Authors: Sophie Lira
This place feels like it should be a home. It feels right.
And that fucking terrifies the shit out of me.
Aubrey and Zach left, and Noah is passed out on the giant beanbag chair in the corner of the room. Kyle’s been missing for a few minutes to take out the garbage and I’ve been using the time to pat myself on the back for having such a great night, uninterrupted by thoughts of what Kyle and I should be.
I slide off the stool and place my bottle on the counter next to the rest of our empties. I pull a tumbler from his cabinet, complete with frosted doors, and turn on the faucet. As the glass is filling, I glance to the piles of papers next to the refrigerator. Right on top is a letter addressed
Iris Avery Botany Foundation and Estate, c/o Kyle Avery.
More things snap into place, and I realize that his obvious wealth could be from old Texas money.
The front door unlocks and Kyle comes into the kitchen. “Hey, if you’re tired, I can drive you home.”
I startle a little and turn off the faucet as water overflows into the sink.
“I, uhm, actually wouldn’t mind talking for a bit. I mean, if you’re not tired.” I take a sip, the cool, crisp water dousing my nerves on the way down. I’m so close to him that I can smell his fresh cologne and whatever soap he used in the shower that still has me drowning in my own drool.
“I always like to talk to you.” He winks and nods to the living room. As we sit, his hair falls onto his forehead, and I’ve never wanted to run my fingers through someone’s hair so much in my life. The light reflects off his massive knee brace and he stretches out his leg in front of him. A flash of the video sneaks into my thoughts and more screams resonate. “Are you okay? You seem like you’re off in some other world.”
I know Kyle’s keeping things from me. There are so many things I want to ask him about the accident. But I can’t bring myself to be pissed off when I haven’t told him anything about my past, especially when we’ve both had so much fun tonight. I would hate to ruin it with a fight, but I do owe it to him to tell him something.
I stare at my glass because I don’t have the courage to look at him. “You should know why I was so standoffish when we met. It wasn’t anything to do with you. Where I came from wrecked me emotionally and mentally. I have a really hard time trusting people’s intentions. You’ve been nothing but generous and kind to me these past few weeks. I’ve basically been ungrateful and … ” I don’t know if it’s the alcohol or his trusting pull, but my long-winded admission even surprises me.
“Where you came from?” He tilts my chin up, his eyebrows pulled together. “What do you mean? I just thought you were a little shy, honestly.”
Woman up, Olivia. Tell him the truth.
I know Kyle isn’t going to bail on me anytime soon if he hasn’t already. He’s proved to me more than once I can talk to him. I’m not blind, either. He’s clearly still not over what happened to him in that game and the aftermath. So maybe we both have our reasons to stick around and see what happens.
“I moved here basically in the middle of the night. Only Natasha and my brother know where I really am.” I shrug, laying half my cards on the table. “I had to get away from everything. Aside from Natasha, everyone else I knew was one step away from being busted by the cops for drugs. Trying to fit into that whole lifestyle when I didn’t want to be there destroyed me. It’s not who I am. I didn’t realize how bad it was until my only option was running away.”
“Shit, Liv … ” He shifts closer. “I knew something was up with you, but I could never place it. Is that why you were so … weird at the pub? You thought someone was going to see you there?”
I nod, the tightness rising in my throat. “It was really bad before I left. It was the first time I was out with a group of people since I moved. I was petrified. I thought I could get through it and my mind got so far ahead of me.”
Noah stirs and sits upright, rubbing his eyes. “Holy shit. I need to go home. I have an exam at eight. What the hell time is it?”
“After one.” Kyle’s eyes don’t leave mine.
Noah glances at me and then over at Kyle. “Yup, definitely time for me to go. I’ll see you guys on Friday.”
I smile and wave. “Bye, I had so much fun today.”
“Later, man.” Kyle nods. “Just shut the door behind you.”
The click of the lock echoes through the room. I’m alone with Kyle in his gorgeous apartment and I can’t think of anywhere else I’d want to be. The huge flat-screen glows in the background and mumblings of a never-dull-knife infomercial float through the air. When he shifts closer to me, my breathing picks up even more. The pull to him in this moment is absolutely irresistible. I force myself to fully look into his eyes for the first time.
He tucks a piece of hair behind my ear and cradles my face. I lean into his touch, closing my eyes. I want to trust him and be his friend. Aubrey was completely right: I can’t shut him out anymore.
“Liv, I would never let anything happen to you.”
The words are a firm, solid promise. As his lips press to my forehead, I practically shudder. “Just let me in a little more. I won’t let you get hurt.”
I won’t let you get hurt again, either.
Before I can look up, his arms wrap around me and he holds me close. The hug has the most perfect amount of affection and pressure to shield me from the world. The softness of his T-shirt laced with his cologne is like the most luxurious blanket I never want to leave.
I get comfortable, leaning into him still, basking in the quiet, serene atmosphere, until I doze off, loving the way I feel in his arms.
You are Freaking Out …
Olivia submerges the last cut of ahi tuna into the murky concoction of soy sauce and wasabi, letting the meat absorb the spicy and salty paste. She shakes off the excess before popping the piece into her mouth. Zach recommended this sushi joint to me a few weeks ago. It’s kind of a sketchy, small place, but the fish is fresh and doesn’t stop appearing on your table until you tell them to stop.
I hope this change in Olivia is because of me. I hope she finally gets it through that gorgeous, thick skull of hers that all of us are trying to be her friend. I might have some intentions beyond that, but since I’ve hung out with her every single day for a while, I’m taking this as a good adjustment.
“This is the best sushi I’ve ever had.” She slumps back into the wicker chair and stretches her arms high. “Between the two of us, we’d probably close this place.” She pushes the plate away from her, the third full one we’ve polished off over the past hour and a half.
This is how I know Olivia on the surface is so much different than Olivia on the inside. When she lets her guard down, she’s the only person in the room. She’s funny, kind, and ridiculously passionate about yoga. She’s always hoping for the best. Talking to her, like this, could have me pinned for hours.
“I like a girl who’s not afraid to throw down at all-you-can-eat sushi … or at any meal.” I down the last of my beer and refill my pint again. “Do you feel better?”
A smile hits the corner of her mouth as she nods. “So much better. I hate how bad my migraines get sometimes. The movie helped a lot, too.
never gets old.”
“Littering and … littering and … ” I interrupt, reciting lines from the movie, and laugh.
“Littering and smoking the reefer!” Olivia giggles, and her cheeks turn slightly pink as she leans forward. “Smell that, Rabbit?”
I lean in toward the table as well, taking her hand. “Fear.” I breathe in deep and start laughing again.
She also has ridiculous taste in … everything.
Olivia’s phone rings, and I swear I’m going to put my head through the wood-slatted wall if it’s Aubrey. Not that I have anything against her, but they’re attached at the hip lately, and she knows we’re out tonight. Not to mention, this is the first night it’s just been us with no interruptions. Her hand rips from mine and she digs through her bag, biting her bottom lip.
“Hey, it’s Natasha.” She looks up from the near-shattered screen on her phone. If I wasn’t a thousand percent certain she’d rip my head off, I’d buy her a new one. “I haven’t talked to her in forever. Mind if I go outside for two minutes, then we can leave? I’m usually not rude like this, but—”
“Go, it’s no problem. I’ll take care of the check right … ” I pause for half a second, “meow.”
She laughs harder as she walks away from the table and I sit back into the chair, scanning over a few missed texts from Cam about his next fight. After I pay, I stand at the entrance of the restaurant for a few minutes waiting for Olivia to finish while going back and forth with Cam about his next round of promo material I need to make.
“It’s bad enough I’m playing in this softball league.” She sighs and rolls her head. “No, I haven’t been out too much otherwise. I’m still freaked out about him dragging me back home or something.”
What the hell? Is she fucking serious?
I peer out onto the sidewalk. Olivia covers her face. “Yes, okay, fine. I’m out with Kyle again. We’re still just friends. I’m scared to chance anything more with him in case I need to leave again.” She sucks in a breath and I can envision her licking her bottom lip before she bites it. “Yeah, I’ll fill you in later, especially about his friend Cam. He sounds like he’d be right up your alley.” She pauses and runs her fingers through her hair. “Have fun tonight. Love you, bye!”
My jaw clenches with the force of a trash compactor as I step back into the doorway. One of us needs to address the whole
thing. It’s like a stab to my gut every time she says it, which is often. Like she’s trying to convince herself her feelings stop there. After I take a few cleansing breaths, I walk out onto the sidewalk as she jiggles the top button, trying to lock her phone.
“Oh, yeah. She was just calling to catch up.” I’m surprised her cheeks haven’t started smoking with the deep, red blush. “I’m a little bummed she can’t come down for my birthday. I know she needs to work to pay for her apartment and stuff. And thanks for dinner … again.”
“You’re welcome.” My mind drifts into every possible situation she could be in, but I snap out of it and give her an obvious once-over.
“Shall we?” I stick out my elbow; my manners haven’t let me down before. “We have ice cream to buy and disgusting horror movies to watch.”
Olivia’s hesitates before linking her arm through mine. “We shall.”
The warm breeze drills her fruity pineapple scent into my senses. We don’t say much, and little by little I tug her closer, wanting nothing more than to hold her hand or wrap my arms around her. By the time we’re in the store, I swear the tension between us is about to snap like a rubber band.
“That color looks really good on you.” I nod to the light green hoodie she’s wearing as we stroll through frozen foods. “I still can’t believe how hot you are.”
“What?” Her head whips to mine and the world’s smallest smile hits the left side of her pink, glossy lips.
“I totally called you hot, didn’t I?” I cringe, embarrassed.
You really said that.
“Well, you’re beautiful, regardless. But, what I meant was, I can’t believe you’re not hot with that on.”
“Wait … ” She turns to me, eyes wide, the chilled air cutting the obvious heat between us. “What did you say?”
“Well, it’s still almost eighty degrees—”
“No,” she interrupts, still trying to hide a smile while she pulls two cartons of ice cream from the refrigerator case. “Before that.”
“That you’re beautiful?” Taking the cartons from her hands, I start to walk toward the front, hoping this will move along the conversation and make this as unawkward as possible.
“Why did you say that?” The look on her face almost makes me think she’s in shock, but I can’t wrap my brain around the fact she’s questioning my intentions.
“Why shouldn’t I say that?” I retort, now totally confused. “Olivia, come on, you look in the mirror daily. I’m only stating the obvious.”
“Wow, uhm … ” Her cheeks flush red as she grips the sleeves of her hoodie. “Thanks?”
“I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable, honest. I mean … I figured you’d be used to hearing that.” Pulling her down the deserted candy aisle, I place the two cartons of ice cream on the shelf next to the marshmallows and imagine us having a chubby bunny contest for a second.
“Not at all,” she clips, turning around and interrupting my weird fantasy while picking through the Nerds and Milky Way bars. “Uh, you’re the first person to tell me that. Well, aside from Natasha.”
“What do you mean I’m the first person?” I know she’d freak out if she knew I heard her on the phone, so I leave my question simple.
“Uhm, well. People have, I think, but not in those words … usually other, loving endearments,” she says with a sprinkling of sarcasm, gripping the metal edge of the shelf. “I guess people aren’t very vocal with compliments.”
I take her face in my palms, rubbing my thumb along her cheekbone. “You are probably the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen. You need to know and you should hear it. Daily.” The overwhelming feelings I have for her keep egging me on deep inside and I can’t ignore them anymore.
The air changes. As she steps toward me, I lean in, ready to kiss her right in the middle of the grocery store. But she doesn’t look up; she buries herself into my chest and all air leaves my lungs as she clutches around my torso.
“Thank you,” she says, and then hugs me again.
I return the affection I think she desperately needs for a minute. Just as I’m about to ask her what happened, she grabs the ice cream and heads to the register. I let her pay for it because I know she hates that I’ve paid for her as much as I have. She’s definitely in some kind of mood and if she feels better by taking care of herself, then I’m going to let her do it.
The past few years I’ve spent a lot of time alone. It was the only thing I could do when everything else reminded me of baseball, so I kind of know how she feels to be isolated. By the time we get back to my place, I need to cut this silence. I scoop a giant heap of this gourmet s’mores ice cream into my bowl and drown it with peanut butter sauce like the fat ass I am. “Hey, Liv?”