pick you up tomorrow to go to the bridal shop.

Oh, yes, sure.

As the dinner party came to an end, Ryan insisted on paying my portion of the check. We gave our hugs and goodbyes and Dexter pecked me on both cheeks, European style.

Bye, love. Ill call you when Jamie and I figure out details about our commitment ceremony.

Though, at this rate, Ill have to plan that all myself, too, he joked.

Anna hugged Ryan a second time and gushed about how glad she was to have met him and how happy she was that he was able to join us tonight.

There was a lot of hugging going on. I really do love these people. I couldnt help contemplating what sort of role Ryan would play in the future with them. A part of me was nervous for any sort of attachments to start between Ethan and Ryan; or Anna, for that matter.

Julia, dont get ahead of yourself on this one. I waved a final goodbye to my sister and started walking back to my place with Ryan. Not one block down, I heard my phone chime a text.



Dexter:Not sure what happened to A, but R seems great. Total HOTTIE too! U go girl! Great seeing u.

Me::) Love u and miss u already!



Everything okay? Ryan asked.

Yeah, I giggled. Its from Dexter. Just said he had fun tonight and missed me already. Ill have to send him an email next week to catch up sans Ryan.

Through dinner, each of us had several glasses of wine. I had exceeded my two drink limit and was happily a little drunk, but not yet to the stumbling point. To my pleasant and welcome surprise, Ryan grabbed my hand and held it through our short walk back to my place. His hand felt strong, warm, and comforting. I was all smiles tonight; blissfully happy at this very moment. I felt such a natural chemistry and pull between us. Did he feel it too?

As he walked me to my door, I wasnt sure whether or not to invite him in. I didnt want to seem too forward. The thought of making out with him on my sofa or bed was more than a bit tantalizing. We entered the main building lobby and he followed me down the hall to my door.

Do you want to come in? I asked shyly. No, he said quietly.

I knew I shouldnt, but I couldnt help feeling a little wounded by his rebuff. I think he sensed it

too, because he gave my hand a reassuring squeeze.

I had a really amazing time with you today, Julia. Its been...eye opening for me. But I think we should take it slow.

Relief flooded over me. For a moment there, I thought he was declining because he wasnt sure about his interest in me. Then it begged the question, did wanting to take it slow mean he was interested in seeing me again?

Okay, I replied, not revealing any hint of my internal monologue.

The look on his face was familiar and it brought flashbacks of that night at Bettys in front of my car. I could tell he was battling with something in his brain. If only I could read his mind and help him work through it.

Goodnight, he said, leaning over to hug me.

I drank in his scent, his closeness. We both instinctively turned our heads slightly towards one another. I could feel his breath lightly tickling my neck. He smelled so good, a combination of soap and just Ryan. His nearness, his touch, and warmth were intoxicating. We both lingered in the embrace for a moment longer and then I felt the gentle caress of his lips on my neck. My blood instantly started to boil. I turned my face into his and his lips reached for mine. He kissed me gently at first, slowly and softly, like putting your toe tentatively in water to check the temperature. His lips were so soft and warm and he tasted subtly like delicious wine. As his mouth lingered on mine, I opened mine wider to feel his tongue and let him in. I caressed his neck and gripped the back of his head more firmly, kissing him back with more fervor. He returned with his own escalating hunger.

One of his hands moved under the back of my sweater, rubbing my bare upper back and pulling me closer into him. The other one fisted my hair. Our kiss had moved from slow and gentle to full on passion and desire. There was no time, no space, no memory, just his heated, desperate lips on mine. I was completely lost in his kiss and I felt it in every fiber and bone of my body. Damn, he was a good kisser.

He finally pulled away, but only enough so our lips parted; our foreheads remained touching. We were both breathless and panting, trying to gain back our equilibrium. I finally opened my eyes and looked up at him. His eyes were smoky and hooded. What was that? I was still gasping for air. The chemistry and attraction between us was palpable.

He mumbled more to himself than to me, Im in so much fucking trouble.

I bit my lip and looked at him with a mischievous smile. I was a little confused by his comment, but didnt have the coherency to ask him about it.

Goodnight, Julia, he almost scowled, his breathing still a little labored. He was as affected by the kiss as I was.

Goodnight, Ryan.


Neither of us could seem to say much more. Then he was gone.



Oh my God, Julia! Youre totally going to marry him! Anna exclaimed with absolute certainty.

I arched an eyebrow and gave her a look like I thought she was nutsbecause she was. Shed said this about at least two other men in my past, Andrew included, but I decided not to remind her.

You two just seem so perfect for each other. You guys were totally acting like a couple already.

I helped zip up the back of her wedding dress, trying my hardest not to play into her hand and gush about Ryan.

I really liked him, Julia. Ethan thought he was super cool, too. Plus, Ethan appreciated the fact that Ryan was closer to his age. Anna rolled her eyes with her last comment. Ethan was thirty-four and always making self-deprecating old man jokes. Its not like he was that much older than we were, but I was glad he and Ryan had something in common.

Earlier, I had filled in Anna about yesterdays events with Ryan, including his job at MS and how I came to discover who he really was. Anna worked as a second grade teacher for the city school district, so she really didnt get the whole corporate culture or the office romance taboo thing. She didnt think that his position, relative to my own, was all that important. As long as we werent on the same team and I didnt report to him, she considered him fair game.

I just feel weird about sneaking around at the office, I said with concern. I feel like were doing something wrong.

Like you said, if you both just keep it to yourselves, no one else needs to know your business. Yeah, but I think if people were ever to find out, one of us would have to leave or quit our job.

Most likely me, since Im more replaceable than him. I think it would be way too weird otherwise; people might think I have an unfair advantage.

You always worry about the rules, Julia. Screw the rules for once. Hes obviously into you and I know youre into him, so whats the big deal? If things go well, then changing jobs will seem like a minor sacrifice. If things go badly, no one will know, so its a moot point.

I sighed. She was right. I was making it way more complicated than it needed to be. But according to Ryan, all great love stories were complicated, so maybe it wasnt such a bad thing. Oh man, I was way overthinking this.

Were going to have to limit our public outings, I think, I muttered, distracted now by the thought of dating incognito.

You looked really great last night, by the way. Was the pink dress new? I noticed he couldnt keep his eyes off of you. You guys look super cute together. She was apparently done with interoffice dating topic.

Anna stood in front of the three-sided mirror to view herself in full regalia. Her dress was ivory, simple, and strapless. It had a fitted bodice in crinkled silk chiffon with a full ballroom skirt in French tulle and a waist sash. I placed the veil on top of her head and stepped back.

She looked breathtaking. We were both silent, taking it all in.

I started tearing up. I clasped my hands together below my chin and started legit crying. Oh, you just look so beautiful, Anna, I gushed. Ethan is going to lose it when he sees you. Hes the luckiest man in the world.

Anna gazed at herself in amazement, as if she couldnt believe that was really her standing in front of the mirror. I tried on my maid of honor dress next and Anna stayed in hers. I couldnt blame her. It wasnt even my dress, but it was hard to think of taking it off and putting it in a garment bag for two more weeks. My dress was made of pale pink silk taffeta cut in sleeveless, streamlined silhouette with a cinched waist. It was very pretty as far as bridesmaid dresses goI could re-wear this to a nice cocktail party someday.

So did anything happen after you guys left last night? Anna asked.

Well, you mean, did he kiss me or stay over? I had a huge grin on my face.

Julia Hayes! Ive been with you for an hour already and you havent said anything to me about this yet? Spill the beans, girl!

Yes, we kissed. I giggled. But nothing more. And How was it? Is he a good kisser?

Oh my God! Good is an understatement. I closed my eyes to remember the moment. I felt that kiss everywhere. I emphasized each syllable of my last word.

Ooh la la. Yay, Jules! She jumped up and down, in baby jumps of course, as she was still in her gown. She was clapping her hands like an excited schoolgirl.

Anna, I think I really like him, I said with a concerned look on my face. When Im with him, the rest of the world doesnt seem to exist. Its like, literally, from the first moment I met him, theres been this electrical current drawing us closer together.

And thats bad because?

I just cant help thinking that hes holding something back. He didnt want to come in last night.

He said he wanted to take things slow.


Whats wrong with that? Maybe he was being a gentleman. You said he was recently taking a break from someone. I dont blame him, but that doesnt mean anythings wrong, she reassured me.

Yeah, I guess so. Youre probably right. I picked at some imaginary lint on my dress. I think maybe this is too good to be true and I dont trust it yet. You know me; Im not one to be lucky in love, I said sadly.

I couldnt get the feeling out of my mind that there was something more to it. I feel like there was a reason why he didnt ask for my contact information that night at Bettys. I held back that same night because I just wasnt ready. I wondered how recent this break was from his ex-girlfriend. Maybe he was having second thoughts and wasnt quite ready to get back into another relationship. Or maybe I was a rebound. Or worse yet, maybe hes still in love with his ex-girlfriend. No, I knew that wasnt the case. The way he described their relationship, it sounded so passionless, so convenient. Its possible that maybe he was underplaying his emotions for my benefit. And if he was, could I handle being disappointed again? Would he have the ability to hurt me right now after spending only one day together? It certainly didnt feel like one day.

So, are you going to see him again soon? Did you guys make any other plans? Anna interrupted my thoughts.

No, we havent. I guess I assumed we would. I havent really thought about it. That dress looks great on you, by the way.

We stood next to each other, looking at ourselves in front of the mirror. We both smiled at our images and then hugged.

Julia, Anna said wistfully. Its going to be you standing here someday, with your wedding dress on. Maybe it will even be with Ryan.

I gave her that look again like she was nuts and heard my phone chime an incoming text. Speak of the devil, I said, but couldnt hide my excitement. I showed Anna my phone so she could see it was from Ryan.



Ryan:Had a great time with you yesterday



Hes totally thinking of you! Anna squealed and we both did a little happy dance.



Me:Me too

Ryan:How are the dress fittings going?



I took a picture of us in the mirror and sent it to him.



Ryan:And the bride isnt bad either ;-)



Anna giggled like she couldnt be more pleased. You should ask him to be your date at the wedding, Julia.

Oh, God, this again? I exaggerated a pained expression. Do you really think so? Why not? Carpe diem!

Yeah, she was right. Why the hell not?



Me:Would you like to be my date for the wedding?



There was a long pause. Uh oh.



Ryan:Can I get back to you on that?




Annas brow furrowed. Well, he didnt say no.

Great. Now Ive put him in an awkward spot. Its probably way too soon for this sort of invitation. He doesnt want to meet the whole family already, for Christs sake. I shouldve thought of all that first. I hit the phone to my forehead a few times.

There was another chime from my phone.



Ryan:Are you doing anything tomorrow night after work?



Okay, maybe it wasnt so bad after all.



Me:I was planning to go for a run

Ryan:Can I join you?


Ryan:Where do you run?

Me:Greenlake tomorrow

Ryan:What time?

Me:6:30? Meet me at crew house on south end



Me:C u there

Ryan:Have a good day at work tomorrow

Me:You too



My second week on the job meant that I was drinking out of the fire hose full blast. I had several meetings laid out for the week where I planned to introduce myself to various people that Catherine said should be on my meet and greet list. This included Kyle, among several others, who would be able to educate me on all things Portals 8 launch related. If I wasnt in a meeting or scheduling one, I spent the rest of my time drowning in the endless pit of documentation called SharePoint.

I couldnt help thinking about Ryan; I was beyond eager to see him tonight. I even closed my door, put in headphones, and snuck a peek at one of the YouTube videos I came across when I had searched for him the other night.

I recalled the conversation my teammates and I had just last week about Ryan. Of course, I didnt know then that they were talking about my Ryan. My Ryan. I liked the sound of that. It made me a little paranoid and jealous that there were probably many other women who had similar discussions about him. I mean, how many eligible men like him really existed here at MS? If women knew he was available, I bet there would be a line waiting outside his office. Then again, even if he wasnt available, there would still probably be a line out the door.

Interoffice dating was a regular occurrence at MS, as it probably was in all companies, but I wasnt sure how many of them involved a senior executive and an employee lower in the corporate hierarchy. I recalled past rumors about a few different executives who were supposedly diddling one of their employees. For each of these rumors, the man was always an up-and-coming executive in his late thirties or early forties, attractive, and charismatic. The female employee was always a younger, attractive Ivy League grad that was several levels lower than him and who was just starting her post- graduate career. Late afternoon meetings soon turned into closed door meetings, with the need to stay late at the office. A few months later, it was usually the post-grad that ended up moving jobs into another group. Other women in the org would whisper how she slept her way to the top and she was an idiot for letting the senior male take advantage of her. I was guilty of participating in some of those discussions. Not too long after, rumors would circulate about the GM getting a divorce. I wondered if HR had a scorecard that tracked all of this somewhere. Maybe senior executives cheating on their wives just went with the territory.

Maybe there was even a recent sexy Harvard graduate that already had her sights on Ryan. I wondered if Ryan had any idea how he was perceived by the female population around him. Judging by his awareness of his presence on the internet, he probably had no clue. I couldnt help feeling a little smug, though. The hottest, most eligible MS executive bachelor was interested in me, at least as far as I could tell. But, if things didnt work out between us, would I end up being another unofficial scorecard metric? Granted, he wasnt a married man having an affair, but he was a powerful executive. If the rumor got out, it could jeopardize my career and possibly his as well. I could end up being one of those embarrassing rumors.

: 2015-09-15; : 3;

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