Authors: Sophie Lira
“He did not!” My face heats as I adjust my tank top and leggings. “It was a little shameless flirting. And I met him at the Cajun place up the street a few days ago while we were waiting for our orders.” It might be a slight variation of events, but it’s a lot easier than explaining the truth.
“Ri-iiight.” Her bag lands on the bench as she digs deep inside. “Here, put this on.”
“What?” I hold the clump of hot pink and black Lycra and I tense at the lack of fabric. “Aubrey, this is a fluorescent bra and … glorified underwear.”
“No, they’re new yoga goodies I’m letting you borrow. And you will rock the shit out of them while you teach him. You’re single, right?” She shoves my arms back toward my chest.
I sulk into the bathroom, throw my cheap clothes on the floor, and take a deep breath. The cool air hits the backs of my legs as I pull on the well-made shorts and my stomach drops as the fabric rests at the bottom of my ass cheeks. I’ve always been naturally small and slim, but this is pushing it even for me.
“I can’t do this. I need pants … and a shirt.” I wrap my arms around my middle as I pull the door open.
“No, no, no!” Aubrey runs over, ripping my arms down. “Rock what your creator gave you! And look at how good your tattoo looks!”
I twist and lift my arm. It
“I’m obsessed with mermaids. Have been since I was a kid.”
“Well, let Mr. Man out there hold your hand while you get matching ink. His half-sleeve is sick.” Aubrey pushes me out of the locker room and I stop dead in my tracks as Kyle pulls his shirt off. His pecs rise and fall as he takes a breath. I love how incredibly tall he is and the way his shorts are slung low on his hips.
Kyle shocks me through the whole class. Most guys walk out halfway through because they’re bored or think it’s dumb. But he’s actually trying, and I’m pleasantly surprised at his natural ability. Then again, he looks like the type of guy who can pick up any sport and excel in it. I catch him playing with his knee brace and I wonder what happened to him to need such an involved contraption.
“Try taking it off,” I whisper, squatting next to him. “I think you have enough strength to compensate for the cool down.”
Oh God, I just said that.
Aubrey chokes on a laugh and I dart my eyes to her.
“Thanks, teach.” The cutest flush of red hits his cheeks and I want to run around and squeal.
Aubrey picks up on my subtle death-glare to not interrupt us and waves goodbye. Seeing Kyle stretch, flex, and stabilize himself for an hour does more for my sex drive than the best foreplay with Braden ever did.
“You did so well. You sure you’re a newbie?” I roll up my mat as he walks up to me.
“Yeah. My physical therapist recommended I try it to work out the tightness in my knee and hamstring.” He pulls on his shirt and I sigh at the restricted view. “After two years, I’m kind of ready to try anything.”
“This will be the perfect class for it. Did you tear a ligament?” I ask, opening the door.
“Olivia, honey! You can leave now. I know you have stuff to do. I got it.” Helena winks at me as I turn around.
Do I have a blinking red sign blaring I need to get laid over my head?
“Thanks, I’ll see you tomorrow!”
I pull my bag out from the cubby next to the desk with Kyle close behind. He looks conflicted but still doesn’t hold back a smile. “Kind of. It gets sore sometimes. Do you want to get some coffee? Maybe we can talk more?”
I do want to get coffee. More than anything. I can handle being a functioning member of society. But memories of Braden slam into me, making it difficult to breathe, and I find myself saying, “Uhm, I have a lot to do today … ”
“It’s just coffee, Liv.”
“No,” I blurt. My voice is about fifteen octaves too high and I become sweltering lava from top to bottom.
“You okay?” He chuckles, tipping my chin up. The second his fingers touch me, I recoil and his eyes turn wide with shock. He totally knows I’m a fucking mess.
It’s too soon.
“Yes. I mean … Give me five minutes to change?” If I don’t at least try, I’m never going to move on. And I need to.
Maybe if I keep telling myself this, I’ll actually believe it.
No matter how hard I’m trying to be take-no-shit Olivia, I’m still on the line of not trusting my instincts. For years, I was never allowed. Now that I’m free, I hate that I have no idea who I really am or what I can handle. I sulk into the locker room. My chest constricts as I pull a tank top out of my bag and throw it over my head. I splash some cool water on my face and cycle a few deep breaths. The expectation of calming my anxiety doesn’t do much. I gather all my things, making sure he won’t have to carry anything for me again.
“Ready?” I give Kyle a genuine smile as I walk into the waiting area.
“Let’s go.” He opens the door for me and I do a double take. Braden never had manners. Everything about Kyle is making me want to punch myself in the face for dealing with that asshole for as long as I did.
Thanks to a mild breeze, it’s not inferno-hot outside. I close my eyes for a second, relishing the beautiful day. “It’s so nice out.”
“Definitely.” Kyle switches the knee brace to under his other arm. “So, I hope you didn’t think it was weird that I took a class today.”
I glance in his direction. I didn’t really think too much of it considering how he backed the suggestion from his doctor. There are tons of yoga places around, so maybe he picked it because of the coincidence of me asking him to come back.
“Not at all.”
“So, do you know any good places?” He smiles, the cutest dimple sinking into his cheek.
“Oh, uhm, yeah. It’s about a ten-minute walk. The Source. Have you been there?”
“No, but I heard it’s good from this cute girl.” He winks and I can’t help but smile at the compliment.
“Do you go to school here?” I level myself and concentrate on the cracks of the sidewalk as we make our way.
“Tulane. You?” His arm brushes mine and I glance over.
“I’m taking this semester off. I have an Associate’s in Biology, but I don’t know what path I really want to take. I didn’t want to waste more loan money on underwater basket weaving, you know?” I miss school so much. It was the one constant in my life where I always felt adequate.
“I hear that. I transferred from North Carolina and lost half my credits, but the change of scenery was more important.” His jaw tightens, so I choose not to ask him to divulge more information because I’m not about to open up, either. I had a scholarship to a top-notch private high school and a partial scholarship to a small university, which I was ecstatic over at first, but ultimately declined because of Braden. The hour drive from Shreveport was too far.
Queen of Stellar Life Choices, right here.
Small talk of his classes and the weather fill the rest of our walk to the coffee shop. I’ve been dying to go to Café du Monde again, but it’s a few miles away and I don’t have the courage to get into a car with the resident superhero yet. Kyle opens the black iron screen door for me, gesturing me inside. I smile at his adorable manners and reach for my wallet, which I found under my bed.
“I got it. The class was really awesome.” He grasps my hand with the lightest touch. “I think we’re way past even.”
“Oh, thanks. A small iced coffee with two sugars and skim milk, please.” I smile to the barista but she doesn’t acknowledge me because too busy staring at Kyle as if he were naked.
We’ve all been there.
“Extra-large iced, black, and ten sugars.” Kyle opens his wallet and a giant wad of cash is bursting out of the top. My normal instinct would be to take a jab at his diabetes-in-a-cup, but his wallet is the only thing on my mind.
My heart skips a beat and the plastic cup placed in front of me moments later does nothing to offset the fire coursing through my veins. Too many situations come to mind. The shady car rides into the boonies to meet up with people I never saw again. How Braden always had so much cash on him, but I always had to pay my way.
All I know is having this much cash on you is never for a good reason. It’s not like you just go to the ATM and take out a few hundred bucks for gas and coffee. Braden started out like Kyle, and I won’t survive another experience like him. I won’t.
“Kyle, thank you, but I have to go.” I fling my bag over my shoulder and force a half-smile. I grab the coffee from the counter even though I shouldn’t have let him pay for me, let alone come here.
“Olivia, wait!” He reaches out to stop me but I jump back and wave. Confusion explodes across his face and gorgeous brown eyes. His complexion pales and I must look crazed.
“I’m so sorry, I’m running late. I forgot I have this … thing.” I shove the door open and sprint down the alley next to the building. I don’t care about getting mugged in this dirty, rat-infested side street. My stride picks up as I hook around the corner and fling the door open to the back of my building. By the time I arrive at my tiny apartment door, the sobs fly.
After a good minute of having a mini panic attack, the freezing cold cup in my palm brings me back to the present. I’m still holding it with a death grip and I take a sip to quench my overexertion. It’s creamy and delicious, and I slam the back of my head against my door in self-deprecation. I can’t do this the rest of my life. I left the coffee shop like some kind of deranged lunatic before I could give him a chance. If I leave everyone before I know them, I’m going to wind up a crazy cat lady.
As I unlock my door, my foot bumps on a package. Bold letters addressed to Ms. Annie Chipowitz bring a smile to my face. I pick up the box and hold it to my chest as I push the door open. Tears prick my eyes at Natasha’s thoughtfulness. We always send each other care packages with weird, fake names. It’s one of the very few constants left over from when we were kids.
I shove the bolt into place and plop onto my bed. The bright swirls decorating the brown paper are meticulous; I don’t expect anything less from my artistic best friend. I rip the tape, careful not to mess up her doodles, and flip open the flaps. A giant, stuffed Simon chipmunk from
Alvin and the Chipmunks
is perched on top. I hold it close to my chest and tears fill my eyes at the framed picture underneath of us from high school. And no care package is complete without an economy-sized bag of Reese’s peanut butter cups.
I pull out my phone, hiccupping another sob, and dial her number.
“My Chip!” Her twangy voice echoes through the phone and I sigh.
“Thank you so much.” The wave of emotion comes out even though I’m trying to be strong.
“Oh, sweetie. Don’t cry.”
“I fucked up.” I sniff and clutch the stuffed animal as close as I can. I miss the hell out of her. I wish she were here to talk me down from thinking my life sucks so much.
“What happened?” I can almost feel her take my hands and rub her thumb along mine.
“I met this guy, and I think he might be really great. But I fucked up and I don’t know how to make it better. He’s different. So different than … ” Kyle’s bright smile and sexy voice explode inside my head. “Tell me to stop being crazy, Tash.”
I don’t know where else to go for advice. I could talk to Aubrey, but she’s not Natasha. Natasha knows what to do. She’s my lifeline and I don’t know how I’m going to get through moving on without her. She’s the only reliable family I have, and now that she’s at school, it’s not the same. I’d give anything to have a car right now to go see her.
“Oh honey, tell me everything … ”
I start from the beginning, sparing no detail. About a half hour in, my phone pings with a text from an unfamiliar number. “Oh God, no.”
“Chip, what’s wrong?
“Hold on, Tash.” I grip the phone tightly and it takes all of my courage to read the message.
Please, no. He couldn’t have found me yet.
Kyle: Hey, it’s Kyle. You okay? Aubrey gave me your number.
No, Kyle. I’m not okay.
But I don’t think you’re going to accept that as an excuse.
Aubrey sits next to me on the bench inside the yoga studio and piles her hair into this ridiculous bun thing on top of her head. “Did Olivia ever text you back the other night?”
I nod. “Are you sure she won’t be pissed at you for giving me her number?”
Aubrey shrugs and pulls her water bottle from her bag. “She seems into you.”
I sigh. “Yeah, I guess. We texted back and forth for a few minutes, but I haven’t heard from her since.”
I don’t want to bring up what really happened when Olivia and I had coffee a few days ago. I’m not sure if she told Aubrey, and I don’t know how close they are. I’d feel even worse if Aubrey ran her mouth and embarrassed her. All I want is to get to know her, regardless of what’s going on inside her head. I can tell she’s wrestling with her own demons. I know this because I have them too. I can see the panic in her eyes, and as much as I want to punch the person responsible, I’m going to let it go for now.
“Well, thanks. I’ll see you inside.” I grab a mat from the shelf and drag it into the room. I can’t back out of this class. I’d look like such a dick if I up and left because Olivia isn’t working. I unroll the mat in the back corner of the room and hope I get through this in one piece. A few minutes later, Zach walks in behind Aubrey and I do a double take.
“Hey, man … ” He pauses and walks over to me, flopping his mat on the floor.
“Hey … ” I laugh. “What are you doing here?”
“My girlfriend teaches the class.” He smiles as Aubrey sits down.
“Wait, how do you guys know each other?” She raises an eyebrow and cocks her head.
“He signed up for the league. Outfielder.” Zach reaches forward and grabs his feet, bending his elbows down to the floor.