Authors: Sophie Lira
“Uh, right … look at him! He doesn’t look like the type of guy to simply be just friends with a girl.”
“Olivia, look. I was best friends with Zach for two years before we got together. Granted, the spark was always there, but still.” She sighs, and I’m starting to feel guilty about being such a crazy bitch to Kyle. But it’s what I do ninety percent of the time. In my mind, everyone has ulterior motives.
“How do I even begin to be friends with him? You said he’s into me, and he’s gorgeous.” Dating fucking sucks. Boys suck. Life sucks. Maybe I should get used to being alone and save myself this aggravation.
“It’s a little soon for you to be freaking out this much. You barely know me, let alone him. See where this friendship goes. That’s all it is.” Aubrey squeezes my hand with a smile.
“He is really nice.” I tuck my hair behind my ears and drop my head into my hands, rubbing my eyes.
“Yes, he is. Let’s go, beautiful. There are two gorgeous guys out there waiting for us.”
She tries to pull me out of the stall, but I stay planted. She’s right about everything. I don’t know what the hell I was thinking, trying to be all aloof and quiet. I still must look like a raging lunatic.
“Can you cover for me?” I sigh, looking at the door. “Tell Kyle I’ll talk to him soon and I have a really bad headache. Maybe he’ll believe that’s why I was such a bitch. I don’t have the balls to face him right now, not after my little … ” I wave my hands around.
Aubrey rolls her eyes with a smile. “Okay, but that’s your one free pass. Got me? This has to stop. You’re way too good to be alone. Even if I’m your only friend. I mean it, Toots.”
“I got it. Crystal clear.” We hug it out for a minute and she rubs my back. “Aubrey?”
“Yeah?” She pulls away and crosses her arms over her chest.
“You’re a really great friend.” I adjust my bag and slip my hat back on.
“I know. Give Kyle a chance, okay? Call me tomorrow.” She smiles again and leaves the bathroom.
I lean against the counter and piece together the night. He can’t be a total douchecanoe because he actually wears his baseball hat like a normal human should: brim perfectly curved and centered. Not that flat brim, tilted, half-on bullshit.
Okay, maybe his charismatic smile, pretty eyes, and gentle demeanor are really charming. Maybe he’s like this all the time. I wouldn’t know. I haven’t given myself the opportunity to know him.
I have to give him a chance, but I won’t jump into the water blindfolded like last time.
Three days is an acceptable amount of time to reach out to a completely polite, hot guy after you were a raging troll to him. Again. Actually, I should have called Kyle to apologize that night. I stare at my phone on my kitchen counter, wondering if he might call me if I stare at it long enough. He hasn’t, and I’m sure he’s moved on by now.
Relying on Natasha to get me through the days is asinine, especially when she’s so far away. She asks me daily if I’ve seen Kyle again and I change the subject. I keep going back and forth with myself whether telling her was the right thing to begin with.
I can’t convince myself to speak to Kyle, but it has to be done. Maybe the hidden veil of technology will make it less brutal. I quickly send him a text apologizing and hope the olive branch of coffee, on me, will even us out.
I throw my phone back on the counter and turn around, ready to go hide in my closet, waiting for him to reply. I don’t make it two feet before chirping birds explode through my kitchen. I lunge at my phone and cover my screen before I can read it. After a few seconds of debate, I peek under my fingers, hoping he didn’t go off on me.
Of course he didn’t. The simple text asks me to meet at Café du Monde downtown in an hour.
I meant, like, tomorrow. Or never, so I can die of mortification in peace.
An hour won’t happen under any circumstances. Between having to shower and figure out how to get there, my mind clicks into overdrive. We text back and forth a few times and before I know it, I’m handing over my address. I have an hour and twenty-eight minutes to get my ass in gear.
By the time I’m done straightening my hair, I think I hold the world record for the longest
this won’t be horrible, you’ll be fine
pep talk. I’m nervous. I think I’d rather be back in the studio during my disastrous yoga audition than go through this. It’s not even a date, but I feel horrible to the twelfth degree about how absurdly I acted.
My palms are coated in a half-inch of sweat as I walk downstairs to meet him. I wipe my hands on the back of my jean shorts and continue outside. Kyle is leaning against a white pillar under the awning in his total, perfectly dressed glory. Gray khaki shorts are slung low on hips and a crisp white T-shirt pulls against his toned chest. Pieces of his messy hair stick out from under his backward baseball hat. His tattoo peeks out the bottom of his sleeve and I really want to see it up close, but I’d look like an idiot if I stared at his arm like a Monet painting.
Kyle smiles. I put on my big-girl pants and smile in return. “Ready?” he asks, nodding behind him. “I had to park down the street.”
“Yeah, let’s go. Have you been there yet?” I ask as I slip on my sunglasses.
“No, but I’ve been waiting for a good reason to go.” He places his hand on the small of my back and switches from walking on my right side to my left, so he is closest to the curb.
Instead of recoiling twenty feet from his touch, I concentrate on wondering what kind of deep Southern upbringing he’s had. I’m sure he’s floated down a staircase with some belle named Trixie at a debutante ball or two. We walk the short distance from my apartment building and around the corner. A white Range Rover beeps and lights up, causing me to stop short.
Oh my God, it’s like a white stallion. This has to be a joke.
“Hey, you okay?” He grabs on to my waist, but I startle, unable to get a hold of myself.
Shit. He’s being so nice.
Kyle is not Braden.
Kyle is NOT Braden.
“I’m fine.” My eyes dart back to the monstrosity of an SUV in front of me, complete with tinted windows and huge black rims. The pearlized paint changes color like the inside of a shell under fluorescent light. “Nice ride.”
“Thanks.” He opens the door for me. “After you.”
I take the few seconds to collect myself while he walks around the car. The dark leather smells new and there are more buttons on his dashboard than Mission Control at NASA. Right after he climbs in, he plugs something into the display screen and adjusts the temperature.
“Wow, I forgot how great air conditioning feels.” I close my eyes as the ice-cold air flows out of the vents, cooling my damp skin from the relentless heat outside.
Just talk to him. You’re taking him out for coffee. This is not a marriage proposal.
“You don’t have AC?” Kyle turns to me with an eyebrow raised.
“In my apartment, of course. I meant in a car.” I cross my legs and look out the window.
“I can take a look at it if you want me to?”
“Oh, I sold my car a few weeks ago. I really don’t need one here because I live so close to work and stuff.”
AKA I sold it so Braden couldn’t pay some crooked cop to run my plates or something insane.
“Well, if you ever need a ride, gimme a call.” He nudges my arm, and thankfully I don’t react.
We banter back and forth for a few minutes. I’m stunned at how easily I can talk to him. I can be friends with a guy and have similar interests without it going anywhere. I think it’s the little things we have in common that change my mind about being so reserved. Like our childhood love of the Houston Astros or our blind hatred of the same cheesy rock bands. He hands me his phone to control the music playlist without a second thought. I was never allowed within a mile radius of Braden’s phone.
He liked his privacy.
I reach to turn up the volume but pull my hand away when I realize I have no idea where the knob is. “Can you put this louder, if you don’t mind?”
He nods, pushing a button on the steering wheel. His shirtsleeve slides up and his defined triceps tense under his shirt. His impeccable black-and-white vine of different flowers spotted with color is awe-inspiring. It isn’t some cheesy rose with
lettered underneath. It’s like he wanted to be reminded of a tropical rainforest all the time.
“Your tattoo’s beautiful.” I resist leaning in closer.
“Thanks.” His expression slackens a little; he almost looks uncomfortable. After a few minutes, we pull up to the restaurant and I try to get out quickly, avoiding confrontation.
Kyle grabs my hand before I can protest. “Hey, I’m sorry. The tattoo is a huge thing for me. There’s a lot of meaning behind it that is hard for me to talk about sometimes. I guess I’m the one having the bad day today.” He winks.
Fuck my life.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to bring up any bad memories.” My eyes bulge as he reaches over and holds my cheek in his palm, rubbing his thumb back and forth. I can’t even allow myself to stop him. The sweet gesture I’ve seen a million times between other people is nothing like feeling it in person. Braden never touched me like this. He never cared this much.
“Stop apologizing, Olivia. You haven’t done anything wrong.” The corner of his lips turns up into a smile.
“Okay,” I mouth because I don’t think my vocal chords work. His phone vibrates in my hand and I jump, almost hitting my head on the ceiling. “I’m okay, really. It’s just been—”
“A long week?” He takes the phone from my hand, not even looking to see who called. “I got it, by the way.”
“Got what?” I yank away and reach for my lip balm in my bag, hoping a mindless task will level me out. He smiles and nods to the passenger-side door.
The whole Southern gentleman thing is on high alert today, huh?
When he helps me out, I resist sighing at his impeccable manners. “I’m on a mission.”
“What do you mean?” I step away again and fold my arms.
“I’m going to rid you of the habit of saying you’re sorry so much.” He shoves his hands in his pockets, leaning in until he is millimeters from my face.
“Duly noted. How much humiliation is on my face right now?” I blink as I try not to bury my face into his neck, devouring the scent of whatever cologne he is wearing that always smells like heaven and sex.
“None, you look beautiful. Let’s go.” He gestures toward the entrance.
I’m in over my head.
Right before we turn out of the parking lot, I grab his arm. “Kyle, wait.”
He smiles, stepping closer. “What’s up?”
I let go of the breath I didn’t realize I was holding. “I’m really sorry about how I’ve been acting. I’ve owed you an apology for days and I’m so, so sorry. It’s nothing you did, this is all on me. I’ve been going through a lot lately and it’s kept me really on edge.”
Aubrey’s words of wisdom hang in my brain and I need to clear the air. He shakes his head, and before I can protest, his long, strong arms wrap around my shoulders.
“Don’t worry about it, Liv.” He rocks me back and forth for a second in a big hug. I’d be lying through my teeth if I said I didn’t love the gesture. Normally I’d find myself jolting uncomfortably, but I melt into him. “Look, I’m going through some stuff too. I know how it can be sometimes.”
I give him a quick squeeze around his waist. As I step back, I smile. “Thanks. I’m not really ready to—”
“You don’t have to talk to me about anything. Except coffee and who your favorite baseball player was growing up. C’mon.” He wraps an arm around my shoulders and tugs me toward the door.
Instead of clamming up, I smile and head in with him. Thankfully, it’s not too crowded for a Monday morning, therefore, there’s no wait and we avoid more awkward silence. The green-and-white striped awning ruffles in the wind. Mouthwatering scents of coffee, pastries, and Kyle float through the air. We take a seat at the outdoor café and I admire the magenta-flowered trees and the coral stucco building across the street. Black, wrought iron, swirled fences span the top of the balcony and fluffy green ferns hang over the railings.
We both order a coffee and a giant plate of beignets. I take a sip of water and let the breezy, warm day guide me through this.
I know I can get through this.
“So, what’s your major?” I shift in my chair, relaxing. I knew I’d psych myself out about this.
“Marketing and public relations. I’m only taking two classes and one of them is online. I’ve been out of school for a while and I need to get my head straight. Even if I don’t stay here in New Orleans, I wanted to do something decent with my time.” Kyle takes a long sip of water and slides down his seat a bit. His arm rests on the back of his chair and he tucks his aviators into his shirt. “How’s the studio treating you? I missed you at class the other day.”
“Great. Helena, the owner, is so eclectic and fun. I’m getting through the adjustment better than I thought. It’s nice to make some new friends. How about you? Do you work or just go to school?” The awkwardness evaporates and I feel like we could chat forever. I smile at him and I’m trying to make the effort to not retreat back to Olivia’s Dungeon.
“No, just school. I have some money saved.” He nods and barely looks at me. “Can I be honest? I really hate small talk.”
Annnnnnnd, the awkward is back.
“Okay?” I put down my glass of water and cross my legs.
“I really want to know about you. Not the weather or anything else.” He takes another sip of water and I stare at his glistening lips for a second. “Who is your favorite person?”
This is the easiest question I’ve been asked in weeks. “My best friend, Natasha. She’s so funny and she’s been my rock forever. We’re polar opposites of each other, but she brings out the best in me. You?”
“Ah. My best friend Cam, for the same reasons. He was the one responsible for that
fight the day we met. He’s kind of crazy, but really protective of the people he cares about.” He pauses and smiles, shaking his head. “You know, actually, my grandmother. She was awesome. Totally crazy, smart, Southern memaw. She’d probably kick my ass if she heard me call her that in public. She passed away a few years ago. I miss the hell out of her.”