Authors: Laura Jardine
Kristy and Allison exchanged a look but didn’t ask any questions.
Okay, Maya sort of missed being teased. “Yes, I have plans with Liam. We’re going to have lots of hot sex. Happy?”
She was looking forward to it.
Not that she loved Liam.
But she smiled at the thought of spending the afternoon with him.
Maya could faintly hear music coming from Liam’s apartment. Was that…
She pressed her ear to the door. Yep, it was.
My Heart Will Go On
“What’s up with the music?” she said by way of greeting when Liam opened the door.
“You’re going to dance with me.” He pulled her inside and wrapped his arms around her waist. “I wanted to dance with you in high school. But even if I’d gone to the school dances, I never would have had the guts to ask.”
Maya raised her arms to his neck. She moved with him to the center of the room, shuffling across the floor and turning slowly. She and Liam—they fit comfortably together, despite their lack of dancing ability. It felt good to be with him like this; it had been a very long time since she’d slow danced with anyone.
But it hadn’t been a long time since she’d done some not-so-slow dancing alone in her bedroom. Not that she would ever tell anyone about that.
“I remember you saying you liked this movie,” he said.
“I’ve already been accused of liking
once today. Twice is just too much.”
He laughed softly. “I know you do, though.”
“I’m saying nothing.”
Liam took one of her hands in his. They kept moving across his small living room.
“You know why I’m doing this?” He looked into her eyes. “It’s my way of saying I love you. Will you go out with me, Maya?”
She came to a halt in front of the couch.
“You’re joking,” she said, though his face didn’t have the playful expression it usually had when he teased her.
He led her to the dining room table. On it was a red envelope, a vase of red roses, and a heart-shaped chocolate cake. Maya covered her mouth with her hand, her heart fluttering in her chest. This was adorable. So very much like Liam.
He handed her the envelope, and she opened it, feeling a bit dazed. Inside was a slip of paper. Presumably it was supposed to say “I love you,” but instead of “love,” there was an equation.
“Am I supposed to take the derivative?” she asked.
“Turn it over.”
On the back of the paper was a graph of a heart.
. “It’s a heart-shaped function.”
“Actually, since it fails the vertical line test, it’s not a function. Just a relation. For every—”
“Thank you, Mr. Foster. I get the point.”
But this wasn’t right.
She shook her head. “You want us to date? You want me to be your girlfriend?”
“Yes, I do.”
“You think you’re in love with me?” The idea sounded preposterous. And yet he’d said he was, and he’d given her this sheet of paper.
I’m in love with you. I
in love with you.”
“No.” She shook her head once more. “You can’t be. Maybe you’re in love with the girl I used to be back when we had calculus together. Maybe you can’t quite discard your stupid teenage crush. But you’re not in love with me
He sighed and walked to the couch just as the song ended. She followed him. It was quiet without the music, though in her head, it was anything but quiet.
“Why don’t you believe me?” He ran a hand through his hair. “Don’t say anything about high school, even if the song told you otherwise. This isn’t about high school. It’s about you and me
“I don’t understand what you see in me.”
“You’re beautiful and smart and funny.”
“And cranky and bitter.”
“And a bit of a contradiction. You fascinate me.”
She snorted. “How wonderful.”
“It is,” he said. “It’s wonderful. I could make a long list of the things I like about you, but it wouldn’t capture everything. There’s just something…something more that I can’t describe. I was never good at English class.”
Maya was touched. But at the same time, it felt like she was watching two actors in a movie, like she was outside of herself. It didn’t seem real. How could this be happening? “Men like you don’t ask me out.”
“What do you mean, men like me?”
“Men who aren’t secretly criminal assholes. I’m pretty sure you’re a decent guy, and therefore this whole thing doesn’t make any sense.”
He turned away. “Don’t say you don’t deserve—”
“It’s not that I don’t think I deserve more than I’ve gotten in the past. It’s just that my past experience has shown that the men who like me are jerks. And if they aren’t jerks, they’re boring and I never make it to the second date.”
“Do you think I’m boring?”
“No. I like being with you. But I don’t…Liam, when did this happen?”
“I realized it after you went out with Tyler. I was insanely jealous.”
“Perhaps this is just about you wanting to keep your regular sex partner.”
“Stop it.” He took both of her hands in his. “I love you. I didn’t realize it until recently, but that doesn’t mean I’m not sure. I am quite sure of what I feel.”
He kissed her. She closed her eyes; she couldn’t look at him any longer. And with her eyes closed, she became aware of just how quickly her heart was beating, of the tight pressure in her chest. Of how perfect it was to be kissed by Liam.
She had to believe him. It didn’t make sense, but she couldn’t do otherwise. He kissed her like a lover, not just a friend she went to bed with once a week. How had she not realized this when they made out in the alley behind the bar?
But as much as she hated to hurt him, she couldn’t return his feelings.
“Okay,” she said, pulling back. “You love me. I believe you.” She glanced at the heart-shaped cake and the red roses on the table. “In high school you gave me a pink rose.”
“I know. I debated for hours. But I read that red roses indicate passion, and I didn’t want to scare you off. Now, though…I think red roses better capture what I feel.”
“I was so pleased when I got the pink rose and valentine. I imagined there would be another note in a few days, and you’d reveal your identity or tell me where to meet you. By the big maple tree behind the school or something like that. And we would kiss, and it would be magical. I was so disappointed when—”
“I completely chickened out? Yeah. I was going to do something similar to what you imagined, but I couldn’t go through with it. I saw you talking to Josh, and I was convinced you’d shoot me down.” He paused. “Would you have? When you realized it was the loser you sat beside in calculus?”
“I’m not sure,” she said honestly. “But there was a good chance of it.”
“Just like you’re doing today?”
Yes. Just like today.
Maya didn’t say that, though; her mouth refused to obey her. She hadn’t actually rejected him yet, and that’s what she should do.
But it was too hard to shatter his heart. She couldn’t get the words out.
“Okay,” she said instead. “Okay. I guess we can go on a date. See how it goes.”
“We don’t have to do this if you don’t want to.”
“Might as well try, right? We get along well, the sex is good…it’s worth a shot. More worth it than a second date with Seth.”
She could see the disappointment in his eyes at her lukewarm acceptance, and it made her ache.
But this was just the way it was for her. She was never passionate about the guys who would treat her properly. And Liam would treat her well. She knew that. He would bake for her and spontaneously dance with her and bring her flowers just because, and he would listen to all the shit that came out of her mouth.
Unlike with so many of the other guys she knew, her mind didn’t immediately jump to the ways he might screw her over. Because she knew he wouldn’t. The thought of loving someone like that—it was so comforting.
Maya stood up. “I’m feeling a bit…off.” She couldn’t even think of a good excuse. But it didn’t matter. He’d see through it anyway. “I should go home. I’ll see you soon. Whenever you want to go on that date.”
Maya threw on her jacket and hurried down the stairs, not wanting to wait for the elevator. But once she was downstairs, she couldn’t manage to leave the lobby.
Now her feet wouldn’t obey her. Great. Just great.
She sank down on a bench and put her head in her hands.
Strangely, she wanted to go to Liam right now, like she had after her date with Tom. The person she wanted to embrace her was the one whose apartment she’d just fled after reluctantly agreeing to go out with him.
God, she wanted his arms around her.
She remembered what he’d said that night.
Maybe you should stop dating for a while…maybe something will happen when you’re not trying so hard.
Those words took on a different meaning now. He must have been thinking of himself when he said them. She smiled at the thought of him meticulously drawing the graph of the heart, pouring the batter into a springform pan, buying roses at the grocery store, picking out the song she’d heard so many times before. She remembered the cheesecake he’d made on Valentine’s, the odd shape of his piece—had that cake been in the shape of a heart, too? Had he meant to say something that day, then changed his mind after she said she hated cheesecake?
Her heart squeezed as she thought of Liam doing all that for her, as she thought of how she hadn’t quite been able to let him down. And she realized what she wanted right now, more than anything.
She wanted him to come after her. Wanted him to emerge from the elevator and beg her to come back, to never let him go. Wanted him to tell her that she must secretly love him, even if she couldn’t admit it to herself.
The way it was with Liam…it wasn’t like that with any other guy, and not just because he was her friend. Even if she got to know another man this well, she couldn’t imagine finding him as attractive—both physically and otherwise—as she found Liam. She might not have thought he was cute when she met him all those years ago; he was just the nice, rather nerdy guy she sat beside in calculus. But he was different now, and more importantly, so was she.
Was it possible…Did she really…
Oh my God
Perhaps it had been there for a while. Perhaps that was why she hadn’t been interested in anyone else.
Maya looked at the elevator, wondering if she should go up and give him a more enthusiastic acceptance. But this was all a bit fast, and she wasn’t quite sure…
The elevator door opened. Liam stepped out, and every inch of her body, her mind, her heart responded to the sight of him.
She was sure.
This was what she wanted, and it had been hiding in plain sight. Just like her to miss something so obvious, like the way she’d missed Justin’s drug dealing.
Except this was obviously much, much better.
“I wanted to make sure you were okay,” Liam said, sitting beside Maya. “I watched from the window, and I didn’t see you leave the building.” He moved his hand to hers, then quickly withdrew it. “I won’t repeat any of the things I said. Though if you’re in the mood for chocolate cake, I have a whole one upstairs. You can take it home. I made it for you, after all.”
He tried to keep his tone light, but it was hard. This was the woman he loved, and it hadn’t gone as planned.
To his surprise, she took his hand and squeezed it.
“So you’re not going to tell me that I must secretly love you,” she said, “and I just can’t admit my feelings?”
Well, a part of him wondered if that might be true, but…“You’re the only one who can really know how you feel,” he told her. “If you don’t want this and just felt you had to accept to be nice…”
“I’m not in the habit of going on dates just to be nice. I couldn’t bear to hurt you, though. Plus I thought I needed to be more open-minded. Go out with men I didn’t feel a strong connection with, to see if that would change. But I was wrong.”
So they wouldn’t go on that date. He felt a touch of disappointment, but not as much as he’d felt upstairs. Maya shouldn’t have to suffer through a date with someone she wasn’t interested in. She’d already been on a ton of uncomfortable dates.
want to be with you,” she continued. “I just couldn’t see it until I left your apartment and realized you were the only person I wanted to go to. I couldn’t make myself leave the building. I love you after all. If you like, I’ll write it as an equation.”
Liam felt light-headed. Good thing he was sitting down.
“That’s a big change from five minutes ago,” he said cautiously, not allowing himself to fully believe it. Not yet.
She shrugged. “What can I say? I had a realization in the lobby of your damn building. Sometimes I miss what’s right in front of me. I was sitting here, and I realized how badly I wanted you to come after me and drop to your knees and beg me to be yours.”
“That would have been seriously uncomfortable for you if you hadn’t changed your mind. I wouldn’t want to subject you to that, especially if there were other people around.”
“You’re right. That doesn’t sound like you. But upstairs…that was super cute. I wish I’d figured everything out earlier. I have terrible timing. The sweetest thing a guy’s ever done for me, and I blew my chance to have a perfect romantic moment.”
He looked at her, a smile slowly stretching across his face. Then she started laughing, and he did too. And he kissed her, their first kiss knowing they weren’t just friends, a kiss that matched the twelve red roses in the vase upstairs.
“I’ll give you many more chances,” he said. “Don’t worry. The important thing is that you figured it out. Sooner rather than later.”
“And thank God for that,” she muttered. “I was getting sick of blind dates and online dating and teenagers hitting on me because they have a fetish for older women.”
“Did that happen more than once?”