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Authors: Laura Jardine

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BOOK: Not Just a Friend
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Maya opened her menu and pretended to study it. She always ordered the same thing at Indian restaurants. It made her feel boring, but she just liked saag paneer so much.

They placed their orders—Seth ordered some kind of lamb dish—then stared blankly at each other for a few seconds.

He laughed. “I’ve never been set up like this before.”

I have. Several times.
But she didn’t say that.

“Kristy told me you’re an accountant,” he said.

“Yes. But we don’t need to talk about that. It’s not very exciting. You’re an engineer?”

He nodded. “Mostly heating and cooling systems in large buildings. It’s not too exciting to talk about, either.”

“You have a normal, respectable career. That’s a big step up from one of my recent dates. He quit his job to make modern art out of garbage, and he was convinced he’d be able to make a living doing that.”

The waiter came over with some papadums and chutney.

Seth broke off a piece of papadum. “I can promise I’ll never do
that
.”

“Or deal drugs? Can you promise you’ll never do that, too?”

“Has this been a problem in the past? Kristy said you’d had some bad experiences with men before.”

Maya nodded. “What else did she tell you?”

“Not a lot. She showed me a picture, told me I would really like you, said you were an accountant…That’s about it. Honestly, I’ve had some pretty bad luck with dating in the past as well. So she promised me you wouldn’t steal my credit card information and use it to buy designer underwear and sex dolls online, or…” He shook his head. “You don’t really want to hear about this, do you?”

“Oh, but I do.” She leaned forward slightly. “It’s good to find someone whose dating experiences rival my own.”

“Well, the last time I went on a date—this was quite a while ago now—the woman was recording our entire conversation. When she went to the washroom, I noticed a mini recorder sticking out of the jacket draped over her chair. Later I found out she had a column in a women’s lifestyle magazine.”

“So she was trying to get material for a column?”

“She had an article on dating ugly men the following week.”

Oh boy
. Pretty obvious where this was going.

“In it,” he continued, “she made reference to a date I could only assume was me. Unless she had multiple dates at an Azerbaijani restaurant.”

“You’re not ugly,” Maya said, cringing on his behalf.

She wasn’t lying. Still, she couldn’t exactly say he was handsome.

Seth smiled at her. He had nice teeth—perfectly straight. But she didn’t feel anything when he smiled. No flutters. Nothing.

“We should write a book about our experiences,” he said jokingly. “If this works out…”

* * * *

They lingered over tea.

Maya was enjoying herself. She liked Seth. But she wasn’t sure she could like him as more than a friend, much as she wanted to.

He reached across the table and laid his hand over hers. “I’ve had a good time tonight. Can I take you out again?”

“Yes.” She tried to smile. “But just to be clear, we’re not exclusive.”

He frowned slightly. “No. Not yet, anyway.”

She wanted to kick herself. One date, they hadn’t even kissed yet—of
course
they weren’t exclusive. Why had she felt the need to confirm that? It was such an awkward thing to say.

“How’s next Friday?” he asked.

“Sure. Sounds great.”

He rubbed his thumb over her wrist, and she felt the faintest of flutters. “I look forward to it. Would you like to have a drink now?”

Although the date had gone well—aside from her inane comment a minute ago—she wasn’t in the mood to draw it out any longer. She’d prefer to drink alone. Contemplate her romantic failures in private.

Because that would sure make her feel better.

“I have to get up early tomorrow,” she said. “Meeting my mom, and she’s an early bird.” Such a lie. Her mom needed two cups of coffee to function before ten, rather like Maya, and would never suggest doing anything in the morning. “I should head home now, but I’ll see you next Friday.”

He walked her to Spadina station. After going through the turnstiles, they paused.

“I’m going west,” he said, taking a step so he was very, very close to her—she had to look up to see his face.

He put his hand on her shoulder and bent his head slightly. She knew he wanted to kiss her, but he was letting her decide.

How nice of him. And she wasn’t being sarcastic.

Seth was a very nice man. Easy to talk to. He just wasn’t anything more than that. She hoped that would change, but maybe it wouldn’t.

Maya turned her head to the right. “I’m going east.”

“Okay,” he said, stepping back.

She didn’t look at his face. She expected she’d see disappointment if she did.

The eastbound and westbound platforms were across from each other, the tracks in between. Her train came almost immediately, and she waved to him as she got on.

After she sat down, she realized why she’d wanted to be sure they weren’t exclusive: she wanted to sleep with Liam again. And she didn’t want to feel like she was doing anything wrong by doing so.

* * * *

Maya stared at the entrance to the diner she frequented with her friends. Usually this was something she looked forward to, but today was different. Kristy would ask about her date with Seth, and Maya didn’t feel like talking about that.

Oh, well. She’d have to do it at some point. Best to get it over with. She walked inside and quickly found her friends. They were sitting in a blue-vinyl booth at the back.

“We told Dee to bring us our usual orders,” Allison said as Maya sat down beside her. “I assume that’s okay with you?”

“Of course.” Maya removed her jacket and scarf. “It’s not like I ever order anything but waffles.”

There was a brief pause.

“So?” Kristy leaned forward. “Your date last night. How was it?”

“It was good,” Maya said. “I like Seth.”

“So you’re seeing him again?” Allison asked.

“Next Friday, I think.”

“You don’t sound all that enthusiastic.”

“You really don’t,” Kristy said. “Are you sure the date went okay?”

“It went okay, yes.” Maya took a swig of water, wishing she had something stronger. “Seth is a good guy. I just don’t feel any magical fucking rainbows and unicorns and puppies when I’m with him, you know?”

And she hated herself for that. She really wished she felt some sort of spark with Seth.

Kristy laughed awkwardly. “That’s important, but it might take time. Maybe after a few dates, you’ll feel those ‘magical fucking rainbows’.”

“I hope so. He bent his head to kiss me when we were at the subway station, and I turned away. I couldn’t do it. He seemed more into me than I was into him. He asked me to have a drink after dinner, and I couldn’t do that, either.”

Now that more than a day had passed since the date, Maya was even more doubtful she’d ever feel differently about Seth. She could hope all she wanted, but it seemed unlikely she’d change her mind.

“Is there someone else?” Allison asked.

Maya hadn’t expected
that
question.

“Yeah, is there?” Kristy said. “You never go on a second date with anyone. Not the guys who ask you out—”

“Because they’re all losers.”

“Or the men I find for you. You say you will with Seth, but I’m not convinced.” Kristy tapped her fingers on the table. “I just have a feeling there’s something you’re not telling us.”

“I agree,” Allison said. “There’s got to be something going on. You’ve got a crush on a married co-worker, you exchange regular letters with Justin in jail—”

“Like I would ever do that.”

“Or you go clubbing every few weeks and pick up a hot guy each time.”

“If only,” Maya muttered.

“We won’t give up until you tell us,” Kristy said. “We
know
something is going on. Don’t try to hide it.”

“I need some damn coffee.”

Dee suddenly appeared with a large cup of coffee. Maya had a sip. Yes, that was better.

“Okay,” Allison said. “You’ve got your caffeine. Now will you tell us?”

“Fine, fine,” Maya grumbled. “There’s a guy. We’re friends. We sleep together once a week. But I do
not
have a crush on him. It’s just sex.”

And hanging out. And watching movies. And he was the one she’d spent Valentine’s Day with, the one she’d gone to after her date with Tom.

It was nothing more than that, though.

“I’m only telling you about him because you’re convinced there’s another man, and this is the only secret I’ve kept from you. But trust me, he’s not the reason I never go on a second date.”

Kristy’s jaw dropped. “You have sex with this guy every week? Why did you keep it a secret? Why haven’t we met him? What’s his name?”

“I’m guessing this is the reason you didn’t tell us,” Allison said. “You didn’t want us to ask questions and tease you mercilessly.”

“And make assumptions that are not true.” Maya crossed her arms over her chest. “Even though I just denied it, you think I’m in love with him. Come on, admit it.”

Kristy’s cheeks turned pink. “Of course I think that.”

“I do not fall in love with a guy just because I sleep with him regularly. Sex and love? They’re totally different things.”

“How long have you been having sex with him?”

Maya shrugged. “Almost a year.”

“A year?” Kristy sputtered. “A
year
? That sounds pretty serious to me.”

“It’s not. We just have sex, then we lie in bed and talk. That’s all.”

“Maybe he’s in love with you,” Allison said. “But he’s too shy to say anything.”

“Funny story, actually. We went to high school together, and he had a crush on me back then. He put a rose on my locker and gave me a valentine signed ‘your secret admirer’ when we were in grade twelve. I didn’t know who it was from at the time. He told me when we ran into each other a couple of years ago. But he’s not in love with me anymore.”

“He was too shy to tell you in high school.”

“He’s different now. He would have told me.”

And she would have turned him down. But Liam was someone she respected, and it would be flattering if he cared for her.

“What does he do for a living?” Allison asked.

“He’s a math teacher.”

“Ooh,” Kristy said. “How sexy.”

“I know, isn’t it? Very sexy.” Maya tried to drown her words in sarcasm, but it didn’t quite come off as planned.

Liam was, after all, pretty hot.

“You must have a picture of him somewhere,” Kristy said. “Show us his Facebook page.”

Maya was glad he didn’t have one of those. “He teaches high school, so he stays away from Facebook. I’m not making that shit up. He really doesn’t have a Facebook account.”

“Okay, okay,” Allison said. “No reason to get worked up about this.”

“In fact,” Kristy said with a sly smile, “I think the reason you’re worked up about it is that you love—”

“Shut up,” Maya snapped. “I’m not in love with Liam. There is
nothing
going on between us. Yes, my love life is a total mess. Could we
please
not talk about it for once?”

She rested her elbows on the table and put her head in her hands. She was so sick of this. Of all the messed up guys who hit on her, all the bland guys Kristy set her up with, and Liam…she wasn’t sick of Liam, but she was tired of hearing about him.

It felt like her friends were rubbing it in.
Ooh, what about that nice, normal guy in your life?
But he didn’t like her, not anymore. And she…well, how could Maya Gregory
ever
be in love with Liam Foster? She fell for complete losers like Justin, who managed to hide their loser status just long enough for her to fall in love. She knew what her type was.

A decent guy she loved, who wanted to have a family with her—that was a fairy tale.

For the second time in the past few weeks, she felt tears forming at the back of her eyes. But this time, she was better at holding them back.

Kristy squeezed into the booth next to Maya and put her arm around her. “I’m sorry. I was just trying to cheer you up by teasing you. Often you pretend not to like things you really do like. It can be hard to tell with you.”

“Like
Friends
,” Allison said. “When we watched it in university, you kept saying it was cheesy.”

“Yet you watched every episode,” Kristy said. “And listened to music you said was terrible. You’d even sing along sometimes.”

“You secretly love
Titanic.
” Allison placed her hand on top of Maya’s. “I know you do. Even though you’ve gone on several rants about it, I know you watch it every year. I bet you had a poster of Leonardo DiCaprio in your locker when you were younger.”

“I did no such thing,” Maya said, even though, yes, she had.

“We got you to grudgingly admit that you frequently reread
Pride and Prejudice
and
Bridget Jones’s Diary
.” Kristy smiled. “Pretty sure you were—”

“Drunk off my ass that night. Yeah.” Maya didn’t bother refuting Kristy’s claim. What was the point? Her friends would know she was lying. She had a gulp of coffee. “I’m sorry I snapped. I’m just pissed off at myself. I went on a date with Seth, and he seemed like a good guy, but honestly, there’s nothing there. I want there to be. I really do. But there’s nothing. What the hell is wrong with me?”

Kristy opened her mouth, then closed it.

“What?” Maya asked. “Tell me what you were going to say.”

“I was going to suggest—again—that you’re in love with Liam.” Kristy held up her hands. “But for obvious reasons, I decided to keep my mouth shut.”

Maya chuckled. “I won’t even bother responding.”

“We know exactly what you would say anyway,” Allison said.

“Yeah, I’m predictable like that.”

“But we love you all the same.” Kristy gave Maya a hug before going back to the other side of the booth. “No more talking about relationships. Do you want to go shopping after we finish eating?”

Maya looked at her watch. “I have plans this afternoon. Sorry.”

BOOK: Not Just a Friend
12.9Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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