WHEN CHANGE arrives, it may unfortunately come as a shock.

 

“I THINK I’m ready to start dating again.”

Perry’s bombshell almost made me drop the tray of crispy samosas I was pulling from the oven. I blamed my misstep on the hot baking sheet and pretended I hadn’t heard him. Not a stretch given the music and the laughter that rippled like a warm breeze across Simon’s million-dollar backyard to the outdoor kitchen.

“How would you feel about that, Joel?” Perry probed, raising his voice a little. The mirrored glass of his aviators caught the afternoon sun and blinded me with the reflection.

I blinked. “About what?”

“About me dating again.”

“Looking good, Perry,” someone called from the pool. “Come on in—the water’s warm.” My heart sunk as Perry waved his hand in acknowledgment. He was looking good, and I wasn’t the only one noticing how the turquoise polo shirt set off his thick silver-threaded hair and the camel-colored chinos hugged his ass. He’d regained most of the weight he’d lost while Dale was sick, and since he’d started jogging again, he glowed with good health.

“So,” he said, returning to our conversation.

Head down, I arranged the golden triangles onto the serving platter next to the potato croquetas and dusted them with a pinch of finely chopped coriander. “Why ask me? You don’t need my permission.”

Silence. “Well, because you were Dale’s friend first. It might be weird for you.”

What I wouldn’t have given to strip off my clothes, hop in the crowded spa with a drink in my hand, and avoid this conversation. But it was my first time working one of Simon’s parties in a professional capacity, and I wanted to make a good impression. After a year of struggling, my personal chef business was finally taking off, and Simon’s recommendation would take it even further. I just wished he hadn’t elected to go with the menu of hors d’oeuvres and small plates. It was far more complicated than a sit-down dinner, and I was already tired and stressed.

“Here.” I thrust the plate of appetizers into the hands of a tanned waiter who materialized at my side, barely glancing at the Santa hat and matching red bikini he wore.

“Do you think they’re cold, dressed like that?” Perry murmured in my ear. “Or should I say undressed? It’s barely seventy degrees today.”

“Who? The waitstaff? Judging by the size of that guy’s package, he’s not cold in the least.”