Authors: Laura Jardine
He didn’t do it the next day, too nervous to go through with it. On the day he decided he’d finally go to the drugstore on the way home from school, he saw her between classes with Josh. She stood against the wall, holding her books to her chest. Josh was in front of her, leaning forward with his hand resting on the wall behind her. He was very close to Maya, and when he put his other hand on her shoulder, she smiled. She slid her books down, which pushed down the neckline of her shirt.
Liam swallowed and turned away. If she was getting attention from a guy like Josh, there was no way she’d want Liam. What had he been thinking? There was no hope she’d go for him; that wasn’t how high school worked. Maya was pretty and smart and fun. Of course other guys were interested in her. Of course she wouldn’t want him. They were friendly, that was all.
So Liam never asked her out, though he thought about her all semester. Occasionally he said “hi” to her in the hallway. Occasionally he saw her with Josh Lee-Corning or David Sanderson. Though as far as he knew, she wasn’t dating either of them.
Over the summer, he pushed her out of his mind as he tried to focus on his summer job at Wonderland and prepare for his first year of university.
Things were better in university. Not only did his acne improve, but he was no longer a social outcast—certainly not in the math program—and he managed to get up the nerve to ask a girl out. She even said yes, and he finally had his first kiss. They ended up going out for six months. He forgot about Maya.
But now, more than a decade later, Maya was back in his life, and he wondered if he was more like his teenage self than he’d thought.
She might be the one he wanted after all.
* * * *
Liam figured it out on Sunday morning.
He woke up when the light started to filter through the curtains in his bedroom, casting a glow over the room. Maya lay on the side of the bed closest to the window. She was turned toward it, and he sat up to get a better look at her. She wore a white T-shirt he’d given her, and her elbow was tucked under her head, her lips parted slightly. She looked perfect. Peaceful. A lock of hair fell over her chin. He reached out to push it back, then stopped. Not only because he didn’t want to disturb her, but because he was overcome by a powerful urge. He leaned back against the headboard to steady himself.
Liam wanted to give her anything she wanted, everything he could.
Although it had come to him in an instant, he didn’t think this feeling would go away anytime soon. Maybe it had developed slowly, simmering below the surface, and he’d only just realized it, but it wasn’t a fleeting thought.
He was in love with Maya.
While it might have been teenage infatuation before, it was different now. This wasn’t simply lust. He’d had sex with her many, many times. If that was all he wanted, well, he already had it.
But that wasn’t enough. Nowhere near enough. He yearned to have more with her, to have everything with her. That was his greatest desire.
Liam was thirty-one now, and he’d had several girlfriends. He knew what love was because he’d experienced it before. That’s what this was…and yet it already seemed more profound. That surprised him, but as he looked at her now, curled up beside him, he felt an ache in his chest, and he knew that was true.
He was normally a pretty logical guy. But he’d been in love enough times to know that love wasn’t logical, and to know that this time was different from usual.
Her eyes fluttered open. She rolled over.
“Hey.” He smiled.
“You look too goddamn cheerful for—” She looked at the clock. “—seven-thirty in the morning.”
Cheerful? He was practically ecstatic.
“I usually leave for work about now,” he said.
“Me too. After two cups of coffee. But on weekends I sleep in until nine.”
“You can go back to sleep.”
“I don’t think I’d be able to. This is the first time I’ve woken up in a guy’s bed in four years. It’s not exactly a comfortable situation for me. Except it’s
, so it’s not so bad. I’m not going to check your dresser for crystal meth.” Still, she sat up and narrowed her eyes at his dresser.
“I’m glad you trust me that much,” he said. “You want me to bring you breakfast?”
“You don’t need to do the whole seduction routine. We can have sex again, and then I’ll be on my way.”
“Better for you to have some sustenance first. I’ll give you a couple of choices.”
“Cheerios or cornflakes. Pick one.”
Liam could make something nicer for her. He owned a damn breakfast-in-bed-tray; he’d made a fancy breakfast for a woman before and brought it to her in bed. He hoped to do that for Maya one day, but not until after he’d declared his feelings for her. And he wasn’t planning to do that right now. He wanted to think a little more. Develop a plan.
She laughed. “Cornflakes.”
“Okay. I’ll bring you cornflakes and coffee.”
He got out of bed and went to the kitchen in his boxers and T-shirt. He whistled as he prepared the coffeemaker. He was in love, and she was in his bedroom! Life was great!
Except he didn’t know if she could return his feelings. She didn’t see him as a potential boyfriend, not yet. He hoped to get her thinking in that direction before he told her how he felt. Try to get her used to the idea. They could hang out together a little more—including outside the bedroom. More than once a week. He’d start doing little things for her, like bringing her cornflakes in bed.
He poured two cups of coffee, then put some cornflakes and milk in a bowl. He put everything on his tray, which he hadn’t used in a couple years, along with a spoon.
“Two cups of coffee?” Maya said when he set the tray down. “You were really listening to what I said, weren’t you?”
Well, yes. But…
“The other cup is for me.” He picked it up.
“And here I thought you were sooo sweet.” This, of course, was said sarcastically, but there was a hint of a smile on her face.
“Speaking of sweet,” he said. “You don’t take sugar in your coffee, right? You drink it black?”
“Yeah. I drink so much coffee that my sugar consumption would be ridiculous if I added sugar to it.” She took a sip.
He took a sip too and made a face.
“It’s not that bad,” she said. “You make perfectly acceptable coffee.”
“I thought I’d try it black since I didn’t add milk or sugar to yours. Now I regret it.”
“People usually regret doing things my way. Especially when it comes to dating.”
“Eventually you’ll make a good choice there.”
“I suppose it’s possible.” She started eating her cornflakes. “But the whole Tyler experience made me even more cynical.”
“Have you tried online dating?” Liam regretted his words immediately. He shouldn’t be encouraging her to date men other than himself.
“The shit that women experience on those sites doesn’t make them sound promising. But I’ll try at some point.”
Or maybe he should want her to try. To have lots of bad experiences that would make him seem even better in comparison, and she’d come running to him afterward.
But he couldn’t wish that on Maya. He wanted the best for her, and she deserved better than the crappy experiences she’d had so far. He looked at her, frowning at her cornflakes, and his heart squeezed.
He’d tell her eventually.
And hopefully there would be many more breakfasts in bed to come.
Wednesday morning, Liam was walking across the parking lot when he saw Ginny Cuthbert get out of a blue car by the back door of the school. She walked around to the driver’s side and leaned over to give someone a kiss.
That bothered him.
A couple of months ago, it would have bothered him because he was jealous of Ginny’s husband. Now it bothered him because he was jealous of people who were in love, of people who had their love reciprocated.
He wondered if his envy of her seemingly happy relationship had been part of the reason for his stupid crush on Ginny. He frequently saw her husband drop her off in the morning, occasionally pick her up in the afternoon, and she always kissed him. Liam had spoken to her several times, but he’d never known her all that well.
He’d had a few days to think about it, and he still thought that before he said anything, he should become a bigger part of her life. Show her what they could have together rather than tell her what he wanted. Prove he was a good alternative to the guys she usually dated.
Show, not tell. He remembered that advice from English class.
Too bad he’d sucked at English.
Liam didn’t really know what he was doing. He felt the way he had back in high school, overwhelmed by the thought of admitting his crush on the girl who sat beside him in calculus.
When he got home from work, he called Maya and asked if she wanted to hang out on Friday.
“You want to go to a bar with me? Just me?” she said, sounding confused.
“Why not? We used to do that before we started sleeping together.”
“And you called me.”
“What about that?”
“You always text.” She paused. “Is everything okay?”
It was cute that she asked. But he didn’t like that she immediately assumed something was wrong because he asked her to go to the bar with him.
“Yes,” he said. “I’m fine. I just thought it would be fun to do something outside of the bedroom.”
“So you can see dumpster divers try to get my number? Or meet someone for yourself? You said you were over Ginny, right?”
“Yeah. I saw her today. I’m definitely over her.”
“I’m glad you’re not in love with a married woman anymore. So we’ll go to the bar together and be a little less pathetic by drowning our sorrows in alcohol?”
Because he’d get to see
* * * *
They met at a place near his apartment. An ordinary neighborhood bar they’d been to a few times before, though it had been a while. For a Friday night, it was surprisingly empty.
He got there a few minutes before her and sat at the bar. When he saw her walk in, wearing a plain blue sweater and not looking at all like she was going on a date, his body temperature rose a few degrees. God, she was pretty.
She plopped down on the stool beside him with a sigh. “Let’s get some tequila shots.”
Maya wasn’t the kind of woman who was always cheerful, but there was usually a spirit about her that seemed to be missing today. Like she was too dejected to make any quips and would rather go straight for the alcohol.
“Something wrong?” he asked.
He hoped something small was the matter, some little problem he could solve. Be her knight in shining armor or something like that.
“Shots first,” she said. “Talk later.”
He was glad for the tequila. When he saw her lick the salt off her hand, he couldn’t help but think of her doing other things.
Things he’d done with her many times before. And hoped to do many times again.
Maya slapped the empty shot glass down on the bar, picked up the lemon, and grimaced when she put it in her mouth.
“My sister’s having a baby,” she said, dropping the lemon on the bar.
“Number six. Natasha.”
“How old is she?”
“Twenty-one. Ten years younger than me and yep, she’s pregnant.” Maya threw up her hands. “It clearly wasn’t planned, but she’s happy about it. She’s been with her boyfriend for three years—that’s longer than I’ve ever been with anyone. They’re going to get married.”
“It’ll happen for you, too,” he said.
“I know you feel obligated to say that shit, but you don’t need to.” Maya glanced around the room. “Unfortunately, it looks like guys’ night out. Scarcely a woman to be found. So I guess you’re stuck with me. Lucky you.”
Lucky him, indeed.
Perhaps it had been a mistake to meet at a bar, though. He kept looking at her chest, his hands itching to undo the buttons on her sweater.
An hour later, they’d drunk a decent amount. After talking about TV and movies and nothing in particular, they returned to the topic of Natasha’s pregnancy.
“She’s too young,” Maya said. “I changed her diapers when she was a baby, and it doesn’t feel like all that long ago. She shouldn’t be allowed to have a kid. Yes, she’s an adult, and she’ll make a good mother, but I can’t wrap my mind around it. How the hell is my baby sister having a baby of her own?”
Liam wasn’t sure what to say. “Has she told your mom yet?”
“She’s calling Mom tomorrow. I think my mother will have a similar reaction to me. Her mouth will fall open in shock at the thought of her little girl having a kid. And then she’ll be pleased she’s getting two grandchildren in one year. Why did everyone in my family decide to procreate at the same time?”
He laughed. That sounded just like Maya.
But he wanted to get more out of her, wanted to get beyond the offhand remarks about procreation…although he quite liked thinking about the activities involved in that.
“It’s okay,” he said, covering her hand with his. “I know you feel like you shouldn’t be jealous of her, but it’s natural to feel that way.”
“I’m sure it is.” She looked down. “But I feel like a cliché. My youngest sister’s getting married in a few months. She’s pregnant. And I play the role of the bitter older sister or friend so well. I hate that. I should be happy by myself! Enjoying the single life!” She spoke in a fake cheery voice. “And in a way, I guess I am. I go out every week without needing to hire a babysitter. I check out men without feeling guilty. But still. I want something that she has and I don’t, despite being a decade older.”
Maya was harder on the outside than she’d been in high school. She was like the chocolate truffles he got for Christmas every year from his father and stepmother, with the hard outer layer and the soft center.
Now Liam felt like a cliché. In love with his female friend and too much of a wimp to do anything about it. Thinking of stupid similes. Or was that a metaphor? Again, English had never been his strength.