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Authors: Laura Jardine

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BOOK: Not Just a Friend
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He cocked his head to the side. “That’s an interesting idea.”

Was that a joke? Or did he truly believe she had some talent in the junk art department?

“But let me tell you about
my
idea.” Tyler put his elbows on the table and leaned forward. “After I cover the entire thing in plastic wrap, I’m going to tape food to it.”

“Food you find in the garbage?”

“Yes.” He looked at her like she’d asked an incredibly stupid question. “Eggshells, banana peels, chicken bones, rotten fish…”

“That’ll sure smell good.”

“It won’t.” Had he failed to pick up on her sarcasm? “But that’s part of the experience.”

“And what experience are you going for? What’s the message of your piece?”

“Isn’t it obvious? The disposability of modern life.”

Maya smacked her forehead with her palm. “How could I be so blind?”

He chuckled. “It’s pretty obvious once you see it, isn’t it? But I wonder if my current idea is a bit…small. I’ve done a lot of searching in the last week, hoping to find an old refrigerator. I’ll still use the microwave, of course. It’ll sit on top.”

“And will you fill the fridge with TV remotes and cellphones? Wrap the whole thing in plastic wrap and stick rotten chicken on it?”

“That’s the plan, yes. Brilliant, isn’t it?”

“I’ve thought of several words to describe it, but ‘brilliant’ isn’t one of them.”

“Ah.” He stroked his beard. “Deep? Thought-provoking? Edgy?”

How the hell had Tyler come across as normal at first? When she’d met him last weekend, he’d seemed like a regular guy. Their long conversation about movies had been interesting, and she’d hoped for more of that. This…this was something else.

“Edgy,” she said. “Yes. That’s it. But I think you should use the microwave and fridge in the creation of your artwork, too. Stick the old remotes and smartphones in the microwave, put it on high for twenty minutes, and see what happens. Maybe add some non-microwaveable plastic containers. I bet you can find lots of those in dumpsters. Or at least some non-microwaveable plastic wrap. Then stick everything in the freezer for twenty-four hours.”

Maya had been staring at her plate, and when she looked up, Tyler was furiously scribbling on his paper napkin. He still hadn’t touched his food.

“The use of both a microwave and a fridge is brilliant,” she said. “One heats and one cools. You can use that as some kind of representation of…I don’t know. Different parts of society?”

“Yes, yes. I do think you’re onto something.”

She peered over and read his notes.
Microwave plastic wrap for 20 min.
He’d seriously written that down.

“I’m sure some wealthy man will want to buy your edgy artwork,” she said. “Although it’s been a decade since I dabbled in dumpster art, I can still tell a good idea from a bad one. Maybe you could throw the fridge and microwave into a dumpster, then have people go inside to see them. That would be quite an experience.”

Tyler tapped his pen against the table. “I’m not sure. I think using an actual dumpster might be too obvious. It just screams disposability, doesn’t it? I want people to
think
when they look at my art.”

“Right. I totally get your point. I’m sorry I looked at you skeptically before. Really, this has enormous potential. Very innovative.”

“Do you think so?” He placed his hand on her knee, and she knocked it away.

And then she burst out laughing. She couldn’t keep this up any longer.

Tyler shook his head and sighed. He looked horribly disappointed in her. “You think my idea is garbage, don’t you?”

“Yes. It literally
is
garbage.”

He was not amused. But he’d walked right into that one.

“But one man’s rotten chicken breast is another man’s
foie gras
, right?” she said. “One girl’s melted plastic doll is another girl’s favorite toy.”

“Maya,” he said quite sternly. “I thought you were different. You seemed like a really genuine person when I first met you, and I thought you understood me. That’s why I opened up to you about my artwork. I have to fake it so much of the time, pretend I’m someone I’m not. I’d hoped I wouldn’t have to do that with you. But I was wrong. You’re just like everyone else.”

This date couldn’t get much worse.

She’d finish her food then make a quick escape, although the pecan pie with whipped cream and banana sure sounded good. Well, she could come back some other time—maybe with a half-normal man who was gainfully employed—and order dessert. But she wouldn’t today, not unless Tyler was rude enough to leave in the middle of dinner.

Which, unfortunately, he didn’t do. But he
was
rude.

“Eww.” He scrunched up his face as he looked at his plate. “The menu didn’t say anything about celery and onion. Can you believe this place?”

“I think the food is delicious.”

“Like I value
your
opinion. You’re no better than the eggshells I’ll stick to the plastic wrap.”

Maya was glad he valued her so little. She’d be disturbed if he thought highly of her. What would that say about her as a person?

“You can throw the meal in a dumpster,” she suggested, “then come back for it in a week and stick it in the discarded microwave.”

“Haven’t you been listening? The electronics go
inside
the microwave. The food is on the outside.”

“My mistake. How stupid of me.” She didn’t bother suppressing her laughter this time.

“I can’t believe I asked you out.”

And she couldn’t believe she’d said yes.

Tyler flagged down the waiter and argued with him about the presence of onions in his meal for a solid five minutes. By the time the waiter had refused to refund his meal for the third time and Tyler had demanded to speak to the manager, Maya was finished eating. She pulled out her wallet and left enough money to cover her drinks, appetizer, and fish. Plus a generous tip.

She hurried out of the restaurant without acknowledging Tyler. Once she was on the sidewalk, she texted Liam.

* * * *

Liam had planned to spend Saturday evening alone in his apartment, marking quizzes. But when he sat down with a cup of tea after dinner, he couldn’t concentrate on basic trigonometry.

He couldn’t stop a series of disturbing images from rotating through his mind.

Maya wearing that cream-colored shirt she’d worn when they went to the bar a couple of months ago, the one with the plunging neckline…Actually, that was a pleasant thought. He quite liked that shirt. It was his other thoughts that were the problem.

Maya laughing at another man’s jokes. Maya splitting dessert with this guy, perhaps eating off his fork and licking whipped cream off her fingers. Very, very slowly. Maya waiting as her date called a cab, smiling as he whispered something in her ear…

Liam sighed and tossed his pen on the table. This was hopeless. He wished he’d gone out tonight.

Why was this bothering him so much? Sure, he didn’t want to stop having sex with Maya, but he wanted her to be happy. If she hoped to get married and have kids someday, then dating was a necessary evil.

He blamed it on his teenage crush on her. Perhaps because he’d been crazy about Maya for so long, he couldn’t help but think like this. It was instinctive. When the first woman you’d ever yearned for was out with someone else, it was natural to feel this way. Wasn’t it?

Except he hadn’t had a crush on Maya in well over a decade. No, it didn’t make sense to him.

He hoped this feeling would go away soon. He hated being consumed with jealousy.

Giving up on marking math quizzes, Liam plopped down on the couch and turned on the hockey game.

Near the end of the second period, his phone beeped. It was a text from Maya.
Date was terrible, so I’ll still come over tomorrow.

He couldn’t hold back a smile. Without thinking, he replied,
Why don’t you come over now?

Chapter 3

Maya knocked on Liam’s door, a tingle of excitement traveling down her body.

She didn’t usually feel this way when she went to see him.

But this time was different.

It was Saturday night, and she’d just spent too much time with a man who thought he could get rich by throwing shit in a microwave and calling it art. She wanted to feel a normal man’s hands on her body more than she usually did. She wanted to sink against him and forget about the absolute crap that passed as a date in her life.

Liam opened the door, and she grinned when she saw him.

“You look awful happy for someone who had a terrible date,” he said.

“I’m just relieved to be talking to someone who’s not crazy.”

“What happened?”

“Last week Tyler said he was a financial analyst. But today he told me that job was stealing his soul, so he quit. Now he’s an artist who makes beautiful junk art involving microwaves and food waste and discarded electronics. He’s convinced he’ll have no trouble selling it.”

Liam took her hand and pulled her inside. “Seriously?”

“I gave him a bunch of suggestions for his artwork. Adding a toilet paper roll or an old satellite dish, for example. I was being sarcastic, but he didn’t pick up on that.”

“That’s not a surprise. I probably wouldn’t have picked up on the sarcasm either, because you’re never sarcastic.”

“Yeah, I would
never
do something like use sarcasm.” She chuckled. “Tyler listened in earnest and starting writing down my ideas on a napkin.”

“You shouldn’t have told him your ideas. They might be worth a fortune.”

“You’re right. There’s an enormous market for art made of microwaves and food waste. If you can break into it, you’re set for life.”

But she didn’t want to talk anymore.

Liam was wearing jeans and a striped polo shirt. He looked like a sensible guy, and that’s exactly what he was. She knew him well enough to say that. And the idea of going to bed with a man who wouldn’t make art out of banana peels…that turned her on.

She knew exactly what to expect with him, but that didn’t mean she was bored. She wasn’t in love with him—of course she wasn’t. He wasn’t the sort of guy she fell in love with. But this was good. Comfortable.

Maya started walking backward to his bedroom, her arms around his shoulders. He put his hands on her waist and moved with her. And then he was kissing her, pushing her shirt up, groaning appreciatively as one hand shifted to her breast.

“I like this shirt,” he murmured. “You wore it the last time we went to the bar.”

Had she? She was surprised he remembered. She was also surprised that her heart beat a little faster at his words.

Maya didn’t usually dress up when she went to Liam’s. Last week she’d worn an enormous University of Toronto sweatshirt. But if he liked this, maybe she’d put in a little more effort next time. Like she’d do for a date.

They were in his bedroom now, and he shut the door behind him. He always did this, even though he lived alone. She teased him about it sometimes. When he came to her apartment, she made a point of leaving the bedroom door wide open. After growing up in a house with eight people, it was still a relief to live alone, to not have to worry about someone barging in and crying over a scraped knee, and she took advantage of it.

Liam, though—he always closed the door. When she saw him do it today, she smiled and felt a tug in her chest at the familiar gesture.

He pulled her onto the bed with him, and they kept kissing, their arms and legs tangled. They stopped when he pulled her shirt over her head and looked at her lacy bra. He frowned.

“What?” she said.

“I’ve never seen this one before.” He ran his finger along the top edge of her bra; her skin pebbled. “I like it.”

“It’s new.”

“Were you…” He shook his head. “Never mind.”

“Was I thinking of sleeping with Tyler? Is that what you mean?”

“Yes. It doesn’t matter, though. None of my business.”

“I wasn’t planning on sleeping with him, even before I knew he was a dumpster-diving artist. But if I fooled around with him, I wanted to be prepared. That’s all.” She crossed her arms over her chest and shifted away from him. “Don’t judge me.”

“I’m not.”

“You are.”

They rarely argued about anything. Liam was so agreeable most of the time it was hard to have an argument with him. But tonight…

“Fine.” He took off his glasses and placed them on the night table, then scrubbed a hand over his face. “It’s just hard to think about you sleeping with someone else, okay? It bothers me. But I’m trying not to judge you.” He gestured toward her. “When I see what you’re wearing, I can’t help but be reminded of where you were before you came here.”

“That date was hardly a pleasant experience.”

“I know.” The corner of his mouth lifted. “Though you got a great story out of it. I’m not the sort of guy who does things just for the story, but I might have been tempted in this case.”

“To go on a date with someone who wants to wrap an old microwave in plastic wrap, cover it in food waste, and sell it as art? You’d go out with a woman like that?”

He shrugged. “Or a man. Yeah.”

“I bet you wouldn’t screw with his mind as much as I did with Tyler’s.”

“No,” Liam said. “I don’t imagine I would.”

She laughed. Okay, they were good now.

And she had to admit, there was a part of her that liked his possessive streak.

He took off the rest of her clothes, spending a bit of time admiring the panties that she hadn’t bought for him. He slipped his finger inside her, his mouth moving over hers at the same time. His movements were slightly clumsier than usual, as though he didn’t have full control of himself because he wanted her so much. It felt more like they were lovers than friends who slept together because it was convenient.

When she’d first asked him if he’d be interested in sleeping with her, she’d done it because she hadn’t had sex in three years, she thought he was cute even if he wasn’t jaw-droppingly handsome, and she knew him—but not well enough that it would hurt too much if she lost the friendship.

But today, as she pulled back and stared into his eyes, she decided she’d underestimated Liam. He made her heart stutter the way some of her exes had, and he did it without being a drug-dealing asshole.

BOOK: Not Just a Friend
13.54Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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